Monday, December 26, 2011

Say Hello To My Little Friend!

D'Artagnan (Christmas Eve, 2011)
On Christmas Eve of 2011, I brought this little fellow to his new home. Born in the Bronx sixth or more months ago, D'Artagnon has been a welcome addition to the family (except maybe from the guinea pigs' perspectives) and has adjusted very nicely to his surroundings. He's a handsome armful of sleek fur and personality; his default energy position seems to be warp speed, especially when he finds something particularly interesting. But when he's offline... I've never seen a cat that could out-flat a pancake without even trying until now.  On top of that, his lineage seems to include rubber bands; when he stretches, he takes up half the couch. It will be interesting when he becomes a full-grown adult; all the civil rights and political discussions (I would think that he is a Maoist, but then he has empirical tendencies when it comes to territory and certain places he's not allowed to encroach upon).

D'Artagnan (named after Gene Kelly's dashing upstart of Three Musketeers fame for what will be obvious reasons when you click on the link) is an American Bombay; a breed that was introduced in 1958 as a way to recreate a "miniature panther". He's somewhat needy and loves attention, but he gets along well with everyone. He's got to be the sweetest kitty I've met in a while; engaging and friendly, quick reflexes and intelligent. I grew up with dogs and cats, so I know certain things to expect, but I'm looking forward to discovering what kind of tricks he has in his bag (maybe we can trade a secret or two).  Feel free to post any expert kitty advice, and I'll be sure to pass on any questions you might have for him (he's rather articulate for a year-old).  Miao... er, I mean Ciao!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

When 2 Wrongs make A Right: Another Fascinatingly Stupid Story From the Net

(Pueblo Deputy Police Chief Andrew) McLachlan said a patrol officer was tipped off by an off-duty detective to a car making an illegal lane change on Interstate 25, about 115 miles south of Denver.
The north-south highway has long been a drug-smuggling corridor, he said. When the officer pulled over the rented Chevrolet Malibu, he discovered that (Mark) Bailey's California driver's license had been revoked.
Bailey, 37, told the officer he owned an auto body shop in California, and was en route to Iowa to look at a 1955 Chevy, police said.
The officer became suspicious because when (Lisa) Calderon, 35, was questioned she appeared nervous. She said the pair were going to visit her brother in Iowa but couldn't say where, police said.
When the officer noticed that the back of the car appeared to be weighed down, he summoned a drug-sniffing dog and its handler to the scene. The dog, name Raleigh, "alerted on the rear of the Chevy," McLachlan said.
A search of the trunk uncovered four black duffel bags stuffed with bricks of cocaine, and the pair was arrested, he said.
Bailey was also cited for driving with a suspended license, and no proof of insurance.

Now I have to be honest, my first thought after reading this was, "Couldn't the cops have come up with a better story as to why they pulled the car over?"  Here in the Northeast, I've been pulled over many times for what is known as "profiling", though the cops don't necessarily call it that.  They use excuses like "tail light wasn't working" or "one headlight was off" or "what are you doing around here?" but never in my life had I been pulled over or issued a ticket for "illegal lane change"... on an interstate highway, no less.  What is that? Cops in New York hardly bother with speeders anymore, so I can't imagine.  But during the course of a "routine traffic stop," the stupidometer rotates in another direction and starts calculating quickly as the driver and passenger tell their stories, leading to a reasonable suspicion to search the car, thus turning up 220 pounds of cocaine, with an estimated street value of $10 million. 

That's $10 million dollars... cool. 

What tipped them off? Old boy from California, dude, says he's going to Iowa to look at a 1955 Chevy because he owns an auto shop, and naturally that's the kind of thing an auto shop owner would do; drive halfway across the country to look at an old car that you could otherwise find ALL OVER CALIFORNIA or even Arizona if you're retired or in witness protection. So they ask the lady, and she's saying that she's visiting a brother in Iowa.  Oh, where does he live? "Uh, I dunno..." Oh, Des Moines you say? They have nice corn silk from what I hear.  Would you mind stepping out of the car, please? I'm certain she had to have been nervous at this point if she already wasn't before.  

Because that's when they bring in Raleigh the Dyno-mutt (he's from Pueblo) who sniffs around and says, "DY-NO-MIIITE!" because he's found over 200 lbs of pure snow in four duffel bags in the back of the car... enough, apparently, to weigh down the rear of the car which eagle-eyed traffic officers also noticed when Dude made an illegal lane change and tipped off their brethren down the line about.  So they arrest the two of them and charge Dude with driving with a revoked license and lack of proof of insurance.  Oh, they also charge them both with suspicion of trafficking (across state lines, no doubt).  Why suspicion, you ask? Because Dude was driving a rental car.  

