Letters for the week of October 13-19, 2004

London, Brazil, and Illinois write in to comment on our coverage of rock icons and the gay dancehall boycott.

Keepin’ it real, indeed

I find it interesting that the fact that Berkeley is on the verge of deciding in November whether or not to decriminalize prostitution isn’t being covered. Never mind that prostitutes and their advertisements account for a hefty portion of your paper’s revenue. Oh well, I guess that the Express is all about “pimps up, hoes down,” keepin’ it real, yo!

Your hip-hop editor (Eric Arnold) told me in a terse phone call about two months ago that the burgeoning gay visibility in hip-hop wasn’t worthy to be mentioned. Or the fact that a well-known Castro bar is having its first hip-hop night subsequent to having accusations of racial discrimination lobbed at it by an organized group of queers of color.

Man! Who the hell are you guys kidding? Oh well, I guess in the Express‘ case, no news is good news.
Nikki Keller, Alameda

“Beenie Manhunt,” Close 2 Tha Edge; “Crackin’ Nutz,” Feature; “Hate Them Now,” Music; 9/15

Cynical cries of racism

I enjoyed your article for the most part, but I feel I must challenge you on ascribing racial overtones to the campaign against Beenie Man, et al. The basic tenet of nonracialism is judging persons not by the color of their skin, but by their words and actions. This is the only basis upon which Beenie Man is being judged. He has, as you know, written and recorded songs that incite and glorify violence against lesbian and gay people — and he continues to perform them.

The fact that he is black and some of the activists confronting him are white is completely irrelevant. He is not being judged on the grounds of his race. It is obvious that 99.999 percent of artists — black or white — don’t sing about killing gays. Neither is he being judged on the grounds of his culture. Most Jamaican artists (and certainly the greats like Bob Marley and Peter Tosh) have nothing to say about homosexuality.

There are other facts that I would like to draw to your attention. Many OutRage! activists, including myself, were active in the anti-Apartheid movement. More importantly, the campaign is being run in daily consultation with J-FLAG (the Jamaican gay rights group) and the Black Gay Men’s Advisory Group which includes gay Jamaican exiles living in the UK. In addition, several prominent black musicians (including triple-MOBO Award winner Beverley Knight) have spoken out in favor of the campaign.

Jamaica’s heritage of colonialism and slavery cannot be dismissed lightly, but it simply isn’t relevant to this issue. The United States too has a history of racial oppression and slavery, yet no one would accept that as an excuse if an African-American singer started glorifying gay-bashing. Jamaica, a small, poor, country, has managed to give both the US and the UK a serious run for its money in pop music. In terms of rock icons, Bob Marley is probably the most influential artist after Bob Dylan and the Beatles. How sad, then, to see this legacy squandered by a handful of dancehall artists preaching bigotry, violence, and hatred. Yes, some may also sing socially uplifting songs, but this simply cannot excuse or negate their providing the soundtrack to homophobic persecution in Jamaica.

In conclusion, I’d like to stress that the chief aim of this campaign is to ignite a debate that will contribute to bringing relief and liberation for the lesbian and gay people of Jamaica, NOT to protect the sensibilities of gay suburban white folk in London or New York. The campaign against the singers is just a start. It is calculated to highlight the problem and mobilize the community. The next phase is to find a solution to that problem — which will involve bringing pressure to bear on the Jamaican government to decriminalize homosexuality and to begin to address the homophobic violence. This crucial objective is being undermined by bogus (and cynical) cries of “racism” by those who want to defend their economic interests in peddling homophobic hate-music.

If Beenie Man sang about dreaming of a new Jamaica built on social justice and equality (instead of one that executed all the gays), I wouldn’t care if he had all twenty slots on the pop charts. In fact, I’d buy the record myself.
Brett Lock, OutRage!, London

Pop music’s false values

A friend who is also an independent musician/sound-artist called me today. He and I were both disgusted and angered by the same three articles.

To me, the root problem in the articles on women rappers, homophobia in dancehall, and Mike Seely’s bloviated waste of space on the rock artists who offend his delicate sensibilities, is machismo and cryptofascism. Machismo is antisocial, rigid, fanatically conformist, bent on controlling others but refusing self-control, is narcissistic and obsessed with “image,” goes out of its way to offend while pretending to be “defending.” Cryptofascism somewhat overlaps. It includes many who would claim to be “antifascist,” yet practice psychological and spiritual fascism in their daily lives, in the casual, even banal cruelties and snottiness toward anyone and anything that isn’t cushy to themselves. Rock culture and its spinoffs over the past fifty years have all made much of wanting respect, freedom, a better world. But very few of any of these sociomusicological groups have any real respect for others at large.

I usually enjoy Eric K. Arnold’s articles, because he writes well and even compellingly. But this time, I have to respectfully take a disagreeing point of view. Mr. Arnold seems to cast the controversy over dancehall as uppity whites knocking gallant blacks. I see it more as humanist gays rightly condemning inhumane and hypocritical cultural garbage. No culture should be “above” criticism.

I used to think rap had great potential. Unfortunately, hip-hop is a vast squandering of lives, a petty and very fascistic subculture: If white skinheads had invented rap/hip-hop, and said all the vicious sorts of things they say about race, religion, sexuality, “a woman’s place,” etc., they would have been roundly condemned and their records shunned. Goldee the Murderess uses her art to vent her anguish and rage at rotten men. I can’t help but wonder how many of us who hate rottenness are ourselves becoming somewhat-to-thoroughly rotten, eaten away inside by all that we hate?

What part of “live and let live” is so hard to understand? I abandoned the false values of rock and punk two decades ago. Hip-hop despises women (as well as homosexuals, nonblacks, and each other). Reggae and its subgenres spout similar religious bigotries. Rock with each decade is increasingly hateful, hipper-than-thou, and bankrupt of whatever morals and ethics it may once have had. I hope over time the women and homosexuals and “uncool” persons of the world bury every last macho/cryptofascist shit-heart, bury every garbage-culture, and make whatever musics help them to live and let live.
Kenneth R. James, San Pablo

Back in the real world

Just a question: Why is Peter Gabriel a runner-up? (Not that I think he belongs in the top ten, but why despise him at all?) Reasons NOT to despise him: WITNESS. WOMAD. Concerts for Nelson Mandela. Amnesty International. Greenpeace. Real World Records. And still putting out new stuff all the time.
Sue Klaus, Markham, Illinois

Highly evolved ego

I enjoyed “Hate Them Now.” But regarding Carlos “Third World Poster Boy” Santana; there was a point at which he began covering himself in clothes and using album cover art that depicted Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Coltrane, Marley, and other icons. And in his speech it became clear that he desperately wanted to be mentioned in the same breath as those folks, both as musician and social force. Beneath the humble “spiritual” facade is this great ego-driven need. This seemed to coincide with the perfor-mances of the same goddamn solo (or close enough) on nearly every tune henceforth.

Carlos never tires of spewing a general New Agey spiritual drivel to remind us how highly evolved he is, etc. My question has always been if he’s so wise and evolved, existing on such a high egoless plane, why is he so deathly afraid of appearing in public without a hat?
Bill Carty, San Francisco


Our item on Mayor Jerry Brown’s Jack London Square loft/commune being long on the market (Bottom Feeder, 9/29) neglected to mention that the property was in escrow. Then again, the still-active listing on the Realtor’s Web site — “Last Updated 10/8/04” — also failed to mention the fact.

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