Sunday, October 31, 2004
Whatever Happened To The Avant-Garde, Part II: Beyond Rockism vs. Pop-ism
So I'm sure this is the one everyone's gonna be talking about this week. It's long overdue, and you couldn't have wished for anyone else except this dude to have come through to clarify the situation.
Even better, here's Eric Weisbard's unbelievably timed review of Elijah Wald's brilliant book on Robert Johnson and Ned Sublette's book on Cuba-as-the-mother-of-all-pop-rhythm that suggest deep alternatives to both rockist writing and traditional scholarly approaches to pop. Read the review then run out and get the books.
But the point of this short rant--I can go on, but I don't have time right now--is to suggest that the rockism vs. pop-ism debate is mad played out. As even my man suggests in his closing lines, "We deserve some new prejudices, too"--no doubt so that he can elegantly skewer them as well, but anyway.
Here's my mini-statement of purpose. If there's a hiphopcentric approach to all this, it certainly ought to oppose rockism, but also establish some standards, prejudices, whatever you want to call them--aesthetics. It ought to run the gauntlet between the critical theory line that most pop is bad (the rockists' debt to Adorno) and the cult-stud line that most pop is good (the antidj-rockists' debt to the Brits). It ought to make a virtues of both showing-and-proving in front of a community and leading that community somewhere else. Audience affirmation should lead forward not backward.
My own criticism has been moving in two not-yet-contradictory directions. One is towards the global--a stab against what I once called musical unilateralism in some stupid essay long ago (for the record, this year's model brought tears to many of our eyes, I'm not kidding). Let's admit, for instance, that the worldviews of rockists and popists often seem utterly ridiculous from other shores. Proof? Start with the brilliant DJ Nuts.
The other is toward a return of the avant-garde. Remember that? Before the post-isms and the bloggerati levelled everything?
I don't mean only unlistenable stuff you have to study in class. Jazz at Minton's was avant-garde. Sly Stone and Funkadelic was avant-garde. Hip-hop when it came downtown and went global was avant-garde. They shared a comfort in knowing the ledge.
I'm down for pop that wants to be avant-garde (or like this or this or this) and avant-garde that wants to be pop (or like this or this or this or this).
Rockists are correct to celebrate rebellion and Big Statements, Pop-ists are correct to celebrate pleasure and mass appeal. Pop avantists or Avant-popists, whatever, a new avant-gardism, should want an aesthetics of progressiveness, of standing outside (whether one wants in or not), of risk, of of desiring and creating a better world.
Alright yall, gotta run, mad issues to deal with today...let the convo begin...
And yo, go vote. Your enemies already did.
posted by Zentronix @ 10:30 AM
Friday, October 29, 2004
The Hip-Hop Vote
Hey yall, back from down south. Lots to tell but too much to catch up on right now. So here's a kind of a summary of what I was talking about out there in an article I did on the hip-hop vote. Bonus beats: gettin' hyphy with the Federation.
More sites on the hip-hop vote:
+ Arianna on "Will Bush Spark A Seismic Youthquake?"
+ The ever-great Pop and Politics and Davey D.
+ The most comprehensive list of pop musician's GOTV efforts is at Air Traffic Control.
+ The most comprehensive list of hip-hopcentric voter's guides is at The League of Pissed-Off/Independent/Hip-Hop Voters.
If you're feeling these sites, support em with your loot. Change ain't free, yall.
Bonus site: A
pro anti-Bush site for conservative anti-conservative bloggers.
+ Ta-Nehisi Coates is now in Jacksonville, Florida to cover what used to be euphemistically called "voting irregularities in communities of color" and is now called "basic Republican playbook shit". Check his blog here.
+ DJ Shadow has released an election-season limited-edition something. Can't divulge any more details. Just go here now.
For everyone doing GOTV work, here's to November 3rd. You're almost there!
And for the second presidential election in a row, I'll be in Florida the day after. This time, it's Gainesville, hosted by the Asian Student Union at the University of Florida for their Kaleidoscope month. I'll be bleary-eyed but energized and primed, so fall through. Here's the details:
University of Florida
Reitz Union Grand Ballroom (campus map here.)
7pm til I collapse!
posted by Zentronix @ 9:04 AM
Sunday, October 24, 2004
Down South Trip: Final Details
For all yall in the Southland, here ya go.
