Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Chinese Democracy Album Review

It has been a long time waiting. Any true rock fan knows about this album and has either been anticipating it, mocking it, or dreading it. Of course I'm talking about Chinese Democracy, by Guns n Roses.

It has been fifteen years since the last Guns n Roses album. It makes you wonder why it took so long to come out, but also, but why now? Why not two years from now, or four years ago? It seems fairly random. Perhaps the leaks of the album to the internet sped up the process.

Many fans wondered what the album would sound like. Would it be industrial rap-metal from the late 90's? Would it be 80's power ballad crap?

And what to make of lead singer Axl Rose. The stories about his ego mania and drug abuse are legendary. Would he be able to live up to the hype of the album?

I was mocking and dreading this album for years. I did not see how it could be any good. Axl kicked the original band members out of the band. Which led me to wonder, 'how do you fire Slash?' One of the great guitarists of our era, and Axl fired him. What the hell was he thinking?

Then came the attempts at reviving Guns n Roses. The song 'oh my god' appeared on the end of days soundtrack, sounding like a bad imitation of Nine Inch Nails. Guns n Roses performed at the 2002 Mtv Video Music Awards show, where fans were left wondering why Axl had cornrows and why he sounded like shit. Then the band tried to go on tour in 2002, and after some shows failed to sell, Axl failed to show up to others, and riots broke out at several shows, the rest of the tour was cancelled.

Guns n Roses, and Chinese Democracy, became a joke. Worse, an inside joke, one only understood by rock musicians. Like 'who would win in a fight, Lemmy or God? Trick question, Lemmy is God.'

Chinese Democracy would never come out and we would never have a Black president. What a shock that we now have both in the same month. I almost don't know what's more surprising.

When I heard that the album was actually coming out, I immediately downloaded it off of bit-torrent.

I loaded the album into Amarok, my computer's mp3 player, and hit play.

The title track was first and opens with a siren and the sounds of Chinese people talking. Then the drums come in like a heart beat- bum bum, while the drums are echoing and the Chinese talking continues, you begin to hear a plucking sound.

Then all the build up stops and you hear just a guitar riff. A Nine Inch Nails sounding guitar riff. Then the drums, bass and Axl's singing kick in and join the guitar riff. It sounds like old, classic Guns n Roses, but with a more updated sounds. The guitar solo sounds like it was performed by Tom Morello, with the toggle switch trick, but it has the sweep picking and harmonics of a traditional shred guitarist. The track ends with an explosion, literally. In the live show, that's when the pyrotechnics will go off.

Then something happened about half way through the song. I realized I kind of liked it. It wasn't that bad. Actually, it was pretty good.. .

The album cost a record 13.5 million dollars to create, and after listening to the album, you can hear the difference in sound and production quality that that kind of money makes.

One of the reasons why the album sounds so good, is that when you have the kind of money that Axl has to use on an album, you can hire the absolute best talent out there. Robin Finck of Nine Inch Nails, Buckethead, Brian May of Queen,

The second track, 'Shackler's Revenge', features avant-garde guitar virtuoso Buckethead. It's so-so at first, sounding kind of weird for a Guns n Roses song, until there is this weird break down that sounds like robots marching on the apocalypse, followed by an awesome two-handed tapping guitar solo by Buckethead.

The song 'Better' begins with a trip-hop sounding intro, before going to a pretty decent straight rock song. 'Street of Dreams' builds off of Axl singing along with a piano, sounding sweet until the rock band comes in and makes it a 1980's style ballad.

'There Was a Time' is a cool song. It starts with a choir, then Axl's nasally voice comes in crooning 'broken glass and cigarettes, the writings on the wall, it was a bargain for the summer, and I thought I had it all...' while the guitar builds off of Axl's vocal line.

'Scraped' is a knock down brawler of a song, while 'Sorry' with Sebastian Bach of Skid Row doing back up vocals, is a sad ballad with a catchy yet heavy chorus. 'This I love' is the most 'November Rain' like song on the album.

