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Published: Mon, 16 Oct 2017 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Mon, 16 Oct 2017 19:43:57 -0400


Tom Petty, R.I.P.

Tue, 03 Oct 2017 00:21:00 -0400

Tom Petty, one of the most widely and consistently beloved rock songwriters and singers of the past four decades, died today, the Associated Press reports tonight (after an earlier erroneous report of his death spread today). Petty was the best, most internal and least patronizing, of rock songwriters plowing the field of embodying (not "speaking for," a subtle but important difference that elevated Petty's songs) the "average guy." Petty was every kid from nowheresville (in his case Gainesville, Florida, the same nowheresville I spent nine of my first 21 years) who loved rock n' roll, learned how to make the jangle of a guitar and the uplifting sway of the right chord progression feel like pathos and triumph dancing close and slow, moved to the big city of Los Angeles and ended up with hit records galore, playing with Bob Dylan, then forming a band with Dylan, a Beatle, Roy freakin Orbison and that one guy from ELO. He was so dedicated to the old-time rock verities he recorded an album griping about how crummy corporate programmers were ruining radio all the way in the 21st century. Petty was our ambassador to show business, and even when he aged into a sepia-toned but always sharp dry melancholy and ceased delivering much in the way of the zesty, sinewy pop-rock he started off with, he never embarrassed himself or the fans. He stood fast for the gang-togetherness mentality of his eternal Heartbreakers, even while openly admitting that his favorite records were the ones he made without them; but his band were his boys and American rock n' roll small town boys stick together (mostly, but don't ask original Heartbreakers drummer Stan Lynch). Late in life he even revived his pre-fame Gainesville band Mudcrutch, just because he could and they were his old pals. During my years in Gainesville, a lot of us had a bit of a chip on our shoulder about Petty because of his clear chip on his shoulder about his hometown; he didn't perform there often during the 1980s and his one LP that dealt with his smalltown southern heritage, 1985's Southern Accents, was an amazingly well crafted, deeply felt and smart record but did not, to put it mildly, cast the modern South in a flattering light. Sure, in America one often has to leave home and hearth for the Big City for real success, but painting modern southerners, even in songs as elegant, elegaic, powerful and gorgeous as "Southern Accents" and "Rebels" (and as scabrously witty as "Spike") as sad drunken fuckups still obsessed with those "blue-bellied devils" who "burned down our cornfields, and left our cities leveled," however much truth it had, wasn't designed to incline the south to heartily welcome the prodigal son. (He even used confederate flag iconography for the ensuring tour, something he regretted and apologized for recently.) In an excellent biography of Petty by fellow rocker Warren Zanes, former Del Fuego, Petty spoke of wanting to avoid the pressures from family members to extend himself in some manner to all their local pals. Better, once it's time to move on, to keep going, as Petty wrote and lived. Still, whether he loved us back much, Gainesville was proud enough of Petty to keep alive a collegiate legend of a "Petty's Past Pad" that we partied at; Petty, bless his heart, told interviewer Paul Zollo that that was all bullshit and no one in old Gainesville was partying at any past pad of his. (He did produce one sharp, spooky B-side, "Casa Dega," based on a local Gainesville obsession, a nearby town crammed with spiritual mediums.) In a rock n' roll world of romantics and depressives, Petty was mostly a stoic and won the respect and affection that stance deserved; while love for him was not universal, I find it stretches across a wider range of American rock generational and communal lines than most. In Petty's world life was difficult and poignant, but transcendence was available via shared cigarettes on the roof, singing along with Del Shannon, and just the right party dress, and knowing you can always survive via reckless assertions of self in the face of relations[...]

