Payback For The Zimmerman Note, At Last!

Mexico’s ambassador in Berlin has launched a protest over what it perceives as a finger in the eye from a German novelty-song performer — or perhaps a poke somewhere further south. Mickey Krause, who has such timeless masterpieces as “Go Home You Old S**t” and “10 Naked Hairdressers” in his repertoire, recently hit the charts with another classy entry in his natural oeuvre:

A German song that is riding high in the country’s charts has ruffled diplomatic feathers as a result of its mixing of geographic and scatological issues. But the singer of “Finger in the Butt, Mexico” is unrepentant.
Mexico’s ambassador to Germany has voiced his displeasure over a popular German song that allegedly disparages the North American country.
The song, which has been on the German charts for 10 weeks, features as its chorus the charming refrain “Finger in the butt, Mexico.” (The German version, “Finger im Po, Mexiko,” rhymes.)
Germany’s mass-circulation daily Bild reported Thursday that Ambassador Jorge Castro-Valle Kuehne has written a letter of complaint to EMI, the record company which publishes the song.

I’m just guessing here, but I don’t see this replacing the Macarena at sporting events. It sounds like one of those silly, nonsense songs that strings together a hook and some cheap rhyming chants and manages to hit at just the right moment to capture attention. Ambassador Kuehne should get a grip and ignore it. Otherwise, he may wind up promoting the record for Krause and really turning it into a classic.
Really — how many people remember “Shadduppa You Face”? Or “Rock Me Amadeus”?
And it could have been worse. Krause includes a version in his live performance about Bosnia-Herzegovina, and I won’t tell you where Krause wants the finger going in that verse.

The Last Auld Lang Syne

Dan Fogelberg left us too soon and too young at 56. He passed away earlier today after a long battle with prostate cancer. Fogelberg wrote ballads that had a knack of hewing close to the emotional bone while insinuating his deceptively simple melodies into our consciousness:

Dan Fogelberg, the singer and songwriter whose hits “Leader of the Band” and “Same Old Lang Syne” helped define the soft-rock era, died Sunday at his home in Maine after battling prostate cancer. He was 56.
His death was announced in a statement released by his family through the firm Scoop Marketing, and it was also posted on the singer’s Web site.
“Dan left us this morning at 6:00 a.m. He fought a brave battle with cancer and died peacefully at home in Maine with his wife Jean at his side,” it read. “His strength, dignity and grace in the face of the daunting challenges of this disease were an inspiration to all who knew him.”

I for one hate the “soft rock” label. Fogelberg was primarily a balladeer, with folk-music sensibilities in his songwriting. He could write with the emotional range of Jim Croce and Gordon Lightfoot, and his music was accessible while skillfully supporting the tenor of the lyrics of his songs. “Same Auld Lang Syne” might sound like easy listening, but anyone paying attention to the lyrics understood the pain and loneliness of former lovers coming to terms with their choices.
Even had that been the only song Fogelberg had given us, his career would have been noteworthy. However, he also wrote the elegant and poetic love ballad “Longer”, a sweet and heartfelt pledge for a lifetime commitment that has found its way into many wedding celebrations. Fogelberg also sang about the conundrum of what comes after passion in “Make Love Stay”, and a tribute to his father in “Leader of the Band.” Fogelberg rarely used a cheap rhyme or a trite phrase, and if people write him off as an easy-listening artist, it shows they didn’t listen close enough at all.
We will mourn Fogelberg’s passing, and selfishly regret all of the music we will never get from him. At the same time, we will hold what we have from him a little more dearly than before. Thank you, Dan. We will not forget the leader of the band.
Michelle Malkin has more.

