Thursday, May 12, 2011

Remezcla - Q&A: Ximena Sariñana, Home is where the heart is

Click here to read my full interview with Ximena Sariñana on Remezcla.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Smells Like Teen Spirit? MTV’s Rave-Theme Bash in Honor of Skins Premier

Quirky neon-dressed chicks, thirstily dancing-crazed teens, and gleeful live DJ performances from Kill the Noise, Sleigh Bells, Klever, and Drop the Lime are some of the boisterous happenings at The Official MTV “Skins” party – in honor of the show “Skins” on MTV which premiers today.

The all-nighter party took place inside a warehouse in NYC on Friday 14, 2011 where partygoers had to be at least 16-years-old to go through the door. Though a few lucky 300 were fortunate enough to enter the party while about 10,000 were left out in the cold despite their RSVP status.

Celebs also showed up at the glorious party including your very own members of Skins, Liz from My Life as Liz and band member Andrew of the kick-ass psychedelic pop duo MGMT!

Much like the show Skins features, party attendees also got freaky, committed acts of sex simulation (at least we hope), and dropped psychedelic tabs for kicks. So for those unlucky thousands who couldn’t attend the party, weep no more because we got some gnarly photos of this rave-themed, teenagers out-of-control, action-crazed party.

All photos by Dylan Hess

Friday, July 30, 2010

RS: Judging the Magazine by its Cover (1960s-1970s)

For over four decades, Rolling Stone Magazine has remained one of the nation’s most respected pop culture periodicals of all time. From its emergence in the late 1960s, this magazine expressed an alternative outlook on music as a legitimate form of analysis. Its famous and infamous interviews with some the most iconic musicians like Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon, Jim Morrison as well other influential personas like presidents, spiritual leaders, actors, cartoonists, and other significant characters (though always relating it back to music) have reshaped the way we think about in the face of American cultural history and music. These icons have opened up to Rolling Stone (RS) and revealed some of their most intimate, sacred, ambitious, or embarrassing, experiences they have faced.

Robert Draper has chronicled one of the most in depth historical trajectories and behind the scenes of what Rolling Stone as an institution, and the people that run it, is. His book Rolling Stone Magazine: The Uncensored History claims that RS defined and revolutionized rock & roll as a legitimate genre to be taken seriously, furthermore than the youth rebel’s and counterculture’s music. Draper declares, “Instead of defining rock & roll, or deifying it, Rolling Stone covered it – a truly revolutionary idea. Its writers interviewed Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Mick Jagger, Janis Joplin, Pete Townshend and Eric Clapton with the sense of purpose a Time reporter would bring to an interview with Henry Kissinger. Musicians were worthy news figures, proclaimed Rolling Stone, and their music was worthy of analysis” (1990, 8). From its featured stories, questions and answers, breaking news, presidential scandal stories, special editions, music and movie previews, and revolutionary covers, have all served a purpose in keeping RS at the forefront of music lovers’ top list.
Despite today’s RS’ raging financial and capitalistic success, it is interesting to become aware that when the RS emerged, it began as a countercultural response to the mainstream production of music entertainment of the time. RS was gave an alternative voice to rock & roll music, to its musicians, and to the hippy youth populations.

Because RS has produced over a thousand magazines since its emergence, it is quite difficult to look at all covers and analyze certain patterns in history. This would require an extensive analysis. Another that was considered looking at the covers in chunks, according to their corresponding decade. In other words carrying four case studies and looking at a group of covers to analyze. But even with this approach, the four decade case studies method was too ambitious for the purpose of this project. While still carrying out a similar approach, the time period of focus is much narrower. To understand the context of which RS appeared, this project examines the front page covers of the first two decades of this biweekly periodical – starting with the first issue of John Lennon in 1967 and completing the cycle of another Lennon issue with then wife, Yoko Ono, in 1981. Specifically, I select some of the most influential, memorial, cynical, idealistic, controversial, and marketed covers within the timeline of study, while explaining the social, political and cultural climate of the time being.

During the mid 1960s, Jann Wenner, future co-founder of Rolling Stone was an undergraduate student at UC, Berkeley. To be a student on this campus at this time meant getting easily exposed to the social and political discomforts of the nation. Mario Savio was preaching free speech and civil rights, and the Free Speech Movement was taking large effect. As a whole, the US counterculture movement was just about to hit its climax. It was during a time of large student demonstrations, civil liberties and anti-war sentiments, women’s liberation and Black power movements. The nation’s youth had abandoned the medium, television, which had been the most influential in promoting to a large degree, escapism with prime time shows as the fantastic family sitcoms and such. As a young man in his early twenties, Jann Wenner was in the middle of the increasing radical youth politicizations. Rock music and its icons, John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Pete Townshend, and others, were the spokespeople for the youth.

As stated in Draper’s book, Rolling Stone Magazine, Wenner was much more concerned about establishing a medium that represented the youth culture, or entrepreneurship, than to protesting on campus grounds. One acquaintance of Wenner at that time even said that his main reason for developing RS was that so he could meet his hero, John Lennon (34). Despite of this being true or not, RS became much more than a magazine about celebrity or rock musician gossip or even simple platonic visions of music with hardly any meaning, but a cultural force which captured the counterculture for what it really was, a legitimate expression of why these youths were so captivated by rock & roll, and a voice to these rock icons who ‘authentically’ express themselves and what the meaning of music had to them, and its audiences. Consequently, Wenner dropped out of UC, Berkeley and went on becoming the co-founder, publisher, and editor of RS in October of 1967, along with the other co-founder, Ralph Gleason. All it took was collecting $7,500, and the printing press begun to roll.

Even though the first issue of RS is not necessarily one of the most memorable covers, it sets the platform for the rest of the issues to come in terms of their style. As stated before, Jann Wenner did in fact idolize John Lennon. After gathering the RS staff and preparing all other aspects for the launching of the first issue, Wenner had written a review of John Lennon’s film ‘How I Won the War.’ A still shot of Lennon in this film would en up setting the front page cover.

Wenner’s review about Lennon’s film mysteriously declared, “It’s all pointless because that’s the point of the film” (Draper 68). By having a strong activator of anti-war sentiment music hero suited up in war garnish would bring a sense of irony but also the message of ‘pointlessness’, towards the war that is. I feel it is safe to say that this is what both Lennon and his biggest fan, Wenner, were striving for. On the second issue, Tina Turner made the cover, and on the third it would be the Beatles and the rest of the ‘Magical Mystery Tour.’ It was not until a year later, the first anniversary issue, that John Lennon would make the front page cover again. This time he was with his then wife Yoko Ono and both of them would appear naked. This issue also carried the first interview with Lennon. Lennon and Ono’s self-portraits were taken in their London flat intended for the cover of their album Two Virgins. Jann Wenner says in Rolling Stones 1,000 Covers that this cover was their first sellout issue. He continues, “Although it may seem tame from today’s perspective, the idea of someone so famous and so physically average standing stark naked for all the world to see was quite extraordinary – shocking, to be sure, but above all revolutionary and moving” (2006, 6). According to Draper, Wenner was very skeptical about making this photo on the front page cover where Gleason insisted they would do so (1990, 80). Any way it went, it captured the sexual revolution in its humane form without making nudity vulgar and exotic, but a part of human nature.
Two years later Rolling Stone as a whole was “generally accepted as the most authoritative rock & roll magazine in the land” (Draper: 1990, 6). Draper states, “None of this would have been possible without a few key individuals; acidheads, anarchists, commune dwellers, social lepers and parentless long-hairs who loved music and feared the morning sunlight. Having this said, Rolling Stone is a distinctly capitalist triumph” (ibid). Although for most of the late 1960s, much of the spirit was of spreading peace and love, expanding ones consciousness with psychedelics, and being in solidarity and unifying with other hippy music lovers. RS did capture the attention of all these free loving hippy youths and other radicals. However, one good thing must eventually reach a turning point.

