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I Am the New Black Hardcover – October 20, 2009

3.4 out of 5 stars 35 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Tracy Morgan is an actor and a comedian. He was a cast member on Saturday Night Live for seven years, has had featured roles in numerous movies, and currently stars on the award-winning sitcom 30 Rock. In 2009 he was nominated for an Emmy Award for his role as Tracy Jordan on that show. He lives in New York City.

Anthony Bozza is a former Rolling Stone staff writer and the author of the # 1 New York Times bestseller Too Fat to Fish with Artie Lange and the New York Times bestsellers Whatever You Say I Am: The Life and Times of Eminem, Tommyland with Tommy Lee, and Slash with Slash. He lives in New York City.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Chapter One


Every good story I know starts at the very beginning, because like that white lady said in The Sound of Music, it’s a very good place to start. My story doesn’t start the day I was born, because that isn’t the very beginning. My story starts years before I was born.

In the 1950s, America decided it was a good idea to try to fight communism in tropical jungles on other side of the world. When JFK was president, he seemed to think we needed to help the Vietnamese, but that ultimately they would need to figure themselves out on their own. Once he died, Lyndon Johnson took office and became the guy who really made a big national issue out of it for us. President Johnson and his administration, in their infinite wisdom, tripled our military presence in Vietnam, basically upping the ante on some crazy idea of President Eisenhower’s from about ten years before. I don’t understand how anyone can like Ike.

Shouldn’t our presidents be given tests for common sense? I’m no military strategist, but I think the people in power from the late fifties through to the seventies were a bunch of paranoid white dudes. In the way that the PTA looks at marijuana as the gateway drug, those guys thought of ’Nam as the gateway to worldwide communism. They told the American people, who at first really bought into this shit, that if we let those communist Russians get stoned on Vietnam, they’d become addicted to takeover. Soon they’d be selling their crackhead philosophy all across Asia and into Europe. Then they’d hook up with their homey Castro in Cuba and have a huge commie cartel poisoning our free democratic minds in America. There’d go the whole damn neighborhood. The Russians were supposed to be some kind of new Hitler, and if we didn’t get that communism out of ’Nam, we’d be eating Kremlin Nuggets in McDonald’s over here in no time.

That was how they sold it. I still think it’s crazy. The Russians lived thousands of miles away, where it snowed and they drank vodka and ate potatoes and waited on line for toilet paper all day. They had their ideals, and Lenin and Marx were like their Biggie and Tupac, but I don’t think those guys gave a fuck about Vietnam, or at least not nearly as much as we thought they did. It would be like New York and L.A. fighting over Ohio in the East Coast/West Coast rap wars. Can you see that happening? What the hell could either side want with Ohio? A parking lot for their Bentleys?

In the end, our government sent eight million of our young men—that’s an entire generation—over to Southeast Asia to serve, and hundreds of thousands came back dead or wounded or too fucked up to live right. We don’t have much else to show for it, so if you ask me, everything about that war was just wrong. It wasn’t the kind of war we could win because there wasn’t anything really to fight for! You’d think that after that kind of a blow to America’s self-esteem, presidents would be more careful about invading places with complicated histories. Apparently, dudes from Texas whose fathers were president don’t learn lessons like that. Anyone who knows anything about Vietnam wouldn’t have wasted our country’s time and money and lives in Iraq because it’s the same kind of war, just this time in a desert. Listen, I wasn’t much of a student, but there’s one thing I took away from U.S. history class: An army of stuffy British redcoats couldn’t beat a bunch of hick farmers with holes in their boots because they were fighting in the farmers’ own backyards! Was Bush not a baseball fan? Doesn’t he know about the home-field advantage? You can’t ignore that shit! Ask any cop who’s tried to run down a crackhead in his own hood— nine out of ten times, the crackhead won’t get caught. He’s got the home/hood advantage.

Let me get back to my point, which is that my dad, Jimmy, was one of so many young men who went to Vietnam. He was drafted in 1965 and served four or five tours. Unlike a lot of his friends who went alongside him, he managed to make it back in one piece, physically at least. But just like other survivors, he was torn to pieces inside by what he’d seen and what he’d had to do to survive. My dad was taken from me when I was a teenager, so I didn’t get the chance to speak to him man to man about what he lived through, but I got a sense of it from the stories he told.

He tried to always end those stories with something cheerful, because that was the way he looked at life, but you could hear the hardship through it anyway. When my dad would tell me about hard days and sleepless nights in the jungle, he’d spend more time talking about his friends telling jokes and singing Motown songs to get through it together. But one time when I was in high school, he sat me down and really leveled with me. He told me that he’d been a helicopter gunner and that countless times he killed people that he didn’t know. He’d watch them fall to the ground hundreds of feet below him every time he pulled that trigger.

