Song of the Day #2,539: ‘Black Men Ski’ – Stew & The Negro Problem

stew_making_itBetween 1997 and 2003, Stew released six albums (half under his own name and half under the moniker The Negro Problem). Every one of them is excellent — in fact, his first two solo albums were named as the best of their respective year by Entertainment Weekly.

Then he disappeared.

Well, that’s not exactly true. Fans of the New York theater scene might have caught him performing a couple of autobiographical musicals during the past decade, winning awards and eventually performing both on Broadway and in a filmed performance directed by Spike Lee.

That’s all very impressive and heady, but it doesn’t satisfy a guy like me who just wants to hear some great songs.

The Broadway show, Passing Strange, was released in album form and left me cold. This year, a new release titled Making It captures on record a show he and his musical (and former life) partner Heidi Rodewald performed on stage in Brooklyn in 2010. It’s no better.

Stew has such a knack for clever lyrics and sticky melodies… I don’t know why he prefers, at least lately, to write meandering stage songs instead. The album is a slog.

The two exceptions are tracks that debuted years ago. ‘Tomorrow Gone’ is a lovely song from his third solo album about a musician getting momentarily lured by the simple suburban life of his brother. And today’s track, ‘Black Men Ski,’ is a deadpan take on stereotypes first recorded seven years ago.

Black men go to Aspen and rent colorful chalets
Giggle at the questions their mere presence seems to raise
Get taken for men they don’t resemble in the least
It’s a winter wonderland in the belly of the beast

And black men ski
Black men ski

Black men send back sushi with a scorned Yakuza’s flair
We make postmodern art with bacon grease and hot combed hair
We quietly play Beethoven inside our bass-mobiles
We can tell you how cool looks, but cannot show you how it feels

When black men ski
When black men ski

Black men now are students of gay sensibility
We wear ironic t-shirts drenched in code unknown to thee
We get baptized in Walden pond amongst a searing mob
The cleansing blood of Jesus could not do a Thoreau job

Black men ski
Black men ski

Chinese guys can jump real high and Germans cook soul food
White boys rap and hippies nap their dreads up to look rude
Jazz is now suburban, it’s Marsalis-ly clean
And now we’ve got Viagra everyone’s a sex machine

So black men ski
Black men ski

Some kids I’ll describe as friends say I am race-obsessed
The luxury of that opinion shows you that you are blessed
I have poems about sunsets, flowers and the rain
I’ve read them to policemen, but it was all in vain

And black men ski
Black men ski


One thought on “Song of the Day #2,539: ‘Black Men Ski’ – Stew & The Negro Problem

  1. Dana says:

    It’s interesting that Stew’s career took the path of theater since his music always sounded to me like it was better fitted to a musical. For me, that theatrical quality was a bit of a drawback when listening to Stew outside that context. I probably would have liked the music better had I seen the shows, but, as with music from most musicals, I rarely enjoy them as much in recorded versions.

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