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V7N3: March - April 2001

 

Austin Downtown
Arts Magazine

March - April 2001
Volume 7 Number 3

cover

cover art by Michelle Cousins and Daniel Burns



Table of Contents

Communion by Faulkner Fox. 1

FM Purgatory by Ricardo Avecedo. 2

How Fast and How Far by Jake Rousel 4

Austin has opened the doors for many bands over the years, as it is "The Live Music Capital Of The World," but one band is moving its way quickly through these art-filled streets.

The Lion and the Unicorn by Rob Curren. 6

Artists seldom complement each other as completely as Billy Joe Shaver and Kinky Friedman.

Notes from the Woodshed by Paul Klemperer. 7

The Grammy's were designed to give music industry people, the ones who do the work, a voice in recognizing achievements within their field. Yet the ceremony seems to have become just another corporate machination for reinforcing the profit-driven pyramid that is popular music.

Summoning the Intense by Tom Benton. 8

The way people treat each other, so often it's racist or negative or ignorant. I relate to the bad stuff a lot. The music is a reflection and a reply, a way of dealing with and expressing it.
-- Carl Smith

Up All Night by Harold McMillan. 9

There is no argument here, we are just speaking a language that you apparently don't understand. And you know what? You don't have to understand.

Verities by Pablo K. 12

For decades I have been reminded by TV, radio, movies, tabloids and the rest, of all the things I don't have, that I will never have.



Wish You Were Here by Justin Davis 13

Your case was dusty, I hadn't touched you for months, it wasn't neglect on my part to you, I still cared for you very much, it was neglect to myself.

 



Communion by Faulkner Fox

They're all around people
I could make love to,
pierced woman at the cash register
wearing a ripped-up shirt, beautiful breasts hanging out.
Your hair is yellow, my two-year-old tells her,
yellow with black under.
Or my old man friend
who smokes, hacks, walks slowly
from coffee shop to home.
His eyes pierce, he laughs mercilessly,
then defends his privacy like
a country.
I'm willing to hustle mine,
barter it for skin.

But who will let me in,
let me take their body in my hands?
Men who take limos to topless bars
near the airport? Maybe
not even them, maybe
they're trying to get away from real women.
I am nothing if not real
loose breasts, two births of stretch
marks on my stomach, sad pucker of skin
over my left eye.

What do I want?
What is it fair to ask for?
My face in the hair of a stranger?
My hand in the hand of an old woman
as we sing the Lord's Prayer?
My mouth on my child's sweet neck?

I want it all. Myself, others,
communion.

 



FM Purgatory by Ricardo Avecedo

3:02am, July 1995. Almost silence. Meters peaking, request lines flash on a Saturday night cum Sunday morn. My headphones sitting 2 feet away buzz out a transistorized excuse for angst. It's not a bad job, it's a job... Rock radio in the mid nineties, pretty much a wasteland. Cobaine is dead and Veders a rock recluse, (rumors keep circulating he's thinking about starting a chain of restaurants... Never happen) & Guns N' Roses sucked from day one. Well anyway, bad job is relative.

I exhale and push the red flashing light.

"KZXL"

"Is this KZXL?"

"Yep.... What'cha wanna hear?"

"Is this the request line?"

"Yep...sure is, what'cha wanna hear?"

"Cool, yeah how about some Vibrators, or The Damned, maybe some Melanie, you now that song she did about riding her bike and ripping off someone's key or something...."

All this is staccato, rapid fire. His exuberance codified by chemistry. This cat either has broad musical tastes or I'm being messed with. I'm inclined to the latter.

"Nah, sure don't, but wouldn't it be nice to hear Chris Spedding, Knox and the boys re-form with Dave Vanium as front man, just to do covers of Melanie tunes?"

"Ahhh, yeah, that would be ahhh cool.......... Hey, just got a new tat, check it out!"

"Well... we ARE on the phone."

"Oh...yeah, sorry......... Its kinda like a skull rosary hanging down my chest to my...."

"Hey zombie! You wanna hear something or not? I got other lines blinking..."

"Yeah, lines....cool!"

I hang up.

