Mikey Green With Certain Anarchy

Mikey’s Blog

“I’m trying to get a Master’s Degree. College students who have time to write “Blogs,” scare me. I just post my research papers.”

 

“Drugs at War; Just Say No to Failed Public Policy”

Nathan Hayes sits alone on his porch in inner-city Philadelphia. And for Hayes it’s just a typical day of waiting on nothing in particular to happen. “Once you get out of prison, it’s hard to find a job,” (paraphrased, Pillischer, Broken On All Sides).

Hayes ended up with a job given to him by a relative. But he, and others like him are third class citizens. He’s one of a growing number of men and women for whom functioning society sees little or no value. Convicted on a drug charge and released from prison in 2007 Hayes must always check a little box on employment applications that render all his former work experience invalid, and his job application bound for a waste basket. The little box asks, “Have you ever been convicted of a Felony?” Hayes is a lucky one. Others in his shoes sit alone outside rundown Philadelphia apartments day after day, waiting for nothing.

Illicit illegal drugs harm our society and ruin lives. But the “war on drugs” is not a human conflict we can win by sheer force, alone. Our current public policy of heavy law enforcement and incarceration actually does more harm than good because it fails to combat the core problem of drug use and traps non-violent offenders in a lifetime bunker of poverty and struggle. Especially minorities and the poor. Our current drug laws must be replaced by a structured system of prevention and treatment, and our justice system should recognize addiction as a victimless crime and mental health disease.

It’s a personal issue as complex and old as the story of humanity. We did not arrive from civilization’s first vats of beer in Egypt and Babylon to mandatory sentencing for drug addiction in 21st century America, on a smooth river of time. More like a roaring rapids of politics, ideology, and even racism.

“Those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” -Original Author Unknown

According to the American History textbook Liberty, Equality, Power drug use, especially alcohol are sewn into the very fabric of American life and politics. It is a fact of not only American history but of world history in general, that the use of distilled spirits often saved entire civilizations from water-born bacterial diseases, and the early Puritan settlers were no exception to world history. The authors report Puritan ships often carried up to three times as much beer as water. Yet they record, although the use of liquor was very common it always centered around a strict paternal order of the time period. People drank whiskey at supper, at barn dances, weddings, funerals, militia musters, dances, and even in court, where judges and juries shared the jug (Murrin et al. 421). Illicit drugs such as opiates and cocaine were perfectly legal and could be purchased at local drug stores. But a few changing dynamics began to threaten these loose social mores regarding alcohol and drugs, not the least of which is the historic struggle between the major political parties and the ugliness of racism (422).

These historians say the first dynamic that led to the very first temperance movements of the antebellum period, was the run-away train of consumption. 50 years after the American Revolution, farmers often found themselves with surpluses of grain they turned into whiskey. Water and milk were often spoiled or contaminated, and whiskey was cheaper than coffee or tea. They say the nation embraced whiskey as the national drink, and per capita, Americans drank three to five gallons of whiskey per year (422). That’s three times the amount it is in 2014. As Americans migrated to urban areas consumers, especially young men, began to find themselves without the paternal controls and social order that held drunkenness in check. Controlled and stable patterns of using alcohol were replaced by the solitary binge drinking we commonly associate today with alcoholism (423). This is the moment in history when prohibition hits the radar screen of the two national political parties of the era, the Whigs and the Democrats.

America’s first crude drug laws were efforts by Northern Whigs to restrict or deny liquor licenses, over the opposition of Southern Democrats who believed the government had no right to control the behavior of its citizens (425). As immigrants poured in from Europe during the 1800’s, however, many Northern Democrats who had championed personal liberty over any forms of prohibition began to join with the Whigs as a means to control immigrant German, Catholic, and Irish communities. Outright prohibition was established in Main in 1851 and throughout New England, as a direct backlash to the increasing numbers of European Catholics and Irish settling in the North (427). And so, the pattern of using legal prohibitions and coercive public policy as a form of social control by one racial group over another was set in motion. Ironically, by the same coalition of voters who would form the Republican Party of Abraham Lincoln.

It is also at this point in history the great citadels of our failed modern drug policy are literally being built: prisons. There was no need for large structures to hold undesirables in an agrarian culture spread out over rural farmlands. However, beginning in the 1820’s British-style institutions to house orphans, the dependent poor, the insane and criminals were constructed by state governments, and once again, partisan politics played a central role (420). Historians tell us the Whigs wanted prisons to be rehabilitation centers aimed at changing the nature of criminals and teaching them to become productive citizens. The Democrats believed criminals should go to prison only to be punished. They wanted prisons to be work camps, where criminals paid back their debt to society (425). This disagreement over the role of prisons rages on today. It’s the very heart of debate to establish a more forward looking national drug policy.

According to civil-rights author Robert Taylor, outright covert racism moves us from the early history of alcohol and the antebellum reform movements, to the beginning of our modern public policies banning of the very existence of illicit drugs. He reports in 1875, San Francisco became the first city to ban the smoking of opium, because city fathers heard rumors that white women were being lured into opium dens by Chinese immigrants so they could have sex with them. A Federal law was quickly passed outlawing the trafficking of opium by “Anyone of Chinese origin” (Taylor). There was no attempt by the Federal Government to hide or cover-up 19th century racist views. Americans could still purchase opium. Just not from a Chinese person.

