Category Archives: Music

Imagine No Self-Righteous Outrage


Is this really a thing? Outrage over Cee-Lo Green changing one lyric in John Lennon’s “Imagine” during his New Year’s Eve performance? Granted, Cee-Lo became superfamous for singing altered lyrics to his own famously profane hit song, but we’re supposed to be surprised that he displays similar irreverence toward someone else’s work?

Fine, so he changed the lyric, “And no religion, too” to “And all religion’s true.” (The offending alteration comes in at around the five-minute mark in the video embedded above.) But if you think about it, that line is just as provocative as the line it replaces. If all religion is true, then neither Muslims nor Christians nor Jews nor Buddhists can claim a monopoly on religious truth. (And then, I guess, we should all become Unitarian Universalists.) It’s a provocative change, provocative in a good way, like the rest of the song, and I suspect that that venerable provocateur, John Lennon, might have approved of the tweak, since he considered so little to be sacred, including his own musical canon (“I don’t believe in Beatles,” as he put it). Continue reading

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For Ted Kennedy, a ‘Ray of Hope’

Ted Kennedy endorses Barack Obama for president in January 2008. Photo by diggersf, licensed via Creative Commons

Ted Kennedy endorses Barack Obama for president in January 2008. Photo by diggersf, licensed via Creative Commons

Most of us in America, including me, are too young to remember the Camelot era firsthand, so we hold little brief for the Kennedy mystique. Many of us wonder how he got re-elected to the Senate, term after term, for 47 years, despite his well-documented failures of character. Surely there had to be more to it than his name.

Well, one reason might be the long parade of stooges who were his opponents. During the few years I lived in Boston, I was privileged to vote for Kennedy just once, when he ran against a hairdo named Mitt Romney. I remember thinking that Kennedy, then 62 years old, seemed enervated and out of touch until the debates, when the old lion roared back to life, fought with vigor, and easily wiped the floor with his empty-suit rival. This is why I voted for him, and why Massachusetts citizens kept doing so: he never stopped fighting, fighting for us, and fighting against those who did not have our best interests at heart.

I’m glad to see that, despite his death last week, the fight continues for causes he believed in, particularly for universal health care. After all, his opponents didn’t waste any time after he died trying to recast his legacy as one of compromise (Kennedy was, indeed, known for reaching across the aisle to befriend and make deals with Republicans, but he compromised only on means and tactics, never on ideals or policy goals), or shrugging that his absence from the Senate chambers in recent months is the reason Republicans have yet to be presented with a health care bill they can sign off on (as if Kennedy’s recent absence, after 40 years of fighting nonstop for health care reform, were the reason, rather than Republican intransigence and bad faith), or threatening that to urge passage of health care reform as his dying wish was to crassly politicize his death (as if to argue against reform would not be an even more crass politicization of his death). Kennedy’s dying wishes on the matter were pretty clear, as he laid out in this Newsweek essay a month before he died: he wanted universal coverage and a government-run public option so that individuals who can’t afford or obtain private health insurance can still get affordable coverage. (Note to Blue Dog Democrats: Passing a health bill with Kennedy’s name on it that pays lip service to reform while not actually including a public option that would make coverage affordable for everyone is no tribute at all.)

One more way to remember Senator Kennedy, courtesy of the Rascals, after the jump. Continue reading

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Filed under Feuds, Health Care Reform, In Memoriam, Music

Michael Jackson: Have You Seen My Childhood?

Photo: Anwar Hussein/WireImage; courtesy of Life.com

Photo: Anwar Hussein/WireImage; courtesy of Life.com

I’m sad, but not that sad, about Michael Jackson’s death. To me, it seemed like he’d passed from us a long time ago. The Kane of Pop had long since retreated into his isolated Xanadu, a bubble that not even massive debt, legal ordeals, and endless tabloid scandal could penetrate. His chart-topping years as the world’s favorite entertainer had long since segued into self-inflicted freakishness and cultural irrelevance. When he announced in March a long-running comeback engagement in London scheduled to start in July, his reappearance seemed that of a vampire or a ghost, hovering on the fringes of fame, hoping to drain one last bit of energy from a pop world that he had helped create but which had long since abandoned him to the wax museum.

