Saturday, May 18, 2013

It's A Beautiful Spring Day

So rather than do the same topics everyone else is doing; or, perhaps, making some point I've made over and over again; or even make the banal point that calling someone who defends discrimination prejudiced isn't a personal attack but a description of their actions; nope - just gonna play some music for a Spring day.

Like Joe

And Marillion
Crosby, Stills, and Nash
And something of a recent vintage (released last month here in the US; in January or February in Europe)

Monday, May 13, 2013

Nekulturni Kampf

There are few things I enjoy more than reading right-wingers attempt cultural criticism.  Whether it's how horrible Girls is because the star, Lena Dunham, is unafraid to appear in the nude despite being a normal-looking young woman; how Mad Men is a conservative blockbuster because all the men smoke and drink and treat women like crap, the way God ordained it; or disparage this or that musical performer or even whole musical style because it's too loud or the songs are about things the church-ladies on the right disapprove (imagine young people singing about sex and having a good time!  it's never happened before!); the resulting combination of ignorance and stupidity and what the folks at Lawyers, Guns, and Money call "cultural Stalinism" is hilarious.

The latest entry in the "Conservatives Can Be Cool" contest comes to us from the American Enterprise Institute (which gives the game away, if you've been paying attention for the past few decades).
Yet at the same time — and discussions about discursive practices aside — there is a strong undercurrent of deeply conservative thought expressed in songs by a wide range of some of the most famous rap artists of all. And it is not just the kind of classical-liberal concerns over government overreach in specific policy areas (narcotics, law enforcement) that one would expect based on the attention rap music has received in the public debate, though there is quite a bit of that. As I will show by analyzing the twenty-one greatest conservative rap songs, selected based on a mix of ideological purity (primarily), musical quality, and popular appeal, all three legs of President Reagan’s “three-legged stool” are represented.
The songs I discuss express support not just for pro-family social values, but also for small government and peace through strength. That said, domestic policy receives more attention than foreign policy, a common feature of most contemporary popular music in the West, and partially for that reason, the relative size of the legs reflect the Republican Party’s primary electorate better than its policy platform
If you're wincing, then you're normal.

First of all, the musical style under discussion isn't "rap".  It's hip-hop.  Old white men talk about rap.  Trust me, I'm an old white man.

Second, who judges any work of art this way?  Reagan's "three legged stool"?  The person who wrote this is clearly out of his depth before we reach the "songs" - and calling them songs is also a tell; hip-hop artists talk about "joints", as in, "You heard the new Naz joint?"  I'd weep for anyone else this clueless; the whole exercise, however, is an apologia for Marco Rubio's expressed enjoyment of the music.  Someone had to tell a party made up by and large of aggrieved white people that the musical style in question wasn't inherently bad.

We haven't even reached the list yet, and already anyone with a lick of sense understands what will follow is going to be pathetic.  Sure enough, readers aren't disappointed.  Number 21 on the list is Justin Bieber's  (ft. Busta Rhymes) "Drummer Boy".  What scares me most is, despite this, I just know the list will actually go downhill from here.

For a brief flicker last fall, there was a bit of chatter about the fact that Rep. Paul Ryan was a fan of heavy metal.  In an interview he said his iPod ran from AC-DC to "Zeppelin".  My immediate reactions was, (a) there is no band named "Zeppelin", and (b) neither of the "bands" mentioned are heavy metal.  Still, as a way of attempting some kind of cultural credibility (with people our age; Ryan is roughly a contemporary of mine) it wasn't too bad.  All the same, it wasn't surprising a young forty-something listened to hard melodic rock.  That's what was popular in his youth and most people stick with musical style that are both familiar and comforting.  So, too, with Sen. Rubio; hip-hop probably surrounded and infused his growing up, so obviously he's going to continue to find comfort and pleasure in it.  Neither says anything about the politics of the men, anymore than Hitler's love for Wagner's operas said much about him (despite many long tomes to the contrary; yes, Wagner was a despicable anti-Semite, but that makes him as unique in late-19th century high culture as a bearded man).

When politics are explicit in contemporary music, the result is usually pretty bad, regardless of the perspective.  I enjoy listening to some of Ted Nugent's old material, by and large for nostalgia; it was popular when I was in junior high, and songs like "Strangelhold" and "Cat Scratch Fever" still hold up well.  That he's gone pretty far off the deep end, politically, doesn't matter at all.

I'm not sure I want to follow up with this list as it grows; if it includes "All Summer Long" (whose only brilliance to my mind is the mash-up of "Werewolves of London" and "Sweet Home Alabama"), which I just know it might (unless it's "Cowboy"), the game is up.  A song about youthful responsibility-free living - including paeans to pot, sex, booze, as well as Lynyrnd Skynyrd - is about as "conservative" as Mad Men's Don Draper, who is a sociopathic fraud.

The only really conservative hip-hop song I can think of, off the top of my head, is NWA's "Fuck The Police", for its protest against institutionalized, state-supported violence against local communities.  Being an old white man, though, what do I know.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Clash Of Cultures: When A Middle-Aged Clergy Spouse Goes To A Death Metal Concert

Last night I drove down to Joliet and saw the Swedish band Opeth.  First, let me just say that this was the first concert I've been to in a while where I wasn't close to the average age of those in attendance.  Despite being around for over 20 years, Opeth still draws a young crowd.  There were folks my age and older, but most of those at the show were in their late teens through early 20's.  Which made me wonder what the hell I was doing there.  Rock, especially heavy metal, is for young folks.
The band is the brain-child of the very talented Mikael Akerfeldt.  At first, there didn't seem much to differentiate Opeth from the run-of-the-mill Swedish metal band.  Death metal was a variant popular in that country; with an emphasis on the futility of life, the lyrics are delivered in a growl the fans call "Death Grunt".  It became apparent pretty quickly, however, that Akerfeldt was emphasizing melody in a way you don't normally find in metal, with it's preference for rhythm.  Akerfeldt gained a big following among fans in his native Sweden, across Europe, and especially among fellow musicians.

The past few years, the band has moved beyond simple metal arrangements, with Akerfeldt singing in a clear baritone.  The band even released an all-acoustic record, Damnation, which was a big risk.
Their last recording, Heritage, has the feel of a jazz fusion record.  There's nary a grunt nor growl to be heard, as the band moves through a variety of instrumental, time-signature, and key changes in a more low-key way.

Which doesn't mean they don't shred concrete.  Last night was almost "The Many Moods of Opeth", even performing a very early, very heavy song, "Demon Of The Fall" with Akerfeldt and lead guitar player Frederik Akesson playing acoustic guitar and Akerfeldt singing clear a melody that lurked underneath the growl and pulsing rhythm of the original.  Still, when push came to shove, they had the crowd screaming and banging heads.

Which brings me to this odd juxtaposition.  Here I am, a middle-aged father of two, married to a United Methodist minister, pressed up against the security barrier in front of the stage, everyone around me screaming, rocking, head-banging, and singing along as Mikael sings the key-line of the opening number, "The Devil's Orchard": God is dead.  Was I in the right place?

The night made it clear that, indeed, I was.  Setting cares and fears to one side for a couple hours, losing oneself in the power and joy of a concert experience; letting the music be the guide to how I felt and reacted, this is a nice moment of freedom.  It would be easy to focus on a line like the one above and think, "Blasphemy!"  Since there's more going on than outrage for it's own sake, why not take it on its own terms, and enjoy the moment?

Besides, I might really be to old next time around.  Best to get a concert experience like this under my belt while I still can.

Virtual Tin Cup

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