+ Monday October 25
UC Santa Barbara Multicultural Center, 7pm-9pm
(map is here)
"Activote!" Panel with the brilliant Malia Lazu and the great Hatem Bazian.
+ Tuesday October 26
UCLA, Student Activities Center basement, 5pm-7pm
(map is here)
"Elections and the Hip-Hop Generation" panel with the genius Saul Williams.
See yall there...
posted by Zentronix @ 2:37 PM
One reason my blog is so political is cause I just straight don't get out much anymore these days. Friday night was an exception.
Went to meet Jin at his record release party, at 330 Ritch, an 18-over crowd. Whoa! Kids these days! It was mad fun to see how far the Asian Am scene has come from the days we couldn't play Eric B. and Rakim without getting bottled, just straight Cover Girls, Expose, Jaya, Debbie Deb, New Order...yeah I'm fucking old.
Jin didn't have as much of a show as he had a house party, but he controls that mic and everyone left more than happy. Bro's got a future. He stayed late signing posters, trucker caps (!), and lots of young girls' body parts, and invaded the DJ booth to warble drunken renditions of "My Boo". Shouts to Wilson Meng at Exit and Jeff and Mikey from Climax Entertainment for making an elder feel right at home.
So then I get this announcement for the launch of Mouther.com, an urbnAZN-oriented webzine from Janet Tzou, the writer behind one of the best Roots stories ever written (in URB earlier this year) and jeweler to the stars. It's a great magazine, peep it.
And oh shit, but I'm in Hyphen Magazine this month, thanks to Todd Inoue, Charisse Domingo, and the wonderful Hyphen staff. Thank you, I am not worthy.
Fam's in town, teriyaki salmon and brown rice, it's like a yellow weekend.
posted by Zentronix @ 2:17 PM
Friday, October 22, 2004
You Can Run But...You Can Keep On Running
Maybe there is something to the Osama-in-China story first reported in El Mundo after all? Here's a report from today's page one of The Statesman.
Have a laugh: Rob Corddry on fire. Click on Jon Stewart's Indecision 2004: Let It Fly. More laughs here. Belly guffaws here.
And now, back to your real world, the one where post-WTO police crowd tactics are far from nonviolent, and Bushwar is the best cover for good old American moneymaking.
posted by Zentronix @ 8:07 AM
Thursday, October 21, 2004
After Tommy Tompkins passionately held forth on Israel and Palestine in his blog, he got death threats for it. Keep your head up, Tommy. This is the same kind of Bushcroft-era McCarthyism visited on Hatem Bazian earlier this year. That folks would be so busy watching dissenters--to the point of videotaping anti-war rallies or scouring arts blogs for vaguely oppositional remarks--is just bananas. Back in the 80s we used to have two words for this: political correctness.
posted by Zentronix @ 6:06 AM
Pluggin: So Cal Appearances
I'm headed south to talk elections and the hip-hop generation in Southern Cal next week:
+ Monday October 25--UC Santa Barbara Multicultural Center, 7pm, "Activote!" Panel with brilliant Malia Lazu and the great Hatem Bazian (see above).
+ Tuesday October 26--UCLA, 5pm, location tba, with the genius Saul Williams.
Fall through if you're nearby!
One more plug while I can: Can't Stop Won't Stop website will be launching within the next couple of weeks. Big shout to 226 Design and Kuwayama.com.
posted by Zentronix @ 5:56 AM
Wednesday, October 20, 2004
Britney Spears Is Not In This Blog
And A-Fraud is still not in the World Series!
Steinbrenner's stupid ass must be realizing that $180 million can't buy Heart. Props to the Bosux for battling back with dignity and pride. But the Tankees didn't just collapse, they deserved their throttling. That great sucking sound from the middle of the dugout was A-Fraud vacuuming up all Tankees' competitive spirit.
Forget The Curse, call it The Mistake. As long as A-Fraud--A is for Albatross--is in the majors, he'll never be playing on a World Series team. Talent is not guts or leadership. I feel sorry for Joe Torre.
So watch the doubting and second-guessing begin tomorrow in the press. May the Tankees go the route of the Lakers, Kobe, and the Dodo Bird.
