Monday, December 06, 2010
Regrettably, I’m coming to the realization—like many Americans—that President Obama isn’t capable of such a principled stand. Nor does he possess the political savvy and skill to be an effective leader. Not a great leader, mind you—just a bare minimum leader who describes a destination and fights unwaveringly to get there.
As the saying goes, this dog don’t hunt. This dog doesn’t want to wade into the cold water and get wet and dirty and go for the kill. And unfortunately for many Americans who voted for Obama, myself included, it appears we have a dog that prefers to stay safe and dry and cozy near the fire of corporate and Republican policy. Oh sure—this dog has a lovely bark, an inspiring bark even, but as too many citizens who responded to that alluring yap are beginning to realize, that’s all it is: a lovely bark. No bite. And apparently not much in the way of a spine, either.
We need a President who uses the bully pulpit his office affords to put political pressure on elected officials who support the very policies that have crippled this country, to rally the American citizenry because it sees their leader scrapping and battling everyday for the policies that benefit the people and not the corporate interests that have so infected our way of life. It doesn’t matter if he wins every battle—so long as the family of four in Topeka witnesses their President doing everything he can to help them, to address their needs and concerns, to change the way our country has been rigged against that family’s best interests, the President will gain the dedication and respect and even activism of millions of similar families across America who are fighting to stay afloat.
But we don’t have that President. We have President Obama. He fought through the primary against Hillary Clinton. He fought against John McCain to win the general election. Obama just won’t fight FOR you or me.
How is it that after the worst financial collapse our country has seen in 70 years, after all we’ve learned about the risky and shady and illegal dealings of the banks and financial industry, after all the cries from politicians and citizens alike to reform the system—and all the temperate speeches Obama gave about how Americans need to be protected from this catastrophe ever happening again—that 2010 finds the very people whose actions created the financial meltdown of 2008 are making MORE money than they ever did before? That’s President Obama’s leadership—tepid new financial regulations that don’t substantively change the way Wall Street and the banking industry works and doesn’t actually prevent too big too fail institutions from failing and being bailed out—again—by you and me.
Obama’s leadership also brought us Health Care reform—where the insurance companies get millions of guaranteed clients and billions in guaranteed income and the American people get a few very modest, albeit important, concessions from the insurance industry. We get to pay MORE money to the very people who have been exacting exorbitant premiums from us for less coverage—by law.
It seems to be Obama’s way: make a heartfelt speech about protecting the average American, and then negotiate away any meaningful change to the system in order to say he’s accomplished something and not upset the corporate interests pulling the strings.
Obama is a corporatist who is great with the lip service to the American people but is too afraid to risk personal defeat or a well-earned nosebleed to actually lay himself and his ideas on the line for the very people who put him into office. It’s fear over hope. Capitulation over change.
So are we surprised that Obama is about to fold like a shirt—again—to the demands of the minority party over the expiration of the Bush tax cuts?
Designed to expire at the end of 2010—designed that way because the Republicans couldn’t pass the tax cuts by a simple Senate vote, so they did it by reconciliation—the Bush tax cuts are partly responsible for the horrible deficit currently saddling our country. In 2008, candidate Obama, like the VAST majority of the American people, felt that the Bush tax cuts that benefitted primarily the top 3% of income earners in this country should be allowed to expire. Even a year ago, President Obama said that the tax cuts that benefitted the wealthiest Americans should be allowed to expire (and no, that group doesn’t include you, and most likely never will be, so don’t get your panties in a bunch). Over a decade, those new tax revenues could bring in 700 billion to a trillion dollars. Quite a dent in the deficit everyone’s so worried about.
But now the political heat is on, and Obama (and his team) are AGAIN revealed as lacking leadership and even the most basic political skills. This is exactly when we need the President to step up and say here’s where I draw a line in the sand: I won’t accept ANY extension of the Bush tax cuts for the top 3% millionaires and billionaires. Period. The tax cuts have damaged our economy over the past 9 years, they haven’t created any jobs, and we need to start paying down our deficit with that additional tax revenue. That’s where Obama needed to start the negotiations—behind his line in the sand. From there, the Republicans (and some misguided Democrats) would have to negotiate. If the GOP countered with its usual answer—“No”—then the President would take every opportunity he could in the media to put the pressure on the GOP by pointing out facts like:
• the GOP won’t extend expiring unemployment benefits for working families
(a few billion dollars cost) but they insist on preserving tax breaks for 3% of
the country (hundreds of billions added to the deficit)
• the GOP won’t vote to close tax loopholes that allow companies to move their
jobs over seas and off-shore (more tax revenues to offset the deficit, possibly
more U.S. jobs), but they insist on preserving tax breaks for 3% of the country
(hundreds of billions added to the deficit)
• the GOP won’t vote to pay for the medical expenses incurred by first responders
at Ground Zero on 9/11 (seven billion dollars—for the heroes the GOP praised
years ago), but they insist on preserving tax breaks for 3% of the country
(hundreds of billions added to the deficit)
There are many other examples Obama could use to make the case to the American people that the GOP is not really concerned with the average worker and that most Republicans are beholden to corporate special interests (as are some Democrats). Make it really simple: Republicans are looking out for Wall Street and the Democrats are trying to help Main Street.
With Obama’s speaking abilities, he should be able to clearly explain why it is important for the Bush tax cuts for the American millionaires and billionaires need to expire and return to the still modest Clinton-era tax rates. Just look at the math: in eight years of lower taxes for the top 3%—the “job creators” claim the GOP—only 3 million net jobs were created. That’s barely over 300,000 jobs created per year for eight years. When that same 3% of Americans paid slightly higher taxes in the 1990s, a little over 3 MILLION jobs were created each year. Which tax rate has been best for you?
Obama could easily be winning this fight and forcing the GOP to change its position. Hell, the American people believe what candidate Obama ran on regarding the Bush tax cuts—recent polling shows that a clear majority of Americans want to the tax cuts for the upper 3% of Americans to expire. Not even a majority of Republicans believe the rates should be extended!
So why has Obama essentially given in to the GOP desire to extend the tax cuts? Why hasn’t he been using his bully pulpit to cudgel the GOP at every possible opportunity? Why, when the majority of the American people and his own party want to let these tax rates expire, is Obama unable to stiffen his backbone and draw that proverbial line in the sand?
I think it’s because he can’t. Because he doesn’t have the will or he’s too prideful to fight such a bare-knuckle battle. And this is connected to he and his team’s lack of political skill. When the majority of the people who put you in office back a policy you ran on—like the public option for health care, like reform of the financial system, and exactly like the expiration of the ill-conceived Bush tax cuts—you have to be a near political incompetent to lose the argument and negotiate away your principles. But that seems to be Obama’s unique ability: to lose the battle before he even begins to fight it.
So if Obama agrees to extend the Bush tax cuts temporarily, say for two years as has been reported, what are the political results of such a poor decision? Obama further alienates the people who voted for him, the very people who have been slowly realizing this dog don’t hunt and will have little to no incentive to support him as passionately as they did two years ago. But more importantly—and this is where Obama’s lack of political savvy is most evident—it means that this very same tax rate issue will be front and center in 2012 when he’s trying to get reelected. Handing the GOP—again—an issue that they can browbeat Obama and the Democrats with for an entire election cycle.
Even if nothing is done about the Bush tax rates expiring before the end of the year, Obama has a better chance of standing on principle and winning the tax battle. Remember when Newt Gingrich and the GOP shut down the government in the 1995? Clinton let them do it—he was making a principled stand—and it only took a few weeks before the American realized what the GOP was doing and turned severely on Gingrich and company. And guess what happened to Clinton’s approval ratings? They soared. And Clinton won the fight.
Obama may be an obviously intelligent person, but he’s not the brightest political bulb in the box. What did he say throughout the campaign about doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result being the definition of insanity? He should heed his own words. Obama continues to reach out to the GOP expecting a different response and all he ever gets is a repeated haymaker to the chin. We don’t need a Jesus wannabe as President turning his other cheek. We need Jack Johnson to start landing some haymakers of his own against the GOP and for the American worker.
But if Obama lacks the strength of character to fight, to get sullied in the battle of American politics, then we need to start looking for someone who will. Our country simply can’t afford another two years of Republican policies endorsed by an admittedly moderate Democratic President. Obama’s decision on the Bush tax rates will say a lot about who he is willing to fight for. If he agrees to an extension of the tax rates, as the GOP wants him to do, then we know which Street Obama is most committed to. And few of us live in that neighborhood.
Saturday, August 07, 2010
|Senate Majority Leader McConnell about to say "no"|
Think about that: 20% of ALL filibusters in the U.S. Senate’s history have occurred since 2006 when Mitch McConnell and John Boehner became leaders of the Republican party.
|House Minorty Leader Boehner saying "Hell No!"|
Kind of feels good to hear someone call out these Republicans for the manipulative, disingenuous cowards that they are and have been for the past four years, doesn’t it? We have watched one party attempt to address the key economic problems our country faces after 8 years of brazenly irresponsible Republican policy while the rat bastards who created the problems cross their arms and pout like infants and stomp their feet and say “No!” to every single idea offered. Like Rep. Anthony Weiner, I think most Americans are sick and tired of the GOP’s delay and derail tactics. And this 9/11 Medical Compensation bill is an extremely galling example of what happens when adults try to reason with infants prone to tantrums. Senator David Vitter of Louisiana may be the only GOP member who has been caught wearing diapers during his extramarital sexcapades, but the way the entire GOP relies on procedures like the filibuster or procedural complaints, perhaps the party would be best identified as Team Huggies.
Monday, July 26, 2010
POLITICS: The BP Leak And Why We Are Accessories To The Crime
Two propositions that might help explain our current dilemma in the Gulf with BP's Deepwater Horizon oil leak:
1) Richard Nixon was the most progressive President on U.S. energy policy in the past 40-plus year.
2) If you offer a 4-year-old the choice between a cookie right now and a huge ice cream sundae in three hours after dinner, you know exactly which option the 4-year-old will choose every time.
That's right—we're the 4-year-old. Nixon, and almost every president since, is the parent patiently hoping we'll make the wise choice. But we like cookies. Lots of cookies. And we want the cookies now. Now, baby, now. And while we pick the cookie crumbs off our bellies as we watch news reports of millions of gallons of oil pumping into our ocean each day, we shake our heads, curse British Petroleum, and the government, and never once connect our lives to the horrible disaster we've watched unfold over the past two and a half months. Good cookies though.
For some 40 years, this country has known, discussed, and even threatened to act upon our growing addiction to oil consumption. Tree-huggers, eco-terrorists, and semi-elected presidents like Al Gore have rattled their Lorax ("I speak for the trees!") sabres about this energy problem over the years. Many politicians and even some titans of industry have spoken plainly about this problem for the past four decades. But we as a people have done little to nothing to effect any meaningful change. We want the cookies and we want to be able to drive whatever the hell kind of car we want to the store that's 1/2 a mile away because, dammit, we're Americans. And that's what we want to do. So there.
While I'm sure we will learn in great detail (as we are beginning to learn even now) how exactly and who precisely is responsible for the physical failure of BP's Deepwater Horizon well in the Gulf, it will not change the very simple fact that the ultimate blame resides with us—American citizens. You and I and everyone we know.
We have and produce very little oil in this country yet we consume the largest share of the world's oil output. We always have—even Richard Nixon understood what a fool-hearty course this was for our country back in the early 1970s. Of all presidents one might imagine having any real vision for the environmental and energy future of this country, Nixon did more in his six years as President than any other U.S. has ever done. The Clean Air and Water Acts he signed became the basis for decades of environmental change, and it was Nixon who set up the now much-reviled by Republicans EPA. Nixon also dealt with the first major energy crisis this country faced, and you can blame him for such radical ideas as a 55 mph speed limit, suggesting 68-degrees for building heat, expanding daylight savings time—these were all measures Nixon acted upon in order to conserve energy and reduce our reliance on foreign oil. He even wanted a pollution-free car by 1980—what a dreamer!
But Nixon was the only president using his bully pulpit to try to make Americans understand the folly of this oil addiction. Gerald Ford did the same, and Jimmy Carter actually got Congress to pass some important legislation to start curtailing our oil addiction and to try and develop new, more natural forms of energy. Carter even put solar panels on the White House—and that was in the late 1970s!—but those were quickly removed when his successor Ronald Reagan took office.
And this is where I stopped, fully expecting to carry on with the post just as soon as I carved out enough time to finish it. In that interim, those wiley bastards at "The Daily Show" flat out pimped me. But they pimped me brilliantly. So with all due respect, Mr. Stewart . . .
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c|
|An Energy-Independent Future|
Wednesday, May 05, 2010
We just had an attempted terror attack on Times Square in New York City—isn’t that when Daffy and Darth usually pop up all over the media to offer their enlightening comments on how badly the Obama administration is handling homeland security and putting America at risk of attack?
Where’s America’s Mayor thputtering on about how unthafe the Obama polithies have made thith country? How come we haven’t heard Rudy thpouting his usual mantra about 9-11, 9-11, 9-11?
And what of Darth? Isn’t this the precise moment for him to don his fear veil and try to scare the shit out of his low-information countrymen? Where’s that death-rattle drone of his making claims that this recent attempted attack proves once again that the Obama administration loves the terrorists and is putting American lives at risk?
What could possibly keep Daffy and Darth away from the cameras at a time like this?
A number. 53 to be exact.
The reason we’re not seeing Cheney and Giuliani all over the news—or at least on FOX “news”—talking about this recent attempted attack in Times Square is because it took the federal government (which means the Obama administration) and the New York City police department only 53 hours to track down and arrest the perpetrator. Only 53 hours.
How long did it take the Bush administration to track down and arrest Osama Bin Laden? Oh, that’s right . . .
How long did it take the Bush administration to catch ANY of the 9-11 perpetrators? About 18 months until Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was captured—by the Pakistanis.
Of course, if this recent attempted attack on Times Square had happened in May of 2007 when there was a republican in the White House, you can bet that both Daffy and Darth would be all over the news media talking about what a fantastic job the FBI, CIA, NYPYD, and Homeland Security did in tracking and apprehending a terrorist on American soil. Proof again that what the President and his administration is doing to protect America is working.
But because “leaders” like Rudy Giuliani and Dick Cheney are such politically craven hacks who are wed to party ideology rather than dedicated to actually protecting the American public regardless of political affiliation, neither of them will step forward to publicly congratulate the federal and New York state authorities who managed this pretty remarkable feat of policing. It might give too much credence to the way Obama’s administration has handled homeland security.
And god forbid, it might smack too much of supporting their and our current President.
Tuesday, May 04, 2010
See update (FOX's response on May 5th) at end of story.
While munching a little late lunch yesterday afternoon, my wife Carolyn and I were watching a bit of cable news. With the BP oil leak, the attempted terrorist bombing in Times Square, the flooding in Tennessee, ongoing financial reform efforts—it’s a busy news world these days. It was the top of the hour, where most news outlets stack the top stories of the day. Monday May 3, the BP oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico lead all broadcasts.
MAY 5, 2010 UPDATE: "FOX Defends Michael Brown Interview: He's An 'Expert on Botched Responses."
Sounds like a headline from The Onion, but they're not kidding. Check out FOX's response to the criticism they received for having former FEMA head Michael Brown on to discuss the oil leak in the Gulf. You'll rarely read such labored logic—except by an outlet like FOX.
Saturday, April 24, 2010
Bill Maher, like Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert, practices what the great satirists like Voltaire and Swift and Twain and Vonnegut all understood: make them laugh to make them think. Maher may at times push the limits of taste for some people, but his humor is usually pushing the audience to see the absurdities of our culture and government—local, national, and global. Some of the most effective satire is born of frustration or anger. Instead of shouting at or physically attacking the object of frustration, a satirist finds a way to poke fun at the situation and advance a more clear or sensible alternative. Maher is a master at this.
Case in point: at the end of every episode of his Friday HBO series "Real Time," Maher offers up a few "New Rules" for modern society. The rules target issues and people of the moment, and they allow Maher and his staff to craft the most literary satiric material for what is essentially an issues-based talk show. It's just Maher speaking directly to the camera. The April 23 "New Rule" directed at the Teabaggers/Tea Party was one of Maher's finest moments in years. He questions how serious these Teabaggers are about cutting the deficit and shrinking the national debt. No need to explain what he says—watch it for yourself:
Nice hat, huh?
The U.S. military Empire as a family's "big dumb boat" analogy is brilliant. It's an excess that our country can ill afford in economic times such as these. Yet we keep pouring trillions of tax payer dollars into this sinkhole for some inane notion of world dominance and to make us feel more patriotic and allegedly safer. As Maher suggests, let's cut our military spending in half and see who invades us. We sure could use the currently wasted cash to reduce our strangling debt from the past 9 years of elective wars, ill-advised tax cuts, and irresponsible non-regulation of our rigged financial system.
Like the great satirists, Maher's purpose in this "New Rule" is to ultimately display the folly of our country's behavior. We want the government to cut taxes but we still want the government to provide the key services we've come to depend on. Like children, Teabaggers—and many non-Teabagging Americans—don't seem to understand that there really is no free lunch. Everything costs money and someone has to pay for all of it. If we want granny to receive the health benefits of Medicare, we have to pay for it. If we want our parents to enjoy the benefits of Social Security they worked so many years for when they retire, we have to pay for it. If we want our roads maintained and our schools functioning and the water we drink to be clean and safe, we have to pay for it. It's that simple. And as Maher suggests, instead of funneling so much of our dear cash resources into military-industrial companies that primarily benefit the oligarchy of executives that run those companies and too much of our economy, maybe, just MAYBE, we should get serious about fiscal responsibility and slash our military budget by trillions. Maybe then the teabaggers and every stripe of American will benefit and quit complaining that we as a society are spending money on each other.
Wednesday, April 07, 2010
Saturday, March 20, 2010
Saturday, February 20, 2010
Let me know what you think. Agree? Disagree? What were your favorites of the last decade?
Best Singles of the 2000s continued . . .
“Hey Ya!,” Outkast (from Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, 2003)
I know for sure that the first time I heard this song it was on the radio just before the album was released. I later saw the super-fun video featuring 8 different incarnations of Outkast’s Andre 3000. What I know for sure at this time is that I don’t know for sure how much that video played into my initial obsession with this song. But I couldn’t get enough of this song—still can’t. I think it’s the breadth of what is essentially a very 2000s pop song that keeps me coming back to “Hey Ya!” It’s an unabashed amalgam of pop styles from across the decades. The rhythm bed blends hip-hop and a simple backbeat that could be heard on many early ‘60s singles. The ascending synth swizzle evokes bubble gum pop, the acoustic strumming that ebbs and flows throughout the song would seem incongruous if it weren’t the one of the primary rhythm elements, and Andre 3000’s rappy singing splits the difference in the verses and switches to true toaster style during the call and response sections (a characteristics of some early R&B/soul hits). No real truths imparted in the lyrics: guy’s pumped cause he’s in love and then immediately begins to doubt the whole notion of “forever.” Fair enough—but when this song is cranked and you’re singing along, even the nonsense chorus and call and response seem to be talking about something. Something fun.
“A Little Less Conversation, A Little More Action,” JXL/Elvis Presley (2002)
Never been much of a remix fan—too often the remixes are subtle or unremarkable changes that elicit so many shoulder shrugs or incompatible beats grafted onto a track to comic or silly effect. Not the case with JXL’s remix of this 1968 Elvis Presley track. Created for a 2002 Nike World Cup promotion, the song exploded onto the airwaves and charts and even onto the top-selling Elv1s 30 #1 Hits collection released later that year (it was track #31). What JXL does is masterful: he takes a decent suggestive Elvis song and turns it into an aggressive and highly sexual come on—purely by charging up the rhythm bed and adding some whirls, scratches, and other effects from the circa-2002 DJ repertoire. The original moderate tempo 2-minute track becomes a pumping, speedy six-minute workout. The benignly sexy Elvis of ’68 sounds much more insistent here. When he sings/demands “Close your mouth and open up your heart and baby satisfy me” amid the pounding drums and surging horns, you can hear an irritation and determination in his voice that’s nowhere to be found on the original. So you do what he says. He is the King. And he does say please.
3. “Say Hey (I Love You),” Michael Franti & Spearhead (from All Rebel Rockers, 2008)
I admit it: sappiest damn song on the list. Who’d guess that Michael Franti, one-time hyper-political rapper of The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, would one day pen such a sweetly joyous and celebratory reggae-ska hymn to a human emotion so pure and simple? Love here is a refuge and solace from the pain and ghetto games and junkies Franti sees all around him: “I don’t want to write a love song for the world/I just want to write a song about a boy and a girl.” Even the righteous get weary, and when the more you see the less you know, knowing one thing, one love, is sometimes all in the world you need. All this sentiment would be mere mush were it not for the buoyant beat and rolling rhythm that thumps at the heart of this song. It’s all on the upbeat: the chinging keyboard comps, persistent maracas, and counterpointing handclaps create an organic groove rich and wide enough to gather and mitigate all kinds of misfortune and regret. “Say Hey (I Love You)" has quickly found a spot right next to Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” in my catalogue of songs that can instantly lift my spirits no matter how bleak.
“Do You Realize??,” The Flaming Lips (from Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, 2002)
Sometimes this song is too much to bear emotionally. Other times, it makes me feel a surge of life and energy and connects me directly to the cosmos we’re tearing around in. This is pop music of a symphonic nature. Washed in melodic synthesizers draped over a spare, chiming acoustic guitar and grounded by tympanic drums seemingly recorded in another room, this song speaks of the eternal, the celestial, the mysterious absolute. I’m not kidding. There’s a child-like awe to Wayne Coyne’s voice as he sings lyrics like this:
“Do you realize—that you have the most beautiful face
Do you realize—we're floating in space
Do you realize—that happiness makes you cry
Do you realize—that everyone you know someday will die”
I mean, how much more of life can you cover in four lines? For me, this song becomes overwhelming when I allow the wall of sound and Coyne’s voice and lyrics to evoke specific images from my life. I see my son’s beautiful newborn face resting in my arms and my mother’s 20-year-old beautiful face smiling down at me as a child. There are entire worlds, entire lives in those images. And the simple fact of that last line, when I really think on it, really think about the people that make up my life’s mosaic, and despite the people I’ve already lost, can be both unbearable and strangely, cosmically comforting. “Do You Realize??” that pop music art can do this to you? “Do You Realize??” how awesome that is?
1. “American Idiot,” Green Day (from American Idiot, 2004)
Best song of the 2000s from the best rock ‘n’ roll album of the 2000s. In three minutes, Green Day revives what punk music was and always should be: protest music. But a song also has to be the right song for the right time to truly be great. “American Idiot” was. Released in the fall of 2004, just as a majority of the U.S. population was beginning to awaken from its fear-induced post-9/11 torpor, the song encapsulated the anger and resistance that a minority of this country had been feeling since the Bush/Cheney administration began manipulating the country into an illegitimate war in the name of “protecting the homeland.” But that wasn’t Green Day’s sole target: they took direct aim at our over-saturated media culture, the willful dumbing down of citizens by hysterical “edutainment” media, rednecks, gay- and immigrant-bashers, and American idiots so easily swayed by paranoia and propaganda (two things the Bush administration and its media mouthpieces did very well). The band holds nothing back, either in musical performance or lyrical delivery and intent. From the first urgent licks that open the song to its sharp, abrupt end, “American Idiot” has both the traditional punk speeds—fast and faster. Musically, it’s a very simply song: bashing drums, an unrelenting, propulsive bass line, and some big, chunky guitar riffs. But Green Day rips into it like it’s the first, last, and only time they’ll ever play the song. Billie Joe Armstrong spits out vitriolic lines like this: “Don’t want to be an American idiot/One nation controlled by the media/Information age of hysteria/It’s going out to idiot America.” What better way to describe the past wired decade in the U.S.A.?
“Let That Show,” The Pernice Brothers (from The World Won’t End, 2001)
Fantastic chiming guitar pop and lithe harmonies. The sweet sound masks a fairly clear-headed lyric about ego, self-obsession, and the complete inadequacy of the two. Key lyric: “Was a time, when I thought I could talk down to all my friends/It’s a crime, when I think of how the sun revolved around me then.”
“Feel Free,” Jay Farrar (from Sebastopol, 2001)
“Breathe in all the diesel fumes/Admire the concrete landscaping/And doesn’t it feel free.” On just about every album he puts out, Farrar nails a tune that renders a sober view of America and its ideals. The spare, resigned sound of “Feel Free” evokes a car ride from Chicago to Milwaukee, where there’s always traffic and plenty of concrete.
“E-Pro,” Beck (from Guero, 2005)
Beck reclaims “na-na-na-na-na-na-na” as a hook in this thick mix of distorted guitar and fat-assed rhythm. His lyrics are as surreal as usual—“Handing out a confection of venom,” “Hammer my bones on the anvil of daylight”—so it’s hard to know precisely what the hell he’s on about. But this sure sounds awesome cranked loud.
“A-Punk,” Vampire Weekend (from Vampire Weekend, 2008)
So familiar yet completely different. When this came tumbling out of radios and web sites in 2008, with its weird blend of jumbled rhythm and wiry ska guitar and lilting flute, it was a thoroughly alluring head scratcher. “Look outside at the raincoats coming, say oh.” Say what? Say, what other crazy rhythms you guys got?
“Crazy,” Gnarls Barkley (from St. Elsewhere, 2006)
All it takes is a snippet of this song and it’s stuck in my head for the whole day. Sometimes longer. One of the best soul tracks released in decades. Cee-Lo Green’s delivery harkens back to The O’Jays and the Isley Brothers, and Danger Mouse abets the whole affair with a lush, string-laden track that would’ve sounded right at home on Top 40 radio circa 1975.
“Jesus Walks,” Kanye West (from College Dropout, 2004)
Despite what he’s become as a media figure, and even despite the relatively traditional religious belief underlying this song, “Jesus Walks” was an explosive entre into the spotlight for West as a performer. The sinning soldier in the modern world (and rap game) metaphor works, and West takes on a myriad of targets that plague African-Americans as well as the rest of us.
“All Summer Long,” Kid Rock (from Rock N Roll Jesus, 2007)
Anyone who can successfully link samples from Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London” and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” deserves any self-respecting rock ‘n’ roll fan’s respect—if only for sheer incongruous imagination. It’s hard to shake the chorus of this song once it gets into your head, and trite as some of the lyrics may be, it’s a heartfelt look back at life by a hard-partying midwestern guy nearing 40 years old. “Sometimes I'll hear that song and I'll start to sing along/And think man I'd love to see that girl again.” Now who can’t get behind that?
See below for Best Singles 6-10 . . .
Thursday, January 21, 2010
The album format isn’t quite dead––yet–—but what the rise and dominance of file sharing, widespread broadband access, iTunes, and the iPod accomplished in the past decade is nothing short of revolutionary. Undermining the over-priced CD, the digital revolution effectively returned the music world to the pre-Sgt. Peppers era where individual songs ruled–—except today it’s done with nifty gadgets and we don’t have to actually venture into a store to purchase music. The digital revolution also effectively killed off the record store–—a truly lamentable byproduct–—but that’s a topic for another post.
For the first few years of the 2000s I was thoroughly entrenched in the machinations of a changing music industry while serving as editor for a major regional music magazine. In the last half of the decade, I progressively returned to my music fan roots. As a kid in the early ‘70s, I listened to rock radio constantly, always seeking out what’s new and trying to find music–—primarily singles–—that made me want to jump around like a spastic, made me feel elated and unstoppable and what I imagined “sexy” might have been. I picked up WLS’ weekly Top 40 listings at record stores, bought lots of 45 rpm singles, and spent most of my New Year’s Eve with one ear on the Big 89 (WLS) countdown of the year’s top songs. As the late-‘70s rolled around and I got more serious about music, I started hanging out in record stores, looking at and reading album covers way more than I bought–—though I bought a lot more music as each year progressed. The album was the thing: were the dozen songs quality or not? Did the break in sides make sense? I started picking up music press like Rolling Stone and Creem, as well as the Illinois Entertainer, and devoured everything I could about new artists, new releases, and reviews–—I read a shitload of reviews—–and began what was certainly the initial stages of my future career: arguing with friends about music.
Of course today I don’t really listen to music the same way I did as a young burgeoning music fan—–once a music critic, always a music critic–—but for the past half a decade I’ve been able to experience a little bit of that earlier, untainted response to new songs as I encounter them. Which has been pretty cool after a couple of decades of being saturated in all the information and hype and back-story behind every new release before the songs even hit my ears. So the following list of the best songs of the 2000s consists exclusively of the songs I heard over the past decade that I liked the most, I listened to the most, I find myself humming years after having first heard them, that make me live my life more intensely, that kill me in some elemental way, that make me want to play air guitar or jump around or inflict on other people.
I’ve stuck with the traditional 10 here, with honorable must-mentions afterward, and I’ve tried to put them in some kind of order, though truth be told, aside from maybe the top 2 or 3, which I know are the best songs of the first decade of the 21st century, most of the tracks listed here could change in order on any given day.
Best Singles of the 2000s
10. “Last Nite” The Strokes (from Is This It, 2001)
The simple, persistent, bashy drum spine of this song is perhaps its finest feature, though Julian Casablancas’ scratchy and slightly disinterested vocals and the ragged guitars certainly contribute to the overall urgent effect. Not much going on lyrically here–—someone’s “baby” is turned off and apparently no one really cares or understands—–but sometimes just a craggy shout of “last night” accompanied by exactly the right rhythmic down stroke is enough to induce some kind of head bob or fist pump. Helping to kick-off the retro New Wave garage rock sound of the early 2000s, “Last Nite” has a timeless sound, which is why it may be the band’s sole but worthy contribution to “classic rock” radio in the 2020s . . .
9. “Knocked Up,” Kings of Leon (from Because of the Times, 2007)
Any band with the balls big enough to open an album with a smoldering 7-minute song gets my attention—–especially when it’s a knock out like “Knocked Up.” Barely 20 years old, the members of Kings of Leon have created such a rich, empathetic story in sound and lyric that it’s hard not to be effected by the confused teens who “don’t care what nobody says/We’re gonna have a baby.” They’re blindly fleeing their hometown and the rolling bass and tense, pulsing guitar capture perfectly the clandestine and ominous sound of such an escape. Punctuated by some harping chirps lifted/inspired by King Crimson’s “Sheltering Sky,” the song explodes twice in a short cacophony of teenage anger and questioning (“Where we gonna go?”). The song is related to Springsteen’s classic “Born To Run,” only these two tramps aren’t grabbing for the brass ring—they’re angry, rebellious, and completely unsure of what they’re doing. The most telling lyric is: “[She’s] always mad and usually drunk/But I love her like no other.”
8. “December 4th,” Danger Mouse/Jay-Z (from The Grey Album, 2004)
We can argue about the first or the best mash-ups, but hands down this is the greatest example of what the form can be and do. While the juxtaposition of The Beatles gentle acoustic “Mother Nature’s Son” and Jay-Z’s confessional “December 4th” may seem utterly incongruous, DJ Danger Mouse found the riffs and the way to make each song something new in this mash-up. Danger Mouse plucks the repetitive acoustic strumming of “Mother’s Nature Son” and reinforces it with a thick, clipped hip-hop beat loop that is catchy as hell (more so than both of the song’s source material, even). Jay-Z’s original is overblown, cheesy, and self-aggrandizing, undermining great lyrics and cheapening his mom’s narrative interludes. McCartney’s “Mother Nature’s Son,” while romantically pastoral, has always been one of The White Album’s cheesier moments. Danger Mouse scrapes away the cheese from both tracks and creates a multi-layered masterpiece that adds remarkable depth to Jay’s great lyrics. (Note: not available legally, but easy to find in more nefarious ways.)
7. “I Will Possess Your Heart,” Death Cab for Cutie (from Narrow Stairs, 2008)
The four-minute-plus instrumental intro to this 8-minute opus is absolutely entrancing, pulling you deeper and deeper into the song by sheer dint of the taut musical dynamism. The methodical build of instruments is dramatic, the far-away piano ebbing and flowing amid an unwavering bass line and some quietly distorted guitars. When the lyrics kick in half way through the song, you’re almost surprised that there are words and a voice–—something of an interruption of the sonic journey you’ve already invested so much energy and imagination to. The fact that Ben Gibbard’s voice is so unassuming and his lyrics are about purely obsessive love (“You reject my advances and desperate pleas/I won’t let you let me down so easily”) fit the music so perfectly that any interruption grudge dissipates and the first half of the song begins to take on new meaning. Pretty neat trick for a rock song.
6. “My Doorbell,” The White Stripes (from Get Behind Me Satan, 2005)
Visceral. Immediate. Urgent. I believe every single word and note and missed beat of this tune. Waiting for someone you love to call on you–—how vulnerable and irrational and plaintive and pissed can a human being be? From the first flat thudding drum beat and edgy shaker that open the song, you know someone’s got something pressing to express. Soon joined by simple but persistent piano comps and Jack White’s cracked sweet voice, the song never lets up in its earnest and imperative questioning of WHY DON’T YOU RING MY FUCKING DOORBELL AND WHY AM I SUCH A FUCKING SOP FOR NEEDING YOU TO RING ANYWAY? (Even his friends won’t come and save him from such wallowing.) It’s a rather simple song, musically and lyrically, but everything sounds like it’s just slightly off in such a masterful way that the result is a kind of soul music that’s new and old school and far too rare these days.
Stay tuned for singles 5–1 (coming soon!) . . .