Tag Archive | "U2"

The Day the Music Died…or Did It?

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The economy troubles me; no doubt about that.  So does this second Vietnam (the war in Iraq and Afghanistan), and the bailout of industries whose heads I’d prefer to see on stakes.  I have a full metal jacket of other issues ripe for baring in a blog whose writers are adults and desirous of exercising their right to free speech in a manner that may enlighten and empower others.  But the one issue that has been tearing at my heart since the mid-1990s is the absence of real music in our lives and at our very fingertips.

I define “real music” as that which moves us to tears, makes us think, makes us feel, and in the end, helps make us better people.  That last phrase of mine is heartfelt; it is not an exaggeration.  I may, in forthcoming articles, expound upon the specific influences that brought our country to the point where it’s impossible to turn on a commercial radio station without hearing the same soulless, boring, and whoring fifteen to twenty songs, churned out by the same soulless, boring, and whoring fifteen to twenty performers day after day, week after week, month after month, ad infinitum.

Like the law of physics that states that matter can never be destroyed, only altered, good music has changed drastically in the way that we are forced to hunt it down and access it.  It is still out there, but much of it is no longer free.  Music is indeed the universal language; like no other art form and no other form of indulgence, its healing properties are instantaneous and far reaching.  It should be freely available at the turn of a radio dial, as it once was, and is no longer.

The American public has been robbed blind of what once uplifted our souls, made us stand up for our fellow man and woman, and got us through a Depression, numerous recessions, and far too many wars.  Indeed, music helped shaped our socio-political mores; it drove the way we approached these issues, voted, and even lived our lives!  To eliminate good music from a non-paid form of access (commercial radio) is, to my mind, akin to denying us the freedom of speech.

Oh.  And if you think the Internet is the great Second Coming poised to deliver you from this nightmare, think again.  The suits are on to us, big time.  Lovers of real music, and the artists who make it, are being hunted like foxes running one step ahead of the hounds.  The suits are waking up to the fact that many music lovers access tunes online.  As a result of that escalating trend, their primary business — the sale of hard CD’s — has dwindled.   Therefore, the suits are working to stamp out as many forms of non-paid music access as they can bag.

Behold their handiwork.  IEEM (formerly on the Web at ieem.com) is dead and buried.  Its funeral has forced the independent artists for whom the site was created to move their music to their individual pages on MySpace.  This move has deprived us all of a central repository for indy work, leaving us scrambling to locate new artists on a burgeoning social networking site that some of us avoid like the plague.  Rhapsody.com?  You have to pay for it if you want to hear more than the five or six songs the site allows you on a trial basis.  And the fee is annual, amortized over your credit card bill month after month.  Just what you always wanted: another credit card bill at exorbitant interest rates, for the privilege of hearing the music of your choice.

Worse, it was announced recently that record industry robber barons, including Clive Davis, have partnered with YouTube to effectively erase the work of all independent artists from this vehicle if said work is not deemed “of the highest quality.”  The standards defining that quality were glaringly absent from a public statement scripted for and presented a month or so ago by, of all people U2’s Bono, in honor of the launch of YouTube’s new initiative. I say “of all people” because U2 in its infancy was the first band in history to copyright their music.  They were savvy enough to know about the wolves howling at the door, and to protect themselves from the beasts, even when commercial radio was still streaming music crafted in the human heart and soul.

To add insult to injury, any indy artist wishing to submit his or her work to YouTube will be “screened” by a back-end process … a process to which no one but the techies on the payroll, and ah yes, the suits, will be privy.

Clive & Co. attempted to peddle this unprecedented theft as a desire to bring YouTube’s audience only the “highest quality music videos.”  Well, those of us with functional brains know that only those artists in Clive & Co.’s stable, and the stables of moguls like them, can afford to produce what the general populace would deem “the highest quality music videos.”  Those of us who love music could give a rat’s hind end about grainy or jumpy videos; it’s all about the music for us!  