Idealism to Cynicism

“Conceived during San Francisco’s Summer of Love, Rolling Stone championed a new pantheon of heroes – the Beatles, Dylan, the Rolling Stones, the Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix – until its loving gaze was distracted by the marching, charging feet of National Guardsmen on college campuses. Then the magazine deepened with hot blood,” Draper says (7). The free loving ideals of San Francisco’s Height-Ashbury, festivals in Woodstock, and other monumental spaces of hippy rituals would reach a climax by the very late 1960s. It turned into spaces of more intense riots, harder choices of drugs among the youth (no more marijuana or LSD dropping), the beginnings of mechanized music, and definitely the end of the preachment of peace and love.

By this time, the glorification of the summer of love and related ideals had to shift with the sociopolitical reality that was now troubling the nation. “[RS 30] This issue marked the first special issue devoted to a political topic, in this case the social movements and unrest prevalent in the late Sixties” (Wenner: 2006, 18). Contributors if this issue included Black Panther Minister of Education George Mason Murray and Berkeley Free Speech Movement (FSM) leader Michael Rossman. Even so to carry a cover displaying police brutality on a bleeding young man marked a turning point to the magazine’s representation. Even though back in the early stages of FSM Wenner would not physically participate in the protests, a periodical that distributed the ideals of the affected generation would prove to be very effective.

As for Jim Morrison making the cover, it does put the focus of a musician. But, what is interesting about this particular issue is that Jim Morrison is at the focus when as a matter of fact the first land on the moon had landed six days before. This piece was released in July 26th, 1969. The issue after this one features Bran Jones on the cover headlining “Sympathy for the Devil.” What is actually remarkable about this specific moment in time is that all forms of major press, magazines and television programming were broadcasting and featuring Neil Armstrong walking on the moon and planting the American flag on its surface. However, RS would include an astronaut at a later issue in 1973.

Furthermore, RS headlines “Rock, Teargas and Festivals,” again bringing some sort of revolt into the mind of the gazer. This selection of front cover does take on an underground, controversial, and anti-mainstream focus. This is so especially with Morrison headlining in press coverage. His Miami incident and trial did blow out of proportion in popular press for his use of profanity, public indecent exposure (which was never proven but charged guilty), and for provoking a riot.

On the Rolling Stone Interview book, with introduction by Jann Wenner, he again clarifies that not only musicians were the muses or those worthy to make the cover. However, there have been moments of high coverage about certain extreme conservative political groups, peaks of spirituality, and mad and cynical situations. As RS has interviews with some of the most incredible, crazy, and mad people, it grants to look in deeper than what official outlets of communication would report. It strives to look inside the mind of the individuals and why they make the decisions they make.

With this in mind, it is quite eerie to look at this cover and making Charles Manson look as if he is hopeful. Or even give the viewer some sort of sympathetic feeling about this image. Plus, that big yellow circle seems as if he is looking towards the sun. David Felton, who conducted Manson’s interview would later state, “Jann Wenner…suggested that I do a story on Charles Manson. None of the editors liked the idea, including myself, but Jann figured there was a story there” (2006, 31).

Because the obsession with murders, killings, riots and death were a huge aspect of what consumers were buying, these next three issues below also proved to be big sellers. Wenner states, Wenner states, “Another of our early lessons in publishing was that death sells. When Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix died within weeks of each
other, our staff placed simple, classic portraits on the cover, with type stating just the artist’s name and dates of birth and death. There was nothing more to say” (2006, 8).

Furthermore, he states, “That began a form of tribute that we’ve followed ever since. When somebody in the magazine’s purview dies, the cover is created with dignity and respect, and the coverage inside is exhaustive, sometimes highly personal and in many cases brilliant” (2006, 10). It was also important to include these tribute covers of three of the late and iconic rock stars of all time. Despite their drug related premature deaths, all at the age of 27, they did change the face of rock & roll. Draper says, “The great guitarist Jimi Hendrix suffocated in his vomit and died. Less than three weeks later, on October 4, Janis Joplin was found in her bed, lips bleeding, four dollars and fifty cents clutched in her hand – death by heroin. Now back in the office, Jann assembled an issue as fine[ly]…put together, with beautiful photos of Joplin by Jim Marshall and several comprehensive articles about the fallen singer” (133-4).

Another ongoing series of publications in RS would stress former president, Richard Nixon. Draper highlights again another dimension into the transitory decade of 60s to 70s. Then “Came a crooked President and a crooked new decade, and Rolling Stone stopped talking about love and revolution. New Morality met head-on with New Reality. From 1970 until 1977, no magazine in America was as honest or as imaginative…Greater truths were its aim…from Nixon, the FBI and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to Woodstock, Charles Manson and the Symbionese Liberation Army” (Draper: 1990, 7). So as this whole spotlight of cynical individuals was featured in RS, it was subsequently what was being favored in America, in terms of consuming the spectacle.

“Political activists pronounced them the New Left. Establishment journalists labeled them ‘hippies.’ Richard Nixon called them ‘bums’”, emphasizes Draper (6).
Continuing, Richard Nixon was the “First the President announced that the United States would withdraw some 150,000 troops from Vietnam within a year’s time. Two weeks hence, he informed a bewildered nation of an ‘incursion’ by 8,000 U.S. ground troops into another country, Cambodia. That same day, April 30, he referred to student protestors as ‘bums.’ Four days and fifty rounds of ammunition later, four students lay dead on the campus of Kent State” (130).

“Like much of America, the Rolling Stone staff monitored Watergate with awe and curiosity, viewing the Senate hearings on the television set by Jann’s office…” (Draper 224). Yes, America had this obsession with the mad. Nixon had although become aware that his every action was being monitored, especially with the Watergate scandal, these illustrations and portrait say so much during the process of his impeachment. Issue #144 displays a melting, or deteriorating, depiction of Nixon, right after being caught red handed by the whole nation. Issue #152 gives liberty a shove and the cold shoulder. It was as if Ms. Liberty had been his ‘bitch’, with her skanky outfit and revealing body parts, and is rejecting her, or rejecting America. Issue 169 was done in a ridiculous timeline, according to Draper, but chief executive photographer, Annie Leibovitz, captured precisely the moment in that photo shoot of former President Nixon – a mad and cynical, yet almost feel sympathetic, and confusion look of mixed emotions.

Goodbye Lennon

The last examination of RS covers ends with another naked picture of John Lennon and Yoko Ono; to start and end with Lennon. As we have examined their nakedness in RS issue # 22, and what it would represent at the time of the free spirit hippy movement, sexual revolution, and its humaneness, this cover proved to actually be RS’ most remembered cover of all time. This photo is indeed the cover of the Rolling Stone 1,000 Covers.

Despite Lennon’s display of affection for Yoko Ono, the story behind this photo and its release date says more. On December 8, 1980, Annie Leibovitz had a photo shoot with John Lennon for this above issue, promising him he would make the cover. After she had initially tried to get a picture with just Lennon alone, which is what RS wanted, Lennon insisted that both he and Yoko Ono be on the cover. Leibovitz then tried to re-create something like the kissing scene from the Double Fantasy album cover, a picture that she loved. She had John remove his clothes and curl up next to Yoko. Leibovitz recalls, “What is interesting is she said she'd take her top off and I said, 'Leave everything on' — not really preconceiving the picture at all. Then he curled up next to her and it was very, very strong. You couldn't help but feel that she was cold and he looked like he was clinging on to her. I think it was amazing to look at the first Polaroid and they were both very excited. John said, “You've captured our relationship exactly. Promise me it'll be on the cover. I looked him in the eye and we shook on it.” Leibovitz was the last person to professionally photograph Lennon—he was shot and killed by Mark David Chapman five hours later.

Today, Rolling Stone has successfully been produced every two weeks since its fist issue on November of 1967. Although, the story does not end here, but for the purpose of this project, all good things must come to an end. There is much to say about issues of later decades, from the 1980s, they frequently take on a different relation of how the artist, or subject, of focus is depicted in these covers. It has habitually defined the celebrity the way it is depicted in RS. Whether Lindsey Lohan throws up her arms with an open mouth expression showing she’s ‘wild’, or whether it is Eminem’s close up facial expression of apathy mixed with anger. However, this is another project to be further looked into.

