J's Indie/Rock Mayhem

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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Notes From Underground - Special Edition
Freedom Files

Well, again the air conditioning has reared its head. We've more or less been off the air since Sunday. Why the college hasn't taken a larger interest in getting us back on the air I have no clue. So, the event that only happens once every 6 years, my show being on the 4th of July, is a no-go. So, I offer in its stead this special edition of Notes from Underground. I hope you enjoy. Remember that I will have a sub this Sunday since I'll be out of town and not on at all Wednesday the 11th due to upgrades to the station. I'll next be on-air Sunday, July 15th for Extra Mayhem. Tune in.

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I had thought long and hard about how to celebrate the 4th of July for my show, and as usual, the best ideas came at the last minute. Why not look at some of the notable moments in music (and - as an offshoot - literature) that have affected our rights as citizens? There are tons of songs about equal rights and social justice, but mainly I wanted to focus on songs that dealt with our right to create art in the way that we see fit - not limited by ideas of morality and ownership. So, I present you with two downloads that represent that spirit of art at its most challenging and important.

Luke featuring The 2 Live Crew - "Banned in the U.S.A." (click to listen.) : Not this song so much, but the ones that predated it. This song was the infamous 2 Live Crew's response to the unbelievable firestorm that followed the release of their early records, but most notably 1989's As Nasty as They Wanna Be. Headed up by Luke Campbell (aka Luke Skyywalker, aka Uncle Luke), the band was fairly notorious for its sleazy, sex and party raps. When clueless white politicians continue to this day to complain about the 'imorality' of rap music, they probably still have the cover of this album in mind. Obscenity laws were invoked to try and prevent the sales of some of their earlier records, resulting in one case of a felony charge against a record clerk for selling a copy of 1986's The 2 Live Crew is What We Are to a 14 year old girl. This wouldn't be the last time 2 Live Crew records would cause obscenity laws to be invoked and the storm brewed until it hit its apex (or nadir) in 1989.

Broward County, Florida eventually took the steps necessary to ban the sale of As Nasty as They Wanna Be within their county and sure enough, several record stores were fined for selling the record anyway. The band was even arrested for performing songs from the record at a live concert, though all of these were eventually overturned or thrown out of court.

"Banned in the U.S.A." was the band's response to the controversy over their records. They were responsible for several important court cases - the Broward County obscenity ruling was later overturned by a Court of Appeals in 1992 and in 1995, the estate of Roy Orbison lost a Supreme Court case with 2 Live Crew that accused them of plaigiarism for using the music from "Oh, Pretty Woman" for a song on an album. The Supreme Court upheld that it was parody and therefore fair-use and legally protected.

Negativland - "Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" (click to listen.) WARNING - Song contains a large amount of profanity. Not recommended for a non-adult audience. : Numerous things were going on here. First, there was the music. A ridiculous wholesale, MIDI/synthesizer reproduction of the music to the self-same U2 song. Second, incredibly profane recorded messages including outtakes of American Top 40 host Casey Kasem cussing up a blue streak at his producers while recording his show. Thirdly, and ultimately most importantly, a cover that invoked the ire of U2's record label.

It was this cover that caused the largest upset since the label made the argument that it could be mistaken for the forthcoming new album by the band U2. Negativland had pushed every single button that they possibly could and had succeeded. Ultimately the single was pulled off of market and destroyed - in fact, it's still not technically legal for the song to be sold. But there is almost no finer song to launch into a debate about what really should constitute fair-use and what really defines art.

Negativland has gone on to be serious champions of more liberal fair-use laws and has, as a band, written about this issue extensively over the years, but it wouldn't have made such an impact without a really amusing (and honestly great) song to launch the process. If you've never heard this song, check it out. If you want to read some more about this case, or about intellectual property in general, check out this page over at Negativland's web site. Dig deep and you'll find some really enlightening material, including an interview the band did with an unsuspecting The Edge, guitarist of U2.

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Both of these cases involve art that at points pushes the boundries of what's defensible. A lot of 2 Live Crew's raps were sleazy, borderline misogynistic and boorish, but it doesn't stop their right to create what they want. Negativland stepped into questionable territory with the cover of their single, but instead of being asked to pull the cover, were crushed by a mammoth record company that seemed to just want to wipe them off on their shoe and prevent even the art itself from being heard. Thankfully, both of these groups fought and in some cases continue to fight against laws and rulings that are oppressive to art in the public domain.

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