Friday, May 28, 2021

The Big Stink Over Lil Nas

A Biblical Breakdown of MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name): 

& Why Lil Nas X Is More Saint than Satanette

What is blasphemy & did MONTERO commit it?

To blaspheme is to commit an offense or sacrilege against God. It’s fair to say that MONTERO offers no direct offense to God.

MONTERO, the video that is, is all about Satan. Satan is Christendom’s ultimate villain – the symbol of all that’s evil, vile, and unholy. Taking liberties with Satan, it could be argued, could be seen as taking liberties with Scripture – because by doing so for a literalist, you’re not taking the the Good Book nearly seriously enough. 

As you may’ve heard, Scripture also has some things to say about homosexuality. And for a tradition that’s as strictly anti-sex – Hello? Circumcision? (FYI, in removing the foreskin, a boy also loses 20% of their member’s nerve endings and sensitivity) – and anti-woman as Christianity, and since homosexual sex is about sex for its own sake and not being fruitful and multiplying, well, you can see the problem. 

The fact that MONTERO is so open and assertive with its homoeroticism, that it also tripped the ire of Christians should’ve surprised no one.

What about the outrage, then?

Projectile eye-bleeding from the graying Reactionary punditry, that was to be expected. But what of the Millennial Barbarians of the Junior Punditry like Candace Owens, Tomi Lahren, Ben Shapiro, and Tucker Carlson? (Owens gave Nas credit for destroying the youth of America.) While their slang may be fresher (if awkward), their ideology appears to be just as fusty as their redneck Preparation H Generation grandparents.

Nas has been accused of creating the MONTERO controversy intentionally and strategically. Politico said he “flipped the book of Conservatives’ culture war playbook” and beat them at their own game. Despite the intensity of the caterwauling, the reactions of the Outrage Industrial-Complex have only backfired. Not only did the opponents get served a full Twitter roasting, their whinging fueled enough interest in the song to make it the #1 single upon release. (And as you may’ve heard, Nas also did SNL.) 

By any standard of Cancel Culture, the hissy was a total fail.

Who is Satan?

All Abrahamic traditions have some version of an evil arch-character. In Christianity, Lucifer is a non-physical entity that seduces humans into sin or falsehood. In Judaism, Satan is seen as an agent subservient to God or typically regarded as a metaphor for the yetzer hara, or “evil inclination” of mortals. In Christianity and Islam, the Devil is usually seen as either a fallen angel or a jinn.

The closest the Christian Bible gets of a description is from 2 Corinthians 11:14: “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.” The surrounding verses refer to Satan as having human servants that disguise themselves as “apostles of Christ” and “servants of righteousness.” In context, these descriptions are referring to false teachers. (The Bible spends a lot of time gassing the competition.) Doesn’t this description imply that most faithful wouldn’t recognize him if they saw him?

For his part, Nas says his inspiration was his own experience. In response to the all the booloo and net rage, Nas posted this to Twitter: 
I spent my entire teenage years hating myself because of the [expletive] y’all preached would happen to me because i was gay. So i hope u are mad, stay mad, feel the same anger you teach us to have towards ourselves. 

So, why all the stink?

The anti-Nas reactions seem like mostly performative pissing down the blowhole. You wonder if anyone has been watching television or YouTube lately. Is it that Naz satirized Satan or that he he gays it all up with the lap dance and a happy ending? Satan gets killed in the end. Why isn’t that a good thing? 

Conclusion: A sacrilege against the very symbol of sacrilege is also a sacrilege. That’s so meta it’s dizzying.

Some Biblical Context: Why insulting Satan is a spitball at his employer

  • According to the Bible, as the creator of all things, God also created Hell. God is the architect of EVERYTHING and boasts of creating the light and dark, peace and evilIt was also Him that installed Satan as His subcontractor – Chief Operating Officer of the Dirty Deeds and Punishments Department. Together, Satan and the Fallen Angels are God’s C-Suite. But ultimately it’s God who decides who goes down there (or wherever).
  • As a Fallen Angel #1, Satans’s job description was to tempt humanity to sin. Then, when successful to that cause, mete out utterly heinous eternal punishments – again, according to his job description. Where does he do this? In the Lake of Fire – or Hell, Sheol, Gehenna – those places created by God.
  • By seducing Satan, Nas is only repeating plots from Biblical stories like Salomé and King Herod – where a young woman seduces the king through dance – and Judith and Holofernes – where a beauty wines and cruises a general as part of her ruse to kill him.