“It was war,” he said to me, without a smile on his face. “It was bloody.”

He got real quiet and I couldn’t think of anything to say. He was my hero, and I was just trying to picture him, not much older than I was at the time, in a helicopter above a jungle, leaning out the door shooting people every day, just to stay alive.

“I never told you who you’re named after, did I, Tray?”

That wasn’t what I was expecting to hear. “No, Dad. You and Mom said you just liked the way it sounded.”

“Well, we did, but there’s more to it,” he said.

When my dad got on that army transport plane leaving America headed to Vietnam, he spent the next twenty-four hours or however long it took to get over there sitting next to an Irish guy named Tracy. They were the same age and came from very different backgrounds, but they became real close, considering the circumstances. They talked about all that they were leaving behind and all that they were going to face. They talked about being scared and how long they thought this war would go on. He said he knew that guy better after one day with him than he did members of his own family. They landed and got their assignments, and the next day my dad’s new friend Tracy was dead. He was all in pieces because he stepped on a land mine. He was going home in a body bag after one day in the shit.

“That taught me everything I needed to know about the war,” my dad said. “I never forgot that time I spent with him, because all that talking we did put me at ease. I figured that we’d be friends forever, but that’s how war is. And that’s how you got your name.”

I was sad to hear that story but glad too. Because let’s face it—Tracy Morgan? That’s an Irish female’s name. With a name like that, I should have red hair, blue eyes, and big titties. I should be in a green bikini on a float every March.

When I think of Vietnam or see it referenced in a movie or a script, the first image that comes to mind is my father in his field uniform, fighting in that jungle. As an older man, when I’ve been faced with challenges, I remember that at seventeen my father went to fight a war on the other side of the world. I look at my girlfriend, Taneisha, whose brother was sent to fight in Iraq. He left home at eighteen. I wonder what he was thinking about as he flew over there. I wonder if his experience was similar to my dad’s.

Taneisha told me that her brother slept as much as he could on his way to war. He didn’t want to think about it. He tried to avoid it by sleeping, but he couldn’t hide from it: On one of his first days there he saw a baby who had been shot in the head lying on the side of the road. Her brother is back home, thank God, but that is the kind of stuff that he can never forget. He had a hard time readjusting, but he got through it. He goes to church five days a week now.

When I was a kid I’d wake up at night and find my dad walking around the house, patrolling. I’d be on my way to the bathroom and I’d ask him, “Dad, are you all right?” And he’d just stare at me. I don’t even know if he knew I was there. He was just in his head, still patrolling, still in Vietnam. He couldn’t shake it. I used to break down crying about that, even as a young kid, because I knew at those moments that I’d never have my dad. I could never have my father in his entirety because a huge part of him was never going to be there.

My dad spent a good chunk of his youth in a strange land full of swamps, rice paddies, and mountains, watching villages get burned and children get killed and families get wiped out. He saw his friends from the neighborhood and the friends he made in the army gunned down before his eyes. Every day he fought to survive more than he fought an enemy he could identify. My father wasn’t a violent man. He was a musician. He went to Vietnam a boy and came back a man, a very different man than he would have become otherwise. He came back with memories and bad habits that he couldn’t shake for a long time. That is the heart and soul of my story, and that is where my very beginning is. It’s not a very good place to start. You hear me, Julie Andrews? I learned how to be a man from my father, and because of what his life had done to him, I learned a few other things too. I think I’m just now trying to unlearn some of those lessons or at least see them for what they are—the good, the bad, the all of it. All of the humanity of where I’m coming from has only just become clear to me.

What I’m saying is that my father picked up bad habits over there just like I picked up bad ...

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Spiegel & Grau; 1 edition (October 20, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385527772
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385527774
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 0.9 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #415,354 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This autobiographical expose is both strong and funny and the strong parts are funny and the funny parts are very strong indeed. However as told here, there is a tragic comic aspect running along in the subtext of Mr. Morgan's life. Precisely in the way he has continued throughout it to dig holes for himself, only to then find uncommon ways to crawl out of them (high school dropout, drug dealer, ticket scalper at Yankee Stadium, serial impregnator, etc. turned successful comic, movie and TV star.)

As a result, there has been no rhyme or reason to his life or his life story. And since there is no rhyme or reason to them, there also is little left for the reader to hold on to here. His life lessons, though at times seemingly very wise and hard-earned, in the end ring hollow because his actions throughout his life have invariably countermand them: even at forty, he remains a random variable, bouncing like a pinball from one side of life to another, on his way back to the inevitable black hole waiting for us all. We know that just around the corner, there will be more trouble for Tracy Morgan, the black man with a lot of bass in his voice, and the comedian, father, and actor extraordinaire.

