Friday, October 29, 2010

Halloween Tip: No Racist Costumes


It's rather galling that we still have to talk about this in the 21st century. But, apparently, we do. It seems like every year the same reports come in a few days after Halloween: some white, privileged yuppie-larva--more often than not on an elite college campus--ends up donning a costume where "bad taste" is an insufficient label. Just as predictable is the reaction the outcry provokes from the knuckle-draggers on the right--the claims of "free speech," "reverse racism," and "harmless jokes."

So commonplace has it become now that Northwestern University felt the need to release a statement recently urging its student body to be more "mindful" when choosing this year's costumes. Last year, protest was sparked on the NU campus when pictures began circulating of a white student who came to party dressed as Bob Marley in blackface and a Jamaica t-shirt.

Of course, plenty conservatives jumped to the idiot's defense by claiming out that the costume was some sort of "homage" to Marley. The kid was, after all, a "fan" of Marley's music.

Let's get this straight: when a white dude dresses up in blackface, Bob Marley rolls in his grave. Sheltered, upper-middle class kids may like his music, but they have no idea what it means. Marley, of course, was a lifelong anti-racist who would be disgusted to see the way in which his legacy has been twisted into that of the harmless, weed-smoking pickaninny that adorns frat-house walls.

But some haven't even waited for the figures to be dead before besmirching their work. Observe the picture above (which it pains me to even post) of the cracker dressed like Lil Wayne. There's plenty of reason to believe that he himself listens to Weezy's music--or at least knows enough to buy a magazine with the rapper on the cover--but the notion of smearing yourself in brown greasepaint to dress up like him is just a modern-day minstrel routine.

Easy though it might be to let the blame stop with the soft-bigot individuals who make these lunk-headed and mean-spirited costume choices, they have to be seen in the broader context of a country that is still virulently racist. This past February, the administration at UC San Diego was forced to deal with a veritable uprising among the student body after word got out about a "Compton Cookout" using stereotypical "gangsta" imagery to mock Black History Month. Without the ascending Tea Party and continued systematic racism, there's no way there would be breathing room for these types of craven bigotry.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

This Promo Gives Me Migraine!

Anybody recognize this tune? Perhaps you more left-minded post-punk fans out there?



Yes, that is "Natural's Not In it," and Gang of Four are in an XBox commercial! The execs at Microsoft definitely know who they're pitching to, evidenced not only in the choice of the music, but in the "hip young kids" they're including in the ad. Much of their "target demographic" here is bound to recognize the song, and of those who don't, many will be curious enough to look up who does that great opening riff!

Only one problem: this is a song whose lyrics (included in the vid below) skewers consumer culture and the ideal suburban life along with it. Here's a group who have spent their whole creative life on the left, and no doubt know the irony of including a song of this nature in any commercial! They're well aware of the ad too; one would have to guess that they're laughing themselves silly at this one.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

On Woody Guthrie, Moderation, and Instability


From the afterword of Joe Klein's Woody Guthrie: A Life, which I've recently re-read after a decade:

"Woody Guthrie's most enduring quality has turned out to be his wild, heterodox and overpowering sense of freedom..."

Very true.

"It is a deeply American trait, made possible by the vastness of the land and the stability of the political system."

Not true.

The problem with this is that Klein has spent the bulk of the past 400-plus pages describing Guthrie's America as one gripped by the worst economic crisis of the 20th century, followed by the most violent military conflict in the history of civilization. "Stability" is not a word that applies here.

Klein's book is still the most authoritative biography of Woody Guthrie, and rightfully so; it is exhaustively researched and showcases the author's talent with eloquent-yet-informal storytelling. By the end, the reader can see amply the kind of humanity that made Guthrie such a towering giant of American music--and why musical rebels of subsequent eras, from Bob Dylan to Joe Strummer, embraced him so. Politically, though, it leaves more than a little to be desired, and the above quote more or less exemplifies this shortcoming.

Throughout the book, Klein is sympathetic to Guthrie's own steadfast radicalism, deftly describing the singer's political evolution into a socialist. While the journey is fascinating, it's marred by the fact that Klein treats the American Communist Party--by the most important organized expression of radicalism in the 1930s and '40s--with a certain amount of dismissal. Guthrie and a few other notables aside, members of the CP are portrayed as at best naive and at worst stubbornly dogmatic, and all ultimately little more than pawns of Stalin. While it's true that by the '30s most official Communist Parties had become thoroughly Stalinized, there's more to the CPUSA's history and ideological decline than that.

It comes down to a basic American exceptionalism for Klein; the idea that while America may fall upon hard times, the innate greatness of its political system will eventually right the course and the good times will surely roll again. The problem is that this doesn't accurately explain what made Woody Guthrie's music or politics possible.

The chaos that most working people's lives was thrown into by the Great Depression caused ordinary folks to fight back. That's what inspired Guthrie. Not the stability of the American system, but the bravery and resolve that its people can exhibit when they figure out how to stand up for themselves.

Klein's outlook, however, finds plenty of resonance today among more liberal voices in the media. Case in point: Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert's "Rally to Restore Sanity" taking place in Washington, DC this weekend. The two comedians--still among the more subversive on television nowadays--are guaranteed to pull out plenty of folks alarmed by the rise of the Tea Party, the high unemployment, and the virulent bigotry that still passes as political thought today.

But the ultimate message is that America should "take it down a notch," that we are better off letting cooler heads prevail. Rallying, demonstrating, protesting--none of them help, and merely serve to polarize the situation even more. The logical conclusion of this is that everything will work out if we just let the leaders do their job.

That hasn't worked. It didn't work in the '30s, it didn't work in the '60s, and it's not working today. Folks will no doubt flock to the Stewart-Colbert rally looking for an outlet, something that could serve as counterweight Glenn Beck's smug fear-mongering. What really has the potential to shut the bigots down, though, is the same thing that's going to win our jobs back, end the wars, and put an end to the inequality that's experienced by women, people of color and LGBT folks on a daily basis.

That's when we let things get a little unstable, when we go out and cause some chaos of our own. Woody wouldn't want it any other way.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Gaga Grounded


Lady Gaga canceled two gigs in France this past weekend. A short statement released on her website reads:

"As a result of the logistical difficulties due to the strikes in France, Live Nation today announced that the Lady Gaga performances in Paris at Bercy previously scheduled for this Friday and Saturday 22 & 23 October are postponed until 19 & 20 December, 2010."

