In the midst of the #MeToo revelations I have found myself in a moral conundrum. How do I separate the artists from the art and their role in the art?
This moral conundrum became obvious as I watched Kevin Spacey’s fall from Hollywood grace. It led me to ask, is it still okay to like The Usual Suspects, Seven or House of Cards? The Guardian recently addressed this in a piece entitled, Kevin Spacey deserves to be scorned. But can I still watch House of Cards? In this article, Hannah Jane Parkinson notes that there “is a difference between continuing to support an individual’s livelihood and appreciating their past work”. She points out that “If the work is historic we can view it critically without actively supporting or enabling a dubious character”. Notice, however, that Parkinson is asking us to critically read the text, without the artist’s aura coming into the assessment. Parkinson’s article also addresses the slew of other artists with whom we might have a similar concern: Pablo Picasso, Woody Allen, Roman Polanski and Casey Affleck. In a similar article by Wesley Morris in the NY Times, Morris states that “As a nation, we’ve never known what to do with our fondness for the work of men who have become troublesome”. Like Parkinson, Morris notes the difficulty is separating the artist from the art. He notes that “we force ourselves to practice impossible moral surgery that hopes to cut off the artist to save the art”.
However, I think we as consumers have chosen the moral surgery and have chosen to vote with our pocket book. The most obvious example of this might be Woody Allen’s 2017 film Wonder Wheel. Despite what Indiewire called Kate Winslet’s “most powerful, emotionally resonant performance in more than a decade”, the film internationally grossed only 1.4 million dollars. It would appear that after over 25 years of scandalous accusations involving both Soon-Yi Previn and Dylan Farrow, the public have “cut off the artist” despite the art.
This brings us to the #MeToo movement. Although the #MeToo movement has forced people to grapple with their opinions of Actors, Directors, Producers, Painters, and Politicians who have acted atrociously toward women, fans have proven to be selective and conveniently turned a blind eye to Musicians. Sure, Twitter had a meltdown when 31-year-old Drake took 18 year-old Bella Harris out for dinner, and of course Jacob Hoggard has admitted to engaging “in a lifestyle that incorporated certain rock and roll clichés”. It should be obvious to everyone what that means. But beyond that, musicians have avoided the #MeToo gaze.
It seems a week cannot go by without a new report on R Kelly. After a guilty verdict and numerous accounts he is still signed to Sony-owned RCA and still represented by The Universal Agency. Even the most shocking accusations on R Kelly have had little impact on his career and he continues to sell out venues like Madison Square Gardens. The same can be said for The Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ Anthony Keidis. Despite bragging in his 2005 memoir Scar Tissue about his statutory rape of a 14 year-old, the band has continued to sustain popularity. And, anecdotally, what is frightening is how many teenagers have personally told me how much they enjoyed a book in which he seems to brag about having sex with a 14 year-old.
However, the true treasure trove of scandalous skeletons is in the closets of classic rockers. As 70s rock bands toured through the USA, a gaggle of young female fans (groupies) followed. A few specific groupies such as Cleo Odzer (ELP, Deep Purple, Rolling Stones), Cathy Smith (The Band) and Julia Holcomb come to mind. At 16, Holcomb was sexually involved with Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler who legally adopted her so, according to Holcomb, she “could travel across state lines when he was on tour”. What about the legendary Chuck Berry’s long disgusting list, including paying a 14-year-old child prostitute? Perhaps one of the more revolting stories involves The Rolling Stones’ Bill Wyman. The Stones’ bassist was 47 years-old when he met 13-year-old Mandy Smith who reportedly “made him feel as though he had been ‘whacked over the head with a hammer”. They began dating shortly afterwards and were married when she was only 19, and he was 53. As Carly Gillis said in her article Rethinking my rock fandom in the age of #MeToo, “Who cares if Page was a child molester – get a load of that righteous Ramble On solo”. It seems that we are willing to disregard the horrific tales of these stars because of the greatness of their art. It would seem that when it comes to rock n’ roll the “moral surgery that hopes to cut off the artist to save the art” is not all that difficult.
Nowhere is this more obvious than with David Bowie. Since his death in January 2016, we have gifted upon Bowie accolades that include genius. And, of course, musically Bowie changed the landscape, our way of thinking about music, gender, and voice. Certainly the word genius can, and some would argue, should be used when talking about Bowie. His music is the thing of legend. However, during this time of reflection on Bowie’s genius, the #MeToo movement has grown and forced us to consider the nature of sex, stardom and power. And, it is at this juncture where we find a clash of ideals. The clash between legend and sexual predator. Lori Maddox was only 14 years-old when she started to hang around backstage at concerts. It was during this time that she lost her virginity to David Bowie (Later in her teens she would go on to have a long relationship with Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page. She was 15; he was 27). Bowie’s attitude towards young girls was not a solitary situation. By the time she was 14, Sable Starr is said to have been with every star including David Bowie. This - of course - was not part of the media’s celebration of his career. This instead, was swept under the carpet and pushed aside as being “from a different time”.