Taylor reports that on February 11, 1914 the New York Times began running a series of stories that Southern black men were running rampant while high on cocaine and attacking white women. The hyperbolic reports even said, “Most of the attacks upon white women of the South are the direct result of the ‘cocaine crazed negro brain.’” The phrase “cocaine crazed negro“ electrified and terrified the entire nation at the time according to Taylor. Thus he believes these sensationalized stories by the New York Times and other newspapers, plus dime store novels featuring lurid fiction of drug crime and interracial sex, led to passage of the 1914 Harrison Narcotics Act. This was not an outright ban on marijuana, heroin or cocaine but best effort by our Federal Government to bring these drugs under Federal taxation as a means of control. Enter the grandfather of the modern “war on drugs” Harry Anslinger, the head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. His agency was established in 1930 by Congress to assume enforcement duties of the growing number of anti-drug laws on the books (Taylor).

Taylor says Anslinger “warned the nation in openly racist fashion that Jazz and marijuana had blacks and whites sitting as equals and even ‘dancing together in teahouses.’” Taylor claims Anslinger also concocted stories of Mexican immigrants who used marijuana and became so crazy that they committed violence against whites. Armed with blatantly racist accounts, Anslinger headed to Congress and the result was the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act which effectively criminalized all distribution of marijuana and illicit drugs (Taylor). It was signed into law under Democrat Franklin Roosevelt, who would years later authorize the internment of American citizens of Japanese descent during World War II. The glaring fact is, our entire history of jurisprudence and public policy regarding prohibitions are steeped in blatant racial politics. Nor were any anti-drug laws ever conceived to combat the core problem of drug addiction.

I was asked by a group of children what to do if they were offered drugs, and I answered, “Just say no.”     – Nancy Reagan (speech to the nation) September 14, 1986

There is no need to debate public policy concerning drugs and addiction, as the Antebellums did, based upon political ideology or racial nativism. We have miraculous 21st century machines which use magnetic resonance to peer directly inside the human brain. No sane person wakes up in the morning thinking, “Wow I wanna destroy my life today. What a great day to cause myself existential pain and make my family suffer.” It’s my experience, as the birth son of a San Francisco Bay drug dealer, that not even the threat of prison will deter a drug addict from acting out that very scenario, each and every day. Our modern drug policy is not based in any form of 2014 reality, because most modern mental-health experts agree drug addiction is a disease of bad or defective brains- not bad and defective people. An addict has no ability to “just say no” and needs affordable and readily available treatment, not prison.

Janet B.W. Williams and Kathleen Ell, are the authors of an important industry journal for social workers called Mental Health Research: Implications for Practice, and their 1998 volume of research leads to thought provoking conclusions. They write, “The medicalization of addiction -the ’disease model’- has become dominant and the dependence on alcohol or drugs is now perceived by most helping professionals, and by an increasing proportion of the public, as an illness rather than a moral weakness … A generation from now, researchers and practitioners will perceive our present understanding of addictive process as flawed, just as we now view as naïve the conceptualizations of substance abuse from decades past” ( 441- 442).

This means just four years after Congress passed one of the toughest drug bills in history in 1994, mental-health professionals, doctors, medical researchers and social workers, leaped entire light years ahead of our elected officials in understanding drugs and addiction. Indeed, Williams and Ell indicate the issue has nothing to do with simple lawlessness or disdain for social order but mental illness (441). Hiring a new sheriff to weed out the bad elements in town is an antiquated and lazy way for politicians to appear tough on crime while remaining “naïve” about the issue. At least since 1998 social workers consider addiction no more of a crime than cancer.

According to Williams and Ell, all the best and latest scientific research concludes that drug use and addiction are mental health issues. They report every addict suffers from a type of brain disease, because the nerve receptors in addict’s brain which transport important survival chemicals such as dopamine, norpinephrine, and serotonin are either damaged or broken (187). In other words, while normal brains may find joy in a setting sun, a satisfying supper, or even juicy gossip at work around the water cooler, the addict’s brain does not transport these chemicals in great enough quantities to find the same joy in these simple pleasures. The authors relate addicts need outside “help” for their brains to meet the level of these chemicals necessary for human life. The frontal lobe, where ability to make sound decisions lay in the brain, is over-ridden by “neurotransmitter system irregularities” and links the chemicals in drugs to outright survival (187). Williams and Ell instruct social workers that for the addict, only treatment not prison, can combat the core mental health problems of addiction.

“We didn’t land on Plymouth Rock; the rock was landed on us.” -Malcolm X (Washington Heights, NY) March 29, 1964.

Sabrina Branch is a 10-year-old black girl living in Baltimore. In their book, The Politics of Injustice, Authors Katherine Beckett and Theodore Sasson tell her story, and return to the argument that our current system is broken along racial lines. They write that the fathers of 7 out of 15 of Sabrina’s black math classmates had been in prison. And astoundingly, they report that “in Baltimore and nearby Washington D.C. more than half of all African American men between the ages of 18 and 35 are under the supervision of the justice system” (2). Sabrina lives with her grandmother along with her 3 brothers because her own father is in prison for selling drugs. The authors claim Mr. Branch tried to get treatment before his imprisonment but there are only 15,000 treatment beds in the Baltimore area to serve over 60,000 addicts. So instead, he ended up in the justice system and behind bars. The story doesn‘t end with Sabrina‘s father, between 1980 and 2001 prison incarceration exploded nationally by over 300%, from 500,000 to just over 2 million (2).