And fuck the trillion-dollar contracts and the check card commercials. Fuck making the rest of the league your farm system. Fuck Bloomberg and Giuliani and 7th inning "America's Team" political grandstanding. And while we're at it, fuck $15 for beer and hot dogs. I heart New York, but I hate George Steinbrenner and the Tankees' embarassment is a victory for real baseball and the real world. Sit and spin on that! Muhuhuhuhahaha.
But hey, let's be fair--the Bosux were also willing to mortgage their future for the same kind of foolishness. They're no down-on-their-luck whatevers, and they owe everything good in this series that isn't named Schilling or Ortiz to the A's--Francona, Damon, Foulke, even Bellhorn. May they go down in 4 to the NLCS champ, who whether Cards or Astros, will be the real underdog in the World Series.
I've been accused of hating. Well, that's where our love always goes, the underdog.
posted by Zentronix @ 9:06 PM
Tuesday, October 19, 2004
The Jin Piece
Here's my Jin piece, up at the SF Bay Guardian. Vetted by editors and yes, I approved this message. But just to clarify--I have nothing to do with the BG's sense of color and style.
Ta-Nehisi's apparently didn't go up this week. I'll find out what's going on.
To catch up on the discussion you may have missed so far, check this post and the hot commentary. Thanks for listening.
posted by Zentronix @ 8:05 PM
Benzino, The Source, and Michael Jackson?
Wow. This shit is amazing. Who will even remember the TLC cover controversy after this one?
posted by Zentronix @ 2:03 PM
Monday, October 18, 2004
Links R Us
+ Florida goes to the polls, and computers start crashing.
+ The tragic back story behind the Outkast "Rosa Parks" lawsuit.
+ Why we love Sandra Oh.
+ Freelance Mentalists and Different Kitchen keeping it hot.
+ The October surprise? Tommy Tompkins points out this internet conspiracy-theory: Osama is in China. I can't even start on this one, the mind just reels...
posted by Zentronix @ 11:29 AM
Friday, October 15, 2004
Links and Eggs
Jesus Walks: Adrienne Maree Brown and the pissed off voters watch the last debate. Then they put their money where they mouth is.
Mister, We Could Use A Man Like Herbert Hoover Agaaaain: Krugman on how Reeps spin job loss.
Orlando Magic: Tanzila Ahmed on going door to door in Florida.
The Tipping Point?: Kerry closes the gap in electoral votes. Again, the conservative pollsters call it closer than the liberal ones.
Honky-Tonkers For Truth: Country musicians against Bush? Maybe the tipping point really has come!
Still slowly updating the blogroll, listening and reading lists...
posted by Zentronix @ 7:29 AM
Thursday, October 14, 2004
Ever notice how Bush's smile is mad crooked? My kids can't stop clowning him. The last debate was amusing, especially Bush's I really care about Osama quote. It was also funny to see Kerry out-faithing Bush, and re-outing Mary Cheney, a topic apparently more aggravating than Halliburton. And if you thought the whole thing was a charade, here's your proof. I can't say I'm not partisan, but the "snap polls" are registering Kerry and I gotta believe that folks are walking away from the debates thinking Bush's intelligence diminished, his stature a bit more impish.
posted by Zentronix @ 9:22 AM
Wednesday, October 13, 2004
The Journal Or The Journalist? Jin, Oliver, and Me
So OK, finally got the Jin package today for a review I'm doing for next week's Bay Guardian. This here is kinda a throat-clearing, a warmup and a digression from the writing I'm gonna do for that.
Once again, it all starts with a blog post.
In February, Madison at Diesel Nation had a strange, fascinating post about Jin. Noting Oliver's sharp critique of Jin's video, he made a canny point: "And so begins the culture critiques that will mark Jin's career more than his musical talent."
The post ends with Madison's comments about how he thought Jin's presence might actually displace me and Oliver from some imaginary position as the Asian American vox populi.
"I think O-Dub, as an Asian hip-hopper himself, is asking too much from the young kid. But I understand what's up. When Jin's album drops he'll become the resident hip-hop pundit that will represent the voice of all Asian rap fans out there. Who needs a quote from Oliver Wang or Jeff Chang when you got a Ruff Ryder ready to speak? I'm not saying O-Dub is jealous, but I certainly understand if he's scared. I'm a conservative leaning Black man who has to deal with the stupid things Stanley Crouch writes three times a week. Trust me, I understand."
