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Published: Wed, 28 Sep 2016 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Wed, 28 Sep 2016 09:14:48 -0400


Norwegian Black Metal Artist Elected to Local Office Against His Will

Tue, 13 Sep 2016 13:05:00 -0400

(image) Elections by their nature bring out shameless self-promotion from politicians. From Hillary Clinton's constant touting of her own "historic" significance as a candidate to Donald Trump's egomaniacal ravings, many Americans could be forgiven for desiring more self-effacing office seekers.

So Norway may offer a ray of hope for humanity. In the small town of Kolbotn, just outside of Oslo, political neophyte and international black metal sensation Fenriz (founding member of the band Darkthrone)­ has been elected to the town council as an alternate representative—despite having run a campaign urging people not to vote for him.

In an interview with the music website CLRVYNT, Fenriz (birth name Gylve Nagell) explained that he reluctantly accepted an offer from Norway's Liberal Party to stand in the local election, despite having absolutely no interest in winning office. "Basically, they called and asked if I wanted to be on the list" of backup representatives, he told CLRVYNT. "I said yeah, thinking I would be like 18th on the list and I wouldn't really have to do anything."

Perhaps concerned that apathy and total lack of experience wouldn't be sufficient to thwart his chances, Fenriz then ran an outreach campaign consisting entirely of posters with him and his cat accompanied by a plea that people not support him.

Unfortunately for this founding father of Norwegian black metal, the plan backfired spectacularly. The residents of Kolbotn were apparently so taken with his self-denying attitude that they promptly voted him into office, much to Fenriz's chagrin. "I'm not too pleased about it. It's boring," he said. "There's not a lot of money in that, either, I can tell you!"

One potential fear is that his party affiliation could alienate his core musical constituency of rabid Darkthrone fans. Norway's underground metal scene has had a sordid history of virulent anti-Christianity, with some fans going so far as to actually burn down churches. Fenriz's Liberal Party, in contrast, advocates the more moderate position of peacefully abolishing the Church of Norway as the country's official religion.

Still, Fenriz's apathetic attitude toward government arguably makes him a natural fit for the Liberals, who want a smaller, less burdensome state. The party's website calls for a number of libertarianish policies from reducing regulation to abolishing Norway's inheritance tax.

Whatever comes of Fenriz's time in office, the level of popular support for someone who's this unenthusiastic about the prospects of wielding is cause enough for celebration.

Watch Elton John's Immensely Moving 9/11 Version of "Rocket Man"

Sun, 11 Sep 2016 12:41:00 -0400

On the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, I published an essay in Reason titled "Why Art Failed Us After 9/11." My basic argument was the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were ultimately so senseless and pointless that they mostly escaped our capacity to come to terms with them. A number of prominent artists, musicians, and writers—I focus on Bruce Springsteen and Don DeLillo at length—tried to process the attacks and failed, largely because they refused to inhabit the actual scene of the crime. Ground Zero, it seemed, was the one place no one could figuratively stay near because the mound of flesh, bone, and rubble was just too much to bear. At the same time, there were artists who I thought rose to the occasion, especially in terms of offering comfort in the aftermath of the attacks. From the essay: Two consciously artistic gestures stand out, one of them ephemeral and the other highly praised. In December 2001, Elton John performed a "Live by Request" concert on the A&E cable channel, in which fans could call in and ask the one-time Captain Fantastic to perform their favorite tunes. Like McCartney, Young, and Springsteen, John has seen far better days, both as an artist and as a seller of merchandise. No act dominated the '70s charts like Sir Elton, that rare pop star whose commercial success was surpassed only by his interest in pushing the envelope musically. Since that long-ago heyday, he has survived a sham marriage, cut-out bins full of regrettable albums, hair plugs gone bad, multiple addictions and near-bankruptcies, the almost total loss of one of the most memorable voices in rock, and worse. He soldiers on, touring well past middle age, fat, bald, off-key, and generally happy. A woman called in to John's concert and explained that her husband was a first responder who died at the World Trade Center on 9/11. She said that his favorite song was John's 1972 hit "Rocket Man (I Think It's Going to Be a Long Long Time)." There John was at the piano looking uncomfortably from the side like Marlon Brando tickling the ivories in The Island of Dr. Moreau, wheezing his way through a song that all of us had heard a million times before, including unintentional and intentional parody versions by the likes of William Shatner, Chris Elliott, and Stewie from Family Guy. The song's scant lyrics can be charitably described as sub-literate ("Mars ain't the kind of place to raise your kids…and there's no one there to raise them if you did") yet in John's croaky reading they managed to capture a profound sense of isolation, fear, and loss eerily resonant with the moment: "I miss the Earth so much, I miss my wife/It's lonely out in space/On such a timeless flight/…Rocket man, burning out his fuse up here alone." John was sweating profusely, his voice cracking on virtually every note, high and low. The song hushed the crowd, giving all who heard it four minutes of intense communion with the dead. I've searched for that particular performance online but haven't been able to locate it. The other brilliant meditation on 9/11 suffered no such fate. The 2008 documentary Man on Wire is readily available for sale online and can be streamed at sites such as Netflix and Amazon. The deserving winner of an Academy Award, James Marsh's film retells the story of the French aerialist Philippe Petit, who in 1974 strung a cable between the Twin Towers and spent the better part of an hour performing 1,300 feet above a sparse but rapidly growing audience in lower Manhattan before being taken into custody. No moving footage of the actual performance remains, so the narrative is told through period stills, newsreels, interviews, and dramatic reconstructions. As with 9/11, we know how the story ends, yet the tension throughout the film is almost unbearable. Time and again, Petit's grand, long-planned conspiracy almost fails to come together, and yet when he finally takes to the air, all those struggles melt away into a celebration of man's outer limits of possibility as Petit literally[...]