The strikes have been massive for sure. By now, millions have taken part in them--students, workers unionized and not, pensioners. At stake is the French working class's right to retire at a decent age. As readers probably know by now, French President Sarkozy and his cabinet have been pushing a bill that raises the age at which workers can retire with full benefits.

The bill has passed the Senate, but both union leaders and other organizations have stated publicly that they intend the fight to continue. The past ten days have seen the country brought to all but a standstill. Buses and railways have run sporadically, airports have been blocked off, oil depots and refineries too. French police have been brought in to bring many of these essentials back to at least basic operation, but given the militancy that has been on display, it's not out of the question for these industries to be shut down yet again over the next few weeks.

Of course, placing some kind of abstract political litmus test on any artist--even one as outspoken as Lady Gaga--smacks of utopian elitism, but one can't help but feel that she's perhaps missed an opportunity here. Given the kind of economic insecurity that her overwhelmingly young fans are facing down, the self-described activist could possibly have a bit more to say about the struggle in France than a blah statement of cancellation.

Far more troubling has been the way in which mainstream rags have reported the matter. Billboard, unsurprisingly, has towed the line by describing the mass demonstrations and strikes as being overwhelmed by "rioters," while piling on the pathos of "Gaga's poor fans," when it's actually a safe bet that there's at least a few "little monsters" out on the demos with the rest.

Artists are eventually going to have to take sides in all of this. More recent reports indicate that the oil refinery blockades have spread to Belgium.

Monday, October 25, 2010

I'm Working For the Man


Sometimes there comes along a news story that can only provoke a reaction of "ugh!" And that's the feeling that comes to mind when one hears that former Velvet Underground drummer Maureen "Moe" Tucker is a supporter of the Tea Party!

No, that is (unfortunately) not a mistake or typo. The drummer of one of the most infamous, rebellious rock bands of all time is siding with a movement whose logical conclusions run contrary to everything her scene once stood for.

Tucker has been quite careful to make sure that she distances herself from the more virulent elements that surround the teabaggers. For example: "Anyone who thinks I'm crazy about Sarah Palin, Bush, etc has made quite the presumption... I have voted Democrat all my life, until I started listening to what Obama was promising and started wondering how the hell will this utopian dream-land be paid for? For those who actually believe that their taxes won't go up in order to pay for all this insanity: good luck!"

By now it's no surprise that the Obama administration's actions have lead to something far-flung from any utopia. Bailout after bailout for auto companies and banks while unemployment persists, a health care bill that merely cements the position of the insurance companies, foot-dragging on LGBT rights, continuation of two wars and the expansion into another, the list goes on.

In reality, what Tucker and the rest of the Tea Party are fighting for isn't so much a stop to the Obama agenda as the complete destruction of anything smacking of "socialism." Obama has become the convenient--if inaccurate--proxy for welfare recipients, affirmative action, unions, and anything else that might threaten the safety of "middle America."

Of course, Tucker insists that she's not a racist of any kind. "You disagree and you're immediately called a fool, a Nazi, a racist," she says, "That's pretty f'd up! I would never judge someone based on their political views. Their honesty, integrity, kindness to others, generosity? Yes. Politics? No!"

Lofty sentiments, except that this is a movement that has time and again been shown to display not only intolerance but outright racism, sexism and homophobia. From shouting slurs at Barney Frank, to Mark Williams' infamous mock letter from "Colored People," to the open allowance of neo-Nazis and fascists to participate in Tea Party events, this is a movement that has bigotry written all over it.

As for the tax question, it is worth mentioning that a true universal health care plan, jobs programs, unemployment insurance, a moratorium on foreclosures, could all be made possible by taxing not ordinary folks, but the very people that have sent the global economy into this mess in the first place: the rich. These are the folks who gambled with working people's futures, and yet pay less tax than anyone else in this country! And by now it's well documented that these are the exact same people bank-rolling the Tea Party demonstrations. When Tucker rails against higher taxes, that's who she's actually defending.

Tucker might do well to actually look at the lay of the land that gave rise to her best music. New York City in the 1960s was far from a utopia, but was an important recipient of aid in the war on poverty. It was a city, like most, whose African American population was emboldened by the Civil Rights movement, where white kids were recognizing the shift in racial attitudes and actively embracing rock 'n' roll as a result. Without these phenomena, it's worth wondering whether VU would have ever existed.

Now, she's allied with a movement looking to take the country back to the 1950s. Tucker can distance herself from it all she wants, and has: "I'm not 'involved' with the local movement. I went to the first Tea Party in June or July of 2009 because it was within striking distance and I wanted to be counted."

And yet, the Tea Party Patriots website includes a personal page for Tucker, where she not only rails against "socialism," but states that "I have come to believe (not just wonder) that Obama's plan is to destroy America from within."

If that's not a ringing endorsement of the right-wing agenda, then I don't know what is.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Announcement: Help Support RF!!!

Shameless plug time. Things keep chugging away here at Rebel Frequencies as always. Folks may have noticed that the posting schedule is now a five-day-a-week, Monday through Friday (as opposed to the old lightweight Monday-Wednesday-Friday routine from before). A book proposal is also in the works--which is currently under wraps and will be until there is a solid publishing plan in place). After long last, I am also hard at work for the RF 'zine to be released sometime this winter--the first in what will hopefully be a long line of quarterlies!

And, of course, there are more than a few interesting articles on the burner in the near future: a thirty-year retrospective of the Clash's Sandinista!, a look at the modern meaning of John Lennon's legacy on the thirtieth anniversary of his death, and a piece that will ask whether artists can contribute to the ongoing boycotts of Arizona and Israel in protest of those states' apartheid policies. Plus the same interviews, album reviews and commentaries that have made Rebel Frequencies one of the places to go to for radical music journalism today.

None of this is possible without your support though. Times are tough, no doubt about it. You don't have to look at the strikes in France or the strife in Ecuador to see that; just look at you bank account! But as times get tougher there is more and more of a need for a radical viewpoint on music: one that sees it not as the purview of the rich or uniquely gifted, but as innately bottom-up, something that each and every one of us have just as much right to as food and housing. Needless to say, that's a view you won't be hearing from Clear Channel or reading in Rolling Stone.

