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Friday, March 31, 2006

Bono is a Tool

Bono's latest attempt to save the world is through the power of consumerism and credit card debt. He has allied himself with The Gap, Armani, Converse, and American Express, among others, in a "Product Red" campaign to eliminate poverty through the purchase of designer clothing and other luxury goods (and with a special red American Express card that is "designed to eliminate HIV in Africa").

Good intentions aside, the folly of Bono's plans to end the problems of hunger and poverty by working through some of the very neoliberal institutions that inflame and sustain those problems has been pretty well documented. But the "Product Red" campaign looks like a new gold standard for cynical, corporate ploys designed to extract money from consumers hoping to make a difference by buying something.

The latest issue of Rock & Rap Confidential spells all this out in a cheerfully muckraking article, pulling no punches. The story does not seem to be available online, so I've reproduced it here from their email newsletter, for your edification:
In January, Bono announced his latest campaign to save the poor through capitalism--or rather, the other way around. This is Red, a marketing scam which finds the increasingly deranged U2 frontman in business with Nike Converse, The Gap, Giorgio Armani and American Express. Red products include Converse sneakers made from "African mudcloth," "vintage" Gap t-shirts, Armani wraparound sunglasses, and a red American Express card. The companies will donate "a portion" of their profits to fighting AIDS in Africa, the continent for whose poor Bono claims to be the spokesman. This portion is for the most part unspecified (American Express promises 1% of spending). Nor is it specified whether Bono takes a cut--presumably he would be crowing if he weren't, as he did when U2 pimped iPods for free.

"It's just a couple of degrees from becoming a Saturday Night Live skit," says Noel Beasley of the UNITE/HERE textile workers union. "It's like if you took Bob Dylan's 'The Times They Are A-Changing,' used it to pitch Rolex watches and tried to convince people that if they bought enough luxury goods they could make a revolution. It's ludicrous on its face."

Financial Times termed Red "the latest in a series of marketing experiments by companies worried that television advertising is losing its punch. Many of these efforts are based on the idea of using good works or services as a way to get consumer attention." The term for this, in respectable marketing circles, is "corporate social opportunity."

As Beasley said on Kick Out the Jams, Dave Marsh's Sirius radio show, "This is obviously the economic wet dream of every retailer and credit card loan shark in the world, if you can pitch consumerism and credit card debt as the salvation of the planet, while garment workers and shoe workers are starving to death and literally burning to death in horrific conditions in places like Burma and Thailand." As a member of the executive committee of the International Textile, Leather and Garment Workers Foundation, Beasley regularly monitors sweatshop and slave labor conditions around the globe, up close and in person.

Bono announced his scheme at Davos, Switzerland, where he attended the World Economic Forum, a meeting of leaders of the world's richest countries. According to Financial Times, he got the Red idea from Robert Rubin, one of the architects of Clintonomics.

Bono explicitly believes that only such powerful insiders can effect meaningful change. Capitalism controls everything, and therefore, only capitalist solutions can be "effective."

In Caracas, Venezuela, the World Social Forum took place at the same time as the Davos conference. The WSF is a meeting of leaders and activists from around the globe, from poor nations as well as rich ones. It is dedicated to the proposition that social justice occurs only when people govern themselves. The World Social Forum is the sound of some of the world's have-nots speaking for themselves, which Bono sees as counter-productive. But today, five South American nations are run by governments that believe otherwise, while the countries where schemes like Red operate, particularly Britain and the U.S., allow their populations to grow poorer and more powerless by the day.

Bono claims to be a disciple of Martin Luther King. Dr. King spoke of the "triple evils"--racism, war and poverty--as inextricably connected. He eventually concluded that opposing one of them without opposing all of them didn't make any sense. So Dr. King risked his relationship with the LBJ administration by first attacking the war in Vietnam, then starting the Poor Peoples Campaign, which raised exactly the same issues as the World Social Forum.