Of course, as a music fan, it would be easy to forget the failures and misdemeanors of these legends. It would be easy for us to leave the past in the past. It would be easy to make excuses for the lifestyles of these famous musicians. It would be easy to separate the man from the art. It would be easy to say “it’s only Rock n’ Roll”. But, if we continue to ignore, what message do we send to young girls in our society.
Recently, I watched Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette. In it she attacks the very idea that we put the artists on a pedestal. In her show she notes the idea that “The art is important, not the artist” and that we must “learn to separate the man from the art”. And, that is the very issue that confronts me. As much as I may love the art, I cannot bring myself to separate the two. In the last year, I have consciously went out of my way not to listen to Bowie. While the rest of the world relives his genius, I find myself awkwardly smiling, swallowing my words like they are cold brussel sprouts.
The reason for this distaste is not because I hold myself to some lofty estimation of my gender. I think it is that if I really, honestly believe in equality then there can be no exceptions to the rules. And, that is what Gadsby points out in her special. Artists (specifically male) “are not exceptions, they are the rule. And they are not individuals, they are our stories. And the moral of our story is...We don’t give a fuck about women or children. We only care about a man’s reputation”. Just think about that for a minute. At first we may think that such a comment is full of vitriolic contempt. But, the reality is that this is true. The narrative of rock stardom outweighs the sexual exploitation of a minor. We as a society have chosen musical greatness, and a great guitar solo over even the most basic of humanity. Of course, there are those who will say, I didn’t know about this. Well, now you do. What now? On what side do you choose to stand? There are some that would say, but “it was a different time”. Yes it was. The same argument could be used to defend any number of sexual abuse scandals throughout the world. Would it be okay to ignore those abhorrent actions too? Of course not. Yet, we seem to be okay with ignoring these actions, at least when perpetrated by someone who played guitar, lived on cocaine, and looked good in tight jeans.
Stereo Williams points out that "our culture turns a blind eye" and even "gleefully endorses the hypersexualizing of teen girls'.
We owe it to our daughters to stop.
We owe it to ourselves.
David Byrne was born in Scotland in 1952. After moving to America he eventually found himself in New York City and in 1975 formed Talking Heads. This is usually where Byrne’s history ends. And, that is the crucial mistake.
Don’t get me wrong Talking Heads are certainly worth our discussion. I remember being introduced to the band as a ten year old at roller rink. Weird, I thought. Strange. What’s with the suit? However, as I have aged I have come to understand that some of the thoughts I had in my youth were stupid. First off, let’s consider their role in the early NYC punk movement and the rise of CBGB. If there is one artist that does not fit in the scene it is unarguably Talking Heads. Look at the names we associate with the legendary club and the rise of NYC punk: The Fleshtones, The Damned, The Ramones, Blondie (Not disco Blondie), Patti Smith, and Talking Heads. Really? The quirky, non-leather, art sound that the Heads were playing certainly didn’t fit in with the dirty punk of CBGB. Yet, Talking Heads didn’t just survive that scene, but they instead thrived. Where bands like The Ramones did little to grow, Talking Heads immediately implemented sounds that were completely their own.
That philosophy of growth stayed with Talking Heads through their entire career. Talking Heads grew too big for their punk and post-punk start. And, as the world waited for them to embrace synth-driven new wave, like many of their colleagues did, they instead went in the direction of Afro-beat with Remain in Light. It was a sound that would come to influence the likes of Peter Gabriel and Paul Simon. But, instead of sticking with that they crossed over with Speaking in Tongues an album that has been lauded as the "album that finally obliterates the thin line separating arty white pop music and deep black funk". This growth would continue through the remaining Talking Heads’ records, but more importantly through Byrne’s own career.
His first solo album Rei Momo released in 1989, is based on South American soundscapes and rhythms. Who does that? An artist that’s who. Furthermore, 1991’s The Forest is an instrumental concept album based around the legend of Gilgamesh in Industrial times. Uh-Oh (1992) and David Byrne (1994) are both Art-pop with a sprinkle of world beat. 2004 sees him years ahead of the chamber pop sound with Grown Backwards.
And, that is without the collaborations, something which has become commonplace in modern music, but which Byrne has been doing throughout his career. 1997’s Feelings sees him collaborate with English Trip-Hop band Morcheeba. Everything That Happens Will Happen Today with Brian Eno. Here Lies Love, a concept album with Fatboy Slim about - of all people - Imelda Marcos. Love This Giant and Brass Tactics with St. Vincent. That is not to mention his guest vocalist appearances with De La Soul, Natalie Merchant, Philip Glass, Esmeralda, Anna Calvi, Maximum Balloon, The Arcade Fire, etc. So, musically the man collaborates like like few others. But, note the collaboration. This is not the type of artist who is signed up with Top 40 performers to boost sales. Byrne’s collaborations are about artistic freedom and growth.
