cover image Flyboy in the Buttermilk: Essays on Contemporary America

Flyboy in the Buttermilk: Essays on Contemporary America

Greg Tate. Simon & Schuster, $10 (285pp) ISBN 978-0-671-72965-3

This collection of 40 essays on music, literature, art and politics confirms Tate's role as a chief progenitor of a New Black Aesthetic, what Gates calls ``a body of creativity unfettered by the constraints of a nationalist party line.'' Consistently interesting, often brilliant, Tate--a staff writer for the Village Voice --modulates funkadelic street argot with a fierce intellect, taking on subjects as diverse as Miles Davis, artist Jean-Michel Basquiat and Lee Atwater's embrace of black music. Reviewing the rap group Public Enemy, he observes, ``To know PE is to love the agitprop (and artful noise) and to worry over the whack OK w-out comma?/no comma/pk retarded philosophy they espouse.'' Some music essays and a foray into hermeneutics may be heavy going for the uninitiated, but Tate skillfully enlivens writers like black SF fabulist Samuel Delany, and deftly criticizes essentialist curators who deny the ``ambiguity and complexity'' of black visual art. The political pieces cut to the bone, sparing neither a white power structure that devalues black life nor blacks who cry racism to excuse sexism; too many blacks, he says, ``get more upset over being disrespected than they do over being disempowered.'' (May)