Sunday, June 12, 2005

Tokin' Resistance

The Supreme Court ruled against the use of medicinal marijuana this past week, overruling what several states had previously determined to be allowable.

Give me a break.

Let's clear one point up right away - this was not a blow against the stoners you knew in high school (and maybe still know today). This was directed at those people who are currently suffering pain on a daily basis. Cancer patients getting regular chemotherapy use marijuana to ease the nausea and discomfort associated with the treatments, while glaucoma sufferers notice an ease of their pain and tension when using the plant. Talk show host Montel Williams, who sufffers from Multiple Sclerosis, is perhaps the best known celebrity medicinal user. Woody Harrelson, as far as I know, suffers only from the occasional case of diahrreha mouth, which wouldn't fall beneath the medicial umbrella.

Now, my (self appointed) job is to point out the patent absurdity of the entire operation. Basically, it boils down to the court being worried that someone who is allowed to use this, even for the express purpose of easing their suffering, might sell it to someone else, which is a crime. Nobody ever seems to worry about this happening with the percocet or viagra presecriptions the big drug companies are making millions of dollars from though. That isn't what gets me, however. My big beef is with the hypocrisy of the rules pertaining to a substance that is, on the whole, less harmful that two wildly popular LEGAL substances, namely alcohol and tobacco. How can this be justified? Those two combined kill more people annually than anything else you can legally purchase, even guns!

I can hear you now: "Obviously, this writer is a full blown pothead, yapping about how it should be legal so he can sit back, get baked, and listed to Pink Floyd." Sorry, that just ain't the case here. I do not use it, neither recreationally nor medicinally. Have I tried it? Sure, many years ago, and I did inhale. I defy you to find anyone around the age of 30-40 who hasn't tried it at least once. But my particular poison of choice remains good ol' beer.

Let's break down the biggest arguments that anti-legalization forces use when justifying their point of view:

  • "It's a harmful substance!" - Yes. Yes it is. So are alcohol, tobacco, and eating an excessive number of Pop-Tarts (Mmmm...Pop-Tarts....). Wite-Out and Lysol, which have also been used by kids looking to get high are harmful as well, but I've yet to see a movement to ban them. And, on the harm index, pot falls well below these items when regarding long term damage.
  • "It's a GATEWAY DRUG"! - Really? I've never understood the school of thought which postulates that every high one achieves leads him or her to seek a newer, stronger high, and forces the user to use more powerful substances. If this were true, those of us who started with beer and wine would be full blown herion addicts by now, right? I still can't get past the beer, so I'm either really dumb, or not a very good substance user! The only "gateway" marijuana leads it's users to is the automatic sliding door at 7-11, in a quest for more Doritos.
  • "What about the children? How do we tell them it's okay to get stoned?" - Um....the same way we send ridiculously mixed messages regarding alcohol and tobacco. The DARE programs teach kids all accross the country about the dangers of drugs, and also alcohol and tobacco. I'm curious what they tell the perceptive child who raises his hand and wonders why only one of these deadly items (ironically, the least "deadly" item is the one you can't buy) is illegal. But then again, these kids are being medicated at such an alarming rate, maybe they're too mellow to ask.

Again, though, the main point here is for those individuals who are suffering. The fact that people who may not have much time left on this earth, and spend a good deal of that remaining time in pain, can't seek alternative treatment is absurd. You mean to tell me that the DEA agents in this country could conceivably smash down the doors of a bedridden cancer patient whose only pain-free moments occur after ingesting some of this "deadly" stuff? Yes! Don't you feel safer now?

I can go on for hours about the other reasons we should not be concerned with the use of this substance. I'll close with a few bullet points to buttress my argument for legalization:

  • Resources - We have enough real crime in this country to worry about without having field agents, intelligence resources, and the court system getting bogged down fighting a "problem" which barely exists. Wouldn't you feel better if cops and FBI were devoting more time finding the next terrorist cell as opposed to a cancer patient puffing away?
  • The plant itself - Hemp is one of the cheapest, most versatile crops this country has ever produced. Textiles and paper are just two things which would not only be made more cheaply using hemp, but would also be of better quality. Several of our founding fathers grew hemp on their farms, and for a brief time American farmers who didn't grow it faced penalties from the government.
  • The Criminal Element - When something in demand is illegal, only bad people profit. The lessons learned from Prohibition, which, it could be argued, was the principal reason organized crime was created, have apparently been lost. Making it legal, therefore taxable, would be a boon to society. Think of all the funds that would flow to the government, and away from criminals. Insert your own squandered tax dollars joke here.

