Saturday, December 24, 2011

RV's Favorite Funk of 2011

Here’s my favorite funky music of 2011:

1. DENNIS COFFEY: Dennis Coffey

Any way you slice it, funk guitar master Dennis Coffey has put together the best jam session the year. Coffey’s mastery of pocket and groove, his nasty nasty high energy chops, his choice of killer guest musicians and badass songs to cover, all put together to smack the lightweight funksters off their perch. The hooks on tracks like “Space Traveler” and “Plutonius” just can’t be touched. So so many people are trying to do some 60’s retro (see Raphael Saadiq) and in some cases pulling it off, but 70’s funk retro is the hardest sheet to hit with. Dennis Coffey sounds like he did in 1972 with “Scorpio,” only better! No wasted tracks, no shallow detours. Thru and thru the best funk record of 2011.

2, BOOTSY COLLINS: Tha Funk Capitol of The World

We all know Bootzilla the most talented funky brutha alive, and the undisputed Number One Funkateer of All Time Baba! And he has produced a masterpiece that will stand the test of time. Some of the songs, like “JB-Still The Man,” and “The Jazz Greats” are incredible. His new album is a brilliant montage of music lessons and clean pockets of funk interspersed with vocal vamps from the likes of Dr. Cornel West, Samuel Jackson, Al Sharpton and others. That’s the only problem with this disc. As a “funk lesson” it is one of the most important recordings of the century (do not sleep on the Jim Henrdrix tribute “Mirrors Tell Lies”), but as a free-flowing funk spectacle you can listen all the way thru, it feels too standardized and market driven. Where’s the “Sloppy Seconds” funk blowout ? We know Bootsy can do this because his holiday album Christmas is For Ever from 2006 is a freeform Rubber Band ripping funkblast, not a tamed hip hop hopeful overproduction that this new disc often gives the taste of. But you still gotta love it. If this disc gets Bootsy onto Letterman, on the X Factor, on 106th & Park, onto Sesame Street as a household name, then it will be all worth it…My question is this: does this disc get Bootsy closer to hosting a Super Bowl halftime show? Yeah I said it.

3. ORIGINAL 7VEN: Condensate

The Original Seven here are the original Morris Day and The Time! Yes I mean THE originals, that means Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Jesse Johnson, Jellybean, Jerome, the whole band bringing it all back! Prince owned the name, but he couldn’t contain the funk in this set. The band provides a mastery of all those Minneapolis sounds, the two-stepping pop, the nu-wave rockin’, the nasty ballads, the lean and slick strutting funk jams, and Morris’ over the top ego tripping are all in the finest form – in years. My only issue is that some of the grooves are so tight that I’d like to hear one of those 8, 9, ten minute versions. Morris Day and the band hasn’t changed, and you can take that for what it is. They bring their flava back in full glory.

4. PTFI: Who The Funk is PTFI?

Who is PTFI? Phil Jones is Phil The Funky Instrumentalist, and he has been laying down some of the thickest funk tracks around the Bay Area for years. His work on the Zootzilla album P’n All Over the Place, and Dr. Illinstine’s CD last year Listen While I Tell You Of The Clones made it clear that some serious phunk in the bay is getting some serious production quality to boot. Check out "Beware of the Sample Troll" and "Everywhere there's a lack of funkin'" and you'll get it. Phil the PTFI has produced tracks for the new Ronkat and the Katdelic album, which is going to be one of the major funk releases of 2012. But until then, this thumpasorus set will put The Funk straight.


Far and away Zigaboo’s best solo album, and he’s had some good ones! Legendary New Orleans funk drummer Zigaboo Modeliste combines some great Mardi Gras jammies with some brick-cracking funk tracks that all tell a story in Zig’s patented soulful way. “New Life,” “Human Race” and “Keep on Groovin’” let the world know that Zig is as fresh as ever, and his great ballad “Holiday Kiss” shows he’s still got the sentimental chops. But what really kicks this CD over the top is how often and how well Zigaboo features his own phenomenal drumming on the tracks. On earlier records Zig was emphasizing his songwriting, but he has finally broken out with a true solo album from The Meters drummer we always wanted to hear.

