Under 30

I can't complain but sometimes I still do

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Shameless self-promotion

The latest Under 30. Enjoy!

More clueless writing about hip-hop

Miami Herald and syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts wrote a column about Oprah Winfrey's supposed distate for hip-hop. Here's a sample:

The lords of hip-hop made their fortunes and their fame by flipping the middle-finger salute to middle-American alarm and apprehension over their music, its rawness, its explicitness, its violence and its effects. They were outsiders, loud and profanely proud in their rejection of white picket fence mores and norms.

Fine. They have every right.

But now they're singing the blues because the ultimate arbiter of white picket fence mores and norms wants nothing to do with them? Now they're seeking sympathy because they are denied a stamp of approval from Middle America's main gatekeeper?

Cry me a river.

I mean, what do they expect? You can't have it both ways. You cannot curse people and expect them to support you, cannot offend them then ask them to welcome you. I'm reminded of what mama always said about respect: you got to give some to get some.

Perhaps this is news to the hip-hop nation, populated as it is by people who routinely embrace values neutrality and moral relativism, who often duck responsibility for what they say and how they say it, who frequently refuse to recognize that words have meaning and consequence.

Some thoughts: (1)You know who else flipped "the middle-finger salute to middle-American alarm and apprehension"? Elvis Presley. And he did it about 40 years before Eminem did. The same could be said of most other great pop artists from the past 50 years. Upsetting the apple cart is the what rockers/rappers are supposed to do. The difference is that rockers have a museum honoring them for it. (2) Once more with feeling: RAP IS MAINSTREAM! Listen to top 40 radio. (3) Do I really need to list all the rappers that aren't gangstas? Do I really have to do that? Jee-zus! (4) In the case of a gangsta rapper like 50 Cent (who seems barely like a gangsta rapper, really, compared with NWA or Ice-T back in the day), do people really think he's a criminal? I mean, are middle-aged white boomers really that dumb? It's a role, people. Would Oprah refuse to have Al Pacino on her show because he played Scarface? Or Denzel Washington because he played a corrupt cop in (and won an Oscar for)"Training Day"?

There's a honest debate to be had about why white people love buying records made by black men pretending to be criminals. (See Spike Lee's "Bamboozled.") But this continued marginalization of rap by the media (the insistence that it's not mainstream) isn't just wrong, it's ridiculous.

Great crazy religious story

If you're like me, you love stories about crazy religious people. Salon has a really intersting story about a Mormon cult in Utah that sounds like something out of "Big Love": polygamy, "Little House on the Prairie" fashions and banished boys living on the street for supposed sins.

The FLDS follows the same scripture as mainline Mormons, with one key difference: They adhere to the final revelation of their founder, Joseph Smith, instructing his followers to take multiple wives. In establishing a separatist community in Colorado City and practicing polygamy, they believe that they are the only true Mormons. The mainstream Mormon church, for its part, disavows its historical connection to the FLDS the way a person might disavow a slightly deranged cousin.

Colorado City's 10,000 residents make it the most populous town in the isolated wedge of chalky red desert north of the Grand Canyon and south of the Utah border. The town straddles the two states, materializing out of nowhere along a barren stretch of highway known as the Arizona Strip. Its seclusion is no accident: After polygamy was formally renounced by the Mormon Church in 1890, the town's early settlers sought out a remote site where they could take multiple wives far from public scrutiny. Residents call it the Crick, for the creek that meanders through the center of town, and kids commonly refer to themselves as Crickers. Three-fourths of the town's residents are members of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints; the other quarter belong to a sect called the Centennialists, which split off from the FLDS in the 1980s, insisting that the church be governed by its traditional committee of elders rather than submit to the dictates of the prophet.

When Warren Jeffs inherited control of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in 2000, following the death of his father, Rulon, the first thing he did was marry 30 of his father's youngest and prettiest wives. Then he set about tightening his reins on Colorado City, a town where the women dress like the cast of "Little House on the Prairie" and the civic leaders -- the mayor, the police chief, the superintendent of schools -- are all subject to the prophet's orders. Jeffs banned holiday celebrations, forbade followers from listening to music except for the droning spiritual chants that he himself records, and prohibited all forms of worldly entertainment, including sports -- bowling, football, even snowball fights. Colorado City was run like a theocracy, with Jeffs its ayatollah.

