Category Archives: music

Annie Lennox: Now I Let You Go

Annie Lennox’ long term exhibit at Mass MOCA was called “Now I Let You Go”. As the text indicates, it’s an exhibit that’s concerned with the meaning we attach to objects and the possible significance they hold when we’re gone.

I found this interesting on many levels. First off, it suggests that memory itself is real and holds some intrinsic value. It also suggests our ability to sanctify objects of nostalgia as well as our ability to immortalize the impact of an individual life beyond his or her physical existence.

I think this is kind of a big deal because the underlying assumptions are, dare I say, religious in nature. In the secular paradigm, we’re just chimpanzees floating through a universe of meaninglessness indulging delusions of free will and morality. All that exists lives in the realm of sense data. The scientific method is the only valid truth test for any unknown quantity. The underlying assumptions are simply beyond the scope of what the secular worldview permits.

What Annie has done here is locate meaning almost exclusively within the realm of the objects which contributed to her artistry. Including the various recording devices and players through which her music was heard. Since she’s a global pop star, we can feel fragments of our own experiences simply through our identification with the times that we heard her and the medium through which the music was transmitted.

If there were any references to her real legacy, her children, they were not readily apparent. Subsequently, I find it odd and somewhat disconcerting that an exhibit that’s so deeply concerned with questions of mortality, legacy, meaning and memory, that she deemed her connection to her family as either cursory or insignificant.

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Echo in the Canyon (2018)

(aka Establishment Gen X Aristocrat Canonizes the Boomer Would-be Revolutionaries For Other Aging Boomers)

There’s one scene in Andrew Slater’s love letter to the seminal Laurel Canyon musicians that sums up the entire film. In one of many interview segments led by Jakob Dylan, Graham Nash gets all misty eyed as he looks back on those heady days of creative ferment and unbridled hedonism. “I still believe music can change the world,” he says just barely holding back the tears. Just then, it cuts to Jakob Dylan as he let’s Nash’s words hang in the air. He stares off into the distance, but to his credit, his expression reveals nothing. Maybe he’s taking in the full weight of Nash’s sentiment and genuinely feels a sense of humility. Or maybe he’s silently scoffing at Nash’s audacity for uttering such a pitifully idiotic and painfully maudlin platitude that no one really buys. Maybe he knows that Nash is just regurgitating a mythology that needs to be perpetually reinforced through books, awards shows and rockumentaries. Maybe it’s something in between.

Much like its recent companion, Rolling Thunder Revue, Echo in the Canyon has the distinct whiff of the establishment patting itself on the back. These were musicians who presented themselves as rule breaking revolutionaries, yet the film wants you see them as the torchbearers of the rock “tradition”. Herein lies the great conundrum that the Flower Power Generation cannot reconcile. As anyone who’s read David McGowan’s excellent and far superior survey of the Canyon scene knows, these people were already children of the establishment. They made great music, but they were also trafficking a lot of social degeneracy. The film only scratches the surface of the extent of the hedonism these people were importing into the culture.

I’m sure it felt really transgressive to be for tuning in, turning on and dropping out back then. But this was the generation that turned out a generation of latchkey kids. This is the generation that ushered in higher divorce and suicide rates and enshrined abortion as an article of faith. This is the generation that got hooked on cocaine in the 80s and gave rise to innumerable cults and self-help gurus. This is the generation that colonized Hollywood, Silicon Valley, and the Democratic Party.

As expected, there is no mention of the dark underbelly of the Canyon scene. They completely sidestep the body count and the mysterious deaths that amassed around these people. They completely ignore Charles Manson’s proximity to the Beach Boys and the Mamas and the Papas. There’s no discussion of the various mob, military and CIA connections behind the clubs and the record industry. This may explain why the scene in which Beck, Regina Spektor and Dylan attempt to philosophize over the broader cultural impact of these bands feels forced, artificial and utterly laughable.

They talk about the drugs and the sex, but you know they’ve completely sanitized it. Hearing Michelle Phillips talk about her affair with Denny Doherty isn’t titillating or cute. It’s pathetic and contemptible because it radiated out into the culture and wrought tragic results. Where were the uncensored interviews with Carnie and Wendy Wilson and Chynna Phillips to give their unfiltered perspective on what it was like to grow up with these paragons of parental excellence? These people knew exactly what they were doing, yet we’re expected to treat them like royalty.

Right.

Go fuck yourselves, Boomers.

David Weigel: The Show That Never Ends

Most commonly referred to by fans and detractors alike with the shorthand term “prog”, progressive rock is arguably the one branch of the pop music family tree most likely to elicit sharply divided opinions. Boasting a fanbase that has a borderline religious devotion, prog has been long overdue for a book length canonization. I don’t know if David Weigel’s latest book, The Show That Never Ends, will be the definitive statement on the history of progressive rock, but it’s a solid contender despite being in an uncrowded field. Writing a chronicle of prog’s trajectory through the pop culture sphere which begins with its early pioneers and brings us to the present is no small feat. Much like his subjects, Weigel has staked out an ambitious mandate for a 278 page book. Nevertheless, The Show That Never Ends is eminently readable and, for my money, is as satisfying an overview as one would hope for given its length and scope.

King Crimson

Yes

Genesis

ELP

As one might expect, The Show That Never Ends focuses on the biggest movers of the progressive genre. The career arcs of Yes, Genesis, Jethro Tull, ELP and King Crimson are given a generous space while the also-rans, second stringers, side projects, one-off supergroups and fan favorites are also given a hearing. The leading lights of the Canterbury scene are also given a fairly robust treatment. Fans of Soft Machine, Gong, Caravan, Daevid Allen, Kevin Ayers, and Robert Wyatt will doubtless enjoy Weigel’s respectful recognition of the significance these players made to the movement.

Rush

Weigel’s focus remains primarily centered around the genre’s British origins. When he finally turns his attention North America, it’s limited to Rush and Kansas. Any book that covers this much territory is bound to leave some people dissatisfied. One can easily imagine the indignant proclamations of outraged prog fans everywhere as they debate the exclusion of [fill in the blank]. I’ll add my indignation to the bonfire by stating that I was disappointed by the short shrift Magma received and I was absolutely gobsmacked by the twin omissions of Henry Cow and Saga.

Even at the most superficial level, Weigel’s account poses worthwhile questions. Is there a subgenre of rock more maligned than progressive rock? Was this hatred manufactured? Was punk the natural course correction rock historians have long claimed? Should rock even be “progressive” in the first place? Is prog elitist pomp or is it populist high culture? Are the pioneers of progressive rock geniuses or charlatans? Was the emergence of progressive rock an organic phenomenon or was it simply the product of upper crust Brits with too much idle time? Does prog even matter anymore?

Prog was and is ambitious music. By and large, rock’s calling card was its libidinous energy, hedonistic lyrics and its primal simplicity. It was mostly designed to piss off your parents and priests. It was also mostly a soundtrack for getting wasted, defying authority and getting laid. In the wake of the release of Sergeant Pepper’s and Pet Sounds, proggers sought new horizons. The progressive rocker wanted to liberate rock from the rigid confines of blues based harmony and the pedestrian grind of 4/4 time. The characteristics of “high art” music suddenly became raw materials for an alchemical transformation in the incantatory fires of rock’s furnace. Anglican church hymns, classical harmonies and structures, jazz improvisation, and English folk were all fair game. Lyrics no longer fixated on banalities like romance. Instead, proggers took to themes that drew from fantasy, sci-fi, history, religion and the occult. From the ferment of Britain’s rock scene in the mid and late sixties, the progressive rock genre took shape. Prog became the soundtrack to late nights, black lights, and bong hits for a mostly educated, upwardly mobile middle class in Europe and America.