 

Night. The zombies are out in force and me, a disembodied Baron Sombati, gatekeeper of the other side. The power of music on the drug addled, raising them up or taking them down via the airwaves by the mere push of a button.

You'd think I be used to it by now, been working the graveyard shift for two years but they still get to me. At times I can smell their breath, hear the blades on glass, see their vacant stares. I've learned to understand their run-on sentences and recognized their slurs. The zombie factor makes this job interesting' if not a bit scary. They can rip your heart out if you let them, as they drone on requesting music as advice. Like a bartender.
Without the tips.

 

"Hey.... Man. Can you play some Offspring?"

"Sure... I do it all night"

"Huh..?"

His voice is like heat stretched tape, slow & wobbling.

"Let me guess, you want 'Self Esteem,' right?"

"Yeah man, how'd you know?"

"Just lucky, yeah that's me, lucky..."

"Not me man, hate that bitch...she..."

I hang up, turn up the monitors, slip in a couple "Pers Favs," nice long ones, to give me enough time to restock the burnt discs. It's 3:20am.

 

Shakespeare said 3am was the "Souls Midnight"; I'd have to concur. Conjuring up images of smoked filled bed and living rooms, sound systems throbbing in the corner going unnoticed amid the leering body language, clinking beer bottles, bongs gurgling until "That Song" slaps them on the ass or solar plexus. Tribal woops rise, "Yeah, Yeah...." Their souls alight; faces contort into badass snarls and tartish avarice. Thinking is unnecessary, the possession is complete. In trance they fumble for the phone, dial just as the song is ending...

 

"Oh man, I love that song..." a pause as the drugs regroups. "Uh, uh, how about... Black Hole Sun?"

"Sure no problem"

"Thanks man," click.

Their voices just as disembodied as mine. I scramble through my set program list trying to find a place where I can wedge in a Black Hole Sun, a real one, a cut by Meat Beat Manifesto or Sun Ra, maybe even just a sun gone nova like something off Miles' Live Evil. But in this job, in this place, there is only so much room for entropy, between the Sarah McLaughlin's and Tom Petty's. Perhaps just Rocky Erickson's "I Walked With a Zombie" to appease my inner zombie. I stoop in research. "Let's see, that's by Stone-Garden-Nirvana, Right?" as the red light flashes...again.

 

"KZXL"

"Is this the graveyard shift guy?"

"Yeah"

"Hey, what do you look like?"

"Well, ever seen the movie The Evil Dead?"

"Yeah."

"Well..."

"Ohhhh...."

 



How Fast and How Far by Jake Rousel

Austin has opened the doors for many bands over the years, as it is "The Live Music Capital Of The World," but one band is moving its way quickly through these art-filled streets. With so many bands starting up in Austin, this band seems to be getting a lot of attention.

This five piece band known as "Fast And Far" has a special sound of '80s and '90s pop/rock; with mixing U2's '80s pop blend, Garbage's grinding industrial sound and Radiohead's soft melodic sound, this band is still keeping their own original and meaningful sound to convey their thoughts and emotions in their music.

This dynamic group consists of Soto Estaban as vocalist, cousins Mike and R.J. Freitag on guitars, Scott Scholwinski on the drums and rounding out the sound is Phil Brasenell on bass and back up vocals.

Before Fast And Far, the band was called Strangeways, which consisted of M. Freitag, and Estaban; but in the beginning of 2000, Scholwinski and Steve Emry were added, and finally R. Freitag. Upon adding R. Freitag, the line up was finally complete, and they decided to drop the name Strangeways and call themselves Fast And Far; Emry left the band in Sept. 2000, and was soon replaced by Brasenell.

They all share their passion for music with each other, but also have their own ambitions behind these motives.

"Since I was young I knew that I wanted music to be the most important thing in my life; I felt it calling me since I was 15 years old, and as it still calls me to this day." said Estaban.

Some of their major influences in their lives have been God, Depeche Mode, James, The Smiths, U2 and many more.

"One of my biggest influences in my life has to be God, and I do not mean this in a preachy/holier-than-thou attitude, but rather a genuine concern to grow and learn about my spirituality. Also, both of my parents have also been incredible influences, by teaching me to treat others fairly and generously. And I find that as we are meeting and doing business with people, these principles are not easily thrown aside."

