Tuesday, June 19, 2007

A Message From Rock n' Rap Confidential

This was sent out over their mailing list. Anyone not subscribed should do it. Essential stuff! -AB

*****

If you could send and/or post the following email message wherever it might find receptive minds, that would be much appreciated. Thanks!

RRC

Rock & Rap Confidential, the only publication ever recommended by Rage Against the Machine, is now available free of charge via email. To subscribe, just send the email address you wish to receive it at to: rockrap@aol.com.

RRC is the only publication that reviews and promotes every type of music.

RRC, the first to oppose Tipper Gore and the music censors, remains in the forefront in the fight for musical freedom of expression.

RRC is always giving answers to the question: Just exactly why do we need the music industry?

RRC regularly challenges Bono on his bullshit.

To find out more, check out www.rockrap.com (features include The Hidden History of Rock and Rap and Musicians and Health Care).

"This is what we need, more of this!"--Joe Strummer

"The best thing to hit my mailbox"--Cameron Crowe

To subscribe, just send the email address you wish to receive it at to: rockrap@aol.com.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Anti-Bush "Band" Wagon: Why Are So Many Artists Taking Bush to Task?

By Alexander Billet

Published in Dissident Voice

There was something striking about the April issue of Rolling Stone. In this, the 40th anniversary edition, icons from those heady, rebellious days of 1967 were interviewed. The counterculture figures involved in the New Left or anti-war movements: Mailer, Fonda, and of course Dylan. Living and breathing proof of the intersection between popular culture and popular resistance. But in the front of the magazine, there was a striking parallel to be seen: a story on the sizeable chunk of anti-Bush, anti-war material now seeping into mainstream music.

For about four years now, music journalists have been asking where the protest music is. Well, if it’s not here now, it’s most certainly starting to rear its head. What is surprising is that it is coming from previously apolitical acts; artists who would seem like the last to foray into activism or anything beyond a catchy beat.

A few highlights:

Tori Amos: though Amos has long been synonymous with the strident and outspoken modern woman, her new album American Doll Posse starts on a combative note asking, “is this just the madness of King George?”

Nine Inch Nails: Trent Reznor has long been considered one of the most prolific and innovative recording artists of our time, but political he’s not. Until now. His recent Year Zero album takes place in a not-too-distant-future police state presided over by a dictator who “signs his name with a capital G.”

Linkin Park: the standard bearers of nu metal shift their emotional vitriol from failled relationships to the pain and frustration of watching New Orleans washed away “as the nation simply stares.”

The White Stripes: “Icky Thump,” from their upcoming album, makes a pretty open declaration on the state of immigrant rights: “well Americans: what, nothin’ better to do? Why don’t you kick yourself out? You’re an immigrant too!”

It’s a far cry from four years ago when the Dixie Chicks were almost burned at the stake for having the gall to say they were ashamed Bush is from Texas. Now, four years since they were banned from the airwaves, four years since the US commenced a slaughter in Iraq, two years after watching an entire city of black and poor people being left to drown like rats, and seven years after the biggest sham election in recent history, the chorus of “we’ve had enough” has never been clearer. Are we really to believe that this will not rub off on even the biggest artists of our time?

To listen to the naysayers, one would think that no, it doesn’t, and if it does it shouldn’t. Stances like this from artists are already provoking an onslaught from the right. Hannity & Colmes dedicated a whole segment to decrying Rage Against the Machine for calling the Bush administration war criminals and saying they should be “tried and shot.” And Green Day’s cover of John Lennon’s “Working Class Hero” has earned more scorn than praise on the blogosphere. “To ‘rock against Bush’ is to scream for attention,” says Windsor Mann in a 2005 National Review article, “and screaming for attention is, in many ways crying for help.”

In other words, an artist only takes a stand when he or she is desperate. Music and politics don’t mix. Or so we are told almost every single day by what passes for “common sense.” In the cartoon logic of mainstream America, politics are somehow hermetically sealed from all other realms of our culture. Film, literature, painting and sculpture, sports and music have no room for the political unless you somehow want to sully the culture. In other words, if you’re a musician, you should shut up and sing, and be content with an existence of minstrelsy.

But there’s just one small problem with that formulation: it’s wrong. It denies a fundamental truth: that musicians are themselves human beings with intellect and emotions in the context of a changing world. And it’s no coincidence that we hear this line of reasoning when there is the most social turmoil in any given era. Does anyone hear these same right-wing pundits decry the racist bilge of an established musician like Ted Nugent? No. Despite what we may hear from naysayers about protecting the integrity of the music, this is an argument designed to stifle dissent and deny musicians their humanity. Bottom line.

