Saturday, May 27, 2006
R.I.P. Desmond Dekker
Music like dirt. For your money's worth. Yeah!
Desmond Dekker & The Aces: Unity
Desmond Dekker: Intensified '68
Both available on Israelites: Anthology 1963-1999
BONUS BEATS! Tanya Stephens: Power Of A Girl
The Israelite has passed. Tom Breihan already has a playlist up at the Voice. But of course he missed a bunch. 10 Desmond Dekker songs only gets you so far. Even 2 full CDs only get you so far.
So here are two more of my favorites. "Unity" is from 1967, a period that saw the the fraying of Jamaica's post-independence euphoria into urban turmoil. Bios of Dekker note that this is the point when he recorded "Tougher Than Tough" and the "Israelites", turning to "rude-boy themes." Like he suddenly was getting his thug on. It's important to note that such themes included heartfelt calls for peace like this one. Trivia: Queen Latifah lifted it for her less-memorable-than-you'd-think Top 40 hit in the late 90s. I was going to use the exuberant chorus as an epigraph at the beginning of Chapter 3, but decided it was a bit out of context. Still it remains in heavy rotation around these parts.
"Intensified" was the title given to two seminal 1979 ska collections curated by Steve Barrow, which gripped a new generation of bluebeat fans. It was also the refrain of Dekker's lighter 1968 hit, also known as "Music Like Dirt", which may contribute to the idea of Dekker being called "king of ska", even though history shows his big successes didn't come until he was doing rocksteady. By this point, the tempos had slowed a bit, the instrumental parts streamlined quite a bit from the raucous virtuosity. For years I was confused by the difference between the two, and now I know why. The post-punk neo-ska revival blurred the historical lines, kinda the same way all these wack W'burgers have forever twisted the term "electro." Another rant for another time. Anyway, this is a fantastic song, with Desmond singing the heck out of the track.
Bonus track: this 45 from a few years back was produced by German reggae star Gentleman and voiced by the incomparable irrepressible Tanya Stephens (check for her new album this summer), and in its spirit and execution stands as a living tribute. RIP Desmond Dekker.
posted by Zentronix @ 11:19 AM
Thursday, May 25, 2006
The South Berkeley Guide To The Conservative Guide To Rock
Hilarious article in today's NY Times by Ben Sisario on a guy named John Miller's attempt to list the Top 50 Conservative Rock songs of all time. Yes, The National Review has turned into Blender, and rockism has eaten itself.
Great quote by American Dave M. in there: "What happened was my side won the culture war...once you lose that battle, you lost the war and then a different kind of battle begins: the battle over meaning."
Of course, the music geek/South Berkeley rad in me was drawn in like a fly to a shitpile. So here's some of the list:
50. "Stand By Your Man," by Tammy Wynette.
Because conservative editorial wouldn't be conservative editorial without a gratuitous Hillary dis.
49. "Abortion," by Kid Rock.
I guess "Yodelin' In The Valley" didn't qualify.
38. "I Can't Drive 55," by Sammy Hagar.
Their comments: 'A rocker's objection to the nanny state.'
My comments: It's a rocker's objection to driving 55.
37. "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," by The Band.
The National Review's Southern strategy. What would Stephin Merritt say?
35. "Who'll Stop the Rain," by Creedence Clearwater Revival.
An anti-war song, which can't be very conservative unless you happen to be a four-star general these days, I guess. Wonder what they think of D. Boon's version?
34. "Godzilla," by Blue Oyster Cult.
Their comments: 'A 1977 classic about a big green monster — and more: "History shows again and again / How nature points up the folly of men."'
My comments: Uh, like this list?
29. "Rime of the Ancient Mariner," by Iron Maiden.
Their comments: 'A heavy-metal classic inspired by a literary classic. How many other rock songs quote directly from Samuel Taylor Coleridge?'
My comments: Yes, and let's ban all those raps inspired by that multiculti fraud Toni Morrison.
25. "The Battle of Evermore," by Led Zeppelin.
Their comments: 'The lyrics are straight out of Robert Plant's Middle Earth period — there are lines about "ring wraiths" and "magic runes" — but for a song released in 1971, it's hard to miss the Cold War metaphor: "The tyrant's face is red."'
My comments: But maybe he was drinking some of that Communist vodka.
24. "Der Kommissar," by After the Fire.
Conservatives dance! But only to really old Germanic pop songs.
23. "Brick," by Ben Folds Five.
