Thursday, August 30, 2007

VICTORY!!! Kenneth Foster Taken Off Death Row!!!

News just broke: Foster's sentence is the first one ever commuted by Governor Perry.

For all those who fought and spoke for him, from Dave Zirin to the Welfare Poets to his wife Jav'lin to his daughter Nydesha, congratulations. We won!

RIP Hilly Kristal (1932-2007)

Kristal, the owner of CBGB's, dies a little less than a year after his own legendary club was shut down. It was a place of iconic status in rock n' roll, a place where the roots were. Hilly Kristal made it happen.

A whole slew of musicians have talked about why Hilly's existence changed the face of modern music. Maybe one day we'll live in a world where creations like his are actually valued, not thrown away to make room for a Starbucks.

Good-bye Hilly.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

BRUUUUUUCE!!!!!

Here's what you need to know. New album in October. Followed by tour. Free download on iTunes now.

...And it was good. -AB

Read the latest from Rolling Stone

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Quote of the Day: George Clinton on Hip-hop

Right on, George. Right on. -AB

*****

"Hip-hop needs to find the next subject. Politics and social stuff--those are going to be the next real subjects groups get into. Soon as they realize you might have some hip-hoppers informed on foreign policy, then you're gonna have the '60s back here for real."--George Clinton to the Detroit Free Press

Friday, August 24, 2007

Kenneth Foster's Songs of Freedom

By Alexander Billet

Published in Dissident Voice

The debate over “black culture” has taken a turn for the especially absurd in recent months. If one were to take the Don Imuses of this country at their word, then somehow the daily horrors of the African-American experience–the poverty, the discrimination, the brutality–stem from the way the community views itself, from the “self-loathing” of the ghetto to the “thug mentality” of hip-hop. It’s the classic argument; that if only the black community would trade in its bling for bootstraps, then they will most surely prosper in the land of opportunity.

Tell that to Kenneth Foster.

Ten years ago, Kenneth was a young college student, a music lover, and recent father. Born in Austin, Texas, he spent his high school years working for several small record companies in the area. In 1995 he began his first year at St. Phillips College majoring in sociology, and less than a year later, in May of ‘96, he started his own label, Tribulation Records. Kenneth had a bright future ahead of him, no doubt.

But a year later, Kenneth was convicted of murder. The previous August, he had been driving a car with three friends in the San Antonio area. One of those riding in the car, Mauriceo Brown, got out in front of a party to talk to a woman, Mary Patrick. While Kenneth and his other two friends were eighty feet away, waiting in the car, they heard a gunshot. Brown had shot Patrick’s boyfriend, Michael LaHood.

Kenneth never had a gun in his hand, never saw, let alone aimed at LaHood, and never he pulled the trigger. Even the prosecution admits this. And he did not know anyone was going to be shot that night.

But according to Texas’ “law of parties,” Kenneth should have anticipated the loss of life that was to come that night because he was in the same car as Brown. It’s a law straight out of a Franz Kafka novel, where the accused are expected to have an almost psychic ability to predict when a crime is going to happen.

Kenneth’s execution has been set for August 30th, 2007. He is guilty of nothing except driving a car.

Perhaps it should come as no surprise. This is Texas, the state that has executed the most people of any state since the reinstatement of the death penalty. A disproportionate number of these people have been of color. This is the former stomping ground of the Texecutioner George Bush, and the current Governor Rick Perry has already surpassed Dubya’s record of 156 executions. LaHood was the white son of a prominent Houston attorney. Kenneth is a working-class black man. It was the perfect concoction of sick ingredients to continue the pattern of the racist American injustice system.

But Kenneth has not spent the past ten years wallowing in misery. He is a founding member of DRIVE (Death Row Inter-Communalist Vanguard Engagement), a radical, multi-racial organization of death row inmates fighting for better conditions in prisons and against the injustice of the prison system. They have staged cafeteria sit-ins, hunger strikes, and worked with groups on the outside to publicize their cause. Kenneth also continues to write poetry about himself, his case, and the need for a world without racism and inequality. On August 22nd, he and fellow prisoner John Joe Amador, scheduled to be executed the day before Kenneth, announced they will be taking part in a “protest of passive non-participation” against their own executions. It is clear he is not giving up without a fight.

