Tag Archives: Arts and Culture

Reconsidering ‘Boulevard Of Broken Dreams’

– Jacob O’Gara

Listening to the music of your youth is something only the brave and self-confident can do without cringing. And even after you steel yourself, it’s hard not to greet such music with the exclamation, “I listened to that?!”

Red Hot Chili Peppers and A.F.I. receive such a response. Of course, there is the exception here and there; I used to listen to Nirvana a lot back in the day, and they’re still good.

Then there’s “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” by Green Day, a song I loved, then hated, then just ignored when I shifted my listening tastes from alt/rock/generally guitar-based music to hip-hop. Recently, I listened to “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” again and was surprised.

It’s not bad; in fact, it’s actually good. Not good for a song from the American Idiot album; not good for a Green Day song or a song of that type; just straight good. Sure it shares the same poppy structure that every other alt ballad has, but you can’t expect bands to reinvent the wheel with every song.

What struck me about the song after re-listening to it are the lyrics; at first I thought, “All this guy does is say ‘walk alone’ over and over.”

And in the context of Green Day’s American Idiot-era image, and the music video, those lyrics are run-of-the-mill emo jive. But if you just read them, and replace Billie Joe Armstrong’s nasal with Johnny Cash’s slow drawl, then “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” is a masterpiece of Biblical economy and poetry.

Kanye West: The Black Elton John

– Jacob O’Gara

At the risk of sounding pompously contrarian, I’m going to express a sentiment that verges on sacrilegious: Kanye West should get out of the rap game. Meaning he should stop rapping; if by “rap game” one gathers that I mean the genre of hip-hop as whole, then no, he should stay.

He started out as a producer wunderkind—working under Jay-Z and producing one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time, The Blueprint, for him—and that’s where he should have stayed. The College Dropout and parts of Late Registration were great, but they’ve been overshadowed by the tepid Graduation and West’s cringe-inducing work as a featured artist.

Besides some creative rhyming, what has Kanye West as a featured artist given hip-hop, other than sophomoric junk like “You should go to school, Bueller”?

Not much.

Unless you consider half-hearted and half-baked lines like the one just cited (from his verse on Drake’s “Forever” posse cut); in that case, he has given us a lot.

It seems as if he used up all his creativity and passion on his first two albums, and now he’s operating as a hip-hop hack, just as P. Diddy operated in the late 1990s, dropping in on other artists’ tracks, outshining them with his star power, and then delivering some milquetoast verses. Fortunately for him, and for us, there is some hope for West’s career: his foray into pop music, 808s & Heartbreak.

With this album, the zeal and imagination that electrified his first two is on full display, though West uses those energies in a different direction. Dealing with themes like death and heartbreak, West constructed probably his most technically masterful album; every beat is chiller than a gold chain on an Eskimo, and the much-criticized “singing with Auto-Tune” technique just straight works with the subject matter.

808s & Heartbreaks is an experimental album gone horribly right, a bona fide pop album that elevated West from hip-hop king to full-fledged pop music superstar. Of course, the only recourse West had was to self-immolate in a verbal wildfire of inane and vapid lyrics.

West can save his career by following the path 808s & Heartbreak shined a light on: become the black Elton John. Besides demonstrating the ability to pull off outlandish and flashy garb, like Sir John, West has shown us that he is capable of writing and performing pop ballads, those kind of songs that aren’t really hip-hop or electronica or whatever; they belong in that nebulous category of music known as “pop.”

In that realm, he can spare us from lyrical travesties and spare himself from further humiliation. He can expand what it means to be a pop star, making it more “street,” in other words. He can break down barriers and transcend the genre of hip-hop. His ego’s too big not to let a chance like that pass by.

(BLEEP)

– Jacob O’Gara

You know Western civilization is screwed when even the titan of all that is tasteless and offensive, “South Park,” abdicates its moral responsibility to deliver said tasteless and offensive goods in order to appease jihadist thugs. In response to a “non-threat death threat” from an Islamist group following the airing of the show’s 200th episode, which depicted the so-called prophet Muhammad (as “South Park” had done in the past), Comedy Central bleeped out all mention of Muhammad in the next episode.

This included bleeping out an entire speech about intimidation and fear, and it covered the cartoon rendering of the alleged prophet with a black “CENSORED” box. The whole affair was “not some kind of meta-joke,” according to Trey Parker.

This may seem inconsequential, as “South Park” is a crude (and crudely animated) comedy series that has been vilified by both the left and right (and has done its fair share of vilifying), but that’s exactly why this censorship issue is so important. Once the bastion of all that is unholy in American society acquiesces to the forces of religious despotism, the First Amendment becomes little more than 230-year-old ink.