Even in more contemporary issues, nostalgia is a reoccurring theme that keeps appearing; functioning as a brand to be marketed. Most noticeably, reminiscing on the sixties and seventies with special. Either praising a certain musician, band or other iconic figure, or even the cultural affiliations associated with that moment, such as the 1968 summer of love, the 1970s and the drug culture and heavy rock & roll, to even the 1950s and the beginning of rock, and so on.

On commodification, the images on the front cover of the RS magazine can function as a form of advertisement, as it is this gaze that appeals to the mass audience which persuades them to purchase the magazine. Even though the specific covers of focus contributed to the social and cultural happenings of the given time, the aesthetic of the images also served intentional purpose for the consumption of the masses. This intentionality has taken the form as polished, brushed up, or controversial. Like Turner would point out, “For the popular press [and] the fanzines…, the defining qualities of the celebrity are both natural and magical: journalists, feature writers and publicists speak of their ‘presence’, their ‘star quality’, and their ‘charisma’ (8). We have seen that there is definitely some mysticism, cynicism, and magic to these covers. And “Celebrity is routinely treated as a domain of irrationality, its appeal explained through metaphors of magic (charisma) or pathology (delusion)” (136). Though, for those who were featured at the cover of the RS meant that they were at the pinnacle of the media industry, and a representation of the relevance being portrayed at that time. These images can definitely be abstracted from their specific historical, cultural and industrial contexts.

On the other hand, we have in fact seen RS from an idealistic point of view as well. Honoring the nostalgia of the 1960s, but that is exactly what these covers wanted to portray in the first place. Not the nostalgia, but the magic involved in the free spirited movements. As we saw that chaos and madness hit the next decade, RS also strove to narrate what was important to its audiences. In fact, today RS claims to be “the most influential magazine in pop culture,” (the subtitle of Rolling Stones 1,000 Covers). By judging the magazine by its cover, and looking at the social, cultural, and political relevance, we have seen that RS played a defining role in shaping both its mass market and that specific countercultural demographic that was unreachable by other outlets of communication in the time of its emergence. The RS covers responded to the social and cultural occurrences of the time, and how these covers also mirrored culture and society which led it to become on of the most influential magazines of all time. Sometimes we can judge a book, or a magazine, by its cover.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

I’m Not There: Visions and Revisions of Bob Dylan’s Complex Personifications

I know that it has been several years since the release of Todd Haynes’ film I’m Not There. Though, I was thinking of several films of which to theorize about, I naturally came to look and review this one. As those who have read my previous posts, it is quite obvious that I am intrigued with Bob Dylan. Either if it was analyzing him in the context of authenticity, or weather it was speaking of him in the context of the folk revival and counterculture. I therefore wanted to take a look at this film again and view him from the various transitions he underwent publicly and relate it to the milieu of that given time. Haynes highlights this extremely well.

As stated, I’m Not There daintily captures the mosaic personas of the iconic American folk singer/songwriter Bob Dylan. Reviewing the five decades of Dylan’s career, he has maintained the attention of popular culture (however not under tabloid gossip) and loyal and new following throughout the years. I guess I am just fascinated by his chameleonic personifications that he, maybe intentionally or not, put out into the public sphere. To some extent, this revealed him from being ahead of his own time, and for the rest of us who did notice, this sort of gave him some prophetic attributes.

This film captures six of Dylan’s most apparent transitions, portrayed in six characters. I take out that cause of these transitions was much larger than what it could be define in its literal terms, meaning that this could also be explained metaphorically. Because Bob Dylan moved so quickly especially in the first half of the sixties, a very particular decade of revolts, rise of consciousness, social upheavals, sociopolitical sentiments, and so on, it is that of which I look into the most. Though, each character represents a specific moment that is captured in his personas, the cultural impact of the time also had a reverberated outcome on him.
Throughout the film, the de facto narratives of a teenage Dylan as Arthur Rimbaud display concept driven representations which are full of symbolism. This can also be explained as how he challenges the work of Rimbaud as a poet which also mirrors him. Arthur’s role gives meaning to the insatiable and uncontainable energy displayed in the rest of the characters. It gives direction to these transitions.

Initially, when Dylan emerged into the scene, he had incorporated Woodie Guthrie into his persona, hence the name of the first character. This persona was seen through the music he played, the way he dressed, and the sensational stories he told of his origins which resembled an ideology of Guthrie’s, politically leftist and the attitude of a vagabond. The fact that “Woodie” was played by a young African American boy already incorporates the fabrication embedded in this character’s persona; it was like the elephant in the room. He manufactured stories like traveling and performing with a circus family and being brought up by many foster parents. However, he did sprinkle some truth here and there, like saying he lived in Hibbing, Minnesota, though he was actually born and raised there (that is the real life Dylan). Woodie’s selection of songs are old traditional songs outside his time. He is given a valuable suggestion to sing songs about his own time.

Consequently, the role of Jack Rollins shows an interesting precursor to the whole question of truth and authenticity being usurped at the time he arrived to Greenwich Village. He was called the “Troubadour of Conscious.” This storyline specifically depicts a PBS documentary style narrative with the reconstruction of “classic” still photographs and interviews of Alice Fabian who represents Joan Baez among others. The part of Rollins simulates the documentary by Martin Scorsese’, No Direction Home. We see how Rollins takes on a political mantle by singing songs in traditional form with contemporary concerns. Like in real life, this form of singing distinguished Rollin from the rest of his contemporaries who largely sung recollections of old, topical songs.

Next, we are introduced to Robbie Clark, the famous egotistical actor and unfaithful husband who made his debut with the film “Grain of Sand” in 1965 playing the lead actor within of the film within the film as Jack Rollins. His passion for wife Claire and infidelity are also a focus. Claire represents a mixture of Dylan’s two famous leading ladies. They are Suze Rotolo, who comes out on the cover of Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (Claire is an abstract painter like Suze), but more evidently, Dylan’s first wife Sara Lownds, who were married for several years and had children together. Another Dylan character is Billy the Kid, representing when he hid away from the public sphere.

Jumping back to Rollins, he was already over what folk and political music could do and the direct effect it could have. Subsequently, he moved more towards an inward and poetically metaphoric work in his musical career. The film shows Kennedy’s assassination which could have marked a changing point in his psyche that later ushered into what was possible and impossible in terms of real political change through the protest song. Alice Fabian quotes Rollins saying that real change could not possibly be achieved through a song. This ushers into Dylan’s next point of his creative life.

Jude Quinn, played by a female, is shown performing at the New England’s festival, which embodies the famous 1965 Newport Festival performance. Here is when he gives up folk and goes electric. The instruments were shown as machine guns. It was as if he betrayed the folk immemorial and was shooting at his audience with the “raucous” music. A response to his drifting away from the folkies is shown in his song “Positively 4th Street.” His music had moved into this surreal landscape where urban sensibilities were clashing with the reminiscing sentiments of the folk era. There was also a great sense of surrealism and the obscured of popular culture collapsing onto intellectual and high culture. These new perceptions were evidently seen with the Beatniks, Allen Ginsburg, and Andy Warhol. A high modernist “surreality” was consequently reflected in the music of both Dylan, and the character Jude, during 1965 and 1966.

