Subversive Rock Humor
Sex Pistols: Pun(k)s, Pranks, and Provocations

At a time when factions of the punk movement were trying to establish a collective identity, Johnny Rotten maintained an outsider stance while ripping into the darlings of the hip punk set with the same ferocity he applied to the living dinosaurs of establishment rock.

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Happy Mondays, the Court Jesters of Madchester

The Happy Mondays were the court jesters of Madchester, infusing the unfettered carnival spirit of rave culture into their own craftily disheveled music, lyrics, and sleeve designs, while simultaneously leading the sweating masses into a new and vibrant artistic renaissance.

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He Took It All Too Far:  David Bowie’s “Ziggy” Years, 1971-1973

At a time when the rock heroes of the era embodied macho appeal and dressed down in jeans and T-shirts, Bowie’s Ziggy struck an incongruous chord while challenging gender identifications.

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Chameleon Comedian: David Bowie 1967-1970

As innovative and eclectic as his music has been, Bowie’s means and methods of articulation also reveal an artist finely attuned to the subversive potential of humor.

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2 Apr 2009 // 10:00 PM

Art Brut(ally) Funny

Holden Caulfield -- with his sexual insecurities and confused immaturity -- provides the raw meat that Art Brut’s Eddie Argos cooks with.

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Laughing Through the Tears: The Enduring Journey of Etta James

As much as Etta James used her songwriting and vocal skills as primary sources for empowerment and critique, her performances and image were equally significant in reflecting a public persona bursting with wit, wildness, and sassy radicalism.

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Life After ABBA: Post-Ironic Swedish Rock

Welcome to the age of post-irony, where guilty pains and pleasures are played out as collective nostalgia through the warped blur of rose-tinted glasses.

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Answers and Answers: The Roxanne and Annie Sagas

Hank Ballard and the Midnighters' saucy provocations of the 1950s caused a stir that would resonate with responses throughout the formative years of rock 'n' roll.

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Esquerita: The Other Originator of Rock ‘n’ Roll Camp

This ultimate "odd man out" -- homosexual, black, bizarre-looking, crazy-behaving, and even crazier-playing rocker -- was pushed into the shadows beyond the bright lights of Little Richard.

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Dead But Not Buried or, When the ‘90s Took a ‘60s Turn

The post-Dead and post-Zappa bands of the '90s sought to subvert the prevailing trends towards crass commercialism, individual greed, and phony superficiality.

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Gene Vincent:  A Caricature Portrait of the Artist as Rebel Rocker

Nostalgic craving for the iconic Gene gene still burns bright, as look-alikes (young and old) exaggeratedly hiccup their way through “Be-Bop-a-Lula”.

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The ‘Dewussification’ of Texas

The Texas Jewboys' fan base mutated into a hodge-podge collection of unconventional mavericks, spanning Hells Angels bikers, hardened hippies, and down-to-earth country folk.

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George Formby: Tangled in the Roots of British Rock Humor

Full of cheeky wordplay and double entendres, Formby continually tweaked the sensibilities of the staunchly conservative British establishment with saucy narratives that left little to the imagination.

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The Affectionate Parodies and Ironic Diss-Positions of Ween

Shock-humor abounds across Ween’s work, and dumb infantilism is worn as a badge of honor.

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10 May 2007 // 11:00 PM

Rap’s Righteous Rhyme-Fighter

If Raymond 'Boots' Riley -- frontman for Oakland, California's the Coup -- is rap's most political practitioner, he may well also be one of its most expressive humorists.

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The Rudest, Crudest, Lewdest, Drunkest Band in Christendom

Extreme was the nature of the Macc Lads' music, as was the nature of reactions to it. Within their deftly created insular world, traits of civility, sensitivity, and compromise were anathemas. Therein lay the foundation of their punk-inspired wit.

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Hit Me With Your Rhythm Shtick:  The Life and Rhymes of Ian Dury

Ian Dury's subversive humor gently ribbed the eccentrics within his own class-culture. His caricatures were vicarious self-parodies, pre-emptive strikes fending off a dominant middle-class inclined to more demeaning and patronizing portraits of its "inferiors".

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From the Mop-Top to the Walrus: Some Funny Sides of the Beatles

Manifested in child-centered humor, the Beatles offered candy for the kids, tapped into the regressive escapist instincts of the arrested adolescents of the hippy subculture, and offered "seemingly" unthreatening fare for adults.

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Bubblegum Pops the (Counter-)Culture

Fake and faceless, bubblegum pop in the late '60s and early '70s offended the prevailing rock myths of artistic creativity and rugged opposition to the powers-that-be.

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Lonnie Donegan and the Birth of British Rock

As skiffle's working-class trailblazer, Lonnie Donegan infused '50s British rock 'n' roll with a regional accent and music-hall comedy style missing from the popular American exports.

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The Redcoats Are Coming!  The British Invasion of SXSW ‘06

Ellis spends four days in Austin looking for the finest exports from Tony Blair's Cool Britannia. In lieu of monkeys, magic numbers, and Moz, his search yields Casio-pop, California harmonies, and communal sing-along epics.

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16 Feb 2006 // 10:00 PM

Wild Wanda Jackson

The self-described 'Fujiyama Mama' of '50s rockabilly was a hard-headed, bare-knuckled antithesis to the era's prevailing gender expectations.

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12 Jan 2006 // 10:00 PM

Chuck Berry: A-Merry-Can Rebel

Hail! Hail! One of rock 'n' roll's most innovative mavericks whose dissenting rebellion was fueled by subversive humor.

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17 Nov 2005 // 10:00 PM

Rhythmic emphases, rhyme infatuations, celebrations of decadence, slang, bling, and an overall manifestation of cool: Cab Calloway was hip-hop's preeminent godfather.

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Laughin’ Louis Armstrong: The Trickster

Satchmo's subversive humor struck multiple targets simultaneously: it commented on the very music he was transforming; and, as a survival tool, it presented a league of oppressors with unexpected resistance.

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As the final day unfolded, things grew more hazy as the rush to consume all one could in the final hours was not limited to the music.

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Noticeably absent from Streets stories are the guns, bling, fast cars and ho's that so many American rappers invoke to establish their credentials. Where U.S. rappers emulate the fast-paced content of American action films, The Streets is more in tune with the Mike Leigh sensibility in his scenes of working class desperation and blank nothingness.

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In John Peel I know that I (and many others) found a voice that championed the cultural margins and artistic mavericks; this voice, in turn, fostered a receptive sensibility with which to open-mindedly and open-heartedly appreciate marginal artists.

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From Chuck Berry to Eminem, I hope these 10 disparate acts suggest that the need for subversive humor has never been greater, and that rock needs to react with its own insurgence: re-arming, re-loading, and then sending in the clowns.

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Like a latter-day Alan Ladd as Shane, Chicago-based independent label, Bloodshot Records, has taken upon itself the role of savior of the sagebrush, mixing it up in the robber-baron world of corporate Country.

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Our newest music columnist pays tribute to dearly departed Guided By Voices and remembers their 20-year career as indie legends.

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//Mixed media
//Blogs

Ubisoft Understands the Art of the Climb

// Moving Pixels

"Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed and Grow Home epitomize the art of the climb.

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