Monthly Archives: February 2013

American English: Matthew Cuban’s transatlantic adventure

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As a writer and periodic public speaker, I’ve dabbled in the fine art of spoken-word for years, here and there. If I said I was any good, I’d be lying, but I’ve done just enough of it to inform my deep and sincere appreciation for those who can actually do it well. To that end, I’d say at least two of the best in the business happen to be residents of Northeast Florida. There is, of course, the singularly-skilled Al Letson, whose fans have watched him grow from slam-poetry roots into one-man shows in multiple states, network TV commercials, his own acclaimed show (“State of the Re:Union“) on NPR and even writing comic-books. The other is Matthew “Cuban” Hernandez, who also emerged from the world of slam-poetry and who has also crafted his own unique and compelling career.

That trajectory, which began at open-mic shows in Jacksonville, is now poised to carry him all the way across the Atlantic Ocean, to England, with your help. Hernandez, who is currently working through a three-month spoken-word tour of the west coast, has put together a website at IndieGogo.com (a Kickstarter-type operation) detailing his plans for this year; these plans include not only a slate of scheduled performances in England, but also a project that, believe it or not, is even closer to his heart than his own material. Having already made his name as one of this country’s elite slam-poetry teachers (largely through his work with the Jacksonville youth poetry collective “Shattered Thought”), Hernandez was recently invited to jump the pond and come coach the 2013 UK Youth Slam team, based in historic Leeds. This presents him with not only the opportunity to expand his own personal brand, but to further strengthen the already surprisingly strong connection between the First Coast and the UK.

What Hernandez needs is a dollop of the heavy scratch to fund his adventures, and that is what the web campaign facilitated. Supporters can contribute as little as $1 toward helping Hernandez follow his own dream, while simultaneously helping to school the next generation of spoken-word talent. Larger donations are rewarded with sumptuous swag: $25 gets you two autographed copies of Cuban’s excellent debut CD, which makes a nice gift for fans of the genre; $60 gets you three signed copies; $100 gets you the three CDs, plus a custom-composed poem from him to you. For $500, you name it! So far, almost two dozen people have pledged funds at this early stage of the campaign, mostly in increments of $100, but those numbers are sure to increase–as they should, because Matthew Cuban is an extremely talented artist who really embodies the spirit of Ben Franklin’s words about “doing well by doing good”. One hopes he succeeds, now and in the future.

(Now, this is entirely tangential to the subject at hand, but since we’re discussing spoken-word and the UK, I’ll deviate briefly for purpose of putting over the amazing Brockley-based Kate Tempest, who at just 26 has already distinguished herself as perhaps the world’s #1 performance-poet–a subjective take, yes, but one that is easily arguable. When I heard of Cuban’s project, she was the first person I thought of, so of course one hopes that Hernandez’s run on the island includes at least one summit meeting with the creator of “Cannibal Kids”!)

sheltonhull@gmail.com

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Wrestling with Fools: the IOC exposes their business

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Kurt Angle, Olympic gold medal winner, 1996

For almost all of its existence, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has been a fundamentally controversial organization. From the blatant racism of the Avery Brundage era, to the hookers-and-cocaine taint affixed to the affiliates of Juan Antonio Samaranch, not to mention its historic Keystone Kops approach to doping and overall political cowardice on matters great and small, this venerable and, sadly, irreplaceable organization has been known to the public more for what it has done wrong (which is plenty) than for the many good things it has done right. And that’s a shame, because the Olympics is one of the very few things in this world that humanity has generally been able to rally around, suspend hostilities and truly enjoy as a species, rather than a collection of corrupt nations.

Now, in its 118th year of shady operation, the IOC has actually managed to render a decision so wrong-headed, malicious and foolhardy that it comes very close to exceeding that group’s already pathetic standard. On Wednesday, February 12, the IOC made what may be, arguably, the worst decision ever made by any governing body in the entire recorded history of organized sports when they announced that, starting with the Games of the XXXIII Olympiad in 2020, wrestling will not longer an official Olympic sport. And before you ask: Yes, that is exactly what I just said. Now, take a moment, wherever you are, and let the language linger in your mind for a bit…

WRESTLING, among the world’s oldest sports, and one of the core events comprising the very foundation of the grand and glorious Olympic tradition from almost its very inception in 776 BC, is not suddenly inconsistent with the IOC’s vision. Obviously, this has a lot of people really angry, starting with the international wrestling community itself. The IOC, for some ambiguous reason, felt obliged to discontinue a sport, and it came down to five candidates: Wrestling, Modern Pentathalon, Badminton, Table-tennis and Taekwondo. The elimination of wrestling constitutes an especially bitter blow to women, who’d lobbied hard to acquire medal status for women’s wrestling, and only got it in 2004. (So far, the Japanese have dominated in that field.)