Because of these efforts, and because of the bald-faced racism his case puts on display, Kenneth’s cause has gained national and international attention. Activists in Texas and beyond have mobilized demanding his execution be stayed.

He has also gained support, not surprisingly, from the Welfare Poets, one of underground hip-hop’s most radical and outspoken groups. Their music has been a staple in many-an-activist’s CD player for a decade now. When Kenneth and other DRIVE members heard of the group in 2004, they had a letter sent to the Welfare Poets, extending an invitation to perform at an anti-death penalty rally in Austin. They accepted, and began to cultivate a personal relationship with Kenneth. As Ray Ramirez, a founding member of the Poets told me, “Learning about Kenneth’s case and seeing the injustice is real easy, but learning about the man has been a fascinating experience. He lives with an undying hope, always looking to the betterment of the world. He is a true soldier for the people and an amazing poet and writer at that.”

In 2006 the Welfare Poets contributed to a compilation called “Cruel and Unusual Punishment,” which sampled the work of several artists opposed to the death penalty. Another performer on that comp was Kenneth’s wife Tasha, an MC who goes by the name Jav’lin. Her song “Walk With Me,” and the video for it, is about Kenneth’s case, and can be downloaded on her site (http://www.javlin.nl) for 99 cents, which goes toward his defense fund.

Jav’lin described to me recently what motivated her to write such a song:

“I write down everything I feel, sometimes that turns into a song. Well that’s what happened with ‘walk with me’. I wrote down how I felt about his situation, turned it into a song and started leaking that to people. People said it made the situation more visual, so I decided that if I did a video along with it that would really give people a good visual of what happened and it did. However, my initial reason for recording the song was just to let Kenneth hear this. Hip hop is the voice of the streets, music that appealed to Kenneth when he was still out in the streets and I wanted him to know that ‘the streets’ back here knew of his story and agreed that it was injustice that was placed upon him.”

Decades ago, racism was enforced with trees and nooses. Billie Holiday sang of this “strange fruit” in defiant protest. Today that same racism is backed up with needles and gurneys. It is a form of state sanctioned murder to keep people divided and scared. And despite everything spoon-fed to us about rap’s “violence,” Kenneth Foster’s case sheds ample light on where the real violence and depravity is coming from.

*To learn more about Kenneth’s case, DRIVE, and to sign the petition demanding his execution be stopped, go to FreeKenneth.com

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Bush Having a Bad Week With Indie Singers

It seems both Lily Allen and Beth Ditto of the Gossip have laid into Bush this week, becoming only the latest to join a growing number of musicians and artists speaking out against the idiot president.

When the leader of the most powerful nation in history manages to piss off the entire planet, it's no wonder why he has so few friends left.

But it does seem the anger runs deeper than just Bush. The best quote came from Ditto (herself an open lesbian), who spoke about her frustration with the inequality in her native Britain:

"As a radical queer, there's never anybody I can 100% trust in politics. It's a fucking joke to even call it a debate with the idea that we (haven't yet treated) human beings like they are on the same par with everyone else, from homos to immigrants."

Monday, August 20, 2007

Rebellion in Light and Dark: A Talk with Photographer Glen E. Friedman about His Book on Fugazi

By Alexander Billet

Published in Dissident Voice

“Things get accepted into the mainstream and lose their edge.” This is one of the first things Glen Friedman tells me in our conversation. Sitting in my Washington DC apartment, it’s hard not to agree with Friedman. This is a city that young hipsters and artists flocked to in recent years, but once the developers got wind that DC had now become “trendy,” they swooped in like vultures with building permits.

DC is also the city that has produced beautiful and incendiary music. Duke Ellington was born here and played his first shows in the city. This is the home of Marvin Gaye and of Go-go music. And in the eighties DC became an epicenter for the hardcore punk movement and the experimentations that evolved from it.

Fugazi was one of the bands that defined this “post-hardcore” experiment and went well beyond anything such a label might have meant. For Friedman, Fugazi are an absolute passion. His photo-book, Keep Your Eyes Open, is a striking chronicle of the band’s existence over fifteen years of playing and recording. He speaks to me over the phone from New York City, where he runs his own independent imprint, Burning Flags Press. Burning Flags is releasing the book on September 3rd, the twentieth anniversary of Fugazi’s first live show.

