Friday, February 08, 2008

My Man Pete

Pete Townshend of the Who on the importance of hip-hop

From the Poco listserve:

While answering fans' questions on the Who's official website (, Pete Townshend argued against one fan's view that rap and hip-hop are dominating the charts and essentially blocking positions for new rock music. When asked about what he felt about rap and hip-hop's "stranglehold" on the pop charts, Townshend answered, "Rap and hip-hop is the music of the street today. The street is where rock came from. When the white rock players and their fans stopped hanging out on the street, and started hanging out in restaurants, the reality shifted."
Townshend added, "This is... a 'loaded' question. You assume I will agree with you that rock has lost its grip on the masses. Firstly, it never had a grip on the black audience, they've always had their own music styles and special coded language which rap has now formalized. I also reject the use of the word 'stranglehold' -- it suggests a noble rock 'n' roll tree is being starved of air and nurture by the weeds of rap. I am a huge fan of rap -- even Eminem has a real connection to the work I did when I was young." Townshend went on to say: "My job as young writer... (was) to try to make music that allowed our audience to find some hope and release. If it happens to show up on the Billboard charts someone gets rich. But that doesn't change the fact that what matters most is that the music does what it is supposed to do. Rap and hip-hop, for people who understand it, provides hope and release."

Townshend has been vocal in recent years on how the state of the record business has literally stubbed out worthy careers in a mad rush to search for the "next big thing." During his keynote address at last year's South By Southwest Music Festival, Townshend explained that young artists are pretty much forgotten by their labels if they don't hit on their debut releases: "You have to wait for this stuff. You know, you have to build. You don't wake up one morning and kind of go, 'Bing! I'm Christina Aguilera!' (laughter). You work for Disney from the (age) of eight years old, and you become that star. And thank God she survived where Britney (Spears), we hope she will survive because she did it the same way. That star system is one that people like me are very familiar with. Because I started playing in a band when I was 14 years old."
Townshend is currently writing material for the next Who album which will be their followup to their 2006 release Endless Wire.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

We need to give careful thought to the ideas below, not just in terms of the current election but in terms of the attacks on the mass culture, the illusion that artistic expression in the commercial market is the problem rather than part of the solution to our current ills. DA

African American Question Takes on New Meaning

Black History Month 2008 finds the African Americans, indeed the American masses, facing a grim and uncertain future. As in the past, we will examine the condition of the African Americans and project what their situation means for the country as a whole.

First of all, we can no longer speak of the African Americans as a "people." A nation has been defined as an historically evolved community of language, economic life, culture and territory. Communities with at least one of these attributes are generally referred to as a "people", such as, the Jewish people. Slavery, and especially post-Civil War segregation, set the conditions for the consolidation of the African Americans as a people. No matter which economic class they belonged to, they faced a common oppression, were forced to live in common segregated areas, and evolved a strong common culture. The elimination of de jure segregation allowed the black elite to leave the segregated areas, and work their way into the general American elite. To a lesser degree, this also applied to the growing ranks of black professionals, and even to a section of the upper strata of the black workers.

This dispersal of the African Americans into the various economic classes marked the beginning of the end of their cohesion as a community or people. Objectively, they no longer have anything in common. They have no common political goals, no common religion or social vision. The black upper strata are wasting no time distancing themselves from the poverty stricken mass. A change in the economic situation always brings about change in political outlook. Recently, The Los Angeles Times reported that a study by the Pew Research Center found "a majority of black Americans blame individual failings – not racial prejudice – for the lack of economic progress by lower-income African Americans” – a significant change in attitudes from the early 1990s.”

There has always been a debate about how to characterize the African American question. Given such fundamental economic, social, and ideological changes in the black community, how do we describe it? Is the question one of class, caste, race, or nation? The reality is that this complex question has always held elements of each of these categories. Changes in the social, economic, or political environment bring different elements to the front. As an educated, economically stable black elite and upper middle class have moved into mainstream America, historical ties are being loosened. They become simply Americans who are black. This forces the caste element to take on new significance for the lower class that remains locked in the "ghetto." Black History month demands we examine their condition – not simply point to the CEO's, the professors, and the generals, the black elite who have made it within the system.