Fun facts

  • According to the Scripture of record (AKA as the Bible and Torah), a total of 2,821,364 deaths are specifically given in scripture as either directly manifested by God or carried out with his oversight or approval. 
  • Satan kill count? Only 10. And if you add in the multitudes lost in The Flood, that makes for an estimate closer to 25 million. To also include other genocides, famines, various massacres, and all other cataclysms that YHWH watched with indifference from on high, the count gets closer to Thanos territory.
  • By one estimate, somebody did the math and put the totals of Flood deaths at 40,000 to 1,067,000.
  • Again, according to Scripture, God’s stats beat Satan’s kills by 227,037% – and that doesn’t even include women and children. (Go to the link and see a graph.)
  • Nationally know radio pastor Alistair Begg described the dilemma Christians must have as followers of “the most loving person who has ever lived” (Christ) who also spoke “straightforwardly about the awfulness of hell.” A place, presumably, He could change if He so desired. But he doesn’t. 

Friday, April 23, 2021

Getting Under Todrick Hall's Nails, Hair, Hips, Heels

And Why – Like Your Boss, Teacher, & Parents – He’s an A**hole

The tea was spilled on Hall back in 2019, so I won’t waste time explaining. Here’s a refresher.

In brief: Todrick Hall was a contestant on American Idol in 2010. He was able to parlay that exposure into a successful YouTube presence. Then came a stint on Rupaul’s Drag Race and starring role in Kinky Boots in 2016. He claimed he aspired to be an LGBT role model. He released the first of three albums that year.

Then in 2019, it all started to unravel. People that’d worked for him began accusing him of all kinds of steaming mess. Said a former assistant: “I know every detail of his life including deliberate non-payment to people, racism, sexual assault, sexual harassment, online bullying, exploitation, illegal business practices…the list goes on.”

But in particular, this non-payment issue, coming at him from several accusers, is interesting. His cast must’ve swallowed their gum every time the refrain came around: I don’t work for free/that's the tea, hunty/so make it rain on me. Some of the video’s featured dancers went public with allegations of non-payment. Hall responded in January of 2020 claiming ignorance of the alleged non-payment. Hall responded by saying that the dancers making the accusations hadn’t been paid yet

A lawsuit brought against Hall for sexual harassment would be settled out of court.

So, Here's Why Hall, Like Most Authority Figures, Is an Asshole:

It’s The Human Power Dynamic Differential. (While undeniable, the phrase itself is something I  made up, but you get the idea.) The scale of the dynamic, the players, the culture – it doesn’t even matter. It could be two toddlers. The behaviors are the same.

The differential is the result of that dark sorcery that seizes otherwise good consciences whenever one gains power or advantage over another. The degrees of imbalance can even be slight. The important thing is perception. 

This dynamic can be expressed in endless ways: 
  • by older siblings over younger 
  • by parents that believe their children's lives should be an expression of their own 
  • by bad teachers that hate their jobs or use shame as a form of control 
  • by compulsively controlling lovers
  • by contemptuous bosses
  • by those with “boundary issues” 
  • and at the tip-top of the toxic emotional slag heap – the police; and their ever-repeating toxic code that says a civilian’s life has a fraction of the value of their own – even less if that civilian is Black or some other PoC (but especially Black) 
Privilege spreads the poison. As does wealth.

Copious research supports this: People that drive expensive cars become arrogant, greedy drivers. People that overvalue their positions are less likely to be ethical and more likely to cheat. The Stanford Prison Experiment found that those with power became more authoritarian, more harassing, and more likely to inflict psychological torture against their otherwise peers. A study of bosses willing to @#$% everything up to make themselves look good. And even our tech is working against us: Algorithms are written to increase profits and efficiency at the expense of everyone else. (This explains Amazon.) An ethicist explains this as exception making — “believing that the rules that govern what is right and what is wrong does not apply to [the person with power]." They can still think it’s wrong for other people, just not for them.