Which is precisely why these songs and albums are so important for both music and the nascent culture of resistance brewing in this country right now. From the streets of LA to the military brig, the amount of repression meted out to anyone willing to stand up and fight is significant. That the White Stripes and Tori Amos aren’t meeting the same bloody-murder cries of treason that the Dixie Chicks did is a welcome development.

Will these songs be looked back upon as the iconic protest anthems of the early 21st century? Hard to believe for most of them. And for some, I sincerely hope not. If the best our generation has to offer is John Mayer’s “Waiting for the World to Change” then I’m tempted to give up music writing right now. But while all of these songs share a dissatisfaction with the current state of things, what most lack is a way forward, a sense of struggle and possibility.

That must come from us. Just as it took a decade for the left of the ’60s to learn its lessons and radicalize hundreds of thousands, so it took that same decade for the sounds of the British invasion to transform into Woodstock. The idea that music could be an open forum of rebellion and resistance was spurred by the actual rebellion happening in the world at large. Musicians that saw themselves as artists only were suddenly compelled to lend their voices to the growing movement for a better world. And a whole new crop of artists and musicians came along that saw their music as an active part of that struggle.

That’s what makes this point in time so exciting. These musicians are coming to grips with what it means to be living in scary times. And in doing so, they are giving a long awaited release to what most of us in this country are grappling with ourselves. And if that is any indication, then the only way from here is up.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

The Coup's Boots Riley San Francisco PD Profiling Victim: Guilty of "Driving While Black" Reports San Francisco Bay Guardian

Sent out over the Rock n' Rap Confidential mailing list. Disgusting in itself, and what's especially horrifying is that this is only one case of many in a cravenly racist society. -AB

*****

The Coup's Boots Riley," a long-standing outspoken political
"raptivist" was on the receiving end of racial profiling by the San
Francisco's Police Department this past Memorial Day. In the
early-morning hours of a day where Americans celebrate their freedom,
Coup mastermind Boots (Raymond) Riley found himself looking down
the wrong end of the SFPD's gun barrel while innocently attending a
get-together at a friend's warehouse in SF's Dogpatch-Waterfront zone.

According to a report in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, the
thought-provoking rapper was guilty of simply "driving while black".
"Riley had just parked his car near the warehouse when he was blinded
by flashlights, and he realized that he was surrounded by cops,"
Guardian reporter Kimberly Chun reports.

"They were saying, 'Don't fucking move, don't fucking move,' and came
straight at me," Riley told Chun this past Sunday (June 3rd) as he fed
his kids breakfast in his Oakland home. "They put my hands above my
head, searched me, and searched my car, even though they were looking
for someone who was stealing tires. You know, if they had a
description of a light-skinned black man with a big Afro and
sideburns, maybe they should have taken me in. But they were yelling,
'Are you on probation? Do you have a warrant?' And every time I said
no, they said, 'Don't lie to us. Don't fucking lie to us.'"

According to Chun, area resident Hoss Ward had been walking his dog by
the warehouse when he spied officers with flashlights lurking between
parked cars amid the trash on the street. "I thought that was weird.
They didn't question me, but I'm a white man," he said later,
verifying that Boots parked, got thrown against his car, and had guns
pulled on him. "It's not unusual for someone to pull up in a beater
car," Ward said. Yet this incident smelled like racial profiling:
"That's what the vibe felt like."

"I walked over there and said, 'What the hell is going on?'" recounted
Riley's friend Marci Bravo to The Guardian. Bravo, who lives at the
warehouse, witnessed Riley's release but added, "It was really messed
up. We fire off fireworks, burn things in the street, and there's been
no problems with cops. They've actually come and hung out before. It's
just a nasty case of police profiling."

In the end, Riley said, the officers didn't even check his ID. Police
representatives have yet to respond to inquiries about the incident,
however Riley is planning on filing a grievance with the city watchdog
agency the Office of Citizens Complaints, a process that the longtime
activist is, unfortunately, familiar with.

After a 1995 Riverside performance with Method Man, Riley and kindred
local hip-hoppers Raz Caz, E-Roc, and Saafir were pulled over and
pepper-sprayed in their car seats following a yelling argument at a
club. A more recent incident during the Coup's 2006 tour in support of
the ironically titled Epitaph album Pick a Bigger Weapon was equally
disconcerting. Shortly after the group's tour manager urinated next to
a semi at a Vermont rest stop, the tour vehicles were stopped by
plainclothes officers who claimed to be surveilling a cocaine deal in
the truck. "Half the band woke up with guns in their faces," the Coup
leader told The SF Bay Guardian.

"There are stories all the time," Riley told the SFBG. "Everyone knows
you used to get fucked with in San Francisco and Berkeley. Usually
it's not anything with me specifically being a rapper," he continued.
"I might have even more protection because of that. Like at this
get-together, somebody came up and said, 'Don't you know who this is?
This is Boots Riley.' They might not have known who I am, but they
realize this isn't the regular case where they can do whatever they
want."