I.R.S. Is a schizophrenic song, that while it can't seem to decide if it's going to rock or go mellow, still manages to sound like it's building up in intensity.

The album ends on a bang as well. The way the string section mirrors the guitars, makes it sound that much more epic and intense while Axle bitterly screeches, 'what would you do if I told you I loved you and walked away?'

The musical styles and genres represented on the album are mind boggling. String sections, rock bands, choirs, horn sections, trip hop, Buckethead avant gardeness, piano crooning, spanish guitars, world music, techno, house, pop, metal, blues, and through it all Axl's voice goes from screech, to growl, to wail, to ballad to all sorts of things. Often all in the same song, if not in the same verse. Axl does not rap though, a good thing.

What about the politics of the album though? Didn't Axl intend for this album to be a political statement of some kind? To be honest, who cares? Axl is no Zach de la Rocha, and nobody is going to listen to Axl's lyrics that seriously. Besides, this is a metal album, you don't listen to metal albums to understand the lyrics, usually the vocals are so screamed, so scratchy you can't understand what they are saying. Which considering that Axl is no Che Guevarra, is probably a good thing.

Was it worth the wait? Well, no. By all rights this album should not even be called a Guns n Roses album. While the original albums were up for debate (they had Axl Rose but not Traci Guns) but this is definitely not Guns n Roses. It should just be called an Axl Rose solo album. No answer will ever be good enough as for why it took 15 years for the album to be released. If this album came out in any kind of a reasonable time frame since the last Guns n Roses album, the fans would accept it and be forgiving. But after 15 years? There are a lot of bitter Guns n Roses fans. Just like Metallica fans who are disappointed with the direction Metallica took since the Black album.

It's still a good album though. Possibly one of the most original, interesting and rocking albums of the decade

Since downloading it, I haven't stopped listening to it.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

More Thoughts on Obama.

My views on Barack Obama have changed. I was a critic from the Left. I saw Obama the centerist and was frustrated that he was not further to the Left. I still a a critic of his, and frustrated that he is not further to the Left. However, I have been impressed by a number of things about Obama. You could say that I have gone from a more ultra-left Anarchist type position to a supporter of the Progressives (Critically) for Obama camp.

I have been impressed by Obama's judgment on a number of key issues. At a time when many Democrats were rushing to prove how macho and pro-war they were, Obama spoke out against the Iraq war and the bill that Congress passed authorizing it.

I am also a fan of “No Drama Obama.” When the economic crises hit, Obama stayed cool and didn't freak out. His demeanor is smooth, he is calm, collected and rational with everything he does. He isn't going to make a knee jerk decision, he is going to think it out.

I still have my policy differences with him for example he is to the right of me on the war in Afghanistan, the Wall Street bailout, and gay marriage. However, I think Obama might have a point about disagreeing without being disagreeable. While I have been disagreeable in describing Obama in the past, in a previous article I cussed him out for his mediocre immigration policies, I think Obama is someone that progressives can work with to push progressive change on a range of issues.

Although one might argue that nothing is more disagreeable, unpleasant, and violently offensive than war and Obama is still talking about increasing the war in Afghanistan, even over the border into Pakistan.

Ultimately though, I feel like what's more important than Obama's positions on the issues, is the movement around Obama. When Obama defeated Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary, he addressed his campaign staff. He told them that when he began his campaign, he wasn't sure he was the best candidate for President, what he thought he could do though, was to build the best campaign. Obama may not be as left as we would like, but we can push him further to the left.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Protest Against James Dobson and Comments on Prop 8

I went to the rally in downtown Chicago against James Dobson today, November 8, 2008. Dobson is an Evangelical radio preacher who funneled lots of money into the campaign in support of proposition 8 in California, which when it passed on the ballot, outlawed homosexual marriages. Dobson was being inducted into the radio hall of fame and the Gay Liberation Network organized a protest against him. The rally had about 500 people and was very spirited despite the cold. Check out GLN's website and the GLN's YouTube Channel.

Several people went into the reception and started to hand out these "Certificates of Bigotry"
to those honoring James Dobson. One of the people doing this was arrested.

