The elephant in the room

From the moment Chris Brown came onto the Grammy stage and began his auto-tuned lip syncing shenanigans, so many thoughts came into my head.  Here are three of them:

1) I am “not over” the atrocious and horrid incident that happened three years ago.

2) I realized that he has truly not “repented” for his actions publicly in the way that I would have liked.

3) Having him on this exact program, where three years ago to the day everything went down is saying something really huge about the perception of violence towards women, about the fickle quick fix entertainment industry, and about the general public as well.

When he proceeded to win a Grammy (in the weakest Best R&B Album category I can remember), and then perform yet again that night, my feelings became more uncomfortable. How did this happen,I kept thinking to myself.  How did we all let this happen.

I actually used to really like Chris Brown a lot – his music was catchy and fun and sweet, definitely in stark contrast to the person revealed three years ago.  Ever since the news of his violent outburst on Rihanna,  I couldn’t listen to him anymore – I couldn’t separate the music from the man.  I think that is something we all do or have done before with the likes of Roman Polanski and Woody Allen, but somehow I couldn’t do it with him.

He has stayed off my iPod for the last three years and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

The Grammys Executive Producer, Ken Ehrlich has said:

“I think people deserve a second chance, you know. If you’ll note, he has not been on the Grammys for the past few years and it may have taken us a while to kind of get over the fact that we were the victim of what happened. What he’s done and what he’s done to reclaim his career and seemingly the kind of person that he has become makes him — I don’t even want to use the word eligible  — but you know, it’s time,” 

Well, I don’t think it’s time.  I really really don’t.

Since the assault, Chris Brown has proven to be a real volatile presence both online (his tweet after the Grammys is a perfect example) as well as in person (his anger got the better of him last year on Good Morning America, where upon being questioned about the incident with Rihanna he proceeded to throw a chair out the window of the television studio – nice.)

He has not shown enough remorse, nor has his apologies and his wanting to rehabilitate been effective or quite frankly, genuine.  Rewarding him by giving him some primo spots during the telecast and a trophy to boot?  Well….not cool, Grammys….not cool at all.

Mara asked me whether I am living by a double standard – that why is it ok to reward people like Amy Winehouse, someone who had her own share of issues and find it easy enough to separate the art from the person where she is concerned.  Hmmm, I thought – what is the difference?  I had to think about that one.

I think the difference is that as a society we view drug abuse or addiction in a different way than physical violence.   And it might sound sick, but I think there is a weird romanticism when you hear about a famous person succumbing to drugs.  We romanticize their pain, their final moments and somehow canonize them as martyrs in some way.  However, I think that, in the case of Amy and the other entertainers and musicians  who struggled with drug addiction before her, this is clearly the example of one inflicting pain onto themselves, crying for help, not being able to deal and struggling with their own living.

Chris Brown inflicted pain on someone else.  Bottom line.  He put another person’s life in danger.

When it comes to physical violence, it is a huge elephant in the room.  We always clumsily need to find a way to deflate that elephant as quickly as possible because it makes us feel awkward and uncomfortable.  And I think we feel as a general record buying public that violence is something that is easy to shake, that we can move on from and ignore.

Well, I think this isn’t the case at all.  And I think that we all should be more vigilant and aware of what message it sends out when we put a person on a pedestal like this.  Chris Brown is a role model, and by sweeping his behaviour under the rug, we as a society are saying that what he did isn’t really a big deal so let’s move on so that we can see what cool dance moves he can do now.

And might I add the tweets from young girls while his performing was going on is a perfect example of how we are failing when it comes to this.  Young girls SHOULD NOT be saying things like Chris Brown can beat me up anytime.  The very typing of that sentence brings a knot to my stomach.

As a man, I am revolted.  And I think that we need to see the deeper message going on here.

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Whitney

Here we are again, mourning the loss of an extremely talented artist, who got caught in the mix of drugs and celebrity and couldn’t find the way out.

When Michael Jackson died, I was depressed – I cried through his whole televised funeral parade, and his music (which defined my youth and influenced so many) continues to both inspire me but is also marred with a tinge of sadness.  When Amy Winehouse died, again I felt myself feeling quite depressed once again – this time mourning for what future art Amy would have created for the masses to be enamored by her all over again.

And now we have Whitney Houston, gone at 48 years old.  I find myself really saddened yet once more by this tragic and terrible loss.  She, like Michael Jackson, was inescapable on the radio when I was a kid and was pop music royalty.  I loved her as a kid (her debut album – which we had on vinyl and which I think every family owned – was played much in our house and I myself owned the I’m Your Baby Tonight and The Bodyguard soundtrack on tape), but as a teenager I was a little fed up by her – the “over the top” music notes she would hit, her air of arrogance that she seemed to display during the years she was married to Bobby Brown all made for a personality that I didn’t like. On top of that, I veered towards the singer/songwriter direction when it came to music, and she was not that.

