Thursday, May 24, 2007

Review: Wish I Could Tell You The Truth, essays by Marvin X


A review of the book, Wish I Could Tell you the Truth. Marvin X (El Muhajir), Cherokee, CA: Black Bird Press, 2005, 223 pp.

By Nathan Hare

What ever happened to the Black Movement? Where did our” black power” go? Where did we lose our vision? How did we lose out way after the Sixties – declining and degenerating from the days when black was beautiful before we gave up our valiant black fight, before we relinquished the revolutionary initiative to the white woman, turned away from combat with our own oppression to focus on real and imagined glories in the regal but bygone realms of Antiquity, searching out the faraway and the long ago, preoccupied and mesmerized by the unfathomed wonders of the Pyramids, safe and serene in our plush and sexy high-tech Africanized “pads” four blocks removed from the projects; two corporate paychecks and ten credit cards away from bankruptcy and the welfare lines, wrapped in speculation and pontification on the magical elements of melanin?

You can find the many answers to such questions as these lurking menacingly, as we speak, within the pages of a bomb of a book that recently slipped largely unnoticed into the middle of what the late sociologist, E. Franklin Frazier, liked to call “Negro society,” before black intellectuals and enlightened “people of color” wrapped themselves in elusive layers of ideological buzzwords such as ”Afrocentricity,” “Africana” and “Multiculturalism.”

The name of the book is Wish I Could Tell You the Truth, by Marvin X, deceptively titled if you ask me, because Marvin X has been going around telling the truth on everybody, including himself, for something like going on forty years. Marvin X will tell the truth on you and your momma, will put all of your business in the street -- and his. I mean the brother is an open book, the kind of dude who, if you started him to lying, would tell everything he knew.

So obviously on some level, the brother is not afraid to tell the truth, and I don’t really think he’s saying he couldn’t if he wanted to.

I also believe Bro. Marvin is the kind of guy you could probably call a lie (or argue that he could tell you the truth when he’s saying he can’t) and walk away unscathed; but I won’t lie to you, after reading his book clean through, I still wasn’t exactly prepared to call a brother a lie who is the ace boon coon of the likes of Amira Baraka and Sonia Sanchez and even introduced the pistol-packing cofounders of the Black Panther Party, Huey P. Newton and his equally fearless firebrand and collaborator, Eldridge Cleaver.

But I still couldn’t figure out why a brother would write a book making like he wished he could tell the truth if he wasn’t lying (God knows the average black intellectual has been going around here lying for the past forty years, all up and down the streets, and in and out of the penitentiary and the professorial tenure track; and it doesn’t take Neitsche (who opined that “lying is a part of the human experience”), or a Native American or a feminazi to catch the white man in a lie; but Marvin X is a black man, with nothing in sight to lie for.

Maybe Marvin is saying he wants to spend a few tall tales. I once suggested to him, based on one of his earlier books, Somethin’ Proper: The Autobiography of a North American Poet, that he should write a novel and damn well could. But truth, as Marvin apparently knows, is often stranger than fiction – and a good deal harder to come by.

I know that somewhere in the ranks of the keepers of “Negrocracy” there are “tenured Negro intellectuals” – as Marvin calls them -- writing polkadot rainbow books out-fabricating Kingfish who would argue in their own defense that Marvin X’s very surname casts an element of mystery, and some might go so far as to say that the brother is a “relic of the Sixties” – as his name implies – but that would lead them to a grave misunderstanding.

No one can deny, who knows Marvin’s work, that he is a brother who is qualified to tell the truth, who has been around a long time and really paid some dues, as B.B. King likes to sing it – or, as my late friend and novelist John O. Killens would say, Bro. Marvin is a “long distance runner.”

I would have to confess, on the other hand, that he has had enough time and written enough books and poetry to pack in a fair amount of lies as well as a lot of truth. And I know you are asking what is the truth – which you righteously may wish to know – as told by Marvin X.

I’m afraid you’re going to have to read the book, because what I see as truth may well be lies to you. I can tell you what I knew even before I read the book – and the book confirms it -- Marvin’s literary work, if not his life, is considered by many to be a veritable monument to truth.