Author Angela Davis goes even further in her book, Are Prisons Obsolete. Davis argues prisons themselves are racist institutions, born out of 19th century imperialism and the discarded historic notion of the “white man’s burden” (Davis 51). Davis cites Bureau of Justice Statistics to point out in 1990 1 in 4 black males were in prison, and this increased to 1 in 3 by 1995, a jump of 32% in just five years. The incarceration of black women, (once again linked to the war on drugs and mandatory sentencing,) exploded by 78% (19). She argues that the entire prison system is an outgrowth of Southern “black codes” (29) which many who study history know, were largely enforced all the way to the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Davis also points out the extreme growth of “for profit” prisons in the last century, totaling 828, despite the fact that actual crime rates have been in steep decline since the 1970’s (94).

Statistics provided by our nation’s top law enforcement agency lend credence to Davis’ argument, at least to the idea that poor and minority communities suffer the most under our current drug laws. The FBI reports that almost 1,200,000 total citizens were arrested on “drug abuse violations” in 2012. Of these total arrests, just over 800,000 were Caucasian while nearly 400,000 of these arrests were blacks or minorities (FBI). Beckett and Sasson shed light on this statistic. African Americans make up only 13% of the United States population, yet account for 30% of the arrests on drug abuse violations. The National Survey on Drug Use reports African Americans use drugs at a monthly rate of 13% of all users and this is in exact proportion of their numbers in the over-all population (163). According to our own government, African Americans are arrested on drug charges at twice the rate of white users. Beckett and Sasson also relate that the cost of prisons rose from 7 billion to 50 billion from 1980 to 2000, and we now spend a whopping 150 billion per year on incarceration, fighting the war on drugs. Law enforcement in this effort has leaped from 15 billion annually to 65 billion in the last two decades (4). For Sabrina Branch and over half her black classmates at least, the current war on drugs is not only a national boondoggle but a totally devastating reality of public policy failure.

As Davis points out in her book, treatment at the Betty Ford clinic is $1,175.00 for the first six days and $525.00 per day after the first week (109). Pocket change for the wealthy who seek mental health treatment for addiction, but an impossible financial diversion from prison for poor and minority communities. Davis also reminds us that the 1994 Crime Bill, signed by Democrat Bill Clinton ended Pell Grants for those convicted of a felony (55-56). It appears, people arrested for drugs cease to be even second-class citizens. They become third-class citizens who will struggle finding education, work, housing, or productive lives. Imagine if we treated all our citizens who suffer from cancer, or diabetes, or muscular dystrophy in the same callous manner.

 “America’s public enemy number one in the United States is drug abuse. In order to fight and defeat this enemy, it is necessary to wage a new, all-out offensive.” -President Richard Nixon (speech to the nation) June 17, 1971

Becket and Sasson acknowledge the 1960’s were a turbulent time in American history. Yet besides protests against the war in Vietnam, race riots, and political assassinations, something else took place that has a great impact upon our current drug laws. Republican Barry Goldwater ran for President in 1964 and planted the seeds of a modern conservative movement (53). Many grandparents recall Goldwater’s TV commercials decried violence in streets and touted the need to “restore order.” Goldwater’s campaign for President unleashed a white conservative backlash against the entire decade of the 1960’s. Richard Nixon successfully reaped the harvest of this backlash in 1968 devising what is known as the Southern Strategy. Southern whites not only wanted law and order but also resented the passage of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964, and the Voting Rights Acts of 1965. Nixon exploited these issues to break southern whites from the Democratic Party -the party of the Confederacy- in an historic shift of the American electorate (52-54).

Beckett and Sasson explain religious conservatives also bolted to the Republican Party in the late 1970’s. Once inside the tent of Republican politics these religious conservatives joined forces with fiscally conservative “Barry Goldwater Republicans” who wanted to dismantle the welfare state and the era of big government conceived and expanded by Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson, respectively. The end result and modern political reality is the existing monolith of white conservative American voters. A political machine that cries “soft on crime” if this topic is even discussed by any serious politician on a national level. Not even the most liberal national democrat can touch the argument of changing from incarceration to treatment for fear of appearing weak on crime (64-65).

The brain freeze upon evolving our archaic and draconian drug policy into an enlightened modern approach is because Nixon cemented the modern war on drugs (began Anslinger) by passing the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. The modern Republicans under Ronald Reagan turned this public drug policy into American jurisprudence rivaling only the 10 Commandments in its reach and scope of political hierarchy (59-60). Therefore, the main arguments against changing our nation’s public drug policy from incarceration to treatment begin where they started in the 19th century, entrenched in partisan ideology and racial politics. And now in 2014, also etched in stone.

“Winning the crusade against drugs will not be achieved by just throwing money at the problem.”   -President Ronald Reagan (speech to the nation) September 14, 1986

In terms of real solutions, Beckett and Sasson introduce the concept of “harm reduction.” The first notion they say is that humans have used mind altering substances since we first climbed down from the trees and the use of drugs is inevitable in all societies (193). Therefore, decriminalization of all drugs is the first step. Punish crime not drug use. If a person robs a liquor store or steals a car, this is crime. Simply possessing drugs is no harm to others. Yet under our current system, drug offenders exit prison in worst condition to society than before they were arrested. Eliminate true existential harm being done by our current policy, and the drug cartels, by decriminalizing drugs all-together (195).