The Freakout Over Politically Incorrect Punk

Fri, 08 Sep 2017 12:05:00 -0400

In September 1984, the widely read punk zine Maximum Rocknroll published its review of Victim in Pain, the debut album by the New York City band Agnostic Front. "I'm approaching this band with caution," the reviewer warned. "Unfortunately, much of the narrow-mindedness, fanatical nationalism, and violence that has destroyed the New York punk scene seems to have revolved around AGNOSTIC FRONT." The author of that review was Maximum Rocknroll founder and editor Tim Yohannan, a 40-something ex-Yippie who thought that punk music should march in lockstep with left-wing politics. As Ray Farrell, a punk veteran who worked at the independent record label SST (run by Black Flag guitarist Greg Ginn), told Steven Blush, author of American Hardcore: A Tribal History, "there was an ideological development at Maximum RockNRoll, making everything move towards a Socialist bent." In effect, Yohannan appointed himself as the grand inquisitor of the punk rock thought police, scouring the scene for any signs of deviation from the left-wing script. "If it's just 'good sounding' music you want," he admonished readers in the March 1985 issue, "then punk is no alternative at all. For me, what makes punk different is the intelligence and commitment behind it." Agnostic Front quickly became one of Yohannan's primary targets. As he asserted in one 1984 issue, "the N.Y. Skins apparently have embraced the British National Front's racist and nationalist attitudes." Yohannan rarely missed the opportunity to depict the band's members as the equivalent of goose-stepping goons. Now one of those band members, Agnostic Front singer Roger Miret, is out with a gripping new memoir that tells his side of the story. "A writer for this crappy but influential fanzine, Maximumrocknroll, started talking shit about us and calling us a bunch of fascist skinheads," Miret writes in My Riot: Agnostic Front, Grits, Guts & Glory (co-written with Jon Wiederhorn). "The crazy thing about Timmy calling me a fascist is that I was an immigrant Latino kid dating a Jewish girl, and she never accused me of being a Nazi sympathizer." Born in Cuba in 1964, Miret came to the U.S. as a young child after his parents fled the Castro regime. He grew up rough in "the slums of New Jersey towns like Passaic and Paterson." From there he found his way to Manhattan, where the loud, fast sounds of bands like the Stimulators, the Bad Brains, and Reagan Youth were blaring out of clubs like Max's Kansas City, A7, and CBGB. After hanging around the scene for a couple of years, Miret joined Agnostic Front in 1983. Agnostic Front has "never put down any other races or ethnicities," Miret writes in his memoir. "From the start we welcomed anyone who wanted to be a part of what we were doing. I was Cuban for Christ's sake—far from the image of the blond-haired, blue-eyed Aryan Übermensch." Miret has nothing but contempt for those "privileged, politically correct" punks that slandered his name. Unlike some punk acts, Agnostic Front never offered any sort of coherent political message. But the band did sometimes express right-of-center views in their songs and interviews. Their 1986 track "Public Assistance," for example, was a harsh attack on the welfare state. Sample lyric: "Uncle Sam takes half my pay so you can live for free." Miret didn't write those lyrics. He outsourced the job to Peter Steele, the leader of the Brooklyn metal act Carnivore, who would later go on to fame as the frontman for goth-rockers Type O Negative. But Miret stands firmly behind the sentiment. "I was a minority kid whose mom was on welfare and I saw all the time how other people in our neighborhood abused the system," he writes in My Riot. "Public assistance was designed to help people better their lives and move on, not to enable the families that used it. Those are the people the song was aimed at." Miret and his bandmates also voiced support for President Ronald Reagan's foreign policy. "We have to stop Communist aggression," guitarist Vinnie Stigma told the zine Guillotine in a 1984 interview[...]

Young Louis Farrakhan Sings a Calypso Song About Transgender Surgery

Fri, 08 Sep 2017 10:59:00 -0400

(image) Before Louis Farrakhan joined the Nation of Islam, he was a calypso singer billed as The Charmer. And in 1954, inspired by Christine Jorgensen's sex reassignment surgery, the future recipient of the Al-Gaddafi International Prize for Human Rights wrote and sang "Is She Is, Or Is She Ain't," a topical tune about "this modern surgery/it change him from he to she":

He tried to live the life of a man
But that was not in accord with nature's plan
So he underwent this operation
And came back home to shock the nation
But behind that lapstick, rouge, and paint
I got to know: Is she is, or is she ain't?

More recently, Farrakhan has described such transitions as "sci­ence that is so wicked," so I think it's fair to say he was a bit more progressive on the subject 63 years ago. To hear the whole song, click below:

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(Hat tip: Brad Rogers. The B-side is about zombies; you can hear that here. For another religious leader's views on trans issues, go here. For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here.)

