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Published: Fri, 23 Mar 2018 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Fri, 23 Mar 2018 22:30:50 -0400


Cardi B, Your New Libertarian Hero, Asks: 'Uncle Sam, I Want to Know What You Doing With My Fucking Tax Money!'

Fri, 23 Mar 2018 10:20:00 -0400

Cardi B, a rapper and Instagram celebrity best known for her hit "Bodak Yellow," posted a video on Instagram yesterday where she asks some hard questions about effective tax rates and government spending.

B notes that she is paying a 40 percent tax rate and not getting much for it. She asks for accountability, noting that "when you donate to a kid from a foreign country, they give you updates of what they doing with your donation."

By contrast, B has no idea what Uncle Sam is doing with her "fucking tax money." She speculates about possible uses for government revenues, but points out that "y'all not spending it in no damn prison," because incarcerated African-American men only receive "like two underwears, one jumpsuit for like five months." B wants transparency, demanding "receipts."

The video has been viewed over 4 million times since it was posted late last night.

In her work, B has talked about her experience as an entrepreneur, explaining that after her initial success, "I don't gotta dance, I make money moves."

When a Mash Note to a War Criminal Hit the Top 40

Fri, 16 Mar 2018 10:59:00 -0400

(image) Today marks the 50th anniversary of the My Lai massacre, in which a group of American soldiers slaughtered hundreds of unarmed Vietnamese civilians. You can read more about that grisly episode in Lucy Steigerwald's story on the subject, posted elsewhere on this site today. I just want to highlight something Lucy mentioned in passing as she described the trial of Lt. William Calley, the one man convicted for his role in the crime. Back in the U.S., she writes, "Calley became a twisted sort of folk hero."

It's true. The most infamous of the killers in one of America's most infamous war crimes had a cheering section in the States. No, not everyone: Of course many Americans were revolted by the rapes and murders at My Lai. But then there were the people who told themselves a different story about what had happened. The people who made a gold record and a top 40 hit of a deeply dishonest apologia called the "Battle Hymn of Lt. Calley."

"Battle" was written by Julian Wilson and James Smith, a couple of businessmen from Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and it was recorded by a DJ named Terry Nelson at FAME Studios, the legendary birthplace of dozens of soul, pop, and country hits. Tex Ritter was going to release a version of the song too, but the higher-ups at Capitol Records decided that would be a bad idea. ("[I]f we want to glorify a war hero," one executive told Billboard, "let's find someone other than Lt. Calley.") The folks at Plantation Records had no such scruples, and they put out Nelson's recording right after Calley was convicted:

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"I'm just another soldier from the shores of U.S.A.," the song's Calley declares, even if "they've made me out a villain, they have stamped me with a brand." The real villains are elsewhere: "While we're fighting in the jungles they were marching in the street/While we're dying in the rice fields they were helping our defeat/While we're facing V.C. bullets they were sounding a retreat." In real life, My Lai was an assault on unarmed civilians. In the song, "We responded to their rifle fire with everything we had."

The rifle fire may be imaginary, but I guess the "everything we had" part was true:


The record peaked at #37 on the Billboard charts. To hear Casey Kasem introducing it on American Top 40—right after a snappy little number called "(For God's Sake) Give More Power to the People"—go to the 2:28 mark here. For seven more pro-Calley songs (and one anti-anti-Calley song), go here. For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here.

The Death of Liberalism and the Life of Johnny Cash: Sirius XM Radio

Mon, 26 Feb 2018 08:45:00 -0500

(image) Last week Shadi Hamid wrote two pieces well worth reading over at The Atlantic: "The Rise of Anti-Liberalism," and "Bari Weiss and the Left-Wing Infatuation With Taking Offense." I will be talking about both with him today during my 9-12 a.m. ET stint guest-hosting Stand UP! with Pete Dominick on SiriusXM Insight (channel 121). Other guests are scheduled to include:

* Caleb Cage, author of (among other books) I Shot a Man in Reno, who will talk about The Man in Black on what would have been his 86th birthday.

* Mark Whitaker, author of the new Smoketown: The Untold Story of the Other Great Black Renaissance.

* Joshua Keating of Slate, who will talk about his piece "Why Soros-Phobia Is a Global Phenomenon."

Please call in at any time: 1-877-974-7487.

Soul of Cash

Thu, 01 Feb 2018 12:00:00 -0500

(image) It doesn't matter how many country bros dip into the hip-hop well and rap about dirt-road memories or honky-tonk badonkadonks: In the popular imagination, country music scans as white music. So if I tell you a soul singer has just put out a collection of Johnny Cash songs, a lot of you will imagine a novelty record—something along the lines of a polka-disco album or a Cajun rap.

