With practically the entirety of recorded music’s history available at the touch of a trackpad, it’s hard to find a lot of common ground among the masses. Back in the sepiatone days when I was in high school, there was certainly a cultural splintering effect afoot – some grooved to Hammer-time, others nodded angrily and forcefully to Nirvana, while still others begged C+C Music Factory to make them sweat upon a hormone-clogged dance floor – but there remained some sacred touchstones.
For whatever reason – and I pray a sociological study will one day uncover the mystery behind this collective madness – the girls in my high school were united under the secret thrill of ABBA. The boys, however discreetly some of them held back their own cravings for retro Swedish vocal-pop, united under an unwavering commitment to one of the greatest rock bands in ear-thumping history: Led Zeppelin.
Most of us had bands we liked more. For me, there was always the Beatles, while my other friends leaned toward Pink Floyd, Roxette or Extreme (yes, Josh, I’m talking about you). But we all sang along when Robert Plant belted out the first “Hey hey, mama” of their conspicuously untitled fourth album. Today Zep nets a kilograph, if for no other reason than as a thank you for the respite they provided after five straight listens of “More Than Words.”
The group’s origin story funnels straight back to this guy, one of the most awe-inspiring yet least well-known (among today’s younger rock-lovers) guitar gods of the 1960’s. Jeff Beck had joined up with the Yardbirds after Eric Clapton had left the group in frustration. Now Jeff was feeling the pull of sweet freedom, and his frustration led him to record his own thing, away from the rest of the group. He invited his buddy (and future Yardbirdian) Jimmy Page to play guitar. Read more…
There is a scene in the Kevin Smith film Clerks 2 in which a character (a very white character) decides he wants to “take back” the term ‘porch-monkey’ so that it can shed its racist connotation and act as a slur against lazy people of all tints and hues. The joke, of course, is that he is far too pink to spearhead any reappropriation effort. That sort of collective shift in perspective has to take place within the group who had been thwacked and battered by the word to begin with.
This is why I get physically jolted by a mighty douche-chill whenever I hear two white guys refer to one another as “nigga”. That not only betrays the linguistic rules, it comes across as patronizing and – as much as the intent may not be there – at least mildly racist. Oh, and put your damn hat on straight. The brim has a functional purpose, squank-bag.
The unholy n-word is probably the most famous case of a word being reclaimed by its one-time victims and re-introduced into their lexicon – albeit only into theirs. But all across the cultural spectrum there are reappropriation missions underway, consciously or unconsciously shaping the way our language will taste and smell for the next few decades.
Sorry, white people. Even if we’re quoting Chris Rock bits, it’s still not cool.
For a minority to capture a word that had once been used as a pejorative slur against them, to tame it, then to re-release it into the wild as a neutral or even a positive thing, that’s an act of true empowerment. A perfect example is the word ‘gay’ – once fired as a derisive snip toward homosexuals, the word was forcefully taken back with the advent of the Gay Pride parade in 1970. So much so that the word is now commonplace among gays and non-gays alike. Unlike the n-word, those outside the box are allowed to use it. Read more…
“What are you going to do for Day 900?”
People have been stopping me on the streets and demanding this information for weeks now. Pretend people, sure, but then they’ve also been on pretend streets so that cancels out the white lie. Anyway, the answer is “pizza” because I just ate some pizza and I don’t really feel like flexing my imagination today. Also, I will incorporate the titles of every song to hit #1 on the Billboard charts in the 1990s. Yes, all of them.
After recently imbibing a cigarette of curious origin, a man (MAC) and his wife (JEAN) call up their regular pizza guy (LOU) in hopes of ordering something that will conquer their suddenly mighty hunger.
MAC: Hey Lou, it’s Mac. I’m hungry. Again.
LOU: Mac! A-rain-a, or a-shine-a, you truly, madly deeply love-a your pizza!
MAC: What… are you doing some sort of accent now? You trying to freak me out?
LOU: Heh. For me this is the first night back at work, one week after I dropped on bended knee to propose to my dreamlover. I’m just full of good vibrations and warm emotions, my friend!
MAC: Ah, the mighty power of love. No offense, but every creep takes a joyride with the right girl eventually, then boom! You’re in love.
LOU: This is a good thing though!
MAC: I don’t have the heart to tell you the truth, Lou. Sure, your vision of love is unbelievable today. She wants to be with you and she’s your fantasy. Right. But have you ever really loved a woman, Lou?
LOU: I swear, as water falls from the sky, I don’t have to justify my love to you, Mac. I feel more than words about her. Everything I do, I do for you-know-who. Read more…
One seldom looks very deeply into the lyrics of a modern swing-dance revival song. When Colin James and his Little Big Band sang about a Cadillac Baby, he was singing about a woman, one who enjoyed a particular Cadillac automobile. When Lou Bega prattled off his laundry list of desirable women in “Mambo #5”, he was simply expressing his identity as a man-slut. But beneath the boppy jump-blues veneer of the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies’ “Zoot Suit Riot” is something surprisingly dark and sinister.
The ‘riot’ in question is not merely an alternate wording for a party featuring a bunch of guys in outdated jazz-wear. The song refers to an actual string of riots in the early 1940’s, which began in the embers of the era’s prevalent racism, before rising into an inferno of violence. This is an ugly chapter in American history, from an age before Civil Rights was on the tip of anyone’s brains, and when patriotism could drive people to do heinously ugly things.