During this moment, Jude, like Dylan, was constantly asked to explain why he had abandoned social and political causes by shifting from protest music to rock. “Ballad of a Thin Man” appropriately and metaphorically demonstrates the sentiments around this topic. It illustrates a journalist by the name of Mr. Jones. In this film he goes by Keenan Jones. In the actual song, Mr. Jones is not based on a specific character. However, it is based on the force that Quinn was on the run from. It was the force of being pinned down and of being asked to explain himself. It became a series of conflicts and show downs between Quinn and the press. Possibly his fear of being unmasked, and being asked what his intent as an artist suggested. Maybe a kind of intentionality that is close to the idea of being deceitful or being artificial, and to close to the idea of being reviled. Quinn bristles against all of this. He later is revealed as Aaron Jacob Edelstein, like the real Bob Dylan is revealed as Robert Zimmerman, both revelations as suburban, middle class, conventional characters. The fact is that both Quinn and Dylan are those who see a ‘truth’ of I may call it, in ways that nobody else is capable of. Furthermore and ultimately, they are those who refuse to be hurt and be put into a place of vulnerability. They refuse to be put in a place of being asked to define or defend their work or music. Dylan and Quinn are both surprisingly defensive, especially for someone who is in control of their creative abilities, and someone who intimidated the Beatles and Andy Warhol and is on the very top of their cultural game. As a whole, “Ballad of a Thin Man” represents the figure of the establishment, or that which the mass media forces to give any prescribed definitions to; any subject faces the danger of being represented as deceitful or sensational. This song is highly dramatized in the film. Quinn refused to be prescribed in any platform.

Throughout all characters, the embodiments of Dylan dig into the abyss of the complex yet prophetic mind of this iconic individual. He has challenged what it is to decipher a song and what the meaning behind the music stands for, as it does not have an absolute definition. It is to value a song for what it is without giving it a literal meaning or a specific function, but to leave it in its pristine form.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

David Schroeder and Global Jazz Fusion

“The most important attribute you can have is persistence. You can have all the talent, skills and opportunities in the world, but it’s the persistence that makes success possible.”

“If you are a creative person that is willing to expand your horizons, and you’ve figured out how to survive in New York City, persistence will allow you to move forward,” says David Schroeder, director of NYU Jazz Studies, brass and wind instrumentalist, leader of the ensemble Combo Nuvo, Director of the Jazz Studies Abroad Program, and Host of the NYU Steinhardt Jazz Series at Barnes & Noble.

Raised in Iowa by a family of musicians, David Schroeder was musically cultivated ever since a young age. As the youngest of six boys, he was exposed to and inspired by what his father played from his record collection, as well as the musical programming he saw and heard on TV and radio. When it was time for him to learn an instrument, Schroeder inherited a saxophone from one of his older brothers. He says, “Coincidentally, I was given the saxophone and that happened to be a jazz instrument. That led me to get very interested in jazz.” Schroeder explains that everyone in his surroundings was going into music school, and evidently he did too since his tender days in grade school. It was as if he was destined to be a jazz musician.

Consequently, Schroeder studied music at the University of Northern Iowa where he received his B.M.E. And interestingly, he says, “Where I grew up in Iowa, I had no clue that one day I would be in New York. When I was a young saxophonist in Iowa, I figured I would become a high school band director. I was fortunate as fate took a hand, that I was plucked out of Iowa and forced into seeing other parts of the world. This eventually moved me to Boston because I thought New York would never be attainable.” When he finished studying music in Boston, he decided he had to move to New York and “Take a chance,” or otherwise, he would have gone back to Iowa to become a high school band director. “I came here, like so many other people come taking a risk not knowing if they are going to get spit out, and I’m one of the fortunate few. I found a connection with people, some of those are at NYU, and they allowed me to stay,” he says. Subsequently, he earned his PhD in Jazz Studies at NYU.

While Dr. Schroeder teaches courses like Jazz Arranging, Reference and Research in Jazz, he also balances performing at New York’s hottest jazz venues like the Blue Note and Lincoln Center with his in residence ensemble, Combo Nuvo, all of who are NYU faculty. He describes, “We bring a whole variety of musical approaches from straight ahead jazz and classical music, but also world music, soul and funky and delta blues, and everything in between.” During the winter and summer intercessions Schroeder performs all around the world, including Costa Rica, Peru, Italy, Abu Dhabi.

Besides teaching and performing, Dr. Schroeder develops unique performance opportunities for his jazz students around the world. As the Director of the Jazz Studies Abroad Program, Schroeder takes his students to places like Florence, Prague, Lithuania, and Costa Rica. He says, “We are constantly expanding and developing not only our minds, but our world experience.” He continues, “These abroad courses have attracted students from all around the world to come and join me and a select faculty to really develop a personal relationship. It is a rare and special opportunity to have that many faculty at our level to actually live on our abroad campuses and interact with students on a daily basis.” Students interact with faculty as fellow musicians, as teacher-student relationships. These teachers show them the process of music, how to affect people through music, and how to think creatively in jazz though the process of improvisation.

Schroeder looks for students who are not only interested in playing their instruments on the highest level, but who are curious and attracted to the music scene of New York City, as he as undergone this approach as well. “I want them to not only be great musicians, but to also take all their skills and develop them so they will become unique and inspired people.” He continues, “Everybody goes to music school thinking they are going to go out and become famous. We can switch that paradigm. You can still have the potential and become famous, but you can use the process of music, jazz, and improvisation and develop that for your personal skills in life and decision making. That is the essence of education.”

Among his thrilling projects, Schroeder has partnered with Barnes and Noble in The NYU Steinhardt Jazz Studies Series. He brings some of the most prominent figures of the jazz scene for an hour of conversation. Schroeder says, “Every Friday I interview some of the most significant jazz musicians in the world. That research and interviews will eventually be part of a book. This will be a survey of musicians that will show that their unique creativity is definitely individualized by each artist. They all have a different process and approach to achieving their goals as musicians.” He says, “We have already completed interviews with Cindy Blackman, Stephen Harris, Medeski, and Dave Holland, among dozens of others. They are one of the most sophisticated, interesting, and inspired people that I have met.” While interviewing, Schroeder vividly project wit, humor, charisma, and sophistication, all of which is clearly evident in his own music.

A passionate individual who continues to branch out, a true master in the saxophone, and to many, a musical guru, Dr. David Schroeder has successfully intertwined numerous musical dimensions. As he once humbly thought of becoming a high school band director, Schroeder has proven to be one of the most inspirational and innovating artists of his field. Accomplishing global music expansion, becoming entrepreneurially and technologically savvy, and fruitfully teaching the historical, theoretical, and methodological functions of jazz, he has truly “Taken the process of music and used it as a process of life,” like any great artist should do.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Where Does Dylan & the Folk Revival Fit in the Mass Culture?

"In the United States we have, in a word, witnessed the decline of the “folk” and the rise of the “mass.” The illiterate folk, while unself-conscious, was creative in its own special ways. Its characteristic products were the spoken word, the gesture, the song: folklore, folk dance, folk song. The folk expressed itself" (Daniel J. Boorstin: 1992, 56).

"His milieu [Dylan’s] was that of the folk revival – an arena of native tradition and national metaphor, of self-discovery and self-invention…I was a place of the spirit, where authenticity in song and manner, in being, was the highest value – the value against which all forms of discourse, all attributes inherited or assumed, were measured" (Greil Marcus: 1998, 19).

In the United States, the folk revival represented a movement that gave a voice to the younger generation during the palpable social and political transitions of the time. It was the rise of a countercultural movement which took on the musical folkloric traditions of the time when the US was facing economical turmoil. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, a working class folk singer by the name of Woody Guthrie wrote realms of simple yet prevailing songs that vividly detailed the American experience. From Guthrie came the idea that songs could carry hard-hitting messages of social and political protest. A decade after, Pete Seeger, the Harvard college journalist student dropout, also projected a leftist ideology with songs of protest with his banjo.

The folk revival of the 1960s took on a similar philosophy to the ideals of Guthrie and Seeger. The moment that the “king and queen of folk” Joan Baez and Bob Dylan represented confirmed that music can challenge the political system and inspire the masses – all in the while of remaining as organic and truthful through the songs. Joan Baez has been a social commentator and a political activist till this day. In the PBS film, Joan Baez: How Sweet the Sound, she states that it was her duty to be a political activist as her social position was in the spotlight, and because the songs she sang about needed to parallel with her actions. Even though Dylan attended a few political demonstrations in his early stage of his career, I theorize he never wanted to position himself in the place of that political commentator.