Friday A/V Club: A Vintage Anti-Hippie Film Strip

Fri, 02 Sep 2016 11:30:00 -0400

(image) "Has man's dream of his children's future ended in a nightmare?" So asks Ken Granger in The Hippies, a lurid film strip from 1967. Granger was a member of the John Birch Society, and he blames the rise of the counterculture on the forces you'd probably expect a '60s conservative to invoke: progressive education, permissive parenting, World Communism. What makes his film interesting on more than a camp level is that he also blames big business, condemning consumerism and conformity in terms a hippie could love.

In the wake of World War II, the film strip declares, Madison Avenue started turning to psychologists for help selling products. The resulting research developed "techniques that could be used to create new desires in people, to change the philosophies of security and saving to the philosophy of spending." Young people in particular were easily manipulated, as a series of music- and fashion-focused youth cultures proved: "The technique of combining music with mass merchandising brought near total control of the purchasing habits of a whole generation."

All it then took (Granger continues) was for Communists to start using the same techniques to sell ideas instead of music. Presto: sex, drugs, and New Left subversion!

Marketers do not, in fact, have such perfect powers of persuasion, and the hippies were not a mesmerized mass of—in Granger's words—"zombie-like vegetables." But it's certainly true that the '60s "counter" culture owed a lot to the mass culture its members were allegedly rejecting. In his kooky way, Granger was noting a truth that many hippie hagiographers prefer to ignore. It's just that he filtered that truth through a paranoid worldview that owed almost as much to John Kenneth Galbraith as it did to Robert Welch.

Needless to say, you can enjoy this on a camp level too. Granger's frightened imagination leads him to all sorts of strange places (inevitably, there are wild sex parties), and he makes several basic errors: mispronouncing everything from "Phil Ochs" to "scabies" and scrambling the names of songs and of at least one organization. There's a pretty good soundtrack too, courtesy of a garage rock band called the Undecided. The credits call it "original music," which makes me wonder if the band's members knew—or cared—that they were recording something for an anti-rock film:

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For a newspaper dispatch from Granger's lecture tour with the film strip, go here. For another paranoid fever dream from the era, go here. For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here.

Chicago Culture Cops Tax Concert-Venues Because Rap, Rock, Country Aren't 'Art'

Wed, 24 Aug 2016 10:30:00 -0400

(image) When is a live musical performance not a live musical performance? When it takes place in Chicago and the genre is rap, rock, country, or electronica. According to local officials, such concerts don't fall under the category of either "music," "fine art," or "culture"—and hence bars that host them must pay up.

