Friday, March 27, 2015

Video of The Week: N.W.A.

This week marks the 20th anniversary of Eazy-E's passing (yesterday was the actual date), a victim of AIDS, a year before Tupac Shakur was shot down, in a down period for Snoop Doggy Dogg, at a time where Death Row Records were getting more recognition for their ''street work'' than their art, marking a decline in California/West Coast hip hop that would take years to get back on its feet.

And while rap originated from the streets of New York and was brought to the mainstream via Grandmaster Flash and Sugarhill Gang, then elevated to high art by the likes of Public Enemy (who gave it political legitimacy), it was West Coast rap that put a real sense of danger and impending doom to the old, white male politicians and their wives (hello, Tipper Gore).

And at the forefront of their fear was what would later emerge as having been a supergroup because most of its members had successful solo careers afterwards, N.W.A. - Niggaz With Attitudez. They were stirring shit up when they were underground and just playing shows and releasing mixtapes circa 1986-88, but when they released Straight Outta Compton on August 8th, 1988, it really hit the fan. Profanity-laced, talking about the violence that was actually happening in the streets of Los Angeles, with real and smart rhymes about the social divide between races and of people in a position of authority versus the poor, taking the word ''nigger'' that white policemen were screaming at black kids back with a vengeance - a real, actual call for vengeance, because if the song Straight Outta Compton is an introduction to their world, Fuck Tha Police is direct in its intention.

It was pure of heart, and it was genuine, and it was genius. The words Ice Cube wrote for himself as well as for Eazy-E (the group's leader, a terrific showman and personality but sub-par writer) and Dr. Dre (a master producer), and those MC Ren and Yella wrote themselves hit White America and the Establishment in the face, with nothing but the cold, hard truth. They were Bob Dylan, they were John Lennon, but they were angry, and without them there probably could never have been a Tupac, or a Rage Against The Machine, or a System Of A Down.

The Man tried to kill the movement with ''Parental Advisory'' stickers on their tapes and records, but the trials and news coverage led to exactly the opposite of what the narrow-minded politicians had hoped for: instead of ''protecting'' their children from the ''threat'' of angry rap, it just drove suburban kids to buy more of it, and thus began a cultural shift that is still (very slowly) taking place in the States. It's as if these politicians didn't recall when their own grandparents called Elvis Presley ''the Devil's music'' and how that just gave him more traction. Except this time, Elvis was a black man with a gun. (And, like Elvis, Ice Cube did gain some weight and go on to make terrible films; in his defense, his music has remained relevant pretty much the whole time, though).

So here's their introduction to the world, their calling card, if you will, directed by Rupert Wainwright:

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Sticks And Stones May Break My Bones

a.k.a. WHAT'S IN A NAME?

I grew up in the 1980s, and entered my teens as they turned into the 1990s. I knew old-school parenting: I remember not fastening my seat belt on the backseat and sleeping on that weird place separating it from the trunk. I remember reciting the ABCs in kindergarten (or was that pre-school?), and moving on to ''sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me'' in elementary school.

And when I was 11, a Chinese student stood up in front of a tank in Tiananmen Square and suddenly, even broken bones didn't seem so bad.

Oh how we get soft fast.

Political correctness grew like cancer and poisoned our society to levels unimaginable in 1988 when it was still a joke. Don't get me wrong: I am fully aware that not all humans are treated equally in any given country, let alone from one to the next, that racism is still both institutionalized and prevalent even in the Land Of The Free, and, within the borders I myself inhabit (notice I'm not using the word ''country''...) gender equality - which used to be a given and what was believed to be the basis of our society to some extent, and my father will argue that it led to the ''womanization'' (read: super-sensibility) of the masses, though I fully, entirely and completely disagree - is under attack at both the federal and provincial levels, so pretty much everywhere. So, yes, I realize there is plenty of reason out there for outrage, anger, fighting (for your rights), heated debates, compromise, rebuilding and evolving.

But there shouldn't be so much room for victimization.

Particularly, we have to stop being offended by words and pictures. And not just those of the Prophet, by the way. I'll get to pictures later, because the real reason I'm writing this post today is a post on Louder Than War on Monday talking about ''censorship'' and shitty band names.