Over a thirty-year career, Friedman’s photography has managed to accurately capture a staggering amount of counter-culture. In the 1970s, at age fourteen, his shots were some of the first to communicate the dynamic excitement of Southern California’s burgeoning skateboard scene.

Friedman is sober about the rebel attitude of those early years. “As far as bucking the system, it wasn’t a specific choice. But skateboarding helps inspire rebellious attitudes.” This was a scene made of outlaws and non-conformists constantly testing the laws of both gravity and society. “The next step was punk rock… punk rock was the next logical thing.”

And so began a movement that would alter (more like disrupt) the trajectory of rock music forever. Friedman was there as punk took over the American underground. He shot photos for punk/hardcore mainstays like Black Flag, Dead Kennedys, Bad Brains, and even produced the first album from Suicidal Tendencies. Henry Rollins relies heavily on Friedman’s shots in Get in the Van, his book on the years he spent with Black Flag.

But as happens with all upstart music, hardcore began to falter by the mid-80s. Ian Svenonius, of Weird War and Nation of Ulysses fame, says as much in his intro to Keep Your Eyes Open.

Hardcore was volatile. But never underestimate the ability of artists to reinvent. Hence Fugazi. Friedman recalls seeing the group for the first time at a benefit show in New York City in 1987. “Immediately I knew there was something really special and progressive about what they were doing. That’s why I started shooting them… I wanted them to do for others what they did for me.”

Formed out of the ashes of DC hardcore staple Minor Threat, originally fronted only by Ian McKaye and after several months joined by Guy Piccioto, Fugazi did the most for punk rock since it’s glory days of the mid-seventies. “They were playing punk rock in a way that hadn’t been done in a while or ever,” says Friedman, “they weren’t trying to get a record deal. What it represented was a total dedication to what punk rock was and sticking to it for real.”

Indeed, Fugazi’s attempts to iron out rock’s contradictions were what produced a sound that ran the gamut of emotion. Their music was simultaneously melodic and dissonant, now quiet and calculating, then raucous and confrontational, emotional and yet exacted with clinical precision. It was a kind of complexity previously unseen in punk.

The first song Friedman ever heard by Fugazi that really moved him was at the show in NYC. The song was “Suggestion,” sung from the point of view of a woman who feels the eyes of men on her every day, the daily degradations of living in a world that treats certain people as little more than objects and much less than human. Friedman remembers his reaction to a band of men penning such an effective anti-sexist song: “I practically cried.”

But it wasn’t just Fugazi’s sound that impressed Friedman. The band’s business practices were an inspiration too. The group’s shows were all-ages and never cost more than five or six dollars. Their albums were never more than ten dollars postpaid. And they not only discouraged violence at the shows, they downright forbade it and would have open dialogue with audience members to stop it. The result of all this was a musical experience designed to give as much as possible back to the audience the most “bang for their buck.” It was an experience unsullied by the corporate grip on rock n’ roll.

This sealed the deal: “They were bringing it back; musically, ethically, in terms of their business practices.” For Friedman, this was the truest punk had ever been to itself. That’s something he maintains to this day. He will frequently tell me that while Rolling Stone called the Clash the only band that mattered in 1979, in that same context “Fugazi was the only band that really mattered.”

He puts up a good case. As he recalls, most documentaries on punk rock will only mention bands signed to major labels. But doesn’t the interest of those labels conflict with the ability of artist and listener to interact? Does it not put limits on what the artist can create? Aren’t major labels the antithesis of what punk rock was meant to be? “Fugazi never fit into a mold and they worked hard to not become one,” says Friedman. And their minimizing of outside interests most definitely helped.

Keep Your Eyes Open is his labor of love, his contribution to a story that has changed both the face and business of music. And it provides stunning images that reflect the group’s sound. In photographing his four friends (vocalist/guitarists Piccioto and McKaye, bassist Joe Lally and drummer Brendan Canty), Friedman’s shots are intensely egalitarian. “Most of the shoots I did, bands never had stars. You want it to be more democratic.” One shot included is among the best known of Fugazi, as it appeared on the back of their album Repeater. It features Canty, not McKaye or Piccioto, in front. And while so many rock promos are intended to make the artists larger than life, Friedman makes the egregious transgression of showing the band as human being. Cool human beings, yes, but humans nonetheless.