See, under the law in Cook County—which includes the city of Chicago—all event venues are subject to a three percent tax on ticket sales unless the event in question is a "live theatrical, live musical or other live cultural performance." County code later defines cultural performances as "any of the disciplines which are commonly regarded as part of the fine arts, such as live theater, music, opera, drama, comedy, ballet, modern or traditional dance, and book or poetry readings." Most area venues that host live musical performances of any kind took themselves to be exempt.

But the county has recently been trying to squeeze more amusement-tax money out of local businesses by insisting that some live musical performances don't count for tax-exemption purposes because they're not artistic enough. The Chicago Reader reported last week on Cook County's attempt to ring more than $200,000 in back taxes out of Beauty Bar, along with money from around half a dozen other venues "that routinely book DJs or electronic music."

Pat Doerr, president of Chicago's Hospitality Business Association, said the move likely stems from a 2014 appeals court ruling allowing the county to go after the Chicago Bears for $4 million in unpaid amusement taxes. "My suspicion makes me think they wanted to look at every possible way to collect amusement taxes," he told the Reader, "and that's where we're at today."

At an administrative hearing on Monday, Cook County officials clarified their position: it's not just DJ or electronica music that is suspect but rap, rock, and country music also. "Rap music, country music, and rock 'n' roll" do not fall under the purview of "fine art,'" Anita Richardson, an administrative hearing officer for the county, explained.

Under Richardson's interpretation of the code, it's not enough for a performance to merely contain theater, music, comedy, dance, or literature. No, only specific works which live up to county culture cops' standards get a pass. As Bruce Finkelman, managing partner of one of the company that owns Beauty Bar, complained, such a position essentially requires a performance venue to check in with the county for every show it books to see what state art critics think.

Even Cook County Commissioner John Fritchey seems flabbergasted by the position. "No pun intended," he told the Reader, "but I think the county is being tone deaf to recognize opera as a form of cultural art but not Skrillex."

The next administrative hearing for Beauty Bar and co. is scheduled for October. The administrative hearing officer told owners they should bring musicologists to "further testify the music you are talking about falls within any disciplines considered fine art."

Death Metal vs. Donald Trump

Mon, 22 Aug 2016 10:32:00 -0400

(image) On September 16 Nuclear Blast records will release Pocho Aztlán, the latest studio album by the Mexican-American death metal band Brujeria. The group combines thrashing guitars and blast-beat drumming with first-person lyrical accounts of murder, mayhem, and assorted acts of narco-terrorism, all sung (screamed) in Spanish. Needless to say, it's pure theater of the macabre. Just like Kiss and GWAR before them, Brujeria perform in the guise of outlandish fictional characters. Specifically, the members of Brujeria portray a gang of Satanic killers affiliated with Mexican drug cartels. Their songs tell the tales of their bloody "exploits."

Originally founded in 1989 as a side project of Fear Factory guitarist Dino Cazares and Faith No More bassist Billy Gould, Brujeria has turned into something of an underground music supergroup over the years, with a lineup that has featured such notable players as bassist Jeffrey Walker (Carcass) and drummer Nick Barker (Cradle of Filth/Dimmu Borgir). If you happen to enjoy extreme heavy metal and/or extremely violent crime or horror movies, you might enjoy Brujeria too.

The band's recent single "Viva Presidente Trump!" offers a nice introduction. Spoiler alert: It's not exactly a pro-Trump song. Translated, the lyrics include stuff like this:

He hates Mexicans
If Trump wins he'll deport everyone
He hates my race, he loves his money
That crazy güero is going to start a war

According to vocalist Juan Brujo (real name John Lepe), the song "was on shelf for years with no idea for vocals. It was gonna be an 'Anti-Castro' part II song but nothing came out of it. It just needed proper motivation to go an attach itself to someone...and Trump came thru!"

Check out the NSFW teaser video for "Viva Presidente Trump!" here.

Related: The politics of Megadeth and the politics of hardcore punk.