You guys can have this.
20. "Rock the Casbah," by The Clash.
Give em enough rope!
18. "Cult of Personality," by Living Colour.
The only Black group on the list. What would Stephin Merritt say?
16. "Get Over It," by The Eagles.
You can have their entire catalog. Well, except for the opening breakbeat on "Those Shoes".
15. "I Fought the Law," by The Crickets.
Their comments: "The original law-and-order classic".
My comments: Joe Strummer rolls over again.
13. "My City Was Gone," by The Pretenders.
Their comments: 'Virtually every conservative knows the bass line, which supplies the theme music for Limbaugh's radio show. But the lyrics also display a Jane Jacobs sensibility against central planning and a conservative's dissatisfaction with rapid change: "I went back to Ohio / But my pretty countryside / Had been paved down the middle / By a government that had no pride."'
My comments: Hmmm. This one's interesting--because I'm sure the primary intended beneficiaries of trickle-down economics, low inflation, down-low protectionism, and sprawl--say, developers, bankers, corporate agriculture, music publishers, and the already stupendously rich would object to the lines that follow: "The farms of Ohio had been replaced by shopping malls/And Muzak filled the air/From Seneca to Cuyahoga Falls." I hope Malcolm Foster is getting PAID off that mealy-mouthed junkie. One of only three songs on the list written or sung by a woman.
8. "Bodies," by The Sex Pistols.
This should be the closing song at every conservative gala.
7. "Revolution," by The Beatles.
Their comments: 'Communism isn't even cool: "If you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao / You ain't going to make it with anyone anyhow."'
My comments: Yup, and then after writing this, he took up with that longhair Yoko Ono and started singing about Angela Davis, John Sinclair, imagine no religion, and give peace a chance. Filthy Asians.
6. "Gloria," by U2.
Their comments: 'Just because a rock song is about faith doesn't mean that it's conservative. But what about a rock song that's about faith and whose chorus is in Latin? That's beautifully reactionary: "Gloria / In te domine / Gloria / Exultate."'
My comments: It's fun to see people use the word 'reactionary' in such a positive way.
5. "Wouldn't It Be Nice," by The Beach Boys.
Their comments: 'Pro-abstinence and pro-marriage: "Maybe if we think and wish and hope and pray it might come true / Baby then there wouldn't be a single thing we couldn't do / We could be married / And then we'd be happy."'
My comments: I don't hear the abstinence part, unless you think falsetto is inherently an anti-sexual technique. Truly, though, this song is so gay, it's a pro-gay marriage anthem.
4. "Sweet Home Alabama," by Lynyrd Skynyrd.
See #37. Also, it was an anti-Neil "Anti-War or Pro-War, Depending On The Polls" Young song. These days, I'm anti-Neil Young. Jeff's editorial wouldn't be Jeff's editorial if it weren't for a gratuitous Neil Young dis.
3. "Sympathy for the Devil," by The Rolling Stones.
Their comments: 'Don't be misled by the title; this song is "The Screwtape Letters" of rock. The devil is a tempter who leans hard on moral relativism — he will try to make you think that "every cop is a criminal / And all the sinners saints." What's more, he is the sinister inspiration for the cruelties of Bolshevism..."'
My comments: They could've admitted they chose this song for the triumphant line: "I shouted out who killed the Kennedys/When after all it was you and me." But this argument is as big a stretch as making "Who'll Stop The Rain?" an anti-Communist tune. It depends on the idea that the song might make you less sympathetic with the devil. Please. Most people I know who have heard this song--completely influenced by the Meters and New Orleans, and probably the best the Stones ever did--have fallen madly in love. That's why conservatives lost the culture war, and why progressives are losing the political war now. Americans want the fuck so badly that the art of seduction is always underrated.
2. "Taxman," by The Beatles.
I give on this one. A great song to listen to, like "Chi Chi Man" was several years ago. Then, oh shit, it means that?
1. "Won't Get Fooled Again," by The Who.
Their comments: "The conservative movement is full of disillusioned revolutionaries; this could be their theme song, an oath that swears off naive idealism once and for all...The instantly recognizable synthesizer intro, Pete Townshend's ringing guitar, Keith Moon's pounding drums, and Roger Daltrey's wailing vocals make this one of the most explosive rock anthems ever recorded — the best number by a big band, and a classic for conservatives.