Now lets think about this a little more objectively.  A rental car? Holy Nineafreakinleven, Batman, how did this guy rent a car with a revoked license? Could it have anything to do with, hmm, lets see... CALIFORNIA?  And what rental company does not provide registration and insurance material inside the glove compartment of a rental vehicle... actually, a lot of them don't.  I know a few that don't and it almost bit me once at the airport, but I talked my way out of that pretty well.  But that still doesn't excuse the fact that they rented the car to a guy with a revoked license, which is suspicious when you think about it.  What's their involvement in the trafficking of $10 million (I repeat, not chump change!) in uncut cocaine? "We didn't know" does not apply here, and neither does "the system was down."  Someone did someone else a favor and was expecting a cut, but if they had vested the merchants they were dealing with, they would have realized the P/E ratio, not to mention the I/Q ratio, was kinda iffy. I'm not buying it. 

So the auto shop owner doesn't make sure his license is legal and up-to-date for a cross-country trek to the cornfield to look at an old car.  Then his friend, who is obviously from another planet, doesn't think to come up with an address in said cornfield so that their story can seem the least bit plausible.  Being that there's not much to choose from to begin with, you would think that would have been an easy enough task.  But no, she either forgot, or she was lazy or maybe she didn't think any of this would happen.  Not doing your homework on time has far reaching consequences, children.  So next time,  parents and teachers, when a child questions the necessity and importance of homework, or forgets to do it or Raleigh comes to your town and eats it, you have a ready teachable moment right here.  Prepare for the future, yungins, or you might end up like Mark Baily and Lisa Calderon, who are Not Smarter Than A Fifth Grader.  And if your child or student has already developed these tendencies, make sure you tip off highway patrol when they get on the bus.  Preparation and teaching doesn't end when the bell rings. 

But enough about them.  How about those police officers? Dedication to your craft and Communication are key; when an off-duty officer saw Dude on an interstate highway making an illegal lane change (hop the divider? what?), he got on the radio and called his work buddy and told him, "Hey! I know this is a major drug corridor and all, so I thought I should tell you I saw someone changing lanes illegally!" and the on-duty officer, who might have thought he was talking about something lewd people do in public (because that's how police officers think, don't deny it!) thanked him and proceeded to look for him, because he obviously had nothing better to do and that's the kind of thing a suspected drug smuggler would do. So they pull him over because a few miles back, someone (not saying who) saw him do something stupid and he has to explain why.  "It was the biggest bust this department ever made," the deputy sheriff later told the news wire.  I'll bet. Nah, it wasn't a tip-off by a narc or a snitch, it was dedication and communication.  The bottom line is they caught some major breeze.

Ten million dollars is nothing to scoff at, ladies and gentlemen, even if it is a multi-billion dollar industry.  Just look at pro-sports; when an athlete gets ten million dollars a year to play better than you would, a lot of people get uptight about it.  $10 million in raw sugar? Now that's a blow to anyone's steelo, never mind their pride.  Someone is going to receive a Colombian Necktie for a Christmas present; that is if they still have a head and neck to handle it. To an overlord, that might be the cost of doing business.  But let's face facts: do you know any overlords?  Is he coming to your neighborhood to ask you what you think?  Not exactly. He's gonna do what most business folks do and examine the process down the line with his underlings and functionaries carrying out the orders.  You might know Tyrone , who answers to Money Grip who in turn answers to Nino.  But Nino doesn't talk to you, either, and Money Grip might say only a few menacing words to you at best.  And either way, that's none of their problem, because it was a royal screw up in the Operations department.  Oh, maybe Nino coordinated to transport with a supplier, but then the transporters didn't do their homework in school and it finally caught up to them.  Maybe Dude actually is Nino, who couldn't trust his minions with such a major shipment.  But then, you don't get to be Nino by not doing your homework...

I could go on and on, but the bottom line is that even the blind squirrel occasionally finds the nut.  And for whatever reason, be it by pure accident, pure generosity by the overlords to make the police department and the feds look good so Congress can keep supporting them with tax dollars to fight the War Against Drugs (while the real shipments pass by unnoticed) or whether it was by sheer and utter stupidity, a few months' worth of cocaine was taken out of the system between Park County and Dubuque.  That's more cocaine that ends up as Exhibit A for the time being (before possibly being eased back in).  Let's look at it from a positive light.  Less crack, less snowballs, less China White, blow, sniff, coke, freebase, whatever that ends up in a person, particularly a child's body and causes them to do irreparable harm to themselves or others.  I honestly don't care how it happened, as long as it's gone.  To me, it's just funny how two wrongs can sometimes make a right.  

And remember the old saying: "Don't be gentle, it's a rental!"  >;) 

Saturday, July 23, 2011

"That's Hooper, Big Bird... Hooper"

At some point we all let go of things that bind us to childhood, so maybe it was a year or two after I drifted away from Sesame Street that this was broadcast.  I dunno, I still watched it off and on due to my burgeoning interest in cartooning, but this somehow escaped me. I had always wondered what had happened to Mr. Hooper... did he retire and move to Florida as most people his age would do? Was he in an old folks home? Or did he just leave and was talked about, but not in a way that would disturb the show's target audience?

