Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Open Letter to Douglas Wolk

"The self-destructive tortured-artist routine was bullshit when Kurt Cobain did it, it was bullshit when Elliott Smith did it, and it's bullshit now. As anyone who's seen the video of Amy Winehouse desperately finger-fumbling her way through "Back to Black" at the MTV Europe Video Music Awards knows, her look-how-messed-I-am public persona is now screwing up her art something fierce. So instead of a new record, Americans are now getting a modified version of Frank, her first album, originally released four years ago and subsequently dissed by the artist herself."

"Winehouse is good enough that she was worth paying attention to for her music alone before her drama started ruining it, but in the light of her subsequent career, Frank comes off as the first chapter in the Romantic myth of the poet who feels too deeply and ends up killing herself for her audience's entertainment. And that is some bullshit."
-Douglas Wolk in his review of Amy Winehouse's rereleased 2003 debut Frank.

Dear Douglas,
The "self-destructive tortured-artist" routine you speak of in your review of Amy Winehouse's Frank seems as though you think Winehouse, Cobain, Smith, etc., are well-adjusted individuals who play this role to create a mythic persona that the public can feed off of. I know it's hard to believe, Douglas, but some people have mental problems as a result of a brain that doesn't function properly and many of these individuals are artists whose work often imitates their lives. It's much, much easier for someone who doesn't suffer from any one of a number of mental illnesses to sit back and play arm-chair psychologist and point the finger at those who can't control their "weakness" than it is to actually educate yourself on this particular topic. It was bullshit in the Dark Ages, Douglas, and it's bullshit now.

Saturday, October 6, 2007


Now, I've seen many a musician past their prime who can't hit the notes like they used to, but I'm telling you now - I saw 70-year old Wanda Jackson tonight at the Continental Club and her voice hasn't missed a beat. Yes, the "Queen of Rockabilly" is incredible and, if she ever makes a stop in your town, GO SEE HER because she still ROCKS!!

Monday, September 10, 2007


"Woman is the nigger of the world."
-Yoko Ono

Forget about Britney Spears' performance last night at that adult high school talent show known as the VMAs. I could care less. What is absolutely appalling to me, however, is the comments regarding her body.

"Lard and clear," read Monday's headline in the New York Post. "The bulging belly she was flaunting was SO not hot," wrote E! Online.

When did curvaceous become the new fat? Is it any wonder that approximately 90-95 % of those with anorexia are girls and women? And as soon as Ms. Spears starts putting the ol' finger down the throat in a fit of self-consciousness and loses the "bulging belly," these same "journalists" will be quick to say she needs a sandwich.

Masochism is defined as the tendency to derive pleasure, esp. sexual gratification, from one's own pain or humiliation. Whatever the definition is for those who derive pleasure from someone else's pain or humiliation, our society has become it.

"The first problem for all of us, men and women, is not to learn, but to unlearn."
-Gloria Steinem

Friday, August 31, 2007

FREE!! Well, somewhat.

Last night, an hour before Kenneth Foster, Jr, was scheduled to be executed, the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole ruled 6 to 1 in favor of clemency for Foster and Governor Rick Perry upheld the decision. This is significant because the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole, also known as the "round table of death," rarely if ever does so. It's not so much a victory for Foster who now gets to spend the rest of his life in prison, as it is a victory for the repudiation of the unjust law which put Foster on death row in the first place. Governor Perry went on to say that he's "concerned about Texas law that allowed capital murder defendants to be tried simultaneously." Just when you think sanity doesn't exist...

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


My favorite album of 2005 was M.I.A.'s Arular and, two years later, her album Kala, which hit stores yesterday is, without a doubt, my favorite album of 2007, thus far. Is it better than Arular? No. Is Arular better than Kala? No. Two different albums; Two different sounds; Both excellent in their own right. Whereas Arular sounds like the calling card of someone who has roots in the third world, Kala sounds like an artist who is totally immersed in it.

M.I.A., born Maya Arulpragasam, grew up amid a raging civil war in Sri Lanka which claimed the lives of some of her friends and relatives. The resulting chaos would force her to move with her family to London where they were housed as refugees. When listening to M.I.A.'s music, it's clear that this music is made with the dispossessed in mind because the artist creating the music is a dispossessed soul herself.

