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Wednesday, Mar 25, 2009
by Robin Cook

PopMatters’ Robin Cook chats with upcoming neo-folk singer Alela Diane at this year’s SXSW. Diane talks about her guitar skills, upbringing and taste in music.


Matthew Fiander called her new album To Be Still “beautiful and subtly splintered and cathartic in an honestly incomplete way. And it is, finally, that rare kind of album: one worth getting close to.”


 



Tagged as: alela diane, sxsw
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Tuesday, Mar 24, 2009
Indeed, a people who feel unloved are capable of anything. A people who feel loved are capable of everything.

It would take motherhood to free the Material Girl from the juvenile exploits of one-way love and abandonment. Marvin Gaye sang, One way love is just a fantasy, perhaps just as fantastical as Madonna doing Marilyn Monroe in the Material Girl video, and still years later showing out that she was born a real Bad Girl:


That’s the way I came into this world/The doctor said, “Lady, she’s a beautiful girl.”/He gave me a spanky and I started to smile/So give it up, honey, ‘cause I want it/Yeah


The girl portrayed here on the Dick Tracy soundtrack, as we all in many of Madonna’s public personae like to be abused, at least in her sexual fantasies. However the home fantasies are a bit more real, perhaps finally resolving the grief over loosing her mother at such an early age. Notably, her beats seriously evolved upon releasing Ray of Light; she has come out, embarking on that journey of self-love, the real resolution. Still, I wondered if our cherished pop superstar would have been better off listening to some of her hometown brothers and sisters across the color line.


Whatever the emotion, there is a gospel that expresses a love lost deeper than any punishment we would feel from parents who failed to mourn and recover from the loss of their spouses, denying their kids love and attention, so they grow old with the only confidence that they just declare their independence by any means necessary. Indeed, Jeremy spoke in class today, and all he could do was takes his father’s gun and shoot. He felt unloved, and powerless, so he reached for the only real power he’d seen his father use, one which he too could abuse and harm others in the same way he had felt loved, and abandoned by his parents who refused to meet him, Jeremy, on his grounds. They refused to parent, according to Pearl Jam’s 1992 alternative rock hit, so he met love with abandonment and shot himself dead at school. Don’t you think that people learn abuse at home? How many Jeremies must our nation produce before we begin to appreciate that we gain more from cooperation, which implies dialogue on every level, i.e. at home and at the community level. Indeed, a people who feel unloved are capable of anything. A people who feel loved are capable of everything.


Madonna faced these issues at 40 upon the birth of her first child. From then onwards, she continued a string of recordings critiquing Hollywood, and a variety of aspects covering American Life, including much of the imagery that she helped generate (“Music stations always play the same songs”). Madonna has certainly profited from her reign as queen of pop and received her share of airplay. At 50 with two baby-daddies, and in a doomed marriage, Madonna found the courage to ask How High: It’s funny/I spent my whole life wanting to be talked about/I did it/just about everything to see my name in lights/Was it all worth it?/And how did I earn it?/Nobody’s perfect/I guess I deserve it. This was in this millennium. I just wish she’d heard her fellow Detroit native remake Sam Cooke’s composition, a meditation on forgiving oneself as a way of moving on:


Sometimes, I’ve had to cry all night long/Sometime’, I had t’ give up right/Fo’, what I knew was wrong/Yeah/It’s been an uphill journey/It’sho been a long way comin’


These words remind us that we matter, that we can determine our own fate, so that by Madge’s age we could have a system in tact to heal from life’s inevitable conflicts, and losses in order to abate abandonment or even the sheer feeling of terror, like the terror one feels when realizing that they are gay and may have to tell their families. Coming out at sixteen, Madonna’s Deeper and Deeper was an apt anthem, but what happens after the love is lost? What happens once the myth of childlike innocence collapses and we must resume our lives? Shall we not forgive ourselves for being weak, as Marley says? Or, following Aretha way back in 1967: Yeah everybody let the good times roll/We’re gonna stay here till we soothe our souls /If it take’ all night long. Do it till you’re satisfied, so that we can feel free.