This month's culprit of bad taste is Viet Cong, but a few years ago in my own town there was Rape Faction, and the 1980s saw Joy Division (a Nazi reference), New Order and Dead Kennedys get questioned for their wit (or lack thereof).

Just to ''clear the air'' (though it won't): Nazis were bad people, rape is the worst or second-worst thing you can do to a human, totalitarian states are not fun, and murdering political figures (and normal humans) is questionable at the very least.

But not only was there always offensive shit in music (Did you know all of Mozart's piece titles were actually scatological references? What kind of backlash do you think Robert Johnson got for having made a deal with the Devil so he could play guitar well enough to steal everybody's else's wife as he so clearly states in over half his songs? Remember how Murder Was The Case they gave Snoop Doggy Dogg, who was on trial for murder a year later? How many heavy metal acts were accused of inspiring suicides? Don't get me started with Marilyn Manson, perhaps the smartest but also least dangerous figure of pretend-satanism...), but a lot of it is (gasp!)... on purpose!

When I was in New York (1998-99), there was a band who named themselves Gay Dad. It was mostly funny, but some got outraged, usually super-conservative types; nowadays, that would probably also offend the LGBT community, even though the band itself had no issue with any cause they might have.

There's a part in the article I linked to above where Viet Cong talk about receiving tons of complaint letters, including one from someone whose grandparents were killed by the army known as the Viet Cong (1959-1975). I want to say two things:

1. The band may have done your grandparents a favor by being such insensitive pricks, because as of yesterday morning, I had no idea they (your ancestors) had even existed, and now they have entered my brain as people who have suffered at the VC's hand.

2. The fact that the band stupidly went ahead and called themselves that has the added benefit of people - particularly kids who are 14-29 at the moment and have no fucking education to speak of - now looking it up and finding out more about Human History. And, believe it or not, that's good.

That's not to say the band get off scot-free: they were ignorant when they went ahead and called themselves that (they really had no clue and just thought it sounded cool), and they're assholes for continuing to go with it now that they know who they were, and choosing not to use it as a tool to educate people on the history I just touched upon.

I repeat: they're free to be stupid and call themselves that, but you're free to call them out as assholes.

Can we not go back to just calling out the assholes instead of being afraid of their band's name? As long as they don't use your fucking name to discredit it (people I know were in a band called the Bill Cosby Anarchist Society of America, that's debatable even in spite of what he's not-quite-yet-officially-accused of), I don't give a fuck if a band calls itself Dyke Nigger Nazi Inbreds Of French Decent (''Maroon 5'' for short), it's their cross to bear and no one should cry over it, even if there was a concentration camp survivor from 1944 who marched on Selma in 1965 only to get shot in the Stonewall riots in 1970 (spoiler alert: there wasn't).

Censorship is always bad, anti-liberal, and undemocratic. Toronto band Fucked Up incited a re-write of an entire tour funding program on account that one person was offended by their name. That's, well, fucked up. Just don't go to the fucking show you fucking asshole, no need to ruin it for everyone else.

Everybody wants to be an abused minority, for some reason. And instead of uniting and going for a ''Let's All Be Equal'' platform - which they could obtain because, well, when combined, they'd easily be a majority - they each want their piece of the pie and stomp on others along the way if need be.
Women make up 52% of the world right now, and in Québec universities, at least 60% of any field (some up to 90%), meaning as soon as the old men retire and/or die, they'll be the only ones even remotely qualified to be in charge - of everything.

I'll put myself in with ''the poor'', though I'm more of the ''working poor'' variety, but as a whole, we've metaphorically called ourselves the 99%; those of us in Canada who make less than $20K per year are probably not nearly that many, because the ''99%'' includes the middle class, but we do have decent numbers.

It's been generally accepted that 10% of the population is gay. That's a decent chunk. There's a stereotype that they have money, too, that could help their cause even more.

French-speaking Quebecers make up 85-90% of their territory, but less than a quarter of Canada's population. They're a super-minority on the continent, a minority in their guest country, and a majority in their annexed land - they're an anomaly, a fun one to look into if you're a history buff - I suggest you start with the writings of Howard Zinn if you're interested.