“I wanted to continue what they did in pictures,” Friedman tells me with frankness. “I went for what was inspirational… I used natural light [as opposed to flash] in the shots. Fugazi never liked any light shows anyway.” In doing so he captures the reality of the band. Most shots are black and white, and like the band’s sound provide an astonishing contrast of light and dark, grit and sharpness, calm and chaos.

The shots encompass fifteen years of Fugazi shows and photo-shoots. Like the band’s music, it is not immediately evident what makes them so incendiary. But like their music there are layers upon layers of texture and depth, allowing the listener/viewer to not sit back and consume, but actively participate with their minds and hearts. They are chaotic and beautiful. Chaotic because they break the mold, beautiful because they show that in doing so the possibility of something better arises.

Not surprisingly, Friedman is aware of the political implications of Fugazi’s existence. Rock n’ roll, and punk in particular, exposes kids to ideas that they simply don’t learn in school. “I didn’t even read Marx until college,” he says. So he understands that there is importance in getting kids thinking politically early on. Being a young man during the eighties, Friedman remembers a candid comment from Reagan about communism being too idealistic. “If you were to tell that to fourteen year old kids, they’re more idealistic than anyone.” But the paucity of radical ideas in schools cuts them off.

This, in essence, is the importance of punk rock. It provides kids with the inspiration to seek out something different than this stultifying existence.

Inspiration. That’s the bottom line to Friedman. It’s a rarity in today’s music, but Fugazi had it in spades. “Their daily existence was a constant inspiration. Every time they played live, every time I talked with them, every time we hung out and had something to eat, and last but not least every time a new record came out.”

Today, Fugazi appear to be on extended hiatus. All the members are involved in various music projects and activist work. The possibility of a reunion is marginal. And the city that gave rise to them appears to be very different from the one twenty years ago. One by one the theaters and community centers are being torn down and replaced with luxury condos or dime-a-dozen chain stores. But if four punks in the Reagan eighties could come forward and create what they did, without the input of the massive industry, then there must be a sliver of hope today. And so, I have to ask Friedman if what they did was still possible. In a strong and optimistic fashion, he answers:

“It’s more possible than ever,” he says. “Fugazi gave us a blueprint.”

And blueprints are to be built upon by future generations.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Beat Has Stopped: Good-bye Mr. Roach

By Alexander Billet

Published in Dissident Voice

Ask who the absolute greats of jazz are, you’ll get a few short words: “Bird,” “Trane,” “Miles,” “Dizz” . . . “Roach.”

Few did more for jazz as an art form than Max Roach, who died August 16th at age 83. Normally the drummer is the nameless guy in the back, the one who just keeps the beat while the “real musicians” do the actual work. But Roach showed everyone what a sham that is. A virtuoso in his own right, a composer, an innovator and revolutionary, Roach was the last survivor of a string of jazz greats from an era that changed the face of American music.

Born in North Carolina in 1924, his family moved to Brooklyn when he was four. Before too long he was already proving himself something of a prodigy, and at age ten was playing drums in the church choir. By the time his teenage years were over he had played briefly with Duke Ellington’s orchestra and participated in jam sessions with Charlie Parker that many say helped invent the genre known as bebop.

Roach was “one of the first American musicians to understand the complex polyrhythms of Africa” said longtime friend and collaborator Quincy Jones. In every group and orchestra he played in, he brought that complexity with him. His drumming frequently engaged in a “conversation” as one writer put it, with the other instruments. Previous jazz drummers had used the bass drum to provide the rhythm. Roach, along with Kenny Clarke, moved it to the ride cymbal. It was a move that allowed greater freedom and improvisation for the whole group, and would define bebop and its successors.

Bebop’s sound was, at the time, controversial. It relied not on elaborate orchestrations but on the musical instincts of small groups of four or five. Count Basie once called bebop “Chinese music” for its seemingly atonal and erratic qualities. But bebop was also the reaffirmation of jazz as art. Most bebop musicians consciously viewed themselves proudly as artists. In an America dominated by Jim Crow, lynch mobs, and urban poverty, a pride like this among blacks was dangerous — even revolutionary.