Resist the thought. Even in the age of Jim Crow, America's ears found ways to evade segregation: Behind those allegedly rigid color lines, generations of black and white musicians have been listening to each other and absorbing the sounds they hear. Brian Owens' fine new album Soul of Cash belongs to a long tradition of country-soul crossovers—a tradition so long, in fact, that more than one of these songs have been covered by other R&B acts in the past.

That's not to say that the new tracks are retreads. Owens' arrangement of "Ring of Fire," with an easygoing guitar playing the notes that Cash assigned to some Mariachi horns, is worlds removed from Ray Charles' explosive take on the tune. And where Slim Harpo turned "Folsom Prison Blues" into something as slow and heavy as the train in the lyrics, Owens speeds the song up; if you don't listen to the words, it sounds almost joyful. The borderland between country and R&B is large, offering plenty of space to explore.

Mark E. Smith, Singer/Lyricist for the British Postpunk Band The Fall, R.I.P.

Wed, 24 Jan 2018 21:36:00 -0500

Mark E. Smith, for over 40 years the sole mainstay and singer/writer for the harsh, edgy, scabrous but teeth-clenchingly catchy British postpunk band The Fall, has died at the age of 60. A fair assessment of his importance and influence for somewhat outsider-y rock can be found at The Stranger. While their music can be an acquired taste, and even this serious fan hasn't managed to seriously process it all in its relentless generosity (over 30 original LPs and many dozen more live and compilation records), his writing was always of special interest to me. His songwriting was so copious and dense and ironic that the vast majority of his fans either didn't notice or didn't care about this element of his work, but Smith and The Fall were the favorite band of my gang of fellow libertarians in college at least partially because of the amusing signs of mocking disdain for modern leftist cant or at the very least an obvious willingness to look on socialism or communism with a disapproving or mocking eye. It was not a theme he hit that often, but especially in the late '80s period when I fell in love with their work, you weren't hearing many bands write songs mocking someone who "tripped up on a discarded banana skin/And on my way down I caught the side of my head/On a protruding brick chip" and decided the experience ought by rights to make him a public charge—however "I was very let down/From the budget I was expecting a one million quid handout/I was very disappointed...I think I'll emigrate to Sweden or Poland/And get looked after properly by government" ("Dog is Life/Jerusalem"). Not many would conclude an absurdist saga about an East German athlete sickened by his dumb brother's habit of revving his car engine beneath their window and filling the room with fumes with the observation that the brother "patriotically volunteered to be sent on a labor beautification course of the countryside northwest of Dresden and never seen again/and never seen again" ("Athlete Cured"). Not many would casually note (in their speed-rap madness classic early single "Totally Wired") that "if I were a communist/a rich man would bail me/the opposite applies," or (in their early punk-country trucker life anthem "Container Drivers") condemn commies as "just part-time workers." In his excellent memoir Renegade Smith summed up a general dislike for a vaguely conceived therapeutic modern state by remembering his days working in a mental institution in the 1970s. "Nowadays reminds me of the late 1970s," he wrote. "All those people who are in power now were student nurses back then....And they're now running the country with that same mentality: give him a computer, give him a few drugs." Smith is the rock songwriter I'd most recommend to fans of scabrous misanthrope British serious humorists such as Kingsley Amis and Auberon Waugh. It was a mentality rare in pop/rock songwriting, and it reached out in its mysterious way to somewhat complementary minds. Smith also had a winningly singular range of topics and concerns that overlapped those into eccentric politics as youth, from conspiracy theories about the deaths of Pope John Paul I ("Hey! Luciani") and John Kennedy ("Oswald Defense Lawyer") to fantasy/time travel epics ("Wings") to tortured looks in the minds of washed-up comic book/sci-fi writers ("How I Wrote 'Elastic Man'") to dozens of examples of gimlet-eyed observations of a far wider range of the curious and strange elements of modern existence than any other rock writer attempted. As he said of his own work, his "songs were more like short stories: unlike every fucker else we didn't just bark out wild generalizations." That simple literary quality made him, especially in comparison with his peers, shine as an individualist hero of sorts. (A fine and observant analysis of him as writer-qua-writer can be found at The Quietus.) He also triumphed for his generations of fans as the mocking older brother who knew about all sorts of cool sh[...]

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="" 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="" 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 ro[...]

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:

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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":

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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="" 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 se[...]

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:

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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 [...]

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 A[...]

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 h[...]

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.)