I found the post weird--esp. the assumption that there's a limit on the number of Asian American males that can take up media space. And I certainly don't waste any time waiting on Dan Rather or Ted Koppel to call me for "the Asian American male opinion" on anything. Most folks who call me for an opinion on hip-hop--and it ain't like my phone is ringing off the hook--aren't trying to get a specifically Asian American one anymore anyway.
As another digression, I do have peers and elders that set out in their lives to be "an Asian American voice", a necessary and very important role in a media that's antagonistic to expressing race in America in anything other than white, white, and a little bit black. This is a country in which right-wingers make Michelle Malkin a centerfold, and progressives will be happy to have one Asian surname in their Palm Pilot to ignore. It's a thankless task, and I haven't had enough patience, persistence, or focus to try to make that my life.
So anyway I just noted Madison wasn't bearing any ill will, just making an observation, and I ignored it cause it didn't really make any sense in the world I actually live in.
When I think about it now, Madison actually was taking a slightly different spin on a point I had made--per Greg Tate--in an article about hip-hop journalism for a book called Pop Music and The Press. I couldn't imagine Madison had read that article, hell, I barely read it. Anyway, here's what I had written, in respect of hip-hop journalism's plunge into celebrity circle-jerking:
"Hip hop journalists are regularly forced to confront holy-rolling baby-boomers like Joe Lieberman and C. Delores Tucker whose reactionary politics obliterate the sore to save the cancer. So these kinds of narratives can serve as defense mechanisms: a way of protecting and justifying the existence of a generation so debased by outsiders and elders. In fact, many hip hop writers are cowed by the power that rappers claim in the act of representing. As Rakim put it, "In this journey, you're the journal. I'm the journalist." Intimidated by such hypertextuality, writers reduce themselves to confirming a rapper's "reality" or conforming to it in order to defend it. Authenticity marks the hip hop nation's borders."
I don't think Jin's presence diminishes the presence of any other Asian American males. There's a scale question here: Jin's life is what's being written. Us AAMPCs are just the readers.
That's the brilliance of O-dub's now infamous AAMPC Clones post. None of us ever got into this low-paying, always hustling, so-called career to get gassed by some talking head. Generally we're some ugly motherfuckers with a fairly pathetic obsession. And when we aren't mistaken for each other, we all pretty much get ignored equally.
In Ta-Nehisi Coates' forthcoming Village Voice piece--next week, most likely, I'll link when it's up--the presence of Jin opens up the subject of Asian American masculinity and manhood. Not talking Jet Li, Jackie Chan, Chow Yun-Fat, or Bruce Lee. Asian American male-ness becomes the subject. The better Jin's album, the greater the likelihood this conversation gets moving. For the piece, Ta-Nehisi called a bunch of us to chat, and in truth, it was maybe one of the first times many of us got to talk about these kinds of issues outside our own rarefied circles. The point is: Jin's the myth, we're just here to tell it again.
The interesting thing for us AAMPCs and AAFPCs--and BTW can we give some love to the AAFPCs? They're the ones who are really making it happen--is now there's a subject to match our own subjectivities. The question is how we respond. Do we get magnetized? Or do we mix it up? In a way, it's a teaching moment we shouldn't miss.
So I'd say it makes perfect sense for Oliver and the rest of us to be critical--in the same way Madison may be of Stanley Crouch. The world is big enough for all of that.
posted by Zentronix @ 2:21 PM
Tuesday, October 12, 2004
Links from NYC and the Inbox:
+ Caught the excellent Riddim Driven photo exhibition at Eyejammie Gallery, run by the indubitable Bill Adler, the writing genius behind last week's brilliant VH1 Hip-Hop History series. (Plugola: link here for my Kool Herc blurb for tonight's Hip-Hop Honors show...)
This is a must-see, with tons of historic shots from London, Kingston, and New York...The best is Ajamu's incredible picture of the 1999 West Indian Day Parade on the Eastern Parkway, featuring a VP float with Beenie, Spragga, and our boy Sean A Paul--as a crazy baldhead, smiling and sporting big fat Uncle Junior glasses.
