Henry Rollins should shut the fuck up.

That sentence up there is weird to type! Henry Rollins was—kind of still is—my guy. When I was sixteen years old, I read Get In The Van and it would not be an exaggeration to say that it shaped everything about the choices I made over the next several years. I didn’t go to college because I saw an example in Get In The Van that said, “If you know what you want to do, you should just start doing that immediately.” I started performing a weird, Rollins-esque blend of spoken word poetry and stand-up comedy because I wanted to do what he did. When I was like 19, I would rip off his bits to learn the timing and tone I wanted my own stuff to have. I listened to Black Flag and the Rollins Band, of course, but it was more than just music. Henry Rollins was the sort of person I wanted to be when I grew up. 

Over the next few years, all that softened a bit. I recognized that some parts of how he saw the world, and vocalized in his performances and books, were not things that I admired or wanted to emulate. There was an element of “kill your idols” in that, too—to feel like my own person and not some hero-worshipping kid, I had to let Hank go and broaden my palate considerably. After a few years of being too cool for Rollins, though, he occupied a comfy role in the list of people I admire. He wasn’t a hero anymore, but if he’s in Austin, I’m going to the show. I literally just four days ago ordered a signed Get In The Van poster for my office. (It was $10!)

Anyway. Rollins writes a column for LA Weekly in which he opines about the world, as he does. And his most recent one is about Robin Williams. In typical Rollins-ese, it’s called “Fuck Suicide.” 

I recognize all the hallmarks of Rollins-speak in it. That sort of Nugentian bravado that  embraces (and occasionally subverts) typical machismo: “I have life by the neck and drag it along. Rarely does it move fast enough.” The suggestion that you can out-tough any problem (preferably while listening to The Stooges): ”Raw Power forever.” The black-and-white breakdown of the world into categories like “weak” and “strong”: “Almost 40,000 people a year kill themselves in America, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In my opinion, that is 40,000 people who blew it.” Etc, etc. 

Here’s the reason Henry Rollins should shut the fuck up: Because he’s equating his experience of not having a disease with the experience of people who have it. It’s no more selfish or cowardly to suffer from depression—to be killed by depression—than to die from lupus. 

So to hear from Henry Rollins, who is a figure whose words, at one point, were gospel to me, that you just need to crank up Iggy and gut out that disease—it makes me think about how other people who listen to him the way that I did when I was a teenager, who might well be suffering from depression, are being told that they’re just not good enough. They’re not tough enough. Raw power just didn’t come running to them. You’ve got a disease telling you that you’re not good enough in one ear, and you’ve got Henry Rollins telling you the same thing in the other. Good point, Hank!

There’s so much more to it than selfishness and cowardice, and people like Henry Rollins, who never have to think about it in any terms other than the abstract, are afforded the luxury of those judgments. They don’t have to live with it—they just get to tell people that they’ve failed.

It’s a small-minded, juvenile way to view the world. You want to put it in terms of strength and weakness, of cowardice and courage? Let’s talk about the strength and courage it takes to endure 63 years of wanting to die. 

It’s not a shock to hear Henry Rollins say any of this, of course. I know his work well enough to know that this is the way he views the world, or at least that this is the way he writes about his understanding of the world. And it wouldn’t really matter—guy who was in a punk band says dumb thing on the Internet!—except that I know that there are a lot of people who’ve looked up to Rollins the way that I did, and his “tough it out” framing of a disease he doesn’t have is destructive to the people who look to him for strength. Shut the fuck up, Hank. 

Cop Killer - Body Count

Cop Killer

by Body Count
album Body Count

150 Favorite Songs: #65, “Cop Killer,” Body Count (1992)

The thing about “Cop Killer” that’s so remarkable is that even 22 years later, it still sounds positively dangerous. It wasn’t the first song to suggest that maybe the singer would support violence against law enforcement, of course—that dates back from “Fuck Tha Police” to “I Shot The Sheriff” to “Policeman.” But “Cop Killer” is the one that still sounds like something that you shouldn’t be able to get away with singing about.