Rebel Frequencies gets no grants, no sponsorship or funding. This ain't the Tea Party; RF doesn't get a cent from any corporate backers behind the scenes, and the site is infinitely stronger for it. That doesn't mean there aren't expenses; computer upkeep, internet bills, CDs, show tickets, not to mention membership in the National Writers Union to ensure that RF isn't taken advantage of. I work a day-job, and though I get the occasional check for an article, most of what you see here is pure and simple free labor--a labor of love, but free nonetheless. So even as the moths are fluttering out of your wallet, this is a straightforward request for any support you can muster. Here are a few ways you can do that:

Donate: Plans are in place for a PayPal button to be uploaded into the "Support" section sometime in the near future, but you don't need to wait for that. You can feel free to email me at rebelfrequencies@gmail.com and request details for sending me a check in the mail. No amount is too small and everything is appreciated.

Speaking engagements: Have me out to speak at your college or in your neighborhood. What campus doesn't have a music club? And what community doesn't have a growing amount of radicalizing youth pumping M.I.A. or Freddie Gibbs out of their iPod? I'll speak on any topic requested. An honorarium will be great (a portion will also be donated to the Center for Economic Research and Social Change), but the bottom line is about spreading the word. So if you can figure out a way to get me there, I'll make it happen!

Subscribe... and bring your friends: The amount of people subscribing to the Rebel Frequencies monthly mailing list is growing quickly. If you haven't done it yet, please do, and tell your friends to do the same by emailing me at rebelfrequencies@gmail.com with the word "subscribe" in the subject line. Or, you can follow RF on Facebook through NetworkedBlogs. If you can't afford to donate anything or fly me out (understandable), then this is the best way for you to support the site. And if you can afford to support RF financially, then subscribe anyway!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Who Stole the Soul?


This upcoming Monday will see an issue of Harper's Bazaar hit the stands that profiles Michelle Obama talking about the importance of art in her own upbringing. A sneak peak at the article includes this quote from her:

"I was fortunate to grow up in a family that appreciates music... My maternal grandfather, we called him South Side, was a big jazz-music collector. He would play jazz 24 hours a day. As my mother said, when she was growing up, 'You learn to sleep through jazz.' He had speakers in every room in his house--including the bathroom."

Mrs. Obama has, of course, been serenaded by such acts as Justin Bieber and Paul McCartney since her husband took office. It's rather easy to wax on and on about the importance of the arts in her position. Meanwhile, Race To The Top, the "school reform" being pushed by the Obama administration, merely speeds the process that's drained funding from public schools and gutted arts programs.

Thanks to RTTT, most South Side Chicago high schools barely have anything resembling an arts and music department. So while she can "appreciate" music as much as she wants, it doesn't make up for the fact that she's part of an agenda bound to make that same appreciation all but impossible for other kids.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Fight for an Orchestra's Future


Detroit. The one-time home of John Lee Hooker, of Berry Gordy, the Supremes and Hitsville USA. The industrial mecca that helped give rise to the MC5, P-Funk and house music. Seminal hip-hop groups like Slum Village have emerged from the city, and Eminem’s continued connections merely cement the link. It’s undeniable that without the Motor City, music in America would sound nothing like it does today.

Lately, though, that legacy seems to be overshadowed by some depressing imagery: shuttered auto plants, foreclosed homes and block upon block of urban decay. It might be easy to overlook that, in the midst of so much blight, Detroit has long been home to one of the country’s premier orchestras. For over a hundred years, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra has been a key part of the city’s makeup; its annual concert series is viewed by almost half a million people every year, it has toured the world, garnering praise and awards along the way. It is, as one member of the orchestra says, “a cultural gem.”

All the more reason to defend it says cellist Haden McKay: “For better or for worse, around the world what people know Detroit for are decay, social problems, economic problems. The Detroit Symphony, for many decades, has been one thing that carries the name of Detroit around the world in a very positive connection. Whether we’re on tour or whether our CD is being played on the radio in Asia or Europe, this is one time when you can hear the name Detroit in a positive connection. You can’t put a price tag on that.”

Which is why on October 4th, McKay and the rest of the orchestra walked out. The DSO has canceled all orchestral performances through November 7th, including its season opener. World renowned violinist Sarah Chang, who was scheduled for a recital on October 11th, also canceled under public pressure.

The orchestra members, represented by the American Federation of Musicians Local 5, haven’t been unreasonable. On the contrary, the DSO board of directors have offered a contract stunning in its draconian demands. A 33% pay cut for current musicians, a 42% cut for new hires, the elimination of tenure and drastic restructuring of work rules to force musicians to perform well past regular concerts. Even for the “new normal” of the Great Recession, that’s deep.

For their part, the musicians’ counteroffer was an already substantial 22%. Management wouldn’t budge though. In late September, negotiations broke down. And the strike--having already been authorized by the musicians in August--began a few days later. There have been no announcements of a return to the negotiating table.

Currently, veteran musicians make approximately $104,000 per year. Management’s proposal would slash that figure down to $77,000, and the elimination of tenure puts a big question mark over whether the musicians would ever be able to get back to their former salary. DSO Chief Executive and President Anne Parsons has pointed to the administrative cut-backs that the staff and others have had to make in recent years. What she hasn’t been as public about is her own yearly income.

What’s at stake isn’t just the musicians’ ability to make a living, though. Management’s intransigence puts the orchestra’s very integrity on the chopping block. Orchestral musicians are well-known for spending years honing their craft, often sacrificing untold sums for sake of their training. The DSO’s reputation and ability to offer a competitive salary has allowed them to attract some world-class talent. Management’s proposals make that no longer feasible.

“It’s a very simple line to draw,” says McKay. “We’re competing in an international and national talent pool for top players. We can pay a little bit less than the other ones because once people come they love the quality of the orchestra, they tend to put down roots and they stay. To get them there in the first place, though, you have to offer at least a competitive package! If we go down the way that management wants us to go down, we’re not going to be able to offer that. What we’ve seen these past couple years has been people leaving for other jobs. They’ve seen the writing on the wall and sensed that management was going to go after us.”

In short, what management is offering is an orchestra destined for a decline toward a third-rate existence. If Parsons and the rest have their way, then it won’t just be the musicians who are deprived, but the access of Detroit residents to world-class art and the community’s ability to take pride in their orchestra.

Perhaps this is why public support for the strike has been broad. This past summer, well before negotiations began, the orchestra began reaching out to the community and explaining their position. “A lot of people in the public are saying that this doesn’t sound right,” McKay recalls. “When we’re picketing a lot of the unions come down, whether it’s the Teamsters, the UAW, they’ll show up because they see us very much as fellow workers.”

That’s not to say this picket isn't unique. Pictures and photos show the musicians walking the line in full coat-and-tails; french horns held aloft right alongside placards reading “DSO Unfair.”

