Janita – Didn’t You, My Dear?
ECR Music Group – 2015
Janita slinks behind the piano in that awkward silence between songs. “This next one is about living with an asshole and not knowing you have choices. Anyway, Happy Valentines Day.”
The crowd breaks into laughter as she plays the opening phrase of “Won’t Make a Sound.” For a moment 2015 Rockwood feels like 1977 Rockpalast. Was it Tom Waits that implied a song may be fully formed in the pen just waiting to be set free? Like a timeless sculpture, this song seems to have existed in the stone way before Janita chiseled it free.
“I love the version on the new record,” I say to Janita over coffee in Brooklyn a few weeks later. “That piano sound is amazing.”
“Blake’s piano in the studio. I can play that all day,” she says.
Blake Morgan, ECR Music Group founder/owner, produced Didn’t You, My Dear? at his Manhattan studio. Aside from retouching and releasing Janita’s last record, 2010’s Haunted, this new album is the first the two have made from scratch together. Janita (pronounced “YA-nee-tuh”) workshoped tunes within a creative round-table that included Blake as well as famed feminist, poet, activist, and podcaster Robin Morgan.
“I used to do tricks
used to run after sticks
I used to play ball
with all you pricks”
– “Who’s Gonna Tell The Wolf She’s Not a Dog”
“Robin is doing her best work now, which is truly inspiring to me as an artist and a woman,” Janita explains, which somehow reminds me she’s spent about half her life in the states. “More than half,” she corrects me. Wow, was that first half a doozy; a childhood celebrity in her native Finland, a bonafide pop star thereafter, and all that that implies.
“Madonna’s Blonde Ambition was big, so of course they had me in red fishnets at 13,” Janita recalls knowingly, without the bitterness she may have once felt. That kind of mindfulness is the backbone of Didn’t You, My Dear? – this isn’t a woe-is-me record, this is an I-took-control record. It’s also a beautiful record.
“Some Serious Gravity” kicks things off, sexy and undulating, foreshadowing some treats the album has up its sleeve, like Janita’s voluptuous vocals and Blake’s song-serving production. Holding the wine glass to my nose, I get hints of Jeff Buckley, a little Radiohead, even some spicy Patti Smith, specifically in the stark “Who’s Gonna Tell The Wolf She’s Not a Dog.”
“I don’t mean to embarrass you by making comparisons,” I say.
“Oh no, go right ahead. I love it,” she beams.
Back at Rockwood, Blake and I are bobbing our heads slowly in unison to “Beautiful You Are.” Label-mate Melissa Giges, who recently released her best record Just When I Let Go, is on piano with Janita playing guitar and blowing the roof off Stage 3. I mention to Blake that this song reminds me of Massive Attack. “Right? Or Portishead,” he agrees. “Let yourself feel / Surrender to what is real,” Janita sings within a melody that has haunted me for weeks.
While this record is a game-changer for Janita, there are some nods to her previous life. “No Excuses,” could fit comfortably on her last record, and songs like “Traces Upon Your Face” and “They Call It Love” are plaintive exercises in deconstructed R&B – leaps and bounds more sophisticated than her early dance records.
“She works very differently in the studio,” Blake mentions. “We hardly did any comps. She almost always takes it from the top.”
That kind of method performance explains why her take on Tom Waits’ “Clap Hands“ sounds authentic without aping it’s creator’s trademark growl – from the grinding marimbas to Andrea Longato‘s Marc Ribot inspired solo.
Every sound on this record serves the song. There isn’t a wasted note, perhaps best exemplified by some economical percussion and drums by Jonathan Ellinghaus (aka Miles East) – propelling the songs forward without ever diverting attention away from its themes or the main instrument; Janita’s elastic and soulful voice.
If it feels like a new beginning for Janita, that’s because it is. A freshly minted American citizen, she’s already been back and forth to Washington making her voice heard as part of the #irespectmusic campaign for artists’ rights.
“There’s probably people in Finland that will hear about this record and think ‘oh, she’s still at it?” Janita says, smiling and acknowledging something she can’t control. But as she sings on the defiant “No Excuses,” “I’m still here / I’m still standing / In your face / In your face.”