6. OSAKA MONAURAIL: State of The World

A straight up deep JB’s pocket is what these Japanese bruthas bring once again on their latest. But these pockets are killer, deep funk grooves that would make Fred and Maceo proud. Their sense of style and appreciation for the JB’s entire presentation is evident here, and on covers like “Mother Popcorn” and “Ain’t it Funky Now,” but the real meat is on their own compositions like “The Archipelago” and “Syrinxology” that just hold it and hit it the way it is sposed to be done. Recorded and released in Japan, presumably since the terrible earthquake/tsunami/radioactive disaster there, this funk packet can only help folks there and everywhere get over the hump.

7. CHARLES WRIGHT: That Funky Thang

My homie the legendary Charles Wright gets back to business as only he can, with some sloppy stanky irrestible freestyle funkin’ all his own! A set of delicious dance grooves with CW’s own silly lyrics and stoney delivery make the entire record a delight. This is what people love about the funk, but have long forgotten how to get there. Charles Wright never left, and he will take you there if you follow him.


One of the most diverse records on the list, the Big Ol Nasty Getdown features big helpings of southern fried funk, with some deep ballads and crazee rapping tossed in. Their meat is the monster funk riffs on “College Funk,” “Room 2012” and “Platinum” but the band has an indescribably delicious self made sound, that one can feel across a multitude of styles, from metal funk blasting to laid back balladeering. This is no gimmick. They are big, they are nasty and they get down.

9. HEADHUNTERS: Platinum

Drummer Mike Clark took the name and produced his own very entertaining trip through jazz funk and hip hop crossover. There are a few “remakes” of classic Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters era material, like “Palm Nut” and “Salamander” that give the sound some familiarity while moving the jazz-funk fusion flavor into the future. Some guest rappers include Snoop Dogg, who vamps on hanging in the San Francisco Bay Area on “D-Funk (funk with us)” The mix of rap and slick jazz funk has its moments, and is worth a listen but this might be one of those CD’s you pluck the grooves you want and skip the others. Usually those releases don’t make my list, but the music is so strong you won’t be able to ignore it.

10. GOAPELE: Break of Dawn

Bay area soul vocalist put together her tightest, strongest and funkiest album so far. An ethereal sound permeates the music here, as her band captures an exotic, futuristic yet deeply soulful atmosphere for the gifted singer to explore. Goapele digs deeper and and delivers with more passion than on any of her earlier albums, and she kicks up a dance groove on more than a few of them. It is a self-contained slice of Bay Area soul genius that one should not pass up, whether a funk fan or not.

Other interesting music this year: Me’Shell NdegeOcello’s brilliant Weather, Raphael Saadiq’s Rolling Stones homage Stone Rolling, Martin Luther’s self released disc Extra Terrestrial Brother Vol. 1, (you gotta go to to find it), Steve Arrington's work on Stone's Throw (where's the album?!), and my homie Bobby Easton’s band Delta Nove, Imaginary Conversations. There was a time when some hip hop made my funky top 10 list, maybe that time has passed.

One thing I noticed about these releases is that they generally stick to around 10 tracks, sometimes less. They can make their point and not overload their listeners with a sense of quantity over quality, and I think other artists should heed this. Make sure the music you are doing is the best it can be, not simply as many tracks as you can muster. There are also a lot of O.G.’s on this list. They are showing up and representing, showing the young bucks how to do it, and I hope more will do just that. As for the P-Funk, there is a taste of it from PTFI, and Dennis Coffey does a couple of mean Funkadelic covers, and you can get some Pee from the Bootsy album, although he’s clearly trying to reach other audiences beyond the Maggot Brains that inhabit that zone of zeep funk.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Can't Stop Won't Stop Herbie Hancock!

I just watched one of the greatest concerts of my life. I went to the Herbie Hancock show at Zellebach Auditorium at UC Berkeley on Wednesday night (9-21-11), expecting little more than a polite jazz quartet, playing some of Herbie Hancock’s 60’s standards and some of his modal jazz work with Miles Davis. Of course I have been a devout follower of Herbie Hancock since his days with the Headhunters band, a ferocious funk-jazz outfit that produced massively mind-bending Afro-futurist electronic funk back in the 70s, decades ahead of its time. I was thrilled in the 1980s when Herbie Hancock discovered hip hop beats, and jumped headfirst into electro-funk production, and won his first Grammy Award in 1984 with “Rockit!” I saw him perform at the Greek Theater at Cal in 1986 with the Rockit band (with Steel Pulse opening up), and Herbie’s band going through some incredible sonic fusions of funk, hip hop, rock, afrobeat and bop jazz. His music then was high tech and mindblowing, but after each thunderous song, he would politely say “thank you, this next song is….” His stage demeanor didn’t match the epic sonic and cultural onslaught that his music meant to me in 1986, and I felt then that maybe he was a quiet jazzman at heart, that just dabbled around in musical exploration.