''Blacks'' (as Donald Trump likes to call them) represented roughly 15% of the U.S. when I was growing up, I think we're around 25% now, but if the United States want to play World Police, then should Black folks of the world combine, their numbers would rival China's - and their anger and right to protest might be unparalleled.

Aboriginals are actually the minorit-est of minorities, considering they are but a fraction of the numbers they once were and are consistently not provided for nor given the means to prosper, save for the corrupt few who are in charge and steal the rest of their tribe's cash - the way the rest of North America works.
And the list goes on. This isn't meant as a sociocultural essay as much as a means to vent against those who cry wolf instead of standing up and making a meaningful change - for all, not just their own special-interest group.

And that's a point that encompasses something else that caught my attention this week, where clothing line company H&M created a host of fake metal bands to pretend to have a full roster of acts for its Heavy & Metal (get it?) line, complete with fake band websites, and fake songs.

So complete, in fact, that they tied two of those bands to the NSBM scene. Yes, fake white supremacist bands. So they can sell their t-shirts and patches:

That's taking trolling to some new extremes...

A lot of my circle of friends were deeply offended by the whole idea. I'm torn between 25% of me finding it funny in an adolescent way, and 75% finding it the dumbest thing I've heard all week, but ''offended''? Nah. That black model in the picture looks angrier to have the world's worst agent than he is of wearing those patches (granted, none of them feature a swastika or anything), and I choose not to get offended by words, pictures, or stupidity.

I'm amazed by how idiotic of a species Mankind is, yes, most of the time. I wish we could repair our societies, our systems, or take a minute to create a new one. Yes. Of course. But there isn't much you can throw at me that'll ruin my day.

My ancestors were killed by the British, trying to protect their language, culture and identity - probably less than 100 yards of where I live right now, but here I am writing in English.

My sister died of cancer, and yet I watched X-Files and hated Cancer Man because he was evil, not because he chain-smoked.

Friends have died in street violence, and I've been a victim of sexual abuse - and yet I listen to 2Pac telling me he'll rape Notorious B.I.G.'s wife, then murder him. And in Toss 'Em Up, he calls Dr. Dre a ''faggot'', and yet I don't skip it when my gay friends come over. And I feel pretty much the same way as Louis C.K. (see: Chewed Up) about the word ''nigger'', and I've been listening to Patti Smith's Rock And Roll Nigger a lot this week as well.

''Actions speak louder than words''. ''Words will never hurt me''. It's about fucking time we start living up to the shit we taught our kids for centuries. Starting with ''All men (sic) were created equal''. If we can make that change, then maybe we can stop being afraid of words.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

How To Troll Bostonians

Like Daniel Brière and Brendan Gallagher before him, Montréal Canadiens sharp-shooter Max Pacioretty was asked to create a burger that would bear his name for the season.

Except he went and presented it to Boston Bruins fans, the Habs' natural and longest-standing rivals:

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Video Of The Week: Flyleaf

For most of their career, Flyleaf didn't like to be referred to as a ''Christian rock'' band, despite at the same time claiming that not only were they all Christian, but that their faith transpired in their music. Exactly the type of discourse that'll make me steer clear of what you have to say, be it in words or music.

It was hard, however, to ignore their hit song Fully Alive in 2007, because it was everywhere:

Just how Christian were they? When lead singer and lyricist Lacey Sturm (then known as Lacey Mosley) gave birth to her first child, she left the band to become a stay-at-home mom. That's one abortion clinic protest away from getting offered a part-time job at Fox News.

She was replaced after a decade (2002-2012) as the frontwoman by Kristen May, formerly of Vedera. The band has since been forced to finance their albums through crowdfunding because they were dropped by A&M Records.

Kudos, Kiddos

Most times I'm content knowing the human race is circling the drain on its way to being flushed down the toilet of history. (Shout out to Florida).