So, the history of Talking Heads and their music, their genre-altering albums, their early adoption of world music and baroque pop and David Byrne’s own amazing collaborations should solidify his legendary status. The words used to describe Byrne are similar to those used to describe Bowie, and Prince. Yet, only real music snobs talk about Byrne in the same way. And, that is an issue.
Like Bowie and Prince, Byrne has certainly had issues with modern life, technology, the internet and licensing. However, David Byrne has taken his conversations on technology to a whole new level. In essence, Byrne has become a sage for our hyper modern times, and it is perhaps as a modern-day philosopher that we should best remember David Byrne. In a piece he wrote for the Guardian in 2013 Byrne noted that the “inevitable result would seem to be that the internet will suck the creative content out of the whole world until nothing is left”. In the same article, Byrne writes not subjectively from a musician seeing his livelihood taken away, but instead from a fan of music, and someone genuinely concerned for its future. He writes, “What's at stake is not so much the survival of artists like me, but that of emerging artists and those who have only a few records under their belts”. Byrne’s ability to view the future from a philosophical stance is bother refreshing and inspiring. It has also allowed him to be a proud defender of the arts, as both a creator and consumer.
Byrne has embraced his role as technological canary in the modern connected mine. Beginning with True Stories, his cultural thesis on America. His philosophical ideas of on culture and technology has continuously grown throughout his career. In 1999 he collaborated with a dance company and sold the record on his website. 1999. Website. This is 2 years prior to Wilco being forced into doing this and 8 years before Radiohead did it. And, as if selling an album online wasn’t enough innovation, he debuted his 2001 single “Like Humans Do” on Windows XP. Furthermore, in 2005 as the internet was just establishing itself, Byrne started his own internet radio station. Byrne has even established his writing on the subject of pop culture in his 2012 book (note that he has written several other books as well), How Music Works. Byrne’s career has followed our own love affair with culture, communication and technology and mirrored our own retrospective fears on the subjects.
Some may argue that for me to group Byrne in with the likes of Bowie is unfair, but look at the words used to describe Bowie after his passing. Mick Ronson said,"He knew what he wanted to do and he got on and did it”. Iggy Pop described him as “Brilliant”. Kanye West referred to him as “so fearless...so creative”. Madonna called him “Unique” and added that he was a “game changer”. And, former British Prime Minister David Cameron called him a “A master of reinvention”. Each and every one of these comments can be equally placed on Byrne’s big shoulders. And, Adam Lambert’s description of Bowie, is as relevant to Byrne as it is to Bowie; he is “one of the bravest artists of the century”.
So, why don’t we recognize this? Why has Byrne’s latest “brilliantly brainy” record American Utopia come out to relatively little attention.
Recently, while chatting to a friend about my affection for Talking Heads, I mentioned a handful of hits, to which he replied, “You forget how many hits they had”. I think in general we tend to to forget David Byrne and Talking Heads. In September of 2017, PaperMag wrote a piece on Talking Heads’ bassist Tina Weymouth and in it they described her influential bass playing as an “afterthought”. I whole-heartedly agree. And, as much as Weymouth would be angered by my comparison, I can’t help but feel that Byrne is - like her bass-playing - a cultural “afterthought”. Over the last few years we have seen a slew of legendary artists die (I refuse to say taken away). With every death, we seem to gather around and discuss the elastic definition of the word genius. Well, let’s tighten up that definition. Let us look at what truly makes one a legend, and please, can we finally acknowledge that David Byrne deserves a rightful place in the pop hierarchy?
Rock’s Renaissance Man” has only solidified his reputation as such. Byrne is a “Musician, Composer, Author, Film Maker, Sculpture, Actor, Cycling Enthusiast, Oscar Winner, Budding Neuroscientist, Designer, Photographer, Global Music Curator” and so much more.
This past Wednesday the internet awoke to Eminem’s “anti-Trump takedown”. Over the next 24 hours The Storm was being liked, shared and retweeted and liberal-minded anti-Trumpers (of which I am one) exalted in the saving grace of the self-proclaimed “Rap God”.
However, I felt somewhat out of step with the wave of devotion. As a music fan and as someone who firmly believes that Mathers has - as the Beastie Boys might have said - the skills that pay the bills, I couldn’t help but notice some glaring issues.
First off, I am also not buying the argument that this was particularly “gutsy”. The performance was delivered at the BET Hip-Hop Awards. Who in attendance or viewing at home was going to be offended by this? Sure, I am sure there are some Trump supporters out there with “Lose Yourself” on their workout mix, but let’s be honest, there are hardly bonfires fueled by copies of the Relapse in Trumplandia.