So it comes as no surprise that many bebop innovators, including Roach, identified with the radical left in the ’30s and ’40s. Roach played several benefits for the Communist Party USA, which had made an effort to reach out to black jazz musicians.

The late ’40s and early ’50s, while disastrous for much of that same Communist Party, was also a turning point for jazz with the advent of hard-bop and cool jazz. Roach, in typical fashion, was there at ground zero when he played on Miles Davis’ iconic “Birth of the Cool” sessions.

As an innovator, Roach demanded an amount of creative control that was — and is — rare in the recording industry. For that reason he and fellow jazz-great Charles Mingus founded the Debut imprint in 1952 as the first musician-run jazz label.

It wasn’t merely a business move. To him, jazz artists’ control over their output was an integral part of the struggle for civil rights in Black America. Two things he did in 1960 reflected both sides of this. He and Mingus organized a festival rivaling the Newport Jazz Festival in Rhode Island protesting its treatment of black artists, and together with lyricist Oscar Brown and vocalist Abbey Lincoln he composed and recorded “We Insist! Freedom Now Suite.”

Largely considered one of the best jazz protest records ever, its cover was a picture of black men sitting at Greenboro, North Carolina lunch counters. Roach’s drumming, along with Lincoln’s voice, seems to capture the defiant strength of their struggle. In few albums like this one can the “freedom” of free jazz be so directly paralleled to the freedom sought by the civil rights movement in the US, South Africa, and all over the world.

“I will never again play anything that does not have social significance,” Roach said to Down Beat magazine after the album’s release. “We American jazz musicians of African descent have proved beyond all doubt that we are master musicians of our instruments. Now what we have to do is employ our skill to tell the dramatic story of our people and what we’ve been through.”

Roach kept true to his word with “Percussion Bitter Sweet” and “Speak, Brother, Speak!” as well as the rest of his catalog of over fifty recordings with countless groups and ensembles. Always pushing the boundaries of what was possible in both his genre and his instrument, he formed a group in 1979 called M’Boom, made up of eight percussionists, showing how flexible — and melodic — percussion could be.

Perhaps one of the best modern testaments to his far-reaching influence, Roach performed in the early 80s with rapper Fab Five Freddy and the New York Break Dancers. “I try to show . . . the correlation between hip-hop and Louis Armstrong,” said Roach.” That’s how well-rooted hip-hop is . . .”

From bebop to hip-hop, the world looks very different now from when Max Roach hit his first snare. There is no doubt that he played a role in shaping that world. And if his music is taken to heart, so do we.

RIP Max Roach

He was a man of exceptional talent, drive, vision, and principle. A brilliant musician and outspoken proponent of civil rights. Few musicians reached the revolutionary potential of jazz like he did.

Check this out, and listen to those drums!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Friday, August 10, 2007

Amy Winehouse: Got Soul? Hell Yeah Sister!

By Alexander Billet

Published in Dissident Voice

Amy Winehouse is at the top of her game. In the past several months, the gritty and outspoken young woman from north London with a voice somewhere between Sarah Vaughan and Billie Holliday has become the musical success story of 2007. Her second album Back to Black has sold five million copies worldwide, soared up the charts on both sides of the pond, and produced three hit singles (with a fourth on the way). And just this past summer, she has graced the cover of the two biggest music magazines in the US; Rolling Stone, and Spin, which had the guts to call her “the dangerous new queen of soul.”

Mere hype? Absolutely not. Because plainly stated, Amy Winehouse is one of the best thing to happen to women in pop music in a decade.

This itself is a bold statement. And normally there is something about the hyping of a white woman as the queen of a black music-genre that puts this writer’s quills on end. But there is no denying that Ms. Winehouse stands out from the typical female pop singer, white or black. For those of us frustrated with the reign of the pre packaged plastic doll in music, it’s a relief to see a female artist who allows herself that most verboten of indulgences: being human.

Part of it is her choice in sound. Jazz, soul, Motown, a bit of reggae and ska, all find their way into her songs. This isn’t the music of the sterile studio that crawls underneath stale lyrics like a plastic ivy plant. These are the songs of the sweaty dance halls and gin soaked R&B joints that should have never been pushed to the margins the way they have.