Thus, we have the artists (true artists, not no-talent media whores), whose voices — instrumentally, vocally, and songwriting-wise — have been silenced.  The suits at the major labels and their lackeys, including their legal counsel and bean counters, are more concerned with pushing mass-produced product to exceed sales expectations than they are in the quality and integrity of the music they promote to achieve airplay, the music that has made commercial radio a vast wasteland.

In his autobiography published approximately two years ago, Eric Clapton postulated that none of the big labels would be around in ten years.  If Old Slow Hand is correct, the sand in Clive’s hourglass has another eight years to go.  In that time, I shudder to think what further havoc he and his ilk will perpetrate upon the American music-loving audience.

Like the early Christians who went underground to avoid persecution and spread The Word, we music lovers will continue to ferret out the artists who speak most profoundly to us.  We will not stop seeking the channels through which we may enjoy the music, and we will not stop passing the information on to others just as hungry and relentless as we are. 

The Soul of Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Martin Luther King Jr. Contemplative

She cries, “Where have all Papa’s heroes gone?”
(David Bowie, Young Americans)


Recorded in 1974, Bowie’s incisive take on the American landscape included references to racism and Rosa Park’s renowned ride.  In penning that song, and particularly the line above, Bowie may very well have had Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in mind.  By 1968, we had lost three of our most fearless and selfless visionaries to cowardly assassins: President Jack Kennedy, his brother, U.S. Attorney General Bobby Kennedy, and Dr. King.  When the news of Dr. King’s murder hit, like a blow to my gut, I mourned him piteously.


For days, I wept for this irreplaceable loss.  My middle-class, all white, New York family could not understand why their child, who had only seen the Southern black activist in the news, was inconsolable.  I had not done this for Jack, and I would not do this for Bobby — both of whom I had greatly admired.  In my youth and in my grief, I lacked the words to explain how Dr. King had touched me.  Perhaps I still lack that eloquence.  But my deep and abiding respect for Dr. King compels me to try to craft an explanation.


As the student of a forward-thinking nun striving to steep her pupils in current events (and in some instances, making us active participants in them), I was aware of the struggle for racial equality.  I wasn’t sheltered from the violence in the news; I knew who Doctor King was, and was aware of his justifiable cause.  A Christian and a Catholic, I was raised to respect people of all nationalities and races, and taught by my family, prior to my formal education, to understand that this was Jesus’ wish.  But it was not until I had seen Dr. King from the comfort of my living room, as he confronted the nation during his 1963 march on Washington, that I truly understood the heart of his mission — and in fact, the heart of this great man.


Not yet eight years old, I was enthralled by the Doctor’s very bearing.  His demeanor, his erudite speech, the dignity in the way that he simply stood behind the microphone demanded respect in a very quiet, yet immensely powerful way.  When he said the following words, I understood at soul level what he was attempting to achieve. 


“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”


Suddenly, Dr. King’s simple and profound statement crystallized everything for me.  In my mind’s eye, I imagined how my little sister, my friends, my classmates, and I might suffer if we had been judged simply because we’d been white.  I envisioned the depth and longevity of that suffering, had we been born black.   It all made sense: complete and utter and inarguable sense.  After all these years, having read Dr. King’s articulate letters and his very moving autobiography, as edited by Clayborne Carson, nothing that this great man has ever said has captured my heart as that one statement made in August 1963.  Somehow, Dr. King has inspired me to be a better person.  I will never be the person that he was, but he remains one of my enduring heroes; in fact, he set the standard of role models for me.


Some of the more salient but perhaps lesser-known facts that I would like to share with you concerning our finest civil rights leader include the following:


●       He did not seek the Presidency of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; in fact, he tried several times to pass that responsibility to someone else.  He felt he was unworthy.  But his colleagues would not stand down, and thank God they did not.


●       When Dr. King’s house was bombed with his wife and his firstborn child, two-month-old Yoli inside, he struggled deeply with his convictions.  On one hand, his people and indeed the entire nation needed him.  Racists were trampling the very tenants of our Constitution – that which protects the freedoms of every American.  On the other hand, as a husband and a father, he was obligated to protect his family.  One night, Dr. King rose from his bed, tormented by the awful decision he had to make.  Sitting at the kitchen table, he bowed his head, begging the Lord for direction.  Suddenly, a profound sense of peace washed over him, and he knew the path he must take, as well as the sacrifices that lay ahead of him.


