Eldridge Cleaver, my friend the devil,
a memoir by Marvin X
Introduction by Amiri Baraka
Marvin X‘s newest book, “Eldridge Cleaver: My friend, the Devil” is an important Expose!, not only of whom his good friend really was… (I confess I thought something like that, in less metaphysical terms, from the day we met, at San Francisco State University, 1967). But also of whom Marvin was/is. Now Marvin has confessed to being Yacub, whom Elijah Muhammad taught us was the“evil big head scientist” who created the devil. (Marvin’s head is very large for his age.)
What is good about this book is Marvin’s telling us something about who Eldridge became as the Black Panther years receded in the rear view mirror. I remember during this period, when I learned that Marvin was hanging around Cleaver even after he’d made his televised switch from anti-capitalist revolutionary to Christian minister, denouncing the 3rd World revolutionaries and the little Marxism he thought he knew, while openly acknowledging beating his wife as a God given male prerogative, I said to Marvin, “I thought you was a Muslim”. His retort, “Jesus pay more money than Allah, Bro”, should be a classic statement of vituperative recidivism.
But this is one of the charms of this memoir. It makes the bizarre fathomable. Especially the tales of fraternization with arguably the most racist & whitest of the Xtian born agains with Marvin as agent, road manager, co-conspirator-confessor, for the post-Panther – very shot- out Cleaver. It also partially explains some of Cleaver’s moves to get back in this country, he had one time denounced, and what he did after the big copout. Plus, some of the time these goings on seem straight out hilarious. Though frequently, that mirth is laced with a sting of regret. Likewise, I want everyone to know that I am writing this against my will, as a fav
or to Yacub. --Amiri Baraka
Review: Eldridge Cleaver, Marvin X and Memoirs
Marvin has a "memoir." Promotionally, it is about Eldridge Cleaver, my least favorite Black Panther. I am down with Huey. For Bobby there is always gagged in Chicago . There was whiteness: everybody could see that fairly well by 1969 and we could see that it was a whiteness that did not tolerate and doesn't allow you to pretend that you have no understanding of whiteness and its operations. In this game of subjection, Eldridge's point indeed in his crazed cranium, mistakes nor ignorance aren't forgiven. All literary work is about "power"—that is mastery.
For a month or so I daily saw this writer writing a book—piece by piece (part by part). Marvin X exudes power. He just turned 65 but he removes space like Archie Moore 44 in the ring. The book is Marvin. I know it is an odd thing to say a book is an author. If that is the case this “memoir” is indeed a memoir in the most perfect sense of one thing being another. Marvin pulls his memoir through the mode of “storytelling.” Marvin, his memoir, each identifies with the people: to paraphrase Langston, in all their beauty and ugliness too. Marvin can walk into a barroom and in seconds have everyone laughing or falling out on the floor. Marvin doesn’t feel uncomfortable like Cornel West speaking before a class of black middle-class folk, or uncomfortable like other self-corporate prophetic leaders.
These are objects of his jest, ridicule, scorn. Their pretensions, their respectability. Other than a poet, playwright, director, publisher, and editor, Marvin X is a recovering addict who works daily in drug invested communities. He knows where his allegiance lies and in whom to invest. I want to be open in this discussion as much as necessary. I encouraged this book while Marvin was writing madly and emailing part after part, revision after revision. I found it all so riveting. Watching a writer write a book himself day after day, hour after hour, and the next thing I know we are on part 32, is quite an unusual and extraordinary experience. The writing process is indeed important. Each of us has his own way of going about it. Marvin’s last approach, similar to other Marvin escapades, intentionally and directly seeks an audience for his memoir. Actually, he was out on the road—a book tour. In Houston , Texas.
On a book tour, Marvin sends what one might call a “barrage” of responses to event or current events, keeping in touch with friends, writers, publishers and more. In ways he is always a political organizer as well as self-promoter. He makes his way as speaker, writer, event organizer, performer. He keeps people tied to one another and valuing their lives. Marvin is uniquely developed into an informed black man who is religious, spiritual, and political. He is as representative of the Black Arts Movement (BAM), then and now, as anyone I can think. In ways Marvin is galactic to the point you think he’s standing still, still mired in the betraying clays of the 1960s and 1970s.
