Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Consider the source

In case you haven’t read about this elsewhere, there’s a huge storm brewing at The Source, and for once it doesn’t involve Eminem or the editors of XXL.

On April 11, Kim Osorio, formerly editor-in-chief at the pioneering hip-hop magazine, and Michelle Joyce, formerly a vice president at the company, filed a sexual harassment suit, alleging a pattern of institutional discrimination and abuse. David Mays, who co-founded the monthly, and Ray “Benzino” Scott, chief brand executive at The Source, have since filed a counter-suit against the two women. But, apparently fearing a court fight wouldn’t be nasty enough, the two decided to impugn the women’s character as well, with Mays and Scott telling anyone who’d listen that Osorio had “sexual relations” with numerous hip-hop stars. It’s better than calling her a “lying slut,” but not by much.

If you’re as disgusted by such behaviour as I am, make your voice heard. Joan Morgan, Elizabeth Mendez Berry and Jeff Chang have put together a petition that objects to these sexist smears, as well as the casual objectification of women that has become all-too-common in The Source and other hip-hop magazines. Read the petition here, and sign if you agree.

As anyone who has worked in the field knows, music magazines by nature tend to be boys clubs, but that’s no excuse for making women feel unwelcome — or worse. Unfortunately, the suit against The Source, like previous sexual harassment suits against Billboard and Spin, will neither be the solution nor the last word on the subject, and it’s a sad reflection on music journalism.

Monday, April 18, 2005

New York’s Alright If You Like Saxophones

I was in New York City recently, for the first time in several years, and it was odd to be in the position of having been away for so long. Even before I lived there, I generally got to the city at least once every month or two, and during my brief time on TV — anyone remember VH1’s 4 On the Floor? — was in Manhattan pretty much every other week.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss it, but I’d also be lying if I claimed to be eager to move back. I’d forgotten how loud and filthy the city is — I’m not sure which was more depressing, watching people throw their trash onto the subway tracks, or realizing that I was the only person in the station bothered by the sight — and was reminded that, in many ways, what tourists love best about New York is the endless ways to spend money it offers. So long as Americans equate strolling by the overpriced boutiques along Fifth Avenue with sight-seeing, socialism never has a chance there.

A lot had changed in the few years since I moved away. The mammoth Time Warner complex was a construction site then, not a skyscraper hunched over a shopping mall, and subway trains had not yet been plastered with American flags (a move no doubt meant to reassure tourists that despite the state of the MTA, they have not been unexpectedly transported to a third-world country). And it may just have been a function of where and when I traveled, but it seemed like there were fewer musicians playing in the subways. Particularly on the platforms, which back in the day was a forum for quite a few gifted Chinese classical musicians; this trip, the only platform performer I caught was a dazed gospel singer who seemed unable to remember more than half a verse of the spiritual she was singing.

Still, while jazz may be dying in the clubs, it continues to have a place in mass transit. In addition to a fine young tenor player whose subway-entrance soliloquies added some old-school 42nd St. feel to the Disney-fied Times Square, I caught a ragged-but-enthusiastic combo wailing loud and free (or at least only loosely following changes) at the Grand Central stop. Even better, they actually had an audience. Now, that’s the New York I truly miss.

Friday, April 08, 2005

The Big Payback

Change is in the wind here in Canada, now that a publication ban has been lifted and the press is full of stories about kickbacks in Québec to the members of the ruling Liberal party. Getting almost as much ink are stories about how voters want to punish the liberals, and how the Tories, eager to exploit that anger, are gearing up for an election that could come as early as May.

Stay tuned — it’s not often you see an entire country cut off its nose to spite its face.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Vatican Blues

Although much will likely be said about the late Pope John Paul II (who died Saturday at 84 after a long illness), it’s unlikely any of it will have to do with popular music.

OK, there was the infamous Sinead O’Connor incident, in which the shaven-headed singer capped a Saturday Night Live performance of “Success Has Made a Failure of Our Home” with an a cappella performance of Bob Marley’s “War,” followed by her shouting “Fight the real enemy!” and tearing up a picture of the Pope. It was a bit of a shock, and led to O’Connor getting booed off the stage at a Bob Dylan tribute not long thereafter. But strictly speaking, that had more to do with O’Connor than with John Paul II, and it’s worth noting that O’Connor did eventually apologize for the stunt.

But John Paul I, his predecessor, was the subject of a song by Patti Smith. Seriously. “Wave,” the title tune from her third album, was a one-way conversation with the late pontiff, to whom the singer once waved while visiting the Vatican. Offhand, I can’t think of any mainstream pop songs about John Paul II; there’s nothing in Jeff Green’s wonderful The Green Book of Songs by Subject, nor does a cursory Google search turn up much beyond devotional music.

Still, John Paul II was not only a big music fan — “I have a sweet tooth for song and music,” he once said; “This is my Polish sin” — but a recording artist in his own right. Amazon carries eight of his albums, while the All Music Guide includes him among their gospel artists. (John Paul II, Shirley Ceasar and Al Green — now, that would have been a show to see!) I actually reviewed one of his albums, in the January, 1995 edition of Musician:

John Paul II

The Rosary with the Pope (Cesar ISR)
Possibly the lamest rapping I’ve ever heard....

OK, so I’m a smart-ass. But even though I didn’t always applaud with his dicta (like a number Catholics, I would prefer to see women accorded a broader role in the Church), I found John Paul II to be a real inspiration in my life. A number of examples spring to mind, among them his Letter to the Jews, and his efforts to bring lapsed Catholics back into the fold with the new millennium. But the most emotional came two days after the 9/11 attacks. I was working at Blender then, and the office had been suddenly shut down due to bomb threats nearby. Wandering down to Union Square, I looked at some of the messages posted there, and was unexpectedly saddened to see calls for violence and vengeance among the impromptu memorials. For some reason, I suddenly flashed on the Pope, remembering how after having been shot by Mehmet Ali Agca he had gone to visit his would-be assassin in prison, where he forgave the gunman. It gave me solace and hope, reminding me of the healing power forgiveness bestows.

It’s a tough lesson, forgiveness, and more easily praised than practiced. It probably won’t be listed among his achievements in the obits, but for me it will be the highlight of John Paul II’s legacy. And that’s better than a pop song, any day.

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