Over the years, Herbie Hancock has ‘dabbled’ in some incredible collaborations, and made some extremely popular music, winning “Album of the Year” Grammy award in 2008 for River: The Joni Letters, beating out such acts as Amy Winehouse and Kanye West. He had come on tour in the past with the Headhunters, specifically playing his funky future-beats, he tours completely solo, and he had come to town with just a straight ahead jazz combo.

So I was left to wonder, which Herbie Hancock would show up at Zellerbach that night? It was simply billed as “jazz” with Herbie Hancock on piano. I had not heard of any of his backing musicians, a drummer, bassist and guitarist.

The night began with the band walking out one by one, hitting a dirty free jazz riff that sounded like “Actual Proof,” one of Herbie’s legendary Headhunters era fusion workouts. That is exactly what they did. Herbie kept burning, and bassist James Genus would burn with him. After one song, Herbie came out front from his keyboard perch – that had more than a grand piano, it had a small keyboard (I thought I saw the iconic MOOG label on it) as well as a computer screen and some other goodies.

Herbie began joking with the audience, and took his time to introduce each member of his band. Here was an artist not only a master of his craft, but a master of the stage and a master of the audience as well. I had seen Miles Davis in the same venue in the 1980s, and while the show was phenomenal, Miles never said a word the entire night.

Herbie was having a ball letting us know that his personality was as fun as his music was. He went into a long discussion of his classic “Watermelon Man” and how there are two versions of it, and his guitar player Lionel Loueke (a native of Benin, a small country bordering Nigeria) wrote an original composition (in 17/4 time he said) and that they were going to mix that into the song as well.

That is precisely what they did. The song had a brilliant funk feel, a strong blues tone, some wild African influences, and then the ridiculous time changes Herbie warned us about. As the jam heated up, Herbie reached around and put on his strap on mobile keyboard, and walked in front of the stage to let the synthesizer rip – in a thunderous give and take with the bass, as they cranked out what seemed like a 20 minute jazz-funk party jam.

This was no acoustic jazz combo, this was a funk masterpiece performed at full throttle by a Master Of His Craft with some untouchable protégés in the mix with him.

That set a tone that I did not think could be matched or exceeded, but Herbie is NO JOKE. He introduced his guitarist again, and left the stage while Lionel Lueke did an indescribably brilliant piece of African (click) vocalizing, percussive and melodic guitar work at the same time, and just blew all our minds all by himself.

When the band came back, they hit into a punishing funk jazz groove that I did not recognize, and could barely handle. The riffing was so hard, the bass thump was so relentless, the soloing was so mindblowing, it was clear that Herbie was in territory NOBODY ALIVE can match. The music had an intensity only matched – I said only matched -- by George Clinton’s band during their 7 day stay in the Bay in July.

That is how strong the jam factor was. And I was convinced that Bootsy Collins’ visit to the Fillmore in June was the best concert of the year, until George Clinton did his week of noise at Yoshi’s. But here comes Herbie Hancock with a list of funk credentials that can stand up to any funk-master, and Herbie comes from the jazz side of things to RIP THE SH*T OUF THE JAM.

I had passes to this show because I was invited to be on a panel with two jazz experts who loved and still live with Herbie from his modal jazz mode. On the panel earlier that day I claimed that I felt that “all of herbie’s musical explorations were sincere to him” but conceded that a night of polite dinner jazz might be in store. Oops.

I did say Herbie connects all of the genres of improvisational music, from hard bop to hip hop and beyond, but I did not believe that he would do this all in one night.