Secondly, let it be known that I whole-heartedly agree with the sentiment behind what Fast Company called “Eminem’s best performance in 15 years”. However, as is often the case with Eminem, I took issue with his use of language, and given that this miraculous rant appeared on Wednesday October 11th: International Day of the Girl, I think you should too.
“Donald the bitch!”
The Right side of the political spectrum love addressing the Left’s hypocrisy. And, as they should when the hypocrisy is as glaring as it was this week (talking to you Hollywood).
In what appears to be the lone legitimate news source calling out Eminem, The Washington Examiner’s Philip Wegman said “One anti-Trump track can't discount an entire discography of misogyny. The Left doesn't get to lecture about the president's ‘locker room talk’ then turn around and praise a rapper who wants to punch out Lana Del Rey, rape Iggy Azalea, and rip Pamela Anderson's "t--s off”.
And, you know what. They’re right. We don’t get to do that. Just because we agree with the target of his art, does not mean we should allow ourselves to abandon our principles. Is the greatest weapon we have against Trump a misogynist in baggy pants? Is the great weapon we have against Trump a man who recast Ray Rice as a heroic figure? Surely, we are not taking sides in a sick contest of My Two Misogynists, are we?
The Guardian’s Britt Julious commented in 2014 that “Attacking women in his singles offers instant selling publicity”. Well, guess what. Slim has a new record coming out. As cynical as it sound, perhaps Trump might just offer Slim “instant selling publicity”. But, when it comes to women, I would dare say he has as much in common with the man in orange. Forget my pass sins, and embrace your new hero. It’s a post-modern nightmare isn’t it?
At the end of the day, Eminem delivered a well-intentioned political piece that seemed to galvanize people. But, Eminem, the larger rap community and we snowflake liberal hypocrites need to remember that the woman’s place is in the resistance, and not on the floor outside of an elevator.
1991 was a strange year. I was in grade 12 and we seem to be bombarded with a pile of sounds we had never really heard before. Commercial radio wasn't sure what to play and young people weren't sure what to like. One week your favourite band was Jesus Jones (don’t judge me), the next week Pearl Jam. A week later it was the Red Hot Chili Peppers or Public Enemy. And so 1991 went. The fact was we weren't sure what we were listening to but we knew we liked it.
In September of 1991 a flurry of great albums came out and of course one of them in particular has been talked about a lot this year. However in November of 1991 an obnoxiously coloured pink and yellow album (that had the audacity of putting a big money bag on the front) showed up on record store shelves: Teenage Fanclub’s Bandwagonesque. By the end of the year it was Spin Magazine's number one album, beating out the likes of My Bloody Valentine, REM, Pearl Jam and, most surprisingly, Nirvana. Over the next few months the album would slowly crawl into my zeitgeist. I bought the album and listened to it intently. In February of 1992 friends and I gathered around to watch them perform on Saturday Night Live.
I was hesitant to call them my favourite. They were only slightly aggressive, and they were that one thing that teenagers don’t want to be: sweet. They wore their romanticism like a badge of honour, and at 17, I wasn’t quite ready to be that open, that vulnerable. Just under two years later their follow-up album Thirteen arrived in record stores. I went in on the opening day and bought it. Instantly found myself committed to the cause.
Where Bandwagonesque was the sound of sappy young love and fun Saturday nights, Thirteen was the sounds of a band growing into a greater appreciation of the world around them. Love was in the air, but so too was a cynicism that lumbered through the slower pace of the record. It is a record that the band seem okay to forget, but one that for me holds a special place. It was the album that made me more than just a casual fan. The maturity of their songwriting expanded on their third album Grand Prix in 1995. The unofficial soundtrack of my own band’s cross-country tours we drove the Trans-Canada deciphering the Norman’s broken heart, Raymond’s philosophical ideals and Gerard’s penchant for pop. Like teen girls of the 60’s idolizing The Beatles, we each had our favourite members. As much as I liked the philosophical overtones of Raymond, I yearned for the type of relationship that Norman sang about. Ultimately, I found myself dancing under Gerard’s “Discolite”. My identity, like Fanclub’s was in flux.
In July of 1997 they released Songs from Northern Britain. As much as I still loved the band I was not sure how I felt at first about the record. It sounded older. Slower. They had matured on me. But, I was still young. For now. Just when I thought I was finally out of sync with Teenage Fanclub, I realized that I was not. Just as they were singing of love and settling down. I too was. I moved to Ottawa, moved in with my partner and started a “real job”. I was humming "Planets" and serenading my future wife with "I Can't Feel My Soul".
In 2000, I bought my first house and I got married. And, of course, Teenage Fanclub released their new record two weeks later. I remember that it was the first record I bought as a home-owner and husband. Seriously, the song titles read like inside joke “Accidental Life”, “The Town and The City” and, the apt named “Cul de Sac”. The band seemed comfortable with the new developments, and as much as I wasn’t sure I would like it, I grew to. I remember listening to the record while mowing my lawn, and shovelling my driveway. I was officially no longer the young man of my youth. And, I was at least partially okay with that.
