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All Reason.com articles with the "Music" tag.



Published: Tue, 16 Jan 2018 00:00:00 -0500

Last Build Date: Tue, 16 Jan 2018 02:34:48 -0500

 



In Defense of Musical Ripoffs

Fri, 12 Jan 2018 14:30:00 -0500

Radiohead is reportedly suing Lana Del Rey because her song "Get Free" sounds a lot like Radiohead's old hit "Creep." As Reason's Ed Krayewski noted earlier this week, Radiohead itself was successfully sued a while back because "Creep" sounds a lot like the Hollies' "The Air I Breathe." I don't think anyone has ever sued the Hollies for "The Air I Breathe," though I wouldn't be surprised to learn that there's a Roy Orbison song somewhere that sounds almost exactly like it. The courts have been getting more strict about this kind of thing recently, with Marvin Gaye's estate winning a case against Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke over a song that copied the "feel" but not the actual notes of Gaye's "Got to Give It Up." In a better world, the law would be growing more tolerant of this sort of imitation, not more restrictive. Much of the evolution of music is driven by people making tiny tweaks as they slavishly copy each other. A pop world without any plagiarism would be barren indeed. This is most obvious when it comes to musical patterns that have been around too long for anyone to hold a copyright on them. (If someone actually owned the I-IV-V blues progression, he could buy Bill Gates with enough left over to make a down payment on the Moon.) When Jay Miller wrote and Kitty Wells recorded "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels," for example, they didn't hide the fact that they were using the exact same melody as Hank Thompson's hit "The Wild Side of Life"; their song, after all, was a direct response to and comment on Thompson's record. But the tune was a lot older than "The Wild Side of Life"—that same series of notes had also been used in "Great Speckled Bird," "I'm Thinking Tonight of My Blue Eyes," and other old country songs. Indeed, the melody goes back to England. A lawsuit would have disappeared into a never-ending search for the original composer. But not every pilfered melody comes from the public domain. Listen to "Express Yourself," a top 5 R&B hit for Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band in 1970. Then listen to Jean Knight singing "Mr. Big Stuff," the #1 soul single of 1971. Seriously: Click the links and listen. They're the same goddamn song. "Mr. Big Stuff" came out less than a year after "Express Yourself," with a completely different set of songwriters credited; and yet nobody sued. Who knows: Maybe there's some older ur-funk record that Knight and Wright were both swiping. If so, Knight kept on swiping it: She recorded several barely-masked rewrites of "Mr. Big Stuff," because why mess with success? Song-clones like that aren't especially unusual, and a good DJ can spend hours seguing from one of them to another. But I'll give you just one more example—probably my favorite one. Here's Lyn Collins, a protégé of James Brown, singing a song called "Me and My Baby": src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/Shq07MiCa6Q" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0"> You know that old South Park joke that if you want to write a Christian pop song, you should just take a love song and change every "baby" to "Jesus"? Here's country star Tom T. Hall seeming to prove the point: src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/XQldHVUySHM" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0"> He doesn't quite prove the point, because I think he wrote his song first. Both records came out in 1972, but "Me and Jesus" grazed the bottom of the Billboard charts in May; "Me and My Baby" didn't show up in Billboard til the fall. So this is probably a case of someone changing "Jesus" to "baby," not the other way around. The intro to Collins' record certainly sounds like she had church on her mind. But I'm not going to complain about Collins ripping off Hall. You know why? Because Collins' song is better. Tom T. Hall is one of my favorite songwriters, but "Me and Jesus" isn't one of his better efforts. The lyrics are kind of rote, and the melody is gospel-by-numbers. (An exercise for the reader: Extend the chain of ripoffs backward by finding some older gospel r[...]



Copyright Craziness: Radiohead Claims Lana Del Rey Ripped Off Its Song

Tue, 09 Jan 2018 11:53:00 -0500

Musicians, or their lawyers, have increasingly sensitive ears, leading them to hear strong similarities between what most people would consider different songs. The results could have a chilling effect on creativity.

The latest example: Radiohead is suing singer-songwriter Lana del Rey, she says, for supposed similarities between her recent song "Get Free" and Radiohead's 1990s hit "Creep." The two tracks don't sound very similar to me, but here is a comparison:

src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/cUQ0aNuhR-s" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" frameborder="0" height="340" width="560">

It seems a weaker case even than when the estate of Marvin Gaye sued the creators of "Blurred Lines," claiming the hit 2013 song was a rip off of Gaye's "Got to Give It Up." Those two songs undeniably shared something of a sound, though as Pharrell Williams explained in his testimony, they diverged considerably in the details. That should have been enough for the judge to dismiss the case. Unfortunately, the court ruled in favor of Gaye's estate, awarding it $7.4 million in damages, which Gaye's family has been fighting over ever since.

