Friday, August 26, 2011

Charles Bukowski and the American Dream

My favorite poem by Charles Bukowski is called, “stew,” (from Burning in Water Drowning in Flame: Selected Poems1955-1973 [1997], Black Sparrow Press). It’s a poem that begins with a lunch time meal, goes into describing mundane routines for the day, and then ends with—what I believe—are some of the four greatest lines ever put into a poem: “after we eat/ let's sleep, let's sleep./ we can't make any money/ awake.”

Not sure how other people would interpret this, but to me it reads as an indictment of American capitalism—of the so-called, “American Dream,” in particular. When I read these four short lines, (only 13 words), what I really hear is: “You know why they call it, ‘the American Dream,’ right? It’s because you have to be asleep to believe it.” (I think George Carlin said that).

The poet’s conclusion doesn’t come out of nowhere. As a matter of fact, earlier in the poem, he says, “poverty is a small game you play/ with your time.” This gives the poem a kind of class-character, which is needed because Bukowski was never known as a political poet. But anyone who puts any thought into this piece can come to a similar conclusion of what the poet must have thought of what kind of future this type of society holds for average working-class people. Of course, none of this makes up for the large amount of misogyny that is found throughout Bukowski’s work--nothing can, really. But, still, those last stanzas are worth repeating and pondering over. (Sorry I can’t post the entire poem, but I might get sued).

Paris can wait.
more salt?

after we eat
let's sleep, let's sleep

we can't make any money

Monday, August 22, 2011

Long Live Joe Strummer! 1952-2002

In honor of Joe Strummer, here's a snippet from an article that appeared in Revolution newspaper a few weeks after his death:

"Thinking about The Clash really brings to mind the space and the oxygen provided by the people's bands. The great revolutionary artists do not simply create inspiring music that exposes people to ideas and politics to change the world. They are a force of attraction that people gravitate towards. Millions come to live their lives by what these artists say, do, mean, and come to exemplify.

You see, The Clash had so much disdain for the bloodsuckers running the world, especially the Yankee fools. As one of the seminal bands of the late '70s punk explosion, where various bands embodied a straight-up fuck-you attitude to the status quo, The Clash also had and gave hope for the future.

From the days of '77 until the very end, Strummer was an internationalist. When The Clash jumped on the scene in England their music fostered and promoted common cause between the white working-class youth, Black people, and immigrants, especially the Dreads who had such an influence on them, helping define much of the band's sound. They embraced and fused dub reggae into their music, and even incorporated the early rap sound when hip-hop was only a baby.

Though I never saw The Clash live I did have the chance to meet Joe four or five times, and all in one night. Last year after I saw Joe Strummer and The Mescaleros he brought a few dozen people out to the bars. And all through the night Joe was talking it up with the people--old friends, new friends, people who didn't know who he was. He would approach you, ask you questions, dis you, talk to you about music, politics, the world, all interspersed with countless anecdotes about his many years making music and meeting people all over the world. With whatever struggles they went through as a band, and the bitterly painful breakup, Joe was so proud of The Clash and what they had done. It was so good to see Joe and his new band. He was carrying the torch, and in listening to their albums and seeing them live it felt like they could come to mean a lot to people. When you saw Strummer on stage, with the younger musicians behind him, it was something else. He was beaming with rapture and had more heart than most artists half his age these days. He stepped to each show like it was a battle, and they were gonna win."

Also, check out this video of Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros cover of "Redemption Song". It's a bad-ass tribute video filmed in New York's Lower East Side when graffiti artists Zephyr and Revolt where painting a mural in his honor. It has a lot of cool cameos, including one from the author of the article above. I really love the intro to the video; Strummer says some really beautiful things: "I'd like to say that people--people can change anything they want to. And that means everything in the world. Show me any country and they'll be people in it; it's time to take the humanity back into them--the center of the ring, and follow that for a time. You know, think on that: without people, you're nothing."

Friday, August 19, 2011

More L.A. Rising Afterthoughts

Some of you might remember my blog post from earlier this month after attending L.A. Rising. Well, the latest issue of Revolution newspaper also has an article about the big concert, but focused more around building the movement for revolution and also what some of the concert-goers are thinking about these days, (which I thought was pretty cool). Here's a small sample:

"Tens of thousands of young people from different backgrounds (with lots of 20- and 30-somethings as well) came from all over California; Arizona, New Mexico and Texas; Minnesota and Wisconsin and Boston, Massachusetts; from Canada, France and beyond... to hear a unique lineup of bands at the Los Angeles Coliseum that featured Rage Against the Machine, Muse, Lauryn Hill, Rise Against, Immortal Technique and El Gran Silencio from Monterrey, Mexico.