+ While we're on the topic of roots, Burt Lum was a pioneer of the Honolulu DIY scene. In the mid-80s, he started two zines, Novus and Brouhaha, that became the center of a lot of left-of-center energy. He brought together the Waikiki post-punks, the Manoa post-hippies, the KTUH radio jocks, and some of the emerging hip-hop heads together into a weird wonderful scene that I was fortunate to be a part of. I may--or may not, I can't remember--have published my first stuff in Brouhaha when I was like barely out of high school (or maybe still in? Damn I'm getting old). Anyway, Burt's started up the zine again as a blog, and you can catch up with it here. Welcome back!
+ John Leland's new book Hip: A History is an ambitious and important book, well worth digging into for its takes on cultural miscegenation and generational change. The proof of its intelligence: Luc Sante's equally literate and compelling objection in this week's Voice. Bonus proof: Matos interviews Leland.
+ Check the blogroll for tons o' new links. Meanwhile O-dub muses on the politics of blogrolling. Check the comments for bonus beef!
posted by Zentronix @ 8:44 AM
Underdog Love In October
I, for one, am sick of all these stories about the "long suffering", "long frustrated" Boston Red Sox. I hope they beat the Yankees, but really, leave it alone already. Jeezus. These punk asses have the second highest payroll in baseball and they act like they've had a hard knock life. Just replace "Boston Red Sox" with the words "Jeb Bush" or "Coors Beer" or "Steve Stoute" or "Ashley Simpson". See what I mean?
Just cause you asked, I'm rooting for these guys. My soundtrack is Face's "Guess Who's Back".
Of course, they have no chance. That's the definition of underdog. Sox fans have confused not being the alpha dog with being the underdog.
Look, rooting for the Sox is like being down for Tony Blair, rooting for the Cards is like putting your money on the 1-to-3 horse, and that other team--well, I'm still rubbing my hands in anticipation of sweet sweet vengeance. Money don't mean shit in October. Moo hoo hoo hahaha.
posted by Zentronix @ 6:48 AM
What Else Is Back? The Late 80s
Did you love the 80s? They're back.
Continuing this thread, here's an overview in the NY Times on the rise in youth homicides. In certain cities, streets have started looking again like the late 80s.
The most notable thing in the article was James Alan Fox's comments about the Bush administration's cutbacks on youth programs. Fox, if you remember, is no Clinton-nostalgic liberal. He's in fact one of the right-wing ideological architects of the War on Youth.
Back at the start of the 90s, he argued that the rise in population of young black and Latino males would drive a rise in violent crime the likes of which America would have never seen. Here's a quote from him from back then: "We are facing a potential bloodbath of teenage violence in years ahead that will be so bad, we’ll look back at the 1990s and say those were the good old days."
(Yup, C. Delores Tucker was a huge James Alan Fox groupie.)
Fox's comment looks laughably ironic these days. The 90s were the good old days--youth violent crime rates hit twenty-year lows. So he's noticeably dialed back--or at least the writer and editor have--the tone of that ridiculous claim.
Interestingly enough, the right-wingers lost the battle for truth, but won the battle for politics. During the 90s, 48 states made their juvenile justice policies more punitive, and in 2000, the crowning achievement of the War on Youth--Proposition 21--passed in California.
But now even Fox seems to agree that the failures of Bush's domestic and economic agenda have something to do with the rise in homicides. Certainly their War on Youth didn't do anything to prevent it. The bottom line is that the fundamental problems--poverty, bad schools, no youth programs, etc. etc. etc.--don't get resolved by locking more kids up or sending them to adult prisons. They just keep coming back and rearing their badass heads.
posted by Zentronix @ 6:24 AM
Friday, October 08, 2004
Where's Race In This Race?
First impressions: Bush's impassioned aggressiveness signalled weakness. His jokes--except the old "Want some wood?" frat joke--got no laughs. Kerry's wooden-ness seemed calming in comparison. I think there is no question that Kerry projected that ineffable leadership thing.
But the main question in this race is: where's race?
In all the discussion about joblessness, education, the war, and domestic issues, there is no talk coming from either Bush or Kerry on the issues that matter to people of color.