There’s something about hymns, they’re simple and they’re direct but they have a kind of connection. – Tony Banks, Genesis (p. 12)

Weigel is clearly a fan and his treatment of the subject matter is very sympathetic overall. However, he is an establishment writer, and he is attempting to play the role of neutral arbitrator of events. While this approach serves to make this an entertaining and reasonably informative synthesis of a significant slice of rock subculture, it also feels painfully banal and aggressively anodyne in places. Particularly when it comes to the musicians’ proximity to the military-intelligence community, the Tavistock Institute, the Royal Society, the British aristocracy, the Labour Party or the occult.

I was so involved, I didn’t know what to think

This is very apparent when recounting Robert Fripp’s time at Sherborne House in the mid-70’s after the demise of the first iteration of King Crimson. It’s especially curious given that Fripp’s exploits within and without King Crimson comprise a fairly significant portion of the book. Along with Keith Jarrett, Kate Bush and George Russell, Fripp had developed an interest in the cultish teachings of George Gurdjieff. He had befriended Daryl Hall of Hall and Oates and had done so during a time of pure isolation from the outside world. According to Fripp, it was a time that was “both physically painful and spiritually terrifying” (p. 180) Weigel cites a quote from a 1978 interview in which Fripp confesses that “Sherborne filled its residents with the “the kind of cold that freezes the soul” (p. 180). I found myself wanting to understand more fully what Fripp might have meant by that, but Weigel drops it on the floor and explores no further. Instead, he goes on to recount the Hall and Fripp collaboration which resulted in the Hall solo record, Sacred Songs. It’s not a secret that Sacred Songs was inspired by Hall’s fascination with Aleister Crowley. Surely, Weigel knew that this was the common ground between Hall and Fripp’s interest in Gurdjieff’s esoteric teachings. Furthermore, he ignores the vast influence of John G. Bennett, the founder of the International Academy of Continuous Education, on the various strands of New Age thought we find today. Weigel abandons a juicy lead which links this artistic movement with the proliferation of what now passes for “spirituality”.

I think that whoever is listening to it should feel the same thing, that they are in tune and in time with God. – Jon Anderson, Yes (p. 72)

Sinfield reached into his notebook and pulled out “King Crimson,” a term he had come up with to fill in when “Satan” didn’t fit a rhyme. (p. 43)

Choice, choice, freedom? I have no choice, I can only do the will of God, this is freedom. – Robert Fripp (p. 197)

Fohat digs holes in space, man!

What’s gone is gone and I do not give a damn

The same superficial gloss is given to his casual mention of Jon Anderson’s spiritual beliefs, the deeper inspiration for Christian Vander’s vision, the Roches’ fascination with Wilhelm Reich, the gnostic overtones to Peter Gabriel’s focus on Carl Jung, ELP’s knowledge (or lack thereof) of Giger’s occult inspirations as well as Daevid Allen’s fairly well publicized fascination with ritual magick. This may seem like pointless muckraking, but it gets to the essence of what proggers were actually saying as artists. Weigel obviously thinks this is an unfairly maligned genre and that it should be accorded more respect. Prog is a cool soundtrack for smoking weed and most of them were first rate virtuosos, but all the proggers had something to say at some level. The messages seemed to run the gamut from an attempt to create meaning from nothing to messianic zeal. To selectively emphasize these things seems like journalistic malpractice.

The only reason I’ve been able to come up with as to why we became musicians was because there wasn’t anything to rebel or fight against. We weren’t doing it with another agenda as a means to escape. If we were seeking to escape, then it would have been from a kingdom of nothingness. Michael Giles, King Crimson (p. 10)

This tendency is especially egregious in his treatment of Rush. Weigel exposes himself as yet another progressive partisan hack when discussing Neil Peart’s affinity for Ayn Rand’s Objectivist philosophy. As usual, he appears to think the British Labour Party has nothing for which to apologize, and Neil Peart’s critics were completely justified. He ensures that the critical scorn heaped on Rush was clearly spelled out in case there’s any mystery about what the woke intelligentsia thinks of you dumbass LOLbertarians. Not only does he fail to mention that Neil Peart went on record with a softened stance on libertarianism in 2012, but he openly aligned himself with the Democratic Party in a RS interview from 2015! Weigel had ready access to this information while writing this book. Why else would you place so much emphasis on his former libertarian convictions if not to feed the already overheated Ayn Rand hate mill? He even goes out of his way to score easy ideological points by mentioning Rush’s refusal to allow Rand Paul to continue using their music on the campaign trail. See? Even Rush shut down Rand Paul. LMAO! Ooh. Sticking it to the Randian Objectivists. How #EDGY, Weigel.

Maybe his mind is for rent after all.

A casual glimpse of Weigel’s Twitter feed reveals him as a typical leftist stooge who fancies himself some kind of brave dissident embedded on the front lines of the Trump #RESISTANCE. In other words, the embodiment of kind of the anti-authoritarianism that formed the basis of the album he lionized, 2112. If Weigel had an ounce of intellectual honesty, he would cast a skeptical glance toward the Corbynistas and the Eurocrats. Ayn Rand wasn’t right about everything, but if he actually allowed himself to examine the grievances of #Brexiters without his ideological blinders, he’d recognize that Peart apprehended the harm Labour has visited on the UK with greater clarity than his fellow media lackeys. Progressives are contemptuous of libertarianism except when it’s convenient for their agenda.

His partisan allegiance is significant because it may explain his seeming unwillingness to examine the extent to which prog’s demise was driven by the very media establishment to which he belongs. It’s true that plenty of bands built careers defying the establishment consensus, but Weigel’s refusal to investigate his own people speaks volumes.

The downfall of progressive rock happened quickly, with an entire critical establishment [emphasis mine] seemingly rooting for its demise. (p. 200)

This is especially significant given that the media’s pretense of neutrality has been revealed as a contemptible lie in the Trump era. If we take the case that the media are handmaidens of the deep state who are merely taking orders from an elite class more invested in cultural engineering than journalism, Weigel’s observation suggests much, much more.

You can force people to go into trances, and tell them what to do; it’s mass hypnotism, and you’re really setting yourself up as God. – Dave Brock, Hawkwind (p. 96)

Speaking of establishment elites, his ideological blinders also stunted his ability to investigate the extent to which prog was being encouraged by the social engineers of the Tavistock Institute and Royal Society or the extent to which they were under the influence of MI6 assets. Curiously, he included a quote by Crimson alum, Gordon Haskell, which speaks directly to all of these possibilities. My suspicion is that Weigel’s decision to include this quote was to hold him up as a conspiracy obsessed lunatic with an axe to grind against Robert Fripp. Of course, Weigel doesn’t explore any of these allegations, and allows the quote to go unexamined.

“The King Crimson weapon is musical fascism, made by fascists, designed by fascists to dehumanize, to strip mankind of his dignity and soul,” he said later. “It’s pure Tavistock Institute material, financed by the Rothschild Zionists and promoted by two poncy public school boys with connections to the city of London.” Gordon Haskell, King Crimson (p. 62)

Weigel concludes with a brief overview of prog’s unlikely resurgence in the midst of the nihilistic howling that defined the 90s grunge aesthetic. Led by neo-prog revivalists like Porcupine Tree, Dream Theater, The Mars Volta, Opeth and Spock’s Beard, prog had absorbed a more muscular and metallic edge from its stylistic progeny, but it seemed even more anachronistic than in its previous generation. Despite what is implied in the term “progressive” in contemporary parlance, I contend that there’s something reactionary about playing or enjoying prog in 2019.

We’ve become accustomed to the idea of the pop culture sphere being a quintessentially Darwinian ecosystem. It is the epitome of a dominance hierarchy in which the lowest common denominator generally captures the biggest market share while those who swim against the tide get bulldozed. It cannibalizes itself, but only to reflect and refract the most fashionable aesthetic trends and sensibilities of the moment. Prog’s sonic and compositional innovations were eventually flattened and absorbed into blueprints for virtually every style that comprised the 80s once the punk template had been firmly established as the new artistic orthodoxy.