Other albums followed: Manmade (2005), Shadows (2010) and most recently Here (2016). Each album was unmistakably Fanclub. Yes, the aggressive power chords of “Hang On” were gone and the cheeky juvenility of “The Concept” have long been banished to the final song of the set, the truth is that for Fanclub to do that today would be foolish. Just as it would be foolish for this 42 year-old man to say “when I see you cry, I think tears are cool”. I can only imagine my wife’s response. Instead Fanclub was contemplating the world in a way that can only come with age, and I understood the comfort of doing just that.
A week from now my friends and I will drive up to a Toronto venue I was supposed to see Teenage perform at in 1994 (I was stranded at the St. Catherines bus shelter because of a snow storm). We have seen them various times over the years. But, each time, I cannot help but think on my life. It seems to fit into two eras: Before Fanclub and After Fanclub. It is times like this that I realize bands are not merely about the music. They act as a timestamp on your life. The band you truly love and listen to should change with you. You connect with them because they are at the right spot at the right time of your life. The truth is in ten years most people aren't going to go and see some act topping the charts today. Why? Because that band will no longer be part of you. They might be part of some multi-million dollar revival tour, but they will no longer be part of who you are.
On Wednesday night for about 90 minutes I will enter a time machine. Throughout the night I'll be bounced to and fro.
I’ll be reminded that “time can only make demands” and ultimately that “my life is going fast”. A flood of memories will come over me that night, just as it has every time I have seen them. At the end of that night I will get in my car and I will drive home. I'll go to sleep and wake up the next morning say goodbye to my kids and head off to work just like an adult does.
Yes, like Fanclub, I “get older every year”. But, unlike the lyrics of their 1990 classic “Everything Flows", I do “notice you’re changing”.
But, aren’t we all?
We just need to be okay with the change.
Kim was arrested
lawsuit claims: massive copyright infringement
Twentieth Century Fox
infringing creative content
'I'm not a pirate, I'm an innovator'
This is a found poem I wrote during an in-class writing session which was run by my student teacher. I used this article from The Guardian on the charges of copyright infringement being brought up against Kim Dotcom and his website Megaupload.
In 2011 Debbie Sterling started Goldieblox. The premise was simple. Structural toys like Lego and Meccano were continuously marketed to boys. Meanwhile, girls' toys were predominantly marketed not to the development of cognitive ability, but instead to developing future purchasers and consumers. You can argue this if you'd like but I defer to Peggy Orenstein'sCinderella Ate My Daughter. So, Sterling, a Mechanical Engineering / Product Design grad who was now a High School Math teacher started Goldieblox with the goal to "get girls building". It is a noble effort that with which we surely can agree.
Goldieblox has recently gained more notoriety for their latest commercial which has been a viral sensation. The sensation has gathered around Goldieblox use of the Beastie Boys' Girls. Goldieblox did not get permission to use the classic song but instead is reworked into a bit of a feminist statement of empowerment for young girls sick of merely playing with Barbie. Goldieblox's defense of the choice of song was that they were parodying it to mock the original intent of the song (which is should be noted is often read itself as a parody of mainstream pop music).
The Beastie Boys wrote the following in response to Goldieblox:
Like many of the millions of people who have seen your toy commercial “GoldieBlox, Rube Goldberg & the Beastie Boys,” we were very impressed by the creativity and the message behind your ad.
Just prior to The Beasties' response conversation about the issue began to bubble up in Twitter. Perhaps the most interesting response I read came from Toronto band The Darcys who pondered the following: How do we decide who is prosecuted for stealing and who is celebrated for re-appropriation?
Click to set custom HT
That question is a powerful one, and one that is incredibly difficult to answer.
I have always bought music and always seen the importance of purchasing music as imperative in a culture that supports its artistic community. However, I have also embraced our ability to take that culture and parody it. Without such re-appropriation a society are limited in how they question societal power structures. Over the last few years I have also begun to embrace certain elements of what might be called the "free-culture movement". My position on the fence at times seems uncomfortable, but as a supporter of art, I feel it is the only place with which I can sit.
So, to return to The Darcys' question, how do we decide? Radiohead, who came to the defense of The Beastie Boys, have in past circumnavigated Warner-Chappell (their publisher) and allowed artists to use their music. In doing so the artist made the exception and thus bestowed upon another artist their blessing. But, as our culture becomes further commodified do we not risk allowing "art" to be sold for merely commercial interest? With that said, The Beastie Boys state that their reasoning for not allowing a company to use their songs was a "conscious decision" and seems to be genuinely based on a solid belief structure.
However, their own history is problematic. The song in question comes from their 1986 debut Licensed to Ill which "illegally" sampled everyone from Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin to Slick Rick and Run D.M.C. They, may feel that as hip hop artists that they were "allowed" to sample, but ultimately, the record, released by Columbia, was a commodity. And (at the time) it was the fastest-selling debut record in Columbia's history. As much as their music was original it was also re-appropriated from other artists and used to make money. What then is the difference between The Beastie Boys and Goldieblox?