But the musicians have also sought to use their own art as a platform for their cause. As in previous strikes, the orchestra has gone forward with their scheduled season--just not under the sanction of management. The musicians’ website features a section for purchasing tickets to concerts not in their normal home of the Max M. Fisher Music Center, but in the nearby communities of Bloomfield Hills and Grosse Pointe. Proceeds from the concerts will go to benefit the strikers’ contingency fund.

Importantly, their Bloomfield Hills show will also feature about a dozen members of symphony orchestra of Cleveland, who went on strike for one day this past January. Indeed, the strike seems to have captured the attention of symphonies from around the country.

McKay is straightforward in why this is the case: “If they can make a major orchestra take this kind of pay-cut, if they can open that door in Detroit, then you can be sure that when they go to the negotiating table in Baltimore or Dallas or Philadelphia or Denver they’re going to hear the same demands.”

And therein lies the reason this fight is important. The economic crisis and the onslaught it’s provoked from employers have already taken a toll on our homes, our jobs, and our livelihoods. It’s no surprise that our access to art and music should be in the crosshairs too. If we don’t defend it, then it won’t be sticking around either.

First appeared at the website of the Society of Cinema and Arts.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Good Kind of British Invasion

Most folks stateside probably haven't heard of the King Blues and that's a damned shame. This is a group of London-based class-struggle anarchists whose sound pulls on folk, reggae, punk, hip-hop and hardcore. It's a potent mix for sure, one where the sum of the parts make for much more than the often-belabored "fusion" groups that seem to spring up so often nowadays. Naturally this musical breadth meshes well with their organically radical politics.

Word of mouth is that their upcoming album--which still hasn't gotten a release date--will actually be getting decent promotion on this side of the pond when it finally drops. Fans are in for a treat, as the two vids below show. From the sound of it, the new disc will lean much heavier on the pop-punk than on the folk or ska (though I could be wrong), but there certainly hasn't been any loss of soul for the shift.



Monday, October 18, 2010

Rap That Knows No Compromise


Some might think it weird for an emcee to name himself after one of the most notorious and destructive corporations in recent American history. But then, very little about Chicago-based rapper Phillip Morris fits into an easy category. Morris’s rhymes manage to be acerbic and witty, personal and political, serious and silly all at the same turn.

His new mixtape,
The Truth Campaign--recorded with French producer Tha Truth Tella, is yet another step outside the box for him. Over intricate, room-filling beats Morris manages to create hip-hop that is catchy and accessible without dumbing himself down or shying away from controversy. Here, he talks to Alexander Billet about the new album and his thoughts on hip-hop’s connection to social struggle.

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You’ve been described as a political rapper, an underground rapper, a rebel rapper, a nerd rapper. How do you describe yourself?

I guess I would describe myself as a nerd–I don’t know about “nerd rapper.” But I definitely feel like a nerd, I enjoy being a nerd. I just try to keep the music original, heartfelt. I think I’m getting better at expressing myself and my ideas. I guess I make nerdy music that challenges people from time to time and keeps them entertained.

Your beliefs as an activist definitely play a role in your lyrics, but that’s not the whole story, right?

Well, yeah, that’s definitely not the whole story. I do try to interject my viewpoints and my own personal politics, but I definitely don’t want my music being engulfed completely in that. I try to make sure to keep it in a really lighthearted approach to whatever the subject-matter is.

You have a following among different crowds–hip-hop heads, activists, etc. Do you find a different reaction coming from different kinds of crowds?

Yeah I think so. I mean a show’s a show, even if it is a more politically charged show. But there will be a lot of difference. I try to do a lot of studying the crowd when I’m performing and going from song to song; gauging what I need to be doing to connect with them while still doing what I want to do. I definitely find different parts of me will be coming out more so if a different song is being felt by a different crowd.

The reason I ask is that another thing that’s immediately apparent is how electric and energetic your live shows are. And I notice that the new album really seems to have that kind of boisterous energy. Was that conscious on your part?

With The Truth Campaign it was definitely a switch-up for me beat-wise. I don’t normally rhyme over beats of that type; it was a bit of a stretch for me. But I really wanted to try to do something over beats that were out of the ordinary for me but still widely felt by folks listening to hip-hop in this day and age. I wanted to do something where I could connect my way of doing things with some really relevant, energetic music.

What was it like working with Tha Truth Tella?

That was an interesting experience, because he was in France and we did everything via email. He’s based in southern France. We never met or talked face to face or over the phone or anything. It’s been constant cyber-communication, which has been challenging; things get lost in translation sometimes. But for the most part we did a pretty stellar job. I’ve never done a project before–other than my first album where I did all the beats myself–where only one person has done the beats. So that was cool but challenging at the same time. Sometimes you just want something that has a different vibe to it. But even while I was making this album I was working on other songs for other projects. So, you know, I’d go make two songs for this album, then go make another one, then come back to this album. That way I didn’t get tired–because I do get tired of my own music rather quickly. You know, before anyone else has heard it, I’ve listened to it like 500 times!

Are there any events or topics that have affected the lyrical content on The Truth Campaign?

I don’t know if there are any particular events... I’ve been unemployed for the past year and half. So that’s been interesting. I’ve had a bit more time to make music, but a lot less money obviously. You know, I can sit down and work on a song for eight hours if I need to! So that’s been one of the main things I’ve been going through. There’s also been a lot of things with the city–getting my car towed and booted and ticketed and then stolen then towed. So I’ve had a lot of struggle with the city and all that bureaucracy.

Did you get your car back?

Oh yeah! It was stolen from the suburbs and abandoned in the city. The city recovered it, but they only recovered it because they were giving it tickets. And they towed it and impounded it, and so I had to go through that ordeal.

About two years ago we were treated to all this rhetoric about electing the first “hip-hop president.” But now the past two years really have shown a very different reality. Do you think that’s changed the game for political hip-hop?

Well people can’t blame Bush for their problems anymore and have started to look for something else to talk about. So some of the more politically charged stuff may have lost a bit of steam, but I still see a lot of talented artists finding a lot of things to discuss in this day and age that are very politically charged for sure.

Your sense of humor is very obvious from the get-go also. I mean you’re a rapper who calls himself “Phillip Morris!” That also flies in the face of a stereotype about activists: that we’re so serious and can’t have a good time. What do you have to say to that?

I guess I’d say it’s important for folks such as myself to keep it lighthearted when approaching it. It is very serious subject matter we’re talking about obviously, but we can’t just be pissed off when we talk about it. Also, it’s just an important part of being yourself and being mentally capable of handling everything. I think political musicians can have plenty of fun if they just try. It’s okay to be upset about things, you know, but it’s also all about positivity too.