While there’s usually enough bandwidth for a mass market Serious Artist or two who reaches an arena sized audience, you generally find the contemporary progger playing a 1000-seat venue or at a niche festival like ProgDay. The idea that a multibillion dollar rock industry which extends into every corner of culture is in any way rebellious or transgressive is a pathetic joke. Even if it’s loaded with odd metered rhythms, dense harmonies and extended psychedelic jams. Subsequently, the very idea of playing a form of rock music, the ultimate anti-tradition tradition, which adheres to a set of bygone ideals however loosely defined can only be seen as…well….conservative.

Prog was a byproduct of the 60s counterculture, and embodied the utopian idealism of the Flower Power generation which originally coronated it. As subsequent generations of rockers turned increasingly hedonistic and cynical, the Holy Mountain of progressive rock continues to attract acolytes precisely because it at least stood for something. Even if proggers had disparate goals, the fundamental message of the pursuit of a transcendent ideal seemed to be the binding force. I suggest that for today’s musicians, progressive rock is seen as something akin to a sacred calling. A spiritual cosmic journey that will always beckon mystics, dreamers, and charlatans along with the hardiest and most dedicated souls.

The existence of David Weigel’s history of progressive rock is a laudable achievement all by itself, but it also happens to be a fun read. Perhaps it is churlish to nitpick and we should simply enjoy the fact that it is here in the first place. If nothing else, we proggers are an opinionated bunch. You develop high standards when you’re an idealist.

By the time John Wetton’s Asia had sold millions of copies of its bland radio-friendly pop in the 80s, the post-hippie counterculture that was progressive rock, based on the idealistic impulses of the 60s, had finally run its course. The dream, or illusion, of individual and global enlightenment was over. Progressive rock, like the period that gave rise to it, was essentially optimistic. The whole underlying goal – to draw together rock, classical and folk into a surreal metastyle – was inherently an optimistic ideal. At its best, the genre engaged listeners in a quest for spiritual authenticity. We took ourselves too seriously, of course, and its po-faced earnestness could lapse into a moronic naivete, but it never gave way to bitterness, cynicism or self-pity. – Bill Bruford (p. 250)

Joni 75 (2019)

This concert film showcases everything that is simultaneously wonderful and loathsome about the Flower Power generation. Filmed over the course of two nights at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Joni 75 features an all star cast of peers and proteges who came to pay tribute to one of the modern era’s most unique and influential artists.

Originally hailing from Alberta, Mitchell’s career took root in the ferment of the now infamous Laurel Canyon scene. Despite her reputation as an icon of the allegedly counterculture 60’s, Joni Mitchell remains a true maverick amidst a sea of revolutionary wannabes. She has demonstrated a remarkable ability to both avoid the ideological pigeonhole that defines her more openly partisan peers and sustain artistic vitality in an industry which disfavors innovation.

With a career that spans 19 studio albums over the course of more than 50 years, Mitchell has attracted a following that draws from the worlds of pop and jazz. She’s that rare artist who can leave the listener’s heart wrenched by the immediacy of her lyrics while the musicians in the audience all puzzle over her unusual chord changes. Backed by a top notch band, Joni 75 featured performances by Brandi Carlile, Glen Hansard, Emmylou Harris, Norah Jones, Chaka Khan, Diana Krall, Kris Kristofferson, Los Lobos with La Marisoul, Cesar Castro & Xochi Flores, Graham Nash, Seal, James Taylor, and Rufus Wainwright.

On the one hand, it’s a beautifully shot, recorded and performed concert featuring some of our finest artists singing mostly successful covers from the Joni Mitchell songbook. It’s unfussy and straightforward. The footage of artists showering Joni with praise is kept to a merciful minimum. Surprisingly, Peter Gabriel’s prerecorded tribute had a rare moment of honesty when he suggested that she’s probably a raging cunt when you have to work too closely with her.

On the other hand, despite its ostensible goal of just being a straightforward concert film, it couldn’t help but draw attention to its own wokeness. The band was so #DIVERSE! The guests were so #INTERSECTIONAL! Oh snap! Rufus Wainwright just mentioned his HUSBAND! What’s Mike Pence going to think?! And of course, Graham Nash just had to politicize the whole thing. What should have been a sweet remembrance about the creation of the song “Our House” was completely poisoned when he linked it to the 2018 election results. Way to convince people you aren’t raging totalitarians underneath all that hippie horseshit, Graham.

The film also draws attention to the question of whether multiculturalism and universalism are in fact mutually exclusive propositions. While Joni has taken public positions that set her apart from the rigidity of contemporary woke orthodoxy, the concert felt like another self-congratulatory advertisement for multiculturalism and immigration. This was especially true of the treatment Los Lobos and La Marisoul gave to “Nothing Can Be Done”. It’s a vibrant and joyful rendition that gave the song a Mexican flavor while being propelled by a gentle quasi Afro-Cuban groove. Chaka Khan’s ecstatic interjections managed to elevate it even further. It’s the kind of cross cultural collaboration that we’re supposed to celebrate as sophisticated cosmopolitans. Yet at the same time, the Woke Stasi are constantly browbeating and shrieking at the unenlightened rubes about the nefarious evils of “cultural appropriation”.

Is multiculturalism a melange from which anyone and everyone can freely pick and choose? Or is it a collection of disparate subcultures which must remain within the confines of their respective people groups in order to retain uniqueness? Or is it just another excuse for SJWs to be selectively outraged over fake transgressions?

More importantly, is multiculturalism building a universal culture? Or is it appropriating different cultures only to strip mine them of their context and uniqueness? Is it just a self-reinforcing orthodoxy which operates on the presumption that there is no downside to infinite immigration? Does it inculcate an unwavering belief that there are no issues of cultural assimilation and that the future that awaits us is a rainbow hued utopia of vegan taco trucks, body positive belly dancing and gender neutral drum circles? Is it just an excuse to revel in a smug sense of cosmopolitan moral superiority? Does the obsessive liberal quest for global “oneness” degrade cultural distinctions or enhance them? Is it just an excuse for progressives to be selectively outraged over “racism” in one moment while in the next moment being selectively outraged over “cultural appropriation”?

I love Joni Mitchell’s music. The artists mostly did a great job. It was beautiful but also kind of sad that a collection of aging wealthy Boomers still affect a pretense of being edgy revolutionaries. That somehow, another collection of self-satisfied children of the establishment celebrating their engineered cultural revolution as an unqualified success was finally going to convince the unenlightened peasants of flyover country that they’re stupid and backwards. I mean come on, bigots. “Big Yellow Taxi” is the theme song for the Green New Deal! Get #WOKE!

Perhaps what I heard in Joni’s gnostic rallying cry for the Age of Aquarius was something she didn’t necessarily intend. When James Taylor delivered a heartfelt rendition of “Woodstock”, it wasn’t heralding the advent of a secular New Eden. It was, in fact, the sound of a generation that has spent its entire adult lifetime trying to convince you that its complete monopoly of institutional consensus is the height of counterculture and rebellion. That all you need to usher in the final revolution is to don the pussyhat, hoist the placard aloft and post that fist pump to Instagram, baby. And that, my friends, is the sound of exhausted desperation.

We are stardust, we are golden
We are caught in the devils bargain
And we got to get ourselves back to the garden

Blink-182: Deep State Front Organization?

If you’ve read David McGowan’s expose of the Laurel Canyon scene, Weird Scenes Inside the Canyon, you wouldn’t be unreasonable to have some lingering skepticism and doubt. After all, it can’t be that everyone in the music industry is CIA/military shill, right? Probably not everyone, but when the exact pattern of connections McGowan uncovers in Weird Scenes repeats itself in 2018, cosmic coincidence seems less and less tenable.

