Monday, November 30, 2020

Do read the comments: Forget John Prine's CMA snub, he was deeply loved by those who count

They say never read the comments, but there are exceptions. 

For instance, if you read the comments under any random Youtube clip of John Prine, who died from COVID in April 2020, you'llread a flood of heartfelt emotion about the US country singer who died from COVID-19 back in April. It is no wonder. He sung stories of ordinary people's lives and struggles with with and humanity in equal measure.

Yet this year's Country Music Awards, a notoriously corporatised event for country establishment which have also been criticised for lack of inclusieness over the years, did not see fit to even mention his name.

Nor did the CMAs make any mention of Jerry Jeff Walker or Billy Joe Shaver, who were essential figures in the vibrant, deeply creative Texas country scene that arose around Austin in the early 1970s. 

In what I am sure is pure coincidence, the Texas scene personified independence from the country music establishment and Austin became an alternative to Nashville -- the base of that establishment that is personified in the CMAs.

Prine, on the otherhand, was a mailman from Chicago who played country but was closer in origin and spirit to the folk scene that emerged from cofee shops and bars in the 60s. It's hard not to see the left-leaning politics and social concerns being a factor in the snubbing.

The snubbings caused a predictable outcry. Singer-songwriter couple Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires -- both huge fans as well as close friends of Prine's -- handed back their CMA memberships in disgust. 

Representatives of a succeful brand of what is sometimes seen as "more authentic" singer-songwriters in country, Sturgil Simpson and Margo Price, also voiced their disgust with the CMAs.

The snubbings acted more as a final straw. Shires had previously worn a t-shirt to the CMAs criticising the country music industry's exclusion of women, while Price had already refused to attend on grounds of CMA's exclusionary approach and "plastic" nature (she'd already used her debut Grand Ole Opre show this year to support Black Lives Matter and slam the country music industry for its racist history). 

As for Simpson, a hugely succesful independent country artist, he pointedly busked on the street in front of the venue instead of attend,

Neither Prine, Walker or Shaver had the sort of sustained commercial success the CMAs thrive on. They have a reputation as "songwriter's songwriters", and while that is true (Bob Dylan called Prine his favourite songwriter), it's not the full story. 

Far from lacking mass appeal, they had it in spades -- just not filtered through the corporate structures who enforce a mindnumbly narrow set of cultural tropes. Snubbing John Prine while embracing Florida Georgia Line is an act of war on popular culture.

But in many ways, for the CMAs to actually recognise Prine, Walker and Shaver after their deaths would be an act of hypocrisy after snubbing them while alive. It would never have been acknolwegment the counted.

The best tribute to Prine comes from those who loved him. 

The contrast between the CMA sub and the love expressed "from below" is deeply symbolic. And you can get a taste through a spin through random Prine clips on Youtube -- the passion turning to grief in comments posted post April 7, 2020.

One example:

"I was heartbroken before he ever sang a word. I was one of those with a 'hole in his arm where all the money goes'. I carried Prine around in a stolen walkman player with a beat up cassette over-due from a library loaned in another state. He spoke pictures of life folks lived like he knew us personally. Like he lived it himself and had the words that connected with the feelings. But i won’t miss him, too much, I’ve got the legacy he’s left us. I wish i could tell him 'thanks'."

The lyric quoted comes from this song.

'Sweet songs never last too long on broken radios.'

A random scroll through other clips produced a flood of tributes, a few examples I'll put below.

"God, I wept over my dinner listening to his music... I hate that he's gone."

"His songs can move me to tears, and I really don't care if the whole world knows."

"His music and words resonate with me like few others can. His music helped me through some dark days. Actually he’s still helping me get through some difficult times."

"I have had tears over the loss of 3 people in my life ,my mother,my sister and now John Prine .Im 73 and my heart is broken over the loss of one of the sweetest souls on earth.R.I.P. John "

"John Prine could bring a tear to a glass eye. I am overcome with emotion every time I hear this song."

"John wrote songs that captured the genuine, broken beauty of humanity. Leonard Cohen once noted that the cracks in everything are how the lights get in. John Prine was the light."

"No musical artist has ever affected me as deeply as John Prine."

"If you love John Prine, you are a friend of mine."

"If John Prine needed a kidney and mine worked, I would give it to him."

"John Prine sings from the heart - and his songs tell the truth ... The working man's Mozart."

"Tonight I am an old woman, and a mail carrier from Chicago, and Dear Abbie and a guy just trying to save his marriage while cooking sausages, and the one who wants people to quit hollerin at me. The kid wearing other peoples clothes, I am America, I am the underdog, the under served, the helpless. I am Prine."

"John Prine is not dead. Until the last person who ever heard his songs dies, he will never die."

"Makes me cry every time. 'Hello in there, hello'. Be kind. That is all."

'Some humans ain't human, some people ain't kind'

Now I'm not saying John Prine wrote that aove song for the pricks from the CMAs, but I'm not not saying that either.

Friday, November 13, 2020

I've Found The Exact Point The US Began Its Terminal Decline And It's Billy Joel's 1980 Single 'You May Be Right'

Donald Trump losing is a boost to the world's morale. 

But if the now-defeated 45th President of the United States has taught the world one thing, it's that US people who draw the line at supporting a racist, alleged rapist and open supporter of the super-rich who also wears a dead guinea pig on his head, really really like to say, "What's happened to us?"

It's a fair question.

And how could they look at their history and NOT declare, "We used to be decent genocide committing slave-owning then lynching apartheid enforcing shooting black militants and anti-war activists dead mass murdering around the world governed by certified psychopaths child labour exploiting violent union smashing foreign government overthrowing planet destroying nuclear armed and willing to use it folk!

"If only there was something, anything. in our history to provide some sort of context or precedent for this unsettling turn of events!"