New Whitney Houston Documentary Is Not Right, But It's OK

Fri, 25 Aug 2017 16:00:00 -0400

Can I Be Me. Showtime, Friday, August 25, 9 p.m. One of the very first lines in Can I Be Me tells you just about everything you need to know about this Whitney Houston documentary: "Whitney Houston actually died from a broken heart." There are many things to be learned from that sentence, and none of them has anything to do with either its literal significance (of which there is none; she drowned in a hotel bathtub after a drug overdose) or even its purported figurative significance. The crack in Houston's heart supposedly occurred when Houston was booed at the 1989 Soul Train awards because the audience didn't think her recordings sounded black enough. If that's so, she was a dead woman walking for the next 23 years. Yet she still managed to put 28 more singles on the Billboard charts (including "I Will Always Love You," 14 weeks at No. 1), make a movie (The Bodyguard) that grossed over $400 million and win 19 additional Grammys. Clearly cardiovascular metabolism is overrated. Then there's the source of that quote. It comes from Kevin Ammons, a former Houston bodyguard who wrote a splendidly salacious biography of the singer after leaving her employ. Among its highlights: The singer had brutal slapfights with her lesbian girlfriend, who had to be bribed with a Porsche to not act up at Houston's wedding to R&B singer Bobby Brown. Meanwhile, Houston's father-manager was soliciting a hitman to snuff the girlfriend. And on the other side of her bisexual romantic ledger, Houston arranged to have secret photos snapped of herself being diddled by NFL quarterback Randall Cunningham so she could leak them to the media and make her old boyfriend Eddie Murphy jealous. Not one of these things is repeated in Can I Be Me, which strongly suggests that co-directors Nick Broomfield (Kurt & Courtney) and Rudi Dolezal don't consider Ammons a reliable source on actual events, just a useful guy for poetically grand declarations about the nature of Houston's life. And that is very much the core of Can I Be Me: a lot of absurdly sweeping statements from people who've seen way too many episodes of Behind the Music. One of them says the key to understanding Houston is that she was "from the street." Actually she grew up in middle-class New Jersey neighborhoods; her mother was a gospel singer, her father an entertainment executive, her half-brother an NBA player, and her cousins Dionne and Dee Dee Warwick were pop stars. Another insists that Houston was a civil-rights casualty, that before her "we did not have Beyonces and African-American female artists who can be at the top of the pop charts. ... So she changed history for us, and she paid a price for it." That erases from musical history, among others, Diana Ross (five No. 1 hits on the Billboard pop charts), Aretha Franklin (13 records in the pop top 10) and even Houston's own cousin Dionne Warwick (10 in the top 10). And then there are the members of Houston's entourage who say her marriage to the philandering Brown drove her nuts but "she didn't want to go against God and get a divorce." That conveniently ignores the fact that for the first seven years she was married to Brown, Houston was still involved with her girlfriend. And though I'm no theologian, I'd guess that in the conservative Baptist ranks from which Houston came, gay sex would have been regarded as way higher on God's hitbound-for-Hell list than divorce. There's clearly an interesting story to be told about Houston, whose mezzo-soprano voice had the power of a pile-driver and the clarity of a bell and whose elegant beauty was gracing magazine covers as a model long before there were stories inside about her singing. She started out in the same gospel milieu as her mother, Cissy. But from the very beginning there were signs of a schizoid divide in her personality; thank-you notes to God on the liner notes of her first album, but an ode to adultery among the tracks. By the end, she seemed to be systematically destroying everything she once was, ev[...]

The Manchurian Crooner

Fri, 11 Aug 2017 11:21:00 -0400

(image) It was the Korean War—I mean the war they fought in the '50s, not the nuclear holocaust that various idiots are proposing now—that brought the word "brainwashing" into the common lexicon. Introduced in Edward Hunter's 1951 book Brain-Washing in Red China, whose cover declared that "an entire nation" was under "hypnotic control," the word's popularity exploded when the public learned that the American POWs who had recorded propaganda messages for North Korea had been subjected to intense indoctrination sessions. The idea took hold that the Communists had actually reprogrammed their captives' brains, perhaps permanently.

As science, this turned out to be false—the mind is not so malleable. As fuel for pop culture, on the other hand, it has given us everything from The Manchurian Candidate to the record I've embedded below. Eddie Hill's "I Changed My Mind," released in 1954, may well be the only country song ever written about brainwashing. In this particular spin on the subject, the cure for mind control turns out to be prayer; that isn't quite as exciting as the end of The Manchurian Candidate, but I suppose it was better suited for radio airplay.