For more information contact Hector Martinez, hector@epitaph.com
213.413.7353

Friday, June 8, 2007

Hey Lizzie! Remember this one? God Save the Queen Thirty Years On

Published in Znet

When Queen Elizabeth visited the States last month, the media circus would have made PT Barnum blush. Red carpets were unfurled and black ties adorned by the highest of state officials to welcome the consumate blue-blood, a woman whose utterly parasitic uselessness is outdone only possibly by Paris Hilton. Enough Union Jacks were thrown up around DC to make one think we had been re-colonized.

Sadly, this woman lives in the most unreachable of ivory towers. It can take quite a shock to really shake archaic monarchy, but it has been done before. And it can be done again.

So it was a timely reminder that this month also marks another historic anniversary. On June 7th, 1977, the same week Lizzie celebrated her Silver Jubilee while unemployment and poverty raged in her own country, an "alternative Jubilee anthem" rang out so loudly that it was banned by the BBC and earned the wrath of an entire empire (crumbling though it was). It marked the beginning of a musical revolution whose shockwaves can still be felt today.

When the Sex Pistols started playing loud, raunchy, offensive rock n' roll in the mid-seventies, it signalled a massive catharsis for the young underclass of Britain. The economic depression that had hit Britain has been well-chronicled, as has its effect on the nascent punk movement. "No one had a job. Everyone was on the dole." former Pistol Steve Jones remarked. "If you weren't born into money then you might as well kiss your fucking life good-bye."

"Britain was in a state of social upheaval," says the infamous John Lydon, better known to the world as Johnny Rotten. Riots and strikes were commonplace on the evening news (when the television was actually working). The Labour Party, having promised prosperity and security for working people, had proven itself incapable of and even hostile towards any progressive social change. "People were fed up with the old way. The old way was clearly not working."

But something striking is actually how little of the pre-punk music actually reflected any of this. The blow-dried, quasi-orchestral sound that dominated "progressive rock" had become as irrelevant as the multi-millionaire musicians who played it. Journalist Nick Kent put it bluntly: "Bohemian-fucking-rhapsody was Number One for nine weeks! People were like 'if this is Number One for one more week I'm going to kill myself--or start a band.' Most people started bands, and that's how punk was born."

The Sex Pistols were there at Year Zero. Within a few months of forming, their sound had knocked off the glammy stage shows and platform shoes and replaced them with loud guitars, torn sweaters and Rotten's signature sneer. When they appeared on live TV calling personality and host Bill Grundy a "dirty fucker," that only sealed the deal. "Outrageous!" cried the papers. "Criminal!" screamed the politicians. "Wonderful!" delcared the crowd.

But when the Queen celebrated her Silver Jubilee in the summer of '77, the Pistols' music went from rubbing officials the wrong way to being on a collision course with "respectable" British tradition. In some ways it was their peak in a career cut short.

"You don't write a song like 'God Save the Queen' because you hate the English race," according to Rotten. "You write a song like that because you love them, and you're sick of seeing them mistreated." The song was never intended to coincide with the Jubilee, but all the bile and hatred against monarchy and privilege was only amplified by the coincidence. Its aggressive and cocky style quite literally sounded like the group had hocked a loogie in the Queen's face. It declared her a fascist, inhuman, and insisted that England was "dreaming" to believe there was any future in a monarch like her. The single was promptly banned by the BBC and the Independent Broadcasting Authority, essentially placing a media blackout on it.

It would only escalate. On the day of the Jubilee, the 7th, the Pistols, with manager Malcolm McLaren (this stunt was his idea), and a handful of fans in tow, staged a performance of the song on a boat floating by the Queen's celebration on the Thames. It was an inflammatory act. The police forced the boat to dock, and several of the Pistols' fans were arrested. Meanwhile, despite receiving no airplay, the song had climbed to Number Two on the charts and was poised to overtake Rod Stewart at Number One. But despite selling more copies, "God Save the Queen" remained in the second slot for fear of offending people.

The rest, as they say, is history. The Sex Pistols would implode almost as quickly as they exploded. Within a couple years the band had broken up, Sid Vicious was dead, and punk would become what it hated. Like all genres, the industry figured out a way to make punk marketable. In the span of a few years the sound that ignited a generation had been absorbed back into the system. In perhaps the most telling of all sell-outs, Johnny Rotten would go from being the snotty punk screaming at the Queen from the River Thames to the headlining act at her Golden Jubilee in 2002.

But none of this negates what the Pistols helped set off. Punk's first stand would go on to inspire a new wave of independently minded punks who stuck by their DIY guns, and took their rebellious sound into much more explicitly political realms. From the snide sarcasm of Dead Kennedys to the righteous ferocity of Minor Threat.