●       Although she went for long periods without her husband to help raise their four children, Coretta Scott King supported him staunchly every step of the way.  In fact, one of the reasons Martin fell in love with Coretta was because of her dedication-in-action to assist her people to achieve the equality promised them under U.S. law.


●       In his living room, above the table at which he shared meals with his family, hung a photograph of “Mahatma” Gandhi.  A similar photo hung in Dr. King’s office, but the fact that he’d honored the Indian leader quietly, within his own home, spoke volumes of his approach to his mission.   Unfailingly, Dr. King exhorted his followers not to take up arms against their oppressors: not to land a single blow or fire a single bullet.  Like Gandhi, he favored “passive resistance” and like Jesus Christ, he turned the other cheek, again and again and again.  This, despite the fact that he’d predicted he would one day be assassinated for his part in the struggle for racial equality.


●       Jack Kennedy assisted Dr. King in his quest, but it was Bobby Kennedy who was truly committed to the Doctor’s cause.  JFK’s younger brother tirelessly served as communiqué/advocate between the President and the civil rights leader.     


●      After Birmingham, Alabama’s Sixteenth Street Baptist Church was bombed in September of 1963, leaving six dead, including four young girls, Dr. King pressured Jack into a radical act.  Jack, who was in King’s corner all along, argued that he’d need another two years to market a complete civil rights bill to Congress.  Refusing to take “No” for an answer, and without resorting to violence or even threatening it, Dr. King convinced the President of the United States to reverse Alabama Governor George Wallace’s aggressive enforcement of segregation in that State’s schools.


●       Jack’s successor, President Lyndon Johnson (LBJ) strengthened Kennedy’s position less than a year later by signing The Public Acclamation and Fair Employment section of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  LBJ offered the pen he had used to Dr. King, who accepted it gratefully.  Moved beyond words, the activist and future Nobel Peace Prize winner would later say that the pen represented his greatest possession.


●       Doctor King had primarily organized and marched in Birmingham, Alabama, as “That is where the fight is at its strongest.”  In Birmingham, at the behest of Police Commissioner Bull Connor, and as executed by his staff and supporters, King and his people suffered many injustices and horrors, culminating in the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Church.


After a thirteen-year struggle, was Doctor King’s dream realized?  Yes, it was.  Are we still fighting it?  Yes, we are.  Here at home, and in all parts of the world, we still fight injustice in all its guises. The missions of human rights organizations such as Amnesty International prove that we do, and prove that we must.  We still rail against the crushing of the human spirit, against the theft of inalienable rights.  And, some of us do so through the timeless beauty and power of music.


In November of 1968, Dion’s gentle Abraham, Martin, and John entered the Billboard charts.  Eleven years after Bowie launched Young Americans, a rising Irish group called U2 released two songs in Dr. King’s honor.  Pride (in the Name of Love) is a rousing testimony to my hero’s vision and sacrifice; MLK is a gentle, haunting, spiritual paean.


Two decades after U2’s musical testimonies, I happened to catch a young, unsigned musician-singer-songwriter on a program I’d never before seen: American Idol.  As Taylor Hicks introduced his cover of Stevie Wonder’s Living for the City, the tears tracked unchecked down my face. With great tenderness, Taylor explained that the song reminded him of his city back home.  I cried because, between the time that Dr. King had fought his fight and the time that this episode of Idol aired, much had changed in the city of Birmingham.  The color line was no longer tolerated.  Hicks’ musical sensibilities, in fact, had been forged upon those of soul greats such as Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, and the inimitable Ray Charles: gifted black artists, all.