In the world of global music - and M.I.A.'s music is global music - nobody else compares, with the exception of Bob Marley. Both have crossover appeal. But, whereas Marley's cause seemed limited to Jamaica and the continent of Africa, M.I.A. is unique in that she relates to third world struggles on a much more global scale. Yet, despite all the chaos that she's experienced, her music is fun and catchy with an edge that is subtle yet powerful. She's political and feminist without being preachy and uptight. It's music that can be enjoyed by both hipsters and nonhipsters; blue-collar and white collar workers; third world and industrialized nations. M.I.A. reigns supreme as this decade's most important artist because her music - even with it's political leanings - is for EVERYBODY.

Monday, August 20, 2007

On the topic of capital punishment, I've always teetered on the fence of indecision, often falling in a gray area that never fully eases my conscience. I've never lost sleep over the execution of perpetrators who commit heinous crimes, especially crimes against children. On the other hand, I've lost many hours of sleep over the fact that many on death row have been exonerated through DNA testing, leading me to believe the obvious - that our justice system is terribly flawed.

Many high profile death row cases come and go along with petitions to sign "this" and petitions to sign "that." Everybody's innocent and/or have "found god." I've rarely been moved because I'd heard it all before or, at least, I thought so until recently when the name Kenneth Foster, Jr., and a certain law, known as the Texas Law of Parties, collided in my head like a missile targeting my senses.

Foster is scheduled to be executed in Texas on August 30, which is less than two weeks away despite the fact that he did NOT kill anyone. The prosecution, the defense, witnesses, investigators, etc., are all in agreement on this. He was riding in the same car with the murderer, yet was eighty feet away when the murder occurred. The Texas Law of Parties Statute, however, allows "the jury to return a capital murder verdict of guilty if it merely believes that one acted only in furtherance of a non-capital offense, without any requirement that there be intent to kill." In short, you can get the "chair" for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. That is FOOLISH and the potential for abuse of this law is absolutely frightening. I've never been one to push causes I believe in on other people, but an innocent man's life is at stake - a man who has truly and without question been railroaded by the system. Time is running out. Please visit for more information.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The King

Thirty years ago today, an icon passed away and, for many years, I refused to recognise this icon - Elvis Aaron Presley - as the "king of rock n' roll." I mean, where does this guy get off having never written a song in his life? How different is Elvis Presley from a karaoke singer or an American Idol contestant? And what if Elvis were black? Could he have become the icon that he is today? Absolutely not. America in the fifties, both socially and culturally, was a far different world than the one we live in today. Even Little Richard commented: "He was an integrator, Elvis was a blessing. They wouldn't let black music through. He opened the door for black music." Elvis Presley opened the door for black music because he was white. Period.

In 1989, the rap group, Public Enemy, further tarnished Elvis' image in my mind with their song, "Fight The Power," in which they exclaim:

"Elvis was a hero to most but he never meant shit to me. Yes, he's straight-out racist.
The sucker was simple and plain. Motherfuck him and John Wayne."

The lyrics were apparently in response to a quote attributed to Elvis in which he was alleged to have said, "the only thing black people can do for me is shine my shoes and buy my music." My initial thought was that Presley had alot of nerve dogging blacks while making a fortune off their backs. However, Jet magazine claimed in 1957 that: "tracing that rumored racial slur to its source was like running a gopher to Earth." Even Public Enemy's frontman, Chuck D., later acknowledged that: "Elvis was a brilliant artist. As a musicologist - and I consider myself one - there was always a great deal of respect for Elvis, especially during his Sun Sessions. As a black people, we all knew that. (In fact), Eminem is the new Elvis because, number one, he had the respect for black music that Elvis had."

I recenty asked my mother what type of music she liked when she was younger and she instantly exclaimed, "the Beatles." She then stated how disgusted her father was by the sight of the Beatles "long" hair. "But," she went on to declare, "the Beatles long hair was nothing compared to how he and others at the time felt about Elvis Presley. He was nothing more than a degenerate in their minds."