"Musically, I love U2, The Cure, Radiohead, James, Pink Floyd, Sex Pistols, Alice in Chains, Garbage, and so much more." Said M. Freitag.

Although they may have different views on the outcome of Austin, as it continues to grow rapidly, they all however, agree that it is a melting pot for the inspiration and will always be a place to where they can call home.

"The growth of the population here hopefully will help us gain more fans of our music, but just like anything else, it is how you treat people that gets you where you want to go," said Scholwinski. "It is sad to see Austin growing the way it has; it has lost that 'hometown' feel it used to have eight years ago when I moved here, but I did not expect such a beautiful and opportunistic city to be kept secret forever."

From a band's perspective, I should embrace the growth as it means possibly more fans; it is just hard to do, but I love this city anyway.

I do not think I could ever leave it behind." said Estaban. "I think Fast And Far has a lot to gain with the city's growth, but it does raise the bar, which I am not opposed to."

"I personally believe that there should be competition to keep music alive, fresh and exciting; with its growth, it brings in new people, new ideas and new energy." Said M. Freitag.

Brasenell, being as he is from England, hopes to use the rapid growth of Austin, and the rest of the U.S., as a tour and living advantage for the future.

The band can generally be seen at their usual home of SpeakEasy's, located on Sixth St., but will not be performing in Austin again until April due to various out of town gigs, and the recording of their new EP.

Their first EP, Dangerous Nostalgia, was released in August of 2000, and can still be ordered from the band's web site, which can be reached at www.fastandfar.com, and they would like for everyone to join their mailing list, which has fans from all over the US, and even fans from Indonesia, Australia, Argentina and many other places. Log on to their web site for updates on dates and times of upcoming shows here in Austin and Texas area.

 



The Lion and the Unicorn by Rob Curren

Artists seldom complement each other as completely as Billy Joe Shaver and Kinky Friedman. I saw them perform at the Broken Spoke on January 31 as part of their Two Moving Parts tour honoring Eddy Shaver, Shaver's son who died on New Year's Eve, 2000. The fierce reality of Shaver's life shared the stage with the Kinkstah's mythology.

Shaver, the bard lion, clawed into the depths of his heart. Amongst the results were "(Been to) Georgia on a Fast Train and "Old Chunk of Coal." As well as being covered by Willie Nelson and others, these two songs had appeared on the Tramp on Your Street album where virtuoso Eddy reinvented his father through his electric guitar. For some of Shaver's performance, the audience's hat brims tilted downward. But Billy Joe lifted the mood and the whoops, wilding up his hair for "Woman is the Wonder of the World" and reached epiphany with his spirituals, "You Can't Beat Jesus Christ" and "I'm in Love."

Over half a century of singing, Billy Joe Shaver has encountered most of the joys and horrors on offer from Texas to Nashville and back again. He started singing on a barrel in a grocery store in Emhouse, Texas to supplement his grandmother's pension. Victory, Shaver's mother, worked in a honky tonk called the Green Gables. He remembers these venues and times with bare beauty:

Piano roll blues
danced holes in my shoes.
There weren't another other way to be.
For lovable losers,
no account boozers
and Honky Tonk Heroes like me.

"The Corsicana Kid," as Kinky Friedman calls Shaver, has worked in a cotton mill, spent some time in the navy, lost a finger to a lumber saw and done "just about everything you can do with cows and horses." He divorced and remarried Brenda Tyndall twice. Elvis and Dylan sang his songs. A battle with the bottle took him back to religion.

One of Shaver's musical victories came in 1973 when Waylon Jennings used ten Shaver songs out of 11 that comprised the album Honky Tonk Heroes. Jennings had promised to cover Shaver's songs on an earlier album.

A dispute about the delay on that project resulted in the two troubadours rolling up their sleeves on the street in Nashville. Thankfully for the history of music, Jennings averted conflict by telling Shaver, "I sure don't like you, but I sure do like your music." Critics lauded Honky Tonk Heroes as inspiration for the "outlaw" country movement, which led to the boxcar ballads of Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson.

If Billy Joe Shaver lives out legends, Kinky Friedman lives out paradoxes. Cowboy hat in New York, cigar maintaining mouth, cat in charge of his household, entertaining a troupe of misfits on his couch:the narrator of Friedman's novels stretches the imagination. In the flesh, Friedman's hat and cigar only look bigger.

In his fiction, Friedman rejoices in category errors. God Bless John Wayne finds the author celebrating his Jewish heritage on the same page as egg noodles. Later in the novel, an exposition of Robert Louis Stevenson's short story, "The Bottle Imp" leads to the "Road of Loving Hearts," a road built by Samoans from the town of Apia directly to Stevenson's house.

Elvis, Jesus and Coca Cola open at Tom Baker's wake where the narrator sings, "Ride 'Em, Jewboy," a Western translation of what is an essentially Eastern experience, the Holocaust. This concoction of noir, self-parody and music is what Friedman strives for in his writing, performance and life.

Often, Friedman's writing, performance and life happen at the same time, like three tastes in a single happy hour cocktail. His fiction twangs with references to Willy Nelson and Waylon Jennings; his country and western songs read like political satire; his life story would make a good novel and a great Johnny Cash song. In his own words: "Some day they're going to make a life of my film." Friedman lives a theatrical life, seeking honesty in his writing.

From his days on the road with "The Texas Jewboys" to his recent performances with the only remaining ambulatory member of that band, Lil' Jewford (keyboardist and melodica player), Friedman has kept country music bizarre. He crooned satires like "People who read People Magazine" with the same reverence for the medium of country that Billy Joe Shaver would put into a reverie like "Jesus was Our Saviour and Cotton was Our King."

Back at the Broken Spoke, the performance of "Santa Claus Killed Jesus Christ" struck me as Kinky Friedman at his bizarre best. Billy Joe Shaver had just been singing odes to Jesus, many of the crowd sang along. A scathing comment on marketers usurping Christian beliefs and festivals did not appear opportune. Was Friedman lampooning the crowd? If so, they loved it.

More than the crowd, Friedman lampooned himself. Onstage, he claimed that Billy Ray Cyrus ("the anti-Hank") stole his riff from "Homo Erectus" for "Achy Breaky Heart." Friedman proved that he put his cigar-worn voice up against the beautiful strains of Sweet Mary's fiddle. He described his experiences in Borneo with the Peace Corps: "teaching agriculture to people who had been farming successfully for thousands of years." With "Asshole from El Paso", the Jewish cowboy outdid Okies from Wiskogie at parodying the place he loves. "We don't have no love-ins in El Paso", he sang with a mixture of pride and shame.The killer from A Case of Lone Star" was amongst those singing along.

Kinky Friedman's courageous choice of material mirrored the courage of Billy Joe Shaver's performance. On a night which might have brought bitter memories or sentimentality, both artists produced an uplifting set. Eddy Shaver's tribute came in the musicians' own, uncompromising styles.

 



Notes from the Woodshed by Paul Klemperer

A friend and longtime Steely Dan fan, remarking on their Grammy wins, noted that it was wonderful to see a band from the '70s deservingly beat out all the mainstream pop crap of today." Laudable commentary without doubt, but it got me thinking. The Grammy's were designed to give music industry people, the ones who do the work, a voice in recognizing achievements within their field.

Yet the ceremony seems to have become just another corporate machination for reinforcing the profit-driven pyramid that is popular music. When a band like Steely Dan, or last year's Carlos Santana, wins awards, does that mitigate the pyramid of mediocrity, or is it a case of the exception that proves the rule?

The rule of "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery" often reveals pop music trends. An innovative group appears, or a new twist on an old formula catches on, sells some product, and creates a buzz, and then a 100 imitators spring up. We may think it small-minded and idiotic, but the process works in a mass-market economy. Thus it is no surprise when bubblegum girls like Britney & Christina edge out other artists and legions of bubble gummers seep from the woodwork. But did this rule apply when Santana's album topped charts last year, and Steely Dan re-emerged this year? Maybe I missed something, but I haven't heard a lot of complex jazz chords and subtle melodic lines being worked into pop music formulas as a result.

This leads me to think that a different process is going on here, what I call the "gold watch back pat." If you have an organization whose legitimacy is somewhat shaky, what better way to solidify your standing than to honor someone whose legitimacy is rock solid? Now, it may not quite be on the level of the Corleone family making charitable donations to the Vatican, but if the Grammy powers-that-be choose one aging rock star per year for a gold watch and a hearty pat on the back, it helps to make stock terms like "trailblazer, tradition, and roots of" seem less empty in the tabloid world of post-modern pop culture.

Perhaps I overstate the case. Certainly artists like the Dan and Santana deserve the awards they received. And certainly we live in a complex world filled with contradictory tendencies, so Carlos and Britney sharing the spotlight is not the greatest travesty we shall ever see.

But the gold watch syndrome does exist, and it is part of a long pattern of tokenism that is embedded deeply in American culture. Perhaps tokenism is the first step by which subcultures are incorporated into the dominant culture. Or perhaps it is the constant effort of the dominant culture to deflect change and preserve itself.

One thing is less than debatable, however: money greases all wheels. You won't see an artist feted and venerated who is unable to generate bucks through product. You can sing your protest songs, get busted for a concealed weapon or carrying pot through the airport, but if you fail to generate product, you won't even get the gold watch.

In contrast (I hope!), the burgeoning SXSW organization seems to be striving to increase stylistic diversity with each year's musical showcases. I've made the point in years past that as American culture becomes more ethnically diverse, particularly with the increase of Hispanic culture in North America; designers of musical showcases are trying to reflect this trend. Latin, Asian, rap and jazz, are all established niches of SXSW. This may reflect an increased musical internationalism, and a growing awareness of the economic and political power music industry workers wield as a united group. Or it may be a less interesting response to increasing product sales from these musical niches. The more forward thinking visionaries among us are building the infrastructure of musical internationalism, generally a good thing, if the money doesn't get in the way.

 



Summoning the Intense by Tom Benton

When saxophonist Carl Smith takes to the bandstand he not so much plays as he channels, summoning intense, sometimes blistering torrents of sound that, on a good night, threaten to blow the listener out of his chair. The 25-year-old Smith, a Houston native who came to the saxophone late age 17 and spent his formative musical years with Austin's seminal East Babylon Symphony, has been leading his own projects under the name ECFA (Emanation Creation Formation Action) for several years now, playing his inspired music anywhere in the city that he can.

carl smith blowsThough he admits he wouldn't be playing if it weren't for jazz, citing influences such as Marion Brown, Giuseppi Logan, and Charles Gayle, Smith, explains that, "I like to think of it as creative improvised music, mostly. It definitely comes out of that free jazz, avant-garde, black music tradition." Just as '60s iconoclast Archie Shepp created music that was an angry response to the social injustices he saw around him, Smith explains that: "I relate to this music because a lot of it comes from the American experience. The way people treat each other, so often it's racist or negative or ignorant. I relate to the bad stuff a lot. The music is a reflection and a reply, a way of dealing with and expressing it."

Smith has encountered numerous obstacles presenting his music in Austin, from trouble pulling in crowds, to club managers who simply don't like the music. He cites performing in front of people as an integral part of his creative cycle, but admits his options are running thin. "Even in New York there's lofts, there's all kinds of spaces. There's nothing like that here, nowhere to play but venues. I mean, I couldn't do shows here," he says, motioning to his East Austin duplex. "There's nowhere to do shows unless I'm paying to rent a space."

But even after a summer sojourn in New York City, where opportunities to play were more plentiful, he plans to stick around. "Fewer people are into the music, but it's important for me to be here because I like being here. I've made a decision to stay here even though it's harder. If I'd had a better time growing up, I might be able to deal with New York, but I'd rather have a stable environment now since I didn't have one before."

Smith's recently released self-produced CD, culled from volumes of live recordings, includes many regular collaborators such as drummer Matt Armistead and violist James Alexander as well as the German maestro of modern improvised bass, Peter Kowald, who performed with ECFA during a stopover in Austin on a cross-country road trip. It's a rough but engaging document of Smith's determined musical vision, and available at fine independent record stores all around Austin. But the music, nevertheless, deserves to be heard live, where its power and conviction are nothing short of tangible; Smith will keep playing, let's only hope that it is somewhere that we'll be able to hear it.

Carl appears at Room 710 on Saturday, March 24th. Keep up with him on the web at europeanechoes.homestead.com.

 



Up All Night by Harold McMillan

Get this, there's family having dinner and an argument breaks out between the teenage brother and sister. Heated words and hotter emotions spill out all over the place for about 15 minutes. The parents let this go on for another 15 minutes before they intervene. But they don't stop the argument, they take sides and keep the insults and verbal jabs going.

A half-hour later, the volume in the house is still loud, punctuated with an occasional wrap or two on the table with glassware, and even louder, almost rhythmic argument and catcalls.

The neighbors, at this point, are forced to listen, are disturbed, hot and bothered, just short of calling the police. Then...it stops. The house goes back to the quiet of a normal dinner hour on any other weeknight.

The neighbors figure that the parents finally got a handle on the disturbance between the kids and reclaimed order. No harm done. Just a normal family argument.

The next night, same time as the night before, the kids start up again. Maybe even a bit louder tonight. It seems to the neighbors to be a continuation of the argument from the previous night. The thing is, there is some intentional variation, but this loud family seems to have a cadence, a rhythm, a special language that is consistent from the previous verbal bouts. They are still pissed about the same things, argue the same points, describe the same issues with the same words, vary the details-the rhythm-but the bitching and grand-standing has much in common with the previous night. It's louder.

Once again the neighbors listen for a while, learn the issues, pay attention to the alleged perpetrators and victims, get really tired of listening to this family's crap, and questions whether they should call the cops.

The irony here is that the mother in the neighbor family is a cop. She really doesn't want the hassle of calling the precinct and having them send someone to breakup a family fight. After all, what more can she expect from these kind of folks. What she knows is that they are loud, ignorant, unschooled, and very emotional.

So the neighbor lady, the cop, takes it on herself to try to use pressure (of her superior position) to shame and somehow appropriately educate her loud and argumentative neighbors. She figures that her loud neighbors just come from inferior stock and she can use them as examples of how not to be for the rest of the neighborhood -- especially the kids.

The cycle of dinner time arguments goes on and oh-my-God on. It becomes the norm instead of a rarity. Mother cop takes it on herself to spread the word all over the neighborhood about these loud folks next door.

"They are so vulgar. We can't make them have self-respect, but we certainly can keep our kids away from them."

As mother cop moves forward with "putting the word out on the street" about these undesirables, she picks up supporters for her cause. But there is something that is even more troubling to her, after she has had a chance to talk to other parents in the neighborhood. Low and behold, her neighbors are not the only family that has fallen into the nightly dinner-time argument cycle. It's happening all around the neighborhood. Dammit, it's a movement, even. All of these undesirables seem to be protesting the same things, in the same way, like they all have these common complains and bitch and moan about them in much the same ways.

As time passes it becomes clear that there are two opposing camps of neighbors in the 'hood. There are those who know the "common rules of decency" and those who don't. And that seems to be about the only connection: there is agreement that some folks know how to behave and the others don't.

The first thing that really bothers the lady cop is that her neighbors (the loud ones) don't see their arguments as a problem at all. The loud neighbors apparently think that they are working on developing some kind of language, it's not a problem. In fact, they don't even call what they do "arguing."

After the lady cop has gone to have several conversations with the parents next door, the loud neighbors finally spell it out to the lady cop.

The parents at the loud house finally tell the lady cop from next door to butt out.

"There is no argument here, we are just speaking a language that you apparently don't understand. And you know what? You don't have to understand. If you can't dig what we are saying, then I guess we ain't talking to you no way!

In fact, lady cop from next door, we like it that way. That mean it's working. It's insider talking, it's signifying, it's a family conversation and you ain't-apparently-in the family. But I tell you what, your daughter seems like she know exactly what we be talking about.

Maybe you need to be minding what's going on in your own family, 'stead ah mine."

"Huh! These ignorant folks are just gonna ruin the culture and our kids."

OK, I, the narrator of this little tale, am back.

Does this sound familiar?

The truth of the matter is that the loud family knew exactly what it was doing. And, because they were hanging out with a bunch of other loud families, the "insider talkin'" network was growing as fast as those who practiced the rules of common decency. And, they were having a lot more fun.

Doing a fast-forward here, the rub comes for the decent folks when more and more of their youth learn the words, the moves, the look, the sensuality, the "cool" of the loud families. And ultimately, when the kids go, so too does commercial enterprise, big business, middle America. 'Cos, like it or not, with the kids go their parents pocketbooks.

It usually takes about ten years, but if it gets to that point, then it's too late, it's gone, it's middle America by year 15. And by year 15, the original loud arguing family has moved on to some other form of argument. It's about the argument, not about going "middle America." By then, the argument has lost it's edge and it's just another way for the Lady Cop and her family to capitalize on what was once just a bunch of "insider talkin', signifying, and family conversation.

That is my take on the hip-hop revolution. But that ain't a new thang in American cultural history/music/pop culture. See, it doesn't start as "pop." At the beginning it is definitely outsider, ghetto, marginalized, folk, evil crap to the establishment.

Then somebody sees how cool it is to the youth, and likewise, they see just how fast they can take that to the bank. And, the thing that makes pop culture pop culture is that it is out of the ghetto and bankable. The challenge then becomes disguising it so it looks, tastes, sounds, and feels ghetto.

Ghetto is bankable in a society that is too clean scrubbed in the soap of denial for it's kids thirst for some real soulful nasty.

And, it is the kids who will pay to hang in the fake ghetto. Because they don't really have to live it. They can just buy the CD, DVD, FUBU, and Phat Pharm Phashions.

The good thing is that the real ghetto kids then have a chance to complete the ultimate switch-a-roo. Bright ghetto kids, and their middle class cohart wannabes, get to go to the bank big-time, directly out of the pockets of middle America. Often without middle American parents even realizing what is going on.

Ever end up at a stop light next to a frat boy's jeep and get bombarded by his subwoofers belting out classic NWA rapping about jackin' a frat boy's SUV and daring his cop daddy to try to do something abut it?

Is he listening to the words of what he paid $16.99 for? Does he hear what NWA is saying directly to him? Is it just the cool beats?

Make no mistake about what I'm saying, that little story ain't just about the hip-hop revolution. It's been going on in American music culture since the turn of the last century.
Ragtime.
Blues.
Original jazz.
Swing.
Bebop.
Cool.
Hard bop.
Rock and roll.

By the time it makes it to middle America, the family just ain't spending that much time arguing about it anymore. The family is busy arguing about something else you ain't heard of yet. And the first time you hear it, you won't like it.

But don't worry about it too much. If you ain't in the family, ain't nobody talkin' to you no how. You'll just have to learn about it later... when the fake stuff gets on the radio, then on a McDonald's commercial, and middle America can take it to the bank.

Just relax and remember, if you can't dig what the kids are saying in those (Top Ten selling) rap hits, it's ok. Chances are, they ain't talking to you no way.

Is this really any different from your parents not understanding why you turned it up loud enough to make your ears bleed, got high and tripped while you listened to Jimi Hendrix's live version of "Voodoo Child."

Let the kids wave their freak flag highand enjoy the groove.

 



Verities by Pablo K.

Coming back from a recent visit to Lima, Peru, I was struck (as most people are) by the stark contrast of American affluence. Not a new feeling. All you have to do is go to Nuevo Laredo, parts of San Antonio, or even East Austin, and you get disquieting reminders of the disparity of wealth. But perhaps because I had never spent time in such a third world environment before, I felt an even deeper sense of the absurdity and tragedy of our global economic imbalance. Perhaps also it was because of the sharp delineation between very high incomes and grinding squalor that exists in Lima.

Huge billboards of Anglo-looking bikini-clad girls overlook windowless hovels. Giant casinos glittering with neon abut blocks of shacks without electricity or plumbing.

