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Hush Yo' Mouth! Blue Collar presents
By Mick Polich - 11/29/2007 - 10:04 AM EST

Censorship…always a cheery, warm, we’re-in-this-all-together-now topic….

First off, I know I’m going to get a raft of flak for my viewpoint, so whatever group is out there with the diatribes – Parents Resource Center, Oral Roberts University, and any foreign nationals that want to deride the continuing moral decline of the world as an example of America rock music, step right up now and let me have it, baby – it’s your chance at the town hall meeting!

First off, I want to paraphrase a quote I heard from Donny Osmond – yes, THAT Donny Osmond, the dude of “Go Away Little Girl” fame. Years ago, when asked about censorship in music and the arts, ol’ Donny boy said he didn’t think there should be censorship to the degree there was at the time (probably the ‘ 80’s, and believe me, the fashion police NEEDED to impose some censorship on that era…) – of course, parents still needed to monitor what their children listened to or watched (as a parents, my wife and I can relate, and do policing as much as we can ‘round our house.).

About the same time, somebody was quoted in a ‘rock’ mag article stating that every generation of recording artists seems to get a little more weird, a little more out there. I can agree with that, but I find it extremely funny that certain types from my generation are taking their kids by the hand to the Sex Pistols reunion shows, or Kiss, or AC/DC, saying, “Now there, there’s music! There’s wholesome entertainment!”

For the love of Pete, Kiss, yes, KISS, were in an Olympic Games opening ceremony show a few years back!!! Boy, is rock safe or WHAT, now???

Here’s the secret, folks – it’s all SHOWBIZ. For the most part, it REALLY is – first, are you buyin’ what they is sellin’, peeples?? When a Norwegian black metal band proclaims their dark master, says lock up your daughters because we’ll horde the virgins for sacrifice,  and bring RV’s of doom to the local metal club in Poughkeepsie, do they REALLY mean that? I would say “Medicine Show” - it’s the time-honored tradition of SCHTICK. Is it right, morally or otherwise? Do they REALLY believe what they are putting across for a message (actually, some of them DO – I’ve heard tales of one black metal band killing members of another, some ritualistic thing – hard shame, not unlike our rap ‘stars’ here in the U.S. and some other ‘fan-natic’ music bases.). I’m not saying yay or nay, but you have the right not to buy into it, because believe me, like Marilyn Manson, it’ll be a trend that’s as cold as the other side of the pillow in a few years (one of my favorite ESPN quotes…). You wanna buy into it, well, last time I checked the Constitution, Tiny, it was a free country, so go right ahead if it trips yer trigger –just don’t involve ME!! That seems to be the general air for a lot of things now for folks  – do it, but don’t involve ME.

I keep thinking about one of my favorite books that’s not only about censorship, but about cultural change, and the loss of free thinking and will: “Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury. Boy, talk about a prediction – the decline and destruction of books as television takes over – given the real - world predictions of the loss of print as we move to personal audio/visual devices. Well, I hate to be the Lorax here, but if people would stop dumbing down (and no, just having a Blackberry or I-Phone does not put you in the Mensa Club, honky!!), and actually FORCE themselves to slow down for 30 minutes a day, pick up a book during ‘quiet time‘ – yes, yes, adults especially – then, maybe, we could improve our thinking processes a bit. But even “ Fahrenheit 451” was censored at one point (the yay-hoos!). Think about works of art, books, essays, plays, movies, music, dance (What? The minuet is BARBARIC???!!! That was the funniest ‘censorship’ in history to me so far…

I might classified as a Catholic with ‘ catholic ‘ tastes when it comes to music – in my mind, I would have to censor my entire CD/tape/record collection because if the Morality Police wanted to come in and raid my bins for questionable artistic content, then, they would have a field day. I don’t say this in a boastful manner – SOMEBODY will find SOMETHING wrong with what I listen to? But you know what? That’s between me and my maker – I’ve never gotten the urge to run out with an Uzi after listening to Judas Priest or Iron Maiden, never felt like doing a lot of heroin after listening to Lou Reed, or drowning myself in martinis listening to Dean Martin (although I did feel a slight urge to put on my tux, light up a cigarette, and pretend I’m onstage with Sammy Davis Jr. in Vegas, 1963….).

There are a lot of musics, and musicians out there (and always have been) that are the modern day equivalent of the Huckster, the new-day Snake Oil Salesmen, and Elmer Gantry, sometimes all rolled up into one. From Screamin’ Jay Hawkins to Wendy O. Williams, Boy George to ol’ Elvis hissef - bruthas and sistas, clap yo’ hands with might and glory for the New Religion from the New Ascetics – slicked up like pythons, giving you the oldest tricks in the book: sex , violence, an endless youth, and power. Well, what’s wrong with that, some folks is gonna say? And some say plenty – the decline of western civilization, the corruption of basic morals and principals, living together, cats and dogs, etc.. Well, let’s just all listen to some Christian-based programming, huh? THAT’LL git cha’ straight, Dolly!! Well, the Christian pop music business is STILL the music business – some of the music is good, some really horrible,  and it’s geared to make MONEY.  My number one axiom, via the late, great Groucho Marx, regarding that I’m always suspicious of anyone who would have me as a member of their club – just because you can scrub up some songs, make ‘em nice and clean – doesn’t mean that there is a gorilla in the corner waiting to beat the living hell outta ya.

There are a lot of well-meaning, good Christian – pop songs out there – you guys that have been around the block, and are seven and fourteen (my favorite saying from dad), know of which I speak. As with any type of hucksterism, EVERYBODY should be suspect! So, should we give free will a shot for choosing what’s good and bad, or what should be censored, especially in music? Personally, yes – I don’t need the government, in fact, I need the government to stay the blazes outta the way when I’m looking at art and listening to music!! It’s me, I know better though, but some people just want to have other organizations do the thinking for them – that’s o.k., just don’t go brain-dead on me, baby – enough of those schmucks around! 

Ooooh man, I AM getting grumpy, and I’m not even 50, yet!!!

I had a lot of social science classes in high school (1970’s, thing to do, I actually made it to my diploma on mostly social science classes!!!), and given our so-called advanced society, we all agree that at any level, there are norms, rules, and mores that you should go by to make like a good dog and get along. Being a parent, I totally agree, no problem there – man, if we could keep agreeing on those kindergarten rules until we retire, I think we would be in good shape, ya know?  Those same sets of rules and values set up our creation, and reaction to said creations, of art.

I have stated before in these electronic pages my musical journey of what I have played, created, liked, disliked – some of it changes while some of it remains the same. On thing that’s been a musical undercurrent is my love of singer/songwriters, especially the topical ones. I have played their music in bands, bought their records, CD’s, and tapes, and read their bios and books. The artists who I’m appreciating more and more are Joni Mitchell, Lucinda Williams, Mary Gauthier, Steve Earle, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Rickie Lee Jones, Los Lobos, and Patty Griffin. As soon as I get up to get another cup of java, I’m sure I’ll think of some others, for various reasons – I know it, there are more folks, just can’t list them all (that would take another column).

Considering the aforementioned artists, I would bet the farm that all of them have experienced some form of censorship at some point. I know that at one time or another, these artist have used their music for political forums and stories, sometimes using frank, blunt language to get a point across. At times, even some of their sexual orientation has been a flashpoint for discussion. Why do I like ‘em? Multi-fold reasons –the music is GREAT usually (occasionally some misses, but I would rather take these folks’ misses over some folks hits any day…), lyrically, they are some of the best in the business, and rest assured that there will always be a song or two that will be thought-provoking. See? Now that’s a good reason why there is so much knee-jerk censorship – sometimes, people just don’t wanna think. Isn’t it much easier not to think? I’m not saying you need to like it, or agree with it, but just really THINK about what’s being presented before venturing an opinion. And all of the artists that I’ve mentioned – if they are considered “old farts” (which is still the same in the music industry –except I think you’re now considered old by the time you hit 23…), so be it – they have something to say, and isn’t better to say something if you are right or wrong, young or old, or different shades of skin, religion, sex, etc.? I know it’s idealism, or utopianism, or custom-fit-your-ism - you can form whatever opinions from there. But I think these folks would rather be sorry than safe…. 

Same thoughts go with certain jazz and classical artists – John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Igor Stravinsky, to name a few, and to briefly describe a few stories. John Coltrane turned a corner with his music a few times during his meteoric, but all-too-brief career – the most notable time came with his album, “A Love Supreme”. Now, this classic collection is noted for being a milestone musical Holy Grail for jazzers, folk cats, and rock peeps alike – the well - intended, overwhelming spiritual nature coupled with the musical virtuosity of the group Coltrane assembled at that time to channel his music was amazing, to put it mildly.  This album was just the beginning of a new, harmonic world for Coltrane – the man played patterns and scales over and over -  like Raymond Berry ran pass patterns again and again, so he and QB Johnny Unitas could enter NFL demi-god status – dude put the work into his music, now time to subterfuge the rules.

Out jazz, avant - garde jazz –whatever we call it, even now, it can be a dangerous thing for controversy. One album that I picked up about 20 years ago was “Live In Seattle” – Coltrane had another jazz sax player on board, Pharoah Sanders. Even today, that CD can scare me – why? It is dense, unforgiving music, like a Jackson Pollack painting in sound. Some people called it noise at the time-still do. It’s very painful to listen to in spots, because I swear, at times it sounds like Coltrane and Sanders are moaning , crying during this firestorm blast of music fury – 500 years of slavery, breaking free not only as African American musicians, but as human beings - stating  in 1965 that enough is enough.

Like Bob Dylan and his oft-analyzed electric band performance at the Newport Folk Festival, Coltrane was not turning back musically, thus the camps were divided ( like they ever were together for the man…). A more mainstream footnote in this manner would come 4 years later, as Jimi Hendrix tore down, then reassembled the United States national anthem at Woodstock…

Miles Davis follows the same music pedigree – changed jazz, and music in general, a few times – innovator, iconoclast, a lightning rod for controversy. Miles was a black musician not afraid to speak his mind, a mix of clashing moods, thoughts, behaviors, and being.

Miles started years before out of east St. Louis, made it to New York to play with such heroes as Charlie Parker. Addict, pimp, hero to the African American community and scorn to fearing white, and black folks that didn’t understand him or his music, his life,

Miles lives on thru re-issues, re-masters, and box sets, giving us several decades of musical twists and turns. A single paragraph, or series of articles can’t do the man justice –if you’ve read about him, whatever you may think about his moral being, you cannot deny his impact on modern music (for the suburban version, just tune in any smooth jazz, XM satellite program to hear the smooth, muted trumpet styles that cover the airwaves – it ain’t Rick Braun that just came outta the blue with that shit, kids, that was MILES…)

Igor Stravinsky, as rumor had it (and besides, it’s a pretty spicy rumor) composed his “Rite Of Spring” partly to “send them all to hell” in reference to his audience. If he meant that figuratively, or if he really was a grumpy – ass, the 1913 premiere in Paris of the “Rite” caused the audience to riot, literally – break into fistfights, police action, the works. Again, there is speculation on this, but good gawd, that’s like a turn-of-the-century hardcore punk moshpit – YEAH! If one listens to “The Rite Of Spring”, given the music of the time, it was quite revolutionary (and this was before Strav got into 12 – tone note row systems). So, as the French say, the more things change, the more they remain the same  – see?  Revolutionary art CAN cause riots, baby!!!

Of course, all this is cool just as long as no one harms YOU or YOUR interests. Thus, the cause de effect, or whatever the hell the phrase is in French, for censorship. But, and I’m now talking to those who are actually familiar with the “Rite Of Spring”, Miles, Coltrane, Lou Reed, Hank Williams, Mary Lou Williams, Joan Baez, Dylan – o.k, o.k., you get the picture; I could keep naming artists until the war ends. Where would we be without all these folks in our cultural history? My own thoughts: in pretty piss-poor shape, as my old man would say.  Art, for better or worse, needs to push some borders, expand – given the fact that we all have free will, if you decide to accept art on its terms, then it is your choice (and also given the fact that  ‘suburban swarm ‘planners have yet to include any art galleries in their zoning, you may not have to make that choice  - the dumb@#$$%%%…..).

Art, like religion, gets dicey when you start paying for it, ESPECIALLY through tax dollars. And, like religion, it’s a matter of taste and appeal (“Oooh Mommy! It’s all bright and shiny – I like IT!!!! Sorry, cynical, yes, but gotta tweak the fun screw everyday!). So, the calling card is: “Well, I’m not going to waste my money on that CRAP! Especially my hard-earned tax dollars!!” Hey Doctor, that’s your right, particularly here in the U.S. of A…..