To put things in the context of a particular time period is something that many in the modern era seem incapable of doing. Presley's gyrating hips seem tame by today's standards, yet it severely trumps anything by modern musical standards. Marilyn Manson's feeble attempts at shock value are laughable compared to the cultural outrage that followed Presley's every move. In 1956, for instance, a Florida judge called Presley a "savage" and threatened to arrest him if he shook his body while performing in Jacksonville. While performing on the Ed Sullivan show, he was filmed from the waist up because his gyrations were deemed inappropriate for tv. Even Frank Sinatra was quoted as saying: "His kind of music is deplorable, a rancid smelling aphrodisiac. It fosters almost totally negative and destructive reactions in young people."

By all accounts, Elvis Presley grew up in poverty and was teased incessantly for being "different." He worshipped and performed the music of black artists in a time when it was unpopular to do so. His influence on modern music is undeniable. He is the ultimate outsider and, as I've gotten older, my harsh judgements of Elvis Aaron Presley have waned. Long live the King!

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Pirates and Shredders

Keeping up with music is, figuratively speaking, a full-time job. Aside from the countless gems of the past that I have yet to add to my collection, there are literally thousands upon thousands of album releases each year. Most of these releases are mediocre or just downright awful at best, so it is quite a thrill to find the proverbial "needle in a haystack" that allows your ears to alert the soul that this recording, which you are listening to for the very first time, could possibly be "album of the year" material. I, personally, am on the mailing list of many record labels in order to keep up with the comings and goings of new music. The Kill Rock Stars label was the first label I signed on to as they were home to one of my favorite bands - Sleater-Kinney. Enter Marnie Stern, whose debut album for the Kill Rock Stars label, In Advance of the Broken Arm, has yet to be dethroned as my favorite album of this year. How did I acquire this album, you ask? Well, according to the website,, I stole it.

"Consider this," states the website, "many of us would never even consider stealing something - say, a picture or a piece of clothing - from a friend's house. Our sense of right and wrong keeps most of us from doing something so selfish and antisocial. Yet when it comes to stealing digital recordings of copyrighted music, people somehow seem to think the same rules don't apply - even though criminal penalties can be as high as five years in prison or $250,000 in fines. Contrary to popular opinion, illegally downloading or copying copyrighted music is the same as stealing; there is no difference."

Okay, back to Marnie Stern. Being that I, as well as most people I know, are chronically broke, I asked a friend of mine to download the album from whatever site he is able to do this from and burn me a copy, which he gladly did. I played the album at work and, from there, the overwhelming majority asked me if I could burn them a copy which I gladly did. Had I told them - "no" - I can assure you that ZERO copies of this album would have been purchased. They would have either got someone else to burn it for them or they would have just plain gone without. HOWEVER, when Marnie Stern came to town, the majority of the individuals who I burned In Advance of the Broken Arm for, bought a ticket to her show. Some even brought friends. One bought a Marnie Stern t-shirt. An obscene amount of alcohol was purchased AND I bought a slice of pizza AND I paid to park which, despite supporting Marnie Stern in no particular way whatsoever, does contribute to the local economy. So, in my opinion, the illegal acquistion of this album actually did more to support Marnie Stern as opposed to negatively affecting her career as many would have you to believe.

To the critics of piracy, I say this - if you have ever checked out a book from the library, you have engaged in piracy. Ever bought a used book, cd, or dvd? You guessed it. Piracy. Those who say they have never engaged in the practice are instantly suspicious. Music is important. It has the power to broaden minds and change the way we think. In the current landscape of mind-numbing reality shows and the monopolization of the airwaves by Clear Channel, the true artists who aren't being heard, DESPERATELY need to be and I, for one, will do anything within my power to see to it that they ARE being heard. Rap music, for instance, is the most popular genre of music in the world today and, in third world countries, it has the potential to change the political landscape in positive ways. Are we going to deny them music simply because they can't afford it? Unlike the medications that many in the third world are denied because of greedy pharmaceutical companies, access to music, via piracy, will not be a problem and the world, as a whole, will benefit as a result.
If the penalty for piracy were the chair, I would most certainly be on death row and I have no shame or guilt in that admission. Art is for everyone. Learn to embrace the inevitable.