It is one thing for politicians, transient figures in American life, to make concessions for violent dogmatists, but it is entirely another when a part of the fabric of American culture, something more lasting, does so.

Surrendering a part of our culture is a definitive and grave step in the wrong direction. Culture is a reflection of a nation’s mentality, and censorship of culture can reflect on our society’s mentality as well.

The takeaway of this incident is either that the American people are timid in the face of brutish totalitarianism or that people will look at “South Park” and say, “Well, if they did so, then we should too,” or both. If even the purveyors of the tasteless and offensive give up, what the hell is wrong with us?

Anderson, Baumbach, ‘Greenberg,’ and Whitesploitation

– Jacob O’Gara

In the 70s, a cluster of films that today would have zero chance of being made, invaded movie theaters around America; they were blaxploitation flicks. Ranging from crime and martial arts to horror and musical, they were bold, badass, and black. They were tailor-made for African-American audiences by tapping into the anxieties of the community, like anxieties about the “Big Bad White Wolf” hooking your kids on smack and selling them into latter-day slavery. At the genre’s height, it influenced the James Bond series, but when the curtains of the 1970s drew to a close, they closed around blaxploitation as well, and flushed down the cultural drain along with bellbottoms and cocaine-fueled disco orgies.

Something like blaxploitation exists in the realm of cinema today, but instead of names like Van Peebles and Roundtree, there are Anderson, Baumbach, and Schwartzman. If the 1970s was the Age of Blaxploitation, today is the Age of Whitesploitation, and it’s way less funky.

The latest whitesploitation hero, Ben Stiller in “Greenberg,” is similar to his blaxploitation brethren in the abstract. He is has a fro and acts detached, but characters like John Shaft are detached in a cool and hip way, whereas Greenberg’s just kind of a jackass. He encapsulates perfectly the malaise that goes along with being forty-something, middle-class, and white. His biggest anxiety in life is making sure he doesn’t make the most of it, and yeah, he drops “man” at the end of his sentences when addressing a compatriot like he’s a blaxploitation character, but he does so with an ironic posture.

Noah Baumbach, one of the titans of whitesploitation, wrote and directed “Greenberg.” Along with fellow filmmaker and occasional collaborator Wes Anderson, he has made a career of exploring, in almost a voyeuristic way, the anxieties and tics of being white in America. In blaxploitation’s ghetto world all black people are hard-charging, fast-talking, ultimately oppressed combinations of victim and victimizer, while whitesploitation’s suburb world is populated with self-absorbed, neurotic caricatures who are ready to blame everyone but themselves for their troubles. In the world of Anderson and Baumbach, the WASP is all sting and poison, and no honey.

Hot Tub Nostalgia Machine

– Jacob O’Gara

“Nostalgia” comes from a Greek word meaning “pain” or “ache.” It refers to a sort of remembrance of things past, a longing to return to a time previous, where things were “so much better.” The feeling of nostalgia for a certain place in time typically comes over those who have lived through that time; however, there are always people who pine for a cultural moment’s return who actually never lived through that moment. The latest case of this kind of pseudo-nostalgia is the embrace of “Hot Tub Time Machine” by those who weren’t even alive during the time period the comedy depicts.

The cultural moment on display in “Hot Tub Time Machine” is the Eighties, specifically 1986, and even more specifically, Winterfest ’86. Three men, whose friendship has become so strained over the years that only a suicide attempt can bring them together, inhabit the bodies of their younger selves and get the chance to relive the days of neon-colored ski suits, Poison, Ronald Reagan, and AIDS. What results is a movie with a title more ridiculous than “Snakes on a Plane,” and the best guy-bonding comedy since “Superbad.”

The film (yeah, I’ll be so bold as to bestow it with such an honor) is propelled by the friendship of Rob Corddry, John Cusack, and Craig Robinson. Cusack plays a throwback to the kind of angsty, soul-searching, heartthrob characters he played in the 1980s; Robinson is the lovable musician of the bunch, and Corddry plays the asshole of the trio, but in the words of Robinson’s character, “he’s our asshole.” And unlike Bradley Cooper’s debonair bastard character in “The Hangover,” Corddry genuinely comes across as the kind of friend you have and hang with, but don’t really know why. At times, his self-absorbed nature is grating, but then he turns around and does something selfless. Like all of the “our asshole”-types in our lives.

“Hot Tub Time Machine” probably isn’t going to join the pantheon of film comedy greats like “Some Like It Hot” or the Monty Python films, but it gets an A for affort. It’s more poignant and touching in its portrayal of male bonding than the goofy pitch-in-title lets on, and it’s one of the most quotable movies I’ve ever seen. Check it out before the millions of Facebook groups ruin it.