That brings me to one of the songs on the album: “Collateral Damage For the Corporation,” which has this really maniacal energy to it. What were you trying to get across on that track?

That track is really more the result of trying to make a politically-charged dance track. A lot of the songs on this album have a clubby type of vibe. And yeah, I just kind of wanted to make a political party song that talks about some serious stuff but does it in a lighthearted way.

Is there a reason you connect struggles going on in Palestine to ones going on here in Chicago?


Well that’s been going on for 40 years–the illegal occupation. And people tend to forget about things like that in their day-to-day personal struggle of getting to work and being a parent or educator or things like that. It’s hard sometimes to give thought to what’s going on outside this country and around the world, but I think it’s important to acknowledge it.

Do think that working people here in Chicago gain something from standing up for Palestinian rights?

Yeah. I mean I try to focus on struggles here at home as well as abroad, and I think it gives people a sense of unity. When we acknowledge others’ struggles and spread the word and do what we can… I guess it’s just that solidarity is the main goal.

I want to move on to the next track: “Revolution Knows No Compromise.” Its feel is totally different! You go from this rather playful track to this really unrelenting feel. Is that Malcolm X at the beginning?

Yes.

Okay, what was it your were trying to get across on that one?

Well, I guess the reason I like the intro at the beginning is because it really does sum it up well–you know, talking about the real meaning of revolution and the struggle that goes with it. It involves a lot more than just talk; it involves a lot of action and being active. I think my main point of this song is to describe that and get that sense of urgency across. We can’t just talk about what we want, we have to actively be working toward that and even actively within ourselves be looking toward getting better. Lantern from Agents of Change has a very good line in that song, which is “blur the line between practice-preach.” And I think that’s probably one of the most on-point things that’s in that song: that it’s really about getting up off your ass and doing anything you can, you know?

So would it be safe to say that you consider yourself a revolutionary?

I think I consider myself somewhat revolutionary. I guess I could always be doing more; there are a lot of people that I look up to that are way more revolutionary than myself. But I do possess very revolutionary ideas and certainly in my approach to music itself. I think we need a revolutionary way of creating tunes–even if it’s not politically charged subject matter–I think it’s possible to be revolutionary by not following norms and trying to educate.

Would you say there’s a crossover or an interconnection between what happens in music and what happens on the streets?

I think that’s definitely true. Music is just a very good tool for touching people and really getting them to listen. You can get folks to think about things that they haven’t thought about or maybe that they have thought about in a different light. Yeah, if we can do it in a way that’s not lecturing then it almost seems like it’s easier sometimes to connect with people in a musical format. It’s not the only element you need obviously, but I do see it as an important element.

What is it that you want people to gain from this new album then?

I really want people to see that there’s always interesting and different new ways of expressing yourself. I try very hard to express myself as best I can on this record and to show growth and progression. I think it’s really important for people not to fall into any kind of mold or just imitate exactly what they see or hear–especially on the radio and especially in hip-hop on the radio that’s just very clear-cut formula. Pretty much the dumber your music is, the greater chance you have of gaining recognition. I want to show that there are other alternatives; you can still make a bouncy, crunk-sounding album, but have some meaningful, well thought-out lyrical content to it. So yeah, I’m just really trying to provide people with music like that.

First appeared at Dissident Voice.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Dump 'Em Off Your Back...


Tomorrow, so I keep hearing time and again, is Boss's Day. According to Wikipedia, Boss's Day "has traditionally been a day for employees to thank their boss for being kind and fair throughout the year."

Fuck that.

It's a day initiated during the 1950s in the wake of McCarthyism to cement the image of the perfect company man. Today, when stubborn unemployment continues, where low wages are the norm, when benefits and unions are under attack systematically, I find it hard to believe that many workers can find the stomach to "thank their boss for being kind and fair."

So instead of an e-card, send this song by the Wobbly John Brill to your boss. Or better yet, sing it right in his/her face like the dearly departed Mr. Phillips does here.

Are you poor, forlorn and hungry?
Are there lots of things you lack?
Is your life made up of misery?
Then dump the bosses off your back.

Are your clothes all patched and tattered?
Are you living in a shack?
Would you have your troubles scattered?
Then dump the bosses off your back.

Are you almost split asunder?
Loaded like a long-eared jack?
Boob--why don't you buck like thunder,
And dump the bosses off your back?

All the agonies you suffer
You can end with one good whack
Stiffen up, you orn'ry duffer
And dump the bosses off your back.


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Rock Stars Don't Do Hard Time, But Rappers Do


News hit last week that Lil Wayne--who is now within two weeks of being let our of prison at Rikers Island, and whose new mixtape is damned hot--has been moved to solitary confinement for the remainder of his sentence. The reason? Weezy was apparently found to have an mp3 player in his possession, which constitutes "contraband."

For his part, Wayne has taken the whole thing in stride. No doubt the fact that he's nearing the end of his time in the clink puts the move to solitary in perspective:

"So honestly, I'm fine," read a statement on his website. "Obviously, [solitary] gives me a lot of time to myself and a lot of alone time with my thoughts, which can be creatively dangerous."

Fair enough, but those who have spent any amount of time in solitary can attest to the toll that it can take on your psyche. Even Dickens, well over a hundred years ago, commented on its base cruelty as a punishment.

And all for an mp3 player.

Those who point out that Lil Wayne's conviction was for a relatively dangerous offense--gun running--would be right. But hell, Vince Neil killed somebody and he did thirty days! Phil Spector was finally convicted of murder last May, but only after a hung jury that dragged his whole trial on for years. Even then, his conviction only seemed possible because of the uproarious sensation that came as a result of the case's grisly facts.

Anyone else sense a pattern here?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Justin Bieber: Colonizing Our Consciousness One Commodity At a Time


Justin Bieber released a book on Tuesday. It's supposed to be his autobiography. The notion that a sixteen-year-old has been through enough turmoil to merit an autobiography is bewildering, but then, I suppose that's only something his ghost-writer had to worry about.

The book--whose title I don't know and won't bother to look up--comes on the heels of Bieber releasing his own line of nail polish. Yes, nail polish. At least the marketing team behind "The Bieb" knows the target audience.