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Trivia: Joan Javits, co-composer of the song, made more of a mark when she co-wrote "Santa Baby." She was also the niece of Sen. Jacob Javits, which I guess makes this record the lost bridge between Nashville and the Rockefeller Republicans.

(For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here.)

Brickbat: Another Brick in the Wall

Wed, 02 Aug 2017 04:00:00 -0400

(image) Local officials in Nassau County, New York, are trying to bar musician Roger Waters from playing at the Nassau Coliseum because of his support for a boycott of Israel. Nassau County Attorney Carnell Foske says that because the coliseum is county-owned, a Waters concert would violate a county ordinance barring the the county from doing business with any company participating in a boycott of Israel.

Gene Simmons Wants to Trademark a Horns Hand Sign

Tue, 20 Jun 2017 14:20:00 -0400

(image) Kiss bassist Gene Simmons is trying to trademark the hand sign made by holding the thumb, index finger, and pinky up while holding the middle finger and ring finger down, sometimes known as the Sign of the Devil. His application illustrates how artists often abuse intellectual property privileges, using them not just to secure their own work but to try to curb the work of others.

The gesture that Simmons is claiming is also American Sign Language for "I love you." In a music context, a slightly different version of the gesture—with the thumb holding the middle and ring fingers down—was popularized by Black Sabbath's Ronnie James Dio before Simmons adopted it. (According to Variety, Dio said in the 1990s that he picked up the gesture from his Italian grandmother, who used it when someone would give her or her grandchild the "evil eye.") The thumb-down version of the gesture is also used by fans of the University of Texas at Austin.

Simmons argues that his gesture is substantively different. "What I started [before Dio] involved the thumb outstretched," he said in the '90s, according to Variety. "Check our first poster, in 1974. I started doing it because of comic book artist Steve Ditko, who created both Spiderman and Dr. Strange, who both used the same hand sign. Spiderman used it upside down when he shot out webbing, and Dr. Strange used it as a magic incantation. I was paying homage." Simmons said that it wasn't until later that he learned the symbol was ASL for "I love you."

Simmons' acknowledgement that his gesture was borrowed from other pieces of intellectual property, namely Spider-Man and Dr. Strange, ought to be enough to to reject his application—and should've been enough to convince him not to apply in the first place.

Intellectual property attorney Victor Sapphire told Variety that Simmons would have a tough time defending his application because the gesture would have to be associated with a "single source of entertainment services." That isn't the case for this gesture, which has many uses.

"While there certainly may be a route to registration for this mark, this question may ultimately render the mark unenforceable, in which case the process of applying for registration will appear to have functioned as either another of Mr. Simmons' brilliant publicity-generating moves, a vanity exercise, or perhaps a bit of both," Sapphire said.

Simmons' application ought to spark a conversation on the need for IP and trademark reform. Complex laws, often promoted by vested interests, do more to thwart the progress of arts than promote them. Spider-Man and Dr. Strange could tell you a bit about that, too: Marvel shares a trademark on the term "superhero" and has tried to use it to suppress other comics work.

Bonus video: "How Should Libertarians Think About Intellectual Property?"

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The Rise and Fall of Prog Rock—and of Libertarianism [Reason Podcast]