Bono and his ilk want to convince good-hearted folks that there is no need for the lowly to move. As long as Bono cuddles with the mighty, poverty and AIDS in Africa are being powerfully addressed. So Bono, "spokesman for the poor," meets with Bush and never mentions Iraq or New Orleans.

For the past several years, Bono has argued that African nations need to be relieved of their multibillion dollar debt to rich countries. Much of that debt has been erased. This has produced no tangible reduction in poverty. Bono has issued pronouncements about increased U.S. aid to Africa after every one of his meetings with George Bush and his senior officials. That increase never comes and, as detailed by an article last summer in the U2 fanzine Rolling Stone, the way what little aid there is gets dispensed makes conditions worse.

The 2007 World Social Forum will be held, fittingly enough, in Africa. An offshoot, the U.S. Social Forum, will be held next year in Atlanta, a symbolic return to the South which gave birth to Martin Luther King's Poor People's Campaign. Both of these massive gatherings (20,000 people are expected in Atlanta, 300,000 in Africa) will be suffused with culture, as artists from around the world speak directly with poor people, not about them from afar. The sound of a certain Irish pop star, off shilling for sweatshop syndicates and their middlemen, will be heard only faintly, if at all.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Blog Link Roundup

Byrne/Eno "Bush of Ghosts" tracks re-released under CC (2 tracks, not the whole thing)

Bragg changes Ledbelly's "Bourgeois Blues" to "Bush War Blues": free MP3

Canadian recording industry: P2P isn't bad for business

Algorithmic Political-Media-Mashup Vodcast

How to Prevent Hearing Loss

Audio scan of NYC FM band the night John Lennon was shot

Software turns human beatbox into close-match samples from videos

Wonderful hillbilly mouth sounds: Eephing

MPAA/RIAA/BSA: No breaking DRM, even if it's killing you (literally!)

Fight for your right to keitai: geeks in Japan protest anti-vintage-tech ban


Monday, March 27, 2006

R.I.P. Buck Owens

Country music icon Buck Owens passed away this weekend at his home in Bakersfield, California. Owens was an innovator and an outsider, expressing his disdain for the formulaic approach in the country music of the Nashville establishment by calling it "assembly line, robot music." He was king of the Bakersfield sound, a twangy, stripped down, rock'n'roll-influenced alternative to the slick, string-laden Nashville sound that was becoming popular in the late 50s, when Owens' career was picking up steam. Owens pushed his sound away from the traditional country shuffle and towards a more upbeat, driving style, which he once described as "like a freight train coming through your livingroom."

The Bakersfield sound is on display in his best known song outside of country music circles, "Act Naturally" (hear it here). It was his first #1 hit (and the first of 15 consecutive #1 hits for him), and was later covered by The Beatles, who changed almost nothing about it.

Grab a couple more Buck Owens classics ("I've Got A Tiger By The Tail" and "Who's Gonna Mow Your Grass") here.

It's a sad day for country music. Hopefully they are flying flags at half-mast on Buck Owens Boulevard.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

The Kleptones - 24 Hours

Unstoppable mashup krew The Kleptones have released a new album full of copyright breaking goodness:

The Kleptones - 24 Hours

They also have a video for their song: 0900 Daft Purple

As usual, grab it now. Who knows how long until they get ceased'and'desisted off the net...

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Blogroll Addition: Dubstep Blog

We are adding the Dubstep Blog to our blogroll. This blog is brought to you by the same team that does DubstepForum.com, perhaps the most central hub to the Dubstep scene. It's a great place to find news and mixes.

(What's Dubstep??)

Friday, March 24, 2006

Video/Sound Processing: sCrAmBlEd?HaCkZ!

sCrAmBlEd?HaCkZ! is an awkwardly named, but really awesome sound/video processing tool. There is a demo video that will do a much better job than me at explaining how amazing this technique is:

sCrAmBlEd?HaCkZ! Demo Video

Here is some background on the concept:
sCrAmBlEd?HaCkZ! is a Realtime-Mind-Music-Video-Re-De-Construction-Machine.

It is a conceptual software which makes it possible to work with samples in a completely new way by making them available in a manner that does justice to their nature as concrete musical memories.

