Why the Muse is Hovering Over Television

I read the following quote by bassist Jah Wobble today:

To be honest I am turned on more by the renaissance that has taken place in  USA TV and the TV of some European countries over the last few years. Great narratives , great writing multi layered meanings and fantastic social commentary. It’s almost reinventing the wheel; fiction that documents better than documentaries. Against all odds TV has become the medium that makes most sense in and of this crazy post modern, late stage capitalist, samsaric world that we live in. Music, and its intelligent use is obviously a part of that renaissance, but it isn’t the main thing any more. Right now, like the novel, ‘the album’ format seems a bit moribund. I still hear the odd tune that I like. It’s just that ‘the muse’ seems to be hovering over the likes of HBO script writers rather than musicians right now. That’s where innovative stuff seems to be happening.

You can read the full interview here:

Jah Wobble Interview

While I would argue that there are still great albums being made, and that there is obviously plenty of bad TV, it does seem that at its best, television is right now where some of the best entertainment is being made.  There are many reasons for this.  I think that special effects on TV have caught up with films.  TV doesn’t face the kind of censoring it once did.  Television no longer has a stigma for big name actors.  There are many different things in our culture at this place and time which are allowing TV to tell stories better than ever before.  However, I would also bet that economics play a large role in this.  The television industry has done a much better job of protecting their products than the music industry has.  While one certainly shouldn’t need large-scale fame and fortune to commit themselves to an art form, it does help if people can at least make a living at what they are doing.  Also, making really good sounding records is not cheap.  Even a self financed low-fi record can end up costing a couple grand.  I can’t say this enough:  If like me you love music, and you wish that more great records were being made, it is important that you buy records from the artists that you like.  In a capitalist system we vote with our dollars.  If enough of you invest in the artists that you love, you will see those artists make more records and many of those artists will also be given more freedom to create in the studio.

Thoughts On The Walking Dead and Texas Politics

My allergies have been really bad the last few days, on top of other things, so I haven’t been as productive as usual.  Also, to create anything, be it a blog or a song, you need to take in a large amount of material.  Other than listening to records, which I never stop doing, about the most I have been able to concentrate on is watching The Walking Dead.  I am finally caught up with the newest episode.

Zombies have typically been used as metaphors for different political situations.  George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, which takes place in a mall, has been seen as commenting on consumer culture.  I feel like because of the complexity of the storytelling, and the density of the imagery, the politics of The Walking Dead are complicated, and it can’t be simplified down to a left or right thing.  There are different scenes and story lines and images that feel like part of red and blue America.

One of the things I really like about it is the fact that the cast is racially diverse in a way that most mainstream entertainment is not.  I also feel that, for the most part, the characters are sufficiently complicated and are represented as human beings.  While the characters, such as Tyreese and Glen, are not stripped of racial characteristics, they are never defined by them either.

All art is political at some level.  Sometimes you just have to read between the lines.  Even pieces of work that are expressly non-political are political.  Things that are just escapism, which can perform the altruistic function of allowing you to disconnect from the stress of daily life, is essentially saying that everything is OK.   In not challenging the dominant narrative of society you are you are making a political statement by abstaining from the discourse.  Again, I do believe that escapist entertainment can have an altruistic purpose, but one shouldn’t say that it is non-political.

However, in the realm of escapism I think there are different levels of worth.  Some escapism champions materialistic values.  Something like American Idol is not only not asking you to not think about the real world, it is also full of the kind of shallow materialistic values that are a burden on our society.  A great deal of mainstream country and mainstream rap, whether singing about trucks or bling, communicate the message, that is hidden under the guise of fun, that you are what you own.

I do think that The Walking Dead, while being entertainment largely, manages to ask questions about human nature.  How far can people go and still retain their humanity?  Even though the killings in Episode 3 of Season 5 seemed to be justified, they were filmed in such a way that was meant to make the viewer feel uneasy.  In Season 4, especially, you see the damage that a society structured on violence starts to psychologically damage the children that grow up in it.  The show is still asking you to think even while it creates a narrative entertaining enough that it whisks you out of real life at the same time.  It is an interesting balancing act.

***

Today I have also been doing some reading on the current political races in Texas.  If you want to see the definition of despicable, google Dan Patrick, who is running for lieutenant governor in Texas.  He is a former radio shock-jock that has now gone into politics.  If you are not from Texas, and want to learn about who this man is you can read the following article:

Man Who Believes God Speaks to Us Through “Duck Dynasty”

If you are in Texas, then I hope very much you will do whatever you can in your power to make sure this man loses the election.  Even Rick Perry looks respectable next to this moron, and that is saying something.

John Lydon Exposes Fake Media Behavior

rudest-john-lydon-590x350

John Lydon Interview

On the road last week I finished the second book I have read by John Lydon (Johnny Rotten).  This book was called Anger is an Energy: My Life Uncensored.  A couple weeks ago I read his first book Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs.  The first book dealt explicitly with his younger years and especially his time in the Sex Pistols.  His newer book dealt with his entire life story.  Out of the two books I felt that Rotten, the one on the Sex Pistols, was essential reading if you are interested in the topic of popular music, where the newer one was more for the completist or fan.  I read the second one because I am a huge Public Image Ltd. fan, which was Lydon’s second band after the Sex Pistols.

