Hurray for the Riff Raff: singing against the grain

“Like an old sad song/ you heard it all before,” sings 28-year-old Bronx native Alynda Lee Segarra. That’s certainly true about Hurray for the Riff Raff‘s single “The Body Electric.”

The song’s beautifully simple repeating melody reinforces it’s haunting lyrics — allusions to the murder of 14-year-old African American Delia Green.

We’ve heard this sad song sung as ballads from Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan; however, Hurray for the Riff Raff retelling (like Maurice Ogden’s famous poem “The Hangman”) questions the injustice and encourages political discourse.

Perhaps that’s what NPR‘s Ann Powers gravitated toward when she declared Hurray for the Riff Raff’s “The Body Electric” as the “political folk song of the year.” 

The song certainly has a hook. “Said you’re gonna shoot me down/ put my body in the river,” Segarra sings over the strumming of a guitar. The mysterious pronouns immediately places us into the murder-mystery (which might also explain the success of “This American Life’s” immensely popular podcast, “Serial”).

Or perhaps protests just fire us up. The Mike Brown and Eric Garner grand jury decisions brought millions to the streets all across America. Meanwhile, “The Hanging Tree,” the political rebellion song penned by Suzanne Collins, scored by The Lumineers’ Jeremiah Fraites and Wesley Schultz, and sung by Jennifer Lawrence in “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1” movie, was played more than 2 million times and downloaded more than 200,000 times within the first full week of its release. 

Segarra and her New Orleans-based band does what the narrator of “The Hangman” failed to do. Her voice cries out against the atrocities — from the murder of Delia Green to the death of Trayvon Martin. The only questions is: will you do the same?

You can donate to Hurray for the Riff Raff’s The Body Electric Fund here:

Money collected will be donated to The Trayvon Martin Foundation, the Third Wave Fund and other charities. 


‘American Horror Story Coven’: addictively bewitching

The third season of Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk’s sensational television drama “American Horror Story” returns with a new haunted house, but familiar faces and friends.

There’s the evil narcissistic queen from Snow White (Jessica Lange), searching for eternal youth and beauty. There’s Romeo (Evan Peters) and Juliet (Taissa Farmiga) — only these star-crossed lovers meet at a frat party where they get only a few hours rather than three days.

Like season one and two of “American Horror Story,” Murphy and Falchuk take familiar stories and weave them into a coherent narrative. This one follows Zoe Benson (Farmiga), who finds out she’s a witch when she accidentally kills her boyfriend, Charlie (Kurt Krause). Zoe’s sent to Miss Robichaux’s Academy in New Orleans, a Hogwarts for young witches. At its helm is Cordelia Foxx (Sarah Paulsen), the daughter of coven leader Fiona Goode (Jessica Lange). Her young charges includes D-List movie star Madison Montgomery (Emma Roberts), clairvoyant Nan (Jamie Brewer) and human voodoo doll Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe).

New Orleans is the perfect tapestry, full of creole culture and history. Madame Delphine LaLaurie (Kathy Bates) is part of that history, a wealthy bigoted slaveowner who allegedly tortured 150 slaves. Cursed by Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau (Angela Bassett), Madame LaLaurie’s immortal and buried alive in an unmarked grave. That is, until Fiona digs up LaLaurie, reviving a feudal war between her coven and Marie’s witches.

Once again, Murphy and Falchuk brew a powerfully addictive potion. They fill their dialogue with witch references (and there are a lot of them) from “Sabrina: the Teenaged Witch” to “Charmed.” They draw from a vast amount of sources from historical ones like the Salem witch hunts and Hurricane Katrina to fictional ones like Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” Natalie Babbitt’s “Tuck Everlasting” and Josh Whedon’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”

This makes “American Horror Story Coven” read like a YA novel — punctuated with the tried-and-true formula of love triangles, betrayal and cliffhangers — while dosed in mature themes and images (a lot of sex and blood). When you wake up from Murphy and Falchuk’s spell, you’ll wonder how you binged-watched all 13 episodes in one sitting. If anything “AHS: Coven” will make you lose track of time.

James Carville tells public to get out and vote

James Carville gives a speech at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 1 at Ithaca College. Photograph taken by Qina Liu.

With bank bailouts, wars and health care on everyone’s mind, political consultant James Carville said people cannot complain about the current political climate without participating in the polls.

Carville, who is a best-selling author and CNN producer, talk-show host and contributor, presented his points at 7:30 p.m. yesterday on the eve of election night in Emerson Suites at Ithaca College. With his background as an influential political pundit, Carville said despite corrupt dealings within government, he values his work in politics, and that the American public should care too.

“I’m 66 years old, and after everything I’ve done, I’m proud to have worked in politics,” Carville said. “Because you can say all you want about politics and it may be true — they may be crooks, they may just say things to get elected, they may run negative ads, they may, in fact, market to interest groups — to some extent, but one thing you can’t say is what they do is unimportant.”

He stressed the importance of involvement, saying that people will not have control over government decisions without first controlling the ballot.

“The ability to communicate is the ability to influence,” he said. “The ability to influence is the ability to have an impact on the direction of the country.”

By impacting the direction of one’s country, one affects whether a country goes to war. One decides whether one will pay for a banking system that ruins the economy. By engaging in politics, he said the American people are making a choice.

“If you want to make the wars that you don’t have any say by people that you don’t know, that is your choice. But I don’t think that that’s the choice that you want to make,” Carville said.