After the thunder jam, Herbie and the drummer Vinnie Colaiuta and bass player Genus delivered some hot and heavy free jazz that just burned the stage up. This is where the drummer starts channeling Tony Williams. It was hard to imagine what was happening – as it was really happening – as the collective improvisation and relentless rhythm fire would not stop, and the three sustained a pocket that is rare for any jazz giant – then or now. I have seen artists like Branford Marsalis and Joshua Redman, who enjoy the collective improvisation of free jazz and cut loose now and then, but they wouldn’t heat it up. To cook a high intensity freeform jam and keep it there like Herbie did, that is out there with Michael Hampton’s Maggot Brain for sustained intensity. There I said it.

After that, I was stretched out. Herbie had me in the palm of his hand. The band left, and Herbie proceeded to play an improvised love song on the grand piano. It sounded like he was making the entire thing up as he went, ‘freestyling’ a thing of beauty. That’s exactly what it was, beauty, put to music, plain and simple. Herbie doesn’t play ‘wrong’ notes. He can jam the most wicked ‘out’ jazz, or cuddle up with a warm melody, but everything he plays has that essential love element in it. Herbie just doesn’t go sour.

The band came back and breathed fire into a version of “Cantaloupe Island” that was anything but the gentle Caribbean feeling romp that it is on the record. Before I knew it he had saluted the audience and was heading offstage. We brought them all back of course, and the band got started on “Chameleon.” Herbie walked out last, with his strap on “keytar” and proceeded to get down and funky with that thing. After grooving on some synthesizer trickery, he reset the thing to play samples and voice bytes, like James Brown chants, and proceeded to give us a hip hop mixtape live with his jazz band. And Herbie didn’t just play funky, he was funky, letting it all out and getting a little wiggle (waggle) going as he grooved on.

No other artist alive is capable of reaching this much of a range of great sounds and styles of music and make it smoke, let alone own it as part of his own catalog. But Herbie can. And for what it’s worth, the entire show was basically from the Funk side of things. Yes it was a (deceptively) billed as a jazz concert, but Herbie came with The Funk, brought The Funk, and delivered The Funk, peeriod.

Herbie showed his jazz audience just how fundamentally The Funk is the heir to the throne of improvisational music; and he showed his hip hop/ electrofunk audience precisely where all of those (funky) rhythmic sensibilities come from. He gave a music lesson across 60 years of black traditions, and kept it On The One. This is THE Herbie Hancock to see, no matter what style of Herbie you may have come to know him from. And especially if you see on the bill the players James Genus on bass, Lionel Loueke on guitar, and Vinnie Colaiuta on drums, drop what you are doing and get a ticket to that show.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The End of Space

Last month the final space shuttle mission ended with Atlantis touching down in the dark of night, a fitting image for the end of the U.S. manned space program. It doesn’t seem to register much on the national scale of issues to be concerned with, but it has been hanging on me for a while.

As a kid, I watched all the Star Trek episodes (on a tiny black & white TV, I didn’t know Star Trek was in color until 1976), and followed the US space program with the idealism and enthusiasm of a kid that believed that space “colonization” was just around the corner.

I watched in awe when the 1969 Stanley Kubrick film 2001: A Space Space Odyssey showed a gigantic spinning space wheel in orbit, as a shuttle slowly docks with the massive station as classical music plays in the background. On the station, the lead character makes a ‘telephone call’ to his daughter from orbit, on a video phone that seemed so far ahead of its time, yet now is commonplace.

The infinite possibilities offered by the Apollo moon landings from 1969-72 gave a lot of us idealists the impression that space travel was the next frontier, and that all other space ventures were variations on that theme of exploration, and “advance” of the human condition in some way. This has always been problematic of course, and Gil Scott Heron deconstructed the situation the best on his song “Whitey on the Moon.” I was thrilled to hear that song, but I was also still excited about the prospects of human space flight.

In the stoned out 70s I got into the psychedelic music. Jimi’s “Third Stone From the Sun,” Sun Ra’s “Space is the Place” and of course the Mothership Connection. I remember when George Clinton chanted “We have returned to claim the pyramids” and it seemed like an outerspace encounter was right around the corner. If you count the cosmology of P-Funk, and their “specially designed Afro-nauts capable of funkatizing galaxies” it seemed like this kind of thang was gonna be hella cool.

This was still years before the blockbuster Star Wars film would come out and deposit a space based mythology on a new generation. But I never doubted as a teen that we would all at some point have a chance to touch the sky, and look down upon the round home of earth from above it.