Even in microdoses, it can be intoxicating. The basic seductiveness of “because I can” (or it’s parental variant, “because I said so”) is an entitlement too tempting to resist. There were stories of Bill Cosby, when he wasn’t committing more heinous offensives, using his authority to callously toy with the people at his disposal. Assistants, hotel staff, and anyone in his sway were made to watch him eat or tuck him into bed just “because he could.” One observer noted that in Cosby’s perverted vision, he thought people should’ve been honored to do his bidding. Harvey Weinstein had even cowed journalists into not reporting public outbursts with fear of reprisal. The examples are endless.

And, the Squishy Antidote

When people have the ability to empathize with other people, this doesn’t happen. They hold onto humanity over humiliation. When the mindful don’t get dope drips in their brains by exploiting others, they allow others to feel some drips of their own. For Todrick Hall, it took the exploitation of a cast and underlings to get the dope leaking. He may wear the heels, but it’s everyone else that’s going to tuck.

Maybe when enough people see value in other people’s positive experiences, maybe one day we can all sing together in a sort of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood Wakanda. 

But until then, the world won’t have room enough for too many tens:
I'm so fab, I'm gone with the wind bitch
Y'all six, seven, eight, nines, I'm a ten bitch


Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Song Reassignment Surgery; Bold Covers 7; An old Road gets new brick

 Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (Elton John), 1973; Sara Bareilles (2013)

The brand of Sara Barielles is wringing out the kind soft rock pop you could imagine soundtracking the naps of sagging Millennials when their time comes. Her decorous mainstream-ness may be just the sort of nectar that was to attract the Grammy honeybees again and again – she’s been nominated eight times, won once; plus two Tony nominations. As a performer, her experience in theater (she wrote the hit musicals Waitress and SpongeBob SquarePants) and television must surely inform her seasoned and proficient performing skills. That musical theater wanders through the corridors of her voice comes as no surprise. VH1 gave her the 80th spot of their Top 100 Greatest Women in Music (2012).

What might not be expected from such institutional bonafides is an interpreter prepared to scorch the earth of the original and rebuild. Traditionally, Elton John’s work eludes easy covering – as if the maestro embedded his tunes with an unhackable code – his songs were always best left to the maestro himself. But Bareilles offers Road a significant repaving. Within a woman’s voice, the naïve protagonist’s first encountering the hard law of the jungle lofts the song’s purpose way beyond what was previously expected of the melody and chords. She births an entirely new character.

And all of this she does from her occupation in the middle-of-the-road. I’ve heard other work of hers and, based on her approach of her career’s deep cuts, this jewel is a ear-poking surprise.

Credit where it’s due.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Song Reassignment Surgery; Bold Covers 6

Rape Me (Nirvana), 1993: Tanya Tagaq (2016)

...voices ought not to be measured by how pretty they are. Instead, they matter only if they convince you that they are telling the truth. 

Sam Cooke

Measure Tagaq as a truth genius. 

Listen to her TedTalk performance (below). Note the dervish intensity and human-to-animal sound spectrum ratio. If you can absorb her assault without your eyes guttering with tears, then your heart’s far sludgier than mine. Next, go to her version of Rape Me

Nirvana’s version – with Cobain’s lamentation on fame and as a victim of the zeitgeist – was the thesis; Tagaq writes the doctorate. 

In Tagaq’s mouth, Rape Me describes suffering
that’s less existential and far more literal: her whispers channel the agonies of ancestral generations and tortured contemporaries. And her whispers don’t just speak for the indigenous – as tragic and well-documented as their struggle has been – but for all women. Hear the heartbeat and the quiet restraint that imagines a victim’s solitude, soaked in toxic memories. Add to that whatever other tinglings you may get: patriarchy, parentage, class, duty, fear, etc. But there’s much more than rage at work here. Her registers, her guttural modulations, her sweetness and rage, the emotionality – her voice may be the chaotic psyche’s ultimate delivery system .

Tagaq says she didn’t begin throat singing herself until college. Though her indigenous culture had no history of throat singing, she’d re-engineer it to such a scale, it sounded like it was. And her record collection must be eclectic and edgy. Her approach ranges from uninhibited to feral. She’d first be introduced to a broader audience by another fellow warrior and vocal innovator, Björk. Tagaq would follow similar paths as her mentor’s but in an entirely different way. Both are aggressively elusive and hard reduce to something as simple as a category. Both sing with an intensity and commitment that is truly rare.