From the very first chapter, in any case, of Wish I Could Tell You the Truth (called “A Tale of an Angry Old Man”), it is clear that Marvin wishes to inform and hip the young, but Marvin also wishes to be understood by the young. And the young, like the old, would do well to read him and study him. If you don’t already know him by now you will learn that he is qualified, if not able, to tell the truth. You will learn, if you didn’t already know it, that Marvin’s fundamental mission in life is to jack people up and tell you the truth (to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable,” according to my wife, Dr. Julia Hare , who is also well acquainted with Marvin)..

Don’t care if you’re white, black, polka dot, or chartreuse; Afrocentric, Eurocentric, egocentric or just eccentric, send Marvin X an email if you dare, saying any secret thing, and the first thing you know he’ll have you all over the Internet.

But in truth the business of Marvin X, a playwright and a poet, is books – fulltime. I’ll let you judge for yourself if this book proves he’s getting better at his craft, but I can tell you at least a part of the truth, if not the whole truth: Marvin X loves books, reads books, writes books, sells books up and down the streets of San Francisco, Philadelphia, Atlanta, LA, Detroit, Chicago, or Bedford Stuyvessant; in and out of white bookstores, the rainbow section of black bookstores, at Negro caucssuses and “professional” conferences, book-signings of the black literati (what Zora Neale Hurston called ‘the niggerati), church confabs or coconut soirees. This brother sells books online, offline, in front of the church, in front of the bar, in front of the theater (he’s the founder of The Recovery Theatre, where he also sells his books), in front of the White House, your house, the Black House (which he founded with Eldridge Cleaver in the mid-1960s), or anywhere he finds a brother or a sister or a black intellectual who has never read a book in the past ten years, let alone bought one in their pompous lives, other than some textbook they couldn’t borrow from somebody else in their in-service classes.

Tell them, yes, Marvin is a relic, a remnant of another epoch, a better blacker time, an age when black intellectuals looked to the future and were not afraid to step out of line with the white man and whey-eyed concessions to white supremacy, before the “Negro cognoscente” retreated into escapism and a “world of make believe” and filled their lives with ceremony and myths, before they stood so deep in the residue of black family and social decay, crowing about “the strengths of the black family,” “the positives,” denouncing the “pathology” that the white man’s chattel slavery and oppression had made, while the black family crumbled more in a couple of decades than a century or more since slavery.

Tell them of the time we knew so briefly and brilliantly in the Sixties, before black intellectuals (including their warriors and their mathematicians) grew preoccupied with reading, talking and writing history instead of making history, before they fixated on recasting the bygone past instead of making the future, before they fell into their postmodern waltz with the status quo, where the white woman has a hold to the white man’s shirttail, the black woman has a hold to the white woman’s skirt tail, and the black man has a hold to the black woman’s skirt tail, with the white man leading them all around in a Conga dance.

Tell them the truth, as told by Marvin X,

Tell them the truth that is hidden in the chapters of Wish I Could Tell You the Truth, chapters such as: “In Search of my Soul Sister,” “Beyond the Ignorance Zone,” “Farrakhan’s Final Call,” “Live in Philly at Warm Daddies,” ”Life In Social Movements,” “What Is Life and Why Are We Living,” “Black Woman’s Tit Knocks Out America” (remember Jackie Jackson in the Superdome) “Gay Marriage and Black Liberation,” “Black Bourgeoisie Defend Their Own,” “ VIP Nigguhs and Rape,” “Meaning of Black Reconstruction,” and so many more.

Then them and they will understand how, once I had finished reading Wish I Could Tell You the Truth, I slammed it down then picked it up again and read it over a second time, the way you used to sit back through a grownup movie when you were young and had somebody to hold real tight or squeeze you in the dark.

Yes, I could go ahead and tell you the truth as Marvin tells it, but that would be like letting the cat out of the bag, and robbing you of the pleasure of panning for your own gold in a stormy sea of truth and maybe a sprinkling of multicolored lies, but I can’t. So if you don’t read the book you’ll never know.

And yet, I would never lie to you; this is one time I wish I could tell you the truth.

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