Once you get passed the pressures of teenage-dom and also the ups and downs of your 20s, I find you then can revisit artists and understand them a little bit more without being swayed by peers or what is “cool” at the time.  I was never a full on worshipper of Whitney Houston, but what I did know was that she had a gift: her voice.  We forget sometimes of the people who were trailblazers, as we sometimes just assume that things that exist were always there.  Think about it: Whitney Houston was the first real female singer to sing in this booming R&B style that we’re now so used to hearing.  All of the people who came after her: Mariah, Celine, Jennifer Hudson and the like…well, they are here because of Whitney Houston, if you think about it for a second.

When Whitney finally left Bobby Brown and sat down for her interview with Oprah – even I was rooting for a comeback from her.  By that point, I could see what she was worth.  When she spoke to Oprah about her addictions and her sadness at Michael Jackson’s death – you could see that this was someone wanting to come out of this dark spiral and wanting to bring new life to her art.  I wanted her to do it – everyone wanted her to do it.  And she kinda had been doing it – the voice was a little worn for wear, but it was still there.  She could still sing.  There was something coming back.

And here we are once again, singing this same sad song about life wasted so young.  There was a picture circulating on Facebook since last night about how the angels in heaven have a new member in their choir now.  This caption was under a picture (probably from the late 80s) of Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston, arms around each other.  This breaks my heart.

I am also remembering that she was a mother, and that there is a daughter today who has also lost much much more than any of us who write blogs or tweet or post things on Facebook.

So, I am sad today.  I have three Whitney Houston songs on my iPod that I love by her: So Emotional, It’s Not Right But It’s Okay and Million Dollar Bill.  I will listen to these again.

But, one Whitney Houston thought that has come to me that is my “favorite” memory of her – it isn’t her Star Spangled Banner rendition, or her I Will Always Love You but rather a skit that she appeared in on Saturday Night Live’s holiday episode back in 1996(?)  She was the musical guest and Rosie O’Donnell and Penny Marshall were the hosts.  The amazing Molly Shannon did her Mary Katherine Gallagher sketch, and was “competing” for the Christmas choir solo with Whitney’s character.  The skit also featured O’Donnell and Marshall as the disciplining nuns who were directing the choir.  The skit is hilarious for so many reasons, but one of the greatest moments is when everyone breaks concentration and begins to crack up with laughter – Rosie, Penny and especially Whitney (not Molly Shannon however – the true professional).  It was so funny, and I remember watching that skit over and over again and laughing so much.  It was a really priceless moment that, I have replayed in my mind all these years and will probably continue to do so.

Remember the good stuff, I say.  Don’t wear blinders to the choices that people can make for the sake of escape but don’t let that be their defining moment.

Rest well.

Oh, Madonna…

Today was the big premiere of Madonna’s new single “Gimme All Your Luvin'” from her forthcoming album MDNA.

I hate this song.

But more than that, it makes me sad.

I’m sad because I think Madonna’s really “calling it in” with this one and not placing the emphasis on creating great pop songs like she has done, especially during her late 90s-early 2000s albums.  I also think she’s not into making interesting, beautiful, clever videos anymore.  And she’s not having a good time (as made evident in this one – hell, Nicki Minaj and M.I.A. clearly are having a better time here than Madonna is).

And note: don’t ever do a song where your name is part of the lyrics – that’s just hokey, arrogant and really awkward!

Thing is, I love Madonna.  I always have – because I always knew that there was an interesting songwriter waiting to emerge.  People are always ready to pounce on her because on the surface she clearly is someone who is known first for her persona and then her music comes second.  She would let out flashes of pop genius on early albums like True Blue that would indicate that there was a music lover and real pop music craftsman at work.  Listen to Like A Prayer, Bedtime Stories, Ray of Light, Music, American Life and even Confessions on a Dance Floor and there is someone with a clear musical vision at work.

She was always the one to be imitated, and not the other way around.

Her last album Hard Candy isn’t a bad one – but it’s also clear that she was trying to make music based on what was happening musically at that time, rather than pave new ground.  You can handpick songs on that album that are nice to listen to, but as an entire concept, it’s patchy at best.

So, now we’re at this MDNA phase – an album that has her working with William Orbit again (whom she crafted Ray of Light – a hopeful idea!!) but features song titles like “Girls Gone Wild”, “Gang Bang” and “I Fucked Up”.  As I mentioned to a friend today, I am praying that there is some irony going on behind these tracks.

I am loyal to her, so I know that I will pick up her latest to add to my collection of her CDs.  Truth be told, is that I don’t want her to throw in the towel for a weird film directing career!  I want her to make good music again – weird, introspective, dancey, ballady music! Consider my torch lit – as I wait for this MDNA to drop…