Baz Luhrmann Just Doesn’t Get It with The Get Down

Fri, 12 Aug 2016 15:00:00 -0400

The Get Down. Available Friday, August 12, on Netflix. Elvis Lives! AXS TV. Tuesday, August 16, 9 p.m. I don't know if music has really been going downhill ever since Buddy Holly died, but there certainly has been some wretched television made about it. Turn on your set this week if you don't believe me. Okay, "wretched" is too harsh a word for The Get Down, Netflix's new series about the early days of hip-hop, on which a number of rap pioneers including Grandmaster Flash and Kurtis Blow consulted. But "bloated," "derivative," and "self-important" all seem fair, as does "scandalously overpriced." If producer-director Baz Luhrmann really, as has been reported, spent $120 million and 10 years to develop this thing, Netflix's accountants should be taken out and shot, and I don't mean with a camera. The premise of The Get Down—one of the various names the new music went by before "rap" and "hip-hop" stuck—Is interesting enough. Set in the 1977-79 time period when Manhattan was still in the glam grip of discos like Studio 54, it follows a bunch of black and Puerto Rican kids in the Bronx who are discovering the grittier attractions of tagging, break-dancing and rap—the various strands that will grow into hip-hop culture. Ezekiel (Justice Smith, Paper Towns) is a teenage poet scorned at home and frustrated in his pursuit of the gorgeous and talented Mylene (newcomer Herizen Guardiola), a Donna Summer wannabe. Ezekiel's spacey but talented pal Dizzee (Jaden Smith, The Pursuit of Happyness) wants to make a name for himself as a graffiti artist, just as the the legendary and ghostly subway tagger who calls himself Shaolin Fantastic (real-life rapper Shameik Moore) is ready to turn in his paint cans for turntables. Call it the commonality of the teenage experience, or call it an homage to the 1970s film and TV shows from which Luhrmann freely borrows. (Everything from Saturday Night Fever to Thank God It's Friday to Kung Fu; and Spike Lee is likely to use a less polite term than "borrow" for the generous helpings of Summer of Sam and Crooklyn stirred into The Get Down.) But the scenes of teenagers getting nagged by adults to get summer jobs, or carped at for listening to the latest incarnation of "the devil's music," could have been spliced in from nearly any film about adolescents made in the last 60 years. Literally: When Ezekiel's uncle mocks his ghetto-life poetry by reading it aloud in a Masterpiece Theatre voice, the resemblance to a sneering Steve Allen reciting the lyrics of "Be-Bop-A-Lula" on The Tonight Show is uncanny. That's not necessarily a criticism. (Of the movie, not Steve Allen, who has another few thousand years of writhing in Hell before he atones.) The Get Down is actually sweetly charming in the moments when the kids are practicing the Hustle for the big weekend dance concert, speculating excitedly about the content of this new Star Wars movie, or arguing the comparative merits of various comic-book characters. But those moments get fewer and further apart as The Get Down lurches forward into vainglory, pretension, and wild excess. Teenage wonder at the world mutates into grandiose aphorism. "When we see our names on these [subway] trains, even for a fleeting moment, we can say, I was here," declares a tagger, only to be outdone moments later by Jimmy Smits, playing a politician apparently from the Unicorns and Rainbows Party, who looks across the jagged ruins of the South Bronx and announces: "I see homes for my rainbow people." The bombast is not restricted to the dialogue. The Get Down is marked by the same everything-but-the-kitchen-sink messiness that colored Luhrmann's remake of Moulin Rouge! Everywhere you look there's a shootout or a chase or a fistfight or a Gotterdammerung dance contest or one character delivering a soul-crushing speech to another. Camera trickery that's probably meant to emphasize the characters' epic sense of themselves instead induces an u[...]

Is This the Least Appealing Concept Album Ever?

Wed, 10 Aug 2016 11:55:00 -0400

(image) There's no doubt that Presidential Suite: 8 Variations on Freedom sounds awful. What I want to crowdsource is whether this project to "remind us of the inspirational power of political speech" might be the least appealing idea for a concept album in history, or at least—to be fair to millennials—this century. Here is the headlining pitch in an email from Motéma Music:

Glenn Close, Joe Lieberman, Deepak Chopra & More Transform Political Speeches on New Album

The album features the former Democratic senator, the actress, the alternative medicine pitchman, and others doing dramatic renditions of famous political speeches. Lieberman is JFK. Civil rights icon Andrew Young, who recently called Black Lives Matter activists "unlovable little brats," is Nelson Mandela. Close is the (still-living) Burmese politician and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Suu Kyi.