A less radical approach is treatment sentencing. If we will not outright decriminalize drugs, the least we can do is change the stigma attached to drug possession and imprisonment while saving billions of dollars. Scholars Doug McVay, Vincent Shiraldi and Jason Zeidenberg are the authors of Treatment Or Incarceration. They estimate the average yearly cost of incarcerating a drug offender is over twenty-thousand-dollars. Yearly cost of treatment: four-thousand-dollars (6). They found for every $1.00 dollar spent on treatment of a cocaine addict, the yield is $7.48. And the authors claim “treatment is three times more effective than mandatory minimum prison sentences” (6).

They suggest all drug related offenses should be sent to “drug court” not criminal court, and tout the over-whelming success of California’s Proposition 36 passed in 2000. More than 12,000 drug offenders qualified for the program in its flagship year. These first time offenders did not enter the justice system but a special state drug court if they qualified. This law saves the state $22,500 per offender each year (15). These alternative solutions such as Proposition 36, (while not as controversial as decriminalization,) constitute a sea change of public policy on the issue of drug use and addiction.

“Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.”   -Jesus Christ (Matthew 7:12 NET)

As Nathan Hayes sits alone in Philadelphia, perhaps he ponders a better world where he had an option to find treatment for his drug dependency before he was arrested. Instead, he must contemplate his time spent in two prisons. The Pennsylvania State Penitentiary, followed by the mandatory life-time stigma of his drug conviction.

Little Sabrina Branch sat with a local reporter who was writing a story about the epidemic of blacks who were being arrested in Baltimore. Sabrina told the journalist that she once had to sit in a court-room hallway as her cousin awaited his mandatory sentence on drug possession: “I saw all these women. They were being led down the hallway in leg shackles. It made me think, is that going to be my mother? Or my aunt? It could be one of my relatives. Who will be next?” (Beckett and Sasson 2).

Obviously, the ancient Egyptians or Babylonians could not have known that 10,000 years after the invention of beer, we moderns would be locking people in prison for choosing to ingest mind-altering substances. They could not have predicted that a group of white European Puritans would sail to North America and bring with them not only alcohol but religion, and racism. Yes, the issues of addiction are as vast and complex as the people who choose to break our modern drug laws. But our current system of heavy law enforcement and incarceration does more harm than good and accomplishes nothing. The core problems of drug use and addition remain unchallenged and our current laws simply relegate former prisoners -and their families- into a lifetime of poverty and struggle. The militaristic style “war on drugs” must be scrapped and replaced by a comprehensive public policy of prevention and treatment, dealing with drug use and addiction as a victimless crime and most importantly, as a mental health issue. I’ll drink to that.

Works Cited:

Beckett, Katherine, and Theodore Sasson. The Politics of Injustice: Crime and  Punishment in

America,” Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2004. Print.

Broken On All Sides: Race, Mass Incarceration & New Visions for Criminal  Justice in the

United States. Dir. Matthew Pillischer. Collective Eye Films,  2012. DVD.

Federal Bureau of Investigation. “Arrests By Race: 2012 [By Offense Charged].”  ProQuest

Statistical Abstract of the U.S. 2014 Online Edition. Ed. ProQuest,  2014. Web: ProQuest

Statistical Abstract 11/5/14

Davis, Angela. Are Prisons Obsolete. New York: Seven Stories Press. 2003. Web. 14 Nov. 2014

Douglas, Anthony. The Right And The Drug War. Theamericanconservative.com 12 Sept. 2012.

14 Nov. 2014.

McVay, Doug, Vincent Schiraldi, and Jason Ziedenberg. Treatment or Incarceration? National

and State Findings on the Efficacy and Cost Savings of Drug Treatment Versus Imprisonment.Justicepolicy.org. Justic Policy Institute, Jan. 2004. Web. 14 Nov. 2014.

Murrin, John M. et al.  Paul. Liberty, Equality, Power: A History of America,

Boston: Wadsworth. 2008. Print.

Taylor, Robert. The Racist History of The War On Drugs. Dogonvillage.com. 2008. Web.  14

Nov. 2014.

Williams, Janet, and Kathleen Ell, Mental Health Research: Implications For

Practice.  Washington DC: NASW Press, 1998. Print.

 

—————————————————————————————————————————–

 

Reflections: “The Self and Social Behaviors in Differing Cultures” in 400 Words

“Culture is to society what memory is to the person,” (Triandis 1989).

I find this concept to be the most salient information about how culture defines “the self.” Triandis tells us that “loose” or heterogeneous societies allow a greater degree of deviation from shared norms than “tight” or homogeneous cultures. Although I live in a loose culture, my grandfather was a Pentecostal pastor. This experience in a tight subgroup allowed me to experience the influences of narrowly framed constructs of reality. This fundamentalist world-view is very strict and offers constant “reminders” that following rules is the basis for self-actualization. ( Or finding “God’s Will” for every individual.)

I now understand that such a fundamentalist construct of reality is impossible because it is too inflexible in nature. Yet the higher ideals of my faith such as the golden rule, mercy/grace toward the less fortunate, plus forgiveness and love toward my “neighbor” stuck in my memory. The fact I live in a loose culture allowed me to deviate from my Grandfather’s religion by personal choice, but I was able to see the value in charity and benevolence as it relates to my fellow man. There are many other ways culture informed my attitudes toward health and access to water. The notion that I am indeed “my brothers keeper” is perhaps the most powerful of them all.