In this self-absorbed tabloid like expose, Morgan gives us way more than we bargained for, or needed to hear from him (His brown bomb in the swimming pool for instance. Or that his brother may have contracted meningitis by playing in the toilet bowl?). His unvarnished honesty is used like a Samurai sword, as he commits psychological Harikari by swishing his way through the first forty years of a "rags to riches" success story.
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I was a total fan from the moment I saw Tracy Morgan on 'Martin' & my love continued as he was on SNL. Tracy Morgan's comedy doesn't usually transcend on an audience like me seeing as I am a small, early 20's, white, middle class woman. BUT IT ACTUALLY DOES! If you love Tracy, read this. If you have no idea who he is, you won't understand his humor or where he is coming from. I loved it & not only did I laugh...alot...it got really serious & you got to see a softer side to Tracy & you thought "Ok so he isn't really crazy." LOL!
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This memoir grew on me the moment I opened the book, in which the thing here is, I don't ordinarily read prologues or openings. If the book is really good, then I'll go back to read the forward, and epilogue, and even acknowledgements and indexes, if any. But not starting out.

For Tracy's memoir however, I read the opening, and was pleasantly quite surprised. That intro was that fabulous. He's humble, but hungry. Still, I braced myself for a rough read...despite it already being clarified in the intro that I likely wouldn't be among the sect surprised by the contents of his story. Turned out, the intro was on point. I didn't need to brace myself at all.

I like the way he repeats himself... it's one of the ways I can hear his voice, along with those call-outs he shouts out intermittingly... as in "what's up Marci? I love you, girl!" But what I really loved, and appreciated, were the props he gives to the trailblazers who've inspired his career. Redd, Richard, Eddie, Martin, and later so many others (Bernie Mac, Cedric the Entertainer...) to now include the props he gives himself; my all-time favorite comedians.

His honesty is another tangible treat, even at the corollary of having to deal with some of the rawness surfacing from bodies like Chico. Let me put it this way, before this book I didn't know Tracy Morgan. And that's not only because, I haven't watched TV or movies in years. It's because it would take reading this book to really get to know him; that being (of course) if you aren't Tina Fey...

This made for a very engaging, easy read I highly recommend. Very well done!
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I really like Tracy Morgan and I am trying really hard to like this book. However, there the book is kind of all over the place. "I got pussy when I was 12 years old.. since then, I can't get pussy off my mind." or something.... really? thats kind of lame and a waste of my time.
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Overall I really like Tracy Jordan, he is one unique guy. He has risen to great heights through his talents and hard work. I had a hard time getting through this book though because he will drop AT LEAST one "F bomb" on every page, and some of the stories of his past that he shares are shocking and disgusting. So I had a hard time with the language he used and how graphic he is, but if you can stomach that sort of language than you'll probably enjoy it more than me.
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Really enjoyed this very easy to read book about Mr. Morgan and his career, especially the details regarding how each SNL is made. Very inspirational for any artist coming from a tough situation, and his story gives you motivation to make your dreams come true. I hope more people read this and grab opportunity by the balls. Way to preach it Tracy!! Keep on rockin' & good luck with the new movie!!!
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Format: Hardcover
So I just had to read this book. I recently have become obcessed with 30Rock so I was dying to read it. I didn't expect much but boy was I wrong. This was everything that I thought the book wouldn't be. It was moving and great.... minus all of the political puke (just like 30Rock so I don't know why I was so surprised)....and I couldn't put it down. Sometimes you feel like crying and then the next page you are laughing aloud! It was a great read and I would recommend it to anyone. Ps, 3 autobiographies in a month let alone in one year is crazy!!!!! Loves it!

From the back cover:

Who is Tracy Morgan? The wildly unpredictable funnyman who rocketed to fame on Saturday Night Live? The Emmy-nominated actor behind the sly and ingenious character Tracy Jordan on the award-winning hit sitcom 30 Rock, whose turbulent personal life often mirrors that of his fictional alter ego? Is he Chico Divine, the life of the party--any party, anytime, anywhere, getting ladies pregnant everywhere he goes? Or is he a soulful, tender family man who emerged from a hardscrabble ghetto upbringing and against all odds achieved superstardom, raised a solid family, prevailed over a collection of lethal bad habits, and is still ascending new heights and coming into his own? The answer is: Tracy Morgan is all that. And then some.

When he was just a boy living in the Coney Island
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