I’d always found blink-182 repugnant and detestable. They perfectly embodied the post-Green Day mall punk vibe in all its hollow boorishness. They affected a posture of snot nosed, frat boy rebellion, but it always rang even more false and contrived than their contemporaries. To my ears, their songs were grating and stupid. As it turns out, my disdain is justified beyond all aesthetic considerations. It appears that blink-182 are a deep state front agency. Allow me to explain.

I ran across this piece in Consequence of Sound, and it piqued my interest right away. Everything about this story fit the Laurel Canyon pattern perfectly. What on earth is a clown like Mark Hoppus doing giving military advice to actual military personnel on a major operation? How was he granted permission to participate in the mission to locate Saddam Hussein? Who authorized his involvement in the first place? Where did he learn this skill? Musicians are clever people, but that’s some awfully specialized knowledge.

I did a little digging, and lo and behold, Mark Hoppus’ father, Tex, is a former military guy who designed MISSILES AND BOMBS. Well, no biggie, right? Blink-182 is his act of punk rebellion, right? I don’t know about you, but taking part in a major military operation and bragging about it on Twitter doesn’t exactly sound like an anti-establishment move to me.

Big deal though, right? Not so fast. If McGowan is right and celebrity pop culture is an extension of state propaganda and an ongoing psychological operation, then Hoppus’ admission is basically a rock n’ roll Argo moment. He’s making the global military imperium look cool, man! This is everything punk rock supposedly stood against! Besides, people pay way more attention to pop culture and celebrities than politicians. And remember when the music world #RESISTANCE was actually mobilized against the Iraq War? Like rockers were back in the day? Yet here’s Hoppus racking up likes on Twitter for being an American hero.

But it gets better.

Former guitarist, Tom DeLonge, hasn’t just gone on to explore new musical horizons, he fancies himself some kind of ufologist. However, this isn’t some idle teenage hobby that he’s managed to turn into a pop culture success. He’s got MAJOR military-industrial/intelligence muscle behind this endeavor.

So what are DeLonge and his deep state coterie up to? Based on what I read on the website at To The Stars Academy, it’s a synergistic amalgam of AI, big data, really heavy duty science-y shit that’s way above our heads and infotainment. Or something. But it’s loaded with fancy sounding buzzwords like Human Ultra-Experience Database, Engineering Space-Time Metrics, Brain-Computer Interface, and Telepathy! Telepathy, man! This is basically real life X-Men! So you know it’s gonna be awesome, bro!

We believe there are transformative discoveries within our reach that will revolutionize the human experience, but they can only be accomplished through the unrestricted support of breakthrough research, discovery and innovation.

Whoa. That’s some deep shit, Tom.

So, do you guys party with Seth Green?

But how deep is his association with John Podesta? Or Seth Green? It’s not very punk to endorse government secrecy, Tom. If the purpose of this project is to develop something “without the restrictions of government priorities”, what could be exposed that would cause you to be so concerned, Tom? Is this connected to the secret space program? His Instagram post indicates that it’s an opportunity to “change the way we view ourselves”. Given that kind of rhetoric, there can be little doubt that it is part of an extended psychological operation designed usher in a globalist technocracy.

If it’s just another attempt to leverage DeLonge’s pop cred to attract private money and publicity for some project that’s too hot for the black budget, he’s certainly succeeding in getting media attention in all the right places. Whatever it is he’s up to, he is pretty circumspect about the details.

And that kind of secrecy is what one would expect from a practitioner of the Craft.

But DeLonge left the band. What about the new guy, Matt Skiba? Well, I don’t think he is a radical departure from DeLonge in terms of his overall allegiances.

While he was a member of blink-182, DeLonge was singing about the existence of extraterrestrial life. Supposedly, this fascination drove a wedge between him and Hoppus. He claims he had to be secretive about his connections to the government. Yeah, right, Tom. I suspect that the more likely explanation is that their handlers have decided that making their connections to the military-intelligence complex public will make them more convincing than when they were just frat boy mall punk brats.

David McGowan: Weird Scenes Inside the Canyon

When I first started putting my liberal assumptions about the world to the test, I really thought that libertarianism had done a pretty thorough job of slaughtering all the sacred cows with which I’d grown up. Little did I know that an even more powerful red pill lay between the covers of David McGowan’s chronicle of the bands that defined the flower power counterculture, Weird Scenes Inside the Canyon. If you’re at all like me in that you bought the mythology of the 60’s being an era of enlightened emancipation and a fearless rebellion against repressive norms and reckless imperialism, then you are well advised to brace yourself for a severely rude awakening. Weird Scenes may, in fact, shatter your world. It’s not that McGowan has uncovered lots of brand new revelations that have never come to light. It’s simply that he’s peered between the cracks of both the public record and the mythology of these artists and dug deeper to reveal a mosaic of facts that can hardly be dismissed as mere coincidence. McGowan’s work will doubtless be viewed as conspiracy theory to many, but his sources and methods are very conventional. What McGowan himself concedes as the hurdle of disbelief that the reader might encounter is the manner in which he’s pieced together the history and the implications thereof. What we learn from Weird Scenes is that not only were the movers of the 60’s musical revolution mysteriously concentrated in the very exclusive Laurel Canyon area, but what bound all of them were three common threads dangling against the backdrop of one highly curious phenomenon.

  • Family connections to the military or intelligence community
  • Connections to the occult
  • A long chain of mysterious deaths and brutal murders
  • Laurel Canyon was home to a top secret military intelligence film studio whose presence and purpose remain largely unknown to this day

All of the information presented runs completely contrary to the mythology of the Peace and Love 60’s counterculture. In fact, McGowan’s work doesn’t just cast doubt on the idea of an organic social and cultural phenomenon, it detonates the very foundations of the popular myth. At the core of the book are simple but mind blowingly provocative questions:

What if the counterculture revolution was engineered?

What if these artists were working in concert with the military intelligence establishment to mainstream rock culture and decadence?

What if the goal was sabotaging both the antiwar Left and hastening the break down of the social order?

I know what you’re thinking. That sounds like crazy talk, but McGowan’s thesis is reasonable. He posits that there was an active and engaged antiwar movement on the Left. He also delineates between the real activists and the decadents who were eventually branded “hippies.” He is suggesting that this decadent strain of counterculture was the unique export of the Laurel Canyon phenomenon. And despite the weight of the lore surrounding the Haight Ashbury scene, the Laurel Canyon scene preceded it by a couple years. Obviously, McGowan doesn’t unearth the secret white paper or the definitive proof of the CIA’s hidden hand. Rather, what emerges is a series of patterns that suggest that the convergence of so many artists with so many common connections who left such a large pile of corpses in their wake is something other than cosmic serendipity.

McGowan begins by sketching the broad strokes of his narrative arc and fills in the details in the subsequent chapters. I don’t think I’m alone by saying that I had to shake off brain scrambling bewilderment at every turn of the page. I was suspicious of the monolithic leftist messaging of the music industry, but I had no idea how deep the rabbit hole went. I suspect I’m no different from others in thinking that that the industry is corrupt, and any artist’s untimely death, eccentricities or habits can be chalked up to that simple fact. We accept the notion that the industry places incredible pressures on artists while offering unlimited access to every vice and pleasure. But is it mere coincidence that nearly every one of the characters in the Laurel Canyon scene was connected to the military intelligence community somehow? And if this was a collective act of rebellion, where are the public denunciations of their parents’ actions and allegiances? Is the confluence of all this talent, both real and imagined, and the speed with which they were catapulted into the limelight a purely organic phenomenon? If the establishment really saw them as a threat to the social order, why weren’t law enforcement officials making routine sweeps of the Canyon? Why did the media establishment trumpet these artists with enthusiasm if there wasn’t a tacit acceptance of an overall lifestyle message from the highest echelons? How did these artists routinely escape the draft or any convictions?