Education and experience added information to the “mystique” or “fuzzy-wuzzy” notions of my upbringing. One cannot study History without developing a real sense that charity is also a selfish act. Human beings will fight or kill to provide basic needs for their own societies and families. When peoples are oppressed or denied basic necessities such as food or water, there will be blood. My education instructs my political leanings toward peaceful Anarchy, not in rebellion to government or authority for selfish Libertarian purposes, but because current world hierarchy is too tilted in favor of the rich and powerful. In this sense, I believe government has a role in correcting situations that create institutional levels of such evils as racism, sexism and generational poverty.

Knowledge or learning about different cultures through the lens of education allows me to understand that humans organize themselves and there are are no outright rights or wrongs inherent in these organizational structures. However, after 10,000 years of civilization we find that repressed peoples will always turn against their oppressors. Amen.

———————————————————————————————————————-

6-5-15

(No time to bloggy. Here are some important things about music I studied and wrote about in college 2015.)

 

Spring 2015/Jazz and American Culture:

Week two in this course, we were assigned to watch the film, 1959 the Year that changed Jazz. The film changed my appreciation of Jazz. Or at least my novice perspective of the Jazz genre. Respectfully, I offer a novice review of 5 of the greatest Jazz albums ever recorded. How does a novice “review” these albums? Very humbly.

Miles Davis Kinda Blue. The opening track, So What. Enuff said. (Thank you Professor Colligan, I’m done give me my 4 credits.) Naw, perhaps overlooked and under appreciated on this track and throughout the entire album is the underscored cymbal work by drummer Jimmy Cobb. After all, it is the small unnoticed yet essential elements of music that move us. Throughout the album, Cobb makes his cymbals sing in perfect time. Who said, “Without love I am but a clanking cymbal?” Cobb pours love into percussion on this album and immortalizes the classic, unmistakably Jazz, ting-ta-ting ta-ting-ta-ting beautifully rhythmic sound, currently heard in any Jazz Club on any given night. (This novice chooses to show love for a classic Jazz drummer in this review.) Plus Miles? He aint bad. Of course, it is one of the most outstanding albums of any genre ever recorded.

The Dave Brubeck Quartet Time Out. I’ve heard as a novice Jazz fan, paying attention to the unique time signatures make this album special. But listening to this album takes me back to our first class assignment and the lecture by Leonard Bernstein. (While purely rhythmic syncopation better describes the next few albums up for review, ) Time Out is why Bernstein is right in his defense of Jazz as a classical music art-form. Take Five is perhaps the most recognized song on the album but don’t forget to flip over to side two. Does one hear reflections of Chopin? (As a novice I know two notes on a piano: a white one and a black one. Sounds like Chopsticks.) Yet The Dave Brubeck Quartet album Time Out takes us to a place where Jazz meets Classical music, so profoundly, even a novice can hear it. (And I promise to never touch a piano.)

Charles Mingus Mingus Ah Um. Can instruments sing? And if they could perhaps they might sound a bit Gospel? That’s too easy, even for a Jazz novice. (I’d award myself no credits if I stopped after the first song on the album, Better Git It in Your Soul, and I could.) But, Mingus provides that song as just a teaser. This is truly an album that rises and falls, toying with our emotions. The musicianship on this album is obviously from another world, but the production value can not be diminished in this world. Are we sitting in the same room with these musicians? I can’t tell and this album was recorded in 1959. The duet arrangements, it’s highest mountaintop to lowest valley quality, the genius instrumentation, the production value, (even a shout out to Dixieland, deep in,) simply makes this one of the greatest albums I’ve ever heard. As a novice, if that “Wayne’s World” or uneducated assessment earns me a failing grade? (“It’s awesome!“ ) At least I’m wiser having listened to this amazing album.

Ornett Coleman The Shape of Jazz To Come. Indeed. Speaking strictly as a novice fan, this is the Grunge of Jazz. (Although, the fact I took an undergrad course called Jazz and American Culture) sorta raises me from “novice” to at least “slightly more educated.” As we learned this term, even Jazz musicians debate among themselves about the meaning of the music. And it’s direction. Yes, I watched the film, 1959 the Year that changed Jazz, inspiring me to actually listen to these classic albums. But no person educated in Jazz History, (thanks Prof,) can deny this album sounds vastly out of place. In 1959, and 2015. This is a lone wolf, man. This is a voice crying in the wilderness. And this album, The Shape of Jazz To Come, is why Jazz is just as important in 2015 as it was in 1959. Coleman expresses himself in no uncertain terms, and blows his sax to represent all of us (90pounds soak&wet) folks who seek a voice. The Shape of Jazz To Come. Exactly.

Finally, my 5th album review is in a tribute to a friend. I enrolled for this class because of friendship with the grandson of a Jazz legend. Clifford Brown Overnight in Paris to me, is the real shape of Jazz to come. Clifford Brown died tragically, at a young age. Yet his musicianship reaches beyond his grandson, or even grandsons to come. This album is a master Trumpeter owning an instrument. Quincy Jones compared Clifford Brown to Mozart. If you listen to this album, the range and depth of this musician, (Mozart caught a pass with that comparison.) Dig how Clifford Brown seems perfectly at home solo alone with his trumpet, or accompanying a big band. Brown was a musician for the ages, and this album reveals his genius. And, the genre of Jazz.