Despite the dramatic breakthroughs by the black elite, the lower social strata is economically stuck and cannot move without fundamental changes in the entire social and economic system.
The masses of blacks suffer profoundly and disproportionately from disease and poverty. Black adults have a mortality rate of 30 percent to 40 percent higher than whites. Black men live approximately seven years less than other racial groups, and have higher death rates for all leading causes of death. Among black women between 25 and 34, AIDS is now the leading cause of death. Children are even more vulnerable. Infant mortality among blacks is higher even than some third world countries, and black teens have mortality rates 10 times that of whites, with homicide being their leading cause of death.

Poor health is tied to poverty. What is their economic condition? During the month of June last year, 360,000 workers lost their jobs. Almost half of them were black, an indication of the fragile condition of their economic "advances." While white unemployment inched up from 5.4 percent in May 2007 to 5.5 percent in June, black unemployment, already in double digits, rose from 10.8 percent to 11.8 percent in the same month (i.e., 10 times the increase in the white unemployment rate). In September 2007, the Department of Labor reported that forty percent of black teenagers were unemployed, nearly twice the rate for white teens. A study by the Economic Policy Institute found that the median net worth of black households is one-tenth of that of white households – $11,800 for blacks compared to $118,000 for whites.

Overall, about ten million African Americans (or 33 percent) fit the Census Department’s definition of “poor.” Statistics show what everyone knows – that the poor are getting poorer; that the 33% of African Americans who are poor are much poorer than they were twenty years ago.

What do the black masses face politically? The great migrations from South to North and from farm to city created the black urban population density that became the foundation for the rise of "Black Power" in the 1960s that restructured race relations in the country. Today that foundation is in jeopardy. A black urban political elite emerged that delivered limited reforms as a means for controlling the masses of blacks. Gentrification of the inner city, sky high rents and housing costs have generated an unprecedented "black flight." According to U.S. Census Bureau figures released in September 2007, major cities throughout the country, such as, Chicago, Houston, San Diego, and San Francisco have experienced dramatic drops in their black populations. After years with a black and Hispanic majority, Boston once again became majority white in 2006.

A reactionary offensive, inconceivable a few years ago, is gaining momentum in the wake of these economic, social, political, and demographic changes. Past gains are now being encroached upon, as seen in the recent Supreme Court decisions against school integration. It hardly needs to be added that the spate of lynch law nooses appearing in public places is a chilling reminder that the lynchings that went from mob violence to police murder can be recalled to control the increasingly restless black poor.

Are we facing the kind of reactionary backlash that occurred after the defeat of Reconstruction during the 1870's? No. This time the reaction will not only exclude the black elite, that elite will be indispensable in carrying it out. No matter how pervasive this reactionary offensive, there is no going back for the African American poor. To go back would mean segregation based on color. Clearly, this is not possible. What is possible, and happening, is that color has become the fig leaf behind which to attack all those who are forced out of the economy, and are forming the new class of dispossessed in our country.

The strategic goal of the ruling class is American national hegemony over a globally integrated economy. This requires a degree of national unity. As the economy degenerates, as the revolution in the means of production deepens, a political awakening on the part of this new class will threaten this unity. Containing that awakening is already the number one political task of the ruling class. German and Italian fascism had to proceed from the most violent and brutal elements of their national history — so will the rise of fascism in America. This demands that the isolation and oppression of the African American must be again called into being, but in a new form.

The unity of the white and black elite is the condition for imposing fascism on the nation. It will not be possible to accept unity on the one hand and advocate segregation on the other. Their emerging political tactic is to aim at the poorest of the poor - which is black - and attempt to maintain the support of the rest of the black and white dispossessed at their expense. Globalization and robotics are undercutting this tactic. The poor of all colors are becoming poorer and the growing attack aimed at the black poor is bound to entangle the ruling class against the white dispossessed as well.

Black History Month 2008 finds our country and our class at a critical turning point. As throughout our history, the African American question is key. No longer a question of "racial" isolation, the African American question is at the very heart of the formation and politicization of the new class.

Article from Rally Comrades, a newspaper on strategy published by the League of Revolutionaries for a New America