If there ever was a podcast that I’d want see recreated into a Netflix documentary, this would be it. Hosted by Brian Jackson, and called Pieces of a Man – referencing his 1971 musical collaboration with poet and soul-jazz artist Gil Scott-Heron. Jackson also contributed to Heron’s remarkable hit of the same year ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.’ In this podcast he talks with co-host Keith LaMar, an inmate on Death Row. But wait. Hold any judgement on what to expect from this podcast. These are some of the most enriching conversations I’ve heard regarding the Black Lives Matter Movement in a long time. Throughout the season Jackson and LaMar talk about living through generations of American conflict and how music has freed them both, spiritually.
The first episode is a reflection on this years Independence Day, which Jackson describes as “One of the most unusual Independence Days ever.” They discuss the disconnect between the national holiday, and the African-American experience. We are led into the 34 minute chat as they read passages from Frederick Douglass’ Independence Day speech “This Forth of July is yours, not mine” as they move on to candidly share their thoughts on education, and how it’s failed children in part by its focus on everything over and above the valuing of the human experience. They both came late to learning about Douglass’, long after their traditional learning experience at school. LaMar muses over this and declares education as the “Mis-education system.”
“They teach you the value of money. They should teach you what real value means.”
The music section follows, focusing in this episode on John Coltrane. The hosts explore their adjacent healing journey’s through Coltrane’s work. LaMar’s situation comes throttling to the fore here:
“You have my body. I’m gonna take this pain and communicate it on the highest level. I can go back to my cell and put on John Coltrane and I’m on a completely different vantage point.”
These conversations are an invitation to explore this reckoning point in our history, honing the lens on the Judicial system which has failed us, and the music that has saved us.
“We’ve got lessons to learn and contributions to make. This was John’s contribution. I just want it to be said that I loved somebody. That’s what John Coltrane is saying.”
Jackson concludes “This universal consciousness that we’ve been through, is the understanding that we are all connected. If there is going to be a next evolutionary step, then this is it.”
As I revelled in the beauty of this conversation, I was pulled right back out of it with a reminder that the recording is taking place through the phone line from a prison. We hear an abrupt “You have one minute remaining” message interrupt the call. LaMar continues “Education strips us of the knowledge that we are connected. Strips us of who we are. To ourselves or each other. That’s the tragedy. We are being reminded of our connection by people like John Coltrane.”
And that was it. The call is cut off with an automated “Thank you for using GTL” (the inmate telephone service) as Jackson wraps the show. The conversations will stay with you, lift you and offer a re-connection with the work of both Coltrane and Jackson. But with the abruptness of that final phone click, a part of me is certainly reflecting on where we are as a society following this year’s resurgence of the Black Lives Matter Movement. As I do so, my heart is right there with LeMar in that cell.
Lou Mensah founded Shade Podcast to create a safe space for rigorous & inclusive conversations on Representation within the Arts.
Before launching Shade Lou worked on various commissions as a photographer, including stills for Directors Anthony Minghella & Sundance winner Marc Silver plus Mike Figgis; gaining awards for her work from Nick Knight and the late Alexander McQueen.
Launched just over a year ago, Shade Podcast has been received well by both the audience and press. Miranda Sawyer (The Guardian) said of Shade “Every episode gave me something new to think about. Inspiring!” – whilst Esquire has listed Shade as one of the ‘Best 2020 Podcasts you can listen too.”