Carville preaches that students should play an active voice in politics.

“I tell my students that there are two ways you can go through life: you can make rain or you can get rained on,” he said. “And I think it’s just an unthrilling way to go through life with an umbrella on your head.”

While the founder of the independent nonprofit polling organization Democracy Corps admitted that the Democrats may be the first to lose the elections tonight, the New Orleans, La., resident said votes are needed to stabilize the left-winged agenda, or to even support the right-winged platform.

“If you’re a Democrat, there’s a hurricane coming tomorrow, and the best you can hope for is somehow it decreases its intensity to a category four — which is bad, but at least you will still have some construction left standing,” Carville said.

Ultimately, Carville leaves the fate of the polls in to the people’s hands.

“Don’t get rained on,” he said. “Make your rain. Be involved. If you don’t like the course, change the course. It’s up to you.”

The Floods of Katrina

Because the Bible Told Me So
“I, on my part, am about to bring the flood [waters] on the earth, to destroy everywhere all creatures in which there is the breath of life; everything on earth shall perish,” the Lord told Noah (Genesis 6: 17).

For Hurricane Katrina victims, everything on their earth did perish. “Everybody lost everything around here. Everything of value except our lives,” Kimberly told cameras.  And the government didn’t do anything to stop it.

“We’re actually prepared for the worse by hoping for the best,” former President George W. Bush told cameras. No evacuation was prepared and Bush dismissed calls to bring in troops to help New Orleans victims. However, that optimistic nature didn’t save the 1,836 lives lost to Hurricane Katrina.

As Kimberly Roberts said: “You have people who couldn’t leave like me. But I believe in the Lord Jesus.” So did Noah. And both Kimberly and Noah, and all the animals that marched in two by two, made it out of their “flood” alive.

Kimberly and Scott Roberts

Government’s Gonna Trouble the Water

The screening of Trouble the Waters, an award-winning documentary produced by Tia Lessin and Carl Deal, was well received at 7 p.m. on September 15th, 2009 in that Emerson Suites of Ithaca College. It is an epic story of faith and survival as Trouble the Water takes us directly into the lives of an African American couple: Kimberly Rivers Roberts and Scott Michael Roberts. “We were there the night New Orleans went underwater,” the Roberts described.

Like Noah, the Roberts made an ark—theirs was a little green rowboat by the name of Duachita, with the words “wet dream” graffiti-ed on her hull. (Katrina sure was a “wet” dream, however, for Katrina victims, they might never get a chance to wake up.) Like Noah, the Roberts saved a community—they drove 30 people out of New Orleans by a pick-up truck. (Kimberly described the worse thing as seeing people in the streets, streaming out of the Red Cross shelter, and knowing that there wasn’t anything she could do to help them. There were just so many people who lost their homes, their jobs, and their lifestyles.)

As with Exoduses, this one failed in a major way. “They left her behind. They left my mom behind,” Kimberly accused the government. Before the Hurricane hit, Kimberly was told that all the patients of the hospital were to be evacuated. Weeks later, Kimberly Roberts found out that the evacuation never took place.  Like in Genesis 19 when the Lord took Sodom and Gomorrah and Lot’s wife turned into a pillar of salt, Kimberly’s mother was left behind.

Moreover, as Kimberly, Scott and her 12 kids were confined to an attic with no food or clean water, the 911 Operator chillingly replayed, “The police are not rescuing at this time.”

Even as Roberts made her plea: “I’m gonna drown! I have children!”

The operator repeated her noncommittal response: “The police are not rescuing at this time.”

“What am I going to do? I have children.

Meanwhile, the blades of the helicopters roared above.

Serving One’s Country

Photo taken by Karen Larkin.

Imagine your home country, the land in which you defended with your life.  Imagine coming home from days, months, or years at war, and the satisfaction you feel for doing one’s part for one’s country. For the soldier coming home to New Orleans from Iraq, however, they had no “home” to go to. Their “home” was in ruins, and even as they were off in Iraq, defending their country from the savages of war, no one defended their homes, jobs, or livelihood.

“The government let us down. What good is it to even serve us?” many wondered.

“I don’t want to fight for a government that doesn’t give a damn for you,” someone told cameras.

If you don’t have money and you don’t have status, you don’t have a government.”

As Producer Tia Lessin said: “The levees breaking were foul play. [The government] knew for years that the levees in New Orleans were vulnerable.” It was a crime to not evacuate the city, and it is a crime where no one is accounted for. And while, $350 million is spent in tax dollars to fight the War on Terror, what money is being spent to rebuild the homes, jobs, or livelihoods of the citizens of New Orleans? Meanwhile, the commercial and tourist attractions of New Orleans are restored just in time for Mardi Gras.

The Never-Ending Nightmare

“This must be a dream,” Kimberly’s younger brother Wink said when he emerged from prison to find his grandmother dead and his home ruined. However, Wink and his family never work up from their nightmare.

“Katrina is still going on. She’s still trying to do damage,” someone describes.

“New Orleans felt completely left behind,” producer Tia Lessin told the audience at Emerson Suites. “They felt that the rest of the country moved on and they haven’t.”

In the beginning, there have been great floods – floods that lasted 40 days and 40 nights. For Katrina victims however, the effects of their “great flood” may last a lifetime. After Katrina, most white have returned to their homes, however, most of the black community still have no homes to go to. As rent increases in new homes rebuilt in the New Orleans area, the homeless population also increases. And lastly, the levees still remain vulnerable.

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