I have been trying to avoid the early election shenanigans. The mutant right is constantly making headlines with total insanity. I don’t mean to infer that to condemn anyone that is a Republican. I am simply referring to the freak pack that seems in control of the national party at this point. (Scott Walker being one of the many in this realm.) I am someone that believes in voting. I don’t think voting is enough if you really care about what is going on. However, I don’t think disengaging from the political realm due to dissatisfaction is an option. I am not a big fan of the Clintons and would rather see someone like Bernie Sanders capture the nomination. Bill, in his term, was actually a rather right leaning corporatist Democrat that did many things that I believe harmed this country. (NAFTA, Telecommunications Act of 1996, and so on.) However, if you can’t see that there is a difference between Hillary Clinton and Ted Cruz, or Hillary Clinton and Scott Walker, than I don’t know what to tell you. (Those that believe that all politicians are the same only need to look at recent headlines having to do with Iran and then imagine what those headlines would look like if “Bomb,bomb,bomb, bomb, bomb Iran” John McCain had won in 2008.) But what I think is important is that it is okay to disengage until it matters. I don’t need to be paying attention to the right wing horse race, as I will certainly not be voting for anyone that wins that. I can’t help, in trying to keep up with the news, catching a headline or two. I mean I try to pay attention enough that if I am having a conversation with someone, I can refute whatever insane argument someone might be making on whatever policy issue, but having a deep emotional investment in who is ahead is only going to destroy my health, make me angry, and burn me out on this whole circus before there is really anything I can do about it. The news is really good at destroying one’s soul, only to have you speaking gibberish by the time it comes down to canvas for an issue or candidate you believe in. Also, please keep in mind that I am talking about ignoring the election and not what is going on in general. It is important, extremely important, that a citizen of a democracy stays informed. But at this point in the election cycle it is much more important to pay attention to what is going on, rather than who is saying what, if you get my drift. So try to keep abreast of current issues, but whenever a circus animal like Donald Trump gets paraded out on TV, instead of turning your mind into rat soup, exercise one of the very few freedoms you have and turn the damned thing off.
As someone that travels a lot I was interested to read the above list. The two cities that surprised me the most on this list, as I have been to both, are Tulsa, for being as conservative as it is, and Washington D.C, for being listed as more liberal than a place like Seattle. Although Oklahoma is no doubt conservative, Tulsa is the one place I have been to in that state that feels like it bucks that trend. Also having witnessed the cultures of both D.C. and Seattle, I was surprised, as the above article suggested, that D.C. was listed higher as Seattle. The above link provides a link, the list, and pictures over at Forbes. The Economist is actually who devised the list and their research is here.
Anyone that has been reading along has seen me mention the latest Public Enemy album, Man Plans God Laughs. As a lover of albums, I not only like to hear records in full, but when an artist comes out with a new record that I love, I like to hear it in the context of their career. Often records speak to each other, especially when artist are creating records that have concepts and aren’t just collections of songs. So as well as checking out Public Enemy’s catalog, I have been reading different interviews with Chuck D, unofficial leader of and main rapper in Public Enemy. Chuck D is always interesting. In the above interview there is a segment where the interviewer and Chuck D it is mention how Bill Clinton deregulated radio with his 1996 Telecommunications act. This is not the focus of the interview, but it is an interesting snippet. From the interview:
DX: I wanna go back to one additional thing Too Short said. After he put Barry Weiss on blast he went on to say that he believes there was a meeting of the minds amongst the major labels to shut down conscious Hip Hop. Do you believe such a collusion happened, or was it more likely that Bill Clinton’s Telecommunications Act of 1996, that consolidated radio ownership, was the real nail in the coffin to message-driven music?
Chuck D: Yeah, the latter was the real nail in the coffin – not so much to message-driven music but to local music being able to have a chance to independently breathe. The consolidation of radio stations was like the worst thing ever done to music.
As someone that works in the music industry, I have long known that the consolidation of radio stations by big corporations, Clear Channel (Now known as, I’m not kidding, iHeartMedia.) in particular, has been horrible for the music industry. There was less artistic diversity than ever before. One only has to look at the aftermath of 9/11 to understand what can happen. After 9/11 Clear Channel (iHeartMedia), the largest owner of radio stations in America banned songs that were deemed “sensitive” to listeners. One of these songs happened to be John Lennon’s Imagine. This ban was eventually lifted, but one can see this kind of thing happening on a lesser scale all of the time.