Rap — The New Disco

The London Telegraph reports that rap music has suddenly plummeted — sales have dropped more than twice as fast as the entire ailing recording industry. Sales in 2006 came in at 21% below 2005, and this year looks even worse. The reason? Listeners have tired of misogynistic lyrics, crude paeans to violence, and the garish jewelry that once fascinated America’s youth:

Confronted with haemorrhaging sales, the most assertive popular music movement since the Sex Pistols has lost its swagger and is suffering a crisis of confidence.
This year rap and hip-hop sales are down 33 per cent, double the decline of the CD album market overall, which is under pressure from music download sites such as iTunes, where fans can buy individual songs.
In 2006, rap sold 59.1 million albums, down 21 per cent from 2005. Not one rap album made the American top 10 sellers of the year – a list headed by the saccharine tunes of the soundtrack to Disney’s made-for-television High School Musical. The bad boys of rap are now trailing the cowboys of country and the headbangers of heavy metal. …
Rap has been deserted by many white fans and middle-class blacks, apparently tiring of the “gangsta” attitude to women, racism, violence and bling – the gold rings and medallions that have made hip-hop a byword for vulgarity.

Some see this as a period of adjustment for a long-lived art form, which began in the late 1970s and exploded in the following decade. Michael Dyson, a professor of African and religious studies at Penn, says that “horrible hip-hop has to die so that regal hip-hop can live.” Most others are not as sanguine. Even media outlets that have feasted on hip-hop over the years have begun pulling away, such as Ebony Magazine removing Ludacris from its cover, and Verizon dumping Akon after his simulated sexual assault of a fifteen-year-old fan on stage.
The concerns of the language and the imagery certainly play a role in rap’s sudden decline. The case of Don Imus using common rap slang to describe the Rutgers’ women’s basketball team put the issue in high relief this year, and even race-baiting demagogues like Al Sharpton decided to go after rappers as a result. Suge Knight, who founded the worst of the gangsta-rap labels, Death Row Records, now says he will withdraw its entire catalogue and only re-release it with every single mention of the N-word bleeped out.
Can rap make a comeback? To some extent, certainly, but probably not to the levels it once enjoyed. The movement became a parody of itself, with its celebration of pimp culture and the ridiculous excesses like grilles (gaudy jewelry for the teeth, for those unfamiliar). Snoop Dogg’s selling Girls Gone Wild videos and 50 Cent is selling mineral water. The fans have tired of the power trip and have grown up. If rap artists can do the same, then maybe they’ll experience a renaissance.

Golden Gordon

My friend Scott at Power Line, who writes beautifully and with such depth about music and musicians, tonight talks about Canadian folk singer Gordon Lightfoot. In his post, “For Lightheads Only,” he discusses the phenomenon of Lightfoot’s popularity on tour maybe 20 years after he stopped charting songs:

I identify completely. I’ve been a fan of Lightfoot’s since I was a teenager. I saw him perform at Dartmouth, if I’m not mistaken, in the winter of 1970 right after “Sit Down Young Stranger” (as it was originally called) had been issued. I saw him again a few years back when he came through Minneapolis after the four-disc box set recapping his career was released in 1999. As I approached the cash register to fork over the $50 or so necessary to purchase the box set in 1999, the store clerk mockingly struck up an exaggerated version of “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” Fool!
Llightfoot has written many outstanding songs in the course of his career, although the muse seems to have deserted him some time in the early 1980’s. I’d love to continue the discussion with readers weighing in on their favorite Lightfoot songs in the thread on this post over in the Forum. Are there any takers?