 

 

3-27-15

“The Music of The Beatles (Winter 2015) was a fun Pop-Culture cluster class. I got an A. Yeah even a stoned zombie could have gotten an A in that class, “but it was hard for me, so “Back Off!” For realz. What a college class. All we had to do was show up and listen to The Beatles then write weekly song reviews.

I had never been a huge Beatles’ fan. But I quickly learned they were the shit in 2oth century pop music. So just for fun, here are a few short essays from this class:

 

BRITISH INVASION REVIEW
“Music Tsunami”

“It started as a trickle in the working clubs of Liverpool, England. It became a wave that sailed across the Atlantic Ocean. And hit the shores of America like a mighty tsunami.” (Parade Magazine)

This is how I view the Beatles and the subsequent British Invasion of American music. For just like a tsunami, it sort of came out of no where. Or so it would seem. However, the earthquake that caused this tidal wave began right here in places like the Mississippi Delta, Memphis, New Orleans, and Chicago. It was in fact, a great awakening to our own American musical art-forms. It was The Blues, embellished. It was Rock-n-Roll, handed back to us. Yet it was original and wet with new energy, sounds, and vision.

Not to waste words, I know these assignments are not meant to become infinite in length, but a good student always lists sources and I’ll list mine completely, by saying all the following information is taken from last term’s History Of Rock MUS 361U and our textbook Rockin’ In Time: A Social History Of Rock-and-Roll. Luckily for me, we left off at The British Invasion and it’s why I took this class. So my ideas are not completely original, yet they are in my own words.

So, the first group to review, and listen too and enjoy on this topic, is The Rolling Stones. In comparison to The Beatles, they are considered “the bad boys” of the British Invasion. Yet, it’s noted in history that they should have been the snobs. They all hail from a distinctly higher class in England than the fab four, yet they cut their teeth musically in English blues clubs such as The Crawdaddy Club and The Marque Club. It’s the “Bo Diddley” beat they added to cover songs such as, Fade Away, which first gave them notoriety. Of course, the famous story is that their manager Andrew Oldham locked Mick Jagger and Keith Richards in a motel room and told them they “could not come out until they learned to write songs.” And they did. This Could Be The Last Time was their first number one hit in England, and the hits have never stopped. Satisfaction is hailed as the #2 greatest rock song of all time by Rolling Stone Magazine.

And I know our assignment is to discuss the British groups who invaded on the heels of The Beatles, but another group we didn’t mention in class is The Kinks. You Really Got Me, is still one of my favorite songs, and they influenced an entire generation of “riff rockers,” here in America. Perhaps the simplicity of the riffs are why they are still considered guitar gods, in rock-and-roll.

Of course, The Dave Clark Five, found a place in the first British Invasion with hits such as Glad All Over and Catch Us If You Can. However, for me, they simply lack the intricate orchestrations, plus vocal and production values of The Beatles songs we hear in class. Like the Kinks, they seem to strip down to the bare essentials of the British Invasion sound.

Herman’s Hermits are also a band of note, with songs like I’m Into Something Good, and Henry The 8th. I do find a closer production value to George Martin and Phil Specter. I’m Into Something Good does possess that era-like quality and richness, of reel-to-reel recordings. The Animals also hit a high musical note with classics songs like, House Of The Rising Sun.

Of course we learned about several other British Invasion bands of note in class, from Petula Clark to Gary and the Peacemakers. Yet, in our History of The Beatles class here at Portland State, they are all side-notes to history. We find the 12 string guitars, the great hooks, and of course, the hairstyles. All notable with the wave of music that was The British Invasion of the early 1960’s. But no band synthesized every popular music sound of their era into a University level course in music-making some 50 years after the fact, like The Beatles. They are, the original British tsunami.

 

 

HAPPINESS IS A WARM GUN REVIEW
“nug mraw a si ssenipah”

Many leading Beatles experts such as Beatlesbible.com say Happiness is a Warm Gun “features some of John Lennon’s best vocals on the White Album.” Yet, for me, this song also represents a pinnacle of record engineering in the psychedelic era. From the backward playing trax, to the tinny reverb vocals, to the chop chords, to the acid rock guitar shredding, this song is as much an engineering feat as it is great music art. In fact, I hear this song and think, “Now this is when music Producers and Engineers were part of the band.”

Grant it I hand it to The Beatles, they incorporate a backward trax into the melody in the middle of this song that sounds like perfectly on-key gibberish. In 2015, we don’t have the luxury of sliding an album forward and backward to get a true sense of the genius of this song. Modern song lyric sites such as lyricfreak.com give us phrases like “do do do do do do oh, yeah.” But isn’t it more fun to believe there is some secret message from beyond, hidden in that simple phrase when it is played backwards? Maybe it’s just because I’m old enough to remember when preachers like Jimmy Swaggart railed against “back-masking,” so I revel in the true high art of engineering a vocal trax backwards and making it fit the melody of a song. Again, the production of this song alone, merit’s a University level History of Music course.