Where even today’s young divas like Beyoncé, or even Kelis can act Bossy and somehow get away with stuffing themselves with D-diamonds on my neck/D-diamonds on my grill- all chains of the modern female, yet chains nonetheless. Sooner or later we can’t help but look at ourselves in the mirror, not just at images posted on billboards and big and small screens. The weaning time from the seduction and self-defeating nature of stardom must shorted, so women can enjoy the limelight without reducing themselves to hot wet pussy slipping and sliding on stage, whining about how some man should come set me free- unlock her chastity belt and pop her cherry Like a Virgin, because apparently there is a sizable market of consumers who yield to the popular(ized) fantasy of screwing a school girl. Certainly, this is why young girl sex sells in porn, or pop divas pop their hot bodies in school uniforms, recording their music videos on the set of some school. That damsel in distress has never worked for Black women in America, not so much as liberation is concerned, which has of course been atop the American agenda. Imagine Harriet Tubman or Sojourner Truth waiting on God and heaven for their salvation. Rather such original divas manifest destiny here on Earth, Here and Now, as Luther would say.


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Friday, Mar 20, 2009
by PopMatters Staff
The LA electropop duo Jupiter Rising may not be re-inventing the wheel with their club-friendly pop, but as Evan Sawdey noted back in 2007 "who needs to be revolutionary when you’re having so much fun?" The duo's (Spencer Nezey and Jessica Payo) new record, The Quiet Hype came out March 17th and the recently sat down for PopMatters' 20 Questions.

1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?
Spencer: That’s a tough one. I haven’t read or seen anything that has made cry in a very long time. We need more sentimental material out there.


Jessie: The Apartment with Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine during Christmas break after a break up. It’s a classic, but so sweet and heartfelt.


2. The fictional character most like you?
Spencer: Hands down I am like a young Black Tony Starks from Iron Man.


Jessie: Lydia from Beetlejuice. She’s a bit of a loner. She’s dark with a curiosity for the “other side” and ghosts. Plus all of her clothes are super rad,,,


3. The greatest album, ever?
Spencer: The greatest album off all time for me is A tribe Called Quest’s Midnight Marauders. Changed my life at the age of 12.


Jessie: Tie with White Album by the Beatles and OK Computer by Radiohead. They both embody undeniably amazing songwriting, musicianship and the ability to go outside the box musically. They both have classic tunes that most people know of but they also have those wacked out obscure tracks for the super fans like me. Turn off the lights, sit down with these records and the experience is always amazing. They have been standby’s in my collection that I never tire of.


4. Star Trek or Star Wars?
Spencer: I grew up watching nothing but Star Wars movies. I used to take my mom’s iron hair straightener and pretend it was a light saber. Star Wars all the way.


Jessie: Star Wars. No big reason why, really. I just watched The Empire Strikes Back probably 20 times one summer break. I prefer the older versions. You know, pre-Jar Jar Binks. I hated that thing…


5. Your ideal brain food?
Spencer: My ideal brain food is fish. Because its a proven fact that it is healthy protein for your mind. look it it up its true.


Jessie: Sushi…the whole package…sushi, sake, green tea…I always feel fresh and ready after a good sushi session.


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Friday, Mar 20, 2009
Blues, jazz, funk and hip-hop have always masked white transgression, aiding generation upon generation to distinguish themselves from the conservative norms of whiteness bequeathed them; here was our generation’s Elvis, mocking and masking anything authentically black, trading love of the craft for sheer fame. And here on the black and white pages of Sex, she was showing us her beautifully dark skin friends, bragging about how much of a bad girl she was.

Considering any anthem for coming out, I naturally look back to my own experience sixteen years ago. It is therefore several chansons from 1992 that facilitated that DJ’s saved my life. Kids like me heard a strong and clear message in:


I can’t help falling in love/I fall deeper and deeper the further I go


My mother had gone to California for the summer between my junior and senior years in high school. The state had yet another budget stall, employees were given cash against future checks at local credit unions, but mostly state employees weren’t receiving any pay. Moreover, the state’s backlog infringed upon plenty citizens’ rights to due process, hence these relief recruits from all around the nation. My mother became involved in this quandary in order to help push along the process of disabled Californians to receive state benefits, however meager.