Albeit his songs, especially for his lyrical content, which echoed anti-war and civil liberty sentiments, I feel it is safe to say that he did not want to carry the responsibility of being a representational leftist politician figure-like. I say this in the respect of directly voicing out the institutional discomforts without the song such like his comrade Baez did in every protest she attended. Dylan during the 1965 press conference interview in San Francisco was asked if his songs are “supposed to carry a political message,” of course Dylan’s answer was “Where did you hear something like that?” implying a “no” on my point of view. On a similar note, Baez states in the documentary No Direction Home by Martin Scorsese that she was always asked by protest attendees if Dylan would be joining her in political demonstrations. Joan would reply “You know he never comes to these things.” During his 1965 tour of England in the film Don’t Look Back he is interviewed by a Times Magazine journalist. Dylan says to the journalist:

"Are you going to see the concert tonight? Are you going to hear it? Okay, hear it and see it. It’s going to happen fast. You’re not going to get it all. You might even hear the wrong words. Afterword, I won’t be able to talk to you. I have nothing to say about these things I write. I just write them. I don’t write them for any reason. There is no great message. If you want to tell other people that go ahead and tell them. But I am not going to have to answer to it. And they’re just going to think: What is this Time Magazine telling us? But you couldn’t care less about that either. You don’t know the people that read you. I’ve had this hall [Albert Hall] filled up twice. I don’t need Time Magazine."

Furthermore, Dylan states that any classification that Time Magazine would imply on his persona would be wrong, and that they can not afford to print the “truth.” Dylan demonstrates honesty in his point of view as a musician while pointing out the falseness of corporate magazines such as Time. He points out the “pseudoness” and the sensationalism in the respect that the press may “hear the wrong words”.
On another angle, Dylan’s image with his acoustic guitar and harmonica, and the worlds of philosophy in his songs, was already in itself a symbol of resistance to the sociopolitical discomforts – with or without stating it directly in interviews or protests. From Dylan’s early albums such as Bob Dylan, The Times They Are A-Changin’ and so on Greil Marcus in Invisible Republic describes Dylan as “He was no longer merely a singer, or a songwriter, or even a poet, let alone simply a folk musician. In a signal way, he was the Folk, and also the Prophet.” He continues, “The sound of his hammered acoustic guitar and pealing harmonica became a kind of free-floating trademark, like the peace symbol, signifying determination and honesty, in a world of corruption and lies” (x). Furthermore, this demonstrates Dylan’s authenticity in the false industry of popular music. Though, during the height of his musical career during the mid 1960s, he was labeled of being a “sellout” during his transition from folk to folk-rock by going electric most notably in the Newport Folk Festival of 1965, were he was referred to “prostituting himself” with his leather “sellout jacket”. Although, looking at Dylan’s musical trajectory, the lyrical content remained similar with the exception of the amplification of volume and inclusion of rock instruments. I argue that he remained honest in the respect of representing his “true” self in the world of mass media and therefore authentic. It is “The advertising world [that] has proved the market appeal of celebrities” (Boorstin 58); the veil which hinders the folk hero’s authenticity.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Kurt Cobain: Telling It Like It Is

While acoustic instruments played a representational role in classifying the “folkness” or authenticity of an artist, like Dylan’s evacuation of authenticity according to the folkies in the 1965 Newport Festival performance, heavily usage of technology and electrical instruments may have seemed as inauthentic. The emergence of the conglomerate network of MTV in the 1980s with its MTV Unplugged was a method to demonstrate the authenticity of an artist under the close examination of lenses, despite the obviously “plugged” instruments – more heavily so after the Milli Vanilli lip-synching scandal and their revocation of their Grammy. Barker and Taylor state, “Clearly, MTV Unplugged fails this simple test: for it to be unplugged, we’d have to unplug our TVs. But on a less basic level, by presenting artists in a more-or-less “acoustic” environment, the program pretends to show us the most “authentic” aspects of the performer” (23). The 1980s and 1990s rock music went on several transitions, and the emergence of grunge was that which represented a raw, loud, and organic form of music, unlike the highly made-up and multi-layered rock-haired bands of the era – and despite its “plugged” elements. Grunge carries on punk rock messages of “being authentic…and simply telling it how you saw it” (Barker and Taylor 265).

Kurt Cobain popularized punk rock and experienced an incredible success. But people loved him not only for his music. Kurt also remained true to his roots. The higher he rose to success, the more evident it became for Cobain’s attempt to remain authentic. Barker and Taylor state, “While he loved a wide variety of music, a large part of his ethics regarding the music business came from the punk movement, were bands prized sincerity over skill and saw the corporate nature of the business as an enemy” (20). As only a selection of well known celebrity can land on the cover of the most popular yet commercial music magazine, such as the Rolling Stone, Cobain with Nirvana chose to cooperate, yet repress from diving full on to the integration of his new found celebrity. In the 1992 cover of the Rolling Stone magazine featuring Nirvana, Kurt wears a t-shirt that says “Corporate Magazines Still Suck”. Boorstin points out about the transition from heroes shifting to celebrities in magazines: “Studies of biographies in popular magazines suggest that editors, and supposedly also readers, of such magazines not long ago shifted their attention away from the old-fashioned hero. From the person known form some serious achievement, they have turned their biographical interests to the new-fashioned celebrity” (59). Barker and Taylor commented on Kurt’s choice of t-shirt by stating he “castigated himself publicly for selling out while continuing to strive for further success.” Furthermore, Barker and Taylor quote Cobain: “I don’t blame the average 17-year-old punk-rock kid for calling me a sellout. I understand that. Maybe when they grow up a little bit, they’ll realize there’s more things to life than living out your rock & roll identity so righteously” (4).

As shown in the documentary Kurt and Courtney by Nick Broomfield, this is what he said about his new found wealth and money:

You can’t buy happiness. I mean that made me happy for a little while. I look back at going to second hand stores and I was almost just as happy finding a little treasure. That actually meant more to me because it was more of a stab in the dark in a way. You didn’t know if you were going to be able to afford it and what you were really looking for. When you find it its more special to you rather than having a thousand dollars and going into a store like that or buying the whole store. It’s not as special.

He died at the peak of his career and many people have found it difficult to accept.
Kurt has been labeled a folk hero and called a God in his own right. But unfortunately “While the folklore of hero-worship, the zestful search for heroes, and the pleasure in reverence for heroes remain, the heroes themselves dissolve” (Boorstin 48). Barker and Taylor’s explanation of Kurt’s persona and his public deterioration was due to his struggle to remain as rooted, honest, and authentic despite the pseudoness and illusion of utopia that comes from being a celebrity. These authors state, “Kurt Cobain first approached music as a fan…Many of his attitudes came from observing how his musical heroes saw the world and wanting to emulate them…When he became a successful performer himself he knew well how the fans felt about him, the demands they would make, and the emotional connection they had with him. He knew that above all, his fans expected him to keep it real and to not forget where he had come from” (19).

In both cases, Dylan and Cobain represented a musical embodiment of their heroes in their own ways. They too remained heroes in their own right. Kurt Cobain’s final statement proved to be the most powerful, saddening, and enduring in the line between mainstream and authenticity.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Heroes in the Eye of the Hurricane: Dylan and Cobain

On many levels, music, authentic or not, has inspired new attitudes and trends, social movements, alternative ways of perceiving the world, and so on. Yet, on the other hand, it is clear it has also catalyzed a mass market for consumerism, commercialization, and therefore a world of utopian illusions. Both sides of this equation in the world of music and entertainment, authenticity have served different purposes for musicians and their celebrity statuses. Boorstin says, “Having manufactured our celebrities, having willy-nilly made them our cynosures – the guiding starts of our interest – we are tempted to believe they are not synthetic at all, that they are somehow still God-made heroes who now abound with a marvelous modern prodigality” (47).

The struggle for authenticity in the world of mass media, popular culture, and mainstream music has shown extreme results in the musical trajectory of many artists, as well as for Bob Dylan and Kurt Cobain, hence my two posts above. While they both represented their corresponding genres the best, Dylan as the folk rock legend remained genuine and pristine as a musician philosopher that sways mass media’s deceitful representations. And Cobain’s raw and raucous noise did take another approach on the notion of authenticity, but empathetic to the 17-year-old punk rock garage kid, who he justified himself to, as being real and honest. Just like Cobain expected for his personal heroes as a kid.