Wed, 14 Jun 2017 18:00:00 -0400

"There's not a-vote-for-this-party type of politics" in progressive rock, says David Weigel, author of The Show That Never Ends: The Rise and Fall of Prog Rock, "There is a utopianism about it....'Let's create a new world....It was very much a music and lifestyle where you tuned out, where you went to a festival, where you got into an arena. And a time where there were fewer distractions, as well. Weigel's history of a musical genre that includes bands such as King Crimson, Yes, ELP, Genesis, and more is a rich journey into one of rock's least-appreciated moments. The former Reason staffer (archive here) who now covers national politics for The Washington Post argues that many subsequent forms of music owe significant but often-unacknowledged debts to the organ-centric sounds of prog rock. In a wide-ranging conversation with Nick Gillespie, Weigel weighs in on politics in the Trump era. "There is not a lot of space for libertarianism in politics right now...except on the issues where libertarianism intersects with the donors who have done the most for Donald Trump. I feel like my friends at the Competitive Enterprise Institute are pretty happy about Trump's positions on climate. [CEI's] Myron Ebell [has] literally joined the administration," he says. "But the criminal justice reform side of libertarianism has kind of retreated to the states, where it's doing okay but has no clout in DC anymore." Audio production by Ian Keyser. Subscribe, rate, and review the Reason Podcast at iTunes. Listen at SoundCloud below: src="" width="100%" height="450" frameborder="0"> Don't miss a single Reason podcast! (Archive here.) Subscribe at iTunes. Follow us at SoundCloud. Subscribe at YouTube. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. THIS IS AN UNCORRECTED RUSH TRANSCRIPT. PLEASE CHECK AGAINST AUDIO FOR ACCURACY BEFORE QUOTING. Nick Gillespie: Hi, I'm Nick Gillespie, and this is the Reason Podcast. Please subscribe to us at iTunes and rate and review us while you're there. Today we are talking with David Weigel, he's a politics reporter at the Washington Post, a former Reason employee, but the reason that we're talking today is he's the author of the incredible new book, The Show That Never Ends: The Rise and Fall of Prog Rock. Dave Weigel, thanks for talking to us. Dave Weigel: Thank you for having me to talk about it. Appreciate it. Nick Gillespie: All right, well let's get right to it. The rise and fall of Prog Rock, of progressive rock. What is the thesis of The Show That Never Ends? Dave Weigel: It's that rock history, which I take pretty seriously, which honestly occupied a lot of my mind before I got into covering politics like I do now. That rock history had cut out what I thought was actually really dynamic, important, informative music, the progressive rock movement. And I also, I kind of lean in...right, the book in arguing that the progressive musicians, Keith Emerson, Robert Fripp, Peter Gabriel. These people invented a lot of stuff that was happily taken by more let's say critically approved bands. You know, the stuff that is credited to electropop or to punk, I mean a lot of that these guys did first, and they did it in a very popular and arena-filling way that was left out once people said, actually that was garbage, we're going to go with punk. And by people I mean's a really clear decision by the record industry and critics. We can get into that. Nick Gillespie: Well, define...what are the core elements of progressive rock? You know, how do we...and throughout the book you kind of talk about how like Led Zeppelin, which in many ways certainly, probably the biggest selling band of the period from about '68 to '78 or whenever they broke up. [...]

Katy Perry Is Very Sorry She Once Wore Her Hair in Cornrows

Wed, 14 Jun 2017 15:44:00 -0400

Katy Perry has made a public apology. She's been filmed making a mea culpa. She has confessed to having made "several mistakes" in recent years. So what exactly were her moral crimes? Did she get embroiled in a drug scandal? Is she a tax-dodging queen? Did her spat with Taylor Swift cross the line from tweets to violence? Nope. She once wore her hair in cornrows. The cultural appropriation hysteria has reached such a fever pitch that celebs are now apologizing for hairstyles. In an interview with DeRay McKesson, Black Lives Matter activist and host of the podcast Pod Save The People, Perry fessed up to her many "mistakes," including sporting cornrows in the video for "This Is How We Do" and rocking the geisha look at the 2013 American Music Awards. In the world of the cultural-appropriation fanatic, who frowns viciously upon any borrowing from a culture other than one's own, such behavior is tantamount to blacking-up and singing "Mammy." Perry has now learnt the lesson of her crazy foray into cultural imperialism and arrogant white-lady hairstyle theft. "Why can't I wear my hair that way?," she asked herself when "This Is How We Do" caused a Twitter-stink. Luckily for her, "empowered angels"—B.S. spiritual talk for politically correct people—were on hand to give her an answer. It's because there is "power in black women's hair" and white women can't just steal that. Acknowledging that her whiteness means she will never fully grasp this mystery of black women's hair-related power, Perry says she's nonetheless trying to redeem herself for her crimes against cultural purity. "I will never understand, but I can educate myself, and that's what I'm trying to do," she told McKesson. This act of moral self-flagellation, this very public confession of wickedness, confirms how widespread the cultural-appropriation panic has become. When even someone as pop as Perry, who has more Twitter followers than most countries have citizens, is playing the awful game of bowing and scraping before cultural dividing lines, you know the P.C. madness has gone mainstream. Will other celebrities follow suit? Will Beyonce finally apologize for that time she wore a sari, which Teen Vogue, fashion mag turned mouthpiece of P.C. silliness, held up as proof that India is treated as "a shallow vessel that exists for Westerners to find themselves"? Will Zoe Saldana beg forgiveness for using darkening make-up to play Nina Simone, which one mag branded an act of black appropriation whose "degree of wackness… can't be overstated"? And how about Ke$ha, who in the video for "Crazy Kids" wears not only cornrows but also a grill and enough bling to make Mr. T balk? The clampdown on cultural appropriation has gone crazy. Campuses forbid the wearing of sombreros lest Mexicans feel culturally violated. Britain's Glastonbury music festival has banned the sale of Native American headdress. Authors are warned against writing characters of a different race or culture to them, which I'm pretty sure would make the entire enterprise of literature impossible, or at least pointless. Anthony Horowitz, British author of the wildly popular Alex Rider teen novels, was advised not to include a black character in his latest story because that is "not [your] experience." Imagine if all authors wrote only from personal experience. All of Shakespeare's plays would be about people who grew up the sons of glove-makers in sleepy Stratford. More importantly, the very humanity of literature, its capacity for finding the universal in the particular, for uncovering some of the truth of human life across the racial, gender, and sexual board, would be destroyed. The aim of the sanction against cultural appropriation is actually pretty sinister. It is to keep us in our cultural lanes. It is to lock us into our racial boxes. It's a plea for cultural purity, a rehashing in [...]