Having denied myself for years, my sexuality became undeniable at age 16. Perhaps I could see the light at the end of the tunnel: graduating high school a year later meant leaving the Bible Belt for good. Janet Jackson had come out as bisexual, too, and though portrayed as a media trend, the concept of alternative sexuality was now ‘out’ there in my universe. This was also the year Madonna came out. In her videos, she’d play with gender and sexuality rather straightforwardly, yet by 1992, she was ready to affirm her bisexuality. Finally, one could discuss the topic, for example, with friends at school without any direct reference to the self—without coming out. This was a typical way of gauging the temperature of peers around sexuality.  What felt as the most taboo subject after race, which often got diluted in mixed company, to mean racism. Similarly, any discussion of sexuality would always get reduced to petty epithets of hate or whitewashed diversity. None of this addressed the kid standing before them, struggling to understand difference, yearning for any context where we could fit it.


The words you could not say, I’ll sing them for you


Growing tired of media gossip and what at the time seemed to him as an irony in being a sanitized teen pop idol-broaching sex and sexuality that effaced his own—George Michael finally understood the importance gay icons. He began to rage against the machine, taking great shots at Sony with his tongue-n-cheek super model videos, all but announcing himself as a sissy (can you imagine 50 Cent in a video with that much naked feminine flesh and not tap any of that ass?). Yet at that time, his sexuality was clearly unspeakable. Ain’t nobody loves me better, sang George, covering Chaka Khan at the 1991 concert where he met the man whom he would eventually consider the great love of his life. Where lay people struggle to find gay love reflected in the pop culture, it must sting an actual pop artist to conceal his own love, particularly when love is flaunted and easily trampled upon by his colleagues and cohort.


As an artist, George Michael would not be able to sing openly about this love and eventual loss- Feleppa succumbed to AIDS-related brain hemorrhage—until years after that faithful night in Rio. Even still, the artist waited years before publically acknowledging that relationship. I’ve been loved/So I know just what love is…Oh the lover I still miss/Was Jesus to a child, sang the balladeer softly in 1995.


Where Madonna and Janet were painted as predictably and effectively licentious, George Michael’s ‘secret’ was balled around in the press as deception. Moreover, as a gay teen, it did feel like his deception were betrayal; only our deep love of Luther saved him from the same fate. George Michael and L.V. used feminine pronouns for their love interests in every song—some of the best love ballads of their generation. Creep, creep, creep, creep! Gay love was made visible by Madonna and Janet’s media antics, but silenced and effaced by the real gays. Creepy.


Ladies and Gentlemen: Jesus to a Child


Madonna really came out in her Sex picture book my senior year in high school. I had joined a gay youth support group, and had met many more queer youth during the months of media trashing 1992’s Erotica and 1994’s Bedtime Stories, where mistress Dita wore her queerness on her sleeve as keenly as she had turned the tables a year earlier- chaining herself like a junkyard dog, superficially reversing the patriarchal role to reflect men working to titillate women: “Don’t go for second best, baby … make him express himself.” This was not a contestation of power, but S&M fantasy reinforcing the way things already were. Bleaching her hair silly, Madonna showed that she was prepared to “trade fame for love,” as she would later reveal nearing 40.


Even in high school I found her interactions with her black-and-tan ‘chain of fools’ to be maternal, portraying blacks as juvenile, and the whole thing as play, much like her feigning fellatio on a bottle in Truth or Dare. In Erotica’s  video, which MTV banned, as well as in Sex’s scenes with the definitive supermodel Naomi Campbell, and rapper Big Daddy Kane, my favorite Material Girl appeared like an overseer. Lily White, a n*gger wench and a n*gger stud; she even invited over an older European sophisticate to come play with her toys. Instead of this liberated sexuality, I saw rather retrograde images of white supremacist fantasies, which ultimately just showed that a woman could do anything a man could.


Again, this was S&M both superficially- there were whips, chains, (p)leather bras and the whole bit- but also in the profoundly clear projections of white supremacists fantasies of the gender, race and class hierarchy. Images of the supermodel’s fake making-out with the big black rapper, or with some contrite visual composition, like Madonna standing nude as if hustling on a wide Los Angeles boulevard reminded me of that poor little motherless Italian girl, growing up in Detroit (Oh Father!), finding refuge with the blacks who were ready to accept her, and even teach her to dance as she admitted early in her Material career. Blues, jazz, funk and hip-hop have always masked white transgression, aiding generation upon generation to distinguish themselves from the conservative norms of whiteness bequeathed them; here was our generation’s Elvis, mocking and masking anything authentically black, trading love of the craft for sheer fame. And here on the black and white pages of Sex, she was showing us her beautifully dark skin friends, bragging about how much of a bad girl she was.


