I almost never watch award shows - no Oscars, no Grammys, no VMA's.
The prewritten jokes these shows insist on including in their presentations are usually so bad they would fall flat on their own, but when they are half heartedly delivered by half lit guests, they are guaranteed to bomb.
So I was outside doing some yard work when the BET awards came on. I knew this because S. stuck her head out of the basement door to tell me. But since I didn't normally watch these things, she wasn't surprised when the "naaaw" popped out of my mouth.
As I started emptying my weeds from the bucket I'd collected them in, I could see shapes wiggling on the big screen TV across what looked like a stage, even from where I stood all the way out at the edge of the patio. The mower came out next, trimming the grass I'd planted back in April down to fairway length. By the time I finished watering the backyard, it was almost dark. I opened the door to the basement, kicked off my shoes, and joined S. on the couch in the basement just as Jamie Foxx was finishing an electric guitar solo.
S. was shocked.
I figured I would only sit there with her for a few minutes, to try to put in a little togetherness time, but once I sat down, I was hooked.
Overlooking the ignorant sketch Jamie Foxx did with Martin Lawrence that reprised the roles of the fictional ghetto women they made famous - Wanda and Sheneneh - I was entertained enough by the high notes of the evening to overlook its weak moments.
I guess I don't listen to the radio enough - I kept asking S. "who is that" over and over as the singers and presenters came to the stage. Maybe it was the picture of a dead man, hovering above everything, that gave the performers, even the not so good ones, an extra "oomph". Maybe it was the idea of an awards show whose theme for the night was based around the music of a man and a family who actually sang real songs over originally produced melodies that provided a level of gravitas that has probably never existed at a BET awards show.
By the time Don Cornelius came out, after a rousing tribute by a well dressed Johnny Gill, Tyrese, and a younger singer I've never heard of, I was almost ready to give Debra Lee, the president of BET, some props.
"She looks like she had been up for days," I said to S. about Lee as she addressed the audience.
"I imagine so, with all the last minute stuff they had to do."
I smiled. "I think she was up for days trying to convince the bigwigs at MTV to cough up some real cheese for a change to pay for all this."
We joked some more about Ms. Lee as she stood on stage, thanking her staff, and her audience, and her performers. To me she looked like a school superintendent. School superintendents almost always look alike - well fed and well turned out - no matter how bad their school system is.
From there on in was mostly the grown up end of the show, with the O'Jays and Maxwell showing us how good African American men could look as they entertained us. The guys with their pants hanging off their asses? Including Jay-Z? The guys with the tattoos and piercings from here to next week? They weren't African American artists. They are Ridiculous American artists. They are Stupid American artists. If there is anybody who just "happens to be black", it is these clowns.
I thought about Al Sharpton, who was in the audience, IN A SUIT, him and Jessie Jackson and all the other reverends and community leaders, who have insisted for so long that we have to meet our youth in the streets where they live. Is that because we want them to stay in the street?
I thought about Ms. Lee, superintendent of BET, and wondered if her children wore their pants hanging off of their asses, or had tattoos over half of their bodies, or pieces of metal sticking through their tongues. Is her bonus based on maintaining the Negro status quo on BET's shows? But then again - if she gave us programming more like they have at TV One, which doesn't have an audience large enough to sustain itself, would BET end up in the same boat?
Then I thought about Mark Sanford, and all his sanctimony, and started thinking about how sour this was all starting to sound, especially when I knew damn well that I'd grown up on rap music, and had listened heartily to the raunchy strip club raps by Uncle Luke and all the rest - but in the strip clubs, where they belonged, not on TV where every third word had to be bleeped out.
I thought about all this for awhile, but the thing that kept coming back to me as Jamie Foxx called it a night was the double breasted pinstriped suit that Don Cornelius wore. It was the same style of suit he'd worn for years as the host of Soul Train. It didn't matter whether the acts he interviewed after they performed on his show were wearing bell bottoms, or go go boots, or shiny space age suits, or barely anything at all - you knew Don was going to be there in that same old suit, with that same old clear, crisp Roscoe Lee Brown style diction, and that same old halting attempt at pronouncing a new slang term, as if he was a professor of music instead of a TV producer.
It was that classic double breasted suit, updated with an even more sophisticated chalk stripe and double vented jacket, more carefully tailored to a younger, more athletic frame, that Maxwell wore to complement his new haircut while he performed. That white ticker tape looking stuff that floated down from the ceiling as Maxwell pranced around the stage reminded me of the classic picture of the Obama family during the election that has them showered with the same stuff.
Maxwell gets it.
Don Cornelius never forgot it.
And I've seen The Jigga Man in suits - nice ones - and pants that fit around his waist, so I guess he must be backsliding. Or trying to sell some records.
When will the stragglers amongst us decide to pull their jeans up - or better yet, buy some real damn pants - and rejoin the rest of us African Americans?
When will we, the silent majority, put our clickers where our mouths are, and tune in en masse to the things we say we want to see when they finally get on TV?
In the meantime, will someone please tell me what "autotune" is?