I mean, “Fuck Tha Police” is arguably the more important song, but it is nowhere near as unapologetic and unequivocal as “Cop Killer.” The conceit of “Fuck Tha Police” is that the cops are on trial for the way they’ve treated young black men like Cube, Dre, Ren, and Eazy-motherfucking-E (Yella’s voice and name are absent on the recording). “Judge Dre” presides while the others give their impassioned testimony: Cube talks about the violence he’s endured, the indignity of being searched and touched inappropriately, the way that black officers react toward him when they’re with white cops, etc, etc—it’s a detailed argument for why the police are fucked. By the time he promises that “when I’m finished / there’s gonna be a bloodbath / of cops dying in LA,” you can understand that he’s justifiably angry. 

"Cop Killer" makes "Fuck Tha Police" seem downright polite by comparison. Ice-T doesn’t fuck around at all here. It’s less a "this is why I hate cops" and more a "how-to" power fantasy. It’s all "I got my black gloves on / I got my ski mask on" and "I got this long-ass knife / and your neck looks just right." Even in the preamble to the song, he lays out his position—that police who brutalize the people they’re supposed to protect are committing such a violation that he’d be happy to "take a pig out here in this parking lot and shoot him in his motherfucking face." He’s not even picky which cop it is. 

That’s the other thing about “Cop Killer”—there’s no equivocating here. One of the most interesting things about the song is the fact that Ice-T, like, acknowledges the shared humanity of the police officer. It’s in the fucking chorus! “I know your family’s grieving—fuck ‘em!” That is some harsh shit. If “Fuck Tha Police” is about how the rage against the police that the NWA guys felt is justifiable because of how they’d been treated, “Cop Killer” takes for granted that police are the enemy. And that, as the enemy, they need to die. 

I mean, shit. That got this record pulled 22 years ago, and it’s still hard to believe he got it on the shelves in the first place. It’s so transgressive even after two decades that it feels like you’re doing something wrong if you sing along (try it with the windows down!). 

But, of course, Ice-T demands that you sing along. That’s the other genius of “Cop Killer”—it’s participatory. After the “fuck the police!” breakdown near the end, he starts calling you out: “Have some motherfucking courage,” he commands, punctuating it with a “fuck the police” before imploring the listener to sing along. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” “Cop killer!” the listener is supposed to shout. “Good choice.”

There’s something fascinating about taking a sentiment like that—a sentiment that got his record yanked off of shelves, that still has police angry with him (cops are still pissed that Ice-T is on Law & Order: SVU), and demanding it become universal. 

Because that’s the other thing about “Cop Killer”: it was on the Body Count record, which was Ice-T’s heavy metal crossover album. That was a record that he knew would be played by an awful lot of white kids. Demanding that a largely-white audience sing along about the very specific ways that they’d go out and kill some cops (with the headlights turned off and a twelve-gauge sawed-off) is scary as hell. Of course they banned this shit.

At the same time, there are only a few times that rock and roll actually felt dangerous. There was a time when people rioted to “Rock Around The Clock” (at least, that’s the myth), when Elvis’ hips threatened to impregnate all of the teenage girls in America, when kids suddenly had hairstyles and clothing that their parents could never understand. 

That power left most music a couple decades ago, though. These days, the Public Enemy logo has a Beats By Apple logo on the other side; “dangerous” artists are more likely to prove their bonafides by not showing up for their gigs than for saying something provocative. Maybe “Cop Killer” was the last truly dangerous rock song—and that alone makes it powerful enough to keep talking about.

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My friend Lindsay tweeted that this afternoon. I had favorited it, but I hadn’t retweeted it, so when I saw the second tweet, I went ahead and did it. Because there’s no reason not to, and—maybe because of this nonsense going on today where a bunch of nerds are mad that Thor is going to be a woman in Marvel’s interpretation of the character for a while—it reminded me of that page from Hitman

Hitman was enjoying its run when I was 17 or so, and it was my jam. It was funny and mean-spirited and violent, but also very smart and about, like, manhood and honor and brotherhood and all of stuff that I was passionately interested in interpretations of when I was trying to figure out what kind of man I wanted to become. (Definitely one who read and wrote about comic books a lot.) 

And these four panels—I remember them very well, even though I first saw them 17 years ago. Because I remember reading that and thinking, “I should never say that word again.” 

