Now looka here,
All you cats ’n’ kitties,
Hippies ’n’ flippies,
Dudes ’n’ dudesses,
Punks ’n’ grungies,
Lefties ’n’ defties,
Dot coms ’n’ commies,
Enemies’ List ’n’ anarkissed,
Gen Xers ’n’ hypersexers,
Snake charmers ’n’ hog farmers,
Whippin’ ’n’ wailin’,
’N’ shootin’ ’n’ trippin’,
Catchin’ ’n’ flyin’,
Movin’ ’n’ lovin’,
’N’ high-fivin’ ’n’
On who in the world
Was Ted Vincent?
What a friend we had in Teddy! I was in Barcelona when I was e-mailed of Berkeley classic Ted Vincent’s passing at 73.
My first impulse was to get an obit and have it translated for the European press, El Pais, Le Monde, Der Spiegel. Although Teddy’s Portuguese fisher folk—it was their dream to get his father into the U.S. Naval Academy—left lineage was in no way inclined toward currying European intellectuals, his radical achievements deserve planetary hosannahs.
Beyond plays et al.—Two Wives of Garvey, and his uncovering of Malcom X’s mother’s Garveyite beliefs—his meticulous, haunting research and hidden histories can be savored, as his Funk historian and “Uhuru Maggot” Pacifica DJ son Rickey, says, in four soul-setting black struggle “fascinating, accessible reads”:
1970 as Theodore G. Vincent, Black Power and the Garvey Movement, Ramparts Press, San Francisco, reprinted by Nzinga Press, 1987, and reprinted by Black Classics Press, 2007;
1972 as Theodore G. Vincent, Editor: Voices of a Black Nation: Political Journalism in the Harlem Renaissance, Ramparts Press, San Francisco, reprinted by Afrika World Press 1991;
1981 as Ted Vincent, Mudville’s Revenge: The Rise and Fall of American Sport, University of Nebraska Press, reprinted in 1994;
1995 as Ted Vincent, Keep Cool: The Black Activists Who Built the Age of Jazz, Pluto Press, London;
2003 as Theodore G. Vincent, The Legacy of Vicente Guerrero, Mexico’s First Black Indian President, University of Florida Press.
From Managua to Monrovia to Manila, he was a Mister Americas—and touched all bases in radical stride. Including being a Boogie Woogie pianist of no mean doin’—and also lover of the mixed race “Star Trek” and “Lost,” whose own personal adventure to that Hawaii locale with his beloved second wife, Selma, was planned at the time of his passing.
His first wife, Toni, went on to be a member of the Black Panther Party. In 1964, Ted was actually a teacher of the young Huey Newton at Oakland’s Merritt College. Teddy got an M.A., but ultimately dismissed a Ph.D because of his fierce independence.
This may also have led to his May 22 heart attack the day before he was to speak at the Oakland Museum on the great African Mexican warrior, Yanga, who Ted, a screamer over little things, it is said, introduced to the larger world. “I’m going to do it my way, not theirs!”
Our friend’s life also made me think of great filmmakers John Sayles, Tim Robbins, Carl Franklin, John Singleton, Ang Lee, Spike Lee, who would, I believe, relish the lusty, lefty life of our too-soon-gone friend.
Physically nonstop since birth, Teddy was, I believe, truly a real gone cat, a justice freak if there ever was one—and a radical pioneer of Full Tilt Boogie! His tragic yet epic birth killed his mother, a Naval Academy Superintendent’s daughter in Washington. Deceit was like something out of black, black, black Shel Silverstein folklore—“He was born on a night when the stars refused to shine.” His early life moving, often in terror, from town to town, at times in the heinous South, with his organizer father and sisters —to become Buddhist nuns?—and into young adulthood starting his interracial life—always fighting the good fight.
I, alas, knew Teddy less than 20 years, and what richness he added to my life. From baseball games and Berkeley High girls’ basketball to dedicated, devoted protest, to avid runner with his third wife, Bernice, to aforementioned soulful ivories tickler, to most astonishing caring research and writing of have nots’ hidden lives and cultures, this was a tolerant cat who did all he could to make this country and planet all and awe it ain’t.
If he had had a nickname, it might have been leftuously Lefty—Lefty Leftuous?
On a very personal note, you know how people get their birthday headlined in New York Times facsimilies? Well, because of Ted’s exotic library, including a jazz and blues discography of the ’30s and ’40s, I was able, by purposely flipping through it, to find out that on the night of my birth, the legendary bootlegger and guitarist Kokomo Arnold had recorded seven cuts with singer “Signifying” Lil Johnson—an ex of the steeped Lonnie Johnson—bass player Peetie Wheatstraw—the Devil’s Brother-in-Law—and barrelhouse pianist Roosevelt Sykes—as bad an outfit as was ever put together. Kokomo Arnold died on Nov. 8, 1968, a few days after I returned to Chicago, by train, after four defining mid-’60s years in the Bay Area.
Now, it gets good. That session was done at Chicago’s Decca Records studios on South Michigan Avenue, around the corner from the 12th Street terminal Illinois Central Station where migrants from the Mississippi Delta arrived in droves in the Windy City.
More to the more, those studios were right across Michigan Avenue from St. Luke’s Hospital, where I was coming into the world. You had to be there. Thank you, Teddy!
At the time of his sudden demise—choking, gagging, his throat being torn apart, with no surgeon in sight for an hour, a violent violation—arguably alleged Kaiser malpractice—Teddy was working on a magnificent “War and Peace”/magical realism novel of 16th-century African-Asian-indigenous Mexican-Spanish conquest history.
Like my dear red-diaper bubi Michael Rossman, I miss Teddy, and his great mien and smile, terribly; no one to talk to anymore about the bad weird, the good wacky and the wonderful. I deeply wish his family all that comes from his first-magnitude bright dark-star-borne heritage and legacy—including Teddy’s deep desire for a Mexican Revolution next year—as in 1810 and 1910. Presente!
Arnie Passman is a Berkeley resident.