Mr. Hooper died. He was never coming back.  We know this because... well, just because. 

The tender, yet frank nature of this revelation was brought to us by grown ups who wanted to teach children something meaningful.  It was not overwrought, nor was it sugarcoated with children happy code.  Big Bird, the anchor of the show, it's ultimate symbol of childhood and our stand-in as kids who wish they knew how to get to Sesame Street, learned one of the truest life lessons of all, and so did we.  Each adult had a moment to say something that imparted the nature and wisdom of the lesson, and in doing so they all had a moment to address something which adults are otherwise tasked to hide or put aside for a greater good: their grief.  And in doing so, they not only taught us one of the greatest lessons in life, but also created one of the most indellible moments in TV history.

Watching this brought me to a part in my mind and my spirit I often try to avoid because it is so painful.  Yet when you watch people react in a way you either have or wish you had, you can't turn away from it.  It reminds you of the moment you felt the same way for someone else.  In this case, Mr. Hooper was a character I grew up with, yet his departure from the story was not so devastating to me as a child as seeing the reaction to it as an adult.  Why? Because I lived it, and I can understand from both sides of the coin.  The loss of a loved one to a child is grievous and harrowing, but a child grows in body and intellect and will assimilate this loss in a much different way than an adult.  As an adult, we are mindful of such loss, yet we understand and address the nature of life and death, especially as we grow closer to the latter.  The nature of a "rational" adult is to protect and survive, and thus our instincts drive us to act, as opposed to think; as though there is "not enough time" to dwell on the meaning of the loss, or we might also die.  Action is symbolic of life, and our aversion to death and the need to reaffirm our sense of life drives us to act out of a sense of duty to ourselves and those around us.

It is not wrong, it is instinct.  But one thing that separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom, even if it's ultimately just a little, is our ability to rationalize.  It is the foundation of all philosophy; the answer to life's questions. The answers are predicated by circumstances and how we adapt to them mentally, spiritually and emotionally.  The one thing that drives us closer to our primal state is not having an answer. My best guess is that sadness is closer to primal emotions and especially death than any other emotion, anger included.  And what is sadder than what is lost that was loved and made us happy?

With so much making us unhappy these days, it has to be daunting to get up every morning and have to be confronted with it every day.  We read about it, hear about it, see it and by consequence insulate ourselves from it before we are overwhelmed.  If it isn't someone old, it's someone young.  If it wasn't natural, it's news. But what does all of this information overload do to us?  Are we truly desensitized to death, or distracted from it enough to avoid facing our primal instincts?

Yes, it is that deep.  It was brave of the cast and crew to address death this way and teach children about it in this manner not so long ago. It was a brilliant and ultimately timeless way to address an important issue and provide a means of healing for those who experienced it then as well as now.  It choked me up and brought me to tears all these years later.  And here I am, rationalizing it all to you.

How do you feel? Because I feel alive.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Saturday, April 16, 2011

This Is A Sampling Sport...

Copyright Criminals from IndiePix on Vimeo.

It's rather fitting that I'm writing this on Record Store Day. Anybody that really knows Will and I know that we are students of the sound collage, the audio cut-up. A good part of our friendship in its early stages was based around taking bits and pieces from different records, cassettes, CDs, television shows and commercials, and mixing all of that up to create something fun and amusing, even if it was only funny to us. I liked to refer to it as "blackdada", an absurdist audio take on being Black in America. However, as Will once accurately stated through his Ozzark & Company comic strip, "You can never take Blackness too seriously."

The above trailer is from a documentary called Copyright Criminals, which is all about sampling culture and features a number of great artists in hip-hop, soul, funk, and rock music. It was part of the Independent Lens series on PBS and it's also available to watch through Netflix and Hulu. My man Fitz recently tipped me off to an online mixtape put together by one of my cut-up heroes, the great Steve Stein a.k.a. Steinski. His latest Rough Mix includes music discussed in the new book Creative License: The Law and Culture of Digital Sampling. It also incorporates bits of commentary from Copyright Criminals weaved through this amazing connect-the-dots hodgepodge of songs from the likes of James Brown, De La Soul, Public Enemy, Steely Dan, Marley Marl, Jungle Brothers, A Tribe Called Quest, Parliament-Funkadelic, and a bunch of other sample origins that are escaping me right now. It's incredible. It celebrates the art of sampling and music making as a whole and the mix is ABSOLUTELY FREE for the taking.

You can find the mix for free download right here. Consider this the official jump start to your weekend. Enjoy...

