The Trove: Gabriel Tolliver

Gabe in Brooklyn, on R&R.

Word in the ethers has it that Gabriel Tolliver and I broke bread in another incarnation, sharing the naan in India, but I have The Roots to thank for the re-meet in this realm.  Back in the nineties when Questlove was still B.R.O. the R.?, I checked him and his crew at Irving Plaza with my Baltimore bred, BK based girls-about-town, Julia and Elise, the Charm City Chances.

After a great show, Elise bumped into some Ft. Greene friends and we all piled into her car for the drive over the bridge.  Backseat passengers, Gabe and I chatted one another up and made plans to view each others work.  Soon after we agreed to meet near the Times Square offices of Essence and MTV where we were working respectively.  What was intended to be a quick lunch meeting morphed into a multi-hour convo about everything from the trickster resonance of Eshu Elegba to the I-Ching to a shared love of black cats — we each had two.  Water signs both, we had an easy flow and an astonishingly immediate “knowing” like we were picking up where we’d left off.  The restaurant, of course, was Indian.

A native of suburban Cleveland, Shaker Heights, to be exact, Gabe cut his production teeth at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts (where 20-years-later, his unofficial logo remains on the film school’s paraphernalia.) The award-winning screenwriter (Spook City with Jake-ann Jones,) author (Bling: The Hip-Hop Jewelry Book with Reggie Osse and the forthcoming Embrace the Suck,) director (from Busta Rhymes to Sesame Street,) producer (MTV,)  subway party thrower (from NYC to the Paris Metro) and now broadcast journalist for the US Army, the quirky Cancerian brings esoteric sensitivity to his part prankster, part gangster sensibility.

Now and then: a soldier’s favorite quote; satin in suburbia.

On a yearlong deployment in Afghanistan, Corporal Tolliver utilized social media to keep we who care abreast of his safety during the May 2010 Taliban attack on Kandahar. I was delighted to see him during his recent stateside visit for rest-and-relaxation; healthy, whole and impish grin intact. We checked out the stellar Fela! The Musical, and caught up on the stuff of a storytelling soldier’s and a storytelling blogger’s lives.

From his bio: “Gabriel aspires to create content/programming across media platforms and diverse worlds. No matter where he is in the world, Brooklyn is always considered home.”

Without further fanfare, a few of the things that hit G’s spots…

1. Fela. “Anything by the master of Afro-beat and James Brown’s ancient but familiar cousin.”

Fela Anikulapo Kuti.

2. Abistro Restaurant. The Fort Greene gem offers “food at its best-period.”

Blackened Snapper with bok choy, Yukon gold potatoes, grilled peach-pineapple salsa in a trio curry vinaigrette. Photo by Carl Hancock Rux.

3. James Brown’s Future Shock “Featuring some of the most insane dancing; this mid 70’s Soul Train alternative was produced and hosted by James Brown at what appears to be the height of his PCP days. A classic. If you find the DVD’s order them!”

4. Roger & Gallet cologne. “Keep yourself funky fresh,” in the epicurean aromas of green tea or ginger from the venerable Paris perfumer.

Thé Vert in the 200th anniversary flacon.

5. Prospect Park, Brooklyn. “A true vision of Olmsted and Vaux and what a park should be. If you’re feeling freaky deaky or voyeuristic, tread through the Vale of Cashmere. On horseback is best so you can jet if the woodland booty bandits come after you.”

The secluded Vale of Cashmere. Photo, Nostalgiepourlaboue.

6. Five Ice Cream. As all his facebook friends know, Gabe heartily indulged while on a recent break from his deployment in A-stan. “A couple of pints make good eats.” (Ginger, Passionfruit, Vanilla or Strawberry will do for him.) The latest product from Häagen-Dazs, a clean confection of 5 ingredients only: milk, cream, sugar, eggs and a single, all-natural flavor.

7. Trader Joe’s. Before the beloved healthful food emporium opened in NYC proper, he’d jump in his silver VW beetle and head up to the Westchester location as an economical alternative to pricey competitor, “Whole Check.”

8. Flying Lotus. “Sounding at times like a sublime movie soundtrack,” comes Flying Lotus, the Cali-based Steven Ellison (who counts the Coltranes among his kin) with his marvelous “mix of electronica, new wave and avant garde hip-hop.”

Fly Lo’s Galaxy in Janaki.

9. Vibram FiveFingers. “Getting back to the bare foot and basics.”

FiveFingers shoes protect the feet yet allow the experience of the same physical and visceral sensation as going barefoot.

10. The Tool Kit. “…as things get a bit uncertain out there.” Leatherman “is a great all-in-one tool for home, car or backpack,” and the Gerber combat knife, “Some folks and some food need to get cut sometimes…one of my best friends out here in Talibland.”

Tools of the trade when “shooting” has double meaning: The M-16 assault rifle, “Matilda,” and “an old school” Sony PD-170 DV camera.

Update September 2010:

Gabriel has completed his deployment and returned safely to the US, where he still serves in the US Army.  His book, Embrace the Suck, 366 Days of Strength, Courage, Inspiration, Wisdom and Hope, a year’s worth (accommodating leap year) of quotes from Gandhi to Zora Neale Hurston; George S. Patton to the Bible, is available on Amazon.

“Embrace the Suck” — soldier slang coined in the Iraq War.


8 Responses

  1. Oh my God, I love this! Awww, Sharon, this is a great piece! I love how much you were able to share about his personality with a peek into all these current ‘essences of Gabe’ favs and ‘tools of the trade.’ Brilliant. Thank you so much for doing this — bringing a much-loved one home so nearly and dearly through your thoroughly efficient, and tasty, writing! WE LOVE YOU GABRIEL TOLLIVER!!! xo j.

  2. Wow, great piece, Sharon! Great to see that Gabe is “healthy, whole, and impish grin intact.” Nice, too, to see a tour a Gabe’s favorite things. This is a great feature, and I’ll check it out more regularly from now on. Be well!

  3. can’t wait to see you, gabe! we miss you, brother. stay safe out there. this is a wonderful piece – nice to be assured our boy is whole and still splendid.



  4. Love the personal profile format Sharon!!! I don’t know Gabe,… but I feel like I do now. Keep up the good work as you usually do and let’s be in touch. Was great seeing you and catching up. xx.

  5. You did it again girl. You certainly have a way with words. I love your writing and all the people I meet in the TROVE. Keep up the good work.

  6. Reunions have been a recurring theme in my life this year. i thoroughly enjoyed reading someone else’s account of their own recent such…. In context who better to read than you Sharon!

  7. thanks for the love and great piece on my uncle Gabe! I hope that all is well with you and yours.

  8. i have three pair of five fingers. get a pair and your gait gets a lift.

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