* * *
Rest Easy Eric Curran a.k.a M.C Krispy E
Almost every year for the past 6 years and on the same day, I’ve posted the same pic of me in the hospital during my temporary and untimely demise in 2015. A few weeks after I was back to “normal”, I asked Eric “Why’d you take the pics?” And he said, “I knew you would want to write about it if you lived.” Eric was right. Eric was often right and Eric always had my best interest at heart. I am going to miss my friend.
You ever meet someone and become friends immediately?! Well this was not the case with Eric. Before he was my manager at Morgan Stanley, I would often see this 6’4″, giant white guy walk up to the only black woman at work, say something then walk away without any hint of human emotion. Naturally I thought he was a jerk until I asked her “Yo, is that dude bothering you?” She laughed and proceeded to tell me he was a great person, which I ultimately got to experience first hand. Little did I know this Italian from Staten Island was more Brooklyn than most Brooklynites.
Eric was not with the shits!! If there were ever someone who lived their life in direct, honest and no uncertain terms, that would be Eric. He would ask me questions at work like “Why are the other consultants making more money than you?” I knew the answer to that question and so did he. Eric then proceeded to increase my salary by 15K. After arguing with all our managers that “You need to hire Alfred!”, they eventually did 1 year prior to the 2015 incident. In the hospital, one of my friends asked me, “What if you didn’t have health insurance when this happened?” I would be in debt for the rest of my life is the obvious answer. I still am in debt for the rest of my life but at least, it is to those who made sure I had a more enjoyable life and for that, I will gladly repay.
My mom loved to tell me the story of how she met Eric. After they told her I was going to be in the ICU for some time, she told the doctor “Well I’m not going anywhere.” She then hears a voice from that back of the room that says “Well I’m not going anywhere either!” That was Eric and in true form, he was at that hospital every single day until I was discharged.
Eric passed away in December 2021 of stage 4 cancer. After feeling faint on his way to my bbq, he went to get checked out and was diagnosed. During the past 5 years, Eric lost his mom, twin brother and dad. I can’t even begin to imagine what that must have felt like but I’m glad that pain he was feeling is no more.
From being my manager to my business partner, writer, book editor, artistic director, and most importantly, my friend, I am going to miss you MC Krispy E a.k.a “Enrique Pollazo!” And although you told me Enrique means Henry in Spanish and not Eric, it was too late!
Sidebar. The day I was discharged, while everyone was deciding what was best for me, no one had remembered that I would need clothes in order to leave the hospital. Eric shows up (unasked) with all the clothes I had on the day I coded, laundered and ready to go. I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve friends like this but i need to keep doing it! Sidebar complete.
Rest in Peace Eric. “Be Good.”
Writing Your First Book / Should I Self Publish?
I had the distinct pleasure of participating in a panel discussion on writing your first book, presented by the Harlem chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. Alongside Jim St. Germain, Author – A Stone of Hope: A Memoir and Dr. Keneshia Nicole Grant, Author – The Great Migration and the Democratic Party: Black Voters and the Realignment of American Politics in the 20th Century. We opined on pain points, benefits and strategies regarding our inaugural voyages into authorship. Feel free to watch for your self and I hope this provides some insight to all those looking to make the same voyage. Enjoy!
What the NFT is a BEEPLE?
On March 11 this year, the digital artist Beeple sold a collage of digital images from his “Everydays” series for nearly 70 million dollars as an NFT, or non-fungible token. And if that sentence confuses you, you’re not alone.
A non-fungible token is a unit of data on a digital ledger called a blockchain, where each NFT can represent a unique digital item, and thus they are not interchangeable. NFTs can represent digital files such as art, audio, video, and other forms of creative work. While the digital files themselves are infinitely reproducible, the NFTs representing them are tracked on their underlying blockchains and provide buyers with proof of ownership.” – Wikipedia
Still confused? Let the artist himself explain it, and learn how he went from NFT newbie to making the third most expensive artwork by a living artist in three months. Not to suggest Beeple is an overnight success. The “Everydays” series alone involved creating a piece of art every day since May 1, 2007 – and he hasn’t missed a day.
Check out some of Beeple’s amazing and controversial work below.