In order to keep tabs on his followers, Jeffs relied on the local police, who acted more like the Taliban's morality squad than keepers of the peace. The cops were essentially informants, loyal first to Jeffs and second to the state laws that they were sworn to uphold. They patrolled the community for violations of the prophet's moral code, reporting infractions to their supreme leader. They would pull kids over for alleged traffic violations, then take photographs if they found CDs or other worldly possessions, which they turned over to the Jeffs. Until last year, when government officials in Utah and Arizona began investigating charges of underage marriage and tax fraud, Colorado City was essentially allowed to thrive outside the law.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

iPod Journal for June 2006

A few years ago I started making mix CDs of songs I was listening to a lot during a particular month. It was an idea I stole from Cameron Crowe, who kept monthly mix tapes as a sort of musical journal. I like it because music is my best memory jogger, and I can listen to a disc I made in Sept. 2003 and remember exactly what I was doing that month.

Here is my iPod journal for June 2006

1. Herbert, "Something Isn't Right"
2. The Four Tops, "The Same Old Song"
3. Billy Ocean, "Caribbean Queen (No More Love On the Run)"
4. Guided by Voices, "Eureka Signs"
5. Soundtrack of Our Lives, "Broken Imaginary Time"
6. Cheap Trick, "If It Takes a Lifetime"
7. Col. Knowledge and the Lickity Splits, "I Just Want Somebody (To Get With)
8. Thom Yorke, "The Clock"
9. Herman's Hermits, "End of the World"
10. Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, "Tears of a Clown"
11. Phoenix, "Rally"
12. Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint, "The Sharpest Thorn"
13. Wally Tax and the Outsiders, "Lying All the Time"
14. Jenny Lewis with the Watson Twins, "Melt Your Heart"
15. Fall Out Boy, "Sugar We're Going Down Swinging"
16. Chamillionaire, "Ridin'"
17. The Band, "To Kingdom Come"
18. The Coup, "My Favorite Mutiny"
19. Isley Brothers, "This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak For You)"
20. Michael Jackson, "Off the Wall"
21. KT Tunstall, "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree"
22. The Meters, "People Say"
23. The Staple Singers, "Freedom Highway"
24. Oh No! Oh My! "A Pirate's Anthem"
25. Howlin' Wolf, "My Country Sugar Mama"
26. The Decemberists, "Grace Cathedral Hill"
27. Tammy Wynette, "D-I-V-O-R-C-E"
28. The Constantines, "Soon Enough"
29. Silver Apples, "Lovefingers"
30. Pentagram, "20 Buck Spin"

Get well, Rog

Wow, that was a long weekend. Actually, I worked Monday so it was more like a sea of vacation with a mote of work in the middle. Anyway, hacknyed analogies aside, I'm glad to be back blogging.

As my first order of business, I want to give a get-well shout-out to Roger Ebert, who was hospitalized over the weekend when complications arose from a previous cancer surgery. He is still in serious condition, but he appears stable.

Roger Ebert is probably the single most influential person for me as far as writing goes. I started reading his annual "Home Companion" books when I was about 11 or 12, and after poring over hundreds of reviews dozens of times I subliminally learned how to write with clarity, critical thought and wit. (Or so I try.) While I now read other critics as much as Ebert, there still is nobody who writes as well for film buffs and average movie-goers.

Ebert also introduced me to a wonderful world of cinema that otherwise would have been unknown to a small town Midwestern boy in the dark ages before DVDs, the Internet and Netflix. He taught me about Martin Scorsese, Orson Welles, David Lynch (though he hated "Blue Velvet," the way he wrote about it made it sound so alien and sexy) and lots of other great directors. Along with the books I loved the show "Siskel and Ebert," and would wake up at 2 a.m. to watch it. Though the local TV station apparently didn't think much of two dorks discussing movies with passion, I was blown away. Other people care about this as much as I do? Again, before the Internet, this was a big deal for cuturally isolated small-town kids. And I'm not just talking about me. Snobs might look down on him for his cheesy thumb shtick, but there's nobody who has done more to increase apprection of film in the mainstream in the last 50 years than Ebert.

Sure, I'm as dumbfounded as anybody when Ebert gives three stars to the latst "Garfield" sequel. But Ebert is America's critic now, and he reviews movies based on how well it satisfies its intent and audience demands. I'm not sure I agree with that of reviewing movies (it seems a little too close to excusing garbage), but I respect the guy for engaging mainstream culture instead of putting himself above it.

Here's a nice tribute to Rog from a co-worker, which includes a link to his hilarious "Deuce Bigalow II" review. Read more reviews here.