Other "special guests" include British Labour Party politician David Miliband as Winston Churchill, former Manhattan District Attorney (and father of The Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel) William vanden Heuvel as FDR, history professor and CNN pundit Douglas Brinkley as Ronald Reagan, and—perhaps the only bright spot—actor Sam Waterson as LBJ.

After each speech is recited, that same speech is rendered as a jazz composition by composer and Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra member Ted Nash, who "transcribed the actual pitches and rhythms of the Presidential speeches as they were spoken and then transformed them into original motifs, riffs and grooves." That last part might not sound all bad—if Nash didn't ooze with belief in the power of messianic political leaders to transform society.

"Great political speeches inspire us to believe we are capable of achieving great things together," said Nash. "When people listen to Presidential Suite, I want them to be reminded how far we have come but also how much we still have to do with regard to tolerance and freedom. I can't think of a better time to release Presidential Suite than during this election season."

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"Penn Jillette Is Against Clinton and Trump—and Dying While His Kids Are Young"

Sun, 07 Aug 2016 12:31:00 -0400

Last week, Reason TV released an interview with Penn Jillette, who talked about the 2016 election, his admiration for Bob Dylan and Lou Reed, and how the hard-core libertarian magician lost over 100 pounds by following a plant-based diet. I can't recommend Presto!: How I Made Over 100 Pounds Disappear and Other Magical Tales, Penn's just-published diet memoir, enough. As with all of his writing, it ranges far and wide from the putative topic in ways great and small and is immensely entertaining. And if you have any taste for extremes, especially when it comes to food, you will not be disappointed. Penn's chronicle of his nutritional regime and farewell to the "Standard American Diet" (or SAD) as directed by heterodox guru Ray Cronise is endlessly compelling, inspiring, and exhilirating. As I write in a new column for The Daily Beast, Penn is a relentless seeker who is constantly inquiring about new things, new ideas, new ways of being in the world. In this sense, he's a lineal descendant of Jack Keroauc (just as Dylan and Reed are in their own ways), but with a life wish rather than a death wish: Presto! a convincing brief for a nouveau-Beat sensibility of extremism in the pursuit of health and longevity, a 21st-century version of Jack Kerouac's hosanna to the "mad ones," the "ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars." The main difference is that Kerouac drank himself to death before reaching 50 while Penn, now 61 and a life-long teetotaler, is trying to live as long as he can both because as an atheist he believes there's nothing after this life, and because he has two kids whom he doesn't want to have "to deal with [him] dropping dead of fat when they're just teenagers." After decades of chowing down on what he derides as the "Standard American Diet" or SAD—think huge, Cheesecake Factory-sized portions of everything fried, battered, sweetened, fried, and salted—Penn was not only obese but depressed, constantly winded, and on multiple blood-pressure drugs. His descriptions of his pig-out sessions—buttered steaks, movie theater popcorn covered in oil and Milk Duds, Cinnabons chased by sweet drinks, and hunks of cheese slathered with peanut butter—would give Dr. Oz vicarious diabetes. Penn's come-to-Jesus moment (if an atheist can be said to have such an epiphany) came when he had a stent put in his heart and his doctor told him he either needed to lose a ton of weight or get stomach-shrinking surgery within six months. Having been given "official permission to go crazy" in pursuit of dieting, he soon found himself under the care of Cronise or "CrayRay" (short for "Crazy Ray"), who put Penn on a two-week regimen of only eating potatoes as a way to reset his cravings and taste buds. Slowly after that, Penn started adding back other vegetables and whole grains, small amounts of hot sauce, and eventually fruit after hitting his maintenance weight. His medical problems disappeared along with the flab but, ever the skeptic, he repeatedly cautions his readers about taking advice from a "fucking juggler whose only higher education was Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College." He is, he admits, only "a zealot wearing a broccoli suicide vest to Burger King." Whole Beast col here. Throughout Presto!, Penn reminds the reader not to take diet or life advice from a guy whose last brush with education was a stint at clown college (literally). Maybe, maybe not. But reading Presto! reminded me of what people said when they heard the debut LPs of the Velvet Underground, the Ramones, and the Sex Pistols: They made you want to start your own band. Presto! is like that. Whether you want to start eating like Penn (or John Mackey o[...]