Because the character of Tommy Monaghan up there is cool—he’s brave and honorable and funny, someone created specifically for 17 year olds who like swearing and fancy themselves iconoclastic to look up to. So when there’s an entire four-panel sequence devoted specifically to telling those young men that calling a woman a bitch is a bad thing, that if you do that you’re not on the team, that if you want to be the sort of cool guy that Tommy is (and why are you reading the book, if you don’t look up to the character?), you can not use that word. The type of person who would call a woman a bitch is the exact opposite of the kind of guy you want to be.

It’s dumb, kind of, because it’s a comic book about a guy with x-ray vision who kills superpowered bad guys for money. There’s an issue where all of the animals at the Gotham City Zoo become zombies and he clubs a zombie seal to death. It’s not mature. But neither was I, and I knew that this was a thing I needed to give some thought to, because it was treated as something serious. Four panels of making it clear that the sort of guy who calls women bitches is a shitty person. 

Because before that, I hadn’t really thought about it. I don’t think I used “bitch” particularly often, but it was a word, you know? It was in my vocabulary, and it had a definition: “woman or girl who does something that I don’t like.” It’s a teacher who is strict with hall passes, or a friend’s mom who enforces a strict curfew, or a girl who makes fun of your haircut or something. 

It really hadn’t occurred to me until I saw the use of the word made into a huge deal that it was different from any other swear word that was fun to say. And once that was pointed out to me in terms that made using the word “bitch” seem like one of the more shameful things that a man could do to a woman, it stuck with me that I didn’t want to be that sort of man.

So when Lindsay tweeted that she wanted to see her dude friends make that point, rather than just big-ups her for making the point, I remembered this again. Because if you do this, you are off the team. If you use words like “bitch” or “cunt” to describe a woman, you should feel as ashamed and embarrassed and horrible as Tommy Monaghan does in those panels where Tiegel thought he was going to call her that. But if we don’t talk about that—if we don’t make it clear that you’re playing for the team made up of shitty people who think that women deserve their own special class of insults to put them in their place—then that keeps on happening. 

I’m glad I read Hitman when I was 17, goofy as it could be at times. And I’m glad I have people like Lindsay Eyth in my life to remind me that guys like me are responsible for making sure that other dudes get the message. 

Ape thoughts.

I watched Dawn of the Planet of the Apes tonight. It’s bad! (Also, these two movies have weird names, don’t they? “Dawn” seems like it should be the very, very beginnings, while “Rise” seems like it should be the apes claiming power. Right?) 

Anyway, I’ve spent a not-insubstantial amount of my life thinking about big apes that talk, in a variety of media, and it’s led me to a conclusion: No spoilers below, at least if you’ve seen the trailer. 

The reason Rise of the Planet of the Apes works so well — and it really does work very well, it’s a pretty terrific sort of blockbuster — is because you have this beautiful, realistic-looking CGI that makes it possible to tell the story of that film as if it really happened: The not-preposterous premise of a scientist testing an Alzheimer’s drug that, in the experiment phase, makes apes so smart that they rise up against their captors only really works if you’re watching apes that look real. If it’s people in ape costumes, the whole thing is absurd. Instead, it’s surprisingly moving, triggers some genuine discussions about the way we treat others (people and/or animals, depending whether the literal or allegorical interpretation interests you more), and has, like, giant apes attacking helicopters. Plus the most fun parts of that movie involve a cute baby ape who is very smart! Lots to like there. 

But then in this new one, the apes are all super smart and chilling in their ape society, and riding horses and hunting with spears, and having conversations, and firing machine guns and stuff. And that shit is ridiculous to watch. An ape who’s been tortured by a sadistic human getting revenge on his captor? That’s satisfying. An ape on horseback hollering Ivan Drago-isms about who he fights for while firing machine guns at Gary Oldman? That is really, really dumb. 

Anyway, I’m guessing that the movie won’t be particularly well-reviewed or successful, because the packed screening I saw tonight had a lot of laughs at parts that were supposed to be dramatic, and the movie is ridiculous-looking enough that what other reaction is even really possible? But the thing that this got me thinking is that if this movie had been made 70’s-style, with people in ape suits and makeup, I’d probably have bought it. 