So why is this interesting, even if you are someone like me that never listens to the radio? First you can see how big money can stifle culture. Art is how ideas can be spread in a way that is accessible, in a way that is entertaining and easy to understand. Less competition, created by one corporation owning a large percentage of the market, means there is less reason for alternative programming. Even if a corporation isn’t trying to purposely stop a certain message from getting out, there is less reason to play something new or cutting edge, even if it has a certain following. Luckily, we now have internet radio and satellite radio, which have helped bring diversity into the market, but a large group of people still listen to regular radio. What gets played on traditional radio still has an advantage. Art is extremely important as a form for political discussion, as it connects emotionally. One only has to look at the 60’s counterculture to understand how art and particularly music can affect people from a political perspective.
There are many reasons that music doesn’t have the political power that it once did, reasons that have to do with technology, culture, education, and economics. However, I think the above Act is something that greatly contributed.
Also, I find it interesting that it was Clinton that signed the above Act into law. I have always known that Clinton was a corporate Democrat, but being that I was 18 at the time and not fully formed politically, I never put it together that he was the one that oversaw that law being put into place. As someone that would consider themselves as being on the left, I think it is extremely important that we condemn those on our side that do not act in the public interest, especially if we are going to be believed when we make political accusations of those that do not in anyway share our values. Even if I view Hillary Clinton as the far lesser of two evils, when compared to the pack of mutants running for the Republican nomination, we must make sure that she does not repeat the sins of her husband if she were to gain the nomination. (Who really was far more conservative than most people remember.) I am hoping that Bernie Sanders wins the nomination, but I have no doubt that I would vote for Clinton over anyone declared for the right at the current moment.
So I think it is important to see how big money can corrupt culture, as a concrete example. It is important to acknowledge how art influences our culture. Remember, the whole reason that I am writing about this subject is because I was reading an interview with a musician. I also think it is important, for those interested in politics, to stay vigilant especially when someone on “one’s side” is in political power, as it is much easier to be lulled into complacency.
It’s late on a Saturday and already I feel that I am rambling a bit in this post, but there is just one other thing I want to mention. (But believe me, I actually feel that this is just the tip of the iceberg in talking about the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and the deregulation of media in general.)
Just as a playful what if, I want you to imagine a world where subversive art and other media voices did not face so many restrictions in communicating on mass. If more voices were heard, would tragedies such as the Iraq War have been averted or at least not carried out with such zeal? (Not only did Clinton help to deregulate the media, but Ronald Reagan also contributed greatly to media deregulation.)
Music can be political without being expressly political. Sometimes the sheer vitality of it can be a force for change. It can shake you, wake you up, make you want to do something different than you were doing before you heard it. This has definitely been true, from even the earliest moments, of rock n roll. Once rock n roll was unleashed it couldn’t help but have an affect on race relations, sexual mores, youth culture, and so on, just because of where it came from and the sheer energy involved, even before it dealt with any of those things in an explicit way.
I’ve mentioned lately that I have been diving into the punk, post-punk, and hardcore bands of the 80’s Washington D.C. scene. Rites of Spring, which featured members that went on to join Fugazi, among other bands, were different from many of the acts of even that time period. Their songs were more melodic and their lyrics were more personal in nature, despite channeling the energy of punk and hardcore. Their lyrics also have a more poetic and interpretive nature than many of their peers. Although I grew up listening to all of the Ian MacKaye bands, MacKaye is a founder of Dischord Records and also went on to be a member of Fugazi, I had never heard Rites of Spring until recently. But listening to their music, one can’t help but feel that something is going on. It possesses a feeling of dissatisfaction, but not of hopelessness. It sounds like people striving to reach someplace new. It is full of passion and self-discovery. Singer and guitar player Guy Picciotto sounds fully committed. Even if none of these things translate into any particular political cause, this is the sound of people becoming engaged with the world. And engagement is the most important ingredient in any kind of social change.
File this under good news: Obama has granted freedom to dozens of nonviolent drug offenders. This is only a small step for good in our ridiculous drug war. Why dozens should be freed when untold numbers are being punished is a good question, but lets hope this is a beginning and not an end. Not only are the punishments for nonviolent drug offenses often absurd, but the aftermath is even more troubling. One time I was arrested for a DUI, which was thrown out of court it was so laughable. (I passed my breathalyzer and blood test. I was stupid enough to admit honestly to police that I had two drinks earlier in the night. Rule one when confronting police, as told to me by my lawyer, is never never be honest. You will never face stiffer penalties for not admitting to something, but you can very well face trouble for admitting to something.) I was still turned down for an education job that I applied for on the basis of that arrest, before I started making my living in the music business, despite doing nothing illegal. I can only imagine the trouble that nonviolent offenders of drug laws face when trying to find meaningful employment. There is a Morrissey quote that goes: “Life is hard enough when you belong here.” Life is hard enough in general even when you don’t have this kind of burden following you around, as most people not born with a silver spoon in their mouth can attest to. Even for those born with all advantages, life is no picnic. To live is partly to suffer. These people are our neighbors, our family, our brothers and sisters in the human race. We should not only not impose draconian sentences on people that have done nothing violent, but should give them a real chance at rebuilding their lives.