In college I hustled my way into Cal through a math/science recruitment program as an Astronomy major. I was way into space by then. I went so far as to go to the ROTC office and ask point blank if their program had a pipeline for the space program. For someone that grew up in anti-war Berkeley and had actually participated in anti ROTC protests, that was an extreme, very creepy event, that also put an end to my lofty space ideas.

After that, I settled on more terrestrial pursuits, like playing the funk.

“A Slow Death”

From the first space disaster the space shuttle Challenger explosion in 1986 to today, the US space program has been bleeding a slow death, and the landing of Atlantis was basically the final curtain. It is not the complete end, because private enterprises, and other countries, especially Russia today and most likely China in the future, will be taking this space exploration thing to the next level, presumably to Mars. Maybe in my lifetime. Maybe not.

Maybe we shouldn’t care, but as one science fiction writer put it, space travel ensures our immortality as a human race, in case something calamitous should happen to our home planet earth, we would still be out there. Maybe we don’t deserve to outlive our planet, but that is for another blog in another century I figure. But it may never come to that.

One of the hitches to all the science fiction I watched, and all of the heavy lifting the early space program did, was in the real world of human spaceflight, they had a helluva time getting off of earth, out of earth’s gravitational pull. That problem has yet to be solved, and the costs and dangers have not really been improved in 50 years of trying.

Another sad turn of events is the fact that it still takes months and months to get from one planet to another. The moon is just a few days away, but Venus and Mars, take many months, and Jupiter or Saturn we’re still talking about years. Either way you are in for a long haul.

I was really intrigued watching the intro to the film Avatar, when they said a crew took 6 years to get to the star where the lush, jungle moon Pandora was located. That was compelling science fiction, and will probably lead to even more in the sequel, when we can presume a 12 year round trip to and from that place.

But if one does the math - and it gets wild here – this is a big problem. If we assume that Pandora is located orbiting the nearest star to us, Alpha Centauri, which is 4.5 light years away, and it took 6 years to get there, then we are presuming that the spaceship was capable of traveling at 3/4ths the speed of light. Not accounting for all the relativistic effects (a 6 year flight experience on the ship, but at home decades would pass), there is a presumption that humans can get going to speeds near light speed.

This is so far from human capability right now. At the rate of our fastest ships known to man, it would take 10,000 years to reach the nearest star. Period. The idea that human spaceflight is in our future is not just years away it is starting to look impossible.

But I’ve started to look at some other issues. What if there were some forms of bug life in our solar system? This brings up the question of contamination. This one goes back as far as HG well’s novel “War of the Worlds” in 1898. In that tale of Martians attacking earth, the invaders finally succumb to the germs that abound on our planet, as there was no immunity to them.

In a similar vein, scientists have had to face the prospect that if and when we come across a potential bed of biomass, or even organic molecules that might become life forms one day, it is logical to reason that there is no way we could go and scoop a spoonful of this stuff and analyze it without dropping a few molecules of our own germs on them, potentially creating a ghastly hybrid creation like the movie The Thing.

This issue already has the scientific community in a bind. There was a recent discovery of a pristine underground lake beneath Antarctica. It is such a pure specimen of million years old ecology that there is a conundrum with sending a probe down into it. We would presumably contaminate the lake with 2011 DNA. As a result, scientists from all countries of the world have agreed to a moratorium on exploration of the lake until a fail safe means of examining the lake without contaminating it can be found.
This has implications because a similar situation is in Saturn’s moon Titan. An icy surface is believed to have an ocean underneath it, possibly heated by the moon’s core. This is the most enticing possible home for extra terrestrial life we can reasonably reach. But how do we send a probe down there without mixing earth microbes with the life there? Or does it matter?

Either way the idea of ‘beaming down’ to a planet getting dirty and like Captain Kirk, getting it on with the alien females and then leaving the planet like nothing was done, well, that is a myth of major proportions.

So there it is, we not only are not flying into space, may never know space travel, and have major questions about what to do if an when we find even other microbes, let alone animate life forms – or Pandora-like humanoids… But some of us are dreamers, and we must dream.

So what about all of the visitors we seem to keep getting? All of the alien abduction stories, the many many unexplainable lights in the sky all around the world, maybe we are being visited. All I can say to that is, we must surely look like a population unworthy of membership in the galactic community, And if we don’t qualify for membership, I hope we’re not roadkill on some galactic superhighway, As I’ve said before, I hope they like The Funk.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Me'Shell NdegeOcello does Prince

Review of Me’Shell NdegeOcello’s set of Prince songs, 3/11/11 @ the New Parish.