"The July 30 concert was called L.A. Rising, and it was a phenomenal event, in many different ways. The coming together of these groups, each known and loved by their fans for their powerful, moving sounds and their unmistakably radical political content, created an extraordinary atmosphere. For a whole day and into the late night hours, thousands shared and contributed to this breath of fresh air. The performers were inspired, and so was their music. When Rage took the stage in the late evening, the 60,000 or more fans leapt to their feet and never sat down again! We're not able, in this article, to review the fantastic music heard at this concert—but we wanted to let our readers know about some other exciting and important things that went on at the event."

And later...

"The Re-Education Camp connected with a searching that's going on among many of those who'd come to the concert. A couple from Santa Fe, New Mexico said: "We drove 12 hours non-stop. We came for the music and the movement... I feel like they brought the people here who have like minds who feel the same way. There's a lot of people here... This is the most important time for this to be happening. Right now. This is the tip of the iceberg around the world. So here we are. Hopefully we'll see some political change."

Click here to read the entire article.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Mixtape for London

If you don't know about what's going on in London you need to get from under that rock you've been living in. In light of that, I thought I would throw some songs together as a sort of soundtrack for the last couple of days over there. Some of them are very meaningful; and others just for fun. (Each link below is for a YouTube video).

The Clash - Know Your Rights
"This is a public service announcement...with guitar!" I love the way this song starts. It's also very appropriate, as the current rebellion in London got started because the police killed a young man named Matt Duggan. The video is also great: it's mostly coverage of various protests and cops being assholes.

The Business - Panic
"Panic in the streets of London..." This is a great Smith's cover!

Rancid - I wanna Riot
Too bad I couldn't find a good video for this. The lyrics aren't great or anything, but the music is awesome.

GBH - White Riot
Had to include this Clash cover from these English street punk legends! This was the best sound quality I could find, as they usually close-out their shows with this song and I don't think it's actually on any of their albums. Lyrics are great tho: "All the power's in the hands/ Of people rich enought to buy it./ While we walk the street/ too chicken to even try it."

Dare to Defy - Shoplifters of the World Unite
Just for fun, really.

Rage Against the Machine - Fuck the Police
Zach and company's cover of this NWA rap classic. They make it sound even angrier than the original!

Sex Pistols - Anarchy in the UK
Honestly, what kind of compilation would this be if I didn't include this song? (Also, nice video with lots of old footage of the band and the youth from that generation).

Muse - Uprising
Not usually my type of music, but I was reminded that this was a great song and video. Plus, these guys are also English. Check out the chorus: "They will not force us/ They will stop degrading us/ They will not control us/ We will be victorious."

Outernational - Fighting Song
This is an awesome song that I wish all the youth in London (and all over the world) would listen to. The video has no images, but it has all the lyrics. "I've got my dreams/ when I sleep./ And I've got these dreams/ that really could be."

The (International) Noise Conspiracy - Smash It Up
"I wanna smash it up/ for all the workers/who spent hours into nothing." This is one of my favorite bands ever and this is the official video from Epitaph Records. Very catchy.

Black Lips - Bad Kids
Lyrics are OK, but the sing-along video is better, as it shows a lot of street-fighting with cops footage.

Nouvelle Vague - Guns of Brixton
A french band I like doing a Clash cover to bring it back around where we started, and just a good way to end this. "When they kick out your front door/ How you gonna come?"

Friday, August 5, 2011

Global Warming...and SpongeBob

The other day, Politicus USA reported on how the Fox News show, "Fox and Friends," attacked SpongeBob Squarepants for promoting the issue of Global Warming, which they are very angry about because they feel it is "unproven science." This, despite a 2009 survey in which 82% of scientists believe that human activity has been a significant factor in changing mean global temperatures. (By the way, some of the scientists who don't believe in Global Warming are usually the ones who work for the oil industry).

This, however, is not the first time that SpongeBob has had to face the wrath of right-wingers. Some years back, SpongeBob was attacked by Christian Fascists when he participated in a video, that included other animated characters, for the purpose of promoting tolerance. Of course, James Dobson, and his Focus on the Family group, believed that "...Kids should not be taught that homosexuality is just another 'lifestyle' or that it is morally equivalent to heterosexuality."

SpongeBob is actually a pretty cool guy. I interviewed him this one time...

Thursday, August 4, 2011

FYI: That Banksy is Now Hidden

Some of you might remember one of my first blog posts about a Banksy piece in South L.A., on Washington Blvd and Compton Ave, (by the Washington Blue Line station). Well, that Banksy piece is now covered up by a giant metal fence that now surrounds the empty lot next to the piece. Someone once tried to vandalize the piece, but failed because it had already been protected. But, that's not the reason why the metal fence has been erected. Not sure, but possibly because a lot of people used to tag the building where the Banksy's piece is located. (To try and get a little fame, I guess). This is bad news for anyone who wasn't able to go see the piece in person, but you can still kinda see it from a crack in the fence.