Did the Sex Pistols' music actually have what it took to do away with the parasites living off the sweat of the British people? Of course not. At least not directly. But the fact that a musical style could so successfully sway a generation of young workers to openly question authority was all the reason the state censors needed. The very same authority that punk challenged felt very threatened by it. And for that one rare moment, music and politics became the exact same thing.

No matter what the Pistols, or punk rock, became later, the floodgates were opened that week. And it's an example that today's artists can learn from. Rotten said it best himself: "we managed to offend all the people we were fucking fed up with." And that is, it should be said, one of the things that makes rock n' roll great.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Ad Agency Hammered for Using Images of Dead Rock Stars

It's good to know that there are some with enough integrity to take agencies like this to task. -AB

From the New York Times

*****

LONDON — Dead celebrities are hot. From Einstein to Elvis and Gene Kelly to Orville Redenbacher, they keep popping up as posthumous pitchmen for everything from cars to cola.

But when the London office of Saatchi & Saatchi, part of the Publicis Groupe, recently featured images of Kurt Cobain and other dead rock stars in ads for Dr. Martens footwear, the agency and its client got burned.

Courtney Love, Mr. Cobain’s widow, grew angry when she heard about the ads, which ran in a small British music magazine, Fact. One ad showed Mr. Cobain, who was the lead singer of the band Nirvana, sitting on a cloud in the sky, draped in robes and shod in Dr. Martens boots.

“She thinks it’s outrageous that a company is allowed to commercially gain from such a despicable use of her husband’s picture,” a spokeswoman for Ms. Love told People magazine.

It was hardly the first time that Mr. Cobain’s image had been used for commercial gain. According to Forbes magazine, which compiles a list of the earning power of dead celebrities, Mr. Cobain came in first last year, just ahead of Elvis Presley, reeling in $50 million for his estate.

In this case, however, a legitimate use of the photo of Mr. Cobain, along with images of Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols, Joey Ramone of the Ramones and Joe Strummer of the Clash, went wrong because of a series of missteps and the border-hopping power of the Internet.



Saatchi & Saatchi said that it found the images in the Corbis photo library and obtained copyright clearance to use them in Britain. Corbis owns the Roger Richman Agency in Beverly Hills, Calif., which arranges licensing deals for a number of deceased celebrities.

The trouble began when an employee — disobeying instructions, Saatchi & Saatchi insisted — submitted the images to www.AdCritic.com, an American ad industry Web site. In the United States, the estates of dead celebrities are allowed to control the use of their images; in Britain, however, lawyers say no approval is needed.

A spokeswoman for Saatchi & Saatchi, Eleanor Conroy, said the employee responsible for the breach had been dismissed. Kate Stanners, executive creative director at Saatchi & Saatchi London, said in a statement, “While we believe the creative is a beautiful tribute to four legendary musicians, the individual broke both agency and client protocol in this situation by placing the ads on a U.S. advertising Web site and acting as an unauthorized spokesperson for the company.”

Sending an ad to sites like AdCritic is common, particularly when an agency or advertising executive is trying to seed it so that it can spread on the Internet. An ad’s creators like to do this in order to generate chatter about their ads, which is helpful when awards season rolls around. Clients rarely complain, because they get free advertising.



In this case, however, Airwair International, the British company that makes Dr. Martens, was not impressed. It fired Saatchi & Saatchi by canceling its contract with the agency, reportedly worth £5 million, or $9.9 million, over three years.

David Suddens, chief executive of Airwair, said that when Saatchi & Saatchi approached his company’s marketing department in February with sketches outlining the idea for the ads, “We said firmly, ‘No way.’ ”

But dead celebrities are popular in advertising at the moment. Gene Kelly appeared in a recent British commercial for Volkswagen; a digitally generated likeness of Orville Redenbacher is being featured in American ads for the popcorn brand of the same name.

Mr. Suddens said that Saatchi & Saatchi wanted to give the idea another try; it developed the sketches into proposed ads and showed them to Airwair in April. Executives at the agency said they wanted to have the images published at least once so that they could be submitted for awards, he added. An Airwair executive finally agreed to allow the ads to be used only in Britain, and only in Fact magazine, Mr. Suddens said.

The company has apologized to Ms. Love, and Mr. Suddens said he was unmoved by the agency’s argument that the use of the ads was legitimate in Britain. “Enough people said it was offensive for us to consider it offensive,” he said.

It so happens that Airwair has focused its marketing on a campaign called “Freedm,” featuring a Web site, www.freedm2.com, that invites would-be rock stars and other artists to post their creations.

Many marketing executives have been wary of user-generated content, fearing the loss of the editing that ad agencies provide. In the case of the Dr. Martens ads, however, it was the pros who got the client in trouble.