My comments: Disillusioned revolutionaries love very long boring introductions...and Nissan Maximas.
posted by Zentronix @ 9:23 AM
Wednesday, May 24, 2006
Ed Park on Kaavya Vishwanathan
Brilliant writing by Ed Park on Asian America's disgraced overachieving daughter:
Violence and social position: This might encapsulate the high school experience. In Kaavya Viswanathan's debut novel, How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life, the narrator, a well-to-do second-generation Indian American high school senior, cold-bloodedly schemes to get into Harvard—where not coincidentally Viswanathan is currently a sophomore. Opal's plan, triggered by a disastrous campus interview ("Tell me about your best friends" sends her into a panic) and developed by her Cantab-crazed parents, tenuously transforms the brainy, overextended grind into a va-va-voom member of the exclusive Haute Bitchez.
The fact that Opal misconstrues the Harvard dean's advice to "find some balance" as Unleash your inner conspicuous consumer and align yourself with the most hateful people in your class is just one of the novel's troubling spots. But the book, as we all know, has run into problems beyond issues of literary merit. (Indeed, it met with some mystifyingly positive notices, including a New York Times feature on Viswanathan's charmed life.) The Harvard Crimson made a convincing case that several passages in Opal strongly resemble Sloppy Firsts (2001) and Second Helpings (2003), two novels by Megan McCafferty. Subsequent discoveries turned Meg Cabot, Salman Rushdie, and others into instant precursors. And book packager Alloy Entertainment's involvement in Opal's genesis ratcheted up the 'Who wrote what?' level. On April 27 Little, Brown recalled Opal, as if it were an SUV that tends to flip over when making sharp lefts. Its shelf life was under a month.
Forbidden, silenced, the novel now becomes readable, as gripping as a mystery. The bizarre tonal changes suddenly make sense: The whole thing isn't a cloying fantasy of having it all, but the nightmare of answered prayers.
posted by Zentronix @ 3:35 PM
Wednesday, May 17, 2006
Some Of The Most Important Shows Of The Year
On January 31, our homie, the brilliant graphic designer/art director Keith Tamashiro suffered a brain aneurysm. You may not know his name right off, but you'd recognize his work immediately: Brainfreeze, Product Placement, The Private Press, Welcome To Jamrock, J5, Poets of Rhythm, Stone's Throw, Mia Doi Todd, Herbie Hancock, and hundreds more pieces. He is one half of the famed Soap Design company.
Like most of our favorite musicians and artists, Keith has no health insurance. He remains in the care of UCLA Hospital, and is slowly recovering. But his bills have steadily climbed. So his friends have organized a number of events. Every penny for these events will go towards his medical expenses and rehabilitation.
If you are in LA or the Bay, come through and check out artists like DJ Shadow & Cut Chemist, Lyrics Born, Mia Doi Todd, J5, Dilated, Madlib, MF Doom, Dwight Trible, Garth Trindad, Shortkut, the Beat Junkies, and many more, buy some art, show some love and give to a very important cause.
The LA info is above or here. Visitors to the Mayan show will receive a FREE GIFT BAG at the door filled with a limited edition t-shirt, art book, cds and other goodies. Tickets are available here.
The Art Show and Auction will be held at Transport Gallery on May 24. Bid on amazing works by some of hip-hop's finest artists, photographers, and graphic designers.
Here's the info for the SF show:
I SEE YOU presents: The Return of Word of Mouth with Jurassic 5, Dilated Peoples, The Beat Junkies, Supernatural, special dj set by Shortkut + Cut Chemist, +special guest Lyrics Born. 7pm @ The Mezzanine. 444 Jessie St., San Francisco 94103. 21+. Tickets available through Ticketweb.
We love you Keith. Get well.
posted by Zentronix @ 10:27 AM
Friday, May 12, 2006
Poptomism v. Rockism For Dummies
One of the great things about going to another country for several days is not being caught up in the noise that is North American popular culture. Yaddadamean?
No urban shockjocks trying to increase market value. No Bush TIA surveillance. No EMP-inspired frothing on rockism and racism.
The last topic inspired this and this in Slate, which line up Slaters John Cook and Jody Rosen against the likes of the mighty Sasha Frere-Jones, Jessica Hopper, and Jane Dark/Josh Clover. (Not a fair fight, if you ask me, but Rosen does get a few punches in, keep reading.)
I have a few things to say, although all you reactionaries can put your knives away, because I have no interest in going back to the Da Capo/Nik Cohn thing. All you funboys and ILMers can relive that circus in cyberspace without me.