Her image and voice might be part of it too. Ms. Winehouse is hardly the vapid sex object with the frail nightingale-ish voice we’ve become used to. She’s tattooed. She wears whatever she feels like (including the bee-hive). And she is a powerhouse! Her voice has an unusual depth and an undeniable strength. She sings from her gut, from her heart, and from someplace very, very real.

But these are only part of a bigger picture. Ms. Winehouse’s voice, her image, her catalog and performances, are all part of the most genuine, heart-on-the-sleeve material to come from any woman in the pop-music mainstream in a long time. Perhaps that’s because Ms. Winehouse (gasp!) writes her own songs.

Not only that, but she’s amazingly skilled at it, especially for someone of only 23 years. Heartbreak, lust, and even addiction are all things that she can sing about with a rare believability. “Tears Dry on Their Own,” set to be released on August 13th, is a perfect showcase. Its sound pulls heavily from “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” and Ms. Winehouse not only recaptures that song’s classic strut-and-sway, she makes it her own with a cocky swagger that has become trademark. Her lyrics, however, seem to pull a reversal on the song, as she speaks of being trapped in an endless cycle of bad lovers. That she can juxtapose one’s own destructive cycle with such defiantly strong music conjures up images of suviving despite all odds, a feeling that seems to be forgotten in most “neo-soul.”

Her prior single, “Back to Black” features a piano and string backing reminiscent of Solid Gold at its best. Ms. Winehouse’s smoky voice is just enough to hold the listener’s heart in painful limbo as her lover returns to his old flame. The poetically blunt lyrics hit the listener in the gut: “He left no time to regret / kept his dick wet with his same old safe bet.” But if this almost vulgar honesty shocks then the chorus — which soldiers through the pain of heartbreak with noble grace — gives you no choice but to be drawn into her world of simultaneous anger and sadness:

“We only said good-bye with words
I’ve died a hundred times
You go back to her
And I go back to black.”

If you’re not moved by this beautiful song, check your damn pulse.

There is a dark side to all this. It seems impossible that anyone could write such nuanced and vivid songs without demons, and Ms. Winehouse has her fair share. Thanks to the spinelessness of the British tabloids, we know that her struggle with the drink has been more than just a minor nuisance*. After her first record, even her label tried to intervene. But rather than hide that from the world, she turned it into her biggest hit yet; the Motown infused, attitude filled “Rehab. The messagen was clear, to the execs, the agents, and the tabloids: “screw you, and by the way, screw you again.”

It’s impressive that Ms. Winehouse has no problem speaking her mind in both her music and otherwise. While she may share the petite, skinny build of the pop-istas, she knows that it comes at a heavy price. She has admitted that she used to suffer from eating disorders, the big taboo that most divas dare not speak of. After describing her past disorder as “a little bit of anorexia, a little bit of bulimia,” she elaborated “I’m not totally OK now, but I don’t think ANY woman is.” And in a society where we are expected to deal with the shit of life with a grin on our face, she has also admitted to a history of bipolar disorder.

Mark Ronson, legendary DJ and producer of half of Back to Black said that “Amy is bringing a rebellious rock n’ roll spirit back to popular music… Those groups from the Sixties like the Shangri-Las had that kind of attitude: young girls from Queens in motorcycle jackets. Amy looks fucking cool, and she’s brutally honest in her songs. It’s been so long since anybody in the pop world has come out and admitted their flaws, because everyone’s trying so hard to project perfection. But Amy will say, like, ‘Yeah, I got drunk and fell down. So what?’”

What her recent success tells us is that most people are sick of “perfection.” They want artists they can identify with. Ms. Winehouse is a deep, complex, often flawed person. As we all are. Not only does she admit it, she puts every inch of it in her songs. How brave, how personal, and how rare that is. Perhaps the reason she’s being called the new queen of soul is because she actually HAS soul.

Here’s to you Ms. Winehouse. May your reign be long and prosperous.

*Note: Obviously, this was written before her recently publicized drug overdose. The tabs are predictably having a field day with this.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Pearl Jam Censored by AT&T

I think we can all clearly see why they were censored. Typical, but still shocking and disgusting. -AB

From pearljam.com

*****

After concluding our Sunday night show at Lollapalooza, fans informed us that portions of that performance were missing and may have been censored by AT&T during the "Blue Room" Live Lollapalooza Webcast.