Weird Scenes focuses on the prime movers of the early Canyon scene. These included The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention, Captain Beefheart, The Doors, Steppenwolf, Love, The Beach Boys, The Monkees and The Mamas and the Papas. This scene also included what were then considered the Young Turks. Dennis Hopper, Jack Nicholson, Warren Beatty, Bruce Dern, Peter Fonda, Sharon Tate, and Jane Fonda all have intelligence community connections just like their rock counterparts and are an integral part of this tapestry. It’s odd that a pack of up and coming actors wouldn’t mind being canonized in the press by being associated with the folks who initiated the Armenian genocide, but then again, the fact that this name lives on in alternative media as a leftist propaganda and current affairs show tells you a lot about this industry.

There are also fascinating side stories about some lesser known artists who all had links to the Canyon scene in one way or another. Fans of Roky Erickson, Judee Sill and Phil Ochs will appreciate the depth of McGowan’s research. Each band achieved different levels of public success, but each story peeled back new layers of intrigue, pathology and decadence that was a way of life in this exclusive enclave nestled in the Los Angeles hills.

I don’t know how these individuals fare in other rock history books, but no one comes out looking particularly great. Since so many of the Laurel Canyon luminaries were children of the military establishment, the fact that several notable figures exhibited domineering control freak/cult leader-like tendencies should come as little surprise. Stephen Stills, Frank Zappa and John Phillips in particular all fell into this category. Though it’s largely peripheral to the Zappa saga, Don Van Vliet (aka Captain Beefheart) is exposed as something akin to a pathological Mansonesque cult leader. This is also chronicled in all its cringe inducing detail in Zoot Horn Rollo’s extraordinary memoir, Lunar Notes.

If it seems like every couple years, we get a new telegenic boy band to ignite the hormones of the tweener set, you can thank The Monkees. The genesis of the manufactured media friendly boy band can certainly be traced back to them. As it turns out, very few of the Canyon bands were actually very good in a live setting. The story behind The Byrds in particular will definitely leave you a little slack jawed. Most of these early acts relied on the talents of a group of studio musicians that eventually became known as the Wrecking Crew.

Zappa’s tale is a particular standout because he stands apart from virtually everyone else in the history of rock both artistically and politically. Zappa remains highly regarded by musicians because his oeuvre is such a singular achievement in the history of 20th century music. Setting aside all other concerns and caveats, Zappa’s unique gifts and prodigious output are legendary when measured against artists of any genre. Needless to say, Zappa was also a complete totalitarian. Even if he was shilling for globalist institutions like the IMF and the World Bank, his anticommunist/neoconservative political convictions also set him in sharp contrast to virtually every other major artist. Zappa also notoriously ridiculed hippie culture while actively trying to consolidate that very audience for his band. If you strip away the avant-garde nature of his music, you have very unique window of insight into this entire cabal. Culture creation that emanates from the globalist/military intelligence complex which presents an illusion of freewheeling bohemianism but masks a uniquely authoritarian and pathological mindset.

Then there are the myriad stories of rampant sexual promiscuity and sexual depravity. Before Manson hit the Canyon scene, Vito Paulekas and his entourage of Freaks apparently single handedly launched the phenomena of the Free Love Hippie. Rock has long been associated with sex and drugs, but Paulekas in particular seems to have played a significant role in cementing that association in the public mind. The fact that this routinely included teenagers is yet another eyebrow raising revelation. In fact, sex with underage kids and pedophilia is an undercurrent of more than a few stories. It is howlingly hilarious that pop stars are now publicly preaching the #MeToo hashtag as though they’re these pious crusaders when everyone knows that the industry’s history and underlying message has always been one of pure sexual decadence.

At the bottom of the depravity barrel are the two sets of murders that betray the heart of darkness that seemingly defined Laurel Canyon. These were the Wonderland murders and the Manson murders. It even includes possible connections to the infamous Black Dahlia murder. Needless to say, connections to the occult go hand in hand with all of these stories. What is to be made of the string of torched homes and unexplained or mysterious deaths surrounding so many of the Canyon’s brightest stars? What is up with Gram Parsons’ death? What should we conclude about Gene Clark’s bizarre demise? What really happened to Jim Morrison? The list goes on longer than you can imagine.

It’s mostly a secondary theme in the book, but mafiosi and serial killers are also part of this sordid tale. Between this book and Fredric Dannen’s Hit Men, the full weight of the music industry’s degeneracy begins to show in its Dorian Gray-like visage. Ironically, McGowan took up this project based off the work he did exploring serial killers in his 2004 book, Programmed to Kill. It’s a merely a side dish in the Weird Scenes narrative, but Rodney Alcala’s story alone should leave you asking a few questions.

The one aspect of the McGowan’s work which is probably unique among all historical accounts of this scene is his exposé of the top secret military film studio, Lookout Mountain Airforce Station. It was billed as a film processing studio for nuclear testing footage, but that just doesn’t add up. Why would the military schlep film all the way from Nevada to Laurel Canyon? They could’ve done that anywhere. This was a fully equipped studio with sound stages, screening rooms, an animation department, climate controlled vaults, a bomb shelter and a helipad. This sounded more like a prototype for ILM or WETA. Hollywood luminaries ranging from Ronald Reagan to Marilyn Monroe all had clearance to work there on undisclosed projects. I suppose that like every other phenomenon of life in the Canyon, it’s all just a big coincidence. Right?

McGowan concludes with the transition from the 60’s and 70’s Canyon artists to the origins of 80’s New Wave. Rock was a well established phenomenon by that time, so if you think that puts a kibosh on all this conspiratard nonsense, you’d be dead wrong. As every rock fan is aware, a little record label called IRS Records run by a gentleman named Miles Copeland III was home to more than a few big names in 80’s pop. His brother Ian Copeland also ran a booking agency called Frontier Booking International (aka FBI). Combined with the IRS roster, FBI’s contact with other major artists extended their influence over the New Wave era even further. Their little brother, Stewart, formed a little band called The Police. Big deal, right? Plenty of families go into the entertainment industry. It would be easy to dismiss if the patriarch of the Copeland family weren’t a well known CIA operative. So I suppose the children of a spook who collectively form a label called IRS, a booking agency called FBI and a band called The Police and end up dominating the 80’s is just another coincidence. Right?

Right.

This book was a revelation, but it was also really difficult. Even if I didn’t own records by every artist, they collectively formed the background soundtrack to growing up in California in the 70’s and 80’s. I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that the pioneers of counterculture were brave contrarians, rabble rousers, eccentrics and visionaries. In a world of phony politicians, bloodthirsty war hawks and corrupt businessmen, the artists were supposed to be the fearless truth tellers and the guardians of the human soul. They might’ve been decadent, but the art made up for their excess. How wrong could it be to try and create a Brotherhood of Man through rock n’ roll? The fact I completely handwaved away the implications of someone like Charles Manson ingratiating himself with the leading lights of counterculture is certainly a testament to pop music’s effectiveness in engineering a perception of unassailable righteousness. But what if the gulf between the fantasy and the reality was wider than you ever imagined? What conclusions are you supposed to reach about an industry packed with connections to the intelligence community, gangsters, occultists, control freaks, pedophiles, and otherwise pathological degenerates? Even if you really, really loved the music that came from it? The prospect that the entire rock revolution was a giant military psyop is among the bitterest pills I’ve ever swallowed. That’s not to say that there was no organic artistry or genuine greatness, but once you peer behind the curtain, the rock n’ roll wizard loses some of his mojo. Sometimes, the truth hurts. Dave McGowan deserves credit for administering the tough medicine.

Wynton Marsalis and the Paradox of Artistic Conservatism in the Progressive Age

Wynton Marsalis has positioned himself as a jazz conservationist and all purpose pop culture reactionary for the past several decades. From his lofty perch ensconced in the Lincoln Center, Marsalis has inveighed against the pernicious influence of avant garde, R&B and hip hop to howls of outrage on numerous occasions. Reviled by many in the musician community as a self-appointed authoritarian schoolmarm, effete royalist and uptight poindexter, Wynton is an easy target for any artist with modernist sympathies. As one would expect, Marsalis’ latest foray into the white hot culture wars has provoked yet another collective spasm of indignation from the social media commentariat. Brace yourself, proles. In an interview with Jonathan Capehart, Marsalis posited that hip hop is “more damaging than a statue of Robert E. Lee.” Cue autistic screeching.

Marsalis has been just as outspoken in his opposition to the degrading influence of popular music as he has been in defense of what he considers a more edifying, uplifting, and yes, traditional vision of black art. While his statement does not represent a radical departure from any previous public claims, it is yet another noteworthy cultural moment in our current climate of supercharged identity politics and battles over free speech. Not only does it parallel the absolute shitstorm that followed Kanye West’s recent public statements in support of Trump and Candace Owens, it draws attention to some deeper questions over whether being an artistic conservative of any stripe is even possible in the techno-progressive age.

Just as you can roughly divide people along conservative and progressive lines in the political sphere, the same can be said for the artistic. An artistic conservative would generally subscribe to the notion that tradition should be respected, have objective aesthetic criteria, and its practitioners should be held to the highest standards of excellence. The artistic conservative would not buy into the idea that good art is completely subjective nor should it be completely democratized. Conversely, the artistic progressive would hold that traditions only exist to be inverted, reinvented, cherry picked or demolished outright. Art is always in a state of forward motion and flux. Change is an unassailable good while stasis is oppressive and confining.

Given these two competing worldviews, I contend that Marsalis finds himself in a position roughly analogous to the position Christina Sommers found herself when writing Who Stole Feminism. In other words, Wynton has the thankless task of attempting to consolidate and conserve an artistic form which was already a modernist amalgam of numerous traditions long after the wild horses of modernity had broken down the stables and overrun the barricades.

This is the main reason I find the outrage from the progressive camp to be both laughable and redundant. As usual, progressives are blind to their triumphs. The modernist genie is already out of the bottle. Wynton has neither the ability nor the desire to squelch any artist from making the music he wants to make. He is simply voicing an opinion. How many young hip hop fans are even paying attention let alone being persuaded by his point? Is there any reason to believe that even one person will stop listening to Lil Wayne after hearing Wynton Marsalis’ opinion? And even if he did manage to persuade someone, why would anyone who disagrees with him even care? Isn’t music the province of individual taste?

Yet, I’d argue that this is where the progressives are shortchanging Marsalis and also shooting themselves in the foot. Since I’m a musician myself, most of the reaction I observed on social media came from other musicians. Predictably, progressives assailed his comments as fusty and clueless. The reaction to his thrashing of Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor and Miles Davis’ electric period in Ken Burns’ jazz documentary was met with a similarly hostile backlash. Despite the fact that numerous musicians chuckle at Miles Davis’ savage putdowns of Steve Miller, the Grateful Dead, and even Marsalis himself in his autobiography, Marsalis’ knocks on rock and pop music get a completely different treatment simply because he’s attacking from a different ideological vantage point. Miles was a trailblazing badass whereas Marsalis is the backward looking stuffed suit. What’s also odd is that these very same musicians, even if working within the new music circles, generally value a certain degree of musical proficiency and historical perspective. These skills and knowledge are the products of the study of some kind of musical tradition. Generally, it’s the jazz, blues, country or classical tradition. As in the ones Marsalis venerates and wants to conserve for posterity.

The unquestioned deference to a culture of pure individual expression untethered to any kind of traditionalism has resulted in an increasingly atomized marketplace. Just as religion provides a set of shared values and norms, a common tradition in arts can also serve a similar purpose. The irony is that musicians tend to denigrate pop music just like Wynton, but for slightly different reasons. They’ll shit on its lack of originality, the absence of real musicianship or its blatant commercialism. If anything, it was precisely because Marsalis put hip hop in his sights that prompted this particular bout of fauxtrage. Despite being a multibillion dollar industry, hip hop enjoys a permanent monopoly on being perceived as an edgy street art form that gives a voice to the Oppressed. Therefore, Marsalis was blind to the fact that racist old farts from bygone eras said the exact same thing about the music he currently canonizes. Get #WOKE, Wynton.

As expected, progressives seem to imagine Wynton as this quasi-fascist dictator who’s attempting to tell artists what art to make. Since we live in an age of liberal hegemony where unquestioned deference to progress is the orthodoxy, anyone who even suggests the idea of a conserved tradition with boundaries, limits and standards is branded a hidebound reactionary and a heretic. The reaction Marsalis is receiving also has parallels to the reactions Jordan Peterson is currently receiving over his secular defense of Christianity and traditionalism.

Is the knee jerk defense of artistic progressivism fostering a deeper appreciation for music with artistic aspirations that extend beyond the pop sphere? Or music which requires a higher level of complexity? Will the average hip hop fan give a shit about the numerous starving jazz musicians who stormed social media to denounce Marsalis as a retrograde dimwit? Even if Marsalis wants cordon off the jazz tradition and build an ideological border wall around it, will that prevent anyone from discovering Sun Ra or Albert Ayler? Or even J Dilla?

And then there’s the issue of preserving historical integrity when facing an onslaught of selective outrage that defines our Age of #SocialJustice. Current social justice narratives cast the entire sweep of history as nothing but a long chain of oppression and subjugation. We’re already seeing pop music being consigned to the memory hole for failing to the pass the hashtag friendly litmus tests. If an artist doesn’t live up to the feminist #MeToo standards, progressives are completely unmoved by calls for removal from streaming platforms. If Robert E. Lee gets sent to the dustbin for failing to meet ever shifting standards of woke piety, who’s to say that the records treasured by the progressive establishment won’t also be consumed in the fires of revolution eventually?

Marsalis has already responded to the considerable backlash with a lengthy and thoughtful post on Facebook. Anyone who doesn’t grasp his intent or the substance of his argument is being willfully ignorant, dishonest or both. But does his thoughtful response even register for anyone who reacted negatively to his argument? Like Sam Harris’ quixotic attempt to dismantle Ezra Klein’s hit pieces in Vox, Harris was forced to stave off the SJW zombie hordes simply for defending his right to voice an unconventional opinion.

Though they likely share opposing views, Wynton Marsalis has become a more genteel version of Ted Nugent. Every time he opines, it elicits paroxysms of contempt, but once you get past the vitriol, you’ll find an occasional grudging admission of respect.

At the same time, this controversy reveals the reason there has been a decades long conflict over who will have control over the levers of cultural consensus. Progressives reacted with customary autistic myopia as though the mere utterance of a controversial opinion would topple the secular liberal order. Each side knows that culture matters, but only progressives continue to affect the pretense of being underdogs despite the polar opposite being true. You are more likely to see progressives collectively high five one another over Black Panther than consider the possibility that NWA might have had an adverse effect on the black community.

In an anything goes culture of radical subjectivity, the artistic conservative faces an extraordinarily difficult task. When contemporary woke consensus considers gender a social construct, what chance does the artistic conservative have in promoting the idea of an objective aesthetic standard? Progressives are being myopic and greedy about the cultural marketplace. The progressive paradigm has triumphed unequivocally. So lighten up, progressives. The fire of artistic radicalism will not be extinguished if Wynton Marsalis takes a few shots at the hip hop empire.

