James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association and a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media.

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Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

Headaches, hot air and hell on earth

Posted by James McPherson on March 10, 2009

Another sign that I may pay too much attention to politics and media: CNN this morning carries the headline, “Hot air linked to heachaches, but how?” and I immediately think of the pain in my temples caused by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, Glenn Beck, Keith Olbermann, Chris Matthews and Lou Dobbs.

Still, with what’s going on with housing, jobs, the stock market, the rest of the economy,  Iraq, Afghanistan and, face it,  the whole rest of the world, perhaps the wonder is that we don’t all have headaches all the time.

Of course one in seven women in England may have them more often than most of us, since that’s the number of people there who apparently think it’s OK to hit a woman who nags too much or dresses inappropriately. (Note to Ann Coulter: You may want to stay out of Great Britain.)

Greeted with the results of the survey, Rihanna and women in Saudi Arabia probably thought immediately, “Only one in seven?”

Thursday Rihanna update: Apparently she and her abuser, Chris Brown, have recorded a song together since getting back together. No details are available yet on the song title, though one logical remix possibility would include Ike and Tina Turner’s  “I’m Jealous” or “I’ve Been Loving You too Long” (with the final words, “Sock it to me”), which you can see below. When/if Rihanna gets her act together, she might look to this site for other possibilities.

Posted in Journalism, Music, Politics, Science, Video, Women | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Bollywood films, like phone center jobs, likely to stay in India

Posted by James McPherson on February 23, 2009

Today CNN asks in a headline, “Is Bollywood coming to Hollywood?” It is a natural question, after the success of “Slumdog Millionaire” in the Academy Awards last night, but my answer, in a word is “no.” In more than a word, “perhaps, but not for long.”

In fact, “Slumdog” is like the main character within it: a one-time phenomenon who happens to be in the right place at the right time. Two years from now people will have a tough time remembering that it was ever named “Best Picture.” And besides, though it boasted Indian actors and locales, it wasn’t a true Bollywood-style film. The only dance number existed just to keep us around for the closing credits.

It is perhaps inevitable that we’ll see a spate of movies intending to capitalize on the success of “Slumdog.” But the novelty will be gone, and most of those films won’t be as well made (even if they have more logical endings). A few years ago some predicted that “Moulin Rouge!” and “Chicago” would “bring back the musical.”

I liked both films, and also enjoyed “Little Shop of Horrors” and “Grease,” but in fact  in fact I liked all four as much in spite of the fact that they were musicals as because they were musicals. I think most other people feel the same way, which is why if you want to see something like “Chicago” today, you do as I did last month–go see it on Broadway .

“Bollywood is not for everybody,” said one Indian film expert quoted by CNN. “People who love to see Adam Sandler movies are not going to line up to see Bollywood films.” That’s a good point, though of course there are a lot of us who are not generally inclined to see either one. 

After I saw the definitely non-musical “The Wedding Singer,” I told my wife, “Life is too short for me to ever sit through another Adam Sandler movie.” I hear he’s done some good work since then, but so have a lot of other, more talented people whose films I haven’t yet seen. Some of those films have even won Academy Awards, a fate unlikely for either Bollywood or Adam Sandler.

Posted in History, Media literacy, Music | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Music dies; parents watching Super Bowl nearly do the same

Posted by James McPherson on February 2, 2009

CNN reminds us that it has now been 50 years since “the day the music died,” coincidentally in the same state where many presidential campaigns throughout history have crashed and burned. Buddy Holly was the most important of the musicians who died in the crash, which also claimed teen singer Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper Richardson (and would have killed one of my personal favorites, Waylon Jennings, if he had not given his seat to a flu-bitten Richardson).

Holly brought us songs that included “That’ll Be the Day,” “Peggy Sue,” “Oh, Boy!” and the last song he ever performed, the ironically titled “Not Fade Away.” The crash brought perhaps my favorite rock song, of all time, Don McLean’s “American Pie” (the meaning of which isn’t totally clear; McLean famously said, “It means I don’t ever have to work again.”), sung by Garth Brooks and a cast of thousands at Barack Obama’s Inauguration Concert.