If it stands, this decision will in my opinion have a disproportionately negative impact on the United States, which has always been among the dominant countries for Olympic wrestling, and which has built up a massive, complex human infrastructure around its amateur wrestling scene. For amateur wrestlers–indeed, for most of the leading Olympic sports–that gold medal is the Holy Grail for thousands of young athletes, who work like animals to develop the physical skill and mental discipline required of elite-level athletes. They labor for as much as 20 years, just to get the chance to win a medal, which carries a small honorarium but no career stability. Wrestlers aren’t the kind of athletes who often end up on Wheaties boxes or doing commercials for Gatorade or Subway; that gold medal is not a gold-mine for them. At best, Olympic-level wrestlers can hope to parlay their accomplishments into success in either professional wrestling or MMA, which many experts have claimed is even harder than getting into the NFL or NBA. With the prospect of Olympic glory removed, it’s anyone’s guess as to how chilling the effect may be on the amateur scene here, and worldwide, for that matter; it’s doubtful that the IOC gave that matter any consideration at all.

The end of wrestling as an Olympic sport may also be potentially awful for Olympic business. Wrestling is generally a popular sport for TV audiences, especially in the United States, Japan and parts of the Middle East–certainly not on the level of marquee sports like track and field, swimming and women’s gymnastics, but considerable. Obviously, I’m biased, being a longtime fan of all the combat sports, but I think the blow is already being felt among general audiences, as well. Wrestling is a big heartland activity here; in states like Ohio, Iowa, Oklahoma and Minnesota, wrestling may be even more popular than football. The names of men like Dan Gable, Danny Hodge, Verne Gagne, Bruce Baumgartner, Rulon Gardner, Alexander Karelin, David Schultz, Chris Taylor, the Iron Sheik and, of course Kurt Angle, reverberate in the living memory of a large segment of the population like demigods, more mythos than man after a point. The termination of this tradition is an abomination, and like any rube in pursuit of combat against a skilled wrestler, this decision is unlikely to stand for very long.

Kurt Angle, 11-time world champion pro-wrestler, and counting…

sheltonhull@gmail.com

Preview: “Music For Meows”, Feb. 16

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This is the flyer. You don’t need one, because you’re reading about it already…

The third annual Music For Meows concert is being held next Saturday, February 16, at Jack Rabbits in San Marco, and I’d totally forgotten until Heather Bruce (whom I’ve known for years) hit me with a flyer at Birdies the other night. Well, she didn’t literally hit me, in the projectile sense–she slid it into the space between our drinks on the table. Ms. Bruce has been volunteering with the sponsors, the Stray Cat Saviors Group, since the event’s inception in 2011, and she counts it among the most rewarding experiences of her life. The purpose of the concert is to raise money for organizations working to reduce the number of stray, homeless and feral cats in Northeast Florida, with the ultimate goal of making Jacksonville a strictly no-kill city–certainly a noble undertaking, albeit formidable.

As to the event itself: “Music For Meows” will comprise a silent auction alongside the actual concert, which features a diverse sampling of the region’s musical fare, including the maniac metal-men of Status Faux, the ferocious folk stylings of Lauren Fincham, the ethereal electro-pop of Shoni and the balls-out bombast of All Night WolvesThe Pinz, Xgeezer, Dixie Rodeo and FFN are also playing, while I know nothing about them at present, I’m familiar enough the artists cited to be sure it’s all well-worth the $10 cover, which goes to help the little kitty-cats, anyway, so it’s money well-spent in any case. The organizers are partnering with local groups like First Coast No More Homeless Pets. (To buy tickets online, click this link.) As the kids say, “Meow!”