That's right, kiddies! It's time again for another HUH? Moment in Pop Music!
Two great bands took 2013 to try a couple things outside of their wheelhouse. Interestingly enough, their paths led them to the Black Baptist Church for reasons no one is necessarily sure of.
"Sacrilege" // Yeah Yeah Yeahs
New York art-punkers Yeah Yeah Yeahs have always been great about crafting slick, catchy pop tunes for their lead-off singles while retaining their indie cred. “Zero” from 2009’s It’s Blitz has undoubtedly bounced from every wall in every LES dance floor since its release.
"Sacrilege," the first single from April’s Mosquito opens with frontwoman Karen O having “fallen for a guy / fell down from the sky,” a lone guitar rides bellowing along beside her. Once the drums and guitar atmospherics enter the scene, you can sit back and let YYYs do what they do best. That is until 2:18 on the track where — literally, from out of nowhere a black choir shows up to kick the song’s “And I plead / and I pray” refrain into high gear. And this choir goes all out, too. There’s even the one woman hitting that note that makes you think she’ll faint after she gets it out.
"Ain’t It Fun" // Paramore
Paramore is an excellent pop-punk band that toes the line of overt Christian symbolism and good-natured positivity with smarts many of their contemporaries just can’t seem to hone. Take this line from “Playing God” from their previous album, Brand New Eyes:
"If God’s the game that we’re playing Well, we must get more acquainted Because it has to be so lonely To be the only one who’s Holy”
In the wrong hands, the lines could easily come off as preachy and unearned, setting themselves up for perfect HUH? status, but Paramore knows how to keep their cool.
"Ain’t It Fun" comes near the end of the first third of a record filled with HUH? moments that include ukelele diddies and a sequel to a song from two releases ago, aptly named "Part II." The song kicks off with funky keyboards right out of Prince’s 80’s that lead right into silly almost-ironic lyrics about growing up and taking responsibility for yourself. But, unable to pull earnest sincerity from the lines "Don’t go cryin’ / To your mama / ‘Cus you’re on your own / in the real world," Hailey & Co. employ the help of a gospel choir. It kinda makes the rest of the song feel like a Bizarro World version of the climax from either Sister Act movie.
“This is how the writing on Mad Men can be so sagacious and imaginative about life in America for one set of characters and so casually insulting for another — not because its mastermind, Matthew Weiner, is a racist but because auteurist television is capacious and permissive enough to subscribe to the institutions of racism, the racism you sense, the racism you breathe, the racism that makes you turn to your friend and say, “That just happened, right?” There is n-word racism. Then there are the lingering, toxic particles that centuries of n-word racism leave in the air. We all breathe them, but we don’t always like to talk about it. So it is heresy to mention that, say, the strategic use of Planet of the Apes in the same Mad Men episode that featured Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination might itself be heretical. It’s still hard to talk about negative depictions of race in culture without comments sections and Twitter feeds turning infernal. We’re breathing the same air, and yet we’re not.”—
Wesley Morris, in his Grantland piece about Fruitvale Station, the Trayvon Martin case and modern-day racism.
When pondering present discussions on racism — specifically in the media, you tend to overlook the near-blatant things being presented to the public en masse, just because it’s on cable television and therefore it is stamped with this automatic approval for everyone. In Mad Men's case, being the critical and viewer-alike success that it is, it's much easier to view the show through a lens of impunity because of its artistic merits than question its ethics and those of its creative team, let alone what we as the viewing public allow to be shown without repercussion on our televisions.
Occurrences like these aren’t going to make me stop watching the show, because that’s not happening. But, awareness is one of the first steps to changing the conversation. And the conversation is in desperate need of change.
A Father's Day Story... (But It's Mostly About How I Hated My High School French Teacher)
Back in high school, I loved the French Language and to this very day, still do. My adoration for their culture and way of life will hopefully take me across the ocean to their shores one day to live. My cultivation of the language, however was not one of excitement, but rather toil and bickering. Mr. Silkworth was my French teacher for 2.5 years just about. From my 3rd row seat, I could tell that he was one of those guys who thought he was making his course fun, but instead was making the experience drab and corny by way of being TOO much fun. He was like a life-size, walking, talking version of one of those “Muzzy” tapes you’d always see those commercials for in the 90’s. “Muzzy“‘s cool when it’s in your VCR and you’re at home, but I’m a grown-ass man. Or at least, at 16 I thought I was.