A few months before that, representatives for Sam Smith and for Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne came to an agreement to share song-writing credits and royalties for Smith's "Stay With Me," which had some resemblances to Petty and Lynne's "I Won't Back Down." Smith claimed never to have heard the older song, but he agreed to settle anyway.

According to del Rey, Radiohead wants "100 percent" of her publishing for the song. She told concertgoers yesterday that she may have to pull the song from future pressings of her album Lust for Life.

Radiohead itself was successfully sued for ripping off a chord progression and a melody from the Hollies' 1972 song "The Air That I Breathe." The song that allegedly borrowed the Hollies' music? None other than "Creep":

src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/0XbogWA-riU" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" frameborder="0" height="340" width="560">

Maybe it's a small miracle Major Lazer hasn't come after Del Rey for the title. They have a song also called "Get Free" on their 2013 album Free the Universe. Uh oh.




A Special Reason Festivus Airing of the Grievances: Podcast

Fri, 22 Dec 2017 10:00:00 -0500

"I got a lotta problems with you people; now, you're gonna hear about it!" So barked George* Costanza's dad Frank 20 years ago this week, in a classic episode of Seinfeld that introduced the country to Festivus, an alternative and heretofore private December holiday created by Daniel O'Keefe, the father of Seinfeld writer Dan O'Keefe. Now recognized as occurring on December 23, Festivus includes a simple aluminum pole, Feats of Strength (which involves wrestling the head of the household to the ground), and most famously, the Airing of Grievances. It is that last activity which wraps up our special year-in-review Reason Podcast, featuring myself, Nick Gillespie, Katherine Mangu-Ward, and Peter Suderman. But SPOILER ALERT: My grievance, originally aimed in the general direction of sellout fiscal conservatives who have ballooned the federal deficit and debt once back in power, turns at the last minute toward Nerdpants Suderman (pictured), who beginning at the 50-minute mark of this podcast decides to direct his Festivus animus at the makers of The Last Jedi for reasons he could not elucidate without IMMEDIATELY SPOILING THE MOVIE FOR ME AND ANYONE LISTENING. His response to a man who A) does not review movies professionally, and B) has young children? "You basically missed the spoilers deadline." The monster. The episode, however, focuses mostly on the big stories of 2017—the elephant in the room, the world's undercovered horrors and triumphs, the transformation of music-delivery systems, the last wheezing gasps of the 20th century, and (obviously) the aliens that will swallow us whole in 2018. Listen up, though cover your ears as necessary: src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/372921980%3Fsecret_token%3Ds-RXV9j&color=%23f37021&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&show_teaser=true&visual=true" width="100%" height="300" frameborder="0"> *CORRECTION: The original version of this post referred to Jerry Constanza, because Matt Welch is a bad person who should feel bad. Subscribe, rate, and review the Reason Podcast at iTunes. 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.[...]