I was at an impressionable age for music when the song came out (I turned 13 shortly after that) and a big fan of 1950s music in general (despite being only only six months old when Holly died). A few years later even modified McLean’s chorus to fit my first car (a 1966 Valiant): “Bye, bye, Miss American Pie; drove my Plymouth to the limit but the limit ain’t high. The others drinkin’ whiskey, and I guess so was I. If my ol’ man finds out then I’ll die.”

The song is also very long, meaning it never got as much airtime as I thought it deserved–and less after pre-programmed corporate radio meant fewer DJs who needed bathroom breaks. But you can see an early live YouTube video of McLean performing “American Pie” below.

On another media topic that brings to mind the words, “O, Boy!” and “Not Fade Away” (a song later recorded by the Rolling Stones, the Grateful Dead, the Supremes, the Beatles, Deep Purple and Rush, among others), parents in Tucson have to wishing they could erase from memory the surprise images that appeared during yesterday’s game. Some residents of the Cardinals’ state saw what had to be the longest 10 seconds of any Super Bowl party in history.

Despite the fact that viewers saw the unzipping of pants in this case apparently not because of a “wardrobe malfunction,” but instead through the act of a hacker, cable executives are probably just hoping they can avoid a lawsuit.

That’ll be the day.

Posted in History, Legal issues, Music, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Uncle Jay’s take on 2008

Posted by James McPherson on January 1, 2009

As a brief follow-up to yesterday’s JibJab post, here’s “Uncle Jay’s” musical look at the past year. (Thanks for the link, M&M.) Happy New Year!

Posted in History, Music, Politics, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Merry Christmas! Twelve YouTube Christmas videos

Posted by James McPherson on December 24, 2008

After posting for 23 consecutive days (and 33 of 34), I’m taking a few days off for Christmas. As my holiday greeting to all of you, whether you’ve been bad or good, I’m posting YouTube versions of a dozen of my favorite Christmas videos below. Nat King Cole’s “A Christmas Song” might normally top the list, but Queen’s “Thank God It’s Christmas” seems especially appropriate this year.

One warning: The last two are difficult to watch, and therefore perhaps the most important. Frankly I think everyone should see the last one, but if reality bothers you more than reality TV does, you may want to hold off on this video until after Christmas Day–perhaps just before you do your New Year’s resolutions.

Queen: Thank God It’s Christmas

Nat King Cole: The Christmas Song

Mariah Carey: O Holy Night

Mahalia Jackson: Go Tell It On the Mountain

Willie Nelson: Pretty Paper

Celtic Women: In the Bleak Midwinter/The First Noel

David Bowie and Bing Crosby: Little Drummer Boy

Kristin Chenoweth: Do You Hear What I Hear?

Sarah McLachlan: Wintersong

Enya: Silent Night (Irish)

Band Aid: Do They Know It’s Christmas?

John Lennon: Happy Christmas (War is Over)

 

 

Posted in History, Music, Personal, Politics, Religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

MTV: Moronic TeleVision

Posted by James McPherson on December 22, 2008

MTV, which became almost unwatchable at about the same time Jerry Springer somehow became cool, is undergoing another major programming shift, according to Variety. According to the article, because of a ratings slide, the once-revolutionary network “is embarking on a major programming overhaul, with 16 new unscripted series over the next 4½ months.”

MTV first aired Aug. 1, 1981, meaning it now finds itself older than the audience it wants to attract. In fact, there are few things more sad than somone pushing 30 who is trying to hang with people who just hit the legal drinking age.

Occasionally the network does try to act its age, as with some of its political activities. But now MTV execs, who recently have brought us such classics as “Paris Hilton’s My New BFF,” “A Double Shot at Love” and  “My Super Sweet 16“–three shows that seem to be designed to prompt America-haters  to fly planes into buildings and which the CIA might consider as a suitable alternative to waterboarding–have decided that there’s a shortage of reality television shows on cable?