For some great info on the topic, I recommend the following:

Peter McWilliams book Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do: The Absurdity of Consensual Crimes in our Free Country, is a brilliant work which touches on many subjects, with a chapter devoted to hemp.

Jello Biafra's "Grow More Pot" (link is to Amazon, which has a sample available) riff is an eloquent plea which describes some of the background facts as to why it became illegal in the first place.

I love to debate this topic, so let me know your thoughts.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Sell Your Song, Pimp My Stuff

Believe it or not, young readers, there once was a time when mainstream (and non-mainstream) musicians did NOT supplement their income by allowing their songs to be used as advertising jingles. Honest, it’s true! I know! Seems like sometimes the CD is barely out of the factory, and on your radio, that you can also hear it in a commercial – yes Pink, I’m looking at you and your “Bally’s Mix” of that “I’m Coming Out” song of yours.

Now, I might have some kind of quaint, antiquated notion that musicians /singers (even Pink) are “artists”. That they got into the music biz not because of a desire to be filthy stinking rich, at least primarily, but because they had a gift, a talent, and had to express it somehow. I am not ignoring the fact that getting rich is a big lure, especially when you’ve been raised in relative poverty, heck that’s the American Dream right? Hell, if someone paid me to write this, I would gladly accept the cash (but then again, I’m no artist!). What I’m specifically railing against is the naked greed involved with pimping your song to sell deodorant, sneakers, cars, drinks, whatever. An additional example, to a somewhat lesser extent, of this is having your tour underwritten by a corporation, which makes performers traveling shills.

The first example of the latter that comes to mind occurred in 1982, for The Who’s “farewell” tour (their first of several moneygrabs promoted under the guise of their “last performances”). Once seen as the forefathers of the British Mod movement, and one of the original inspirations for early Punk, The Who were bad asses back in the 60’s. Famous for trashing their instruments on stage after each show, the high pitched perfect screams of Roger Daltrey, and the manic Keith Moon pounding his drums like they owed him money, they were the most notorious live act of the day. Couple that with their notoriety for thoroughly destroying hotel rooms while on the road, and you were looking at a band which no respectable corporate entity would ever dream of aligning itself with. “Hope I die before I get old”, indeed.

Fast forward to the aforementioned farewell tour, where the 40-ish British lads would be playing very large venues (e.g.. Shea Stadium). The tour was announced amidst great fanfare, and it would be brought to you by Schlitz. “Schlitz Rocks America”, they told us. Um..okay, if drunken frat boys stumbling over their beer can pyramids on their way to puking on the lawn was what they were after, they were in business. The logo would appear on every t-shirt sold, making the audience members pay for the privilege of pimping this piss water while proving to everyone that they were at the show. There were articles written by music journalists (specifically Rolling Stone’s Dave Marsh, who took the band to task), but like every other outrage foisted upon the public, the fanfare eventually died down, and the practice continued to the point where it has virtually become standard operating procedure.

Touring can be an expensive enterprise, and having a big corporation underwrite some of the costs in exchange for splashing their logo all over the place seems, on the surface, to be a good idea. BUT, it is well known that most artists derive the majority of their income from touring, not record sales, and a big name act like The Who, going out on tour for one last time (ahem), would have absolutely no problem selling out large stadiums, and would likely have made everyone associated with the band a tidy profit. Why then, would their management have enlisted this? Well, a company like Schlitz was looking to score points as being “hip”, and what better way than to associate yourself with the rock and roll music that the kids seem to like? The following year, Schlitz “Rocked America” with ZZ Top, but it would appear on the surface that this had little effect on the beer’s long term popularity. Still, the whole thing smacked of pure, unadulterated greed.

Still, I don’t fault the artists as much in these instances. I’m betting that, these days, the record company has more to do with setting up the cross promotions and putting the tour together than they do, so they can almost get a pass here. Almost.