In term of song structure this appears to be a song that throws pop-music formulas out the window. One can find the A-A-B-A form we learned in class, but you really have to search for it. I’m no Beatles expert, and that’s why I took this class to learn more about their music and why they are considered the most influential band of all time. However, this song appears to represent The Beatles when they were “all grown up,” because this is no “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” pop song in structure. They feel comfortable enough not only to break the rules, but re-write them.

The orchestration is also amazing. The main verses are bass, drum, and chop chords. Then they add a hard rock guitar scheme over the bridge sections. Beatlesbible.com says Lennon shared guitar duties with George Harrison, and they broke the song into 4 distinct fragments. This technique is reminiscent of Brian Johnson and the Beach Boys engineering and orchestration on songs like “Good Vibrations.” Where once again, experimentation seemed to be the only rule of the day.

Ringo plays a huge part in this song, as the percussion is heavily tied to the bass-line in the verse. This offers a downright “march” or dirge feeling to the song, and it is amazing how they tied the four different sections together since the beat sequence turns from a steady rock beat to acid rock tom-tom hammering and back again. I often wonder why Ringo is not considered one the great drummers of his time, but considering he played during the era of rock masters such as Keith Moon and John Bonham, his drumming style was more to fit in than to stand-out. Especially among musical geniuses like McCartney and Lennon.

This song does paint pictures with words in broad strokes and just downright splashing the paint across the canvass. Even Lennon’s phrasing in the verse, turns up or down a note exactly on the last beat. Wikepedia.com reports (and I also found this collaborated on other sites) that Lennon saw a magazine cover of American Rifleman that read “Happiness Is A Warm Gun,” and he was so tickled, he wrote this song. Although according to accounts he turned the phrase into a highly sexual “loaded” line. The word painting when Lennon almost raps “And I feel my finger upon your trigger,” is beautiful. It would be hard to find a better painting than that. You can see the lyrics in your mind.

I honesty had never heard this song, and now I can’t stop listening to it. I do believe it is a snapshot in musical time. But most of all, wow, what a masterpiece of music art.

 

 

REVOLVER ALBUM REVIEW
“Bigger Than Jesus”

The Beatles found Jesus. One can only imagine they argued politely with the son of god about who was, bigger. And then, smaller. And then, bigger. And finally, the world is introduced to their groundbreaking album, Revolver. The fab four were growing up, and the times were a’ changing. After all it was 1966, and as the first migration of American youths made their way to the land of Haight-Ashbury, The Beatles gave them something to think about. And so, The Beatles, smiling Jesus, and a sitar, all sailed away together in a Yellow Submarine.

Revolver, is the seventh studio album released by The Beatles. According to Beatlesbible.com the album is Produced by George Martin and engineered by Geoff Emerick. The iconic artwork on the cover is the design of Klaus Voorman. And besides the fact Paul and John arrive as the world’s greatest songwriters, the album also features 3 original songs by George Harrison. Recorded at Abbey Road Studios, it features many innovations that will change, everything. It is a downright “spiritual” awakening for both the band and the Pop Music world, and foreshadows much of their most iconic works to come including Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and The White Album.

Thebeatles.com lists just a few innovations on this album including, double tracking or ADT, and “backtracking.” In fact, Lennon said Revolver is the first time back tracking was ever used on any album, “That’s the first record with backwards music on it before Hendrix, before The Who before any fucking one.” (Thebeatles.com.) (But hey, Lennon also claimed they were bigger than Jesus.)

Perhaps my favorite song on the album is I’m Only Sleeping. It’s not just that this song influences every British band from The Hollies to The Smiths, it’s the honesty. Any great band reaches a saturation point. They establish a sound, and can either become trapped inside that sound to become a caricature of themselves- or they can grow. A few Beatles’ songs we heard in class before this album, we could tell they were beginning to sort of, “phone it in.” And I believe it was quoted in class that John Lennon went through a “fat Elvis” period, when his life was in flux. To me, this song represents outright honesty by a true Artist. Lennon never lost the awareness that fans project upon their idols. “He’s sleeping. Wow. That‘s so deep.” I think the dude was sleeping. Of course, the song features a backtracked guitar that only The Beatles can pull off in a Western Swing style song that includes a sitar track. Wow, even geniuses sleep.

Perhaps the greatest song of note from this album is of course, Eleanor Rigby. As we learned in class the song features strings and other studio musicians besides the fab four. The great orchestration, double tracks on the lead vocals, outstanding harmonies, a dark ambiance, the path blazing chord progressions, (all the things we discuss in class?) CHECK. Yet it’s the lyrical ability to find the loneliest person in the room and make them feel as if someone understands them, it’s why we are still studying the music of The Beatles.

Again, the assignment of 500 words is not fair. Revolver features so many great songs, including Love To You, Here There and Everywhere, Your Bird Can Sing, Tomorrow Never Knows, and the iconic, Got To Get You Into My Life. Basically, the template for the entire 1960’s soundtrack. 3 words: can’t, stop, listening.

So okay. Maybe The Beatles didn’t find Jesus, even as they began to experiment with drugs, recording techniques, and new musical horizons. But obviously, they did find Father McKenzie. And for that? Jesus must be smiling.

