“nazi punks fuck off” – the dead kennedys (1981)

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Last week’s blog post was about how I don’t go see new movies in the theater often.  I broke the streak over the weekend when I went to see Spike Lee’s latest joint BlacKkKlansman.  Based on the 2014 memoir Black Klansman by Ron Stallworth and starring John David Washington (as Stallworth) and Adam Driver, the movie is about Stallworth’s real-life experience of infiltrating the Colorado Springs chapter of the Ku Klux Klan in 1972.  Stallworth disguised his voice to get information on members and chapter meetings while his partner, Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), became the public face.  As Zimmerman and Stallworth get deeper into the operation, suspicions flare up regarding their interest in the organization and they must maintain their anonymity while also ensuring the safety of a local Black Students Union organization.  With the upcoming arrival of David Duke, president of the KKK, Stallworth and Zimmerman must stop a perfect storm of racially-motivated violence.

It was an enjoyable movie with plenty of humor.  Lee hasn’t directed a brilliant film for a long time, but he doesn’t have to.  His body of work speaks for itself so, it is fine if his recent films are not brilliant but serve to be entertaining and thought-provoking.  And BlacKkKlansman accomplished that well.

I wasn’t aware of Stallworth’s story prior to seeing the film, but I was impressed by what he did.  However, I was more impressed with how Lee drew parallels between the events in the film and things today.   Little tongue-in-cheek comments were made throughout the film that served to be biting satire of the Trump administration and the rise of white supremacist violence in this country.  While the story of BlacKkKlansman was solid on its own, drawing connections that related to modern audiences certainly amplified the overall message of the film.

However, Lee isn’t known for his subtlety.  He is a very outspoken, and often abrasive, individual who says what he believes him.  He often generates a lot of controversy with his comments, but he is a voice representing a viewpoint that is oppressed and underrepresented.

Somehow, I forgot how brash and direct Lee could be when I was watching BlacKkKlansman.  SO, I was absolutely stunned and surprised to see Lee did before the credits rolled.  Just in case you didn’t catch the jabs and remarks about white supremacists that could easily apply to Trump and his supporters, Lee beat the message over the audience’s heads by using footage from the Unite the Right rally held in Charlottesville in 2017.

When the violence erupted in Charlottesville on August 12th, 2017, it was a real wake-up call for me.  I had known that Trump was garbage and the Alt-Right were misguided, racist, and just plain awful.  However, I was naïve regarding the extent of their cowardice.  I watched the footage of them chanting “Fuck you, faggots” and “Jews will not replace us.”  I watched the street fights and barricades being pushed and bottles being thrown.  I watched the police fail to maintain law and order.  This was proving to be a significant moment in our country’s history.  However, I wasn’t prepared for the tragedy that occurred in Charlottesville.

Heather Heyer was an activist who marched with the counterprotestors in Charlottesville.  She was murdered by a Unite the Right participant when he accelerated his car into a crowd of counterprotestors.

When Heyer was murdered, a piece of innocence was lost that day.  I had never met or communicated with this person, but I went into a deep seething rage when she died.  Something became lost, but it awoken something darker in me.  For about a month, I was obsessed with learning about Nazis and the Alt-Right on Twitter.  I wanted to learn their dog whistles, how they communicate, and, most importantly, their identity.  I engaged and argued with them.  I called them cowards for hiding behind cartoon avatars.  I wasn’t afraid of them, but they tried hard to put fear in me.  They sent nasty messages to me, made memes of me where I was the subject of violence, threatened to run me over with a car like Heyer, and other threats that you cannot take seriously because they come from the Internet.  I was never afraid of them.  I never hid my face or my name.

For a month, I argued and did whatever I could to dox and expose them.  It was such a rush.  However, I had to stop.  Friends and family tag me in posts.  I realized that these online trolls would see that and then, in an effort to make me afraid, make memes or comments about my loved ones.  I couldn’t subject them to that abuse at the hands of my Twitter crusade.  So, I stopped.  I went dark for a while so the trolls thought I was gone for good.  After a decent amount of time, I came back quietly.  I still research and follow the same trolls, but I don’t engage with them anymore.

I guess that was my process for grieving and avenging Heyer.  She became a symbol of the good people can achieve when they face fascism and the unfortunate consequence that can occur.  I was in Montgomery, Alabama last month and I toured the Civil Rights Memorial Center.  It is a museum dedicated to the victims of racially motivated violence.  The center profiled a few dozen people from notable figures like Emmett Till and Medgar Evers to the lesser know victims of white supremacist violence.

In the center, they had a wing dedicated to the victims of violence in the modern age.  There was a plaque dedicated to the church members shot and killed by Dylann Roof.  There was a memorial to a transgender woman (I’m sorry I forgot the name) who was murdered somewhere in the middle.  And there was a tribute to Heather Heyer.  Unlike the other two examples, Heyer was murdered less than a year ago.  I amazed that she earned a spot of distinction in such an important place so quickly.

As I watched the Charlottesville footage playing at the end of BlacKkKlansman, the screen then showed a picture of Heyer with a tribute.  I was surprised to see her image and I started applauding.  I applauded because she was, in my opinion, a real hero.  Even though I was in a crowded theater, everyone was silent.  I was the only person applauding.  Initially, I was angry at the silence.  However, I have come to realize that maybe they forgot about Heyer or that they were in shock.  I hope they didn’t forget her.  I certainly never did.

I was then struck by the realization that I saw the movie on the one-year anniversary of the Unite the Right rally; the rally with the iconic torches.  In the course of one year, I’m already seeing this stuff in movies.  In less than a year (one day before the date of her death), I’m seeing Heyer in tribute during a widely-released film.  I was blown away. Charlottesville seemed so far away, but it was only a year.  In less than a year, that brave woman has being honored in ways that were befitting of her dedication and activism.

Unite the Right 2 was held in Washington, D.C. over the week to commemorate the one-year anniversary of Charlottesville.  It was thankfully a disaster for the Alt-Right.  Very few of them showed up and they were drowned out by the droves of counterprotestors that came to denounce their message of hate.  It was a success for those who stand against racism and bigotry.

While I am proud of what happened in Washington over the weekend, I have trouble believing that the tides are turning.  Recently, violent protests have been occurring in Portland, Oregon where representatives from group like the Proud Boys are violently clashing with Antifa and other left-identifying people.  I feel the violence there has been severely underreported.  There haven’t been deaths yet, but it could be likely.  I feel people were expecting the rally in Washington to mirror what happened in Charlottesville.  Unfortunately, that did not happen.  However, I think we are close to another Charlottesville and I think it will be in Portland. Though, I hope I’m wrong and that the violence will cease.

When the tragedy in Charlottesville occurred, I saw a bunch of memes and messages on social media denouncing racism.  Most notably, I kept seeing reference to “Nazi Punks Fucks Off.”  Released as their fifth single in 1981, the Dead Kennedys made a fitting soundtrack to serve as a symbol for anti-racist sentiments.  It is song full of fire and anger.  Sure, now, it might be a played out and overused.  However, the message still rings true.  Nazi punks will never step Spike Lee.  Nazi punks will never stop Ron Stallworth.  Nazi punks will never stop Heather Heyer.

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“prelude to 110 or 220/women of the world” – jim o’rourke (1999)

R-858706-1457737506-6931.jpegLast week, I went to see U2 perform two nights at the United Center in Chicago.  Since seeing U2 perform live for the first time in Nashville in 2011, I make it a point to see them every time they play near me.  Even if you aren’t a huge fan of their music, their live shows are incredibly entertaining and engaging with a production value that stands above the rest.  You also get a heavy dose of reality as U2 injects political statements into their performance and adds urgency to issues that many are not aware of or choose not to engage with.

Since Donald Trump became the United States president in 2017, U2 has ramped up the political message of their live shows.  Specifically, they have done so in a way that counteracts much of Trump’s ideology and the actions of his administration. Many of the policies that have come from Trump have been hurtful and directed towards the marginalized people of this country.  By attacking women and people of color, Trump has made it clear that the America he envisions is one filled with white men who support him.

Before the show begins, the large screen that sits in the middle of the arena displays animated protest signs.  The messages on the posters advocate for equal rights for women, refugees, those stricken by poverty, and other groups that have been affected by the increase of nationalism and white supremacy elevated by Trump.  The signs have sayings on them like “#NeverForget,” “Freedom Justice Equality,” and “Refugees Welcome” displayed over imagery that promotes the idea of people of different background coming together.

Throughout the show, U2 continues to remain on message whenever they tie in politics into their songs and performances.  The current tour, iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE Tour, featured the first live performance of “Acrobat” from their 1991 album Achtung Baby.  Leading into that song, Bono uses an iPad and face recognition software to (awkwardly and with glitches) manifest the façade of Mr. MacPhisto over his own face and delves into a monologue about his devilish work he has done in recent years while existing away from the public eye since his glory days of Zoo TV in the early 1990s.  From Russian collusion to paying off porn stars to the riots in Charlottesville, Mr. MacPhisto declares he does his best work when you believe he doesn’t exist.

As the set continues, Larry Mullen, Jr. and Adam Clayton head to a different part of the stage while Bono and the Edge remain to perform an acoustic version of “Staring at the Sun from their 1997 album Pop.  This is fourth tour I’ve been too, but this was the very first time I heard a song from U2’s black sheep album in its entirety.  The screen goes blank while Bono and the Edge perform the song on the b-stage standing over a sun that appears on the screen of the stage’s floor.

It seems like such a somber and quiet affair with the audience focused on the two performers with no distractions coming from the screen. However, as Bono sings about not being the only going blind as he stares at the song, the sun they are standing becomes eclipsed.  As this unknown black mass obscures the sun, the large screen shows b-roll footage of white supremacists rioting at Charlottesville.

Admittedly, I was confused by what was happening and a little concerned.  The band has show violent b-roll at shows before, but always scored to heavy and brash sounds that conveys much anger.  Watching Richard Spencer and his followers carrying tiki torches and brandishing signs with hateful messages was troubling.  This event happened less than a year ago and resulted in the death of an activist named Heather Heyer, a woman who died a hero but whose death has become a point of pride for the Alt-Right movement.

After hearing Bono repeatedly belting out about going blind, I started to see the point he was making.  “Staring at the Sun” fades away and Larry begins a rhythmic pounding on his drums.  The hateful men from Charlottesville continue to walk across the giant screen.  This all seems like it is going on far too long.  Then, the band launches into their Martin Luther King, Jr. anthem “Pride (In the Name of Love)” while the footage of Charlottesville disappears in a sudden cut to be replaced by footage of black women marching through Birmingham during the Civil Rights Movement and the audience is awash with a cool, calming blue light.  This was welcomed relief after watching the footage of the hateful white men.

As awkward as that sequence was, I understood the message.  It was harsh and disturbing, but these are disturbing times.  This was the band’s way of wearing their feelings on their sleeves.  We see the show opening with progressively liberal protest signs then show us what blind hatred looked like, so what was next?

The band plays through two songs from their recent album Songs of Experience.  Back to back, Get Out of Your Own Way” and “American Soul” are declarations and pleas for America to return to its former glory of being a beacon of hope and prosperity for those who need it the most.  Now whether America really lived up to that standard is a point of valid criticism, but the country isn’t doing itself any favors by emboldening those who seek to actively destroy those ideals in the name of nationalism under the guise of patriotism.

The band then leaves the stage to take a break before the encore. During this time, a video plays on the main screen.  A woman walks into view (the Edge’s daughter) and stands still while various inspirational messages are scrawled around her.  Sayings like “Poverty Is Sexist” and None of Us Are Equal Until All of Us Are Equal” come into view and are applauded by the audience.  This is the messaging of the show coming in full circle.

During this video, the song “Prelude to 110 or 220/Women of the World” by Jim O’Rourke is playing.  Released in 1999 on his studio album Eureka, this song is a rendition of “Women of the World;” a 1983 folk song first recorded by Ivor Cutler and Linda Hirst.  The song consists of a single line repeated throughout and accompanied by folk guitar. “Women of the world take over, ‘cos if you don’t the world will come to an end, and it won’t take long.”

O’Rourke is a musician and producer best known for his with Sonic Youth and Wilco.  His version included in U2’s presentation is a remixed version keeping O’Rourke’s vocals and arrangement, but with added backing vocals and instrumentation with contributions from submissions by fans and singer Madison Ryann Ward.

It is a rather pleasant song with a great message behind it.  Even on its own, the presentation was powerful.  However, it served as a great bookend to the show’s political message and a great segue into “One” which is not only one of the band’s most popular songs but also an anthem of sorts (that require some liberal interpretations of the song’s original meaning).

U2 are not holding any punches when it comes to increasing the visibility of women in their show.  I had seen this when they toured in 2017 for the 30th anniversary of The Joshua Tree.  On that tour, they featured a video collage of famous women during “Ultraviolet (Light My Way),” a short film featuring a Syrian refugee girl named Omaima, and many declarations that we turn “history” into “HERstory” during a performance of “Mysterious Ways.”

The band is certainly not blind to what is happening the world.  Dangerous men are disrupting democratic elections, tearing immigrant families apart at the border, and making it national policy to reduce the rights of women domestically.  None of this should have been new to the people who attend a U2 concert.  You see these things all over the news on a daily basis.  However, for some, going to a concert means getting a break from the heartache the media depicts.  And while certainly won’t criticize someone who taking a mental break from these things, I cannot let them turn a blind eye and close their minds.  If art is a reflection of life, we need everyone looking and paying attention and we need our artists to take a stand and help guide us.