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Monthly Archives: February 2012

Recurring Feature (at least until I tire of it): 1992 in Music…

Our entry today: “Connected,” the title track from Stereo MCs’ third studio album, was released in 1992. It is notable for its cogent bit of advice: “Stumble, you might fall.” If only George Bush had listened to this song before authorizing the invasion of Iraq.

The lead singer does not look at all well in the song’s video, as if the “connection” he’s seeking is someone who will sell him crystal meth.

“Connected” samples “(Let Me) Let Me Be Your Lover” by Jimmy “Bo” Horne. Yes, Jimmy “Bo” Horne. This clip is from Jimmy “Bo” Horne’s (seems weird to just call him “Horne” or “Jimmy” or even “Bo”) performance on a German TV show in 1978. It’s like one of those children’s puzzles where you’re supposed to identify everything wrong with it.

There are also vocal samples from Third World’s cover of “Now That We Found Love” by The O’Jays. The most well-known version is arguably Heavy D’s from 1991.

 
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Posted by on February 9, 2012 in Pop Life

 

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Who can stop the assault on marriage?

Not surprisingly, GOP presidential candidates Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum made dumb, bigoted comments about the overturning of Prop 8, but let’s focus on Mitt Romney’s reaction, as he’s frequently presented as the least horrific of the bunch.

“Today, unelected judges cast aside the will of the people of California who voted to protect traditional marriage,” Romney said following the decision. “This decision does not end this fight, and I expect it to go to the Supreme Court. That prospect underscores the vital importance of this election and the movement to preserve our values. I believe marriage is between a man and a woman, and, as president, I will protect traditional marriage and appoint judges who interpret the Constitution as it is written and not according to their own policies and prejudices.”

This loving couple has lowered the value of my 2-carat traditional marriage to that of cubic zirconia

“Unelected judges” is a conservative catchphrase. It is supposed to get your dander up: These “unelected” (that’s not Democratic!) judges just do whatever they want without listening to the will of the people! This misses the fact that judges are tasked with protecting the Constitution. The majority of citizens cannot all agree to deprive rights from the minority. Otherwise, there would be states in which you couldn’t own a gun.

Romney describes marriage equality as a “fight.” How is it a fight exactly? Generally, in a battle, both sides have something to gain or lose. Homosexuals want to enter into a legal contract with a consenting adult. Some heterosexuals want to forbid it. This isn’t a fight. It’s bullying — an unwarranted intrusion into other people’s lives.

“Traditional marriage” is another conservative catchphrase. Fifty years ago, that definition would not have included my own marriage. The use of “protect” implies that strangers marrying will somehow harm your marriage. It’s as if they think all heterosexuals have stock in the marriage corporation, and allow gays to marry will dilute the value of your shares.

Romney then implies that fighting marriage equality is a critical matter in the upcoming election, as if the housing crisis was directly related to interior decorators deciding to get hitched. He vows to appoints judges who interpret the Constitution as it is written. Of course, the Constitution doesn’t say anything about marriage, which is probably why Romney also supports a Constitutional ban against gay marriage.

“There’s been an assault on marriage,” Romney said in the Faith and Freedom teleconference. “I think he [Obama] is very aggressively trying to pave the path to same-sex marriage. I would unlike this president defend the Defense of Marriage Act. I would also propose and promote once again an amendment to the constitution to define marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman.”

Where’s the “assault”? The overt implication is that gays marrying each other weakens “traditional” marriage. How? Shouldn’t conservatives opposed to marriage equality provide some modicum of data backing up this assertion? Something I couldn’t counter with the sordid past of Newt “Henry VIII” Gingrich and The Bachelor?

Anything that comes out of Romney’s mouth is as honest as what men tell women in a bar at closing time. He’ll say whatever is necessary for voters to take him to the White House. The tragedy is that he knows that a sizable portion of the United States is irrationally homophobic. Romney can talk about American “exceptionalism” all he wants but most civilized nations already have gay marriage. What makes America so great again? Arrogance and iPods? And the former is the only one we actually make here.

 

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Still the “hottest new group in jazz”…

When I saw jazz vocalist Annie Ross perform at the Metropolitan Room in New York last year, she paused before starting a number she’d originally recorded with the group Lambert, Hendricks & Ross. She surveyed the crowd. There weren’t many of us there on a Monday night in July, and even less were probably alive when the group parted ways in 1962. “You know what we did back then, right?”

The audience assured Ms. Ross that we knew — if we did not personally remember — what she did “back then” with partners Dave Lambert and Jon Hendricks. The group specialized in vocalese, a style of jazz in which singers add their own lyrics to all-instrumental compositions. A popular example is Ms. Ross’s 1952 version of Wardell Gray’s “Twisted.”

The seeds of hip-hop are evident in vocalese, as it’s not enough to just sing the lyrics. You’ve got to flow. Lambert, Hendricks and Ross deliver with an improvisational casualness that belie the complexity of the arrangements.

Their first album was the 1957 Sing a Song of Basie. Here’s a clip of the three performing “Everyday I Have the Blues.” And, yes, I can relate.

The three used overdubbing to sing all the vocal tracks on the album and the result is remarkable. My favorite of their work together and the album you must download immediately if you haven’t already is the self-titled Lambert, Hendricks & Ross! (also known as The Hottest New Group in Jazz). It also includes the LPs Lambert, Hendricks & Ross Sing Ellington and Rarities. There’s an update of “Twisted,” as well as two versions of Dizzy Gillespie’s classic “A Night in Tunisia.”

Lambert died in 1966. Hendricks is 90 and appeared at the Blue Note last year with Ross, who still wails at 81. When an octogenarian belts out “Rocks in My Bed,” it is an awesome sight.

 
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Posted by on February 6, 2012 in Pop Life

 

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You’ll never get rich chasing wealth…

President Obama recently addressed the charges made against him of waging “class warfare” and managed to inadvertently illustrate the growing sickness in American culture.

“This is one of the biggest things I’m going to be pushing back on this year, this notion that this is somehow class warfare, that we’re trying to stir up envy,” Obama said. “Nobody envies rich people, everybody wants to be rich. Everybody aspires to be rich, and everybody understands you’ve got work hard to be successful. That’s the American way.”

The president states that the “American way” is the desire to be “rich.” This in itself is an empty pursuit. I could give Obama the benefit of the doubt and interpret his statement as shorthand for what money can provide — security, health, education, leisure. However, Americans in the Blackberry Age have sacrificed leisure and health for money and status. Education in America is viewed as merely a means to an end to achieve wealth. This is the Trade Schooling of the U.S. from journalism to law. The critical thinking skills learned in school is denigrated as “leftist indoctrination.” The Darwinian nature of the U.S. economy fuels the fear that keeps Americans running on their hamster wheels: We must stockpile enough money to cover our medical expenses if we get ill, and we need enough to maintain our dignity when we get old. We are just as scared and frightened as we were prior to discovering fire. The only difference is we have iPods.

Collectively, how rich are we? We aren’t very rich in the ways that matter, but how do we do on paper at least? The median household income in the United States in 2010 was $49,445. Charles M. Blow of The New York Times recently described the American sleight of hand involved when defining what it means to be “rich.”

…according to a December Gallup report, Americans set the rich threshold at $150,000 in annual income. And according to the U.S. Census Bureau 8.4 percent of households had an income of $150,000 or more in 2010.

…according to a New York Times/CBS News poll conducted last month, nearly a fifth of families making less than $15,000 said that they were middle class and nearly two-fifths of those making more than $100,000 said that they were middle class.

In certain ways, no one wants to be rich or poor. Denying the latter makes sense. It’s why bald men still buy Rogaine. However, I think no one wants to consider themselves “rich” because America views itself as the land of the middle class. The rich are the “elites” in New York, D.C., and California. “Rich” also has the connotation of unearned money. This is why you’ll often hear, “We’re not rich. We worked hard for what we have.”

On an emotional level, though, I think many Americans don’t feel “rich” because they don’t feel secure. The politicians who want to keep Americans on their hamster wheels find it increasingly necessary to knock other countries whose citizens do feel more secure. Canada took a rhetorical beating during the initial debates regarding the Affordable Health Care Act. Mitt Romney frequently derides Europe when warning voters about what Obama plans to do the U.S. This is interesting upon reflection — the Kenyan Muslim wants to make America more like the land of our (well, not really mine) forefathers. It’s almost flattering: Conservatives would never have accused Jesse Jackson of Eurocentrism 30 years ago.

Let’s examine this “European socialist welfare state” of Romney’s nightmares: The average salary in the European Union is 38,000 Euros, which based on the exchange rate roughly equals the U.S. average. Europe has economic woes — as does the U.S. The conservative spin is that Europe’s social programs are to blame, but the trail of blood leads to the same butler who killed the U.S. economy — shady banks and toxic assets. Romney can’t be bothered to explain how that relates to how the government uses its tax dollars. Most Europeans enjoy universal health care and free education. These are two areas that cause Americans a great deal of concern. As both grow more expensive, Americans continue to burn rubber on their hamster wheels.

The misinformation that Romney and others spread about Europe compared to the U.S. probably serves its purpose. My own admittedly biased experience is that people seem far happier there than here, where the resentment and fear produce the malignant growth known as FOX News. Europeans are less contentious about religion and value education. They do lack the “American dream,” which as a conservative acquaintance explained is the lack of a “new car” or “vacation home.” Even if this were true, when did the American dream no longer mean freedom but instead meaningless status symbols?

Keep those hamster wheels running. Don’t you feel richer all ready?

 

 

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Letterman at 30…

I don’t have too much to say about the 30th anniversary of David Letterman’s talk show, which as a warning means this is going to be long post.

Technically, Letterman hosted Late Night with David Letterman on NBC for 11 years and Late Show with David Letterman for 19. I never watched much of Late Show. I think the only full episode I’ve seen was a live taping my friend Renee and I attended in 1997. Letterman came out prior to the monologue and promised the audience a great show. If that didn’t happen, he vowed to “personally fight every one of us.”

That was the Letterman I remembered from Late Night, which I did watch fairly obsessively during my childhood. I recall my enthusiasm when it started airing on Fridays (replacing Friday Night Videos). The promos declared that we could now enjoy the show “five thrilling Daves a week.”

The 1987 intro for Late Night encapsulated New York City for me in just under a minute and fueled my excitement for my first trip to the city that year. It was a strangely alluring world of oddballs and hustlers. Letterman, the midwesterner, held court over them all. This included regular guests such as Sandra Bernhard, Chris Elliott, and Andy Kaufman.

There was an edginess to the show back then that hasn’t been duplicated. Some might point to The Daily Show or The Colbert Report but both are fairly mainstream. That could be a result of the Internet. Maybe if Facebook had been around in the late ’80s, there would have been forwards of various Letterman bits: Elliott as Marlon Brando, Crispin Glover’s on-air breakdown, and Bernhard’s appearance with Madonna. I’m glad that wasn’t the case. I preferred feeling as if Late Night existed in my own private world.

I don’t think they’ll ever be another Late Night with David Letterman. Actually, there hasn’t been one since the final episode in 1993. He probably viewed it as a younger man’s game and ceded the stage to Conan O’Brien. For anyone a decade or so younger than I am, Conan was probably their Letterman, and they also got to see him lose The Tonight Show to Jay Leno.

It’s uncertain how long Letterman will remain on late night. He’s already outlasted his mentor Johnny Carson. Leno will have hosted The Tonight Show for 20 years this May (give or take a few misguided months in prime time). Jon Stewart turns 50 in November. The late-night field is aging. Jimmys Fallon and Kimmel are not really 11:30 p.m. material. It might seem a curious suggestion, but I think the person best suited to host a Carson-style Tonight Show would be Stephen Colbert. I’ve seen him out of character and he possesses Johnny Carson’s class and middle-American hipness (in contrast to Stewart’s decidedly New York hipness).

 
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Posted by on February 3, 2012 in Pop Life

 

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Santorum on Sick Kids and iPads…

Rick Santorum wants to make voters realize Mitt Romney isn’t the only candidate in the presidential race with a glaring lack of empathy for the poor.

Santorum, in a discussion with a mother and her sick child, bravely stood up for the defenseless drug companies and said demand would determine the cost of medical therapies.

“People have no problem paying $900 for an iPad,” Santorum said, “but paying $900 for a  drug they have a problem with — it keeps you alive. Why? Because you’ve been conditioned to think health care is something you can get without having to pay for it.”

Uh, Rick, poor people have a problem paying $900 for an iPad because they don’t have $900 and thus don’t have an iPad. They have an issue with $900 for a life-saving drug because they don’t have $900 nor even the $400 it would cost for their child’s funeral.

An iPad is a luxury item. You can live without it. Your children are not luxury items. If times are tight, you can’t simply put little Susie up on eBay.

Santorum said drugs take years to develop and cost millions of dollars to produce, and manufacturers need to turn a profit or they would stop developing new drugs.

“You have that drug, and maybe you’re alive today because people have a profit motive to make that drug,” Santorum said. “There are many people sick today who, 10 years from now, are going to be alive because of some drug invented in the next 10 years. If we say: ‘You drug companies are greedy and bad, you can’t make a return on your money,’ then we will freeze innovation.”

Santorum believes that people are only motivated to develop life-saving drugs out of profit. I’m not religious but just what are they teaching him in that building with the cross on top that he goes to every Sunday? Is it an Ayn Rand book club? Couldn’t the motive to develop drugs that save children’s lives be to… save children’s lives?

However, as Santorum points out, drug manufacturers have to turn a profit or they couldn’t stay in business. Then no drugs would be developed. I’m sure the cost of producing a $900 drug breaks down as follows:

Ingredients: $898.25

Labor: 75 cents

Overhead (rent, electricity, Flavia coffee machine in break room): $1

Abilify, the drug the child takes for schizophrenia, is produced by Bristol-Myers Squibb, which last year saw its first quarter profits increase 5% to $3.3 billion. Maybe this Mom and Pop can afford to spring for two Flavia machines in the break room.

Santorum told a large Tea Party crowd here that he sympathized with the boy’s case, but he also believed in the marketplace.

“He’s alive today because drug companies provide care,” Santorum said. “And if they didn’t think they could make money providing that drug, that drug wouldn’t be here. I sympathize with these compassionate cases. … I want your son to stay alive on much-needed drugs. Fact is, we need companies to have incentives to make drugs. If they don’t have incentives, they won’t make those drugs. We either believe in markets or we don’t.”

If Bristol-Myers Squibb made just $1 billion in the first quarter of 2011, its employees might have to get by on that nasty instant coffee and no drugs would get produced. Basically, if you don’t believe in the markets and global biopharmaceutical companies preying on the sick and desperate, you want children to die.

 

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Mitt Romney doesn’t care about poor people…

Well, that was dumb:

Romney continues his habit of making politically tone-deaf statements. Here, he says he’s not concerned about the “very poor.” This is not surprising to anyone who pays attention to his economic policy proposals, but it’s not really something he should say out loud unless his son made a birthday wish that compelled him to tell the truth for a day.

Romney does state that he’s not concerned about the “very rich.” However, that’s about as true as “People” magazine saying it doesn’t care about celebrity gossip. Besides, as the past 30 years indicate, the country is clearly doing its best for the wealthy.

Romney stresses that his focus is on the middle-income voters who are truly suffering as a result of the Obama years. He seems to miss the fact that the big fear these voters have is sinking into poverty. Once there, Romney has a Scrooge-like regard for their issues. There’s a “very ample” safety net for them. They have “food stamps, Medicaid, housing vouchers.” Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses? Much like Scrooge, Romney probably isn’t fully aware of the day-to-day struggles of people caught in this “safety net.”

It takes a great deal of cognitive dissonance to accuse President Obama of “dividing the nation” and engaging in “class warfare,” as Romney has charged, for daring to discuss the country’s growing income inequality while blatantly demonstrating disregard for the poor. Is this the type of unifying rhetoric he expects will cause the lower, middle, and upper classes to join hands and sing songs of brotherhood and love?

I imagine the Romney campaign’s spin would go something like this: Unlike Democrats, who want a permanent underclass that is dependent upon them so that they can retain power, Romney wants the poor to strive for the middle-income status that will arouse a passing interest from him. Only problem is that repealing the Affordable Care Act isn’t going to help the poor, nor are continued tax breaks for the so-called “job creators” who are not actually required to create jobs and are usually rewarded for not doing so.

This is not how you deal with poverty in the U.S. This is how you behave when you’re popular in high school: “Hey, fat girl, lose some weight and I’ll invite you to my parties and sort of be your friend.”

It’s unfortunate. You’d think that after creating so many poor people during his time at Bain Capital, Romney would have a bit more pride of ownership regarding them.

 
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Posted by on February 1, 2012 in Political Theatre

 

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