As Boorstin prophesizes, “While the folk created heroes, the mass can only look and listen for them. It is waiting to be shown and to be told. Our society, to which the Soviet notion of “the masses” is so irrelevant, still is governed by our own idea of the mass. The folk has a universe of its own creation, its own world of giants and dwarfs, magicians and witches. The mass lives in the very different fantasy world of pseudo-events” (56). As folk heroes rarely blossom today to their full potential due to the over sensationalism and falseness of media’s pseudoness, the greatest heroes of them all are those who have kept it real in the world of pseudo-ness in mainstream media representation.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Party Death and the New York Rock Scene

Raw, rowdy, straight up on the rocks, rock and roll – the Party Death emerges into the New York party scene. Appearing in 2006, the Party Death wrote their first self-titled song about of living life off the edge of a cliff which then became the name of the band. Having a series of break ups and different members, the current quadruple are together since 2008. The rock and roll group is composed of lead singer Joshua Lee, guitarist Jack Nightrain, bassist Dynamite Dave, and never least drummer Nathanial John.

While some of their early crazy adventures begin at Arlene’s Grocery making a pack to ‘destroy everything’. "I ended up doing a front flip and tackling Josh. I had my front tooth chipped and we ended up being banned from Arlene's," Nathanial explains. Their attitudes on stage as to the themes of their songs represent a revival of heavy rock bands like GNR intertwined with the psych of modern New York rock attitude. Though Josh highlights, "If you don’t write how miserable your songs are, then you get compared to 80s".

Currently, the band has a debut EP single “Mary”. They’re hitting up many of the New York rock ‘n’ roll venues and bars either performing, DJing hard rock classics, or just throwing down at parties.

While Jack Nightrain ferociously spits out dueling guitar riffs and hard rock power chords, Joshua Lee screeches out his tales of sex, drinking whiskey and apathy in the big city; bassist Dynamite Dave and drummer Nathanial John are a powerful and limber rhythm section that keep the music tight and solid. As Dave humorously encourages kids to "Not smoke cigarettes or become musicians," all in good fun of drinking whiskey and staying up till the morning, the Party Death’s music is gritty, loud, with a solid hard, and bluesy base. Like in the words of Jack, "We're a fuckin' dirty and hard rock 'n' roll band", and that's how it should be.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Come Down & Meet the Folks! Night of Beautiful Nostalgia

Mid January, a very cold and misty winter night of foggy London bared on of the warmest and community felt acts of Haxton, London. These hundreds of year old pubs, with tasty selections of ales and lagers, and pots of spinach and potato soup on the house, had a tight and intimate set of people of all ages to listen to free and heartfelt live performances of folk acts. Among them were Ezequiel Claviere, The Kittiwakes, and Australia's beautiful Emily Barker with Gill Sandell. This night very much captured a folk revival similar to those of the US's early 60's intertwined with medieval Celtic. Themes in the Kittiwakes' songs spoke about fishermen in the Arctic circle living six months of darkness, universal communication of instruments, and such. Emily Barker's sweet harmonious yet dulcetly haunting singing cries hypnotized us all while Gill's melodic flute and accordion carried us prancing with mythical fairies playing flutes. Songs Emily and Gill played included Blackbird, Little Deaths (reminded me of the death card in the tarot, meaning recreation through deaths), Ropes, Dark-Eyed Sailor (traditional song), Nostalgia (a beautiful song about a heartbreak and the lonesome sentiment), Foal, Despite the Snow, and Disappear. The pub, The Stag's Head, where all this was held had an amazing way of warming the crowd into this communal space, and the performances were a dreamy and magical tour back to the aural space of organic unifying sounds.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Out on the Streets they Call You Murderer !

Number 1
You have the right not to be killed
Murder is a CRIME!
Unless it was done by a
Policeman or aristocrat
Know your rights
The Clash, “Know Your Rights” (1982)

In 1976, British punk bands like The Clash and the Sex Pistols came out in a changing political climate where much were oppression and violence were very evident in shanty streets of poor and immigrant London. That same year seventeen year old Gurdip Singh Chaggar was murdered in what can be clearly called a racist attack in Southall, London. The attackers were three white men who were apparently inspired by an extreme right-wing organization, the National Front. The tune “Know Your Rights” suits quite well for what became one of the most remembered yet atrocious acts in Southall, UK. Other Prominent bands arousing from the racist tensions were roots and dub reggae artists like Misty in Roots, Linton Kwesi Johnson, and Steel Pulse among others. Though punk and reggae by ideological social expressions seem to be oppositional with one another -- sound-wise, reggae carries the steady off-beat syncopation of harmonious sounds with lyrical content of one love and unity, while punk projects the raucous power-chord dissonance of anti-establishment attitude and rebelliousness -- what's important to get across are the effects of reggae and punk musicians producing a counter-narrative to the dominant discourses that shape violence, oppressions and injustices of acts of racism in marginal sectors.

On the outskirts of London near the Heathrow airport on April 23 of 1979, an extreme right-wing organization chose Southall Town Hall to hold its St. George’s Day election meeting. The area is and was one of the country’s biggest South Asian and Black populations. It was also a day of protest for all those who aimed at reaching justice and equality for these minority population in this town. This protest which fought against racist discrimination in the middle of the day ended up turning as one of the most remembered riots of UK demonstrations. Protesters closed off the streets in order to demonstrate their rejection towards an increase in racial conflict with groups such as the British National Front, also known as the NF – far right white nationalist group. The NF, founded in 1967, had a reputation of fascists and racist white nationalists who claimed that mostly all robberies are the actions of black people, self-victimizing the whites, and that immigration of colored people was problematic for most of the UK’s troubles. Throughout the demonstrations, police authorities -- many of them on their horses and vans -- began vigorously interfering with protester and violently shoving and hitting them with their rods. Police's actions caused a massive riot amongst protesters. Within this, a young teacher by the name of Blair Peach was hit in the head by police, and consequently led to his death. This New Zealand native and leader of the Anti-Nazi League unfortunately gave his life for the struggle of human rights and equality. A decade after, Punjabi teenager Kuldip Singh Sekhon was also murdered by racism in Southall. Similarly, on April 22, 1993, 18-year-old black British Stephen Lawrence was stabbed to death while waiting for a bus in South East London. These sparked massive responses from the Southall community and further out.

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic and two decades after Peach’s death, such catastrophic events also resided in the USA. Twenty-three year old Amadou Diallo was an immigrant in New York City who sought political asylum from Guinea, and to pursue an education. Though he was not enrolled yet, he was a struggling young adult who made his living selling videotapes, gloves, and socks in 14th street’s Union Square, as many struggling immigrants do. Though early on February 4, 1999, all Amadou’s dreams were about to be gone. After returning from a meal, Diallo was standing outside a building in the Bronx when four civilian dressed white police officers approached him. The officers claimed they had confused him for a serial rapist. The officers claim they shouted they were the NYPD and demanded for Diallo to freeze with his hands up. The young man frightens and runs up his building. While all police officers are chasing him, Amadou reaches for his pocket to pull out his wallet which cost him his life. One police officer falls to the floor by accident and consequently, another shouts “Gun!” This catastrophe ends up as a rampage shooting Diallo an exaggerated amount of forty-one times.

Similarly, Ousmane Zongo, was a Burkinabè immigrant who made his living repairing art and musical instruments in New York City. One evening on May 22, 2003, the police raided a warehouse for the distribution of pirated CDs and DVDs, where Zongo did his work. Though Zongo’s work did not partake on the pirating scheme, he gets shot and killed instantly by the officers. Another incident, on November 25, 2006, an added rampage shooting from police officers takes place. Seven undercover police detectives amongst the crowd are there waiting for suspicious or illegal activities to occur at a club of the Jamaican area of Queens, New York. Their motives were that the venue had been claimed to foster prostitution. The three men, two African Americans and one Latino including Sean Bell, get shot over fifty times killing Bell.

Even though the mentioning of other related murders are worth the say as it brings the long historical pattern of institutionalized racism to the spotlight, I have select songs specifically chronicling both the murders of Blair Peach in Southall, London, UK, and of Amadou Diallo in Brooklyn, New York. Here are some song verses below and some important reoccurring themes:


1) Key actors – Us Against Them

Blair Peach was an ordinary man
Blair Peach him took a simple stand
'gainst deh fascists and dem wicked plan
so they beat him till him life was gone
LKJ, “Reggae Fi Peach”

They've got to protect their property
Better phone up the police
Call up corruption
Who killed Blair Peach?
The Pop Group, “Justice” (1980)

Political prisoners caught at Southall
And tried by kangaroo courts
A man had to have his balls removed
After being kicked by the S.P.G.
It doesn't look like justice to me….

And they'll bring in the army
To break up the strikes
And they'll bring the legal terrorists
To control civil disorders
The Pop Group, “Justice” (1980)

2) Memory

Blair Peach was not an English man
Him come from New Zealand
Tho dey kill'em and 'em dead and gone
But his memory lingers on
LKJ, “Reggae Fi Peach”

Do you remember Stephen Lawrence
Black male cut down in south London?
And Babylon, called to account,
Made a true confession
Misty in Roots, “Cover Up” (2002)

3) Illusion & Reality

Oh, I'd have caught your eyes, but my hands were tied
Was it truth? Was it lies?
Many words of truth are spoken in jest
Who would have guessed that, or trust that? What a mess!
Hazel O’Connor, “Calls the Tune” (1982)

From the goodness of your mind
And it's a cover up
Black man feel it
No justice
Racism - it's a cover up
People know it
Do you remember Stephen Lawrence
Black male cut down in south London?
And Babylon, called to account,
Made a true confession
Misty In the Roots “Cover Up” (2002)

Oh ye people of Europe
GREAT injustices are committed upon deh land
How long will we permit dem to carry on?
Is Europe becoming a fascist place?
The answer lies at your own gate
and in the answer lies your fate
LKJ, “Reggae Fi Peach”

Political prisoners caught at Southall
And tried by kangaroo courts
A man had to have his balls removed
After being kicked by the S.P.G.
It doesn't look like justice to me
The Ruts, “Jah War” (1979)

I wake up every day
And look at my country
This is what the blind man sees
Does it look like justice to you
It doesn't look like justice to me
The Pop Group, “Justice” (1980)

Everywhere you go it's deh talk of the day
Everywhere you go, you hear people say
dat "Deh Special Patrol...dem a MURDER-AH, MURDER-AH"
LKJ, “Reggae Fi Peach”

4) Solutions

We can't let dem get, no furder-ah
we can't let dem get, no furder-ah
because dem kill Blair Peach, deh teacha
dem kill Blair Peach dem dogs 'n bleeders
LKJ, “Reggae Fi Peach”


1) Key Actors – Unheard voices

Lena gets her son ready for school
She says "on these streets, Charles
You've got to understand the rules
If an officer stops you
Promise me you'll always be polite,
that you'll never ever run away
Promise Mama you'll keep your hands in sight.
Bruce Springsteen, “American Skin (41 Shots)” (2000)

We proceeded on a country road
His mother's eyes withered swoll
Her child was never comin home
Said a prayer for his soul
As the coffin had closed, committed to the earth below
First seed she would sew, would be a tree never grown
Mos Def, “A Tree Never Grown” (2000)

What's real stain they thoughts
Swear, but they won't say it in court
All they do is change the report
Riots, tryin to keep the crowd under control
They even got shows, Cops, LAPD, Highway Patrol yo yo
Wordsworth (ft. by Mos Def), “A Tree Never Grown” (2000)

2) The Unforgivable

We can work, walk, march and protest
Think about how we approach this
Ask questions but they keep frontin'
Due time we change a little something
Hey yo don't you know
Won't forget Amaduous Diallo
To the crooked people and the crooked cops
Got to spread love before the world goes pop
The Beasty Boys, “We Got The” (2004)

I find it hard to say, that everything is alright
Don't look at me that way, like everything is alright
Cuz my own eyes can see, through all your false pretenses
But what you fail to see, is all the consequences
You think our lives are cheap, and easy to be wasted
As history repeats, so foul you can taste it
And while the people sleep, too comfortable to face it
His life so incomplete, and nothing can replace it
And while the people sleep, too comfortable to face it
Lauryn Hill, “I find it Hard to Say (Rebel)” (2002)

3) Victims of the system

[Wyclef as Amadou]
Boy I am so tired
I'll be glad when I get inside the house
Oh, I dropped my keys
Oh what tis bright light?
My God they must gonna rob me
Who these people with them all at they gonna rob me
I'm gonna take out my wallet to make sure they just get the money
Nothing else.. (??)
Oh it's the police (*whew*)
I feel so much better
I will show them, I have my ID
so they know I am good people
{*followed by a rapid flurry of gunshots*}
Wyclef, “Diallo” (2000)

But I'd rather rhyme about how crooked some of these cops is
My synopsis ain't pretty
I'd stay, off them plains and, out the city if I were you
Do what you gotta do
But while you wave them flags, remember Amadou Diallo
KRS-One, “South Bronx” (2000)

Amadou Diallo, they killed him for nuttin'
No crime he did not do!
And just like him there were others
who suffered for what they didn't do
We're living in a system,
we are the victims and that is so true
Amadou Diallo - Reggae music knows your name
Buju Banton, “I Don’t Know Why” (2000)

a. 41 Shots

Reality's a nigga gettin rock shot 41 times
And you askin why I run from one time
I don't even get justice,
Shyne, “Martyr”

Who'll be the next to fire
forty-one shots by Diallo's side?
You said he RIPS oh
but he didn't have no peace oh
But now he rest in peace oh
in the belly of the beast oh
You guys are vampires
in the middle of the night
Suckin on human blood
Is that your appetite sir?
You said he RIPS oh
but he didn't have no peace oh
But now he rest in peace oh
in the belly of the beast oh
Diallo, Diallo - similar to Steven Biko
Diallo, Diallo - you told me the murder was an error
Diallo, Diallo - but every man will be judged
Diallo, Diallo - according to his words
Wyclef, “Diallo” (2000)

(let’s go)
kill ‘em all slow
I was on a serious tree bender with my hands up at a crayz wall’s show
Never circuit bacon don’t police me anymore
You’re a trained professional ??? 41 shots over par
Least common denominator
Aesop Rock, “NY Electric” (2005)

Reality's a nigga gettin rock shot 41 times
And you askin why I run from one time
I don't even get justice,
Fre (ft. by Mos Def), “A Tree Never Grown” (2000)

Constitution, 41 more holes in it
And cops swingin sticks like they tryin to win the pennant
And stickin sticks places where they ashamed to admit it
But that's the straw that broke the camel's back
J-Live (ft. by Mos Def), “A Tree Never Grown” (2000)

Possessed by a nervous twitch and itchy written finger
41 strokes through the barrel of pen for Amadou
Rubrix (ft. by Mos Def), “A Tree Never Grown” (2000)

4) Solution

Wake up and rebel
We must destroy in order to rebuild
Wake up, you might as well
Oh are you... oh are you satisfied
Oh are you satisfied
Rebel... ohhh rebel
Why don't you rebel?
Lauryn Hill, “I find it Hard to Say (Rebel)” (2002)

Numerous musicians have galvanized numerous ways – through activism, demonstrations, and cultural production – right when moments of crisis hits.