Those books are the reason I have been posting a large amount of John Lydon stuff in recent weeks.  As well as reading those books I have been checking out interviews and videos on YouTube.  Lydon is admittedly very shy.  The Johnny Rotten persona was a way of dealing with that shyness.  He was able to go into the media world and speak truth to power while being able to protect himself with a persona.  Somehow, while utilizing this persona, he was able to be more authentic and real than just about anyone he was paired with.  If you watch him on film as much as I have the last few days, you start to notice some interesting things with the way he deals with the media.

If you were to only catch one clip of him you might just come away feeling he is egotistical or rude.  However, if you watch a multitude of clips you start to realize that he is getting at the truth through his behavior.  He exposes the fake politeness that not only is prevalent in the media, but also keeps the media from doing their job.  He says the things that many people are thinking, but are afraid to actually say.  When you watch a lot of these interview shows there are unwritten rules as to how people should behave.  The hosts and the guests kiss each others’ asses for lack of a better term.  The host gets people to come on their show and the guest gets to promote whatever product they are there for.  It’s such a normal thing that we don’t even question it.  However, in real life, people rarely act this way, like best friends, if they don’t know each other.  The reason why this can be bad is that, as a viewer, it can make it hard to know what you are being sold.  If it is entertainment this might be OK, but if it is politics, this can actually be dangerous.  Lydon goes on various forms of television and through his disruptive behavior exposes the facade that the viewer is being sold.  An example would be when he went on American Bandstand and refused to mime the words.  Another example is when he was supposed to go on the Rosanne Show and he refused make an agreement with her producer that he wouldn’t be rude.  Unfortunately for the producer, he had already made a legal agreement that he could film backstage with his own crew.  He captured her asking him not to be rude and how he was thrown off of the show once he wouldn’t make a verbal agreement to behave a certain way.

I’ve realized in reading his books and watching footage of him, just how many barriers he has broken down. We are lucky that there is someone as fearless as him out there.   He was harassed by the police forces of England, Ireland, and The United States for the political and personal stances that he made.  He was thrown in Mountjoy prison in Ireland and he was often harassed in airports traveling between England and our country.  His fearlessness came at a price.

Anyway, if you are looking for some entertainment it is worth seeking out John Lydon footage on YouTube.  there are plenty of pieces of film worth watching.  If you are at all interested in pop music, his first book is really worth checking out.  If you are interested in him, but don’t have the time to devote to reading a whole book on him, the above interview with The Quietus is an excellent overview.  For those of you that only know him through his work in the Sex Pistols, his other work is really worth investigating.

The Concise Untold History of the United States

10501979_862900263734274_6941481277750053329_n

I read the Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick book The Untold History of the United States.  They have now released a companion book, that is shorter and more closely follows the TV series.  It is called The Concise Untold History of the United States.  The difference between the two books as Oliver Stone explained on his Facebook page:

“Concise Untold History” was released last week. At 306 pages, it faithfully renders the text of the 12-hour series. The original 618-page edition, with 90 pages of footnotes, is really closer to a primer that substantiates the details presented in the film. 

I am particularly passionate over this ‘Concise History,’ and find it poetic in keeping with the spirit of the series. It’s a light-weight paperback that can easily be carried around.  

I was really impressed with the first book.  I was a History Major and eventually graduated with a degree in American Studies.  I have seen at least some of the information that Stone and Kuznick wrote about corroborated in other sources.  I  don’t normally like to recommend a book I haven’t read, but if you are at all interested in what they have to say, but feel a little daunted in a 600 plus page book, this seems like a good place to start.  From what I saw of it the series was excellent as well.  After reading the first book and seeing about half of the series, I feel pretty safe saying this would be a very interesting read.

John Oliver Uses Dogs as Supreme Court Justices

This video from John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight is must see.  He is taking on the Supreme Court for not allowing cameras in the the court.  They release audio, but do not allow video.  The team at Last Week Tonight has created its own footage by using dogs as visual stand ins for the Supreme Court.  It is amazingly hilarious.  John Oliver is somehow always able to pull back the curtain and show the absurdity lurking behind.

Complex Fiction and Simple Reality

Tonight is my night off.  I got back from tour today and tomorrow I go back to canvassing.  I am marathon watching The Walking Dead and messing about.  I am only in the beginning of season 3.  There was a scene in the beginning of the season where one of the main characters had to kill other live human beings for the betterment of the group.  It was not played out as an easy decision.  I started thinking about how many modern dramas display complex moral decisions, that seem underneath the surface to be asking big questions.  Yes, even a show about zombies at times.

It seems that many Americans can handle watching shows that deal in moral complexity.  Why is it that so much of our drama is morally complex, but so little of our reality seems to be?  (And I am not just talking about the vapid and often quite unreal reality of reality TV.)  A great deal of the time our corporate media paints things in black and white, between good guys and bad guys.  Our leaders are often no less guilty.

Can this be because so many in power want it this way?  Many people, referring to this current crop of dramas, that started with The Sopranos and is still continuing today, refer to this as the golden age of TV.  (These shows obviously air between a great deal of meaningless nonsense.)  This golden age of TV is taking place during a time of political inaction as various sides are painted in simplistic terms.

I’m not saying there is a connection, though it may be that some people hunger for any kind of intellectual stimulation in a world that rarely seems to ask you to think.  There are always going to be people that want to put their heads in the sand, but if people were presented with more facts, then I have to believe more people would become engaged in the political discussion.  It’s too bad that so much of our discourse is dumbed down to the point that it just becomes meaningless background noise.