If there was ever a hot east bay show to catch, the Me’Shell show of Prince covers is it. Anyone that knows the music of Prince knows that there is an endlessly interesting, freaky, original and entertaining supply of awesome tracks to choose from, but only a MASTER has any business trying to take them on.

How many artists have done good Prince covers? I can count ‘em on one hand. But now Me’Shell has done exactly what a funkateer would like to see done, a truly polished treatment of Prince that captured all of the Artist’s uniquely intimate sexuality and emotional intensity, while bringing the raw power of The Funk to kick it into a new gear. That is what Me’Shell did, and probably no one else in the biz could do.

After Martin Luther did a set of far reaching Beatles covers that I thoroughly enjoyed (but the crowd may not have recognized), The exotic, ethnic, original Oakland audience milled about in full color, waiting for their hero…

Me’Shell had a quartet of funk geniuses, with drummer Deantoni Parks, guitarist Chris Bruce, and keyboardist Keefus Ciancia that all understood the requirements of Prince’s music.

The quartet had a perfect sense of the tone needed to deal with the exotic arrangements of Prince properly, and the eerie keyboard work (from an original MOOG synthesizer and some other keys) captured the spacey emotional techno tone of early 80’s Prince.

She began with Pop Life, and just hung every word out to delicious effect. Then she got into a thumping party groove and did Irresistible Bitch which sent me over the top. The audience wasn’t as familiar with that track, a one-off single from back in the day, but it is most definitely part of Prince’s legend.

Then Me’Shell began a light version of “I Wanna Be Your Lover” by just singing it, but you could tell the tone of the band was going to escalate, and when Me’Shell picked up her bass and brought the thump, she hit the most exquisitely erotic rock hard THUMP I’ve heard since Bootsy Collins came this way.

IT was clear from the third track that despite Me’shell’s affection for all of Prince’s many delights as a soul piercing songwriter, this show provided Me’Shell with more freedom to RIP throbbing funk riffs all night.

While there were some disruptions to get their sound right, there was nothing missing when they got cranking, and the band kept things just a silly millameter slower than the record, so the delicious grooves – sometimes overlooked by the shrill vocals and guitars of Prince’s most recognizeable songs – can just be soaked in in full intensity.

After an utterly throbbing version of Controversy, She said ‘now that I finished the standard issue, I’m going to cut loose’ She then did a warped version of Dirty Mind, turning it into a metal mash.

Her rendition of Annie Christian was brilliant, and at the end, she just casually quipped ‘Prince was more interesting before he found Jehovah” which caused a surprising amount of groans from the audience. Me’Shell was clearly surprised by the reaction, and tried to joke about it. I suspect she figured the Oakland crowd would be far more "post-Christian" in their sensibilities.

The new Prince generation of fans may have another perspective on the Purple One than those of us that experienced his music as it happened in the 80’s. Me’Shell clearly did, saying that she “Loved Prince” and that “he changed my life” which I think a lot of people share, but nobody and I mean nobody has been able to DO Prince properly in the past 30 years until Me’Shell did. Hands down.

Me'Shell was clearly one of the many folks that caught one of Prince's Oakland concerts in February, and got inspired. I was definitely one of them, and felt blessed to see one of our generation's greatest acts giving it up for Oaktown, for Larry Graham and for Sheila E, and the Bay Area. Me'Shell took it one step further.

From my vantage point as a P-Funker that appreciates Prince but always wondered what would happen if Prince’s music acquired some Thunder Thumbs type of bottom, how much Ultimate Phunk would be unleashed? Well, Me’Shell did EXACTLY THAT, and then some.

This funky generation is FINALLY doing its homework, studying the deep jams in all their intricacy and liquified attitudinal genius, and then blasting them out with a brand new tone. The Roots & John Legend did this with Soul last year. Folks is WAY beyond sampling riffs, they are digging deep. Much Respect to Me'Shell for showing the way.

Props to the folks at the New Parish for making this happen. Some days it is a blessing to be into The Funk, and to be in Oakland.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Could the global rebellion happen here in the U.S.?