In the first video, see Björk and Tagaq join another aggressively elusive singer –
Mike Patton. 

In her TedTalk, Tagaq only sings. Her voice arrives from another plane entirely. Her throat astrally projects the spectrum of human emotional experience. Like a shaman from another dimension, she drops into a trance, channels voices, personalities, shadows, light, and other species. This is the kind of ecstatic performance Pentecostals dream of hacking but get nowhere near. She collects the essences of Yoko Ono, Shirley Temple, Diamanda Galas, Meredith Monk, Nina Hagen, the B-52s, throat and overtone singers, Asian traditions, Ornette Coleman's saxophone, animal and outer space noises. Her vocal palette, the colors and sounds at her disposal, are expansive enough to be seen from space. 

Monday, October 5, 2020

Sexy Attempts to Hack Your Playlist 2: Five Feats of Funky + 3—Old Skool Dip

Bootsy's Rubber Band, I’d Rather Be With You (1976):

Sexy bass mud and the P Funk family are all over this classic joint. If being picked over by subsequent generations of sample vultures is cred, then this jam is a topper. Bootsy signed on to play with James Brown as a teenager and was an original J.B. In 1972 he joined P Funk and played on all of the classic-period albums. Bootsy’s solo version of the P Funk shizz is cooler, steezier, and is more restrained than the sometimes riotous P Funk. Still, it deserves to be considered a part of that impressive legacy. 

Listen to this and admit that this may be one of the greatest backing bands in rock and roll history—special props to Bernie Worrell. 

Childish Gambino, Riot (2016):

I’ve wondered on this blog as to where are the next generations of hybrid rock, funk, and soul artists to take up the edgy mantle that was P Funk, Sly and the Family Stone, The Isley Brothers, et. al. at their peak? 

That long-awaited answer may be Childish Gambino. 

I wanted not to love Riot just because Donald Glover already has his fingerprints over way too many successes as it is. But this piece is undeniable—the vocal, the groove, the vibe, and its jacked exuberance: What is there to say but Respect?

The Gap Band, Burn Rubber on Me (Why You Wanna Hurt Me) (1980):

Once, there was a boundary that stood like the Berlin wall between drums and drum machines. The tradition was too entrenched and few would dare to scale that wall. Then, the 90s, hip hop, and sequencers would tear that wall down. But even now, live drums with a Moog bass—and electric piano to twerk that fat bottom end—is a sound as funky as a gumbo left out in the summer sun. Stevie Wonder worked this signature to enormous effect. So did The Gap Band.

Tom Browne: Thighs High (1980):

At the apex of disco’s full cultural assault in the mid-70s, jazzers like trumpeter Tom Browne were in a life and death struggle for existence. Not that disco had anything to do with it—interest in jazz, in terms of market share, was on a serious wane (a trend that has since only worsened), and jazz musicians were forced to adapt or die to keep their livelihoods. Either retool with a rock beat a la rock fusion, funk, or disco—or find a day job. As it turned out, disco seemed like the best option for many. Pandering to the throbbing 4/4 wasn’t a humiliation only felt by jazzers—rockers were also feeling the pressure. Take note of singles from The Rolling Stones and ZZ Top at the time. But as history shows, jazzers adapted to disco with a ferocity unlike any other genre.

Despite the apparent pandering, it wasn’t all bad. Hot and plucky bass lines were essential. A clavinet was good. A steppin’ horn line and porn suggestive lyrics were also a bonus. Tom Browne threw it all together in this smooth-thumping dance floor-filler. Produced by film and television scoring great Dave Grusin, this dirty little ditty would climb to #4 on the charts.

George Duke: Reach for It (1977):

As another disco refugee, jazz nerds gave Duke much grief for “abandoning jazz” at this career stage. As a veteran of the bands of Billy Cobham, Cannonball Adderly, Jean-Luc Ponty, and Frank Zappa, for the case of “Reach for It,” Duke’s betrayal would win him a #2 single. The bass fury is the propulsive work of Charles Icarus Johnson. 

F**k jazz: if this was a devil’s bargain, the devil was a good negotiator.