Ones need to be half-crazed, extremely intelligent, and extraordinarily visionary for his words to reenact the BAM world, as is achieved in memoir, to see the hole we are clearly in and still remain faithful that “Blackness” will find a way. The memoir fell silent. Marvin moved onto South Carolina . Then he was in New York , Philly. And then New Jersey . Where he hooks up with his buddy, Amiri Baraka. From what I observed for the last decade is that Marvin loves Baraka, right or wrong, and would die for Baraka. This day. I knew this love when I was a soldier out on the streets of Baltimore . Brothers I would die for. That kind of enthusiasm about changing whiteness in the land and thus the world, well, that kind of “militancy” was buried with Mr. Jim Crow. The resulting vision of the NAACP.
Marvin X suspends the past present future like a diamond and makes us believe in “blackness” when it has grayed and entered a nursing home. Yet Marvin believes, he’s a soldier to the death. I did not want Marvin’s memoir to end. We were only at the beginning, though at chapter 39, chapters fairly short. In New York Marvin was talking about Amiri’s response and willingness to help secure Marvin a book deal for his memoir. From Marvin I received some piece of a rejection notice, all too stereotypical. I do not know where the cat was. But it seems he did not think the “memoir” was worthy of work or revision. What Marvin has as his “memoir” is indeed phenomenal. In its present form one can find nothing like it or better in representing the BAM world. The larger frame of the book could withstand double its size.
The expose could be put to work toward understanding what caused BAM writers to decline, and why the BAM literary legacy is more critical, than before or since the Harlem Renaissance . Two extraordinary playwrights. August Wilson and Marvin X have maintained their reverence and significance of the BAM period. Maybe Wilson is more introspective. Maybe less or differently ideological than Marvin. But both believing there is indeed such a thing as a “black perspective,” whether you want to agree with it or not. It is this kind of daily believing that makes Marvin X our saving grace.
Many of us are too willing to give up the significance and totality of what can be called Black Life in America , of the significance of identity in the personal, social, and economic progress or “success.” One cannot have a healthy psychic if one half of your people are free and the other half wallow in ignorance and superstition. How Moses satisfied such a state of being? I don’t want to hear about COINTELPRO or slave catchers. I want to hear more on how or why Huey died the way that he did. I want to hear more about why Cleaver’s madness was entertained by anyone sane in the black community—a rapist and murderer.
I want real discussion why Baraka’s walk away from cultural nationalism of the 1970s no less an act of betrayal than Cleaver in Cuba , in Algeria , in France , and black in the United States . The expose does not work so well if there's no thorough attempt to make any sense out of BAM failing to seize the high ground. Maybe there was an inadequacy, a sweep in BAM, that was too large, too public, and in other aspects too personal, to be sustained as a social movement for a people spread out across a nation.
I love Jimi Hendrix not one iota less to know that he died (by some reports murdered) in a drug house. My love for Huey is eternal. What I’ve heard and read so far brings nothing of import to account for Huey’s rise and fall. That’s from Marvin as well. How Huey came to the drug house? How for that matter Marvin X? Often we see it more in the light of spectacle, of shame, and guilt. Not only drug use but the entire cultural breakdown of race, sex, and gender, during that period, breaking down for new frontiers. At the time we were all under its spell. Woodstock !!!
Too many of us cultural radicals have warped into cultural conservatives, sometimes a too willingness to serve the Beast, at other times a cold hard decision, like “Allah does not pay as much as Jesus.” We are all Januses. Some more fortunate than others. At the Crack House the doors of Hell are open, how low a man, a woman will stoop, what acts she will perform for crack’s grain of joy. The deconstruction of crack must continue. That the whole scene is made unlawful shows how far the respectable stoops to crush any kind of resistance, political, social cultural or otherwise.
I’ve read two other memoirs by black male writers: one Jerry W. Ward, Jr., The Katrina Papers
(2008, $18.95) and the other by E. Ethelbert Miller, The 5th Inning
(2009). Miller’s memoir is more personal, though it too contains social commentary. Jerry Ward’s work is post-modern, the memoir imitates, sets itself up as the same powerful forces of post-Katrina—powerful with the fragments of people’s lives on motor boats and housetops; great sludge and dead bodies floating down the streets of your neighborhood. Marvin self published his memoir.
Each of these memoirs is special. Read them. My feeling is that most publishers are not interested in black male memoirs. But many readers including females may find a great interest in these three black male writers and how differently they situate black life in America .
Eldrdige Cleaver, My friend the Devil, a memoir by Marvin X, available from Black Bird Press, 1222 Dwight Way, Berkeley CA 94702, $1995, plus $5.00 for priority mail and handling. www.blackbirdpressnews.blogspot.com