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Gets Political with RNC in Cleveland

Thu, 21 Jul 2016 12:26:00 -0400

(image) The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in partnership with Washington, D.C.'s Newseum, is currently running a special exhibit timed for the 2016 presidential election called "Louder than Words: Rock, Power, and Politics," which their according to the museum's website will "explore the power of rock to change attitudes about patriotism, peace, equality and freedom."

Apparently, the fact that the exhibit is running as Cleveland hosts the Republican National Convention (RNC) is coincidental. According to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's curator Karen Herman, the exhibit was commissioned before Cleveland was named the RNC's host city. 

Everything from the saxophone Bill Clinton blew on Aresnio Hall's show in 1992, to a chunk of the Berlin Wall, to a box of FBI files on pop stars like John Lennon and The Monkees is represented.

Also of particular note is a wall representing "A Brief Timeline of Censorship" in music, an installation on the infamous Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) congressional hearings in 1985, as well as pieces on musical anti-war resistance to both the Vietnam and Iraq wars. 

Check out a slideshow of some of the exhibits after the jump. 

Street Musician Has First Amendment Right to Perform, Will Have Legal Bills Paid by City of Providence

Wed, 13 Jul 2016 15:09:00 -0400

(image) Street busker Manuel Pombo has been performing on the streets of Providence (R.I.) since the early 90s. He even secured a letter of permission to do so from the city's Board of Licenses, but that letter prohibited him from soliciting donations.

Over the years, Providence police officers would variously tip Pombo for his musical efforts, though at other times they would order him to stop playing because he was "begging," and even arrest him for "disorderly conduct." In 2015, Pombo secured the representation of lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Rhode Island who filed suit against the city arguing that playing music and soliciting donations are both protected by the First Amendment.

This past January, the city settled with Pombo, freeing him to earn a living on the streets of Providence as well as awarding him $1,500 in damages. And earlier this week, the city was commanded by a federal judge to pay Pombo's ACLU lawyers $21,610.50 for their efforts in securing the settlement, according to the Providence Journal.

John W. Dineen, one of the ACLU lawyers, was quoted as saying at the time of the settlement:

Ben Franklin, who was a busker in his early days, will be glad to see that the First Amendment still has some life in it, although it takes a street saxophonist and the ACLU to keep it going.

Beyonce and Jay Z Take Musical Stands on Police Shootings

Fri, 08 Jul 2016 11:14:00 -0400

Beyonce and Jay Z, the married couple who are each musical superstars in their own right, made separate musical statements yesterday in response to the killings of Alton Sterling by Baton Rouge (La.) police and Philando Castile by St. Anthony (Minn.) police. In the form of an open letter on her website titled "Freedom," Beyonce wrote in part: We are sick and tired of the killings of young men and women in our communities.  It is up to us to take a stand and demand that they "Stop killing us".  We don't need sympathy.  We need everyone to respect our lives.  We're going to stand up as a community and fight against anyone who believes that murder or any violent action by those who are sworn to protect us should consistently go unpunished. She also added links to the bottom of the same page, directing her fans to contact their congressperson. Later in the day, Beyonce asked for a moment of silence at a concert in Glasgow, Scotland to honor victims of police violence, hundreds of whose names were projected on a video screen behind her as she sang an a capella rendition of her song "Freedom." An uncomprehensive look through the names shows that the list includes completely innocent people killed by police (Amadou Diallo, Akai Gurley), people who died in police custody after being arrested for questionable reasons (Sandra Bland), but also at least one person who died after shooting at police during a hostage situation (Emmanuel Wooten) and who may have intended to commit "suicide by cop." Moment of Silence at @Beyonce's #FormationWorldTour Glasgow show. #AltonSterling #PhilandoCastile — Lauren. (@laurendotwilson) July 7, 2016 For his part, Jay Z released a new song called "Spiritual" on his Tidal streaming music site, which includes the lyrics: Yeah, I am not poison, no I am not poison Just a boy from the hood that Got my hands in the air In despair don't shoot I just wanna do good, ah The rapper wrote in a note on his website that "Spiritual" is a song he recorded a year ago and never finished, but lamented "this issue will always be relevant." Later in the note, he added, "Blessings to all the families that have lost loved ones to police brutality."[...]