Brickbat: Blacklisted

Wed, 07 Jun 2017 04:00:00 -0400

(image) Ron Janicki planned a music festival featuring politically outspoken artists this summer at Los Angeles State Historic Park near Chinatown. But California State Parks says he has to get buy-in from the Chinatown Business Improvement District, among other organizations, before it will permit the festival. And George Yu, president of the CBID doesn't seem to be buying in. He says Janicki's efforts to draw attention to the Chinese government's censorship and harvesting of organs is "anti-China."

Montana Supreme Court Cites Biggie Smalls, N.W.A., Scarface

Fri, 02 Jun 2017 11:18:00 -0400

The Montana Supreme Court has ruled against Bruce Glass, who is serving a nine-year federal prison sentence for distributing methamphetamine. Glass argued that a state charge of possession of the same meth constituted double jeopardy. The court disagreed, citing a lyric from Biggie Smalls' 1997 song "Ten Crack Commandments." "'Don't get high on your own supply' is a long-established rule of the drug trade specifically because such conduct is inconsistent with the criminal objective of distributing drugs for profit," Justice James Shea wrote for the majority. "To that rule, we now add the legal caveat: 'Don't get high on your own supply, 'cause double jeopardy don't apply.'" The decision cited the line's appearance in "Ten Crack Commandments," as well as a 2002 episode of The Wire, the 1987 N.W.A. song "Dopeman," and the 1983 film Scarface. (Biggie actually offered a slightly different version of the adage—"Never get high on your own supply"—but this minor misquote is not grounds for an appeal.) The state had originally charged Glass with both drug possession and distribution, but Glass moved to dismiss the charges, arguing double jeopardy applied. State prosecutors conceded the distribution charge was not permitted, but they challenged the contention that the possession charge was also double jeopardy, arguing that possession for personal use "did not involve the same criminal objective as Glass's federal conviction for conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine," as Shea summarized it. The courts agreed. The whole affair illustrates many problems with how the war on drugs is prosecuted. Beyond the fact that state prosecutors filed a charge they later admitted was inappropriate, why exactly were state and federal authorities working the same one defendant accused of selling 8 pounds of meth and keeping 8 ounces for himself? There's an argument to be made that meth wouldn't be so popular in the first place if it weren't for the drug war. "Increased enforcement of drug laws, backed by increased penalties, led to higher prices and decreased availability of preferred recreational drugs such as marijuana and cocaine," Mark Thornton wrote in 2011. "High prices and periodic shortages led drug dealers and consumers to find substitutes—ersatz goods that would produce similar results but at a lower cost." Enter meth, which is relatively easily made with relatively easily available ingredients. More than 40 years after Richard Nixon declared war on drugs, drugs are often cheaper and more potent than ever before; drug use in the U.S. recently hit an all-time high (as did the U.S. prison population). Where it has been tried, legalization has reversed some of these trends—teen marijuana use in Colorado has gone down since marijuana was legalized there, and opioid use has decreased in states that permit medical marijuana. If the judge is quoting Biggie, I'll quote Tupac: "They got a war on drugs so the police can bother me." Hopefully one day that line, and Biggie's song, will be quaint anachronisms.[...]