But, oh, to think of him back then, back when he was remaking both music and television in his image, via the singles and videos from Thriller. The man’s ubiquity was rivaled only by that of the Beatles and his one-time father-in-law Elvis in their day. Lots of mourners have referred to Jackson’s music as the soundtrack of their youth, but in his case, it’s not a metaphor. For about two years in the early ’80s, you couldn’t turn on a radio anywhere in the world without hearing a snippet of a single from Thriller. (How cruel that Farrah Fawcett should die on the same day; if Jackson’s music was the soundtrack to our youth, Fawcett’s poster was the wallpaper.) It was a rare moment of cultural unity, one of the last ones before cable TV, the Internet, and the culture wars fragmented us into a billion different niche audiences. As Lester Bangs noted when Elvis died, what we’re mourning is not really the loss of the man or the artist (like the King of Pop, the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll had long since become a reclusive travesty of his former self by the time of his early death), but rather, the loss of our childhood, and the loss of our connection to each other. Continue reading

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Filed under In Memoriam, Music, TV

Back to the Future

The future isn’t what it used to be, said Yogi Berra. It’s certainly not, now that I’m its beat reporter. All this week, through June 12, I’m guest editor/blogger at io9, Gawker Media’s sci-fi/pop futurism blog. Whether or not you’re a sci-fi fan, please stop by, geek out, and have fun.

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Filed under Arts, Books, Comics, Movies, Music, TV

Conan O’Bama

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Remember when George W. Bush became president, and the pundits said that, at last, the grownups were now in charge? (And how did that work out, by the way?) It’s a lot easier to imagine that the grownups are in charge now that the cool, seemingly unflappable, roll-up-your-sleeves Barack Obama is president, and when he took office, I felt a surge of almost familial pride. At last, the reins of power were passing to someone roughly my age (Obama is about five years older than I am.)

I felt a similar emotion this week when Conan O’Brien took over The Tonight Show. Johnny Carson had made the forum into the voice of national consensus; Jay Leno tried to maintain that role even as consensus crumbled around him (we’re a much more fragmented, factionalized people now, not just in terms of our politics, but also in our tastes in pop culture and our countless entertainment options). Now that desk was passing to someone of my generation (Conan is four years older than I am), and it felt like a momentous, torch-passing occasion.

The president himself seemed to acknowledge the similarity between these two transitions in his interview with NBC’s Brian Williams this week (see above video). It was a puzzling moment; Time columnist James Poniewozik seemed to find it crass that Williams spent valuable face time with the president getting Obama to plug an entertainment event on Williams’ network, and O’Brien himself wondered why the leader of the free world should be devoting any attention to Conan’s career move. But such pluggery is standard procedure these days for TV news (which is more entertainment than news anyway, with the cotton-candy puffery throughout Williams’ primetime special as just another example), and the fact that Obama responded to Williams’ prompt not by saying, “You’ve got to be kidding me,” but by deadpanning a good joke about it without missing a beat indicates that, not only is Obama as media-savvy a chief executive as we’ve ever seen, but also is thoroughly conversant with the ironic, absurdist humor that is Conan’s (and our generation’s) preferred mode of expression. Continue reading

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Filed under 2008 Election, Barack Obama, Late Night TV, Media, Movies, Music, TV

Rattlesnakes Amid the Crabgrass

I’m a little worried about my neighbor. He recently mounted a large flag like this one (left) over his garage, and, just so his neighbors wouldn’t miss the message, put two more little ones in the tree in his front yard. Now, somehow, I don’t think he’s telling us to stay off his lawn, or that there might be rattlesnakes amid the crabgrass.

Students of American history will recognize the “Gadsden” flag as a banner of Revolutionary War-era rebellion and solidarity. Still, the sudden reemergence of this flag in recent months is about more than being a history buff or a garden-variety patriot. It’s about anti-Obama paranoia, plain and simple. Continue reading

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What’s Bad for America Is Good for Music

Is Barack Obama’s presidency going to ruin music? MSNBC.com’s Tony Sciafani fears that it is. Exhibit A: The rise of Lady Gaga (see above video) on the pop chart. Looking back over 50 years of pop history, Sciafani finds a correlation between periods of American prosperity/security and the popularity of substance-free, hedonistic dance pop. Similarly, he finds correlation between periods of American turmoil and the popularity of thoughtful, political pop. (Interesting that these weak-America-but-strong-tunes periods all correspond with Republican presidencies, with the glaring exception of Lyndon Johnson’s administration at the height of the ’60s protest-rock era.) With a Democrat in the White House, Sciafani worries that we’re going to have a dearth of meaningful music.

Setting aside the article’s assumptions that dance music is necessarily apolitical, or that only protest music has any value, or that hip-hop doesn’t exist (and isn’t full of complex political tunes as well as hedonistic club jams, no matter who’s president), I don’t share Sciafani’s fear. I’m glad Obama is president, but things are going to get worse before they get better, so there will be plenty for thoughtful musicians to complain about. And some of us may even welcome the opportunity to forget those troubles by listening to mindless dance pop.

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Filed under 2008 Election, Barack Obama, Music