When I flew to Birmingham for the second time in September 2009, I noticed a small monument in the Birmingham International Airport erected to honor Dr. King.  I have a dear cousin firmly entrenched in Birmingham, a former New Yorker whose heart lies in the Deep South; I love him dearly.  My primary purpose, however, in flying many miles was to experience two amazing concerts by Taylor Hicks.  The moment that I spied the brown marble monument in the airport’s lobby, I pulled my friend Pam over to it and made her read it, even as my own eyes blurred with tears.   Carved into the marble was a quote from the great Doctor King, and I’m sorry, but I cannot remember the exact words.  They were, however, his perspective as to how every human being is truly connected.


With the lines of justice, and the lines of history – national, musical, and familial — crisscrossing there, on that day and in that city, I was reminded once again of how very right my hero, Dr. Martin Luther King, was.  Regardless of skin color, religious affiliation, nationality, or any other factor, we are indeed all connected.  And we always will be.

The Question

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“One man come in the name of love,

One man come and go.

One man come he to justify,

One man to overthrow.


One man caught on a barbed wire fence,

One man, he resist.

One man washed on an empty beach,

One man betrayed with a kiss.”


— Pride (in the Name of Love) by U2



The Irish rockers’ hard-driving eulogy to Dr. Martin Luther King infers the question of what possesses one soul to perpetrate hatred and violence, another to act in a peaceful and humanitarian manner, and yet a third to cover his derriere by refusing to take a stand either way.  A more careful listen to Bono’s verses reveals an even deeper puzzle: the very crux of human behavior. Or perhaps more accurately, the influences that drive it.


Like many business professionals who interact with individuals from all walks of life operating on varying levels of authority, the same question burns often in my brain; it burns daily, in fact.  Like a defective car engine, it grinds over and over, going nowhere.  I have yet to find a definitive answer to the mystery of why people do the things that they do.  What makes one person a role model and another person one that you simply want to roll over … behind the wheel of your car … and then back up and do it again?  Is it circumstance and environment that mold our perspectives?  Is it faith, the belief that there is something greater than ourselves to whom we are accountable?  Is it is a response to our cumulative, distinctly personal life experiences or rather, to a single shattering epiphany that turns our life view upon its axis?


While I remain bereft of an answer, human nature in all its dizzyingly diverse, jaw-dropping glory and ignominy continues to fascinate me. A mere handful of the mesmerizing enigmas to which I have been privy include:


The woman dying of cancer with grace and good humor while her relative, watching her suffer and in her very presence, complains of his minor aches and pains …


The celebrity haughtily refusing to sign autographs for the fans who have made her famous and another celebrity who, treated crassly by his followers after one of his show-stopping performances, embodies the concept of grace under pressure…


The immigrant who toils so hard, her fingers literally bleed while her granddaughter, raised under the woman’s own roof, grows up as lazy as a sloth…


The man who engineered the merger between two Fortune 500 companies, one of the most humble souls I have ever encountered, and later that same day, the secretary who thought she walked on water…


The women two-timed by the same louse, each of whom was convinced beyond the shadow of a doubt that her rival “wore the horns” while refusing to lay a lick of blame at the scheming cheater’s feet …


Written out in its entirety, my complete list would no doubt circumnavigate the Earth.  Twice!  And yet, as with a scab that never heals, I continue to scratch at the question of human nature.  Along with Bono, popular country music band Sugarland asks similar questions in an attempt to define “Love” in their recent hit of the same name:


“Is it a veil or a cross?

Is it the poet’s gift?

Is it the face that has launched over thousands of ships?

Is it making you laugh?

Is it letting you cry?

Is it where we believe that we go when we die?”


The song’s writers, Jennifer Nettles, Kristian Bush, and Tim Owens, may have hit upon something with that last line.  Those who believe in reincarnation are also possessed of the notion that human souls must pass through many lifetimes in order to learn nine major life lessons, and that our refusal to learn those lessons is the catalyst for positioning us, again and again, into our human frailties, triumphs, and tribulations.  Perhaps, when I learn my final lesson and come face to face for the last time with my God, He/She will be kind enough to share with me the punch line to the infinite, head-scratching joke that is human nature. 

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