It all begins with the zoot suit: high-waisted, tight-cuffed pegged pants and a long jacket with boisterous shoulders and splashy lapels. The outfits were fun and jazzy, originating in inter-war black culture and eventually becoming a staple of the southern Californian Latino community. Then the style became illegal – that’s where the ugliness begins.
You have to be way funkier than this guy to pull off this much zoot.
The 1930s was a time of heavy anti-Mexicanism in the southwestern United States. Despite the deportation of 12,000 Mexicans (many of whom turned out to be American citizens) from the Los Angeles area in the early part of the decade, there were still roughly three million Mexicans in the country, many without legal status. L.A. was the hub of immigrants from the Land of the Hot Sun, and by the end of the decade the tension between whites and Latinos was beginning to boil over. Read more…
Unite a crowd of people under the frumpy awning of hate and it’s not hard for things to shimmy out of control. Provide those same people with a river of cheap beer and a charismatic leader to stoke their ire and you’d best check that you’re insured against a savage pandemonium. When the promotions team for the unimpressive 1979 Chicago White Sox were looking for ways to beef up fan attendance and amuse their loyal ticket-buyers with something that could counterbalance the Sox’s pitifully mediocre season, they’d have been wise to heed this advice.
Mike Veeck, the promotions director and son of team owner Bill Veeck (hooray for nepotism!), was determined to bring some fun into the stadium, maybe by catering to local music fans; Disco Night back in 1977 had been a huge hit. When Veeck heard that local loudmouth DJ Steve Dahl was thinking of blowing up a huge stack of disco records at a local shopping mall, the gimmick seemed somehow perfect to entertain the kids in the cheap seats at Comiskey Park.
And so was born Disco Demolition Night, a convoluted cocktail of bad ideas and pitiful execution. Anyone who brought a disco record to be blasted at the park was admitted to the July 12 doubleheader for 98 cents (Steve Dahl’s radio station broadcast on the 97.9 frequency, so this made sense). In between games, the batch of disco records would be hauled out to centerfield and blown apart in a ceremonious hurrah. Then, everyone could have a good laugh and settle back into their seats for the second game.
Chicago disc jockey Steve Dahl had been fired from WDAI on Christmas Eve, 1978, when the station abandoned rock for the hugely successful disco format. He had a reason to hate the genre. Hired right away by rival station WLUP, which was still very committed to the thumping thrusts of top-notch rock music, Dahl proceeded to become Chicago’s preeminent anti-disco crusader. He rallied his fans into a mock-army known as the Insane Coho Lips, “dedicated to the eradication of the dread musical disease known as DISCO.” Read more…
“It would be much better if she and her ilk stayed at home, got themselves prettied up and waited for the phone to ring.”
So said sportswriter Joe Williams of the New York Herald-Tribune. He was writing a critical (and overtly misogynistic) piece about Babe Didrikson-Zaharias. Babe’s name is anything but household today, though at the time she was the most important woman in the world of sports.
To claim that Babe was the single greatest female athlete of the 20th century would not be an unmerited hyperbole; she played a myriad of sports and excelled at every one of them. Babe was tough, she was brilliant, and she wasn’t afraid to be an “athlete” instead of a “woman who plays sports”. She hammered out her own identity and handled all her own PR. How her life story remains unknown to so much of the general populace today, I have no idea; we all know Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Arnold Palmer, Red Grange… and those schmucks only mastered one sport apiece.
Babe Didrikson-Zaharias conquered most of the sports section, game by game.
Mildred Didriksen (she’d later change the ‘-en’ to ‘-on’) was born to Norwegian parents in Port Arthur, Texas – also the birthplace of Janis Joplin. She took the nickname ‘Babe’ from her mother’s childhood pet name for her, though she’d later claim she was given the nickname in honor of Babe Ruth after she’d hit five home runs in a childhood baseball game. Her version of the nickname origin was an exaggeration, though I suspect the baseball story is true. Read more…
A survey of music lovers who possess even so much as a passing interest in the Beatles’ music will undoubtedly reveal “Come Together” to be one of the most universally beloved bullets in their melodic clip. From its swampy bass, its percussive “Shoot me” refrain to its absurdist and almost comically weird lyrics, the song righteously opens the gates to the magnificent Abbey Road album, tantalizing and gratifying most every pair of ears it meets.
It’s almost shocking to imagine the pretzel of nefarious backlash it provoked. “Come Together” may have begun its life as John Lennon’s attempt to pen a campaign song for Timothy Leary’s quest to unseat Ronald Reagan as governor of California, but it wound up inadvertently connecting Lennon with one of the most insidious corners of the music industry.
If only it were as simple as Lennon scribbling a new idea then slapping it onto vinyl with his buddies through the immaculate channel of producer George Martin. For the origin story of the madness that would follow, we need to travel back to 1956, back to when songs about cars were a veritable genre unto themselves. To a little single by rock ‘n roll’s illustrious grandpa, Chuck Berry.
In 1956, Chuck released a song called “You Can’t Catch Me”. Lennon’s song boasts a similar vocal melody and a set of lyrics (“Here come old flattop, he come goovin’ up slowly” to “Here come a flattop, he was movin’ up with me”). The similarity ends there – Berry’s song is about driving quickly whereas Lennon’s is about something called ‘toe-jam football’ and some guy with feet below his knees. But it was enough to snag the ear of music publisher Morris Levy, who owned the rights to Berry’s song and promptly launched an infringement lawsuit against Lennon. Read more…