To Genevieve

BLACKLIGHT

To Genevieve on this Saturday, February 24, 2018, I dedicate this post in which I talk about Blacklight, a mystical, otherworldly, oh-so-this-world, performance.

WOW!!! Jomama Jones’ performance of BlackLight at Joe’s Pub is AMAZING. I was lucky enough to see her performance last week and I still can’t get it out of my head. Part solo performance (lots of spoken-word storytelling), part concert (she is accompanied by guitar, keyboard, bass and drums as well as two vocalists she calls the Vibrations), part psychic reading (there is a deck of tarot cards and each audience member receives a tarot card that reveals the High Priestess of the Crossroads), part church gathering (“can I get a witness?” is a repeated question), part political rally, part consciousness-raising group, part cabaret and part nothing like I’ve ever seen before.

Jomama Jones, for those of you who don’t know and woe-is-me that I was one of those beings until last week, is the stunning(!!!!) and statuesque, female alter ego of Daniel Alexander Jones. Stunning because she stands over six feet tall in her stiletto heels and completely owns whatever sequin-shiny dress or jumpsuit (sometimes purple, sometimes yellow, sometimes caramel, sometimes silver, sometimes gold) she changes into over the course of the 90-minute performance. Stunning because not only are the stories she shares of spending time on the wrap-around porch with Aunt Cleotha or of being in science class with Miss Stutz terrific, but the voice with which she articulates them is mesmerizing. Stunning because the songs she performs written by herself (and not, apparently, by Daniel Alexander Jones who gets credit as the creator but not as the song writer) are gorgeous and smart and in a voice that hits very different registers than the throatier speaking voice.

Jomama Jones’ performance begins with a series of “What Ifs” and ends with a single word, one that also serves as imperative: CHOOSE. Choose is also the word that is embossed upon the purple envelope which each audience member receives. Inside that envelope, one that we are instructed not to open until the end of the performance, is a tarot card labeled the High Priestess of the Crossroads and, not surprisingly, that high priestess looks an awful lot like Jomama Jones. But before we can understand what we are being asked to choose, and before Jomama Jones pulls out an entire tarot card deck asking for audience interaction in pulling a card from the deck, we need to know why this high priestess has come before us and positioned us at a crossroads from which we must choose. And so the show begins with Jomama Jones entering the Joe’s Pub space from the very door that the audience members entered (and not from the stage door space), asking a series of “what ifs” that run the gamut from asking “What if I told you it will be ok” to “What if I told you, you might not make it through” to “What if I told you I could see into the future?” to “What if I told you I’m from the future?”

Questions, which range from the provocative “What if?” to the more interactive “Can I get a witness?” to the more metaphorical queries about “crossroads,” are followed by song and narrative. The narratives are about growing up in the South when you are a person of color. We are told of one in which Aunt Cleotha sits on her porch at 3 a.m. with torch (aka flashlight) and shotgun in hand and in answer to the young Jo’s question, responds that she keeps the shotgun “so you can sleep…they’re still out there.” The songs and narratives are also about being inspired by Prince the performer and musician. In that story, we hear of a young Jo sitting in a 1979 science class, admiring a poster of Prince. Then she and her friend/rival, Tamika, designate various body parts on that poster as theirs in a kind of frenzied competition. This activity causes their science teacher, Miss Stutz, to ask if they recognize that they are carving Prince up in a way that smacks a little too much of the way the Europeans carved up Africa. The songs that weave in and around these snippets of narrative are about black quandaries, black rage, black holes, black love, and black experience. all of which illuminate black experience and Blacklight.

But in order to truly illuminate Blacklight, you also have to understand that the audience has an integral part to play. How does the audience fit in? Jomama Jones wants our full, committed, and active presence and she makes this abundantly clear right from the beginning when she asks us the series of tantalizing “what ifs” and then proceeds to ask us for our AUDIBLE CONSENT. What a fascinating way to engage the audience at this particular moment in history when we are learning just how absent consent is in just how many, often heterosexual, relationships. Jomama Jones then models what she means by this by going up to an audience member and asking, audibly, whether the audience member would like to touch and feel the dress she is currently wearing, to feel its smoothness when you rub one way, but also its spikey side when you rub the other way, leading to the admonition to the entire audience to “be careful which way you rub.” But she wants even more from us, her audience. She wants us to be witnesses. For what? For lots of things, but I think, in the end, it’s that she wants us to witness that it is possible to choose love in a hate-filled world. For, towards the end of the performance, Jomama Jones declares: “I don’t want allies. Allies are subject to negotiation. I want commitment. I want lovers.” So when, at the end, she comes back to the idea of crossroads and choice, it is up to us to decide whether we’re going for the road that leads to the hate or for the road that leads to the love. I know which road I’m going down and it’s all thanks to Jomama Jones letting me see what that might look and feel like. I’m pretty sure it begins with audible consent.

But wait it’s not over because yet again, it happened. Just when I am positive that I must surely have seen everything there is to be seen, I see something I have never seen before. Because, at the very end of the performance, during Jomama Jones’ last song, a literal blacklight lit up the audience so that not only were all of us united in that light, but all of our playbills began to glow in the dark suggesting a kind of high priestess, other worldly moment. And so another first for me: the first time the playbill transcends its souvenir status and becomes an integral part of the performance. I LOVED that moment.

It’s not everyday that I get to attend a performance like Blacklight, but any time I do, I all but get down on my knees to prostrate myself before the universe to signify my extreme gratitude for experiencing something so boundary-breaking and life-enhancing.

I dedicate this post, steeped in the mystery and love created by Jomama Jones, to my sister, Genevieve. God, how I miss her.

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