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Thursday, Mar 19, 2009
When change is upon us and we need media most, more and more traditional media outlets will simply pick up and disseminate what fewer and fewer folks have placed on the corporate-filtered news wire. Luckily, my new White House friend is as funky as you wanna be.

I just added the White House as a friend on YouTube. I had looked forward to President Obama’s weekly addresses, and made the mistake of filtering through some of my subscriptions, like the Hill Billy Report, for example, which I stumbled upon due to the slogan “Ditch Mitch!” That’s right, I went to elementary school with Senator McConnell’s daughter, and he’s still serving as my representative. Yet, sitting in my South Delhi apartment, realizing that I’ve never lived as an adult in my own hometown, news through the local newspaper’s website, as well as that from the Tube are a well-cherished and reliable friends. It is primarily through YouTube that I have been able to access local politics and inform myself as a voter.


Brown School Seniors for Clinton


It is unsurprising to find my elementary school teachers actively supporting the myriad of local rallies protesting the invasion of Iraq. They were also there when Obama breezed through the Ville, as we call Louisville, pronounced ‘Looavull’. My teachers provided peace trouper support for local rallies against police brutality or in support of the municipal gay Hate Crimes ordinance that threatened to evaporate once the county and city jurisdictions merged. All of this can been seen on this same screen, and considering how far we’ve come since the days of the Underground Railroad or the Civil Rights marches is daunting.


As a senior in high school, knowing I’d soon head off to college leaving the Bible Belt for good, too young too vote, I stuck out my support for the first candidacy of Bill Clinton. Compared to anyone who had come since Lincoln and Kennedy, he was as good as buttered toast and as dialogue-oriented as any leader could get in those days. We treated him like the great savior, and lauded his liberalism. Less than a decade later we had abandoned Bill for a private transgression, and his wife for intransparency, which still colors her public image. In retrospect, Americans were too scared and scarred to ask for more. Decades later, we were even too marred by PC politics to demand that Hillary come out with how she negotiates home and career just like the rest of us. How might that whole fiasco have played out if there were such outlets as YouTube, as opposed to the cooperate media following Ken Star? Bloggers, too, would have shut that shit down! Now we’ve had a serious revolution, and it makes me wanna holler. To paraphrase Miss Milkshake/Kelis:


He’s Bossy / He’s the first kid to scream on the track / He switched up the beat of the drum / That right! He’s the one that brought all the boys to the yard / And that’s right! He’s the one that’s in large an’ in-charge, cause he’s Bossy!


White House videos average the length of a pop song, though some pieces, like his passionate talk to Hispanic Chamber of Commerce on education is as long as Black Moses’ Hot Buttered Soul. Barack is just as seductive in his delivery as well. Obviously the inauguration playlist is as long as Songs in the Key of Life.  Speaking of which, the George Gershwin Award ceremony is noticeably absent from the White House channel, as if he don’t want folks to know too much ‘bout what’s going through his head. Remember Talking Book? I know Barack heard when Stevie said: “Your name is o’erseer / I’ll change if you vote me in as the pres.” Barack probably didn’t want Stevie telling all his business. His transition’s YouTube account is a bit more revealing: Changedotgov. The historic campaign logs into YouTube as “BarackObamadotcom,” to which interested viewers will have to turn to see the 37-minute-long speech, A More Perfect Union, which at last count had over 7 millions viewers through the campaign’s channel, but had invariably been uploaded by pages of users in as many languages. Barack is Bossy! The White House’s masthead simply politely offers the latest news. Passionate is an understatement for our president, he’s Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic. Amen!


My new YouTube friend—at least the invitation has been sent—joined only this year, so he has some catching up to do. For example, the White House hasn’t uploaded that many videos, and the profile is a little loose. They are probably pretty certain that they already get enough press, and besides, the videos speak for themselves, each one a conversation about morals and policies as a strategy, not “partisanship and bickering (applause).” YouTube bans uploads with even background music, charging copyright infringement. This means that one should not take inspiration from Donny Hathaway, for example, while Vlogging about heavy issues. Barack’s stuff is “public domain per White House copyright policy.” He ain’t heavy, Barack might say, He’s my brother.