In memory of what once was, below is the first video that appeared on MTV –The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star.” And in memory of music videos in general, largely replaced on televison by YouTube, below that video is The Wrong Trousers version of the same song (a version that has received about 1.4 million fewer hits than the Buggles’ video).

Posted in History, Media literacy, Music, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Burn a flag for the Fourth

Posted by James McPherson on July 3, 2008

The Fourth of July weekend is an appropriate time to discuss patriotism and its ultimate icon, the American Flag. Barack Obama and liberals draw considerable criticism for failing to honor the flag in ways deemed appropriate by conservatives, while some self-defined patriots apparently can’t wait to find new ways to use the flag to break the law.

As fearful as some conservatives and weak-willed legislators are about flag-burning liberals, I’d be willing to bet that more conservatives than liberals will engage in unlawful flag-related behavior this weekend–in many cases an unfortunate byproduct of combining patriotism with ignorance. And that would be true even if flag burning were made illegal, rather than just being the legally proper way to dispose of a worn flag.

Part of the problem comes because many people seem to consider the flag a religious symbol. Most don’t go as far as the Ku Klux Klan, which may offer the most extreme version of conflating patriotism and Christianity (its two “guiding principles) with its three primary symbols, “the Flag, the Constitution and the Holy Bible”–though for some modern variations of the Klan (others here and here), the Stars and Bars flag seems to be more important than the Stars and Stripes. But while most conservatives have little in common with the Klan, the various apparel versions of “these colors don’t run” T-shirts also fetishize the flag. I’m no Jehovah’s Witness, but I do appreciate the Witness’ Supreme Court-approved stance that saluting the flag (which I do, incidentally, though I don’t own a flag pin) might be deemed idolatry.

George H.W. Bush campaigned in front of a flag factory and won points by berating Michael Dukakis for vetoing a bill (which would have been unconstitutional), requiring public teachers to lead the Pledge of Allegiance (which Bush himself had never recited as a student, though Dukakis had). Bush’s actions prompted cartoonist Garry Trudeau to drape his invisible Bush characterization with a U.S. flag.

Conservative wingnuts, helped by the mainstream media, now are using flag pins and the National Anthem to try to portray Obama as non-patriotic (Time offers a short history of the relatively brief life of the flag pin). Yet many of those same conservatives regularly violate the U.S. Flag Code, adopted during the hyper-patriotism of World War II.

Here are some relevant sections of the flag code, along with examples of the law being violated–including by the current president Bush:

“The flag should form a distinctive feature of the ceremony of unveiling a statue or monument, but it should never be used as the covering for the statue or monument.”

 

“The flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, the floor, water, or merchandise.”

“The flag should never be carried flat or horizontally, but always aloft and free.”

“The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery.”

 

“The flag should never have placed upon it, nor on any part of it, nor attached to it any mark, insignia, letter, word, figure, design, picture, or drawing of any nature.”

 George Bush desecrates a flag:

“The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever. It should not be embroidered on such articles as cushions or handkerchiefs and the like, printed or otherwise impressed on paper napkins or boxes or anything that is designed for temporary use and discard.”

  

“No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform. However, a flag patch may be affixed to the uniform of military personnel, firemen, policemen, and members of patriotic organizations.”

 

“The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.”

The fact is, how best to express one’s patriotism can be complicated. For example, my three favorite versions of the National Anthem, all of which in the right circumstances can still bring tears to my eyes, all feature performers who would not even have been fully recognized as people when this nation was founded. The first, by Jimi Hedrix, is an anti-war version performed during Woodstock. The second might be viewed as a pro-war version, performed by Whitney Houston at the Super Bowl during the first Persian Gulf War. And in the third basketball coach Mo Cheeks rescued a young girl who under pressure forgot the words to the song. I’ve posted YouTube versions of all three below.