Reason's 2017 Gift Guide

Mon, 18 Dec 2017 09:30:00 -0500

As 2017 comes to an end, we've asked our staff to select some of the best books, movies, music, and other media released this year. Our picks range from a faux-communist cop show to a history of food and empire, from a collection of evangelical rock songs to a novel set on the moon—plus items about biodiversity, mythology, political partisanship, pro wrestling, and more. —Jesse Walker Ronald Bailey Science Correspondent Humanity isn't destroying the natural world; we're changing it. In many ways, our changes are creating richer and more vibrant ecosystems. That's the persuasive and liberating argument advanced by the York University conservation biologist Chris D. Thomas in his riveting new book, Inheritors of the Earth: How Nature Is Thriving in an Age of Extinction. "It is time for the ecological, conservation and environmental movement—of which I am a life-long member—to throw off the shackles of pessimism-laden, loss-only view of the world," he writes. As an increasingly wealthy and more technologically adept humanity continues to withdraw from nature, Thomas shows, wild creatures are returning to landscapes from which they once had been extirpated. This trend will strengthen as the 21st century unfolds. Humanity is also creating a new Pangaea by moving thousands of species around the globe and thereby increasing local biodiversity almost everywhere. For example, New Zealand's 2,000 native plant species have been joined by 2,000 from elsewhere, doubling the plant biodiversity of the islands. As plants and animals populate new regions, they start down different evolutionary paths that are already differentiating into new species. Meanwhile, only three of New Zealand's native plants have gone extinct. Thomas cogently argues that a thriving world of exotic ecosystems and biological renewal is at hand. By the time most readers have finished this well-written and carefully researched book, they should agree. Eric Boehm Reporter If the best album of the year is the best album to sing along with on a long road trip—and isn't it, really?—then the contest isn't even close in 2017. Japandroids' Near to the Wild Heart of Life is itself a road trip: one that reverses a rock 'n' roll cliché by aiming ever homeward, hungry for a love left behind. Neither robots nor Japanese imports, Japandroids take us on an alliterative ride from the noise of a New York night to the sweltering stink of a sinking city (New Orleans). The album's third track deserves a place on the admittedly short list of libertarian love songs for its title alone ("True Love and a Free Life of Free Will"), if not for its hazy scenes of cabarets and cantinas full of cigarette smoke, through which guitarist Brian King ruminates that love is the joining of mutual passions. "And I'll love you, if you love me," he sings—a punk rock version of a wedding vow. The Canadian duo's followup to 2012's Celebration Rock is more reflective lyrically and more experimental musically than its predecessor. The screaming guitar loops and hammering drums of the band's earlier work is still here in places, but King and drummer David Prowse pull out their synthesizers and slow the pace a bit in the middle of the album, as if giving their fans a moment to catch their breaths before another bombastic singalong. It works, and it's particularly enjoyable live, where screaming along to the driving chorus leaves you feeling like hitting the open road. Elizabeth Nolan Brown Associate Editor "Fake" is our president's favorite rallying cry. "Feminism" is Merriam-Webster's word of the year. Devious Russians dominate half the country's political fears. Passionate fights rage over "political correctness" and cultural representation. In this atmosphere, GLOW—a campy, hilarious, and heartwarming Netflix series about women's wrestling in mid-'80s Los Angeles—hardly seems like a historical piece at all, at least if you can look beyond all the big hair and legwarmers. But somehow the veneer of yesteryear[...]



The Original Rock 'n' Roll Guitar God Was Actually a Goddess

Fri, 15 Dec 2017 13:50:00 -0500

Rock 'n' roll was born and baptized in a smoky nightclub somewhere, but the baby was conceived in a church. Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Little Richard were all raised Pentecostal, and their sounds were shaped by the raucous gospel music they grew up with. And Chuck Berry cribbed his duckwalk from a gospel singer called Sister Rosetta Tharpe, whose guitar style helped lay the groundwork for rock.

Tharpe was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame this week, alongside such worthies as Nina Simone and the Cars. If you find yourself doubting that this honor should be bestowed on a woman who was already in her forties when "Jailhouse Rock" hit the charts, watch this old clip from the NBC show TV Gospel Time, originally broadcast in 1962. For about a minute and 20 seconds, it may seem like an ordinary gospel performance. And then Sister Tharpe starts soloing:

src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/JeaBNAXfHfQ" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0">

A century ago, the early Pentecostals' multiracial revivals and ecstatic forms of worship sparked a moral panic. In the 1950s, rock 'n' roll provoked a similar reaction. Watching Tharpe play, you may start to see the outlines of more than one hidden continuity.

Just about all the founding fathers of rock 'n' roll—Elvis, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash—were Rosetta Tharpe fans. Gayle Wald's Tharpe bio Shout, Sister, Shout! quotes Jerry Lee Lewis falling over with praise for the woman: "I mean, she's singing religious music, but she is singing rock 'n' roll. She's...shakin', man....She jumps it. She's hitting that guitar, playing that guitar and she is singing. I said, 'Whoooo.' Sister Rosetta Tharpe." They say the Devil has all the best tunes, but he had to learn them somewhere.