Some people like their music scrubbed up and clean, like fresh baked muffins. And hey, if some body tells you,” Hey kid, pssst! Come ‘er! Wanna hear some ‘rebel’ music???” SURE, MAN!!! Ooooh yeah, that takes me back –1980’s, parachute pants, red and black color schemes, my 40 – ouncer and me driving at midnight, listening to Ratt, Motley Crue –YEAH!!!!

You know what I say, Droopy me lad?? YUUUCCCCKKK!!! Hey sport, there’s a concept called ‘cerebral’ – you might want to start thinking about it, huh? Sorry, old dudes, but we gotta move on up, to quote Curtis Mayfield…

AND… by the way, you can update that statement with different chemicals and music (so, insert Taking Back Sunday, Kanye West, or Big N’ Rich….). 

O.k., o.k., I’m being a hard-ass: “Hey, Mr. Polich! Didn’t you listen to mindless music??!!”

Well, Billy Bob, yes I did, and continue to do so! I mean, sure, every once in awhile we have Mc Donald’s for dinner, right? So, yeah, Fall Out Boy is in my disc player, or rap (although gotta give props to Jay –Z – say what you will, the man is an innovator for hip-hop and rap.), or the occasional hit o’ da week will tweak my ear. BUT… I don’t live there all the time, you dig? That’s why all this stuff is out there – God forbid if someone declare the best music or art (or representatives thereof) is what we see or hear thru t.v. or USA Today. That’s like a pimple on the bun of culture, kidlets!!! This is why the Internet has been the vital link –yeah, it’s like throwing a pebble in a lake, but if you search (and I’ve always had pretty good radar for new stuff in the arts, at least I’ve always thought so..), you can find some amazing people out there, creating like there’s no tomorrow.

Should some of the things we hear and see be censored on the ‘Net? I will put the disclaimer in for kids – there is stuff that they can’t handle, or never should be exposed to (and that, dear ones, is a subject for many more articles..). But human judgment is the fallacy, or the divining rod, for cultural arts. One man’s art is another man’s garbage, as the old saying goes. Thusly, in that statement alone, you should expect censorship to always be an issue with us humans, forever and ever, amen.

But…. is this a good thing or a bad thing? Heaven forbid, if we all had the same outlook, tastes, morals, codes, etc.?  I think about how many pieces of art, songs, concerts, poems, plays, dances, books, and speeches that would not have made it thru history’s Culture Nazis (and think about the possible ones that got hung up and destroyed – Europe in the 1930’s as Germany began pillaging, the Middle Ages, and Puritan America in the 1800’s, to name a few..). It’s some sad –ass stuff when extremists from both sides of the plank run nilly willy thru civilization to burn and blow up that period’s cultural artifacts –breaks my heart….

So…censorship is something that varies from society to society, period to period, and age to age. While it seems true to a degree that the older you get, the more conservative you become, I would like to think we receive enlightenment on certain life-items, and certainly culture has been one for me. I’ve purposely kept my mind open to a myriad of ideas, collectives, and thoughts regarding music, culture, politics, religion, etc. And, as you get older, this sort of mindset gets tougher, because of the ‘crusty codger’ theory ( I don’t think I need to explain, especially those have enter the Codge Zone…). And I’m old enough to realize what works for me, doesn’t work for everyone else. In THAT statement, I think is the key to why funding for cultural and arts projects always seems to be a lightning rod, again. DON’T MESS WIF MAH MONEY!!! Yeah, DON’T throw my tax dollars at CRAP, fer gawds sakes!!

The arts hold a mirror up to society – it’s just up to society on how to look back into the mirror. Fortunately or unfortunately, this usually involves MONEY (to swipe a phrase from Kiss bassist Gene Simmons, music is music until money is involved, then it’s COMMERCE…..)

Well, there you have it-again, a subject we could debate on the Senate floor until everyone is asleep after 72 hours of blah blah and yadda. And I myself am gonna stop right here, because it is best to agree to disagree with anyone reading at this point that wants to throw a coffee mug at me and shout,” Oh no, Big- Nose Boy, the debate is FAR from OVER!!!” Yes, that I know, but I have to leave it right here right now, so leave the  floor thinking about what hangs you up and gets you going when someone sticks a “Parental Advisory” sticker on a painting,, or CD/download. More importantly-what does art, music, and culture mean to YOU? AND…... what are you going to do about it, if anything?

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