Where they catch flak from me, though, is when their songs are used in commercials. God, does this drive me nuts. This is the height of artistic prostitution, in my book, and it pains me to list some of the names of the guilty parties. I’ve been tempted to make exceptions in some cases, most notably with one hit wonder type acts, who probably aren’t rolling in the dough, but it still irks the hell out of me to hear a throwaway bomb like Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy” being used in an ad. Not only that, but it displays a decided laziness coupled with a lack of creativity on the part of the Advertising agencies, who find it easier to throw in some familiar ditty than to actually come up with something catchy. There was a time when ad jingles were almost an art form unto themselves, and to this day most people over the age of 35 can sing the entire Burger King song from their youth (“Hold the pickle…hold the lettuce, etc.”). That is a rant for another time.

Like most public outrages, this started slowly, and eventually became so prevalent that we got numb to it in a hurry. In the mid to late 80’s, one could hear older songs like “Good Vibrations” by The Beach Boys used to sell orange soda. Most of the songs were from the 60’s, meant to capitalize on the whole Big Chill era yuppie’s newfound purchasing power. Again, when using the Motown catalog, the blame falls not on the artist, but on the record company, since the artists on those great old records were notoriously underpaid (and in the case of the house band, virtually uncredited). Gradually the fertile field of old pop songs was mined, and it became almost impossible to watch an ad that didn’t feature some old tune.

Now, the trend is to use things that are a bit more current, what with the 15 second attention span of the average person today, and the prevalence of the clicker. The biggest asses are the ones who don’t even wait for the song to become ingrained in the public consciousness, or even wait for the song to become an “oldie”, but instead use it to cross promote their current record. Lenny Kravitz, who likes to paint himself as some psuedo-new-age-hippy-Jimi-Hendirx for the modern age, is a big offender here. His “Get Away” was being used by Toyota while his record was dive bombing down the charts.

But the real kickers are the ones like Eric Clapton, who probably lights his cigarettes with $10 bills, selling a song to Michelob in the 80’s, and placing his mug in their ads along with having the beer giant sponsor his tour. Clapton, an alcoholic mind you, saw nothing hypocritical about this little arrangement. What was he trying to tell us? That he was so completely recovered from his alcoholism, he could sell beer to you and not have an issue with it? Was he using the irony of this setup to show us his twisted sense of humor? Whatever the reason, it smacked of greed, and was a complete joke. Then he hooked up his old pal Steve Winwood with Michelob as well, allowing the aging former child prodigy to peddle his Yuppie Muzak to a whole new generation of deep pocketed thirtysomethings. I won’t even discuss Phil Collins’ jump into this same setup.

It pained me personally to hear acts I respected, like The Ramones, get caught up in this. Granted they were never a chart topping act, but had a large enough following to move beyond cult status, thus earn, I suspect, a decent chunk of change. Hearing “How Soon Is Now?” by The Smiths used in a Toyota ad was painful as well. At this point I begin to wonder if the artists no longer had full control over their catalog, as was the case when Michael Jackson peddled “Revolution” by The Beatles to sell Nikes. Not a chance in Hell the three surviving lads from Liverpool would have allowed this, but nobody ever said the King of Pop (his term, not the rest of the world’s) would ever shy away form a chance to line his pockets. I don’t know the circumstances for these artists, so they get a temporary restraining order from me on the rant. Only those who willingly pimp their own songs receive the snark from me.

Which brings me to one person who is a genuine hero here. A performer who has been approached multiple times, and has never succumbed: Bruce Springsteen. At the height of his popularity, at least in a pop music sense, in the mid 80’s, The Boss was inundated with offers to use “Born In The U.S.A.”, and said no every time. The irony here is that the song was far from a patriotic anthem, which shows either how dumb the ad agencies are, or how dumb they think you are. Also, some of then-President Reagan’s staff also approached Bruce about the song, and he politely refused to let his art be used to pimp a politician whom, it could be argued, was directly responsible for some of the hardships Bruce wrote about in this and other songs. There are a few others who come to mind who also haven’t succumbed, at least as far as I know, but none were at the level of stardom attained by Springsteen.