Conceptual Background

s?H! is the result of an effort to develop an artistic strategy that could shed some light on evident but very confusing problems of intellectual property. Intellectual property is a misconception deeply conflicting with the basic principles of any cultural production because it is completely negating its collaborative nature.
Nevertheless IP laws are continuously expanded as if romantic notions of geniality and originality would not have been put ad acta quite a while ago. At the very latest in todays society which is, to an ever increasing degree, shaped by digital networks und computers it is getting obvious what IP actually is: an instrument of power and censorship to secure economic interests.

Fascinated by the effects caused by a small program called Napster (and its successors) I wondered to what extent certain software could unfold discursive power in such a situation if that software would open up new technical possibilities for something which is already the (subconscious) desire of many.
Because of my interests in artistic strategies and social practises of appropriation - collage, montage, sampling and remix in general and plunderphonics, bastardpop and mashups in particular - the idea of a hypothetical mind music machine has evolved which, as a metaphor, helped the concept and the design of sCrAmBlEd?HaCkZ! to take shape.

Album Review: Medl - Medly

Just in time for spring, our friends Medl have put out their first release, available as a free download from their spankin' new Vocoid netlabel. It's an airy and melodic set of songs, and it's making me pine for the warmer, sunnier days that are (hopefully) just around the corner. I'm not going to try to pin it down to a genre, but I hear hints of Plaid, dashes of Mouse on Mars, some Solvent, ISAN, maybe even a little To Rococo Rot, and all tied together with an indie-sensibility reminiscent of The Postal Service without the vocals (or maybe Dntel would be a more apt comparison).

Medl - Medly (or click here to download a zip of complete album).

There are a number of different styles at work on this album, so a review of a few individual tracks seems in order.

Nother Rainy Day

This is the last track on the album, and the one that I had to listen to three times in a row this morning during my train ride into the city. A brisk, simple 4x4 beat drives a playfully interlocking set of quizzical, wistful, happy-yet-sad melodies. The track is uncluttered and well-crafted, with everything in the right place and nothing hanging around for long enough to dominate. This rainy day lets in a lot of sunshine.

Feliz Naviblah

This song is centered around a soaring, sustained cluster of synth notes that twist around, expand and contract, recede and then burst into the foreground, and playfully converse with the beat that merrily chugs along underneath. The vocal sample that sneaks in midway through compliments all of this perfectly, and cracks me up every time I hear it.

Stuff Goes Back

A frantic, angular, crunchy melody screams over most of this track, and a mightily obscured vocal provides emphasis and and a sense of mystery. If you like Plaid, grab this one and you won't be disappointed.

Soft On The Tarmac

Another wistful, sunny song for lazy afternoons, sitting by the pool, and maybe remembering your childhood in the 80s. This one taps into some instrinsic sense I have of what makes a song emotional for me -- certain chord changes, certain timbres, certain melodic devices that were popular in the 80s -- that and filters opening up. In particular, anything that remotely resembles a relatively obscure New Order track called Your Silent Face that for whatever reason packs more emotional punch for me than almost any other song. Soft On The Tarmac showcases Medl's talent for achieving this kind of feeling.

Summer Came Late This Year

This track kicks off Medly with a bubbly, straight ahead "melodic IDM" sensibility. It bookends the album nicely with Nother Rainy Day at the other end, each track coming at you with some of the same sensibilities but carried out in a different way. Whereas Nother Rainy Day's parts intertwine in a pretty egalitarian fashion, Summer Came Late This Year has one melody that is clearly in the lead -- and it will probably get stuck in your head. You'll be humming the bassline on this one too.

The rest of the album ain't bad either... We're looking forward to more from Medl.

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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Fostering the Digital Commons

Noah Zweig sent us an email to let us know that KQED's Forum did an interesting radio show about the digital commons. I only caught a few minutes of it and it seemed interesting:

Fostering the Digital Commons
Forum discusses the way in which cultural projects, interactive media installations, online networks, social software and collaborative endeavors may instigate an involvement or interest in civic and social deeds and contemporary art.

