All Options On The Table?

I’ve probably bored everyone with my prior posts on California and its political/financial problems, but I find those problems, and the ways in which people are reacting to them, to be fascinating.  I also agree with this article that the problems are just an indicator of the challenges that other governmental entities — local, state, and federal — are going to face as tax revenues fall and spending continues to increase.

It will be interesting to see how far California lawmakers will go to balance the budget.  On the revenue side, people will argue for all kinds of initiatives to bring in more money.  The article, for example, argues that legalizing marijuana and unspecified other “controlled substances” would add $1 billion to California’s budgetary bottom line.   (California’s reputation is such that I would expect that legalizing controlled substances would raise more than $1 billion.)  I’m sure that there are similar kinds of arguments about new gambling casinos, oil drilling, and other potential revenue-producing activities that state legislators resisted when times were flush.  My guess is that those possibilities are looking increasingly attractive in comparison to the alternative of actually cutting services, support for education, and so forth.  Political pressures make it almost impossible to cut spending — even though it is clear that increased spending is the real cause of the budgetary problem.  The article notes, for example, that current revenues would allow for more spending than was provided for in California’s budget only five years ago.

The Best American Band: Rage Against The Machine

Rage Against The Machine

Rage Against The Machine

I have a very soft spot for Rage Against The Machine. I especially enjoy heavier-sounding music, and RATM fills that bill very nicely indeed. Their songs sound particularly good at high volume, when you can really get into the melodic, stirring guitar licks, the terrific drumming, and the intense, urgent, quasi-rapping vocals. I first heard some of their songs on CD-101, and picked up The Battle of Los Angeles from the old Virgin Records store at Easton. It knocked me out then, and 10 years later it still does. I think it is an almost perfect album (if they still use that word anymore), filled with songs of stunning quality — like Testify, Sleep Now In The Fire, Born Of A Broken Man, Voice Of The Voiceless, and War Within A Breath, among many others. (Four years later, I still played the crap out of that CD when Russell and I went out west for the OSU National Championship game against the Miami Hurricanes. The Buckeyes were colossal underdogs, and War Within A Breath — with its great refrain that begins “Everything can change . . . on a New Year’s Day ” — became a kind of anthem of our trip.) After I concluded that Battle of Los Angeles was a timeless classic I went out and picked up their eponymous debut album, and was amazed to find that it was almost as good. I particularly like Killing In The Name because of the low-register guitar chords, but Bombtrack, Bullet In The Head, and Wake Up also are wonderful songs — and Township Rebellion is in a class of its own with the instruction: “Why stand on a silent platform? Fight the war . . . ” (edited because this is a family blog). If you have a hard day at work coming up, listening to that song will help to get you ready.

I also really like the pointedly political subjects of the songs on these CDs, even though I don’t agree with the underlying themes that the United States is a racist, class-obsessed, oppressive society, Why? Because I think it is terrific that RATM feels such passion about their views and has expressed those views so powerfully. In so doing, they helped to pull music out of the mindlessness of the 1980s into a more meaningful role in American society. Rock ‘n’ roll music in the ’60s and early ’70s was often highly political, at all points on the music spectrum, from folk (think Blowin’ in the Wind), to rock ‘n’roll (think Ohio), to R&B (think What’s Going On). At some point in the 1980s, it seemed, the political messages petered out. RATM deserves credit for helping to turn that around. and they’ve put their money where their mouths are by playing at political conventions and supporting many different causes.

I’ve got both Rage Against The Machine and The Battle Of Los Angeles, in their complete, unedited form, on the Ipod and listen to them often. RATM is a staple on the “political songs” playlist, and really provides a good kick in the butt after you’ve listened to a quieter political song, like Tom Dooley. There’s no question in my mind that they are part of the best American band mix.

Edited to add: Time to Vote for your choice for Best American Band!

R.I.P., Grasshopper

A scene from Kung Fu

A scene from Kung Fu

Actor David Carradine is dead. He played Caine on Kung Fu, which was one of the weirdest TV shows ever — or, at least, it was a show that was radically different from the standard sitcom/cop show/detective show fare that was found on TV at the time. The classic scenes in the show featured a very young Caine and a slightly older Caine being trained by his kung fu master, who called him “Grasshopper.” I was in high school at the time, and it became a bit of a catchphrase to call someone “Grasshopper” while using a bad Chinese accent. The training scenes usually involved some supposedly deeply meaningful (but frequently banal) life lesson; the rest of the show involved Caine walking around the American West and getting beaten up while trying to help people. Although Carradine apparently encountered serious difficulties at the end of his life, at least he had the satisfaction of contributing some additional, iconic images to American popular culture.