Gil Scott-Heron, Me and the Devil (2010):

Though considered one of the progenitors of rap, Gil Scott-Heron’s work is a bit more academic than the hip hop we’ve become accustomed to—aggressive yet jazzy, more streetwise than street, and far more measured than the spittle-machine gun style of latter-day gangstas. The fangs of his social commentary were about far headier things than mere boasting. Heron himself called it bluesology

Me and the Devil, a reworking of the Robert Johnson classic, would be released less than a year before his death and the self-conscious specter about a life about to end too quickly is all over this. Like Billie Holiday’s late-career period, every bit of Heron’s hard life is embedded in the lyric and vocal. It’s equal parts confessionary plaint and an artist‘s raging last will and testament, delivered as a desperate howl against the unbendable schedule of the universe.

Heatwave, The Groove Line (1978):

Heatwave was an eclectic mix of American and European, white and black players and would most significantly become the résumé builder for Brit Invisible Man—songwriter, musician, vocalist, and record producer—Tod Temperton. Out of Heat Wave, Temperton was recruited by Quincy Jones and others to work for a roster of artists including Michael Jackson, Donna Summer, The Brothers Johnson, Lionel Ritchie, and Herbie Hancock. Most famously he was the songwriter of Jackson’s megahits Thriller, Off the Wall, and Rock with You.

The Groove Line has a kind of New Wavey disco vibe—which had more influence in the UK than in the US—to go along with its flurry of melodic invention that seemed to spurt in all directions. As far as disco goes, this may have been among its peak.

Funky Destination: The Inside Man - Soopasoul Remix (2013):

Funky Destination is the nom de funk of Croatian musician Vladimir Sivc. While the sound is not untypical processed ProTools hobo stew, it comes fresh with the use of mostly live instruments. Bandcamp describes Sivc’s retro groove thusly: broken beat, breakbeat breaks, dub funk, nu disco; nu funk; nu jazz; rare groove, soul—whatever any of that means. The track may not break new ground but it smacks hard and that trombone line might just kick Fred Wesley’s ass. 

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Song Reassignment Surgery 5; Bold Covers

People Are Strange (The Doors), 1967: Stina Nordenstam (1998)

Fun fact about atoms
Everyone in the world is made up of nothingness. While that may sound grim, it's the truth.

In fact, everyone currently on earth, all 7.6 billion of us, we could all fit into the room you're in right now. The entire human race, every single person, could all be compressed into a solid cube with the equivalent size of a sugar cube – all because we are made up of nothingness.

So, to extend the metaphor, space can be as significant—or more, even—as the material, in both matter and art. It’s often the very place where the most interesting things happen.

To wit: Swedish singer Stina Nordenstam’s reworking of an album’s worth of severely reductive and nearly unrecognizable covers, including her arduous filleting of People are Strange (from her 1998 album of the same name). On Nordenstam’s Strange, the formula brings new and uneasy new layers to the sound while adding other dimensions to the lyrics—larding even more to the original’s ethereal dread and intrigue.

On The Doors’ original, the vibe was that of a kind of Weimar Republic cabaret, much of that launched on it’s mid-century striding rhythm and what one contemporary critic called “whorehouse piano” (actually a tack piano), the sci-fi tremolo on the Vox “Connie,” and the guitar’s unrelieved tension fade-out on the finale. Nordenstam takes the whorehouse and adds some David Lynchian surrealism, and ladles on even more dream space and whatnot. For the listener, it’s an utterly barren landscape to be dropped into, leaving them to make whatever archetypal jungle out of it they may.

And while she may be adding to the ambient nothingness, her nothingness seems only to make the whole even greater.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

A Sick Beat and Killer Rhymes for the Nappy Demo

You think genius has to be big? Like, a singular theory of everything or totally disruptive art? Sometimes, genius is just a matter of seeing that thing that was right in front of you all along and seeing it suddenly anew. 

And for that, this completely qualifies: this is genius of the everyday. To Valentin Coronado: Props, sir.

Once, I did a lot of time with this book. A lot of kids’ books parents will come to dread, but this one was a classic. I’d take my daughter’s toddler hand and drum on the book for the dum ditty dum ditty dum dum dum bit. She loved that. (*Sniff, sniff*)