When asked about the missing performance, AT&T informed Lollapalooza that portions of the show were in fact missing from the webcast, and that their content monitor had made a mistake in cutting them.

During the performance of "Daughter" the following lyrics were sung to the tune of Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall" but were cut from the webcast:

- "George Bush, leave this world alone." (the second time it was sung); and

- "George Bush find yourself another home."

This, of course, troubles us as artists but also as citizens concerned with the issue of censorship and the increasingly consolidated control of the media.

AT&T's actions strike at the heart of the public's concerns over the power that corporations have when it comes to determining what the public sees and hears through communications media.

Aspects of censorship, consolidation, and preferential treatment of the internet are now being debated under the umbrella of "NetNeutrality." Check out The Future of Music or Save the Internet for more information on this issue.

Most telecommunications companies oppose "net neutrality" and argue that the public can trust them not to censor..

Even the ex-head of AT&T, CEO Edward Whitacre, whose company sponsored our troubled webcast, stated just last March that fears his company and other big network providers would block traffic on their networks are overblown..

"Any provider that blocks access to content is inviting customers to find another provider." (Marguerite Reardon, Staff Writer, CNET News.com Published: March 21, 2006, 2:23 PM PST).

But what if there is only one provider from which to choose?

If a company that is controlling a webcast is cutting out bits of our performance -not based on laws, but on their own preferences and interpretations - fans have little choice but to watch the censored version.

What happened to us this weekend was a wake up call, and it's about something much bigger than the censorship of a rock band.

The complete version of "Daughter" from the Lollapalooza performance will be posted here soon for any of you who missed it. We apologize to our fans who were watching the webcast and got shortchanged. In the future, we will work even harder to ensure that our live broadcasts or webcasts are free from arbitrary edits.

If you have examples of AT&T censoring artist performances around political content, it's a good thing for everyone to know about. Feel free to post examples on the official Pearl Jam Message Pit.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Bad Brains' Darryl Jenifer on Punk, Race and Surviving for 30 Years

The legendary Texas homophobia incident is mentioned here. If Jenifer is to be trusted (and there is good reason to) we haven't exactly been getting the whole story. And his ideas on music and race are incredibly refreshing. -AB

Read it here

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Clear Channel, Payola, and How They're Killing Radio

By Alexander Billet

Published in Znet

Have you ever wondered why mainstream radio is so redundant? Why we may hear the same song so many times in one day? Or why so many of the artists sound similar?

The answer may lie in three words: Clear Channel Communications.

Over the past several years, Clear Channel, the nation's largest owner of AM/FM radio, has been implicated several times in scandals involving payola, the practice of demanding money in return for airtime for a record company's most desired artists.

Payola is illegal, and has been for decades, but Clear Channel and others like it have always somehow found ways around that. These payments can be as large as thousands of dollars for just one week of airtime. The end result: only bands with backing from a major label could get played, and bands that couldn't afford it were left in the cold. A few years ago the practice had returned with such vengeance that several commentators and music fans began to complain of mainstream radio's moribund playlists. "Commercial radio long ago ceased to be a good source for discovering new music," according to Stereophile's Barry Willis in a 2003 article. "College radio stations, cable TV's DMX service, and the internet are much richer resources." Apparently, Clear Channel began to feel the heat, and tried to change its tune quick.

This past May, the Federal Communications Commission closed a long investigation into the matter. Clear Channel and three other communications behemoths paid $12.5 million in fines (mere pocket change to them), and admitted no wrong doing. Perhaps the biggest victory to come out of it was an agreement that Clear Channel would require its stations to devote 4,200 hours to independent and local artists.

As per the agreement, forms were posted online for independent artists to apply for airplay. Finally, it looked like some headway would be made in making the radio more vibrant and diverse. But last month, the other shoe dropped. On the application for DC 101 FM, it was revealed that the artists were required to sign away their digital performance rights should Clear Channel decide to use the song over the internet. What that means was laid out succinctly in a statement from the Future of Music Coalition: "In other words, Clear Channel is asking the artists to sign away his or her right to get paid a royalty when it digitally broadcasts the artist's work." Similar language has been found on other station's applications.