Andy Thayer speaks at the end of the rally

It was very distressing to me to hear that prop 8 passed, that one of the most liberal state in the country could not defeat an anti-gay measure like this is sad. On one hand it shows that the ascendancy of Obama isn't a guarantee that progressive change is on the agenda. Obama has spoken against gay marriage, stating that “I believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman... for me as a Christian, it's also a sacred union.” Obama has supported civil unions for gay couples, but not marriage. To his credit, Obama did speak out against prop 8, calling it “Divisive and Discriminatory.” However we have to wonder how much political capital Obama will spend on gay rights if not even California can keep gay marriage.

One of the really messed up things was the commercials that the pro-prop 8 people used. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0PgjcgqFYP4
What's wrong with a girl thinking that she could marry a woman one day? Why shouldn't children grow up with an appreciation for the options they will be able to make?

The LGBTQA movement can look to this defeat as an opportunity to review its strategy, tactics and goals. A few of my suggestions for thought and debate:

1.)One of the refrains of the pro-gay marriage crowd is that it doesn't affect heterosexual marriages. Lets face it though, gay marriage will be one of many changes in marriage law, and that is a good thing. Sixty years ago interracial marriages were banned in most of the country, often times using bible quotes to justify it. Legalizing interracial marriages played a big role in the changing face of America. Another big changes has been the creation of no-fault divorces. To be able to get a divorce without having to prove that your spouse broke the marriage contract, practically takes marriage outside of property law. No-fault divorces means that marriages are about relationships and not contracts. Perhaps the biggest change in the understanding of marriage came through the separation of church and state. You can get married at the county clerks office, merge your bank accounts, etc, without having to deal with a priest. Gay marriage would continue this trend and would fundamentally redefine the way people look at relationships, that is a good thing. I want to emphasize this point to the pro-Queer movement which thinks that gay marriage is part of assimilating into mainstream hetero-capitalist society. I see gay marriage as one of the things which will undermine and chip away at hetero-capitalist society, and that is a good thing.

2.)We should continue with the theme of separation of church and state. While I support the fight for recognition of gay marriage, part of me wonders what right does the government have getting in the marriage business for straight or gay couples. Obama and Biden have been playing this game where they say they are in support of governmental civil unions for homosexual couples, that have the same rights as marriage but without the religious title of 'marriage'. But we need to tell the Democrats that you can't have it both ways. It has to be equal rights for all. Marriage for all, or civil unions for all. Which means either both homosexual and heterosexual couples get marriage, or all couples, gay or straight, should have governmental civil unions, and if they are religious they can get married at their local place of worship. In the second case, this wouldn't end discrimination in private places of worship, but it would be a step in the right direction.

3.)As far as organizing goes, the gay rights movement has put most of its eggs in one basket- the courts. While I support all victories for LGBTQ rights, whether they come from the courts or not, this reliance on the courts has created the impression that homosexuals are unable to convince people to vote for their position in a democratic way. They have put more faith in the law than in the people. Homosexuals look like a sibling who goes running to their parent to protect them, instead of fighting on their own. More importantly this reliance on the courts has hurt the movements grassroots ground game. The LGBTQ movement has been so focused on proving that it already has rights under the federal and state constitutions, that it hasn't been working on convincing the rest of the country that they deserve those rights. They shouldn't have to, but as long as the majority of states like California are willing to vote gay rights away, the LGBTQ movement has to convince people they deserve the things they want. What if instead of going to the courts to overturn prop 8, the LGBTQ movement worked to get a proposition on the ballot to legalize gay marriage?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Thought's on President-Elect Obama.

Obama won. In some ways I was expecting it. It's still very exciting.

I spent most of election day in Gary Indiana knocking on doors to get out the vote. Gary is predominately Black, and the town is very economically poor. Every single block had at least one house that was foreclosed. Very much Obama territory. I was out there the weekend before with SEIU, HERE and USW members, and everyone we talked to planned on voting for Obama. On election day, everyone we talked to in Gary had already voted for Obama.