 

 

HELP! REVIEW
“Spread Out! (Over Years)”

No one could ever mistake The Beatles for the Three Stooges, but at the beginning of the movie Help (1965), Ringo gets his finger bitten by an Indian Priestess. John Lennon looks up from reading a book and says, “Quit trying to drag things down to your own level!” Maybe it’s the Moptop but Lennon sounds an awful lot like Mo Howard, in this scene. In fairness to Director Richard Lester, we do live in 2015. There is not a rock band in the world right now we could dump into a meaningless plot and not have it either play like a cartoon or slapstick comedy. And according to beatlesbible.com, this movie did premier with Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon in attendance. Not bad. The movie ends more James Bond than 3 Stooges, but even Mo would say the movie is, “Spread out!”

Of course, the assignment is to review the music. The song Help features many of the innovative techniques we’ve studied in class. The strong vocal introduction pokes you in the eyes, “Help!” This cold open gives the AM radio listener no time to turn up the volume. The song simply, begins. John Lennon sings lead and the harmonies feature a call and response support. Ringo’s snare stroke is strong and keeps the song moving forward, even as a solid reframe guitar riff keeps resetting the song back to the beginning. One can only imagine how fast ‘60’s listeners learned to turn up the volume.

You’re Gonna Lose That Girl, same cold open, with an even more defined call and response harmonic arraignment. But a few things stand out in this tiny clip of the movie. First, is the footage. The Bangles told us “video killed the radio star,” however, this is might be one of the first modern music videos. Imagine telling Ed Sullivan, “We are going to back-light the Singers so we can’t see faces.” (Even when Sullivan switched to color TV, he might throw ‘a really big shoe’ at the Director.) The footage of the song is groundbreaking. The next important thing about this song is subtle, yet none the less forward thinking in music. Ringo plays the bongos.

Perhaps, as we still see The Beatles’ hair (hey Mo) representing their connection with the roots of their fame, no song represents a Band in flux like, You’ve Got To Hide You’re Love Away. The acoustic guitar strums, the lyrics with a gallant “Hey,“ and a woodwind solo, provide fans every element of an Irish Folk song. Rich in talent, the Band offers a new appreciation for alternative forms of music outside their original synthesis of influences. And they signal new horizons.

Ticket To Ride, takes us back, and I Need You suspends reality. The Night Before, almost a new look. All depend upon solid musicianship, lyrical and harmonic mastership, and Ringo keeping perfect time. In the movie, Another Girl, is the approaching a new everything. (And in the context of reviewing songs in this movie, visuals cannot be ignored.) The Beatles are a sentinel Band of Rock-and-Roll. They are memes. The unrest in both their music and style are apparent and felt in this film. I mentioned Mo Howard. It’s almost as if they sensed being mentioned with this comic legend, and turned to new horizons of music art, and even fashion. It’s as if they always ran from any characterization of themselves, musically or otherwise. And of course, as Paul McCartney would later write they were always a, “band on the run.”

Assignments in this class are never fair. “Write 500 – 700 words analyzing songs from the movie, Help.” Perhaps Mo Howard put it best: “We’re supposed to be smart, you knuckleheads.” Awesome Art, always makes the rest of us feel like stooges.

 

 

HARD DAYS NIGHT REVIEW
“Hard Days Rights”

Wow. So many screaming girls are chasing you that your entire Band must run- far away from it all. This is the premise of the 1964 Beatles’ epic Hard Days Night. But, don’t let the premise fool you. This is a film about epic changes. It’s an anthem of the coming tide of societal revolution.

As the older gentleman says when The Beatles want to open the window or play loud music on the train, “Don’t take that tone with me young man. I fought the war for your sort.” Thank you for your service. But sir, you simply came home from the war and fathered too many kids. And this film is about the fact they are taking over your train, your Country, and the World.

The Movie and the album feature classic songs. The title song, Hard Days Night
pokes fun at the old protestant work ethic. Perhaps the beginning of work hard/play hard.
Yet, a new philosophical foundation and new paradigm. Life isn’t just about working
hard. It’s also about having fun, especially in the bedroom. Of course, Rhythm & Blues singers were among the first musical artists to open the door of the bedroom and give the world a peak. But it took groundbreaking bands like The Beatles, to make it acceptable for millions of white kids in the early 60’s- to look. They all understood the hook “I’ve been working like a dog.” (Dad comes home from work and he’s always too tired to play with us kids.)

I Should Have Know Better, the band and the girls are separated by a cage. The lads run out the back of the train and escape to a new adventure. Thread plots strung through the entire movie include something about Paul’s Grandfather and always, screaming hoards of girls. The fab four exit their Hotel to enjoy a nightclub and George Harrison offers his opinion off clothes for teenagers. Ringo gets lost, goofs off, and ends up in jail with Paul‘s Grandfather. “Are you a Mod or a Rocker?” “I’m a Mocker,” answers Ringo. The kids are alright. No cages needed.

Can’t Buy Me Love is a song from the album, Hard Days Night. This song inspired many Hollywood Movies on its own merit. It’s avant-garde of new poets and philosophers who challenged the status quo and shook the foundations of what it means to be a human being. Are we dogs or lovers? Should we work or play? What good is money without real love? Money can’t buy love. An ethos burned into the cosmic consciousness of humanity for centuries to come, by The Beatles.

Tis film is about human rights. Namely, the rights of a generation who were about to take over, everything. The opening scenes are prophetic. “There’s more of us than you,” says Paul.

No wonder the old boy closed the window on the train. Everything was about to be tossed out of it.

 

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *