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Tuesday, April 18, 2006

God help America

I'm involved in an event coming up this weekend where I'm going to perform as a rapper. To get ready, I've been putting together some sound beds and drafting up some lyrics on the assigned topics. To refresh my recollection of the kind of terminology that the "professionals" use, I thought I'd listen to one of the kid stations on the radio for a few days.

What I heard deeply shocked and saddened me.

It's descended to pure filth, more than half the time. The two messages, heard over and over in these raps, are "I'm gonna f*ck you" and "I'm gonna kill you." And believe me, it's no less explicit than that, although the four-letter words are edited out of the radio versions of these numbers, in a mockery of decency. Sexual positions, prostitution, and hatred for everyone, especially women -- "I'm lookin for a girl that will do whatever the f*ck I say" is a featured lyric currently in heavy rotation. And the young women performing are all about "I'll make you feel good, I promise."

Now when I was a kid back in the stone age, we had our share of risque material. Let's spend the night together. Bend over, let me see you shake your tail feather. Why don't we do it in the road?

But in 2006, turn on a station like 95.5 FM in Portland, any hour of the day, and see what comes blasting out. I dare you to listen to it for an hour. Then understand that this is what we're letting radio station owners like Paul Allen peddle to our middle schoolers. All the most virulent garbage, all the time.

It's no mystery why the 4-year-old kids are being shot inside the day care centers now. The explanation is no further away than your radio.

On my way home tonight, I heard an ad come on this station for a downtown nightclub. They're having a party there tomorrow night, and guess who the big attractions are? The two Trail Blazers who were suspended this week for failure to even show up to be with the team: Zach Randolph and Darius Miles. They took time out from their busy schedules to invite everyone down to "da cluuub" after tomorrow night's season-ending game, a season in which their team was the worst in the league. Time to party with the two highest paid people in the whole city, and among the most clueless.

If you're downtown, be sure to wear your bulletproof vest.

Why there aren't people with picket signs following Mr. Allen around and surrounding his sordid little radio station is beyond me. Parents who get so hot when they talk about making their kids go to a different school -- where are you when your kids turn on the radio? At the very least, your children are interacting with peers who listen to this material at every opportunity, and who have no skills at filtering the content.

If America ever really was the envy of the world, those days are coming to an end. You want proof? Check out Jammin' 95.

Comments (25)

Thanks for joining the chorus. Now I know there are two of us. Try the Spanish AM's as they are spilling a different but even more dangerous swill.

where are you when your kids turn on the radio?...

Uh...driving six middle-schoolers to their basketball game?

I think its important to listen to what they're listening to. And with them, so I can help be a filter, though you'd be amazed, Jack, how little middle-schoolers ask for this adult's opinion on their musical tastes.

The thing is, it's mostly background noise. They understand the sexism, the homophobia, the embarassing lyrics more than we give them credit for, I think. I hope. Plus, it gets old, and boring. It's forced edginess surrounded by bad commercials. There's a lot of channel flipping.

Jack, Jack, Jack - they are going to come take your official "I'm a democrat" card away if you keep doing posts like this one and the one that got you kicked out of the 'mutual progessive admiration society'. Remember, part of the democratic/liberal mantra is No Judgment. They are just 'expressing' themselves.

Yup, just one more reason that my high schooler goes to a private Christian high school.

BTW - did you see the headline about the tram that got stuck in NYC over the East River? Soon we can have a similar headline about riders being stuck over the I-5 freeway. Portland, it's a great town.

Frank - sorry to disagree with you, but it's not all "background noise" to many of the kids out there. Like the punks I saw at the Max station the other day in Gresham... I was a block away and I still could hear them belting out this swill. Very vulgar. I had a spirited conversation with my 13-year old daughter the other day. She didn't understand why I didn't want to hear her describe something cool as being "pimp". This crap seeps into their vocabulary and it only gets worse every year. I'm no puritan - when my daughters aren't around I'll throw something intense into the CD player. But nothing that I'd want to hear on the public airways.

At the very least, your children are interacting with peers who listen to this material at every opportunity, and who have no skills at filtering the content.

That's the main point, Jack, and it's a good one. Yeah, some kids, who are raised in a stable home, and who are taught the basic difference between right and wrong can understand the inherent irony of a multi-gazillionaire like 50 Cent rapping about the tough life on the streets. They understand that it is all an act. However, they attend school and walk through life surrounded by kids who don't have that luxury--who don't have a stable home life with parents who will take the time to teach them about stuff like this.

When I was in high school, my mom would always say, in reference to me driving: "It's not you I worry about...it's the other drivers." That's my feeling about this crap music: it's not my kids I worry about, it's all the others.

That being said, Jack, I'm sure a lot of rap purists would cringe at anyone who thinks 95.5 is representative of all rap.

Bingo, Jack, bingo!

Kulture is KING in America and our poor kids of color don't stand a chance when they all think they gonna be Tupac. Or Fiddy.

Uh, Tupac is dead, y'all. Shot so many times they had to close the casket.

Thanks, Jack. You are so right this time.

Are you really implying that rap is descending America into the last circle of hell? As the previous comment mentioned, 95.5 is not representative of rap. While some of the rappers featured on that station may have some skills, much of the music is featured for different reasons. Mainly because of their connection to big record labels who use the rappers as commodities to sell! sell! sell! Those record execs pander to the lowest common denominator of America, feeding into that mentality, and ultimately reducing that genre of music to something akin to pornography. Blame should be justly laid upon them. Just like slave traders, they seek to destroy and turn another purely black American vernacular artform into another commodity. Just like they did to rock-n-roll.

I plan on not allowing my kids (when I have them) to listen to radio. not only for the problems you describe, but because of the absolute swill they call rock music these days. There are great musicians (including rappers like Talib Kweli, Madvillian, etc.) out there who never have a chance to get on the radio. maybe there is some hope with satellite radio. The stuff they play on 95 is to real hip hop what Clay Aiken is to real rock music.

Halfway, I don't see it your way, Jack. I have spent too much time listening on Jammin and dancing in the clubs to it and going to some shows of it.

What you say is there, is. And there's life in it. You can cue me if you want to hear my opinion and enjoyments.

I had a spirited conversation with my 13-year old daughter the other day. She didn't understand why I didn't want to hear her describe something cool as being "pimp". This crap seeps into their vocabulary and it only gets worse every year. I'm no puritan - when my daughters aren't around I'll throw something intense into the CD player. But nothing that I'd want to hear on the public airways.

I know most people are going to cringe, but Bill O'Reilly talks about this a lot. About protecting the little kids who dont have responsible parents at home. (Or parents at all.) When he rails about 50 Cent & such. And reports from teachers who hear 8 yr old boys calling female classmates "ho's" and even worse. Its disgusting.
But when its brought up, we are blamed for not understanding the "culture".

Thanks for this post, Jack. I posted something similar on my blog last night as well, and worried for a moment that I was becoming prudish. The geniuses over at Hasbro have decided to market mini-whores to Americaís daughters aged 6 to 9 years old. Itís sexual exploitation of children, pure and simple, and I think the same it true of the music you quoted. I donít understand why parents arenít more outraged. God help America indeed.

Jack, i rarely comment here. but, this does hit a different note lately.
i truly believe that music will and should evolve. that being said, there is something of an evil undertone that permeates this new slant on the 30 year-old migration of rap. on a different note,(pun)it is weird that rap has withstood the time assault on pop music much better than rock, jazz, disco, etc......it is considered the "new" thing by kids and yet if it was the beatles, it would be 1994 by now in the history of the genre.
that being said, i take great care with my own kids to limit what they have access to.
you can still ask someone to "shake" without the implied threat if they don't.

Not being afraid to highjack a thread, have you heard of Curtis and his unfortunate news? we need to step up Portland and support him. In many ways he was a linchpin to many of the greatest musical happenings here. He performed for countless benefits and now we need to give back a little. there is a fund set up in PDX to support his recovery.


John, I have not heard about Curtis. What happened?

Never mind. I see it now.


Ok, enough with the "won't somebody PLEASE think of the children"-level hysteria. Let me attempt to bring another perspective to the table. I've listened to a substantial amount of music, everything from Billy Holiday and Sinatra to 50 Cent's "The Massacre." The most shocking line in any pop song I've heard, to date, remains this little chestnut:

"I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die."

Recorded by Johnny Cash in the '50s, I do believe, a half century before 50 Cent, the Bratz toy line and all the rest rolled up on the scene.

In the '50s parents were decrying Elvis' gyrating hips and all those nasty greasers with their "zip guns." In the '60s everything from the Beatles' shaggy hair and John Lennon's "Jesus" line to Jim Morrison's cheery little ditty about killing his father and raping his mother ("The End" anyone?) were going to destroy our fair nation. In the '70s it was KISS, the '80s had Madonna and parents were burning Marilyn Manson records in the '90s.

If American culture can survive Gene Simmon's blood-dripping tongue on the side of lunchboxes sold at Toys 'R Us in the mid-70s and Ozzy's bat-munching in the '80s, it'll get past the Black Eyed Peas' song about "humps." The only difference between the Johnny Cash's "Cocaine Blues" and whatever is being played on Jammin' 95.5 are the beats and the bleeped-out f-words.

The message remains the same: sex and violence are cool. If this were the '30s, you'd all be ranting about the evils of jazz and zoot suits.

I suspect most of the people in this forum grew up during the '60s, an era where women weren't wearing mini-skirts and make-up like the Bratz girls, they weren't wearing anything all (I saw that "Woodstock" movie) while all the guys were blasting their brain cells with psychedelics. Try as they may, today's generation will never get as crazy as everyone who came of age during the Nixon era.

I totally get what you are saying Brandon, but couldn't disagree more. The question isn't whether that hasn't always been parent angst at negative and intense music. The problem today is that it's SOOOOOO prevalent. It's everywhere. And it's celebrated like never before. It used to be more a "fringe" type of thing. Now it's creeping into TV shows, into movies, into the sports world. And a genre and/or artists that denigrate women as ho's in song after song after song over the airways is a helluva lot worse than Iron Maiden singing "Number of the Beast", which never got much airplay.

It's everywhere. And it's celebrated like never before. It used to be more a "fringe" type of thing.

Really? Where do kids get their music these days? With the exception of the internet, the same places their parents did: MTV, the radio, movies, their friends, the mall, commercials, etc. Even the Doors' "Light My Fire" appeared in a car ad in the late '60s. KISS, in all their pseudo-satanic glory were all over the place in the '70s. Lunch boxes, t-shirts, the radio, they even had a prime time special on network tv ("KISS Meets the Phantom"). Madonna appeared in a Pepsi commercial with burning crosses in the background during her "Like a Prayer" era.

If anything, today's parents should be glad all these rappers are God-fearing. As much as they disrespect women and promote gun violence, at least they aren't claiming they sacrifice animals to appease the dark spirits of the underworld or whatever Alice Cooper was singing about back in the day. Every rapper from Nelly to 50 Cent wears a cross around his neck and has at least one song thanking the Good Lord for their success.

All those butt rockers were all about sex, drugs and violence but without the pro-Jesus tracks. Even John Lennon had a few songs saying there is no God.

As for prevalence, who were the two most prevalent, best selling artists during the era most of these parents grew up? Michael Jackson and Madonna. One spent most of the '80s screaming and grabbing his crotch while the other, well, take your pick.

The ultimate goal of the music industry is apparently to provide children with entertainment that will piss off their parents. For this generation it's gun-totting rappers, for the next, who knows?

Larry writes Frank - sorry to disagree with you, but it's not all "background noise"...I had a spirited conversation with my 13-year old daughter the other day. She didn't understand why I didn't want to hear her describe something cool as being "pimp".

Hey, Daddio, you need to chill with the "cool." Cool as in Trane doing crack? Or cool as Miles blowin' horn and weed? Cool as in Cafe Wha in the village, smoking cigs and grooving to Kerouac-Love Fest--make-it-happen-here-and-now, be there or be square, man, you don't dig it, do you?

Tell your daughter instead of "pimp" she should be calling what's cool: the cat's pajamas. Cuttin' edge, Dude.

It's just words, man.

In the meantime, when the boys tire of the ads, or the crap in heavy rotation, and want to change tunes, I slip 'em some KMHD. For their own good. 'Cause it's cool.

Steve The problem today is that it's SOOOOOO prevalent. It's everywhere.

I had my first espresso at Cafe Wha? (Soon to open a branch in SoWa?) Found out coffee was more than freeze dried Sanka.

And look what happened...can you walk five steps in this burg without tripping over a Starbucks?

We've already got three on Hawthorne, now there's one going into our Safeway. Safeway, for God's sakes, man!

As a mother, I hate those songs. I find the lyrics obnoxious, offensive and alarming --as my mother did the lyrics of my youth. And, I remember how, on some level, they wouldn't have been "cool" if they hadn't raised the hair on the backs of the adult's necks... (Gotta wonder what the NEXT generation will come up with to get this rap generation all a-twitter, when they, in turn, become alarmed and shocked parents...)

Considering the common fate of rap stars -- they exit a nightclub, get shot, well, yeah, that's ugly. But I remember the common fate of the rock stars of my youth -- exit a nightclub, go to a seedy motel and die choking on their own puke or overdosing in a pool or some even more charming combination of the above...

Their music glorifies criminals. Our music glorified junkies. Doesn't mean they will all be turned into criminals, or that all the boomers grew up to be junkies.

Not to say there are not problems with poverty, drug abuse and neglected/abused children or the objectification/abuse/demeaning of woman. But that's not new to this generation, and if you shut down all the rap stations tomorrow, you would not change it.

What Brandon said, yet without the nonchalance, (I guess that would be, 'with chalance'), as to effect. Meaning, this is the end of the line for these developments; in the next generation what and all that attains is make it yourself -- rock'n'roll, drugs, sex, whatever. Got any? Then you got it. Don't got any? Then you don't got it.

The next age is genesis. Where nothing derives from the prior. Brandon will still be cool, and all that. Just, nothing derives from the prior.

I would prefer to not hear Genesis again.

(And I could make a half-baked pun about everything deriving from Pryor, but I'll just halfway make it instead.)

[Jack, funny how I couldn't use the UK spelling for a term describing a beast of burden in this comment. PG-13, eh?]

One final comment - Double entendre blues and R&B was the hottest music around (jukebox-wise) in the early to mid 50s. Songs like "60-Minute Man," "It Ain't The Meat," "Big 10-Inch Record," "Big, Long Slidin' Thing" (by Dinah Washington, no less) were as commonplace as anything you hear on 95.5 - just not on the radio which would never play anything so self-consciously sexual back then.

Although, how on earth did Little Richard get away with saying, "Good golly, Miss Molly / Sho' loves to ball"?

Lucille Bogan was dropping F-bombs on records back in the mid-30s.

As for violence, listen to Lightnin' Hopkins, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Mississippi John Hurt, "Frankie & Johnnie," "Stack-O-Lee," etc. All songs well entrenched in American musical vernacular by WWII with violence just as graphic as "Folsom Prison Blues" or "Murder Was the Case."

The content hasn't changed, we've just become permissive enough as a culture to allow it on the radio.

I blame Country Joe.

It is one of my greatest frustrations that conversations like this about popular culture so often devolve into (1) "Everything sucks now, and everything used to be meaningful, serious, and clean," and (2) "Changes in music are the reason we have so much crime."

Everything in popular culture does not suck, and current rock/pop music is not all "swill." That just isn't a knowledgeable response. It is also not true that violence in music is the reason, or the main reason, that there's violence. I don't believe that for a minute.

The problem is that it's incredibly difficult to even have this discussion about the genuine difference between "Good Golly, Miss Molly, sho' likes to ball," which is a good example of defeating the silly notion that popular music wasn't dirty until Madonna, and songs that are ever more persistently about the crossover of sex and beating the hell out of women or humiliating them or making them take it because you say so. Because that is a problem.

And the reason you can't have the discussion is that we live in a society that has not learned to engage popular culture seriously -- to distinguish between the good and the bad in pure entertainment. Unrelenting cultural snobbery is one of the reasons this debate isn't more productive; we wind up talking about whether there just isn't any good music or anything good on TV or anything good at the movies, all of which are absurd generalizations.

Jack is right. The outbreak of popular music about killing people and humiliating and violating women is legitimately new and legitimately disturbing, but "I don't let my kids listen to the radio" is like lopping off your head to cure an ear infection. Popular culture contains worlds of brilliant music of all genres, as well as genuinely entertaining television and movies. Rather than dismissing everything as having gone all to hell, you need to do the work of distinguishing the good from the bad.

i wonder if all of you wring your hands over the internet and it's influence on children nearly as much as you do rap music. i would submit that it's influence on the current generation dwarfs tv and radio put together. i can also tell you i've seen things out there that i never saw in my dad's stack of penthouse mags.

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