If that's not good enough for you, you still have a few days left before the Art in the Streets exhibit closes at MOCA and they have a whole room full of Banksy's work! But don't wait until the last day.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Some Very Late Afterthoughts on L.A. Rising

Gotta call myself out here for not bringing up, (blogging about), the LA Rising Festival when I first heard about it. It was a very important music festival and I should have given it more exposure. Maybe it was because I just wasn’t very excited about many of the performers, or maybe I was too focused on the high ticket price. But, the fact of the matter is that, Rage Against the Machine, (with the help of Goldenvoice Productions), actually set out to create a type of counter-culture music festival--the type of which that we have not seen in a very long time.

Unfortunately, I didn’t fully appreciate that until recently when I was reading Bob Avakian’s, “Birds Cannot Give Birth to Crocodiles, But Humanity Can Soar Beyond the Horizon.” In the beginning of Part 2 (Building the Movement for Revolution), the first paragraph ends like this:

“There can be, and must be, struggle—and a real, living alternative brought forward—in the realm of culture and ideology (including morals), even now, before the current system is swept aside—and as a critical part of building a movement for revolution to sweep away the current system.”

A few pages later, speaking more specifically about culture, he says:

“In short, we need, in today's circumstances, a counter-culture that contributes to and is increasingly part of building a movement for revolution—in opposition to a counter-revolutionary culture. We need a culture of radical opposition to the essence of everything that is wrong with this society and system, and the many different manifestations of that; we need an active searching for a radically better world, within which revolution and communism is a powerful and continually growing pole of attraction.”

So, this was the sixth time I’ve seen RATM live, and it wasn’t my favorite performance by them, but that’s not the point. I don’t really like the type of music that Rise Against or Muse play, but—again—that’s not the point. Those two bands have made some very powerful music videos and are coming from a different place, (politically), than most mainstream bands. The audience, also, was encouraged to visit the “Re-Education Camp” where more than 30 nonprofit organizations were invited—at zero cost—to promote their causes and raise awareness.

More evidence of this show’s powerful impact can be found in a show review that the Los Angeles Times did:

“Rage’s PLUR is more like protest, liberate, unify and revolt, and it’s a message that resonated at the Coliseum, no doubt because the band's crowd is right in the thick of things, economically speaking. Primarily comprising twenty- and thirty-something blue-collar Angelenos that as a group have been hit hard by the recession, it’s a tribe that has as its spokesmen a band that formed in Los Angeles in 1991 while the city was simmering. As with two decades prior, it’s a demographic that sees before it an uncertain future and bears with it resentment at the mansions of Beverly Hills and all that they represent.

“So when Rage Against the Machine lead singer-provocateur Zack de la Rocha stood before 60,000 people, raised his fist, barked out wicked smart, superbly flowed calls to action, pointed out the disparity between rich and poor, spit venom at the billionaires and wondered on their power, the sense of no future that has ignited unrest throughout the world in 2011 felt shockingly, palpably present.”

This was a powerful festival. I hope we have many more like it. We’re going to need them if we want to build a whole different kind of revolutionary culture.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Fear of a Black Spider-Man


The comic-book world was a buzz this morning, as it was revealed that the new Spider-Man in the Marvel Comics Ultimate Universe, (not the main universe), would be a half-black, half-Hispanic teen named Miles Morales.

For those of you non-geeks, the Ultimate Universe line of comic-books from Marvel comics was launched in 2000 and featured re-imagined and updated versions of super-heroes from the regular Marvel Universe. This was done, mostly, to attract new readers who did not have to worry about knowing any of the back-story of the original characters--who after being around for many decades do have a lot of back-story!

The Ultimate Universe is constantly making big changes, like killing-off characters. Most recently, they just killed their Ultimate version of Peter Parker, so a new person had to step into the role of Spider-Man. Today, USA Today revealed that in Ultimate Fallout Issue #4, (which will be in stores tomorrow), will make his first appearance as he prepares to take over the gig.

Many fans are excited about the news; This includes, Black actor Donald Glover, who a year ago had started a campaign to get the role of Spider-Man for the upcoming movie reboot. Thru Twitter, he sent one of the writers, Brian Michael Bendis, a message saying, "just wanted to say "wow" and thank you for doing something really cool and interesting! You're tops."

Of course, this news also brings many detractors, some of which are outright racists and others who try to hide their racism with lame comments like, "You cannot reinvent characters." If you look thru the comments in the USA Today article you will see a lot of racist remarks. I won't reprint any here, you can go see them for yourself if you really want; or you can go pick up the book tomorrow and see what the hoopla is all about.

I think comic-book writer, Ron Marz, said it best today (on his Twitter account): "If Black/Latino Spidey, written by a Jewish man and drawn by a woman, is making racist heads explode, I'm totally cool with that."