The bottom line is this: yes, this is America, with free enterprise and all that. Everyone in a capitalistic society has the right to make money. I understand how some of these artists feel the need to strike while the iron is hot and the need to capitalize. Still, unless you were thinking about selling out when you first put the pen to the paper (like many Rap artists, who think nothing of dropping actual product placements in their rhymes), the practice is, in my book, inexcusable. But, I’m only one guy, with one opinion. What do you think?

Friday, June 03, 2005

Celebrities - Arrogant or Just Plain Dumb?

I finally got around to hearing the infamous Pat O'Brien voice mail messages today. You remember Pat, the Access Hollywood host/ass-kisser extraordinaire, who used to be one of the big sports guys at CBS? The apparent coke/booze/broads fiend left some risque voice mails for his mistress/whatever, and she made them public. Lets just say, after listening to them, you could gather that he was kinda into this chick. Get somebody to pay you $1 each time Pat says "I'm so into you", or "You're so [bleepnig] hot" and you'd be rich. At times it sounded like he was reading from a grocery list of things he wanted to do, and have done, and watch done. One could almost envision him running down the list with a pen, chcking off the acts as he mentioned them. Sexy!

Of course, Pat is already well into Celebrity Recovery Mode. Unlike regular folks who go on booze and coke binges and likely lose their jobs, celebtities like Ol' Pat can take a different track:

Step 1: Admit you have a problem, at least privately. Check into a rehab until the news storm blows over.

Step 2: Endure the inevitable round of jokes, as the tapes become public and spread like wildfire. Make sure agent is aware to keep media on speed dial for frequent updates on your condition. Alert celeb friends in the media to vouch for what a great person you are, and make sure they mention your addiction as a disease.

Step 3: Contact Dr. Phil for match made in Ratings heaven. Arrange interview/confessional, milking it as much as possible.

Step 4: Emerge "A Changed Man". Listen humbly while Dr. Phil plays the tapes, and immediately imply that that wasn't you talking, it was the coke. Plead for mercy in the court of public opinion. You'll get it.

Step 5: Reclaim job, celebrity status intact, if only damaged a bit. After all, it's not like you're O.J. and actually killed anybody!

I'm not famous, and nobody outside of a small circle of people even knows who I am. I like it that way. If, at some point, for whatever reason, I do attain even a small measure of celeb status, there are two rules I will stick to at all times:

Rule #1: Don't leave voice mail for anyone after drinking and/or doing coke

Rule #2: Never videotape yourself having sex.

Regarding Rule #2, the most popular recent examples involve Pamela Anderson and Paris Hilton. Obviously when these tapes are made, they are not intended for public consumption. Each was leaked under different circumstances, but the sheer idiocy of the existence of the tapes is the real issue here. Knowing that you are famous, wouldn't you think twice before you A - Paris) Hooked up with some loser who suggested he turn on the camera, even if he was using Night Vision, or B - Pam) at least agree that the tape would be kept somewhere secure, like a safe?

What's odd is that these two have not only weathered the storm, but a case could be made that they are more popular since the tapes were made public. Paris Hilton, who has no discernible talent and is famous simply because of her last name and plastic looks, has used the tape to her advantage. Some suggest that the timing of the tape being "discovered", which coincided with the premiere of her ridiculous Fox show "The Simple Life", was intentional.

Whatever the motives, Paris seems to have followed a different path to Celebrity Recovery:

Step 1: Deny, deny, deny that you had anything to do with the tape being released.

Step 2: Express shock that these personal, intimate moments are now being made public.

Step 3: Keep name in the public by continually expressing "shock" and "outrage" over the tape. Be sure your publicist mentions your upcoming Fox show in every release.

Step 4: Continue to be a vapid, narcissistic idiot, and laugh all the way to the bank.

I guess the joke is on us, since both Pat and Paris continue to be famous, make more money than any of us, and enjoy lifestyle perks far beyond anything we peons could possibly imagine. What a country!

Michael Jackson

Well, today is the big day - the case goes to jury.

Honestly, who gives a damn? I wish this whole thing would simply go away. Our corporate media has to bombard us with daily updates like this was something important.

Enough already. There are more important things to worry about.