I hope Scott forgives me not posting this in the Power Line forum, but I’ve meant to write something about Lightfoot for a long time. Longtime CQ readers will recall that Jim Croce is my favorite singer, and Lightfoot reminds me of Croce in a number of ways. He has a unique voice, built for folk music but also for lush ballads, which can evoke so many different emotions. Lightfoot, like Croce, can take listeners from nostalgia to despair and back again through love, all in a vocal setting so intimate even on CDs that it feels as though he’s sitting in the room with you.
I’ve always liked Lightfoot, but I don’t think I really appreciated him until John McDonald at Newsbeat1 gave me a gift of Lightfoot’s music on a trip to Canada. I took the opportunity to listen to his most well-known songs, and not just the biggest charters. Songs like Canadian Railroad Trilogy and Steel Rail Blues reminded me most of Croce, with his evocative lyrics and wistful guitar perfectly complementing his voice, reminding us of days gone by. Had Croce lived and Lightfoot had not already written the perfect sea-chanty memorial The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, I imagine Croce would have filled the void.
My favorite Lightfoot songs, though, are the ones I have known for decades: Carefree Highway, If You Could Read My MInd, and Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. They all explore loss in one way or another; the last in obvious and compelling grief for real-life victims, and the first two for the end of love. Carefree Highway looks back at a relationship that failed, and the bitter lessons of not knowing what you have when you have it:
Turnin back the pages to the times I love best
I wonder if she’ll ever do the same
Now the thing that I call livin is just bein satisfied
With knowin I got no one left to blame …
Searchin through the fragments of my dream-shattered sleep
I wonder if the years have closed her mind
I guess it must be wanderlust or tryin to get free
From the good old faithful feelin we once knew

In If You Could Read My Mind, Lightfoot explores a relationship as it dies from neglect:
And if you read between the lines
Youll know that Im just tryin to understand
The feelins that you lack
I never thought I could feel this way
And Ive got to say that I just don’t get it
I dont know where we went wrong
But the feelins gone
And I just cant get it back

And, as a bonus, one can always recall Sundown, in which Lightfoot sings about a woman who defies categorization and both frustrates and compels him with her unpredictability. Like all of Lightfoot’s music,it’s complex and layered, and also defies easy categorization. He eschewed moon-June-spoon laziness and wrote lyrics that meant something and told real stories.
So I understand why people flock to Lightfoot’s concerts, even if he hasn’t ridden the charts for years. When you have a treasure like Lightfoot, you make sure you take every chance to experience him. It’s a shame that we have never had the opportunity to do that with Jim Croce.
CORRECTION: I didn’t check the lyrics close enough from Lyricsfreak. It should be “I just don’t get it” for If You Could Read My Mind. Thanks to Adjoran for the correction. Also, be sure to check out Gaius Arbo’s post on Lightfoot, too.

Word Up — Word Out (Updated)

The fall of Don Imus may have accomplished what twenty years of finger-wagging couldn’t: to get rap to clean up its act. Influential rap mogul Russell Simmons has called for the removal of curse words from hip-hop music, especially those that carry offensive racial and sexist meanings:

Hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons said Monday that the recording and broadcast industries should consistently ban racial and sexist epithets from all so-called clean versions of rap songs and the airwaves.
Currently such epithets are prohibited in most clean versions, but record companies sometimes “arbitrarily” decide which offensive words to exclude and there’s no uniform standard for deleting such words, Simmons said.
The recommendations drew mixed reaction and come two weeks after some began carping anew about rap lyrics after radio personality Don Imus was fired by CBS Radio and NBC for referring to the players on the Rutgers university women’s basketball team as “nappy-headed hos.”
Expressing concern about the “growing public outrage” over the use of such words in rap lyrics, Simmons said the words “bitch,” “ho” and “nigger” should be considered “extreme curse words.”
“We recommend (they’re) always out,” Simmons, the pioneering entrepreneur who made millions of dollars as he helped shape hip-hop culture, said in an interview Monday. “This is a first step. It’s a clear message and a consistency that we want the industry to accept for more corporate social responsibility.”