On the Whistle Stop Train Tour video, Barack lauds the “conductors that make our trains run,” as the scene pans to a Black man in a well-starched RXR uniform, reminiscent of the Honorable Brother A. Phillip Randolph organizing the Pullman Porters, and later recruited Bayard Rustin to teach civil disobedience to Rev Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This is some of the most inspirational viewing on YouTube since somebody uploaded Mahalia at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.


Michelle Obama is there in her role as First lady, as is the vice-chef speaking about Green Jobs, other appointees on blogging, and the president himself on healthcare, ending the war and other social justice issues. There is even a short list of White House favorites, one of which has over 100,000 viewers. All of the videos are highly rated thus far, but frankly there are relatively few viewers to date. To put it in context, Beyoncé posted her video Diva two months ago, and already has ten million viewers. “OMG,” she says in one publicity video where she accepts a book from her fan club. I was ROFLMAO at her theatrics, however well meaning.


Both full-length concerts and full-length speeches are simultaneously available on the same site. Gone is the era of sound bites. The complexity of issues facing us today could perhaps only be met with media as comprehensive as High Life music, which is funkier than its American cousin, Funk. Fela’s intros alone could last seven minutes while we sweat it out on the dance floor. No break, no job, no sense, we’d chant protesting the government’s war on the people right there while getting down to the break of 1977’s Zombie. Government soldiers raided Fela’s home and threw his mother out of window in response. Politics and pop culture so often enjoy a relationship as complex as Fela’s polyrhythmic beats as this Nigerian artist’s own life has shown for better and for worse.


News longer than sound bites may have met its match. Folks as young as gen-Xers are raging about how attention spans have shorted, and new media, including satellite boob tube and its five-second clips, all cater towards rearing a generation of young Americans who cannot really pay attention. Given the adrenaline rush from video gaming, they might only enjoy instant gratification. Just today I overheard a 15-year-old ask his friend, “What’s 16 times two,” and then reached for his sophisticated graphing calculator upon seeing his classmate’s puzzlement. President Barack Obama, however, is asking us to ask more of ourselves. Setting an example, he consistently takes his case directly to the people. He addresses the nation for free each week, giving us more face time than any friend on Facebook. Truth be told, he’s as crafty as Stevie Wonder with those words, and he’s not even that bad to look at- see for yourself.


New media enthusiasts can filter through years worth of footage of Dubya blundering the English language, with a few choice search words. Users can just as easily listen to Ronald Reagan combating socialized medicine as an early class warrior, labeling widespread healthcare coverage an eminent threat disguised as a “humanitarian project.”  He had a single-minded vision of governance- that it should be miniscule. Like an orchestra conductor heading a symphony, there was little space in the old politics for dialogue amongst all the players, more akin to JB and the band composing Cold Sweat in one take. Maceo/C’mon now/Brother/put it, put it where it’s at now/Aww, Let him have it! James can heard saying leading his band. Like the beat of Miles Davis’ So What, from which this definitive funk music classic takes its pace, the polyrhythmic beat upon which Black music is built, depends upon dialogue- and that’s what’s up. Give the drummer some, James asks everybody before backing up to let the drummer get down. Everybody gets to shine and the final product is that much more fabulous, enriched by this synergy. Help him out Archie, go on ‘head play wit’ ‘em…double up on ‘em. Oh if we cold rely on government to be as in sync.


These finer bits of history are now available for anyone interested and attentive. Reagan argues: The “majority rule” is a fine aspect of democracy provided there are guarantees written in to our government concerning the rights of the individual and of the minorities. This is the same man that provided the fertile lobbying ground to recede the government’s ability to protect the people from media oligarchy. Now with Reagan’s trick, trick trickle down economics exposed as elitism and usurpation of public goods, traditional media outlets are letting folks go. When change is upon us and we need media most, more and more traditional media outlets will simply pick up and disseminate what fewer and fewer folks have placed on the corporate-filtered news wire. No, given those circumstances, I never thought I’d add the White House as a friend. Luckily, m new White House friend is as funky as you wanna be.


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