The Hillbilly Epidemiologists

Tue, 05 Jul 2016 11:39:00 -0400

(image) Jamaica Ginger Paralysis was one of the nastier byproducts of Prohibition. Jamaica Ginger, a patent remedy, contained alcohol, and the feds eventually realized that people were using it to get drunk. So the government demanded that the drug's makers change their formula. The new recipe tasted terrible, so some manufacturers tried to circumvent the rules by adding an ingredient that turned out to be a neurotoxin. By 1930, the resulting set of symptoms was starting to show up, including a partial paralysis that prevented people from walking normally.

Doctors eventually identified the source of the problem. But before they figured out what was going on, the culprit had already been identified on several "hillbilly" and "race"—that is, country and blues—records. Clark Stooksbury, drawing on the work of the late pharmacologist John Morgan, tells the tale in The American Conservative. Here's an excerpt:

Morgan speculated to Dan Baum that "no other incident has inspired as much popular music as the jake-walk epidemic."...The most likely reason for the large number of songs is that the category of people who were recording roots music records around 1930 overlapped with that of people who were looking for ways to get drunk during Prohibition—mostly male, both black and white, and often economically marginal. Morgan didn't report on which songs were works of journalism carved in wax and which were the work of memoirists, though it is a good bet that Tommy Johnson's work falls into the latter category. But Morgan did note that most of the songs were "devoid of the sentimentality and moralizing that are an integral part of most narratives of tragedy in American ballads recorded commercially."

"Jake Walk Blues" by the Allen Brothers is indeed devoid of sentimentality, moralizing, or self pity on the part of the sufferer. The song features a changing point of view from that of the shiftless jake sufferer to that of his woman, who is lacking in sympathy: "Listen here, Papa, can't you see, you can't drink jake and get along with me. You're a jake walkin' papa with the jake walk blues; I'm a red hot mama that you can't afford to lose." Alas, her man won't change—shiftlessness runs in the family: "My daddy was a gambler and a drunkard too; if he was living today, he'd have the jake walk too. When I die, you can have my hand; I'm gonna take a bottle of jake to the Promised Land."

To read the rest of Stooksbury's story, go here. To hear the Allen Brothers' song, dig in:

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Thanks to Apple, You May Soon Be Unable To Film Concerts

Thu, 30 Jun 2016 15:50:00 -0400


If you have been to a concert in recent years, chances are you likely noticed the abundance of people capturing the event on their smartphones. It has become a common practice for fans who want to enjoy their favorite artists later on to record some or all of their performances, yet both artists and audience members have found this trend annoying.

Apple is seeking to address the issue, but not by encouraging iPhone users to keep their devices in their pockets; instead, the company has been working on technology to prevent cameras from being useable under certain circumstances.

The tech giant was granted a patent for a new device that, through infrared signals, can block people from using their iPhone's camera to take photographs or video. If the camera app is opened, the phone's screen, according to one of the patent's drawings, would feature the text "RECORDING DISABLED."

This walks a fine line between addressing consumer wants and limiting speech. From a concert attendee's perspective, cellphone use at concerts can be irritating. Rather than enjoying the performance, people are often distracted by bright phone screens and blocked views, thanks to self-absorbed smartphone users.

One can wonder if the problem warrants such a dramatic interference in individual rights. Clearly, property owners should not be legally barred from using such technology in private venues if the technology exists and they so choose. Yet Apple's decision to develop a product that essentially tells people when it is and isn't acceptable to use their iPhones seems to go against the ideals of free speech. And while concert bootlegging still exists in the digital age, it's hard to imagine people's shaky personal footage is really a significant financial threat to the music industry.

It's possible that customers will be displeased by Apple's decision to move forward with this product. But as with so many technologies, there are more potential uses for it than initially meet the eye: According to the patent application, it could even be used to send information on an exhibit to people who open their iPhone cameras inside the museum. Some attractions already use QR barcodes for a similar purpose, but Apple's product looks poised to make the process of delivering information to people even easier.