We can essentially make anything happen visually in a movie now. I saw apes that look like real apes roam around on horseback and annihilate their enemies with machine guns, and the effect was kind of like an uncanny valley thing — it looked so real, but my brain knew that there was no way an ape could ride a horse and fire a semiautomatic rifle, so the disconnect just seemed absurd. 

I think that maybe this will be the sort of thing to watch as CGI gets continually more effective — that there are things that will look perfectly rendered, but totally wrong, because the sight of them doesn’t make sense to us. 

Anyway — mostly, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is just a dumb, bad movie with plodding pacing, a self-serious preachiness, absurd images, and zero sense of fun or irony. (And, okay,  a little bit of racism, too.) It’s probably not worth a whole lot more thought than I’ve just given it, but I’m trying to Tumbl more, and I was trying to figure out what it takes to make me not like a movie about big apes having adventures. This might be part of it.

01 - (don´t worry) if there´s a hell below we´re all going to go - Curtis Mayfield

01 - (don´t worry) if there´s a hell below we´re all going to go

by Curtis Mayfield
album Curtis

150 Favorite Song: #66, “(Don’t Worry) If There’s Hell Below, We’re All Gonna Go,” Curtis Mayfield (1970)

I used to like to pretend that I knew a ton about soul music, and jazz, and stuff like that. Like when I was 20, I really tried hard to pretend that even though my formative years were spent listening to The Cure and Joy Division and the Afghan Whigs, I was also secretly an expert on Curtis Mayfield and Mahalia Jackson and Sonny Rollins and Cannonball Adderley, somehow. It was definitely posturing of the sort that young white guys who are ashamed of being young white guys engage — I honestly don’t know how or when I would have accumulated a comprehensive knowledge of Tower Of Power’s back catalog and influence given the amount of time I spent practicing how to intone “One hundred yeeeeeears," while wearing a cape made of a clothespin and a bath towel, pretending that I’m Robert Smith.

What I mean to say is, mostly I learned about 70’s music that wasn’t made by sad/angry white fellas by tracing songs the Afghan Whigs covered — which isn’t a shameful thing at all, unless you’re trying to cover it up to seem more worldly — and the Whigs did a blazing version of “(Don’t Worry) If There’s Hell Below, We’re All Gonna Go,” which is where I discovered Curtis Mayfield. And this is a perfect song, timeless in ways that are unlikely, given the amount of era-appropriate slang that Curtis uses, and the specific references to Nixon, and all of that. But the themes to it are so universal that I understand, looking back, why I wanted to claim deep understanding and expertise of it when I was 20 years old — because it’s  just an epic outpouring of paranoia and and tension and rage and hope and fear and bitterness and sarcasm, all over one of the best bass lines anybody anywhere ever wrote. “Everything is fucked, let’s dance” is an eloquence that I wanted to feel some ownership of, even if I hadn’t earned it. 

Of course, “(Don’t Worry) If There’s Hell Below, We’re All Gonna Go” is more than just “everything is fucked, let’s dance,” even with that bass line and those horns — those horns! — working their magic. The thing that I love about it is the way that Curtis Mayfield seems to just fly above the music somehow, with all of this glorious noise (I’m not someone who gushes about production, but there’s just so much happening on this song that you can trip out just on the battle for dominance between the horns and the strings) swirling around him. There’s something apocalyptic about the song, even aside from the title and the opening narration about the Book of Revelations, and it’s thrilling to hearing someone in complete mastery of something as big as all of that. There’s so much happening musically, and so much happening thematically, and Curtis Mayfield seems effortless as he steers the ship. I’m not really ashamed that it inspired me to pose out like I knew what I was talking about — why wouldn’t I?

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Transmetropolitan was prophetic in a lot of ways that have been remarked upon before (digital cameras, Google Glass, “headbutt the weak”-style libertarianism, etc), but in the wake of the Hobby Lobby ruling, the fact that there’s now a precedent for claiming religious justification for things that are illegal for the rest of the population makes this particular scene an unlikely winner in the “what part of Transmetropolitan might come true next” betting pool. 

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