Sunday, November 24, 2013

Rest in peace WANDA COLEMAN

Above, my portrait of Wanda Coleman and Lydia Lunch,
for Freeway Records' 1985 release "Twin Sisters"  

It's called a showstopper, when a performance becomes so thrillingly insightful that instead of bursting into applause, an audience momentarily sits there in stunned silence. I witnessed one such drop-jawed showstopper in Hollywood, 1985 when Wanda Coleman, under the aegis of Harvey Kubernik's Freeway Records spoken word multiple artist shows, read aloud her poem recounting a take on brutally being raped. "Did you come?" "...Yes..." 

Writer and world-class poet Coleman's forte was an almost pathological avoidance of cliche, characterized by her disdain for same wherever she found it. She famously dismissed African-American knee-jerk victimization chroniclers, even deeming a Maya Angelou work "Another traipse to the trough" in a book review. Her contrarian take against Dr. Angela Davis' association with a coterie of thugs even got her fired from the Los Angeles Free Press back in the otherwise free-wheeling late 1960s.

She made her living writing, even scripting "Days of Our Lives" soap operas. She won an Emmy for that one year's effort, underscoring the quality of her life's work in doing whatever you're doing really well. She hailed from a moderate income but education-infused family, and later installed her own in her life, married to Austin Strauss for 30 years, with children from her first marriage. Growing up in late 1940s/early '50s, pre-Watts riots Los Angeles guaranteed a trove of source material on genuine racial prejudice in action.

The above portrait commemorated Coleman's spoken word duets "Twin Sisters" with No Wave icon Lydia Lunch in 1985 for writer Harvey Kubernik's then label Freeway Records, the original oasis of rockers turned slam poets. It was shot in the 10 minute window Ms. Lunch had in her sorti to Los Angeles, wherein she claimed she needed a strong, strong image, but somewhat amused me by eventually preferring the pictures with the most (skin-softening) diffusion. At the shoot, Ms. Coleman was gracious as always, with her ever soothing voice that highlighted rage or reassurance without changing volume. She'd seen it all, and that's real strength.

 Above, Wanda with Richard Berry who actually wrote "Louie Louie" and poet Michelle T. Clinton

2 comments:

Rick Ramirez said...

Thanks for sharing your archives, Heather.
Actually, the photo of Wanda and Lydia wasn't for Twin Sisters (that recording featured Wanda and Exene). This photo was taken around the time Lydia released Wanda's spoken word LP, BLACK AND BLUE NEWS...sometime around 89-90.

Fast Film said...

Thanks for checking in Rick. I have dates stamped on the backs of proof sheets from the photo labs, which is what I used for reference. I did most of my work for Harvey Kubernik's Freeway Records label in the mid-1980s, so that factors in too...

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