Theft: A History of Music

Thu, 01 Jun 2017 12:00:00 -0400

"Classical musicians borrowed from each other all the time!" a historian declares. "It's like an insane game of musical Chutes and Ladders." An actual game of Chutes and Ladders follows, with annotations explaining where Beethoven borrowed from Handel, Brahms from Beethoven, Mahler from Brahms. Sampling and remixing, we're reminded, are a lot older than hip-hop.

That sequence comes about a fifth of the way through Theft: A History of Music, a 259-page comic about an art form's evolving interactions with markets, technology, and the law. With a scope that stretches from medieval troubadours to modern rappers, Theft shows not just how common borrowing has been but how music is shaped by the social context that produces it. In the baroque era, for example, composers created pieces for particular occasions, so it was widely seen as acceptable to revise an old tune for a new setting. Later composers started to make money from sales of sheet music, and—in a related development—"original genius" became more prized.

The text does its share of borrowing itself: There are allusions to everything from Kafka to The Jetsons. Some of the jokes fall flat, but the book has only one big drawback: It can't play the music it describes. Some creative borrower should turn it into an animated movie.

Long Strange Trip: The Grateful Dead's Radical Anti-Authoritarian Streak

Sat, 27 May 2017 10:45:00 -0400

The Grateful Dead, a band forged during the Bay Area Acid Tests of the 1960s that grew to become one of the most popular live acts in American history, is the subject of a new 4-hour documentary by Academy Award-nominated director Amir Bar-Lev. Using a trove of archival images, Long Strange Trip follows the band over three decades, delving into the group's history, music, and fans.

"There is sex, drugs, and rock and roll," Bar-Lev told Reason. "But also a different attitude towards fame and the relationship with fans that I think people–whether you like the band or not–are going to find informative and interesting."

At the heart of the Grateful Dead's unique connection with fans was founder Jerry Garcia's emphasis on community over hierarchy. During a 1981 interview with New Musical Express, Garcia explained that "a combination of music and the psychedelic experience taught me to fear power. I mean fear it and hate it."

"I think Jerry was radically anti-authoritarian," says Bar-Lev. "All the guys are in the band. So when people began to elect them to be authorities, they had a natural concern and skepticism around that. I think that's healthy. I wish more people in power were concerned about power and wielding power."

Bar-Lev sat down with Reason to discuss the film, why he considers the Grateful Dead "the musical Statue of Liberty," the implications around the band's decision to allow bootleggers to record and trade their music, as well as his thoughts on conservative Deadheads Anne Coulter and Tucker Carlson.

Long Strange Trip is now playing in theaters and will become available for streaming through Amazon on June 2.

For more on the Grateful Dead, read: "Come Hear Uncle Sam's Band: The hippie capitalism of the Grateful Dead."

Produced and edited by Meredith Bragg. Camera by Austin Bragg, Paul Detrick, and Alexis Garcia.

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Police Investigate a Cult Killing; It Turns Out to Be a Rock Video

Fri, 12 May 2017 12:01:00 -0400

(image) "It all began one peaceful Michigan morning," narrator Rafael Abramovitz explains, "when a farmer named Robert Reed woke up to check on his corn field. Farmer Reed looked up towards the sun that morning and saw something strange floating across the sky. It wasn't the usual flock of Canadian Geese. It looked more like a UFO, if you ask him."

So begins the tale of the time the FBI investigated the death of a man who was in fact still alive, as told by the tabloid show Hard Copy. It was 1989. The UFO turned out to be some weather balloons with a Super 8 camera attached. After they landed on his farm, Reed turned his find over to the police, thinking it might be a surveillance camera searching for marijuana. When the cops developed the film, they discovered what they took to be a cult murder or some similarly grisly crime.