I’m a big fan of the early 80’s punk/post punk/hardcore scene. The Misfits were always one of my favorite punk bands. Samhain, the band that Glenn Danzig formed between The Misfits and Danzig (Which I also like), is a really interesting band. They are neither quite punk, nor metal. The playing is much more primitive than what would come, but is more experimental and strange than the horror punk of The Misfits. It has a gothic ambience to it, despite the underlying aggression which has always been a part of Danzig’s sound.
I have been listening to the first Samhain album Initium. I love it, especially the closing track Archangel. I think what is interesting about it, even if you aren’t into this band or even particular style of music, is how well it has aged, especially the fact that the recording is very lo-fi and primitive even for its time. In fact I would argue that the lack of fidelity ads to this records appeal. It creates a sense of mystery, like you are hearing something that you weren’t supposed to. It allows the imagination to fill in the missing gaps. Nothing is more important to a piece of work than the imagination of the listener, viewer, observer, or whatever, depending on the form of art that is being taken in. When you read a book the imagination is creating the images, which are just words on a page, and that is very powerful. One of the reason old recordings form the 50’s and 60’s have stayed relevant, and not just because they feature great musicianship and performance, is because the technology of the time made a certain amount of mystery inherent in the work. When you listen to a Phil Spector produced record, there are so many instruments being recorded, that it is hard to tell exactly what is in the room. So you have the musicians and what they are performing, but then you have an added element of mystery, of there being something other present, when those recordings play. Whether the mystery inherent in the above Samhain recording was intentional or the result of having no budget, I would bet on a little of both, it has that unexplainable quality to it, where it is a puzzle that can never be completely deciphered. The fact that Glenn Danzig was trying to create a horror vibe in his music is enhanced by this mysteriousness. Think about when you watch a horror movie; Often you are more creeped out before you see the monster, when you are still imagining how horrible it could be. Sometimes modern horror movies will use grainy footage of something to add to their terror. I think this is for the same purpose. As all things more and more towards high definition and sonic clarity, realize that perfection of image and sound can also cause something to be lost along the way. The best filmmakers, musicians, artists, will find ways to adapt, to use new technology to get the same emotional quality as the old, but I think realizing that mystery is an important quality in art is an important step.
Pope Francis is truly a remarkable figure. My favorite quote from the above Huffington Post article:
He urged politicians and business leaders “not to yield to an economic model which is idolatrous, which needs to sacrifice human lives on the altar of money and profit.”
I wish I had more to write, but I am somewhat speechless. I’m extremely glad to see such a powerful figure speaking truth and standing up for human rights. Statements like the above shouldn’t be surprising, it’s basic common sense, but unfortunately we live in a world where people all too often put money and profit above others.
Although I grew up in Pennsylvania, I have lived in the South, or at least Texas which is a weird Southern/Western hybrid, for 10 years. I don’t understand the idea of Southern, state, or regional pride. (And yes certain places in the North have pride as well. NYC is an example. But although someone might be able to produce a t-shirt or something that proves other, in all my years in PA I have never heard one person actually say Pennsylvania proud or something of that order. And that is a state in which many people never leave.) Isn’t the old saying, “Pride cometh before the fall?” I mean I loved growing up in PA, I love a lot of the people there, etc. But this is different from having pride. Pride means you are proud of something without judgment. I don’t drive around with a Pennsylvania state flag on my car. If I’m being honest I couldn’t even draw the fucking thing if you put a gun to my head. If a group of people in that area do something stupid I don’t get defensive. There are good and bad people in every region. Because I lived there I happen to know a lot of good that goes on there, but I know the bad too. Same with my adopted state of Texas. (There is a lot of Texas pride! I joke with some of my Texan friends, and I do love living in this state, that they love jerking themselves off with their own flag.) So I don’t understand why certain people in certain states not only have this seemingly unconditional pride, and also get defensive when someone attacks something what is going on in their region. Part of growing up is learning not to judge groups, but individuals, for good or ill.
When you wave a flag you are not only standing with all of the great things that that flag represents, but all of the dumbassery inherent as well. Flags are useful when you are trying to shoot a person across a field and want to make sure you hit the right one, but not for much else.
The other day I mentioned that I was watching the David Milch created Luck. While reading more interviews with Milch I came upon this fascinating article. There is a mini-documntary here that you can watch about Milch’s Deadwood, one of the greatest shows of all time. You can also read the script for the documentary below if you don’t feel like watching it. It’s truly fascinating not only for the information about the show, but the ideas inherent in the show and therefore the documentary as well dealing with our country. The title above has to do with the idea that history is a, “lie agreed upon.” I found the following passage really interesting and a good sample of the kind of ideas inherent in the show and article:
He said, “An agreement that creates a community is an agreement upon an illusion, an agreement upon an intoxicant. Our founding document jumps off from, ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident,’ which to me means a frank agreement upon illusion – not that these are self-evident truths, but that we agree upon an illusion that these are fucking truths.”