When Adam Yauch died in 2012, his will stated that “Notwithstanding anything to the contrary, in no event may my image or name or any music or any artistic property created by me be used for advertising purposes.”. Now it appears the courts will have to decide. but, one cannot help but notice the hypocrisy of the messenger in this case. The Beastie Boys were artists who were trying to break new ground and change the shape of music: mission accomplished. But, in doing so they bent the rules (for better or worse) and led us to a world built on re-appropriation. If The Beastie Boys are allowed to pass judgement on re-appropriation what in the world would the remaining members' future creative output sound like?
This argument appears to come down to two key points. Firstly, it is a semantic one. To re-appropriate is defined as to take without permission, to seize or to appropriate. Is this definition any different from the verb "to steal"? Secondly, if we allow artists like The Beastie Boys to re-appropriate, do we not have to allow others to re-appropriate? Should the Beasties be able to pillage while chastising those who pillage from them?
Goldieblox have a strong argument forfair use. And, in trying to change the way in which we market toys to girls, are they - like the Beasties - not breaking new ground and changing the shape of advertsing? The truth is that The Beastie Boys and Goldieblox are perhaps more similar than The Beasties would have us believe. After the release of their second album Paul's Boutique the Beasties came under attack from those they sampled. The most alarming suit came from The Beatles. Mike D responded by saying "What's cooler than getting sued by the Beatles?". Now it seems we can revisit this and wonder if Debbie Sterling might say "What's cooler than suing The Beastie Boys?"
I'm still not sure where I stand on free-culture. I still love supporting music, film and art, but I can see the artistic argument for building culture based on destroying the past. But, If you really believe in free culture, then you must accept that free culture is for everyone. And, that is where things get sticky, awkward and even painful. Because God only knows I don't want to hear Imagine in an ad for the Keystone Pipeline.
As an avid listener of Jian Ghomeshi's Q I was excited to hear his interview with Toronto's Hip Hop impresario Drake. Drake’s interview showed an intelligent and articulate performer, who truly seemed down to earth. However, as engaging and enjoyable as the Drake interview was, I was struck by some hypocrisy.
Q has on various occasions examined the offensive language in hip hop and pop culture (recently in Q in the Summer's interview they questioned the offensive nature of Robin Thicke's Blurred Lines). Yet, hometown hero Drake seems to have escaped any analysis of his own misogynistic language and his controversial use of the N-Word. In fact the only time the word "ho" was mentioned resulted in what Drake seemed to think was a funny moment: "Oh, you didn't tell me we could use the word Ho". He seemed to pride himself on not being seen as a "gangsta" but, for example, when I hear his use of the N-Word on tracks like Tuscan Leather (or just about any other song) it comes across as a crutch and prompts me to see him as a wannabe gangster. The articulate Drake that was interviewed seems to conflate with the Drake we hear on his records. It leads me to ponder which Drake is the authentic Drake. Of course, people will leap to Drake’s defense stating that his misogynistic rants are merely the lyrical meanderings of a “naive young man”, but despite that he uses the insulting vernacular regularly. What he uses with even more regularity is the vernacular "nigga". And, yes, I understand that as a white man I am not suppose to enter into this debate. But suffice to say I agree with More or Les in saying that word does nothing to elevate black culture. Of course, this is still a heated debate in hip hop culture but one that I would have liked to have seen Jian question. With that said, I can only assume that Drake's status as friend of Kanye & Jay Z allowed him to slip through this interview without a word about the framing of women and black culture in his music.
I am a legitimate fan of Hip Hop (particularly Canadian Hip Hop) but have never understood (other than production) what makes Drake a critical darling. To me his sounds often seem saturated in wet production (auto-tuned) and seem terribly unoriginal. I think this might explain why he (seemingly to his amazement) lost the 2011 Juno for best Rap album to the far-superior TSOL by Shad. However, the unfortunate reality is that the industry seems to leave literate rap artists (like the aforementioned Shad and fellow 2011 nominee Eternia), who do not placate to misogynistic and offensive motifs in the margins. My hope is that over the next few months we will hear Shad, More or Les or even Eternia on Q. Perhaps then we can discuss the marginalization of women in the industry and why it is that we allow stars like Drake to follow the same insulting conventions as their American "counterparts"...and find fame doing so.
Over the past two years the iconic British alternative band The Smiths have waged a war on British Prime Minister David Cameron. The Smiths, who have not performed live since 1986 and broke up in 1987, have been called the most influential British band since The Beatles. During the 1980's when popular music was about as deep as a cat's dish, the Smiths offered listeners a view of Britain in the heart of decay and class conflict. Their music has always held tightly to ideas of class divisions and philosophies of British culture. And, although their sounds influenced a generation of British bands (James, The Bluetones, Suede. etc.) no British band (before them, or since them) have forged pop, fashion and style with a conscious political message. Recently, their political ideologies have once again entered into public dialogue.