A yearlong investigation followed, and in the course of it the FBI was called in. Eventually, the police figured out the truth: The supposed snuff film was actually lost footage from a Nine Inch Nails video. The crew had attached the camera to the balloons to get some low-tech aerial shots, and their helium cinematographers then blew away. The "murder victim" was Trent Reznor, and he was very much alive. Indeed, he was somewhat famous.

In the Hard Copy report, Reznor is amused by the whole thing. The cop they spoke with also seems a little amused. The one person trying very hard not to seem amused by the mistake is Abramovitz, the reporter, who's intent on making Reznor the villain of the piece, blaming him for a "wasted year of police work that could have gone into solving some real crimes." And if Abramovitz had anything to do with the tongue-in-cheek "reenactments" that accompany his narration, I suspect that deep down he was chuckling about it too.

The report aired in 1991, complete with some closing comments about the alleged dangers of rock videos. It is a work of art:

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(Via Dangerous Minds. For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here.)

Boujee, Bougie, Bourgie: Who's Appropriating Whose Culture? An Answer in 12 Songs

Fri, 21 Apr 2017 13:45:00 -0400

In order to empower "a culture of controversy prevention," administrators at American University (AU) prohibited the school's Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity from calling its badminton fundraiser "Bad(minton) and Boujee," a pun on the popular Migos song "Bad and Boujee." AU officials told the frat that them using the word boujee might be seen as "appropriating culture." "Which culture?" asks Catherine Rampell at The Washington Post. "Latin? French? Marxist? Urban hip-hop? Maybe their own?" Administrators weren't clear. But as Rampell notes, the term boujee comes from the Latin "burgus," which described a castle or fortified town. This evolved into the French "bourgeois," for people who live in town rather than the countryside. Town dwellers were more likely to engage in commerce and craftsmanship, and so rose over time to achieve middle-class incomes. That's why Karl Marx later used the term to derisively refer to the class that upheld capitalism. Over time, "bourgeois" morphed into a more generic description of middle-class (and eventually upper-middle-class) materialism and obsession with respectability. More recently, "bourgeois" was shortened to the colloquial "bourgie ," alternately spelled "bougie" or "boujee," used disdainfully to describe upper-middle-class or high-end tastes (driving your Prius to Trader Joe's after yoga class, for example). The "boujee" variation is common when referring to middle-class or upwardly mobile blacks, as in the Migos song. That's hardly this spelling's exclusive usage, though, as is evident from its entries in the crowd-sourced slang glossary Urban Dictionary. So, in a way, "boujee" is indeed an appropriation — or rather an appropriation of an appropriation of an appropriation. That's how language works. It's fluid, evolving, constantly taking from other tongues, dialects and usages. Did administrators really consider all this? Probably not, considering their refusal to articulate who was appropriating what from whom and emphasis on "controversy prevention." More likely, they just heard "frat event named after rap song" and decided to act out of that bureaucratic favorite, an abundance of caution. As Freddie de Boer notes on Facebook, the AU situation nicely illustrates how students, regardless of their ideology, "are powerless in the face of a relentless pink police state that renders every unruly impulse anodyne and unchallenging through an architecture of limitless conflict avoidance. Neither the black bloc nor the alt right can possibly defeat the army of chief litigation officers who have machined the controversy-avoidance mechanism to perfection." But back to bourgie. Google defines it as "exhibiting qualities attributed to the middle class, especially pretentiousness or conventionality." Yet the term is used differently in different subcultures—the people and milieu that Ke$ha calls bougie are different than those that the guys of Migos do, to keep in the musical vein. And they're both shades off from the "Bourgie, Bourgie" folks sung about by Gladys Knight and the Pips in their 1980 disco hit, or those conjured in The Submarines 2008 indie-pop "You, Me and the Bourgeoisie," or Discobitch's 2009 "C'est Beau La Bourgeoisie," or Jacques Brel's 1962 "Les Bourgeois," or Prince's 2013 "Da Bourgeoisie." I've heard white Midwesterners use bougie to describe anything associated with hipsters/liberals/The Coastal Elite, and liberal coastal hipsters use it to describe anything that might be quintessentially suburban or "basic." Sometimes bourgie might be a big-ass McMansion, sometimes a pumpkin spice latter, a snotty attitude, a $10 burger, Manuka honey lozenges, Sheryl Sandberg-style feminists, picnicking on [...]