Jenny Toomey, executive director for the Future of Music Coalition put it well: "This is like the fox getting caught in the hen house a second time and arguing he shouldn't get in trouble because he was leaving the hens alone... he was just eating all the eggs."

So much for levelling the playing field.

What makes this even worse is that Clear Channel isn't only a major player, it is a veritable behemoth. Since the deregulation of radio in the 1996 Telecommunications Act, the company has gained control of sixty percent of terrestrial radio stations.

And yes, this is the same Clear Channel that banned the Dixie Chicks after they spoke out against Bush. Who banned any political song directly after 9/11, including everything by Rage Against the Machine. And who helped sponsor pro-war rallies in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq.

But there is a broader trend at play here. What this scandal illustrates is yet another way that the music industry is a blight on music itself. Radio conglomerates are concerned only by how much they can make off of today's music. But it is the brains, skill and talent of the musicians that makes us want to listen in the first place. Until we get rid of the parasites leeching off them, then artists will never get a fair shake.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

The Anger and Alienation That Feed Racism

A good review for a solid film. As someone who rolled with the skinheads growing up (anti-racist of course), it's good to see a movie that neither denies nor applauds the racism in the movement, but looks at the skins themselves and how racism can destroy a proud working class culture. -AB

From Socialist Worker (US)

*****

The anger and alienation that feed racism
Review by Jason Farbman | August 3, 2007 | Page 11

This Is England, written and directed by Shane Meadows, starring Thomas Turgoose and Stephen Graham.

PART ABOUT a Boy and part Romper Stomper, writer and director Shane Meadows has created a masterful study of the British working class in This Is England. The film follows Shaun, a lonely 12-year-old who has just lost his father to the Falklands War, as he befriends a group of skinheads in a bleak, working-class rural England of 1983.

Friendless and picked on, Shaun runs into a few older kids one day on his way home from school. These new friends--one of whom is Jamaican--dress as skinheads, but are not racist. Their leader, Woody, is kind and generous and brings Shaun into the group. Soon the boy is transformed into a pint-sized skinhead and surrounded by friends. As he is dropped off at home one evening, he declares to his new friends that it’s been the best day of his life.

One night Woody’s friend Combo is released from jail, and everything changes. He is much older--in his early thirties--and is seething with anger. Despite claims that he isn’t racist, the group is clearly made uncomfortable by his descriptions of Jamaicans and others in jail. Once his racism becomes undeniable, Woody and many of the others break ties at once. They leave without Shaun, however, whose emotions are manipulated into making his father’s death in the Falklands “mean something.”

The film is book-ended with footage from that war. This is not just to set the period, as Meadows has commented: “when you look at the footage, and see the [media] campaign as the unemployment figures hit 3 million, it does make you incredibly suspicious as to what paratroopers were doing fighting 16-year-old kids from Argentina.

“It was an incredibly suspicious war, in the same way America and the UK got involved in Iraq. People can see that now. Obviously there were more people against going into Iraq than there were going into the Falklands...but the shame I carry as a British resident, was that it was a war handled in the media as if it were a World Cup summer.”

Not only does the footage make a connection between imperial wars abroad and the poor living conditions for the majority at home, it draws a straight line between what we are watching and what we are living through today. At the heart of This Is England is a working class left to rot; despite all proclamations to the contrary by politicians or mainstream media, people are struggling and are angry.

In the movie, as is the danger now, there are those who present conclusions that only serve to divide the working class against itself. Nowhere is this better represented than in a pivotal scene where Combo lashes out against unemployment in England, the lies of Margaret Thatcher, and a war “about nothing,” where “good people, real people” are being sent to die in battles “with a bunch of shepherds.”

He acknowledges that the competition between immigrants and native-born workers drives down wages, but instead of concluding that Thatcher and those in power are the beneficiaries, he falls into the trap of blaming immigrants for the country’s problems. And while many reject his conclusions, there are those who follow him.

This Is England takes a hard look at life in the working class. Far from condemning people for their own terrible circumstances, it attempts to explain how there are any number of conclusions one can be drawn into that cannot lead to a better life for anyone.

At countless points in history racism and xenophobia have been used to divide an angry, bitter working class. These tactics are being employed today to keep a rapidly leftward-shifting populace at bay, and the fight against racism and xenophobia will again be one of the most significant struggles in which an organized left will need to engage.