French I went by with no problem. I was getting used to the house rules, and of course, there were house rules. For one, French class was divvied into two sections: the one where we spoke English and the one where we didn’t. The latter operated under the name “Code Bleu” or Code Blue. And when the code changed, so did the teacher from Mr. Silkworth to “Prof,” simply by walking out of the classroom door and walking right back in again… speaking French. Now, don’t get me wrong. I was and still am a sucker for children’s humor just as much as the next 16-yr old - I saw all 3 Toy Story movies in the theaters - but don’t piss on my head and tell me it’s raining.
(Plus, this dude rocked the award-winner for World’s Most Obvious Toupee. And on top of that, the motherfucker had dandruff??)
French II saw the signs emerge. Code Bleu was starting to take it’s toll. I was getting an A in the class, but that was only by sheer force of will power. I did my homework every night, plus I loved the language I was studying. There was no other French teacher, though until I would get to French V, the AP course. The only thing standing between me and that option was two more years of a nasally-voiced cornball.
As the course went on, we got along less. I had my best friend Ashlee in the class sitting right behind me to soften the blow of being there every day, but it didn’t do much to help. The day of reckoning was soon upon me and my thinning tolerance for bullshit.
One morning, class went on as usual. I handed in gratingly easy homework from the book, dreaming of living in the country I only saw pictures of. Then Silkworth called Code Bleu and walked outside. I rolled my eyes. He walked back in,
"Bonjour," we replied.
In front of me sat Lauren, a very nice and smart girl of pale skin. And as people happen to do from time to time, she sneezed. Reflexively, I said “Bless you.” No harm, no foul. Except for the Prof., who took this as direct insubordination of his ridiculous rule. I tried to explain, but his only counter was a staunch “Code Bleu!” This only sparked the young infidel in me, who was just itching for an opportunity to torch this fucker, burn the classroom to the ground. We went back and forth in a shouting match for about 2 minutes until he wrote me up for insubordination. I was sent to the office for the remainder of class. Applause followed me from the room. I went out in a blaze of glory, not unlike Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
The next day, I learned that I was being removed from the class for the rest of the semester and I was to receive an Incomplete (which is that hazy area between an actual grade and an F). This same day, my father came to the school, which was an utter rarity for my entire public school career. We had a sit-down: Silkworth, my administrator, my father, and myself. My administrator, Mr. Watts was an older, yet kind and understanding man, and knowing the meeting was to take place under his mediation left me with no worry. However, during the meeting I would look back and forth to my father, who would only look back at me with a look of, “I’m here for this!?” The decision was made that I would be placed in the school’s Chorus for the remainder of the year, since my minimum Foreign Language requirement had been met. My father wasn’t mad, but I don’t remember him saying much else after the situation had been settled.
* * *
Several weeks prior to me writing this, my father and I were talking about the past and he had brought up what went down in that office that day. He told me that he took me out of the class because he could tell from meeting my teacher that day and hearing the circumstances from me and the administrator, that I was growing bored with the class. That I wasn’t being challenged. He knew me better than I knew myself. He just sat back and looked at the situation and knew what the deal was. It was simpler to him than it was to myself.
I’ve been to Paris since then. I’m going back there to live before my time on this planet’s done. I just wanted to thank my Dad for knowing me better than me and showing me that I didn’t need a power-hungry goofball to show me what I could and couldn’t do.
This article was written about two months ago. he’s definitely somebody worth reading about.
My pops is a man of great strength and intelligence. I won’t say “I hope to be half the man he is,” because technically, I am. I will say that he is a marvelous craftsman, an artist with a true voice and I do hope that some semblance of that truth can shine in my art.
When you’re black, poor and punk, it’s hard to find people that look like you. Martin Douglas explores.
Originally found this through The Dears' tumblr. But this piece probes one of the defining problems with Blipster culture: music that isn't essentially “our” own. A couple of the moments he describes have happened to myself literally beat-for-beat. Really thoughtful essay.
That riff is so sick. Thanks, Nile Rodgers. I was never a bigmoderate Daft Punk fan until this track. I might be doing a little backwards research this summer. Will this be my summer of Daft Punk? Will I finally catch up with the electronic music fad, 15 years later? …probably not, but this’ll be cool for a bit.