In 2010 both lead singer Morrissey and guitarist Johnny Marr angrily denounced PM David Cameron for being a fan of the band. Johnny Marr said "David Cameron, stop saying that you like The Smiths, no you don't. I forbid you to like it". Morrissey similarly released his own diatribe aimed at Cameron's love of hunting, adding "it was not for such people that either Meat is Murder or The Queen is Dead were recorded; in fact they were made as a reaction against such violence". Marr and Morrissey, who have never been on the best of terms since Marr left the band in 87, supported a trade with Cameron: his government for a reunion show. Marr stated in 2012, "If this government steps down then I'll reform the band. How's that? That's a fair trade, innit?". So, to put the seriousness of this into context, the band have been in legal battles with each other for years, and have always said they will never reunite. But, they were apparently ready to do just that if Cameron steps down. The rhetoric reached new rigor this past week when Marr said in an interview "I told him to stop saying that he likes the band, I told him I forbid him to like it...He shouldn't like us. We're not his kind of people. I don't think I could say it any better". Cameron responded by hinting at the particularly strained relationship between Morrissey & Marr and their fellow bandmates Andy Rourke and drummer Mike Joyce, stating "When I've got the complete and full set, even then I will go on and listen to the Smiths".
But, here is the thing. Do Morrissey and Marr have a point?
Over the past few years my Walter Benjamin-like leanings have led me to embrace the post-modernist idea that when an artist creates something it can and should be taken by people and used, altered and adjusted to continue to create art. However, does the same philosophy apply to the "theme" within the music? I suppose people might argue the band does not have a say in who embraces their message, perhaps then should the onus be on the consumer of music. Do we as a consumer, whether we be a "regular" citizen or an elected official, have an obligation to understand the philosophy of an artist?
This is of course nothing new. In 2005 Alejandro Escovedo stopped playing "Castanets" after the NY Times reported that it was a George W. Bush fav and was on his iPOD. But, it seems as music slips more immediately into the public rhelm, artists are becoming more adamant about just who embraces their music and philosophies.
Canada has also been a part of this. Recently Torquil Campbell of Montreal-Toronto band Stars has taken his issues with the Harper Government to Twitter. This all began when Andrew MacDougall, the PMO's Director of Communication tweeted "The whole Stars record is great but 'Hold On When You Get Love And Let Go When You Give It' is the standout track". This prompted the always political Campbell to respond "please man, until you stop working for a sociopath who is
ruining the country, leave our record alone". This sparring between the two continued with an agitated Campbell stating "having stevie harpers publicity guy praising our new record is ironic in the worst possible way" and (after a rather abrupt tweet) Campbell added "sorry to be so explicit, but i'm doing anything i can to get you stop listening to us", and "we think your crew are a bunch of fucking thugs, and we detest every last one of them".
Now, at first this might seem like an uncivilized response to someone liking your music. But, is music just music? Isn't music much more than that? Isn't music an art form that conveys a message? And, should musicians have a say in who listens to their music? Obviously, we can't have musicians verifying purchasers, but I think we can condone, and even expect, writers (of music, poetry, prose, etc.) to say when their message is in the hands of those they are fighting against. God knows, I certainly wouldn't expect Banksy to say something if his art work were to hang in Trump Tower.
It would seem as The Smiths and David Cameron continue to wage a war of words the true value of art and the limits of that art are pushing us to consider the role of art and politics once again. Perhaps it seems so odd because we seldom see artists that hold convictions like a true artist should?
When I was five I bought my first record. I was at the local K-Mart and my parents – at my contention – purchased the Peter Criss solo album for me. I remember my father asking if I knew any of the songs. I quickly turned the album searching for something convincing. I blurted out that I had heard the last song on the album “I Can’t Stop the Rain”. Over the next few weeks I played that album and particularly that sentimental drivel of a song over and over. In my basement, I would croon maudlin lyrics like “Ain't it sad when the only love I ever had just slips away right through my fingers”.
In retrospect, the song is histrionically schmaltzy and ceases to have any redeemable charm. However, that song was not merely my first experience as a lover of music, but, it would seem, was my first attempt to understand the ideal of love. Of course as the years progressed and my record collection grew the truth is, I learned, or attempted to learn about sexuality and love not from my father, or a family member (I was an only child so the superior knowledge of an older brother was out of the question), but through the over-hyped masculinity of rock n’ roll and the overindulgent sounds of pop music.
Over the next few years I would grab at various songs until in 1983 when I bought Def Leppard’s Pyromania. The overt sexuality of “Photograph” and “Rock, Rock til you Drop” teamed up succinctly with a pre-teen just discovering the opposite sex. My almost dutiful commitment to all things Def Leppard eventually led me to AC/DC, the makers of such subtle songs as “Sink the Pink”, “Big Balls” and “Whole Lotta Rosie”.