The complications of patriotism are discussed further in an excellent essay by Time‘s Peter Beinart, who points out that common liberal and conservative versions of patriotism both are flawed:

When it comes to patriotism, conservatives and liberals need each other, because love of country requires both affirmation and criticism. It’s a good thing that Americans fly the flag on July 4. In a country as diverse as ours, patriotic symbols are a powerful balm. And if people stopped flying the flag every time the government did something they didn’t like, it would become an emblem not of national unity but of political division. On the other hand, waving a flag, like holding a Bible, is supposed to be a spur to action. When it becomes an end in itself, America needs people willing to follow in the footsteps of the prophets and remind us that complacent ritual can be the enemy of true devotion.

Patriotism should be proud but not blind, critical yet loving. And liberals and conservatives should agree that if patriotism entails no sacrifice, if it is all faith and no works, then something has gone wrong. The American who volunteers to fight in Iraq and the American who protests the war both express a truer patriotism than the American who treats it as a distant spectacle with no claim on his talents or conscience.

So honor your country this Fourth of July by burning a U.S. flag, if your own flag is worn out. Then replace it with a clean new one, symbolic of America’s promise as well as its past.

Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock

Whitney Houston at the Super Bowl

Mo Cheeks and Natalie Gilbert

Posted in History, Legal issues, Music, Politics, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 39 Comments »

Kumbaya Dems

Posted by James McPherson on June 27, 2008

As I predicted last month, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are quickly mending fences, and their camps seem to be coming together. In typically snide fasion, Fox News titled the joint appearance of the former rivals “Kiss and Make Up” on its opening page today (right under the headline “Rodents Weaken, Bust Mississippi River Levee,” and who knows rodents better than Fox?), and at the bottom of its story offered a link to “a video flashback of the tiffs Obama and Clinton have had over the past several months.” But if Fox is testy, the Democrats must be doing something right.

Obama is helping Clinton retire the massive debt that he helped her accumulate. Obviously his choice to help her pay her bills–and to encourage his supporters to help her, as well–is justified for multiple reasons. Not only will the fundraising help build party unity and perhaps improve his standing among embittered Clinton supporters, frankly, Obama owes her a great deal.

He owes her because her relatively lengthy and spirited campaign built the party base and made Obama a better candidate. No surprise here, since I predicted that would be the case, just as I noted that most Clinton supporters would end up voting for Obama–which, despite a wishful story from Fox News and predictions from a few pundits, polls suggest they will. Even Bill is climbing on board and will work for Obama, despite earlier problems between them, as other Clinton faithful do the same.

All in all, the right steps have been taken toward unity. And if they can hold it together, using one another’s strengths, Democrats will have good reason to be singing the second verse of Kumbaya (“Someone’s laughing, Lord, Kumbaya…”) in November, while Republicans may be singing the third (“Someone’s crying, Lord, Kumbaya…”). For now, Dems are practicing the fourth verse: (“Someone’s praying, Lord, Kumbaya…”). Too bad the once-classic song has itself pretty much become parody, like much of American politics.

 

Posted in Journalism, Music, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Folk music, storytelling and the Bush administration’s “935 lies”

Posted by James McPherson on May 27, 2008

Utah Phillips is gone and another of my favorite songwriter/storytellers, Rosalie Sorrels, is a mostly retired 74-year-old great-grandmother. Of course there are other folk singers and storytellers, some much better known than those two. Pete Seeger just turned 89, and doesn’t seem to be slowing down much. A combination of government malfeasance, coffeehouses and assorted free thinkers and semi-hippies of all ages probably will assure the survival of the genre. But it’s doubtful that any will characterize the West or the labor movement–How many today knows what a Wobbly is?–in the same way as Utah or Rosalie

We need their ilk. Slaves, civil Rights leaders and others have long known that when you’re singing it’s more difficult to be fearful. And politics is one of those things–maybe the main thing–made for the saying, “If you don’t laugh, you’ll cry.” So in memory of Utah Phillips, in a music video you won’t see on MTV (come to think of it, that now includes pretty much any video), here is a link to comic Harry Shearer’s “935 Lies,” based on the Center for Public Integrity’s Iraq War Card project.