We drove back to Chicago and I joined the Congress Strike picket line. It was 7 pm and already there was a huge crowd gathering downtown for the Obama rally. Obama's rise to power was very exciting for the Congress Strikers. Obama had walked the picket line twice, once before he was a Senator, and again during the Democratic primary. When Obama walked the picket line during the primary, he promised that he would walk the picket line as president. You can read more about Obama's support for the Congress Hotel Strike Here.

I had a ticket to the Grant Park rally, and went in with some friends. The crowd was enormous, and electric. As each state reported its results, the crowd cheered, or jeered, depending on which way the results went. When Obama was announced the winner, I jumped up and down. I was excited for a lot of reasons. One of the things that really made me excited was the thought of what we could accomplish in the next four years: stronger unions, environmental justice, gay marriage, universal health care. That was more exciting that the actual victory.

It is exciting to have a Black president. However, it's important to remember all that remains to be done. I saw a Crimethinc flier that said “One Black Man Might be President, One Million Black Men Are in Prison.” Something to truly ponder. While Obama's victory is a huge step forward for all anti-racists in the US, it is just that, a step, not the end of a journey.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Infamous Scribbler

Where were you on March 20, 2003? The day shock and awe began. The day the bombs fell on Baghdad. The day Iraq was attacked and pre-emptive war became reality. It surprises me that many people don't remember this day. They remember which celebrity is dating which, and who won the super bowl but days like March 20th, 2003 are forgotten. It says something about the society we live in where they don't remember important things like that.

I was in the streets on March 20, 2003. I had begun college in Chicago just after the Taliban had been toppled in Afghanistan and the case for war in Iraq was beginning. For months we were told that war with Iraq was coming. Hype about weapons of mass destruction had been spoon fed through the media into a populace that knew little of the middle east beyond it's fear of the September 11th 2001 attacks.

I joined DePaul Students Against the War and began attending rallies against the war. In September I attended a rally hosted by “Not In Our Name” to call for Congress to vote against the authorization for war. The Republican controlled Congress, with support from many Democrats voted to authorize war against Iraq.

The United Nations began to inspect Iraq for WMDs, rallies against the war increase. On February 15th, 2003, I attended a rally in New York City. Millions around the world came out that day around the world to protest against the war. Millions show their opposition for the war before it began. The New York Times described the protests as proving that the United States was not the last remaining superpower, but that world public opinion was its own superpower. George W. Bush said he would not be swayed by interest groups.

In Chicago, I worked with students at other schools to organize our own resistance. A group of my friends began targeting the ad agency Leo Burnett, who created advertisements for the US Army. One day a number of them were arrested outside their headquarters for using chalk to write anti-war messages on the Leo Burnett building.

A few days later there was a large rally in Daley Plaza, and pieces of chalk were handed out and a number of children and college kids started to use the chalk to write anti-war messages on the large Picasso sculpture in the plaza. The next day the front page of the Chicago Tribune carried a photo of the chalk covered sculpture.

The UN refused to authorize the invasion of Iraq, George W. Bush gave Saddam Hussein 48 hours to leave Iraq and give himself up.

I remember finishing my finals and having Spring break ahead of me. On March 19th 2003, I met up with a friend and we got some art supplies to make anti-war placards. That night the sky opened up and rained hard. Thunder and lightening crashed like a train wreck. The rain poured like a gushing wound. It felt as though the gods were angry. In this storm we watched George W. Bush explain that the war had begun.

For the past several months, the Chicago Coalition Against War and Racism had been planning to hold an anti-war rally and march on the day the war began. Thousands of fliers had been distributed which called for people to rally at federal plaza on the day the war began.

I didn't want to wait that long. That morning I met up with a number of students and youth who either had their Spring break or walked out of school as part of a protest. We devised a plan in a hip downtown coffee shop. We wanted to target the banks that fueled the capitalist system which led to wars like this one. We planned on entering the banks, shouting anti-war slogans until security asked us to leave, then we would gather outside the entrance of the bank and do a “die in” where a number of us would scream and collapse on the ground as though we were dead, killed by a US missile. Then other students would use chalk to outline the bodies and write anti-war slogans on the sidewalk.