When people like you and I complain about rap lyrics, it generates gales of laughter from the hip-hop culture. When Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson complain about it, rappers just throw more money at their organizations. When Russell Simmons says, “Enough!”, people notice. Simmons has promoted and produced rap acts for longer than some of the artists have been alive, and his opinion counts.
It doesn’t mean that everyone will agree with him. One writer, Joan Morgan, considers it nothing more than a smoke screen to cover hip-hop’s issues of misogyny and homophobia. The RIAA, busy with suing college kids over file sharing, had no comment on Simmon’s recommendation. Undoubtedly, some artists will issue objections … but Simmons will have forced them to defend themselves.
Will Simmons’ recommendations change the industry overnight? Of course not, and some artists will never change. However, when someone as influential as Simmons insists that a problem exists, then it will be harder for others to deny it, and then they have to explain why they’re not contributing to it. The degradation of women and the glorification of lowlifes like pimps has hopefully run its course, and moguls like Simmons will have to decide that first before it finally falls out of fashion.
UPDATE: I share many of the same libertarian concerns of the commenters about censorship in society, but that’s not exactly what Simmons means. In the first place, rap artists already produce those “clean” versions for radio play. Simmons wants them to stop using those words altogether, in recordings for sale as well as for airplay.
Censorship is the government placing a prior restraint on speech. If rap producers and record labels refuse to publish rap music with those words as Simmons proposes, that’s not a First Amendment issue at all. The labels own the press, not the artists, who could still perform live and use all the filthy, degrading words they wanted … but they wouldn’t reap the economic benefit of CDs. That’s a market decision, not censorship; there is no “right” to have a label record someone for commercial benefit.
Otherwise, I’d make you all listen to my version of “Margaritaville”.

Don Ho, RIP

The legendary singer of “Tiny Bubbles” died this morning of heart failure at the age of 76:

Ho entertained Hollywood’s biggest stars and thousands of tourists for four decades. For many, no trip to Hawaii was complete without seeing his Waikiki show a mix of songs, jokes, double entendres, Hawaii history and audience participation.
Shows usually started and ended with the same song, “Tiny Bubbles.” Ho mostly hummed as the audience enthusiastically took over the song’s swaying, silly lyrics: “Tiny bubbles/in the wine/make me happy/make me feel fine.”
“I hate that song,” he often joked to the crowd. He said he saved it for the end because “people my age can’t remember if we did it or not.”
The son of bar owners, Ho broke into the Waikiki entertainment scene in the early 1960s and, except for short periods, never left. Few artists are more associated with one place.

I remember first hearing the song when I was a young child, and even then, the fun of the song was in its cheesiness. What I didn’t know much about was Don Ho. The relaxed crooner had starred as a football player, winning him a college scholarship in Massachussetts until he got homesick for Hawaii. After graduating with a degree in sociology, Ho flew for the Air Force during the Korean War. He began his career as a singer because his father’s bar had started to struggle after the war and the business needed entertainment. It turned into a sensation that would last for decades.
He entertained millions in a gentle style. Don Ho will be missed.

Brad Delp, Rest In ‘Peace Of Mind’

The lead singer of Boston, one of the most talented bands of the 1970s, has died unexpectedly. Brad Delp, 55, died alone in his house, and police say no foul play is suspected:

Brad Delp, the lead singer of the 1970s and ’80s rock band Boston was found dead at his home in southern New Hampshire on Friday, local police said.
Delp, 55, apparently was home alone and there was no indication of foul play, Atkinson, New Hampshire, police said.
With Delp’s big, high-register voice, Boston scored hits with “More Than a Feeling,” “Long Time,” and “Peace of Mind.”

Boston always took its sweet time in releasing new albums, but fans could not argue with the results. Any band that produced “More Than a Feeling” would have its place in rock history, but Boston had a string of well-written, evocative hits. Whether Boston tried love songs like “Amanda” or went a bit autobiographical as in “Rock and Roll Band”, the product was always sharp, intelligent — and just plain great rock music.
The band had its problems, notably with lead guitarist Tom Scholz, whose perfectionism put years between releases and drove the band apart. Later efforts only included occasional appearances by original band members. However, the small but impressive collection with the original band still makes Boston one of the most significant monster-rock groups.
At 55, Brad Delp left us too soon. Tom Scholz wrote “Peace of Mind”, one of my favorite Boston songs, but Delp sang it — and maybe it’s a fitting song to recall:
Now everybodys got advice they just keep on givin
Doesnt mean too much to me
Lots of people out to make-believe theyre livin
Cant decide who they should be.
I understand about indecision
But I dont care if I get behind
People li vin in competition
All I want is to have my peace of mind.