Yet, it would be a post-high school musical reformation that would most alter my views on love and relationships. Glasgow, Scotland’s Teenage Fanclub broke big in 1991 with their record Bandwagonesque. The overly-poppy-romanticism of Fanclub was infectious. It was not about the corny passion of overwrought sexuality but was about the basic simplicity of romance. On songs like “December” they painstakingly declared “She don't even care but I would die for her love”. Just out of high school and desperately trying to figure out what it meant to be on the threshold of a perceived adulthood (little did I know that adulthood was still years away), the sound of 90s power pop offered me a view of the man I wanted to be. Previous to this, I had put together a band with friends equally as lost in the world of the early nineties. The last thing we wished to discuss with our parents was love and sex. However, it seemed it was all we wanted to talk about with friends and sing about on stage. Despite Teenage Fanclub’s pleas that I should have “never looked for answers in a song” I did just that, and in doing so recast myself as a new romantic.
With my heart firmly on my sleeve I cultured “fantasies of love and affection” singing about unrequited love and post-high school crushes that seemed altogether adult at the time, but in retrospect were childish and feeble. Fanclub would sing “I'd steal a car to drive you home” or “Your Love Is The Place Where I Come From” and I would declare that “I judge my direction by the place that you call home”. Even in my early twenties I never saw the hyperbole of the romantic pop song, but instead I read it as the genuine artifact. When Paul McCartney sang “A love like ours could never die as long as I have you near me”, I saw it as the truest declaration of love as opposed to a hyperbolic sentimental over-extension that I’m sure in retrospect stuck in Linda McCartney’s craw (the song was written for McCartney’s then girlfriend Jane Asher). But, the reason for that is simple. I was young, and let’s be perfectly honest, ignorant to the complexities of love.
In 1997 I met the woman who would become my wife. In hindsight I attempted to formulate a soundtrack to our burgeoning relationship. It was as if I wanted to create a mixed-tape of devotional hymns to the love that I had always dreamed of. Even on our wedding day we created a CD of songs that spoke of our love for each other ending of course, with Fanclub crooning “It's your love, I dream of and that's all I need to know”. However, the truth is the love that we would share and build upon had only just begun.
Over the next few years mortgage payments, insurance, health concerns, kids and the overbearing reality of the everyday set in and knocked the soundtrack from the turntable. It was not that there still wasn’t love, and music for that matter, but we had entered an era of realism that the songs I had grown up on didn’t address. The truth is that the hyperbole of a pop song only scratches the surface of a real relationship. The problem lies in the music that we hear around us. It is so often created by young people for young people. It rarely reflects on the tenuous nature of adults in love. John Lennon, in the midst of romantic turmoil, reflected on his tumultuous relationship with Yoko Ono singing “our life together is so precious together. We have grown, we have grown”. For Lennon the love he had for Yoko Ono had grown and matured beyond his often glaring sentimentality. More recently Canadian songwriter Ron Sexmsith wrote “A word or two, my friend, there's no telling how the day might end, And we'll never know until we see, that there's gold in them hills”. In those words Sexmsith espouses the nature of real love. The grandiose overstatements of love are gone and have been replaced by the reality of love. The fact is that no matter what your life holds in store, if you truly are in love then you will “see the blessings in disguise”.
It would seem that the soundtrack of our past must remain there, in the past. I would never question the canon of love songs that have helped create who I am, however, it is imperative that the soundtrack from here on out isn’t about me but ultimately about us. Love is about two, not one, for as Teenage Fanclub said on their latest record “what is it I haven't got when I've got you?”
I still listen to a lot of music. In fact I still listen to a lot of young power-pop that still espouses the romantic idealism I too espoused when I was young. However, it is no longer that music that creates me. I have been created not by the music but by the family I now have (perhaps in part to that music). In a song I once wrote for my wife I sang “I wish I could put my heart into something new, if you weren’t taking up all the room”. But truthfully, like Lear before me, my heart was not finite. Truthfully, the love for my kids, my wife as a mother and my wife as a partner have grown from that idealized romance.
This thirty-nine year old has come to understand that love, realistically is about your ability as a couple to not come undone while the threads of passion and romance unravel under the pulls and strains of potty-training, mortgage payments and one’s own occasionally stupidity. Sadly, pop songs don’t include this message. Pop songs don’t tell you that when you are looking for love, look for someone who accepts the fat kid hiding behind the singer, that kid who was raised on bad records and beautiful pop songs. Because the person who can see you for what you truly are knows that you’re not perfect and yet can still wake up every day and declare “My love, you know you are my best friend”. And really that’s what this whole love thing truly is about, isn’t it?
The world of music and media offers us a view of the world like few other arts.