Here we have it: the real reason that an act like Justin Bieber exists. Not because he can sing (he can) or because he can write songs (he can't), but because his milquetoast palatability is perfectly cut for the realm of selling stuff. He is commodity fetishism nakedly personified with a complete lack of discretion. For his part, Bieber seems blissfully unaware of his role in the grand scheme: an arbiter of business, whose talent comes well after all factors of profitability have been considered (I could be wrong about this; he may very well be aware that he fills this role, and if so then we are all unfortunately bound to be hearing more from him).

Taken in a larger context, though, the whole arrangement seems even more cynical. Nobody here needs to be reminded that unemployment has been hovering around ten percent for months now; that the folks whose supposed role is to provide us with cultural fulfillment are merely continuing in their shameless endeavor to separate us from our cash really just really confirms their existence as parasites.

But then, there could be signs of hope too: yesterday's RedEye carried a humorous little feature comparing Bieber to Krusty the Klown. If you're not a "Simpsons" fan and don't get the reference, then 1.) Crawl out from under the rock, and 2.) Krusty the Klown is a children's show host meant to embody all of the most shameless aspects of the entertainment industry--most notably his propensity for slapping his likeness on any product that can possibly make him a few extra pennies. It might be a bit mean to compare a character like this to Bieber, but hey, if the shoe fits...

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The X Factor vs. Immigrants


This appears in the British edition of Socialist Worker. Nhengu has also expressed to the UK press that her appearance on the show has "ruined her life." Of course, 2011 will be bringing a version of "The X Factor" to the States too. Perhaps we might be able to picture a talented Latino singer cut from the show over their legal status?

----------------------------------------

X Factor's Gamu gets our vote to stay

It’s not unusual for the ITV singing competition the X Factor to make it onto the front pages of the tabloids. But this week the pictures of Cheryl Cole have given way to something more significant: a debate about the rights of migrants to Britain.

Gamu Nhengu wowed millions of viewers with her talent—but she wasn’t put through to the final round. So far, so X Factor.

But it has emerged that this is because she was born in Zimbabwe and her visa is up for renewal.

It has nothing to do with her voice.

Cole was told by the show’s bosses not to put Gamu through, as it would cause “problems” for the show.

Now Gamu’s passport has been taken away by immigration officials.

“Get Gamu back in,” said the Sun’s front page.

It demanded that the “people’s favourite” return to the contest.

Yet when any other migrant is under threat—cleaners, for example—it calls for them to be deported immediately.

Britain’s harsh and inhumane asylum and immigration laws ruin thousands of people’s lives.

The Tory government will continue to champion what Labour also did, and take it further.

Prime minister David Cameron is proposing a cap on immigration. This means people will not be able to come to Britain to work.

And the anti-immigrant atmosphere it will stoke up will make it even harder for those fleeing war and oppression to find sanctuary here.

Gamu’s story shows the injustice of the immigration laws.

We must pile on the pressure to roll back these disgusting laws.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Fiasco Friday: How To Stick it To the Labels!


It's no news that big record labels are pretty much involved in a scramble to stay alive nowadays. Their excuses are myriad; peer-to-peer tends to be the most prevalent of course. But any way you slice it, the majors are tightening their belts, and just like any industry, the first people to suffer the brunt of this process are those who actually make the merchandise. Labels simply aren't willing to spend what they once did on promoting new releases anymore unless they're safe bets in the execs' eyes. In practice it means that acts who might otherwise be poised to blow up are often left in the dust and strangled by their own contracts.

The more things change, the more things stay the same...

Lately, Atlantic Records has been one of the "trailblazers" being lavished with praise for their ability to stay "relevant." In other words, maintain sizable profit margins. A Rolling Stone piece back in April was positively sycophantic in it admiration for Atlantic's recent innovation of the "360 deal," which basically gives the label a large cut of its artists' merch sales--previously the only surefire area in which artists were guaranteed to make a living of their own.

But underneath the veneer of a label that's somehow been humbled into more egalitarian arrangements, Atlantic remains the same old boss. In fact, the only reason they've agreed to finally announce a release date for Lupe Fiasco's upcoming album has been the threat of protest!

Folks may have heard of the announcement of "Fiasco Friday" this week: a day of protest against Atlantic for its refusal to release Lupe's upcoming third album Lasers. Of course, Lupe is exactly the kind of artist that the modern music industry has no idea how to handle. He's unique, tends to defy categorization as an emcee, and is deft at approaching socially-oriented rhymes without falling into the clap-trap of "conscious rap." Despite having two successful albums under his belt, he's still "mid-level," still under the strictures of his contract, and hence powerless to get Altantic to release anything they don't want to. If the label doesn't like an artist's material, if it doesn't think it'll sell, it will gladly sit on the album till rapture.

And so, Lasers, like countless other albums, has been stuck in a kind of industry limbo. It's particularly prevalent in rap and hip-hop nowadays. As Jeff Chang points out on his website reporting on Fiasco Friday, "Big Boi and Nas have both been involved in similar fights with their labels about albums that they say the companies have wanted to leave on the shelf."

Both of the albums in question have gone on to be major critical and financial successes for their respective artists. Record execs are notoriously slow learners, however, and even in the face of a 30,000 signature-strong petition circulated to Atlantic this past summer, Lasers still didn't have a release date.

And so, the big guns had to be broken out. Nas had threatened a protest against Def Jam, but in Lupe's case, a fan actually took it upon himself to organize said protest. Last count, Fiasco Friday--scheduled for October 15th--had close to a thousand people slated to attend.

Atlantic balked this past Friday, and a release date was announced for Lasers: March 8th. It might be a relatively small victory, but a victory nonetheless. Says Chang:

"[A]udiences should not have to fight like this for every artist they love who is caught in this kind of situation. And in an era in which technology allows creativity to be sparked and distributed immediately all around the world, artists should not have to find themselves in a situation in which their creativity and livelihood is squashed by employers who won’t sell what they produce."

There's really no question by this point that labels like Atlantic and the rest are in a crisis, and they have no clue how to get out of it other than on the backs of artists and others that make their profits for them. Seems like the only thing that has any chance of winning against this kind of crap is the power of protest. Sounds familiar doesn't it?

Friday, October 8, 2010

A Song Silenced By Hate


By all accounts, Tyler Clementi was a talented musician and a gifted young man. It seems impossible to even Google his name without coming across pictures of him with his violin under his chin, that focused-yet-tranquil look on his face of someone who gains great contentment from his art.

He hadn’t yet declared a major at Rutgers--it was, after all, only his first semester--but his audition for the university’s symphony orchestra had its director, Kynan Johns, wondering why Clementi didn’t simply declare as a music major.