Once a week, however, a minority of humans who didn't get the memo go out and do something awesome, like these three 8th-grade basketball players who stood up to some asshole who was taunting (they say ''bullying'',  but I for one think that term is over-used nowadays) a cheerleader with Down syndrome:

Of course, the hypocritical school overdid it by officially renaming the gym D's House, but whatever. By going with that extra tap, the principal took some of the spotlight away from the kids and, really, 12 or 25 years from now, when society's perhaps moved on and all people are treated equally and this is no longer ''a thing'', won't you regret taking that one moment to honor a 5-minute event when you'll want to rename the gymnasium for the lady who is now President of the Continent (or Galaxy, what do I know?) who played volley-ball in that room?

The school should just have handed the boys a civility medal or something. Or made them pass a failing class. Or thrown them a party. Or return their confiscated Playboy magazines. Not take credit for the kids' move by co-opting their shit.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Awesome Limited-Edition Hockey Jerseys

For people in their 30s and 40s, the late-1980s and early-1990s represent the golden age of Saturday Night Live, with Mike Myers, Phil Hartman, Dana Carvey, Chris Rock, Adam Sandler,
 Julia Sweeney, Ellen Cleghorne, Kevin Nealon, Jon Lovitz, Victoria Jackson, Chris Farley, Rob Schneider, David Spade, Tim Meadows, Siobhan Fallon, Nora Dunn, Jan Hooks, Al Franken, and Robert Smigel.

SNL 40 was knee-deep in that specific era, and now the kind folks at Violent Gentlemen (George Parros and friends) also channeled Wayne's World for their new, limited-edition jerseys (feel free to buy me one):

Monday, March 9, 2015

Obama In Selma

Here's an except of Barack Obama's speech commemorating the 50th anniversary of the bloodbath in Selma, Alabama. If you're going to follow the embedded video to its original YouTube page, please, don't read the comments. Or do, and realize just how much 47% of the country he clearly still believes in isn't ready to step into the 20th Century, let alone the 21st.

Had I been in his position, I would have uttered the word ''motherfucking'' more times in those two minutes than Samuel L. Jackson in an entire Quentin Tarantino movie.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Florida Officials Dumber Than Their Constituents

In this article from the Miami Herald, we learn that Florida officials have banned the use of the phrases ''climate change'' and ''global warming'' from any official communication - emails, letters, spoken.

Doesn't sound like they're fully confident they're on the right side of the issue if they have to start banning words to continue getting their non-point across.

The policy goes beyond semantics and has affected reports, educational efforts and public policy in a department with about 3,200 employees and $1.4 billion budget.
“We were told not to use the terms ‘climate change,’ ‘global warming’ or ‘sustainability,’” said Christopher Byrd, an attorney with the DEP’s Office of General Counsel in Tallahassee from 2008 to 2013. “That message was communicated to me and my colleagues by our superiors in the Office of General Counsel.”

Read more here:
Kind of makes you long for the good old days of stupid Florida news being about an idiot on bath salts locking himself up in a police jail to escape the demons in his head.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Video Of The Week: Purity Ring

At this point, we're probably due for a Beyoncé video, however I have been wanting to feature Purity Ring for a while, and with their most recent album, Another Eternity, getting released this week, I figured now was ideal to feature this video, directed and edited by Renata Raksha.

It's an artistic take on the now-common ''this-isn't-an-actual-video'' type of video, but instead of showing the album cover or a bad montage of various promo shots, it's a bunch of visual effects over one band still photograph.

And the music is clearly well-written pop, close to the ''orchestral pop'' of the mid-1990s, but with a touch of modern electronics, so it's a tad more experimental - while remaining completely accessible. It's smooth, easy listening that won't leave you feeling stupid.

Renata Raksha

Today's Darryl Sutter Quote

The NHL playoffs are awesome because it's the time of year where Los Angeles Kings head coach Darryl Sutter's forced to hold daily press conferences, and more attention is thrown at the league and journalists who wouldn't normally be on the beat get to ask stupid or obvious questions for a soundbite.

Spring must be nearer, because the ever-quotable coach came up with this beauty (fast-forward to 55 seconds in for just that part):

I mean come on, this is probably the most honest and best quote this week:
“You don’t have to do anything. Just try and win. There’s no such thing as a ‘must-win.’ Nobody gets locked up or thrown in the ocean or anything like that. I’m not into that. It’s just a game.”

Never retire, Mr. Sutter, I implore you.