I'll have to go listen to that stream now...

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

New Contributer: Jan AKA Disrupt from Jahtari.org

Playtherecords is pleased to welcome our newest writer: Jan AKA Disrupt founder of the amazing record label Jahtari. Jan also edits and writes for the Jahtari Magazine which has a great history of Jamaican music.

Jan will be covering a wide variety of stories for PTR: Reggae, the Netlabel scene, local music/art events in the Leipzig/Berlin area, and really whatever else moves him.

We will be doing an interview with Jan about Jahtari.org sometime soon, stay tuned.

Welcome Jan!

Monday, March 20, 2006

Happy Birthday Lee Perry

Today is the birthday of the legendary Lee 'Scratch' Perry. To commemorate the occasion, Hearwax has posted an overview of Perry's career together with an A to Z selection of tunes he performed or produced over the years (from "Ashes and Dust" to "Zion"). It's a great set of songs - grab them today and celebrate reggae's mad genius.
The legend that is Lee Perry turns 70 years of age on Monday, and I think that anyone who is a lover of reggae music should hold up their glass (or spliff) and toast the man for his incredible contribution to the genre over the decades.

From The Heart of the Congo

Download a couple of tracks from this fine Lee Perry rarity at Roots from the Yard. It's great reggae you've likely never heard - Scratch at his prime with drumming and singing by Seke Molenga and Kalo Kawongolo from Zaire. It's surprising this record isn't better known - Perry's classic Black Ark production goes so beautifully with Molenga and Kawongolo's Zairian rhythmic sensibility and fluidly melodic vocal style.

There are a couple of slightly different versions of the story, but this is my favorite one:
Not to be confused with The Congos' Heart Of The Congos, this is an album with a great story behind it... In 1977, a would-be reggae promoter brought some fellows from Zaire to Jamaica in hopes of creating a new African reggae sound. Apparently, she abandoned the two Africans soon after they arrived in Jamaica and left them stranded on the mean streets of Kingston. Not speaking any English, they had to beg for money and food to survive. Eventually, they found themselves at Lee Perry's house and somehow communicated their desperate story.

Perry took their arrival as a sign: Jah himself had sent these guys from Africa to make a connection with the Black Ark. Soon after, the three of them were in the Ark recording the six songs that make up From The Heart Of The Congo. It's an incredible and ground breaking collaboration, done long before anyone was attempting such a crossover, and even before reggae had become popular in Africa. The result was a thick, swirling, tribal groove that is unique in the Lee Perry canon. Killers include "African Roots", "Mutoya Motema", and - oddly enough - the mislabelled Robert Palmer tune is really good, too!

Friday, March 17, 2006

Blog Link Roundup

Radiohead bootleg cover video: Just (graffitti animation)

Creative Commons License Upheld by Dutch Court

hamhocks and henanigans

Warner Music sponsors CC-licensed mashup contest

WB band "Fort Minor" does Creative Commons remix contest

Music Based on Fibonacci Sequence and Stock Market

Audio files of The Rolling Stones making "Their Satanic Majesties Request"

Greg Fleischut's teenage folktronica and bluegrass

Feds bust Ryan Adams fans for leaking pre-release tracks


Thursday, March 16, 2006

Nicodemus - Nuff Respect

There is a great album available for download at Distinctly Jamaican Sounds: Nicodemus - Nuff Respect.
Nicodemus recorded "Nuff Respect" for producer Kenneth Black on the Skengdon label in 1986 and includes his hit "Suzy Wong" - all backing tracks provided by the Fat Man Riddim Section. I'm nearly positive this album has never been released on CD or made readily available with a re-issue so I hope you enjoy it.
I'm sad to learn from this post that Nicodemus died in 1996 from diabetes complications. His confident, friendly, usually unhurried patter has been one of my favorite vocal flows in all of reggae/dancehall music since I first heard his classic Boneman Connection.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Warrior Stance: DX7 Dub

The Jahtari Magazine is full of useful information (check out their easily-digested Reggae History). Catching my eye today is this story by Pete Murder Tone on a crucial piece of UK digi-dub history:" Warrior Stance" by Dread & Fred. You can hear the track via Jahtari's handy built-in player.
At the age of 16/17 in Bedford, UK, Dread linked up with his brother Fred and started to lay down bassline tracks with a simple Boss drum machine, playing percussion and bongos on top, with a borrowed Yamaha DX7 to compliment the hard core dub.