An amazing sequence of events has taken place in which one of the largest and most strategically important countries in the world disposed of its dictator of 30 years in a matter of weeks, through the sustained actions of the people there. Of course a lot of other factors went into this people’s revolution, but one thing is spectacularly clear: the people ain’t taking this sh*t anymore.

Many believe that a global rebellion going on, with thousands upon thousands of people (most of them young & ready to take their future in their hands) standing up to tired, corrupt regimes, demanding and sometimes actually bringing about change. It is not just happening in Egypt. Or Tunisia, or Jordan, or Yemen, or just the Middle East. In Albania there were 20,000 protestors demanding the corrupt regime there resign, and 3 protesters were killed by police in January. There was a travel alert in Bolivia last summer when protestors shut down 1/3 of the country demanding better finances with the government, and in December massive protests over fuel price hikes. Similar protests in Chile over fuel price hikes last month. Many of these protestors are young and wired to the internet, so they know they are not alone.

In Bolivia last summer, tourists were trapped and had to flee. In Chile last month, tourists were trapped and had to flee. In Egypt, tourists were trapped and had to flee. Amazing how this sh-- is going on and we’re just sitting around watching sports & playing video games.

So I’ve been wondering what is keeping this type of “unrest” from taking place in the U.S.? Here are five reasons why it will spread to the U.S. and five reasons why it won’t.

1) There are hundreds of thousands of poor, underemployed or jobless, hopeless, pissed off Americans with just as many reasons to protest as those in any other economically oppressive nation. What’s to stop them from rising up by the millions? It would be a helluva thing to see Americans demanding ‘freedom’ again, but this would be about economic freedom, freedom from the ripoff by the rich. It is amazing that we have social freedom, but are just about as economically trapped as those in any struggling nation in the world. Funny that we have the ‘democracy’ everybody else wants, but are losing ground faster than people in some totalitarian nations…

2) Everyone is wired to the internet, so if a giant scandal or greed driven economic disaster took place, or if something jumped off, say, in Tulsa or Oakland or Jacksonville, Florida, folks would know in an instant and would be able to compare notes on what went down and what is going on. And if the “government” tried to stop the internet, there would be a whole other strata of society up in arms, ready to take their anger to the streets over being “censored.”

3) Most of these protestors are challenging corrupt, belligerent regimes and tired old leaders. Well, Obama has been brown-nosing big business for so long, most of us have just given up on his message of “change.” Everything is being cut, and yet we see big business fatcats giving themselves $100,000 bonuses, with Obama administration approval. We all know Obama’s abandoned the working class in favor of kissing the ass of the rich, and he’s just about lost all of the cache he had going in, being a cool, black president and all. That only gets you so far. Michelle notwithstanding, folks might just let Obama know what they think of his slobbering over the rich the past two years.

4) In the past, global upheaval has had a deep impact on social changes in the U.S. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s got a great deal of inspiration from the anti-colonial struggles of nations in the “Third World” such as India, Ghana, Nigeria, Vietnam and Cuba. In the 1980s the worldwide efforts to isolate and sanction the modern day slavery of Apartheid in South Africa eventually sparked a grassroots movement in the US to compel congress to finally cut off ties with the racists there. Who is to say that this youth movement around the world won’t inspire people with nothing to lose here to do the same?

5) It’s the dead of winter and the spirit of protest worldwide is at a fever pitch. What happens when things thaw out in the northern countries? And on top of that, what happens if there is a lockout and no NFL football? And an NBA lockout too? With no distractions, things could get dicey. As my friend Pat Thomas put it: “If they took all the drugs, nicotine, alcohol and caffeine off the market for a week, they'd have to bring out tanks to control everyone.”

Not advocating, I’m just saying…


On the other hand, while most Americans are reaching a state of economic desperation - if not already there - Obama said to Congress in his State of the Union Address, “none of you would trade places with anyone in another country.” Maybe so, maybe not, but that doesn’t mean sitting still while we’re being gouged, ripped off, incarcerated, abandoned, indoctrinated, demonized, and taken for granted all at once.