We went through the loop in downtown Chicago putting that plan into practice. More students joined us, at Chase Manhattan bank we shouted “1, 2, 3, 4, We don't want your fucking war, 5, 6, 7, 8, organize to smash the state!” At Harris we cried “No blood for oil, no blood for oil!”

We neared Daley Plaza, and after getting kicked out of the Citi bank across the street from Plaza we turned a corner and were walking on the sidewalk across the street from Picasso. I had chalk in my hand, and recalled the use of chalk in recent protests. It seemed to me that using chalk on private building like Leo Burnett were illegal, but on public property like sidewalks and sculptures like the Picasso, it must be legal.

Across the street from Daley Plaza and the Picasso is a sculpture wedged between the Brunswick Building and the Chicago temple. It's a weird blob of a statue, created by Joan Miro. Like Picasso, Miro was a critic of bourgeoisie society.

I ran up to the Miro and using the chalk in my hand wrote, “No War.” I jumped down and rejoined the march, when two bicycle cops grabbed me and threw me up against the wall. One of them said, “Your under arrest man.”

The group of youth started chanting, “Let him go! Let him go!” No such luck, I was placed in a paddy wagon and taken to the downtown booking station before being transferred to the 111th street station

I was in jail for the next twelve hours. It was torture. To know that thousands would die for a war that didn't have to happen and that there was nothing I could do about it.

I was charged with misdemeanor graffiti and released. When I got out it was nighttime and I took the red line back to DePaul. I met up with some friends and found out that I missed twenty thousand people marching on Lake Shore Drive. Later that evening over 900 were arrested on Michigan Ave. It felt as though we were living in a police state.

The next day I went to another anti-war protest. Then the day after that, on the 22nd, right wing clear channel radio sponsored a “Pro-patriot rally.” Really it was a pro-war rally. Despite being the third day straight of anti-war rallies and not having the resources clear channel had, we had the same number of people at our counter-demonstration.

As the pro-war and anti-war rallies were ending, and people were dispersing and going home, I started towards the el train with my friends, when the same two bike cops who arrested me rode up on their bikes, stopped in front of us and shouted, “Whats up Scribbler?”

They continued, “You better not be scribbling Scribbler, we're watching you Scribbler. Don't Scribble Scribbler!”

I was equal parts embarrassed and terrified. My friends thought it was hilarious. The name began to stick, but what really made it stick was that at every rally I would go to in downtown Chicago, the same two bike cops would be there to heckle me. “Scriiiiiiiblerrrr, wheeeere arrrre yoooou?”

I was able to obtain a pro bono lawyer through the radical National Lawyers Guild. Charles Nissim-Sabat helped me reduce the charges to 3 months supervision, and several years later I was able to have the charges expunged from my record.

The charges are off my record, but the war in Iraq continues, as does my nickname, the Scribbler. In some ways it's an embarrassing nickname. It sounds like a Batman villain. Other revolutionaries have hard militant sounding nom de guerre's. Stalin is Russian for “man of steel.” Prachanda is Nepalese for “the fierce one.” Ho Chi Minh is Vietnamese for “enlightened will.” Consider Anarchists like Starhawk or Warcry. Even the criminal elements who got names from the police had cool scary sounding names like Jack the Ripper, the Son of Sam, the Boston Strangler, or the Angel of Death. There was nothing cool or intimidating about Scribbler. It sounded like the name of a kid sidekick, not a serious revolutionary.

Then again, Trotsky was known as Pero, or the Pen. There is also a book called, “the Infamous Scribblers” about journalists in the era of the founding fathers of the USA. Maybe I can reclaim the name Scribbler with this blog, and use it to help end the war in Iraq, call attention to economic injustice, fight racism, and promote all sorts of progressive causes.

Chicago Independent Media Center Post about my Arrest. Some factual inaccuracies.

Another CIMC Post about my Arrest.

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