In 1988 they got four dubplates of their unique material pressed and took them to Jah Shaka. Shaka played the dub plates for around a month and then called up and told them to come to his next sound system session down in Cheggars Hall / London. He always played his best or most exclusive song last - this night he played 'Warrior Dub' - now known as 'WARRIOR STANCE' and it took the roof off the building... Shaka that night requested that the dub plate should be released on his own label.
Remembered as the first real digital stepper, "Warrior Stance" is unabashedly synthetic, and was tremendously influential on the new wave of UK dub. Speaking as someone with a bit of a synthesizer fetish (I myself own a DX9, retarded cousin of the mighty DX7), it's exciting to hear how Dread & Fred took the limitations of their equipment and used them to push the music forward, cranking up the machine feel with a beat like clockwork and those cold, FM synthesis sounds. Even the faux-brass, often a kind of sonic kiss-of-death, is perfect in this context.

For more on the impact of "Warrior Stance" ("Warrior Charge" or "Warrior Dub", if you prefer) and on the UK roots scene relative to that other hugely influential electronic dance sound bubbling up in UK at the time, acid house, check out this blog post (scroll down for the bit on Dread & Fred):
The track which gets credited for shaking everything up (in all senses!) is Warrior Charge by Bedford's Dread and Fred. According to the Rough Guide, this actually came out in 1988 as a 12" on Jah Shaka's label, which is impressive if you think about it in terms of acid house, but a bit of a lag in reggae terms when you consider sleng teng and its various precursors. (Though I'm sure Shaka caned it on dubplate for ages before its release.)

Apparently there were serious mixed feelings amongst the cognoscenti about the arrival of Warrior Charge and the tracks which followed it. In some ways the purists were right to be nervous, because a load of producers such as Iration Steppas saw to it that UK Roots would never be the same again.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Where Is Our Zappa?

This transcript of Frank Zappa's 1985 testimony before a Congressional hearing on "Contents of Music and the Lyrics of Records" is an inspirational read:
No one has forced Mrs. Baker or Mrs. Gore to bring Prince or Sheena Easton into their homes. Thanks to the Constitution, they are free to buy other forms of music for their children. Apparently, they insist on purchasing the works of contemporary recording artists in order to support a personal illusion of aerobic sophistication. Ladies, please be advised: The $8.98 purchase price does not entitle you to a kiss on the foot from the composer or performer in exchange for a spin on the family Victrola. Taken as a whole, the complete list of PMRC demands reads like an instruction manual for some sinister kind of "toilet training program" to house-break all composers and performers because of the lyrics of a few. Ladies, how dare you?

Update from Vitriolix:

Yes, who will be our Zappa today? This video of his 1986 appearance on Crossfire came across C&L recently. Zappa looks pretty miffed by the stupidity of the arguments going on around him and loses it a bit:

Frank Zappa: "You can kiss my ass" on Crossfire '86

Friday, March 10, 2006

Simon Reynolds

Simon Reynolds is one of my favorite popular music critics, and a preeminent historian of electronic dance music. I recently discovered that he has a blog. He also has a new book out, Rip It Up & Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984.
Punk's raw power rejuvenated rock, but by summer 1977 it had become a parody of itself. Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-84 is a celebration of what happened next--bands like Joy Division, Gang of Four, Wire, Contortions, Talking Heads, The Fall, Cabaret Voltaire, The Human League--who dedicated themselves to fulfilling punk's unfinished musical revolution. Based on over 125 interviews, Rip It Up offers a panoramic survey of the seven year period following punk, taking in everything from PIL to ABC to SST to ZTT, and dealing with genres including industrial, 2-Tone, synthpop, and goth.
I'm very much looking forward to reading this book. The postpunk era produced some of my very favorite music, but I am much too young to have experienced it firsthand. Fortunately for me, Reynolds is an author capable of spinning a written history into something that feels like an experience. His 1999 book Generation Ecstasy : Into the World of Techno and Rave Culture was written so compellingly that while reading it I began to feel nostalgia for something that I was not a part of (the original UK rave explosion of the late 80s). Almost too compelling. Fishing around for links, I found this Amazon.com comment on "Generation Ecstasy":
In an effort to disavow his own bourgeois status as music critic and connoisseur, Reynolds routinely sides with the more "populist" sub-genres out there. Jungle and gabba are good. Trip-hop and IDM are snobby. Hardcore and house get the thumbs up, 'intelligent drum and bass' and illbient get the thumbs down. While he often has a point, this siding with what 'moves the masses' turns too easily into apologetics for the culture industry (the mass manufacture and consumption of musical cliche).
This is a harsh way of putting it, but a fair point. I suspect that reading Reynold's passionate argument for the populist genres contributed to altering my previously close-minded ideas about how far into the "mainstream" (or at least the popular) I was willing to wade. This sullied my cherished outsider perception of myself, which led, I must admit, to quite a bit of silly fun. It wasn't just "Generation Ecstasy", but the book did help provide an intellectual framework to help me explain to myself the changes I was already making in my lifestyle and tastes.

It's for the best, of course, but I'm afraid that I may have gone too far in this direction, to the point that I can find something to like in even the stupidest dance music, I can listen to the most ignorant, offensive gangsta rap without even really noticing what is being said, and I can write a post praising someone like producer Scott Storch while completely glossing over the inane, ego-fueled foolishness he spews. I'm glad my mind was opened, but I need to make more of an effort to keep this tendency in check -- sometimes there's a legitimate, extra-musical reason to dislike something, even if it moves the people's asses. There is something to Reynold's ideas (as I remember them) about the inherent purity or authenticity of body music, but it's up to our brains to make sure there's still room for meaning and reflection.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Blog Link Roundup

The 60 Inch Subwoofer - The Biggest Subwoofer Ever Made

Mix your own Super Mario Bros tune

Electro Class: A Crunk Genealogy

Yahoo music exec: labels should try selling music without DRM

Free CC music on community WiFi network

Podzinger: search the full text of podcasts

Free music and movie trailer sound from SXSW:06

Playing the World From a Basement


Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The Freesound Project's First Competition

I've been meaning to do a spot on the Freesound Project for a quite a while, and now that they are holding their first competition the time is right. First, what is the Freesound Project? They summarize themselves nicely on top of their main page:
The Freesound Project is a collaborative database of Creative Commons licensed sounds.
Basically, sound artists upload sounds they have created, be it found sound they've recorded out in the field, guitar licks in their studio, or strange sounds they synthesized. The sounds are all under a Creative Commons "Sampling Plus 1.0" license, so they are free to use pretty much any way you want. They only real restriction is that you must give credit to the sound's authors if you use them, and you can't use them to advertise.

The real beauty is that the site tracks which sounds you've downloaded for you and will print out a nice summary report to make it easy to give attribution when it comes time. This is so, so nice. I can't tell you how often I've putting the finishing touches on a song and have no idea anymore where I got all the samples from.

On to the competition:

The First Freesound Competition!
Freesound, M-Audio and Soundman together with Computer Music Magazine proudly present the first Freesound competition. Themed as "Earth, Wind, Fire and Water" this competition will use The Freesound Project as the setting for the oldest battle on this planet: the battle of the elements!

The rules

You have to upload at least 4 samples, each one themed as one of the elements. You have to record or synthesize these samples, one for "earth", one for "wind", one for "water" and one for "fire". If you feel like entering more than once in the competition, that's ok, just upload another set of 4 (you could put them in sample packs). You need to give your samples a good description (bad descriptions will be thrown in the garbage bin) and you need to tag them (next to the regular descriptive tags) with the tags "earth" or "wind" or "fire" or "water" depending on the sound...