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




Politically Incorrect Punk

Sat, 18 Nov 2017 06:00:00 -0500

In September 1984, the widely read punk zine Maximum Rocknroll published its review of Victim in Pain, the debut album by a New York City band called Agnostic Front. "I'm approaching this band with caution," it 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 the publication's founder and editor, Tim Yohannan, a 40-something ex-Yippie who thought punk music should march in lockstep with left-wing politics. As Ray Farrell, a punk veteran who once 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 lefty 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. In one 1984 column, he claimed "the N.Y. Skins apparently have embraced the British National Front's racist and nationalist attitudes." He rarely missed the opportunity to depict the band's members and their friends as goose-stepping goons. This August, Agnostic Front singer Roger Miret published a 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-authored with journalist 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." But because his band had the nerve to occasionally dissent from left-wing tenets, it drew the ire of the powers in punk at the time. Nor was Agnostic Front the only band to run afoul of Yohannan's insistence on ideological purity. 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 such as the Stimulators, Reagan Youth, and Even Worse were blaring out of clubs such as Max's Kansas City, A7, and CBGB. Miret's life changed forever when he saw the Bad Brains play in 1981. It was an "inspiring" and "absolutely mind-blowing" experience, he writes. "They played faster than anyone and still sounded tight and furious." The aggressive music attracted a wild crowd. John Joseph, the singer for NYC legends the Cro-Mags, once remembered that "at a Black Flag show I was sent flying across the dance floor by none other than the late John Belushi, who was a huge punk/hardcore fan and was at a lot of the early shows." As Joseph explained in his memoir, The Evolution of a Cro-Magnon, Belushi "was a big dude and when he slammed his way across the dance floor you'd just see bodies going airborne." Miret slammed his way around the scene for a couple of years before joining Agnostic Front in 1983. "Some people think we were all lowlifes who wanted to kick the shit out of each other. That couldn't be further from the truth," he writes in My Riot. "We hung out together and supported each other. The more popular bands helped get gigs for groups that were less known, and some helped other bands put out their own records." Agnostic Front has "never put down any other races or ethnicities," Miret insists. "From the start we welcomed anyone who wanted to be a part of what we[...]



Free Meek Mill

Tue, 14 Nov 2017 11:22:00 -0500

The rapper Meek Mill has just been sentenced to two to four years in prison because a judge decided he had violated his parole and was "thumbing [his] nose at the court." The sentence, made possible by a 10-year-old probation status, illustrates the need not just for sentencing reform but for a reckoning with overcriminalization and the aggressive enforcement of petty laws. Mill, born Robert Rihmeek Williams, was sentenced to 11 to 23 months in 2008 after being convicted on drug and gun possession charges and was released in early 2009 with a five-year probation order. That was extended another five years because Mill, horror of horrors, left the state of Pennsylvania to perform at shows. Drug and gun charges are often seen in tandem, because drug prohibition means those involved in the trade don't have access to a legal dispute-resolution system, forcing them to rely on their ability to defend themselves. These gun enhancements lead to higher rates of incarceration, particularly within marginalized communities, and all the evidence suggests that a crackdown on guns would mirror the destructive and ineffective war on drugs. Nonetheless, gun control advocates keep pushing for that crackdown. It is thanks to such laws that people like Mill, never accused of a violent crime, end up under state supervision for long periods of time. That in turn makes them more vulnerable to a bevy of other capricious laws. In Mill's case, he was charged with a misdemeanor after getting into an altercation with a photographer in St. Louis who was trying to take a picture of him, and he was charged with reckless driving for illegally riding his dirt bike while shooting a music video in Manhattan. Both arrests happened this year. The first charge was dropped. In the New York City case, Mill accepted a dismissal deal that saw him do 30 hours of community service and not be required to admit guilt. Despite that, he's going to jail. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio claims to be a supporter of criminal justice reform, yet he insists that petty laws be aggressively enforced. While this is especially likely to entangle the poor, who can't afford hefty fines for essentially harmless behavior, it can impact anyone, particularly in conjunction with prior offenses or other legal problems. One of Mill's lawyers claims that the judge in the case, Genece Brinkley, has acted vindictively and inappropriately, giving Mill advice on who his manager should be and asking him to remake the Boyz II Men song "On Bended Knee" and shout her out in it. Brinkley has been involved with Meek's troubles since he first caught the convictions for drug and gun possession. Such longevity increases the opportunity for inappropriate behavior because of the sense of familiarity it breeds. It also leaves offenders largely at the whim of just one individual. Mill's case has galvanized activists and protesters. Jay-Z, whose label Roc Nation signed Mill, blasted the court system at a show in Dallas, while demonstrators held a "Free Meek Mill" rally in Philadelphia, where they also called on Brinkley to recuse herself. Preventing such miscarriages in the future will require us to question a vast pile of petty laws that fuel an industry—of judges, cops, probation officers, others—whose primary goal often seems to be its own perpetuation.[...]



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 availabl[...]



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 a[...]



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:

src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/QB-gTmztgVk" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0">

(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 person[...]



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="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/328079549&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true" 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 like...it'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 th[...]