I understand. In Australia, we hear the same thing every time someone living in this nation founded on mass murder and dispossession that explicitely banned non-white immigration for decades and in which Aboriginal people are jailed at a higher rate than Apartheid South Africa expresses shock that we run concentation camps for refugees.

But there is no doubt, whatever the historical context, that the US Empire is in steep decline. 

I mean for fuck's sake, their incumbent president just tried to launch a coup by getting his lawyer, who's just seemingly been caught on film trying to have sex with a woman he thought was a minor, to hold a press conference in the parking lot of Four Seasons Total Landscaping on the outskirts of Philadelphia opposite a crematorium and next to an adult bookstore.

You can't write that shit. I know coz I just did and ever cell in my body screamed, "PLEASE STOP!!!" 

However, we can't look away. For the sake of future generations, we must actually figure out the point at which US society began it's likely terminal decline.

And I think I've found it.

My exhaustive studies have narrowed the point of no return to the release on March 7, 1980 of Billy Joel's single "You May Be Right". It went on to reach the absurdly high position of 7th on the US Billboard charts. 7th! I mean have you heard it?

I know what you're thinking. I'm being ridiculous.

"Is it really worse," I hear you chorus, "than his condescendingly smug 'Piano Man' or Joel's kinda creepy 'Only The Good Die Young' where the 28-year-old singer declares 'You Catholic girls start much too late', or even 'We Didn't Start The Fire', which pretends to be profound but just lists historical events followed by an especially nonsense chorus?"

Look, I'm not denying the inherently barbarous nature of those songs, which clearly indicate a society being violently ripped usunder by its internal contradictions. I'm just looking for the exact tipping point.

To understand why that is clearly the release of Joel's "You May Be Right" in 1980, it is not enough to merely listen to the song. You need to watch the film clip. Try it!

Wild boy on the loose!

Now it's not just the lyrics or the vague musical approximation of "new wave" that was all the rage back then. It's that fucking clip.

In it, Billy Joel displays zero sense of irony. There's no self-awareness here. Nothing to show he's thinking, "Jesus I made my name writing long-winded faux-profound piano songs and then punk rock and new wave came along and now the record company says my guitarist must look at least slightly like Paul Weller from The Jam and my songs need more 'attitude' like what the fuck does that even mean?"

No, Billy Joel just dons a pair of aviator glasses and tries to look like some super-cool but kinda outta control badass. Iggy Pop snarling "Now I wanna be your dog" this is not.

Not Billy Joel.

I feel for the music clip producer. They did not get paid nearly enough for being asked to make Billy Joel look like he might be dangerous.

You can see what the poor bastard had to work with. You can hear the producer yelling "Go Billy, dance like a madman!" and Billy Joel sort of kicks his legs out on either side of him a couple of times and you can feel the producer's soul shrivel into a raisin.

And then there's the words. I'm not saying they capture everything wrong with the entire American psyche, I'm just saying that I'm also not not saying that. If you get what I'm saying.

You May Be Right

By Billy Joel, aged 30

Friday night I crashed your party
Saturday I said I'm sorry
Sunday came and trashed me out again
I was only having fun
Wasn't hurting any one

Come on Billy, wasn't hurting anyone? What about the feelings of this unnamed romantic interest of yours to whom you were forced to apologise? Is this how you propose to treat them? By ignoring and downplaying their entirely legitimate emotional responses to your shit behaviour?

And we all enjoyed the weekend for a change

No Billy. You enjoyed the weekend for a change. You just didn't care to check if that was just you.

I've been stranded in the combat zone
I walked through Bedford Stuy alone

I had to google Bedford Stuy and Wikipedia describes it as a neighbood in Brooklyn known for its "racial unrest". Put another way, Billy Joel is using venturing solo through a Black neighbourhood as evidence of just how "mad" he is and there is nothing ever that will ever be more revealing about Billy Joel.

Even rode my motorcycle in the rain
And you told me not to drive
But I made it home alive
So you said that only proves that I'm insane

No way Billy! You didn't ride your motorcycle in the rain? Didn't your mother tell you how dangerous that could be? But I did admire your skill in that clip in miming riding a motorbike, seeing as it's pretty clear there's zero chance you've ever actually touched one.

You may be right
I may be crazy
But it just may be a lunatic you're looking for

Really? Has anyone in human history ever sat there and thought "You know what I need in my life? Another lunatic." 

Turn out the light
Don't try to save me

The thought never crossed my mind.

You may be wrong for all I know
But you may be right

Odds are that they've had more experience in dealing with lunatic men than you, Billy, so are likely the one who's right. That's science.

Remember how I found you there
Alone in your electric chair
I told you dirty jokes until you smiled

Or they thought, "If I pretend to laugh he might go away".

You were lonely for a man

Were they, Billy? Or did you just see them one day not smiling enough and conclude "I bet they are lonely for a man!" Did you ask?

I said take me as I am
'Cause you might enjoy some madness for a while

Will they?

Now think of all the years you tried to
Find someone to satisfy you

Is this you making an unseemly boast, Bill? I sincerely hope not.

I might be as crazy as you say
If I'm crazy then it's true
That it's all because of you

Way to victim blame, Billy Joel.

And you wouldn't want me any other way

That's what they really wants, isn't it Billy? They say it isn't, but you know better. You always do.

You may be wrong for all I know
You may be right
You may be wrong but you may be right
You may be wrong but you may be right
You may be wrong but you may be right
You may be wrong but you may be right
You may be wrong but you may be right
You may be wrong but you may be right
You may be wrong but you may be right
You may be wrong but you may be right
You may be wrong but you may be right

Get a grip, Bill! You're losing it! Seriously, they're on the verge of calling the cops! 

I think I've proven my point.