I hope Delp found his.

Denny Doherty, RIP

For those who love the music of the 1960s, especially the folk-influenced rock that defined the era, the departure of Denny Doherty at 66 is a tough blow. Doherty was a member of the seminal group The Mamas And The Papas, whose brief tenure produced some of the era’s most brilliant music:

Denny Doherty, one-quarter of the 1960s folk-rock group the Mamas and the Papas, known for their soaring harmony on hits like “California Dreamin'” and “Monday, Monday,” died Friday at 66.
His sister Frances Arnold said the singer-songwriter died at his home in Mississauga, a city just west of Toronto, after a short illness. He had suffered kidney problems following surgery last month and had been put on dialysis, Arnold said.
The group burst on the national scene in 1966 with the top 10 smash “California Dreamin’.” The Mamas and the Papas broke new ground by having women and men in one group at a time when most singing groups were unisex. John Phillips, the group’s chief songwriter; his wife, Michelle; and another female vocalist, Cass Elliot, teamed with Doherty.
“Monday, Monday” hit No. 1 on the charts and won the band a Grammy for best contemporary group performance. Among the group’s other songs were “I Saw Her Again Last Night,” “Go Where You Wanna Go,” “Dancing Bear,” and versions of “I Call Your Name” and “Dedicated to the One I Love.”

For those who want to know the group’s pedigree, they sang it to us in “Creeque Alley”. Doherty, Elliot, and Phillips had bounced around the folk-music scene for some time, along with founding members of The Loving Spoonful and The Byrds. Doherty linked up musically with Elliot when she was singing with the Big Three, which consisted of her and two men doing straight folk music. The group had some national attention for a short period, and Doherty brought her to John and Michelle Phillips. After some initial difficulties, the four formed the group and sang together for less than three years.
But what an amazing run they had! The melodies soared in songs like “Monday, Monday” and “California Dreaming”. They tried older musical forms in such songs as “Words of Love” and “Dream A Little Dream Of Me”, using the amazing talent of Cass Elliot to its fullest. “I Call Your Name” is one of my favorites. It starts off low and sultry, and it gradually works itself into a showstopper.
Elliot went on to a solo career as a singer, but the rest of the group faded off to some extent. Michelle Phillips has had a good acting career, while John tried to form the group without her and Cass Elliot, using his daughter Mackenzie and Elaine “Spanky” McFarland, who had some hit songs in the 60s with Spanky & Our Gang. It didn’t fly; I attended one of the concerts in Los Angeles’ Greek Theater, and while the music was good, it didn’t have the same magic. Mackenzie, who had just joined the group, couldn’t remember the lyrics to one of her father’s new songs, which was just as well.
Doherty had taken the story of the group to Broadway in recent years. We saw him in a biography of Cass Elliot just a couple of weeks ago, and Doherty was crushingly honest in his assessment of the group and himself. He regretted that he never took up Cass’ offer to marry, saying that as a young man that he was too shallow to see past her weight to all the love she had to offer, tears forming in his eyes. Doherty seemed to be the kind of man that one would be lucky to have as a friend, and certainly a performer we were all lucky to experience — and luckier still that his performances remain with us.
Godspeed, Denny. We know you’ll be arranging more harmonies where you’re at now.

Bono And Bandmates Closet Conservatives?

U2’s Bono has made a name for himself as an anti-poverty activist, traveling the world to get Western governments to reduce barriers to trade with poverty-stricken African nations and demanding large outlays of aid to these same nations. He has argued that the wealthiest nations have shared little of their largesse with those in need. Bono has actively worked with political players of all ideologies to get a bigger financial commitment to end world hunger.
It’s somewhat ironic, as Timothy Noah points out in Slate, that Bono and his bandmates have decided to relocate their publishing business to avoid paying taxes:

A familiar paradox about leftist celebrities in the entertainment industry is that their embrace of progressivism almost never includes a wholehearted embrace of progressive taxation, i.e., the principle that the richer you get, the larger the percentage of your income you ought to pay in taxes. The latest example is U2’s Bono, a committed and unusually sophisticated anti-poverty crusader who is taking surprisingly little heat for the decision by his band, U2, to relocate its music-publishing business from Ireland to the Netherlands in order to shelter its songwriting royalties from taxation. …
“Preventing the poorest of the poor from selling their products while we sing the virtues of the free market … that’s a justice issue,” Bono said at a prayer breakfast attended by President Bush, Jordan’s King Abdullah, and various members of Congress earlier this year. Preaching this sort of thing has made Bono a perennial candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize. He continued:

Holding children to ransom for the debts of their grandparents … that’s a justice issue. Withholding life-saving medicines out of deference to the Office of Patents … that’s a justice issue.

And relocating your business offshore in order to avoid paying taxes to the Republic of Ireland, where poverty is higher than in almost any other developed nation? Bono’s hypocrisy seems even more naked when you consider that Ireland is a tax haven for artists.

Well, it used to be a tax haven. Perhaps tired of having the highest poverty rate in the developed world, Ireland put a cap on tax-free income for artists at a reasonable level of $319,000. Within months, U2 had relocated to the Netherlands, which has a more favorable tax climate.
Conservatives at this point might say, “So what?” After all, we insist that lower taxes creates wealth by keeping the money in the hands of people who can create jobs and invest in new businesses. Creating new taxes, as Ireland did, will probably kill investments and lead to greater poverty, not less. All of this is true. However, Bono has made it his mission to get governments to spend the same tax dollars on aid that his band now wants to avoid paying — more than just a minor bit of hypocrisy.
We’re all for lower taxes, and we applaud people who find ways to legally structure their finances in order to minimize their tax burden. However, when these same people then transform into scolds of Western civilization for selfishness and demand that government confiscates more money in order to transfer wealth to corrupt and dictatorial states abroad, their credibility rightly suffers.

And The Winner For Best Switchblade Artist Is …

The First Mate hates awards shows like the Oscars or the Emmys. She not only feels like they’re self-congratulatory tripe, but that they bore her to tears. She hates the speeches most of all. Most of the time, I agree, although I watch the Oscars every year, probably due to some deep-seated masochistic impulse. Fortunately, the world of hip-hop has provided a new way of making the awards exciting — by stabbing the losers:

A fight broke out near the stage at the Vibe awards ceremony as rapper Snoop Dogg and producer Quincy Jones were preparing to honor Dr. Dre., and one person was stabbed, authorities and witnesses said.
Dozens of people sitting near the stage Monday inside a hangar at the Santa Monica Municipal Airport began shoving each other as the show wound down about 7:30 p.m., a photographer who covered the event for The Associated Press said.
News video showed chairs being thrown, punches flying, people chasing one another and some being restrained.

Sounds like an exciting new development in entertainment awards, no? Maybe the Academy should try this at the Oscars. Michael Moore could square off with Ron Silver. Alec Baldwin would have a deathmatch with his brother Stephen. It may beat Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon stupefying the world with one of their incoherent political rants.
The funniest part of the story wasn’t the PR flack who called the rumble a “disruption”, seemingly equating the stabbing of a person to someone streaking the stage or picket line. It was this Suge Knight quote stressing the need to keep the Vibe awards going:

“It’s really important that we don’t take a negative incident like this and do away with the awards,” Suge Knight told reporters.

This from the man who went back to prison for beating up a parking-lot attendant while on parole. And he’s the voice of reason.
It’s time to reflect on the so-called culture of hip-hop. We’ve been multicultural about this long enough. All this has become, and probably all it ever was, was a gang war with teenagers supplying the money for weapons and drugs. The industry is one disgrace after another, terrorists selling terrorism and murder. People claim that parents thought the same thing about early rockers like Elvis Presley, but all I know is that when they put together shows, we didn’t hear about them knifing or shooting each other.