For background's sake, I was on the initial EMP Conference planning committee for this year, before bowing out due to ridiculous tour responsibilities. I voted for something having vaguely to do (I think I thought) with the flooding of New Orleans, the looting of Iraq and fighting for and preserving popular music.
Of course, boring earnest old colored me was WAAAY in the minority. It's cool, I was born that way.
Folks chose instead to go with "Guilty Pleasures", which as Rosen nails above, was a topic supercharged to continue this popism vs. rockism critical correction that we've all been living through over the past 5 years or so.
This is an obscure fucking debate, to be sure. So for those of you who want the backstory to O-dub's post, here's your Cliff Notes.
Rockism is the idea that Important Popular Music is created by an elite of Big Statement-Making Heroes who mostly strum guitars, can sing loudly (and/or softly and sometimes for a very looong time), can (quite often) be quite smelly and ugly, and are by definition, mostly white, loved usually by only an elite few, except when they are loved by many, in which case Art has triumphed.
Popism is the idea that Important Popular Music is created by pretty much anyone who manages to get on the Top 40, who may or may not strum guitars, may or may not sing (loudly, softly, or well), can (quite often) be very nice to look at, and are by definition, mostly not white, loved by the masses, except when they are not, in which case their promotional/payola budgets haven't kicked in yet.
How race came into it is when hip-hop started taking over both critical and popular discourse in the mid-90s. Before that, Rockists didn't like rap. That was the Black music that didn't deserve to be taken seriously, just like all the other Black musics before it. Then Rockists figured out that there were rappers who might really be Rockers, in the sense that they were really Important, like, say, Public Enemy. Afterwards rappers could be Rockists too.
But then there was a backlash, especially when rap became really Popular. Then a whole buncha Cultural Studies-trained critics could argue that Popularity was what made music Important. And the road to taking Britney Spears seriously now looked like the 405--jammed with much excessive honking and several bloody accidents.
So now that the Poptomists have triumphed (K. Sanneh at the Times, Sasha at the New Yorker, and Blender Magazine surely denote triumph, yes?), Rockism is becoming the new Anti-Rockism.
Here John Cook represents the old folks that want their Rock back. Sad breed, them. They missed the levelling postmodern and multiculturalist critiques of the 80s, apparently. It's gut-check time for them, and sadly, Kurt Cobain is dead, the Alarm broke up a long time ago, and the White Stripes may be about to, too. (But seriously though, que viva Billy Bragg.)
Jody Rosen represents the Pop folks who think they might want their Rock back. Confused and mostly unemployed, they are. iPods killed the album stars, and as for the folks who want to write about all that? Well, we've all been downsized by New Times to 50-words or less, nice work if you can get it.
Will the EMP do "Cohesive 60+ Minute Statements" or "Come On Guys, Please, Rockism Isn't Racist We Promise" next year as another correction? Will music journalists continue to be laughably out of touch with the real world, both in terms of interests and representation?
You can stay tuned. I don't care.
-Gallery of Rockism by Scott Woods
-Origins of Totalitarianism by Josh Clover
posted by Zentronix @ 12:11 PM
Wednesday, May 10, 2006
Dr. Antwi Akom Case: Update
Check this piece by Wiretap's Dani McClain, the most thorough account of Dr. Akom's case. Go right now to the Justice For Dr. Akom site to sign a letter to SFSU President Robert Corrigan.
posted by Zentronix @ 4:33 AM
Cody's Telegraph Is Closing
In a year of passings, this too is incredibly sad.
Cody's on Telegraph was one of the reasons I wanted to settle down in Berkeley after all the years of moving around. During my undergrad years it was a comfort spot. It was where I would run after classes to read Joan Morgan, Dream Hampton, and Greg Tate in the Village Voice during the 80s, not to mention hundreds of other books over the years.
When I launched CSWS I wanted to do it there. It was the only tour demand I'd made of the publisher. I did do Cody's on an emotional night after the Quannum launch in The City. I couldn't believe I was in the room that so many literary luminaries had spoken from.
This is so sad, I can't really express it. Certainly the Cody's on 4th and in SF are wonderful spaces, but they'll never have the hum and energy and buzz and meaning of the original.
RIP Cody's Telegraph.
posted by Zentronix @ 3:49 AM
Tuesday, May 02, 2006
-Ice Cube's high school wins the U.S. Academic Decathlon. Another Taft grad told me the other day that his son goes there now. The difference of course being that his son isn't being bused. By the way, here's Davey interviewing Cube on his recent tour. Not sure that I'm excited about the new record, but like a lot of old Cube fans, I am curious.