The media says that this thing began with a people’s uprising in nearby Tunisia, and that protests in Jordan and Yemen are about Middle Easterners finally gaining a notion of what is possible with a Democracy. To the extent that ‘peaceful protests’ against ruthless dictators have successful a track record anywhere in the world, the influence of some western countries plays a role to be sure. But the Egyptians and others aren’t doing this because they dream about America’s Democracy, because they know that it is America’s Democracy that has kept Mubarak and these other S.O.B.'s in power all these years.

Our "democracy" has become a joke because while political power appears to change every election cycle, real power does not. Yet too many of us are ok with the status quo, sh*tty that it may be. So we act like the U.S. is somehow immune to these protests. Maybe it is our ‘system’ that will prevent an uprising here.

Here’s why we won’t have a rebellion; I’m not advocating, I’m just saying…

1) While there are plenty of poor people in the US, they are so busy hating each other, harping on irrelevant right wing fabrications, watching 800 channels of worthless consumerist garbage, and swallowing up the American myths of opportunity, there is no time left to clearly analyze one’s own socioeconomic status, and to organize with others of similar persuasion. We have ‘normalized’ trivial activities like reality TV shows & sports to the point where actually working in the community is seen as a distant abstraction. So while there are millions of poor in the US, they don’t see themselves collectively as victims of a system, only as individuals suffering in silence while they watch & envy everyone else.

2) Everyone is wired up, but is that good? There is access to so much information, too many folks just use the web to look up irrelevant sh*t, like that commercial with people blabbering data they searched on the web, leading to search overload. On a deeper level, Cornel West calls the digital gaming epidemic “Weapons of Mass Distraction.” It has a generation addicted to a tiny plastic box, with the only world they can control at their fingers, not in their city.

3) Obama is brown nosing but because he’s brown we don’t’ see the shit there. Yes he has a long way to go before he’s in the dysfunctional category of Bush, but so what? He’s still selling us out. But the trick is, the presidency changes over each 4-8 years and that saves the country from itself. When we get pissed enough, the ‘regime change’ takes the form of a "demopublican" color change, which is not really a change at all. In our Orwellian complacency, we figure that is great. We have democracy and f**k everybody else. We really don’t have a choice.

I started wondering, what if in 2008 Bush ‘stole’ the election again, and found a way to claim Obama was not a citizen, and find a loophole to remain in office? What would be going on in the streets? Same as in Egypt… people wouldn’t stand for it. But we wait to exhale every four years while the poison keeps working on us.

4) As for the protests inspiring people here, well, international influence means nothing to the mainstream. Look at how we trashed the metric system. We don’t care what the rest of the world does. Further, we have a lunatic fringe right wing and a middle and a left wing and they would all be going at it, so there is no clear sense of he bottom vs the top that is seen in so many of these other countries. Further, unlike the protests in all the other countries, we have guns everywhere, so instead of camels and sticks we’d have cracker vigilantes in souped up SUV’s wilding on colored people (and vice versa), so a sustained rebellion that the army “allows to happen” could easily degenerate into chaos that the ruling classes would be content to blame on the poor themselves.

5) As for sports, drugs and distractions, the US rules the world in this one. Like kids & cartoons, give some Americans some sports to watch in HD and they will be so obsessed with it, outside issues won’t matter. By comparison, every four years the rest of the world’s nations get caught up in World Cup Fever, and stop what they’re doing to watch. In the US we do this every four months, for baseball, football, March Madness, NBA & other playoffs. Who wants to challenge the system, when we’re just about as blissfully plugged in as those pod people in the Matrix?

So it looks like the U.S. has as many reasons why there won’t be any rebellions here as there will be. I’m not advocating, I’m just saying…

It will come down to the people here, whether or not they will overcome their generations long biases against each other, unplug from the “Weapons of Mass Distraction” and clearly articulate and focus upon a singular goal, a target of universal wrath that transcends the window dressing of the Oval Office. We blame the political leaders because they are the visible targets of a larger power structure that stays just out of view, so we bitch and moan and vote, and not a damn thing changes.

As Gil Scott Heron put in so well in Winter in America, "Ain't nobody fighting, 'cause nobody knows what to save."

...just saying...

Here are some other important discussions to read about:

Are We Witnessing the Start of a Global Revolution?
North Africa and the Global Political Awakening, Part 1
by Andrew Gavin Marshall

The Fall of Mubarak and the Bankruptcy of Western Empires
By Rosa L. Blanc

Could What happened in Egypt Ever happen Here in the US?
by Davey D