OK, so Bush came out against the Dred Scott decision--wow, tough call there, Mr. President--on the grounds that whoever decided that one was doing based on their personal decision. But in all the talk about jobs there is no discussion about who are the jobless, what the effect of that joblessness is on inner-city violence. In all the talk about education, there is no discussion about which children are being left behind in the rush to standardized testing and the tax-cut-driven shift of moneys toward the military. In all the talk about the Patriot Act, there is no discussion about the Muslims and South Asians who have disproportionately been slammed by the very real rollback in civil liberties.
Come on Kerry, get real. You want the base to show up on November 2? Start acting like Bush, who ain't afraid to call a liberal a liberal.
posted by Zentronix @ 7:52 PM
In NYC today, I caught this photo exhibition at the Open Society Institute by Don Bartletti: Enrique's Journey. It's the incredibly powerful story of a boy's travels from Honduras across the border to find a mother who left him to find work in the U.S. Please see Bartletti's photos and read Sonia Nazario's story.
posted by Zentronix @ 5:37 PM
While we're on the topic of Bush's image-management deterioration...
This from Brian Wallis' introduction to the Inconvient Evidence exhibition of the Abu Ghraib photos at the International Center on Photography:
"Aside from the atrocities they depict, as photographs, the images from Abu Ghraib contradict the studied heroics of twentieth-century war photography that have been updated to the current conflict. Away from the photojournalistic fluorishes designed to make war palatable--the heroic flag-raisings, the dogged foot soldiers close to the action, the sense of shared humanity among combatants, and the search for visual evidence that war is universal and inevitable--the often-banal JPEGs from Iraq proffer a very different picture: war is systematic cruelty enforced at the level of everyday torture."
Check excerpts from Seymour Hersh's new book here. (The Department of Defense statement of defense is here. The famous New Yorker articles are archived here and here.
posted by Zentronix @ 5:32 PM
Me on the best cartoonist since Aaron McGruder, Garry Trudeau, and Ted Rall: Lalo Alcaraz.
posted by Zentronix @ 4:47 AM
Bone Thugs N Harmony Voters
Soccer moms, NASCAR dads, and Bone Thugs N Harmony voters: Farai Chideya on why it's all down to Ohio. Her new book Trust: Reaching The 100 Million Missing Voters is essential hip-hop generation reading. Cop it now...
By the way, today is the last day to register to vote in New York and many other states. Get to a post office now and do that thing.
posted by Zentronix @ 4:39 AM
Thursday, October 07, 2004
Who I'd Like To Be
When If I Grow Up
Motherfuckin Frank "Bush Killa" Rich, cultural critic nonpareil, on potentially the turning point in the campaign--the slow death by split screen of the Bush myth-making machine. He is this great every single week.
posted by Zentronix @ 7:24 PM
Time For An October Surprise?
Bush is down in the polls. Kerry is gaining in projected electoral votes. Could Osama's capture be imminent?
posted by Zentronix @ 7:20 PM
Tuesday, October 05, 2004
Dr. Doom Says Goodbye Black Vote
First impressions: I actually only really caught the last half hour but it seemed a surprisingly bloodless affair. Both looked tired, a bit confused, and if anything, Cheney seemed to bring down Edwards energy level. Smiley couldn't even nail his dad's story--which has been a stump speech since he was on the debate team in high school 5 years ago. Cheney is the kind of guy who could end a Nelly party.
At the same time, Cheney's admission that he didn't know the AIDS fatality numbers for African American women was just phenomenally dumb. I bet most major media outlets will be ignoring this question, but for people of color, he's just set the Republican Party way back. Remember how we were discussing the Republican's chances with black voters a little while ago? That was Karl Rove's idea. Folks, Karl Rove is getting ready to hang himself.
posted by Zentronix @ 7:44 PM
+ Eugene Kuo's web-photo-essay 25 Days in Turkey
+ The Prickly Paradigm catalog, including Thomas Frank on cultural studies and Michael Silverstein on the speechifying of Abe and W.
+ Write your own speech for W. And he'll talk it for ya.
posted by Zentronix @ 6:20 AM
Monday, October 04, 2004
Back In The City
Sup yall, haven't blogged for a minute cause I'm in NYC. (Holla if you're around! I only have 24 hours in a day but I'm trying to fill as much of em as I can.) Thanks for the running commentary...love to hear from yall. I have nothing interesting to say right now, but yall have me feeling good about life and that's worth noting I think.
posted by Zentronix @ 12:01 PM
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