“He played very well, and that qualified him for private lessons,” said Johns. “I informed him of it on the day he apparently did what he did...”

Back in his hometown of Ridgewood, New Jersey, the young Clementi was a fixture on that town’s orchestra--no mean feat for someone not even out of his teens. Emanuel Sosinsky, who also played in the orchestra, commented on Clementi’s commitment to learning a particularly difficult concerto by Felix Mendelssohn.

“All the great violinists recorded it,” said Sosinsky. “He was just one of the best of the best. There was no doubt about it... Who knows where he would have gone?”

We won’t know that. As the world knows by now, Tyler Clementi jumped off the George Washington Bridge to his death last month. Just as well known is why he did it: his roommate had outed him by posting a video of Clementi having sex with another man.

Clementi’s death has sent shockwaves across the planet. Newspapers as far away as Japan have written about him. Echoes of Matthew Shepard can be heard, and more than a few outlets have compared the two young men.

Of course, it’s reasonable to believe that Clementi never wanted to be another martyr. Most people who knew him say he was like most people are at 18--trying to navigate through the world as a newly-initiated adult, figuring out your passions and talents. That he’ll never really figure those talents out, let alone share them with the world, only adds to the tragedy of the whole matter.

Clementi isn’t alone, either. In the days since his death, the press seems to have become somehow more attuned to teenagers committing suicide after being relentlessly mocked for being not straight. There’s been thirteen-year-old Asher Brown of Houston, fifteen-year-old, seventeen-year-old Cody Barker of Shiocton, Wisconsin. Seth Walsh, 13, of Tehachapi, California, Billy Lucas, 15, of Greenberg, Indiana. In the Anoka-Hennepin school district in Minnesota, at least four recent teen suicides have been attributed to anti-LGBT bullying, most recently that of fifteen-year-old Justin Aaberg. And who knows how many more that aren’t making the headlines?

Some openly identified as gay or bisexual, some didn’t. But in all cases they were harassed to the point of depression, called “faggot” until they genuinely believed that they had nothing left to offer the world. But as the case of Tyler Clementi shows, there most likely was a lot these kids had to share. As Susie Wilson, former executive director of Rutgers’ Network for Family Life Education points out, Clementi’s “talents died with him.” That’s true for all of them.

Politicians and pundits have been shrill in their denunciation of Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei, the two Rutgers freshmen who secretly filmed Clementi with another man. Normally that’s about as far as it goes. But such a view vacuums these kids out of the profoundly homophobic system in which they live.

LGBT activist and writer Sherry Wolf hit it right on the head in a recent article:

“It's not technology's grip on youth. Or even the inhumanity of two insipid 18-year-olds playing a savage ‘prank.’ The crime is that LGBT people continue to be held in an official state of civil inequality that foments a soulless social pathology toward sexual minorities in this country. Official policy carries over into social attitudes. So long as schools lack sex and sexuality education along with anti-bullying campaigns, the insane rates of LGBT youth suicide and harassment will continue.”

One might also add to the list the persistent refusal of most states to recognize same-sex marriage. Or the foot-dragging from the Obama administration--an administration that was lauded for the “change” they were bound to bring--over striking down Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and passing the Employee Non-Discrimination Act.

It’s called second-class citizenship, and it creates an atmosphere where some of the more bigoted elements in society can poke their ugly heads out of the woodwork. Just as Jim Crow made it seem acceptable to harass and commit violence against blacks in the South, the refusal to recognize the humanity of LGBT folks makes it seem “okay” to do the same against them.

On Sunday, October 3rd, a 34-year old gay man was attacked in, of all places, the Stonewall Inn, birthplace of gay liberation movement. That such an act can even take place highlights how deep bigotry can run when it’s enshrined in law. The past month, as we’ve heard the stories of the Clementis, Aabergs and Browns, this awful human toll has only become more apparent.

The world will never know whether Tyler Clementi might have penned a brilliant concerto of his own. Or whether Aaberg might have grown up to be a doctor or lawyer. The potential great novels that, for all we know, may have one day been written by a Billy Lucas or Seth Walsh will never be read. Whatever great contributions these kids might have made were snuffed out when they died.

As if these tragedies wasn’t palpable enough on their own terms, the pictures of Clementi playing his violin remind the rest of us that we’re a lot poorer for losing him and others like him. Yet another case in which an injury to one is a shameful injury to all.

First appeared at the Society of Cinema and Arts.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

More Bullshit From Bono

Economic crises have a way of making boldly clear whose side you stand on. It's interesting to think that just a few years ago, anyone who dared criticize Bono was sure to be met with a kind of bewildered defensiveness. The line of reason was that he was doing "so many good things" for the poor around the world, especially in Africa, that any criticism was just crazy.

That's simply not the case anymore. An email from Rock & Rap Confidential that went out a couple days ago highlights how much the public has come to view him as what he is: a shameless ruling class twerp.

Forbes magazine, which he owns a large stake in, recently ran an issue that called to--get this--do away with the minimum wage. Says RRC:

"The September 13 issue of Forbes... has an article by Rhodes College professor Art Carden entitled 'Scrap the Minimum Wage.' Carden claims that the minimum wage, which is impossible to live on, 'has only destroyed jobs.' Surprisingly, Carden doesn’t volunteer to work for less than the minimum wage himself. According to his theory, that would create several new jobs in the poverty-stricken city of Memphis where he lives."

It's a novel solution to poverty: drive those experiencing it even deeper into destitution. The kind of cartoon logic only the most disconnected dwellers of the ivory tower can really get.

Forbes, as folks may know, has also been unapologetic in supporting any and all US interventions in the Middle East, called openly for busting unions, and pretty much been the mouthpiece to help the richest of the rich get even richer. Not surprising--the magazine is, after all, called Forbes--but was is rather surprising is that, as the economic crisis has progressed, Bono has done absolutely nothing to distance himself from the magazine's content.

Maybe he realizes that it's just too late to save his own image. A large amount of his native country has more or less turned their back on him after it broke that he and U2 pay no taxes to the Irish state. No Line On the Horizon has been notable for the shrugs it's provoked from the listening public, and the tour in support of the album earned much lower than predicted (despite being the most expensive traveling tour in modern music history).

So if Bono's done pretending, good. It's a lot easier to take on your enemy when you know forthrightly who they are.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Beautiful Noise


Back in their earlier career, Swans would play shows so loud they would cause people in the audience to vomit. That's not an exaggeration; it actually happened. Last night, at Bottom Lounge, I saw them perform one of their first shows in ten years. True, it's not the '80s, and the No Wave scene is no more (at least in the way that it existed then). But the relevance of the Swans can't really be denied.