That project documented 935 false statements about Iraq from George Bush  and seven other top administration officials in the two years following September 11, 2001. “Nearly five years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, an exhaustive examination of the record shows that the statements were part of an orchestrated campaign that effectively galvanized public opinion and, in the process, led the nation to war under decidedly false pretenses,” note the authors of the project.

Shearer is best known for his work on The Simpsons, This is Spinal Tap, Saturday Night Live, For Your Consideration and A Mighty Wind.

Posted in Media literacy, Music, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Utah Phillips and other dead patriots

Posted by James McPherson on May 25, 2008

This is the weekend that we honor those who died while serving their country. I also appreciated Bob Schieffer’s “Face the Nation” words from this morning: “Let us remember as well the wounded, those who came home from the battle not as God made them, but as war has left them.” Schieffer’s comments came after he offered a short eulogy for Jimmy Carter’s former chief of staff Hamilton Jordan, who died last week.

Of course this weekend is and should be primarily about dead soldiers, those who gave the ultimate sacrifice while trying to defend the nation’s values. Their service is not made less honorable–though it is more tragic–because their deaths were often unnecessary, precipitated by criminally stupid national leaders who themselves sacrificed almost nothing. But the Memorial Day weekend also has become a time for many families to remember other loved ones who have died, and I would like to take the opportunity to note a couple of other men who died in the past couple of days.

One of my favorite patriots, Utah Phillips, died Friday night. He was a former homeless hobo and Korean War veteran who became famous as a folk singer and storyteller (coincidentally, I quoted him in a post just last week). After serving for three years in the military he became a pacifist and a major supporter of workers’ rights. I have a brief recording of Phillips reciting World War I anti-war poetry, which I use in my media history class. One of the poems, titled “I Love My Flag,” goes:

I love my flag, I do, I do.
Which floats upon the breeze,
I also love my arms and legs,
And neck, and nose and knees.
One little shell might spoil them all
Or give them such a twist,
They would be of no use to me;
I guess I won’t enlist.

I love my country, yes, I do
I hope her folks do well.
Without our arms, and legs and things,
I think we’d look like hell.
Young men with faces half shot off
Are unfit to be kissed,
I’ve read in books it spoils their looks,
I guess I won’t enlist.

While still in college in the 1970s, I became a member of a loose-knit “Utah Phillips Fan Club” made up mostly of a group of my father’s friends, which “convened” on occasion to drink Olympia beer, tell stories (some from Phillips, most generated by members of the club) and listen to music. Though I’m sure many others have done the same, I’m the only person I know who saw him perform in three different states: in Idaho while I was in college in the late ’70s, at a private home when I lived in Arizona in the late ’80s or early ’90s, and later when I was in grad school at Washington State University. My wife was with me on the latter two occasions, and Utah memorably told her daughter–who had proclaimed him her new “hero”–not to have any still-living heroes, because they’d inevitably end up disappointing her.

“Good Though” (Moose Turd Pie) was Utah’s most famous story, but my favorite morality tale of his involved a little bird that postponed its flight south for the winter, nearly froze to death, was warmed by cow manure and then, after singing happily, was eaten by a cat. The moral: “The one who craps on you isn’t necessarily your enemy, the one who digs you out of a pile of crap isn’t necessarily your friend, and if you’re up to neck in crap it’s best to keep your mouth shut.” 

Another noteworthy passing, from yesterday, is that of Dick Martin. He was most famous for “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In,” which debuted in 1968, which Richard Nixon speechwriter Patrick Buchanan called the worst year in American history. What many people forget today, when it has become commonplace for political figures to appear with Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, is that in September of that year Nixon appeared on “Laugh-In.” Less than two months before being elected president, the famously uptight Nixon intoned one of the show’s catchphrases as a question, “Sock it to me?” Perhaps a 25-year-old Bob Woodward and a 24-year-old Carl Bernstein were watching.

Below: Utah Phillips, in one of his later appearances, shares some of his politics.

Posted in History, Journalism, Media literacy, Music, Personal, Poetry, Politics, Video | Tagged: , , , , , | 4 Comments »