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

This Or That: Most Impressive MC-DJ Duo

It's 2:45 in the morning as I write this, and being that I've found myself awake a lot lately, I decided to contemplate pressing questions of the hour.  Being  that no one in their right mind would be up at this hour, I skimmed through Facebook, where a friend posted "You should have a healthy fear of us..." in his dark, hardcore spoken-word fashion, yet to me it delightfully hearkens back to the 80's PSA below:

(I used to seriously joke on this commercial as a kid)

As I was wandering down memory lane, including the thought of how Busta Rhymes would reference the chorus twenty years later on his chart burner Dangerous,  my derisive mind also began to think of a Doug E Fresh PSA about drugs which at the end he references Pink Floyd's The Wall with "And kids... Lea' Dat Crack Alone!" (you had to be there...), which oddly enough, Method Man references in his duo with Redman for How High (Part 2).  While I didn't find the Doug E Fresh clip, I discovered the origin of the Dougie Dance (...really?) as well as the following:

For some reason, this led to research about some of the more interesting duos of what is referred to as the "Golden Age of Hip Hop" when rapping was, um, fun and/or meaningful... and beats were hard, loud and sampled...

Oh, I know what it was. I looked up the entry for Doug E. Fresh in Wikipedia, which revealed to me that as revered as he is in the Hip Hop Community, he did not have much of a discography to speak of, compared to his original cohort Slick Rick.  I began debating in my mind, if I were a rapper, whose career would I rather have, Doug E Fresh or Slick Rick? I mean really, Doug E Fresh only had two or three LPs at best, which are all out of print.  He produced the fine debut of Lil Vicious, who went on to great whatever.  He also appeared on quite a few mainstream shows and inspired a generation of beatboxers more than either The Human Beatbox from the Fat Boys or even Biz Markie, but as far as I can tell, it's apples and oranges... I give the career success to Doug, but the lyrical legend is definitely Rick the Ruler. 

This tangent led me to also look up the life and times of Eric B & Rakim; their origins, their impact and their split. For what it's worth, this duo is probably the first pairing of MC and DJ that was not only a sustained success, but had a major impact on hip hop in general.  Up until their debut in 1986, breakbeats were primarily from dance songs or synthesizers.  When Eric B introduced the hip hop world to the likes of Fonda Rae (reused more faithfully by De La Soul nearly a decade later) and... James Brown (yes, the rebirth began here), it did indeed have a mind-blowing impact on hip hop music. Dee Jays and producers raced to the nearest record store to dig up James Brown records and eventually the records of those he influenced directly and the age of sampling exploded onto the scene.  They maintained a largely minimalist sound to their tracks, in terms of sampling breakbeats and scrathing, while Rakim redifined the art of rhyming with his razor sharp and edgy, yet lavalike flow. The direction of their musical sound would eventually land somewhere near the bebop fusion era that A Tribe Called Quest would take to new heights before Eric B and Rakim went their seperate ways; Rakim kicking around for years until his solo debut in the late 90s while Eric B faded away from the music industry altogether.    

Some time in 1989 we witnessed the debut of another fine MC/DJ duo, Keithee "Guru" E and DJ Premier, collectively known as Gangstarr.  I would consider them a more experimental version of Eric B & Rakim in that Guru certainly had a vocal flow that reminded one of an even more laid back and reflective Rakim, while Premier's samples were more prevalent while his beats and scratching were sparse, edgier and increasingly obscure.  During their run together they combined both class and street in a manner that inspired many others in their own era. Guru would eventually go solo and also experiment with other styles and beats with his four volumes of Jazzmatazz (which often sounded more like an extension of what he was doing with Gangstarr) while Premier made beats for other up-and-coming and well known artists, but sadly, Guru's untimely death last year came at a moment when hip hop had largely forgotten where he was.

Around this time we also began to hear the collaborations of another duo who defined the era they were in, Pete Rock & CL Smooth.  Pete Rock took Premier's beatmaking a step further by also mixing in stylized horns and a sometimes slightly off-beat rhyme style, while CL Smooth's quick and polished flow complimented those beats almost seamlessly. For me, the highlight of their partnership was the touching tribute to fallen friend and Heavy D & The Boyz member Troy "Trouble T-Roy" Dixon.  There are few people who listen to the sad, stepping horn and haunted chorus without getting maybe a lump in their throat. They also eventually parted ways due to creative differences and seemed unlikely to ever team up again, but unlike Guru and Premier who stopped speaking to each other and never resolved their differences before Guru's death, the two made up (inspired by the tragedy of Gangstarr) and are currently collaborating on a new album.

So my question to you is, among these three duos (with the rise of the producer, the dee jay became a fairly non-essential member of the hip hop-making process), which do you think had the biggest impact on hip hop music and why?

Eric B & Rakim - Don't Sweat The Technique

Gangstarr - Moment of Truth

Pete Rock & CL Smooth - T.R.O.Y.