Yes, the imbalance is something we are all aware of. There's little point in preaching the gospel of self-righteousness. Some of us say, What can we do? Some of us try to help in various ways. Some of us have burnt out from trying to help. The problems of this world are enormous and they won't go away anytime soon. But we do have an obligation, as citizens of the wealthiest (and greediest, as far as per capita consumption of global resources) nation on earth, to at least be cognizant of the effects of our actions. With greater awareness, hopefully, comes more responsible behavior. We spent much of the 20th century showing the rest of the world how to live large, with big cars, plastic packaging, decadent celebrities and selfish lifestyles. Now, to our credit, we are trying to export saner products, recycled packaging, urban planning.

But one product that resists social evolution is decadent celebrity culture. I am particularly attuned, as a musician, to the decadence of the music industry. It lags behind in social consciousness, preaching youth, wealth and empty-headed leisure.

After a long, crowded bus ride in Lima, replete with crying Indian babies and clouds of diesel fumes, my friends and I took refuge in a Bembos, the Peruvian equivalent of McDonalds. Clean, air-conditioned, yet polluted by big-screen TVs with music videos featuring affluent, young, sexy stars. Some of the videos were Peruvian, some Colombian, but all of them replicated the imagery developed by the U.S. music industry. It made me much more claustrophobic than anything else in that city.

For decades I have been reminded by TV, radio, movies, tabloids and the rest, of all the things I don't have, that I will never have. I guess we are supposed to live vicariously through the celebrities, like some medieval serf staring up at the magnificent castle. If you listen hard you can just make out the strains of 'N Sync serenading Cinderella. It is such a moldy, outdated mentality, and yet we still cheerfully export it to the world. I do think that, slowly, progressive elements within the music industry are challenging this mentality, showing that music which is linked to social awareness and education is also marketable. But it is an uphill battle and it would be nice to see more signs of progress.

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Wish You Were Here by Justin Davis

Your case was dusty, I hadn't touched you for months, it wasn't neglect on my part to you, I still cared for you very much, it was neglect to myself. I refused to answer to my inner musician. The musician had been calling out, like a woman, your girlfriend, the girl you want to settle down with, hanging by her nails from the edge of a skyscraper and you just standing there thinking how maybe you could find a new girl friend. How you could fall in love with anyone just like you fell in love with her? How someone would eventually replace her? How you would enjoy doing the same things with a new girl as you did with your dearly beloved, hanging by a finger now, on the edge of this skyscraper. She's cryin out but you don't listen.

And you, dearly beloved, were hanging there with my inner musician two weeks ago. I needed you in a way I haven't needed you before. Your role transmogrified into a credit bearing one from one of pure passion. Rent was due and I knew your worth to guitar of my lifethe world, an implorable monetary worth, empty compared with your worth to me. Our relationship, Oh it was neglect on my part. I'm a bastard to you. Our relationship had diminished to this, me letting you drop away.

I take you out to clean you for the pawnshop and you hum your strings as I bump you against my knee. I pause while your hum transports me to the past. Midnight thunderstorms out west with sex come to mind with our touch. It takes gentle patient rubbing but I polish out your spots of use and admire the deep rose color of your finish.

To think about you alone and with someone else pains me deeply. I want to cry but my societal role as a man has suppressed my ability to cry so that I may only do so at death and extreme beauty, so I furrow my eyebrows and hold my head and shudder and grind my teeth and think of strumming you for the first and last time in months. Your clear warm soothing voice rang out and reverberated around my room in a manner not dissimilar to a dream when you first awaken, so real, so tangible. I cried when I heard it, for it was beautiful like my mothers voice. When the vibration of your strings on the heavy air vibrated my chest and my soul, I cried for we were one. When I began to play I cried for the beauty we could create and the beauty that would end when I closed the case. I played like it was a last request for a life-time, and it might be.

And so now you are in the pawnshop, hocked away for less than your true value and more than I can probably afford to pay for too long. Forgive me for dropping you off of the skyscraper of the present. Donot worry, I have saved my inner and he is recovering nicely. I am sorry I abused you during our last months together and that I used you as money when you are asfar away from the greed, fear, and hatred it instills as I am (or try to be). And now the only thing that keeps me at peace about the whole charade is remembering our last moment together, our best moment together, we played "Wish You Were Here",and I do, I really do.

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