"How long shall they kill our prophets" ~ Bob Marley

Friday, January 22, 2010

WorldBeat's Makeda Dread: Fasting for Peace

Makeda’s Message to the World and Her 13 Day Fast (Summer of 09)

Makeda “Dread” Cheatom, known as San Diego’s “most colorful flower child,” is an ambassador of art and activism. "She has worked tirelessly to promote peace, love, culture (and counterculture), art, music and humanity via the WorldBeat Cultural Center, Radio Fusion Reggae Makossa Show, Bob Marley Day, as well as her many other projects and causes. Since 1976, she has been on a mindful, multi-cultural mission to make the world a better place. From opening The Prophet, San Diego’s first non-smoking vegetarian restaurant (irking at least one visiting smoker in the process, ex-Beatle George Harrison), to befriending Bob Marley and Fidel Castro; from pioneering California’s longest running reggae radio show 91X, to spreading the WorldBeat word of positivity and unity, Ms. Dread has been an active altruist."

As an example of Ms. Dread’s dedication to mindfulness and the spreading of positive consciousness, she has begun a thirteen day fast, each day representing a different theme. Her life style and impacting statements parallel with WorldBeat Center's ideology of world unification. Makeda states that her fasts symbolize prayers in hopes to share her vision of world compassion and peace. The themes are all dedications to individuals, earth healing, and spiritual transitions.

Days five, nine, ten, and twelve of her fast goes out to people who have lost their homes, family members in the prison system complex, families struggling in the world, and to all the heroes and sheroes who did grand things on our planet earth. Makeda states, “We are all connected. Our community is hurting, it hurts us too.” She emphasizes that “At any rate, it hurts to be away from your family member...You have to realize this is all karmic and they have to go through experiences themselves.” Day eleven is dedicated to our non-profit, the WorldBeat Center and all members, as well as other grassroots organizations that thrive for social understanding, peace, and unification.

Days six and seven reach out to Mother Earth. Her fast is sent out in prayers to stop world wars and conflicts. She prophesizes, “War will never end until we look deep within. Peace will never come until we realize that we must rid ourselves of greed, hatred, jealousy, division, and selfishness.” – In dedication to our mother earth, the animals and plants. There are changes on Earth happening as we breathe. Our environment is weakening at an unbelievable rate, and many of our precious animals are becoming extinct. Day eight is livicated to Ras Jahluel and all Rastas who have made their transition to Zion. Day thirteen is for transformation and finding our way back home.

Each of Makeda’s fast goes out in hopes to reach out to humanity and for the sake of our planet earth. She lives by the motto “We are what we eat and we become what we eat.” As a raw foodist herself, she states that we must remain aware of what’s happening around us, as well as where our food is coming from, how it is made, and by whom; considering migrant farm workers, rising levels of hormone injected animals, and the conglomerate corporations profiting from it. Through email blasts and online blogs, Makeda’s message for her fast went out to thousands of individuals worldwide. Hundreds of individuals have responded in locations from Japan, Ghana, Brazil, Mexico, U.S. and other parts of the world showing her companionship and giving her thanks especially in difficult times all over the world. They are now jumping in the fasting bandwagon! Makeda Dread continues her mission of spreading love, positivity, health and the amalgamation and appreciation of all cultures.

Friday, January 15, 2010

NoisyPlanet's Chris Shaffer

Artist Review: Chris Shaffer

Having a background in the arts from his grandfather who played standup bass in the 40’s, attending school for the fine arts in oil painting and sculpting, and knowledgeable in a wide range of musical instruments, Christopher Shaffer has collectively gathered his artistic influences and abilities to create a fusion of genres. Noise for the absorption of a jazzy, electro trip hop, and drum-n-bass ear that breaks away from conventional musical trends is what audiences can enjoy. Most of his songs remain without lyrics offering pure moments from a melting pot of sounds.

As Christopher Shaffer refuses to sensationalize what is aired on the radio as favorably pleasing, he aims towards the highlighting of social and political injustices that convey today’s world. He believes that “art in a pristine form is a delicate thing that should be treated lightly.” He has not inquired to commercialize his music since he advocates that the music industry takes all the fun out of it, although if possible, he would love to make a living out of it, living for the art. To him, music is a form of self expression and social communication, as he recalls the art spur during the Age of Enlightenment’s ability to change the world.

Shaffer currently works for a visual communications agency, performs with a few friends once in a while, and spends most of his musical time in his studio playing and recording. He states that as more and more people listen and comment on his music, he has set a goal as to collect himself more together in song. He also strives to do music in a way that is accessible to listeners because sometimes it may be “a little too out there.” Shaffer is not currently performing live, but would like to. He poses to stay true to himself inviting audiences to make up their own interpretations of his music.

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Thursday, January 7, 2010

Come Together Right Now Over Me

"And our friends are all aboard, Many more of them live next door, And the band begins to play. We all live in yellow submarine, yellow submarine, yellow submarine. We all live in yellow submarine, yellow submarine, yellow submarine."
The Beatles, “Yellow Submarine” (1966)

During the ongoing student protests of the sixties, Berkeley had one of the most enduring ones with the Free Speech Movement. It was a pivotal moment for the civil liberty movements of the sixties. A particular day after six days of student demonstrations in 1966, students and other protesters broke into song with The Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine.” It shocked the press and others, especially that the demonstrators did not sing obvious protests songs like “We Shall Overcome.” Julie Stephen cites Todd Gitlin:

"At a mass meeting about a campus strike, someone started singing the old union standby, ‘Solidarity Forever’. Voices stumbled, few knew the words. Then someone started ‘Yellow Submarine,’ and the entire roomful rollicked into it…The Beatles’ song could be taken as the communion of hippies and activists, students and non-students, all who at long last felt they could express their beloved single-hearted community."

Though, Stephen argues that the choice of song was rather interesting. She could not make up whether it was a ‘naïve’ move or ‘lack of enthusiasm’ coming from the students and not choosing something politically more appropriate, however commercial. Of course, this result of choice of song would not have been possible without the works of mass media and its huge success: ‘Beatlemania.’ Besides Katz explanations of the “manifestations of sound recording’s influences” (7): the ‘Phonographic Effect,’ and the music industry’s role the media, (its mass commercialization, mass distribution of records, band merchandise for mass consumption, articles and publications on all major papers and magazines, and the song’s repetitive chorus), it is not too surprising that this song was sung, despite the political contexts. Above all, during the time of these songs, The Beatles, and other popular rock stars, inspired this counterculture of ‘peace and love.’ It was a technological determinism of music inspiring the hippie movement. It was a defining moment in history of coming together and bonding with a fellow person of similar tastes in music, and singing together.

In countless examples, media’s role and its pull and push notions of excessively mass distributing its music, and other content, through channels of distribution, people have come together to sing, dance, socialize, celebrate, etc., whether its in protests, festivities, cultural settings (e.g. weddings, Colombia’s picó ), rituals, concert halls, and more. The DJ culture also became a technological phenomenon, hunting for the vinyl, “digging in the crates,” (11) and performing in front of a live audience and making them dance. This not only brought other music lovers together to collect records and creatively syncopate them, but established an identity for this community. “Record collecting represents a relationship with music that helps us, in some part small or large, to articulate and, indeed, shape who we are” (Katz 11). Even in the recoding studio, musicians were able to interact with each other in different ways than just rehearsing alone. Because of such settings, musicians and other recording studio assistants were able to bond, or maybe even dispute, regardless of this they were led to collaborate socially.

Today, “the world’s largest music stores sell digital files” (Sterne 292), therefore the MP3 and the digitization of music is an important area when discussing technology and media’s role in constituting modalities of social bonding. Sterne states, “Sharing [music] online can lead to new, more humane modes of economic exchange and social collaboration” (316). Even though the MP3 phenomenon has brought up new issues like enforcements of copyrights laws because the music is not being paid for, it has reached vast audiences otherwise impossible without its digitization. Stern continues that “The MP3 was simply swept up in a technological revolution: Piracy made MP3 the breakthrough format on the internet,” (315) and “Piracy was also the central catalyst in the MP3’s rise to preeminence” (316). Because of the astonishment rates of new forms of music distribution, peer-to-peer file sharing for one, Sterne concludes that “Whatever the fate of the existing recording industries, we need not to worry about the future of music as a vital component of human cultures around the world” (321). Through media and technology, music brought us in unity, created social bonding, and social collaboration.