First of all, the Lounge was packed, and with a variety of ages and styles in attendance. After all, Swans went through a wide array of sounds between when they started out in '82 and when they originally called it quits in '97. In fact, myself and my friend (thanks for the ticket Nick) really weren't quite sure what to expect from their performance that night. Neither of us have had the chance to listen to their recently released My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky, and so had no idea what sound they would be working with through the night.

As it turned out, Swans decided to do it up old school. As could be expected, any pretense or concern for pop convention was nowhere to be found. Songs were long, hypnotic, driving, epic in their unstructured chaos. Oh, and it was loud. Obscenely loud. Droningly dissonant, pounding, unrelenting in its violent assault on our eardrums. A few times, I actually had to leave the room to give myself some kind of rest. At the end of the show, Nick and I looked at each other; both of us looked like we had been beaten up.

Abrasive? Absolutely. Does that mean it's offensive? Does this make it just "noise?" It's worth taking into account something that Mat Callahan offers in his The Trouble With Music:

"[W]hat privilege and Power call noise is one thing. What is fake, illusory, sterile, antiseptic and dehumanizing is another and is the real noise opposing music."

This was none of the above. Swans presented a show of piercing, visceral beauty. It's the kind of thing you can't really understand in a cerebral way, but with instinct alone. It was the exhilarating experience of being thrust into a wind-tunnel of sound. And because there was nothing that could plausibly recognized as "pop" in the songs, it was something that required of the audience to throw out all notions of marketability.

That was what No Wave was all about in the '80s; a gut-wrenching, almost tribal response to the sanitized pop that dominated during that decade. That it's finding a hearing among today's young musicians determined to plumb the depths of music's experimentalism reveals that same generation's increasingly unorthodox thinking.

During their encore, Swans came out and treated the audience to a slow-building, concrete-shattering barrage of sound before abruptly stopping. Michael Gira then sang four drone-like lines into the mic and let the silence (the only we had heard all night) hang over the audience, who stood rapt, wondering what will come next.

After about torturous twenty seconds of quiet, he delivered an unassuming "g'night folks." "You bastard!" I thought, but I meant it in the best possible way.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Obama, Free Speech, and Our Right to Dissent


Obama and the rest of the Dems have a lot of nerve lately. Two years ago when he was elected, it was on the belief that he would make things better for working people. He would stop the wars and curb the worst of the Bush-style violations of our civil liberties and freedom of speech.

A recent Rolling Stone interview saw the prez chastising folks who are rightfully disaffected with his administration's long string of failures: "If we want the kind of country that respects civil rights and civil liberties, we'd better fight in this election."

The problem is that protections of our civil rights have gotten worse under Obama. Case in point: the recent raids by the FBI against socialists and peace activists. Obama had nothing to say back in June when the Supreme Court ruled to uphold the section of the Patriot Act that made these raids possible. Nor was he the least bit critical when the Court ruled that corporations have the right to donate as much as they want to candidates' campaigns.

In essence, it's more of what we got under Bush, just tailored in a slightly different way: limiting our right to dissent while making it even easier for the richest of the rich to buy their way onto any platform they choose.

Davey D has a post on his website today taking up net neutrality. The article should be read in full, straight up. D's right when he says that the attempt by telecom companies to gain control over the internet is along the same lines as the consolidation of radio with the American Telecommunications Act of '96.

D would know; he was one of the many independent-minded disc jockeys sacked in the aftermath of the Telecom Act. He's maintained his profile over the past decade and a half as one of the most honest and radical journalists in hip-hop largely thanks to the internet. Now, the same forces that sucked out what was left of radio's soul fifteen years ago want to do the same to the net.

As D points out, the Telecom Act was championed hard-core by "the first black president" Bill Clinton. Mainstream liberal civil rights leaders were also courted for their support for the act on the pretense that it would be good for minority-owned stations. It hasn't on the whole. In fact, it's obvious to most that playlists and variety of viewpoints has been narrowed to a point where radio's listenership is a fraction of what it once was.

Note that none of these mainstream civil rights leaders have spoken out to protect net neutrality. Note how few liberal Dems have had anything to say on the FBI's raids. On the contrary, Obama and the Democratic Party are just as responsible as the Republicans for curbing our right to ideas. In fact, Obama's administration has been instrumental in pushing for the right to, in essence, wire-tap our internet accounts.

It's become rather obvious by now whose interests Obama is pulling for. And it sure as hell ain't ours. That's only going to happen when we force him to pay as much attention to us as the banks and telecom companies.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Another Forgotten Blues Artist


The most current edition of the Chicago Reader carries an article by David Whiteis about two long-dead Chicago musicians whose songs were a key point in the evolution between New Orleans hot jazz into modern, northern blues. I'm a bit embarrassed to admit that I hadn't heard of Joe and Charlie McCoy before reading this piece, but not too embarrassed; the McCoys are only two of the countless artists who have been more-or-less erased from the history of American music.

Be it the payment of jazz musicians with a bag of coke or the rip-off of black songs by white rock singers, the long and unsavory trail of unfairly treated artists goes a long way back. And in the case of some it runs so deep that the artists in question have been pretty much forgotten. Case in point: the McCoys don't even have tombstones. Their graves in Restvale cemetary in Alsip, Illinois are unmarked.

Hammering that point home is a quote toward the end of the article:

"In a 1975 interview with Jim O'Neal of Living Blues magazine, pianist Memphis Slim, who'd known the McCoys, became uncharacteristically bitter when the subject turned to Joe's death. 'Joe wrote this song,' he said, '"Why Don't You Do Right?," and Irving Berlin presented this song at the Chicago Theater, with Peggy Lee and all that thing. And at this particular time, Joe McCoy was laying in state at the Metropolitan Funeral Home, and we had to beg money to bury him. Boy, I'll never forget that. I thought that was a damn shame.'"

Friday, October 1, 2010

A New Song From Conor Oberst and the Sound Strike

The Sound Strike has launched "Sound Strike Songs," which will be available for a small price that will go toward helping foundations taking care of kids whose parents are being detained. The first song is Conor Oberst's "Coyote Song," which can be downloaded for $2 and can be heard below:

Says Oberst in a statement released along with the song: “American ideals of democracy and liberty are built on the foundation that all people, regardless of race or country of origin, deserve fair and equal treatment by the government... We’ve all seen the power music has to spread messages of solidarity and hope.”