-FunkDigi's warm tribute to his homeplace, the Bronx, complete with hot links. Related note: Henry Chalfant's "From Mambo To Hip-Hop"--which tracks the Latino contribution to the Bronx's musical legacy and which many of you have seen clips from on my tour--will be airing this fall on PBS. Much more info to come.
-After having her novel deep-sixed, her second from a half-million dollar two-book deal cancelled, all plans for a Hollywood drama shelved permanently (did all this happen to Nik Cohn? N.O.P.E.), and papers from here to India burying her career before it even got started, 19-year-old Kaavya Viswanathan is officially getting Jayson Blaired. For work she did during an internship at NJ paper, The Record, no less. Presumably stories on bodega openings and the like. OK, now this is what you call piling on. No apologies to John Lackey.
-RIP Michael Mixxin Moor and DJ Dusk, two West Coast legends. UPDATE: Here's Davey D's tribute. He also mentions that the great environmental justice organizer Damu Smith has passed. It's really been quite a year. (Peace to Mike Nardone for the word.)
posted by Zentronix @ 8:39 PM
Immigrant Rights And Anti-Black Racism
A difficult, but necessary, critique by Andre Banks of the rhetoric of the immigrant rights movement, echoing comments made by Ronnie in yesterday's post:
"There is little question that the current immigration debate, though coded and contrived otherwise, is entirely about race. Yet, the framing made popular by immigrants and their advocates is so hostile to Black people and our American experience that it seems impossible for us to stake a claim with this movement. Today's immigrants will find that without Blacks, and a commitment to challenge racism beyond the reach of immigration policy alone, their movement will lose both its moral authority and the practical victory it hopes to achieve.
The language of today's movement directly evokes a painful history. Immigrants who laid claim in the past to this re-imagined American dream colluded with a system of racism that made the hope of health, safety and happiness an empty promise for Black people. Immigrants on the march today threaten to go the way of the Irish, the Italian and the Jewish: they may pay the price of the ticket for American citizenship by yielding to a racial hierarchy that leaves Blacks at the bottom.
Immigrants and their advocates have gained attention by evoking the narrative of hard-working immigrants making good in the land of opportunity - the American Dream redux - with its attendant contradictions and contrivances. With cries that 'immigrants built this country,' a favorite calling card, this burgeoning movement at once revoked the history of slaves and their descendants and obscured important truths about power, migration and social mobility in this country. For my great-grandmother, and generations of Black people in this country before and after her, this lie is worse than silence. It is a critical and strategic omission that adds Mexicans, Salvadorans and Guatemalans to the annals of American history while relegating Black people to its shadows.
The narrative of the immigrant as the symbol of hard work that leads to opportunity can mean nothing but alienation for Black people precisely because we know this myth is false. Without our labor - not immigrant labor, but slave labor - in the fields and on the march there would be no market brimming with wealth and economic opportunity, nor a tradition of civil and political rights readily available for appropriation and exploitation.
So, listening to the language of immigrant rights in 2006, a sensible Black person might respond with ambivalence. It is difficult to take the cause seriously, much less call it our own. Immigrant rights advocates have the potential to speak broadly, and Black people more than any other group might champion an extension of human rights denied to those on the margins. But instead we are displaced from this movement by coded messages that celebrate a history of anti-black racism. "
Find further commentary and resources on the immigrant rights actions here.
posted by Zentronix @ 6:16 PM
Funniest Headline Of The Day (...If You're Not A Mickey Mouse Angels Of Fantasyland Fan)
Kendall to Lackey: Don't you watch my size, I'm dangerous.
"A's wallop Angels with long balls". Pssssh, that ain't news!
Giving away a half-foot and 30 pounds to Lackey, who is listed at 6-foot-6 and 235 pounds, Jason Kendall wrestled Lackey to the ground with Halos catcher Jeff Mathis wrapped around his waist as the benches cleared and piled on in the middle of the diamond.
posted by Zentronix @ 4:28 PM
Monday, May 01, 2006
A Day Without Us
The border crossed us.
No work today. And I just want to send a big middle-finger to all the fake "we're concerned about a backlash" pseudo-liberal apologists. You sure weren't that concerned before.
posted by Zentronix @ 2:50 PM
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