From Sexual Liberation to #MeToo: Pop’s Unstable Marriage of Hedonism and Puritanism

Liberalism is totalitarianism with a human face. – Thomas Sowell

The increasingly strident political tone of today’s pop music can certainly be traced back to the various counterculture movements of the 60’s. For the most part, every single one of today’s hashtag campaigns is merely a remix of the protest placards of yesteryear. Swap in an open borders sentiment for the antiwar movement, and the issues remain largely the same. There is, however, one notable exception. Sexual liberation. While liberals never hesitated to proclaim the moral high ground on the entire spectrum of domestic civil rights and foreign policy, this pursuit of every form of secular liberty also included an open embrace of free love and hedonistic indulgence. This celebration of bacchanalian excess stands in sharp contrast to the duplicitous messaging of today’s pop stars. The message of free love has not completely disappeared from the progressive playbook. It has been repurposed and repackaged in the continued push to normalize every form of sexual fetish and orientation. Now that every kink and perversion is celebrated throughout academia and the media, the militant preaching of the #MeToo movement rings especially hollow.

While the Grammy Awards may have previously suffered from being merely another stodgy and boring entertainment industry spectacle which catered to insiders, the most recent broadcast hastened its plunge into the abyss of irrelevance by turning itself into yet another megaphone for progressive moral preening around the scourge of sexual predation against womyn. The ceremony was another tiresome cavalcade of brain dead celebrities regurgitating the same idiotic homilies for #DIVERSITY you hear at every other Hollywood event. What’s especially galling about this particular exercise in celebrity virtue signaling is the attempt reclaim the moral high ground on the issue of harassment when the pop and entertainment industry has long advertised itself as the Kingdom of Bacchus. Making it even worse is that both progressive academia and media continue to sound the clarion call of sexual liberation while the feminist foot soldiers seem either blissfully oblivious or willfully deceitful around the standard progressive line around sexual liberation. Setting aside the sex negative ravings of militant lesbians and misadrist harpies, the only moral condition that’s applied to sexuality is consent. As long as that is established, there are no taboos. But it’s not difficult to conclude that this single moral constraint is not going to offset an anything goes mentality.

And this brings us to the age old critique of liberalism. If the ideology stands for nothing more than the dissolution of conventional norms around sexuality, then what will enter the void to constrain behavior? The answer remains the same as it’s always been for the liberal: the State. Since the progressive worldview is secular, the Left has no choice but to circumscribe the entire sphere of moral action to politics. Therefore, all moral pathology and transgression must be collectivized and attributed to something material (i.e. race, gender) or something that exists as a metaphysical feminist boogeyman (i.e. the patriarchy). What ensues is the same pathological and destructive quest to punish transgression that’s played out throughout every leftist revolution you can name.

As a product of the cultural legacy of Boomer generation liberalism, I remain sympathetic to the counterculture excesses of the 60’s and their influence on art and society. I’d like to think there’s room for sexual liberty and deviations from the norm without devolving into total degeneracy. That said, it’s apparent that the acids of modernity don’t exactly slow their corrosion of traditional norms. Subsequently, we see progressives trying to play the dual role of champions of transgression and beacons of moral authority. Not exactly a convincing mix.

Commies vs. AnCaps: Welcome to the Rap Metal Terrordome

Throughout America and the West, the political Left have overwhelmingly dominated the culture through the arts. This dominion extends across the entire sphere of pop and rock music. With the possible exception of country, the political opinions in the pop and rock world tend to run the gamut between progressive and communist. While most generally save their grandstanding for DNC appearances, award ceremonies and social media, there is a notable handful of artists who put radical leftist politics front and center. Rage Against the Machine made Marxist angst a mass market success, so it should come as little surprise that the supergroup followup, Prophets of Rage, cashes in on the same sensibilities. Comprised of the rhythm section reactor that powered RATM and augmented by members of Public Enemy and Cypress Hill, Prophets of Rage want to make America rage again by synthesizing the combined legacies of its members.

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While propping up establishment politics under the veneer of radicalism passes for “rebellion” on the Left, you’d think that liberty would resonate as a theme in a genre that prides itself on being the Voice of the Disaffected™. For whatever reason, very little liberty oriented subject matter has translated into mass success beyond the odd Rush or Megadeth record. Libertarians are starting to recognize that culture is upstream from politics and are now making inroads into the pop culture realm. One of the unexpected success stories has been the emergence of rap-metal Rothbardians, Backwordz. Fronted by Eric July, a man who is already recognized as a rising star in the liberty movement, Backwordz is plying their own brand of rap-metal but with a message that stands in polar opposition to the leftist grunting of the Prophets. Drawing almost exclusively from the more recent history of rap-rock hybrids, Backwordz sound invokes comparisons to Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park, Static-X and Body Count. If you had told me even a year ago that the nexus of politically fueled music converges at the intersection of hip-hop and hard rock, I’d have looked at you sideways. Yet here we are. So let’s jump into the rap-metal terrordome and see how they stack up.

Prophets of Rage vs. Backwordz

In many ways, Prophets of Rage is one of the most successful rap-rock hybrids I’ve heard. It pains me to say it because the politics of the album alternate between idiotic sloganeering, boring clichés and braindead incoherence. Prophets of Rage seem tailor made for the Age of #SocialJustice, and they’re cashing in on it by openly advertising themselves as the soundtrack to the #RESISTANCE. If you simply gathered up the highest trending hashtags from #WOKE Twitter from the past couple years (#Blacklivesmatter, #RESIST, #DumpTrump, #TakeAKnee, #HandsUpDontShoot, etc), that pretty much sums up what they have to say as a band. Add in some communist iconography, weed references and Antifa-inspired branded merchandise, and the package is complete. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear some group of campus SJWs chanting the chorus to “Unfuck the World” at any given protest.

No Hatred
Fuck Racists
Blank Faces
Time’s Changin’
One Nation
Unification The Vibration
Unfuck the World!

 

Wow. That’s deep, bro. Pass the bong.

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Conversely, Backwordz have a lot of interesting things to say on their debut release, “Veracity”, but it is simply less enjoyable as a musical experience. And by interesting, I mean songs that represent the perspective of a full throated Rothbard style anarcho-capitalist. That’s not to say that they are less accomplished musicians or that their vision is any less cohesive. It’s just that I found myself wanting to sing along with Prophets, but didn’t have the same experience with Backwordz. If nothing else, the fact that Backwordz have written an anti-Keynesian rap-metal anthem which name checks Ludwig von Mises and The Road to Serfdom makes them deserving of respect. “Praxeology” is not necessarily a song I want to put on repeat, but I think it’s commendable that they wrote it in the first place. There’s probably more than a few people out there who scooped up copies of Anthem and The Fountainhead after rocking out to 2112, so I suspect it won’t be long before we begin to hear testimonials of kids who picked up Human Action after jamming Backwordz.

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Backwordz songs follow a general formula. Eric July spits out a manic flow over some chunky syncopated riffage which is followed by a melodic emo chorus sung by Alex James. What the riffs lack in memorability, they make up for in rhythmic interest and mechanical precision. At their best, Backwordz’ riffage falls somewhere in between the jagged chugging of Meshuggah and the militant ratatat of Disturbed. July alternates between a smooth, rhythmically energetic flow and a full on aggro scream. There is the occasional chill electro beat section, too.

Backwordz cover a lot of ground in one record. A tour through the song titles and lyrics reveal a pretty broad spectrum of liberty oriented themes. Unfortunately, the songs are a little like monologues from Randian heroes. The content is great, but there’s something wooden and slightly cringe inducing about it. July is hitting excellent subjects, but he’s just not the greatest wordsmith. However, the one song that’s both lyrically and thematically devastating is “Statheist”. If there’s one thing that progressives don’t like to hear, it’s having their own religious faith called out.