Hit the Road with Cameron Crowe’s Rock Tour Sit-Com

Fri, 24 Jun 2016 15:00:00 -0400

Roadies. Showtime. Sunday, June 26, 10 p.m. Imagine a workplace comedy set among Peter Pan's Lost Boys, give it a sizzling rock 'n' roll soundtrack, and you've got Roadies, Cameron Crowe's first attempt at a TV series. And, speaking of Lost Boys, welcome back, Mr. Crowe, who seems to have extricated himself from the miasma of inscrutable psychobabble and rock trivia into which he's been mired the past 15 years or so and produced a show that's funny, charming, and occasionally wistful. Roadies takes place on a national tour by a big-name rock group, but the band itself is barely present on-screen. The show is really about the peanut-butter-and-pizza world of the blue-collar grunts who stage the shows, the riggers and electricians and sound-board techs who sleep in the luggage racks of the buses in which they trek from date to date. It's a peculiar coterie of misfits and misanthropes—"all the mail, trying to decide what to eat, it's hard" one explains why he can't stay at home—and fraught with fetishes, paranoia, superstitions, jealousies and thwarted romantic ambitions. Wes (rapper Machine Gun Kelly), just fired from a gig on a Pearl Jam tour, is worried that he'll bungle his new job, wrangling a band member's kid whose enthusiasms run to biting and butterfly knives. Road manager Phil (blue-collar standup comic Ron White) is much beloved by nearly all the crew, and carries a pistol to deal with the exceptions. Tour accountant Harvey (Finesse Mitchell, Saturday Night Live) worries that he'll be ostracized when everybody learns about either his role in a scheme to swipe property of Hurricane Katrina victims ("Victimless crime. Almost victimless.") or that he evaded criminal charges by ratting on another member of the crew ("I'm loyal as hell when I'm not snitchin'.") And production manager Shelli (Carla Gugino, in another of the sharp, witty performances that are marking her as one of the great American comic actresses) is losing her battle with a stalker-groupie whose superpower is humping her way past security in pursuit of multiple objectives of varying unwholesomeness. More fundamentally, though, is the perpetual identity crisis that's dogged rock and roll at least since the moment that the Who first expressed the (mostly) unfulfilled wish to die before they got old: When are you too old to rock? The question is not entirely chronological. Fortyish tour manager Bill (Luke Wilson) is horrified by the cheerful declaration of a groupie: "You are probably the oldest person I've ever fucked." (Nor is he buoyed by the hashtag on her subsequent tweet about the night, #oldrocks.) But his fears are shared by Kelly Ann (Imogen Poots, 28 Weeks Later), an electrician half his age who's considering dropping off the tour to go to film school. "I don't hear the music the same way," she broods. "I don't feel like it's mine anymore." It's a frighteningly existential question for people in a line of work where the compensation consists mostly not of cash but the promise—or hope—that "the music is good and you meet some great people," as one of the roadies muses. If life on the road is an eternal flirtation with the onset of adulthood, the newest wrinkle on the tour is more like a slap in the face: the news that love is not all you need. Bloated expenses and soft ticket sales have caused the suits back home to send a corporate hatchetman out to cut the tour down to size. Reg Whitehead (Rafe Spall, The Big Short) has little affinity for rock and roll and even less for poetic appeals that it's about music rather than money. "This music is disposable," he coldly warns the roadies. "The same people that love this band now will dispose of this band—and you—for something [...]

Friday A/V Club: The Brexit Video

Fri, 24 Jun 2016 14:00:00 -0400

(image) One of the odder items in the Kinks' catalog is "Down All the Days (till 1992)," a 1989 song that the Common Market Commission adopted as an unofficial anthem to promote European integration. The music is bombastic—someone once said it sounds like a Pepsi commercial—and you can see why a Eurocrat would like the lyrics: "Down all the days/All nations will unite as one/A new horizon clear to view/Down all the days to 1992."

But the man who wrote the track, Kinks leader Ray Davies, was actually a Eurosceptic. (He says this explicitly in his memoir Americana, but anyone familiar with his work would expect it.) When The New York Times asked him how he felt about the commission embracing his song, he commented that it was "part of an album that tells a whole story and was not written for Europe per se. They only picked out one verse that makes it seem as though it was written for the commission. But," he added gamely, "even though it wasn't, it seems kind of appropriate."

I can't say I'm fond of the song, but I rather like the video, a mournful piece of filmmaking that thoroughly undermines the lyrics' cheery optimism. The day after Britain voted to close the door on the European Union, it has resonances that no one, pro- or anti-Europe, would have anticipated a quarter-century ago:

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