A family member recently asked me how I find all of the music that I listen to. As a musician I want to keep up to date with what is going on. At the same time I there is a lot of older music to look for inspiration in. I feel like it is not only important what music one listens to, but also the context. Certain music might open up more after you have heard something else. It is like reading. You can often enjoy a book without getting all of the literary references in it, but you might enjoy it more, or at least enjoy it in a different way, if the things a writer is alluding to are at least somewhat understood. Music you might not like at one point in your life could suddenly open up and appear beautiful at a later date. So while I think it is somewhat important to remain current with trends, especially with people that are pushing the envelope, going down your own unique path, looking forwards and backwards, is going to lead to a more satisfying place. Plus in the past, due to technological limitations, people had to be creative in different ways. When one couldn’t easily fix or edit something, a musician had to be creative in the moment, which often leads to more innovative musicianship, even if there are plenty of fine players and performers now. At the end of the day all that matters is what you enjoy, but if you keep an open mind and seek new things, you can discover you will find all kinds of things to enjoy that you might not have thought possible.
I almost never listen to any kind of radio. This is by circumstance and design. At this point I have amassed a large collection of music, and because of this is makes it easier to find something I am in the mood for at any given time. Also, aside from satellite radio and streaming, which I have never really gotten into, most mainstream radio is either flat out horrible or limited in scope. Out of current AM/FM radio stations public radio is often the best. I’m not saying there aren’t radio stations out there that are good, Austin has several, but I find that very little of the time do I hear something good that I haven’t already heard before. Satellite radio is good, but I like to have more control over what I’m listening to. Until streaming can provide artists with a viable economic model, I have no desire to go down that road and become part of the problem, even if I know it is a losing battle. But more than anything with different forms of radio I, which I have found is typical for an introvert, want to control what I am listening to somewhat.
So how do I find a lot of the music that I listen to? I read a lot about music. I read blogs, music magazine websites, reviews, etc. Even when I was young, before the internet became a major player, I read tons of music magazines and books about music. I also try to find out what the musicians I like are influenced by. Even if I will never meet many of my musical heroes, I will try to read about what influenced them. Most of the time, but definitely not all, if I like an artist, what they like will be of at least marginal interest to me. Many things I might not have found on my own have opened up to me this way.
I also ask people who share similar interests if they can recommend anything good. Musicians that I respect have lead me to artists such as Ted Hawkins, Lee “Scratch” Perry, Boozoo Chavis, Doug Sahm, and many more. Friends that are into music have lead me on to even more artists. If I like something someone is listening to, I just ask, “Hey what else do you got?”
I also constantly surf different things where I can hear clips, whether that is YouTube, Amazon, iTunes, etc. If I read about an artist or someone tells me about one, I often seek out clips. But sometimes I just will randomly listen to clips off of a bunch of new albums, follow links, get lost down the internet rabbit hole. I often spend hours doing this. Music is not only my job, but my passion. I could get home from a show and spend a couple hours just surfing different formats, just waiting to hear something I like. It’s a form of relaxation for me, though sometimes it depresses me when I listen to a ton of new albums and can’t find even one that I like. I try to buy at least some of the records I get in a store, as I think it is important to support local music stores, but late night with a credit card on the internet can be dangerous! Often I will awake thinking, “What the fuck did I do?!!!” Why God created drinking and online purchasing power I will never know. It is a cruel joke of existence.
Sometimes I am ahead of the curve and sometimes I am behind it. Sometimes I will discover a band years before they become popular and sometimes I am really late to the game. It doesn’t really matter how you find what you like. It doesn’t matter if you are into something that is popular or are stuck in some musical time warp waring out analog recordings on vinyl. i don’t expect anyone to be as nuts about this stuff as I am, though some are even more obsessive than me. However, I think because music is such a big part of our culture and history, one only needs to think of the counterculture movement of the 60’s, that it can be stimulating seeing what is going on, what has gone on, out there.
One final thought: It doesn’t matter if something is popular or not. i don’t like elitists that think something is not worthy if it finds a large audience. Some of the best music ever created is music that in its time was extremely popular. In recent years I have found that some extremely popular records, like Daft Punk’s R.A.M., were some of the best recordings out there. However, popularity in no way means something is valid. So many things die on the vine because they didn’t receive proper promotion, they were ahead of their time and people didn’t get them, or any number of reasons. Popularity neither means something is bad or good. In fact the two have absolutely nothing to do with each other, either way.