Say it, we know the truth
Saying Hail Mary’s at the voter booth
You are a fraud
Stop acting like you don’t believe in god
Acting like they made us
Politicians are your saviors
You are a fraud
Stop acting like you don’t believe in god

 

To my ears, the Prophets’ overall sound has more breath and a deeper reach back into rock history. The Prophets successfully negotiate a rhythmic pocket that reconciles Led Zeppelin, P-Funk, MC5 and The Stooges. Tom Morello’s politics are vile and stupid but the man is quite simply one of the most innovative guitarists in rock working today. I defy any rock lover to say that the chorus to “Hail to the Chief” isn’t the very epitome of The Riff. The Prophets’ superior conception of groove also ties into their superiority in songcraft. I can’t remember a single hook from the Backwordz record, but I can remember practically every single one from the Prophets of Rage. Having the Morgan Freeman of hip-hop doesn’t hurt, either. Chuck D’s gruff, leathery bass and relaxed flow is just more appealing to listen to than July’s rapid fire rhymes. If there was only one message that I hope to convey to the members of Backwordz, I would encourage them to learn from the Prophets’ songwriting example.

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What pisses me off the most about the Prophets of Rage is that, in contrast to their ideological brethren GY!BE, they’re cashing in on leftist anger without being explicit about that for which they stand. Admittedly, it’s not that hard to discern their intentions, but it’s masked amidst the fist pumping sloganeering. They want you to “know your rights”, but exhort you to “burn that goddamn flag”. They lament that you “pretend there’s democracy” in one song, but insist that you should “legalize me” in another. Morello himself has been pretty explicit about his communist convictions throughout his career, and Prophets of Rage is just the latest update to the packaging. Their anti-authoritarian posture masks their authoritarian designs. It’s not that just that they want to “Smashit”; they want to “go Molotov” and “become the gun”. They insist that you know “who owns who”, but want you to ignore the question of who owns them. I contend that the following photo from their Twitter account summarizes their true intentions. The Statue of Liberty is a symbol of the one political ideal that America sought to institutionalize: liberty. Though the #TakeAKnee campaign was supposedly meant to symbolize a protest against police brutality and racial injustice, the act of kneeling is actually an act of submission. Not defiance. The fact that the Prophets of Rage would promote an image of Lady Liberty kneeling in submission is exactly what I’d expect from communists, sadly.

I realize Backwordz don’t need my support, but I sincerely wish that I could offer a more unequivocal endorsement. If there was a way to swap the message of Backwordz with the Prophets’ sound, I’d be singing a different tune. Backwordz’ music belongs to different generation, and the fact that they’ve attracted as much attention as they have is a testament to the fact that their music is speaking to people and providing value. The Left have been tremendously successful in mainstreaming their ideas through culture, so I’m glad they’re out there doing their thing. It’s entirely possible that they’ll reach more new people with rap-metal than the combined efforts of every single Mises Institute fellow.

Heterotopia Live: Oberon, September 29, 2017

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Warriors of the Metaphysical Wasteland: Schooltree

Among the various types of rockers one encounters in the world, I believe the heart of the prog rocker is uniquely romantic. In contrast to all other genres, the prog rocker is the one who sees music making as a mythic quest and a sacred calling. The prog rocker has a story to tell that is so epic, the danger and drama can only be conveyed through labyrinthine compositions and spellbinding feats of musical virtuosity.  The prog rocker is going to unsheath Excalibur from the stone and slay the dragon while on his way to Mordor to destroy the One Ring while simultaneously telling you the story of how Stonehenge was built. It’s an artistic quest that many attempt, but at which very few truly succeed. Especially in 2017.

Ladies and gentlemen, I’m here to attest that Lainey Schooltree has chased that Holy Grail and brought it back to the land of the mortals in the form of 100 minute epic called Heterotopia. She has kept her covenant with the ancient gods of progressive rock and delivered a work that deserves a place in the pantheon. After seeing Heterotopia in its embryonic state, I was especially excited to see how it translated in a proper live setting in its final form. Not only did it exceed my already high expectations, but I left having the sense that I had witnessed the launch of a significant work that demands to be judged on the global stage.

Heterotopia has an elaborate narrative, but you don’t need to follow it or even understand it in order to enjoy it as a pure rock spectacle. Backed by a 10 person Greek chorus, some choice lighting and two exceptionally well timed releases of dry ice, the five members of Schooltree powered through Heterotopia in its entirety like world class heavyweight champions.

Every band aspires to make an album that’s all killer and no filler, but Heterotopia actually is one of those records. There were, of course, notable standouts. In the role of Metanoia, Kristin Santangelo was positively captivating in “The Leitmaiden” and “Enantiodromia”. There is probably no one on earth better suited to the role of Enantiodromia than the incomparable Mali Sastri. “The River” is the one track on Heterotopia where the emotional tenor turns pitch black, but it delivers just as much doom laden grandeur as you’ll get from Magma or Van Der Graaf Generator. In addition to her already considerable feats of vocal sorcery, the combination of her wild eyed stare, gothic makeup and flared black dress left you feeling as though you were in the presence of a supernatural being. And a rather terrifying one at that.

Besides providing so many of the glorious backup harmonies to many of the songs, the 10 person Greek chorus had several standout sections of their own. “The Bottom of the River” managed to synthesize English folk music and Sondheim all in one piece. “Rocksinger” sounds something like a track The Sweet were commissioned to write for Schoolhouse Rock, but was rejected for its references to Suzi’s indiscriminate drug usage and sexual favors.

Heterotopia is solidly a work of progressive rock, but it never strays too far from its rhythmic anchors in the straight ahead rock tradition. The motorik pulse of “Dead Girl” draws you in and builds up to an outrageous climax.

For my money, “The Edge Annihilate” is the song for the ages. I’m convinced it’s the hidden track from The Sensual World in which Kate Bush collaborated with Journey. It’s “Don’t Stop Believing” for the goth crowd with backup harmonies provided by the Trio Bulgarka. It’s a strange conjunction, but I swear I was ready to hoist a lighter aloft as soon as Tom Collins’ fill kicked off that final chorus.

By far, the musical and emotional pinnacle of the performance was “Day of the Rogue”. Starting with a piano riff that sounds damn close to “Great Gig in the Sky”, “Day of the Rogue” is the culmination of Suzi’s transformation and the beginning of her reentry into the physical world.  It’s a testament to Schooltree’s artistry that she’s able to constantly subvert your expectations by setting the emotional tenor of the music against the dramatic events and make it soar. The final stretch of the song was among the most triumphant two minutes of gloom I’ve ever heard. Even without a Stonehenge replica descending from the ceiling to cap it all off, it was an experience that was only heightened by the release of dry ice and a dazzling flourish of psychedelic lights. One could imagine that if they continued to ramp up the design and visual production values, Heterotopia could easily be a big ticket entertainment option in any major city. 

This incarnation of Schooltree is the second iteration I’ve seen and is marked by a complete turnover in the bass and guitar duties and the welcome addition of a dedicated synthesizer player. While it’s eminently clear each musician is accomplished in his own right, they exercise such discipline in executing this music, it’s often hard to tell where Lainey’s vision ends and their individualism begins. Filling the role vacated by the estimable Brendan Burns, Sam Crawford more than proved his mettle by juggling rhythmic chores, melodic lines, sonic textures and one all too short solo in “Specter Lyfe”. The addition of Peter Danilchuk on synthesizer was an inspired and welcome addition to the Schooltree sound. Besides all of the excellent written material, he churned out some first rate spacey psychedelia on “The Abyss”. Forming the foundation of the entire musical edifice of Heterotopia, Ryan Schwartzel on bass and Tom Collins on drums were models of taste, economy and restraint.

Decked out in goth chick glam, Schooltree herself seemed content to let Heterotopia speak for itself. And that’s exactly as it should be. While so many are eager to confer automatic legitimacy and priority to “womyn in rock” these days, Lainey Schooltree has simply thrown down a gauntlet of stone cold artistic achievement. Heterotopia is a musical monument that stands tall in the valley of its ancestors and demands to be judged alongside them. I may not have seen Yes, Pink Floyd and Genesis back in their heyday. But I did see Heterotopia at Oberon in 2017. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a perfectly comparable experience.

Masters of Unreality: Sam Crawford, Peter Danilchuk, Lainey Schooltree, Tom Collins, Ryan Schwartzel

 

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