The competition will run until the end of March 2006.

The prize

Instead of cutting up the prize in separate pieces, we've decided to go with a "winner takes all" approach. And what a prize it is! You get the M-Audio Microtrack, a flash-based miniature audio recorder, one superb set of the Soundman in-ear microphones -perfect for fieldrecording- and the audio-processing/mastering effects suite Ozone from Izotope, to finalize your sound.
Get your microphones ready! Go!

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Meat Beat Manifesto Remix Contest

Meat Beat Manifesto Remix Contest

To celebrate his new tour, Meat Beat Manifesto and Thirsty Ear Recordings have released the remixable stems from the track "Wild," as heard on the album At the Center. MBM's team have split up the files in Session View and included a lesson file.

To download the files, click here.

To enter the contest, please send an MP3 of no more than 10 MBs to [email protected] with your full name included. One entry per contestant, and please send your entries in no later than April 15, 2006.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The Passion of The Morrissey

Sometimes a fan's devotion to a pop star transcends musical interest and becomes more like a religion. This is the case with many a serious fan of Morrissey. A lengthy article in The Believer explores the Morrissey phenomenon, touching on the reasons for The Smiths' initial appeal for Reagan/Thatcher-era misfits (and why that appeal has lasted), Morrissey's influence on the britpop of the 1990s, and Morrissey's curious veneration among southwest-US-based Latino audiences:
When the crowd chanted "Mexico! Mexico!" at an off-the-beaten-track Morrissey concert in the desert town of Yuma, Arizona a few years ago, trying to get Morrissey to acknowledge that the majority of the audience was Latino, the singer responded by saying: "I'm going to sing a couple more songs then all of you can go back to Mexicali." The convention center auditorium ricocheted with cheers. "Only one white man in the world - and he's not the Pope - can tell a group of Mexicans in the United States to return to Mexico and not only avert death, but be loved for saying so," wrote journalist Gustavo Arellano in an article about Morrissey's Latino fans in the pop culture 'zine LoopdiLoop.

Morrissey's "Latino connection" has been a source of amusement and confusion to journalists who cannot quite see how this skinny, effete Englander with his oblique references to dank Manchester cemeteries could appeal to the traditionally macho, sun-kissed Latino culture.

What's behind this Morrissey-Latino love fest? Arellano draws interesting parallels between Morrissey's music and Mexico's ranchera music tradition:

His trembling falsetto brings to mind the rich, sad voice of Pedro Infante, while his effeminate stage presence makes him a UK version of Juan Gabriel. As in ranchera, Morrissey's lyrics rely on ambiguity, powerful imagery and metaphors. Thematically, the idealization of a simpler life and a rejection of all things bourgeois come from a populist impulse common to ranchera.

The most striking similarity, though, is Morrissey's signature beckoning and embrace of the uncertainty of life and love, something that at first glance might seem the opposite of macho Mexican music. But check it out: for all the machismo and virulent existentialism that Mexican music espouses, there is another side - a morbid fascination with getting your heart and dreams broken by others, usually in death. In fact, Morrissey's most famous confession of unrequited love, "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out" ("And if a double-decker bus/Crashes into us/To die by your side/Would be a heavenly way to die"), emulates almost sentiment for sentiment Cuco Sanchez's torch song "Cama de Piedra" ("The day that they kill me/May it be with five bullets/And be close to you").

I've always been more of a fan of The Smiths than Morrissey's solo work -- it was Johnny Marr's brilliant writing and jangling, effortlessly complex guitar playing that really made that band -- though I will admit that Morrissey's voice and lyrics provided the perfect counterpoint. I'll also admit to having fond high school memories of wearing out Bona Drag and Kill Uncle tapes in my walkman, watching happily from the bleachers with a broken wrist as my first period gym class ran laps. Morrissey was perfect for that.