Thursday, October 16, 2014


There's an article making the rounds online where Matthew Klickstein, the author SLIMED! An Oral History of Nickelodeon’s Golden Age, addresses his thoughts on racial diversity in Nickelodeon's modern programming.  Klickstein asserts that modern Nickelodeon shows featuring non-white actors in lead roles are a disingenuous attempt at racial diversity and serve to perpetuate tokenism in order to serve their true interest of turning a profit.  Unfortunately, one has to re-read the article 2-3 times to dig that point because he goes about getting to it in completely inappropriate way.

Problem? What Problem?
Do you think classic Nickelodeon shows would work today? They’re timeless, like Pete & Pete, but there’s the argument about how inclusive the series are and how they’re focused on white, well-off families. Shows like My Brother And Me, Taina, and My Cousin Skeeter are never going to get the same nostalgic treatment.

"I think it’s about quality.

The reason Pete & Pete does so well is it’s the best show from that era. It’s the best show from that network! Hands down: the way it looked, the music, the fact that they got all these really interesting cameos… so the fact that it happens to take place in the suburbs of New Jersey, you know, it’s a whitewashed area! There’s nothing to be said about that. So too with Clarissa."

Our nation's willingness to not discuss and accept our race issues creates problems in other ways.  Denying that there's a race problem creates a system where those in power (un)consciously place advantages for those who look and act like them, and those who benefit may not even realize that those controls are in place, thus, allowing those people to feel that no problem exists as they've never seen or experienced issues.  So, when the system is challenged and is accused of being "unfair", those in power can say, "We have people in here who are qualified to be here" as a simple all-things-considered excuse to continue their behavior.

Klickstein's "I think it's all about quality" statement is him side-stepping that fact there are problems in how TV casts in that they don't reflect the demographics of the population.  Trust - there are plenty of sh*tty shows on TV that don't have any quality irrespective of who's cast in them.  My observations are that most TV watchers want a level of "something different" and that achieving through diverse casts & writers is probably the easiest path to do so.  I think this one line discounts just about everything he has to say afterwards as him justifying that "Really, there is NO PROBLEM with not having culturally diverse programming on Nickelodeon!".

Forcing Diversity
Klickstein continues:
"I think it’s worse when they shove it in there. Sanjay and Craig is a really good example, which funnily enough is written in part by Will McRobb and Chris Viscardi from Pete & Pete. That show is awkward because there’s actually no reason for that character to be Indian — except for the fact that [Nickelodeon President] Cyma Zarghami and the women who run Nickelodeon now are very obsessed with diversity. Which is fine — do what you’re gotta do, and Dora [the Explorer] was certainly something of a success, but there’s no reason for [Sanjay] to be Indian at all. No one working on that show is Indian. They’re all white. It’s all the white people from Bob’s Burgers and Will and Chris.

To just shove it in there because, “Uh-oh, we need diversity,” is silly and a little disgusting. It needs to be the best people working on the best shows. They happen to be white, that’s a shame. They happen to be all guys, that’s a shame. No one says this about sports — they do sometimes, the owners — but sorry, that most basketball, football players happen to be black. That’s just the way that it is. Publishing, too! You might not like this or care, but it’s very hard to be a man in the publishing world. No one talks about that. My agent: woman. My editor: woman. My publicist: woman. The most successful genre is young adult novels — 85% of which are written by women. That discussion doesn’t really come up when it’s the other way around.  It is 2014 now. It’s not 1995. Political correctness needs to change."
Ouch.  All kinds of ouch exists in this elaboration.   The first paragraph above makes Klickstein just look like bigot and a woman hater.  He implies that the character choice of having an Indian in a lead role for Sanjay and Craig is disingenuous because "nobody" of Indian background works on the show and that the all-white crew makes that decision merely a reflection of tokenism.

The next paragraph  I tend to agree with his statement about shoving diversity into a production for the sake of diversity is a bit disingenous.  It's difficult to gauge anybody's intentions when casting a production but if they didn't set out from the beginning to have room for diversity in the cast then decide to include someone of color, sexual orientation, or alternate background in "just cuz", I agree, that's tokenism.  However, if they said "We want an all black cast living in an all Jewish neighborhood run by a trans mayor", I would be ok with that level of planning.

I run a Latino theatre company and when I took over as artistic director, I pushed us to open up and diversify our casts because we needed to challenge ourselves by including non-Latino viewpoints in our work so that we could more genuinely respond to them as Latinos.  It was the best thing for the company as it brought more people to our casts, bigger audiences, and a lot of great, diverse work for us to use.  At the same time, I have productions in mind that will be all Latino because that's what the production calls for.  In this regard, if I were to put in a white guy "just cuz we need something non-brown", then that would be disingenuous.

The Plight of The White Man
 Klickstein continues:
"There are worlds where white guys get shit, too. I’m starting to do stand-up comedy now and it’s hard to go up there and talk about how hard it is to be a guy. People don’t wanna hear it! A girl can go up there and talk all she wants about how hard it is to be a girl, and she gets applauded. These are obviously some of my own personal views and aren’t as important, but I’m bringing up this stuff because it’s all very malleable, it’s very flexible."
This statement just comes off a pissed-off white guy who now has to compete with others to get their work out there.  Again, my anti-affirmative action guys just come off as guys who long for the days where white privilege would get them places and they didn't have to work as hard.  Boo hoo, Mr. Klickstein. Boo hoo.

It's Just Gotta Be "Good"!
Klickstein continues:
"What we really need to bring to the fore is: how good is the show? How good is the end product? I don’t really care who worked on it. I don’t really care what sector of society it shows. What I care about is: Is it good or is it bad? Pete & Pete is an amazing show; who cares that it was made by white people and is about white people? That’s not important. What’s important is, how good is it? Some of these other shows — My Brother and Me, Diego, and Legend of Korra — it’s great that they’re bringing diversity into it now. Fantastic. But you know those shows are not nearly as good as Ren and Stimpy, which was made by all white people! Or Pete & Pete, which was all white people! I’m not saying white people are better at it or anything, I’m just saying that part of it doesn’t matter. What matters is how good is it and does it hold the test of time?"
Here's where Klickstein contradicts himself.  Above he implied that Sanjay and Craig was no good because they didn't have any Indians on staff work but now he says "I don't really care who worked on it"?  Well, if he doesn't care who worked on it as long as its "good", then why does having diversity in the cast matter then?  Or does he only care when ever the show "sucks"?  

We Got A Long Way To Go
The rest of the article delves deeper into the hole Klickstein dug for himself so I won't bother responding to each point.  It's obvious that he's not for forced diversity in shows but he doesn't seem to support any diversity at all.  He'd rather continue having everything cast and written to his own experience while saying "Oh, no. I just want quality programming."  There is no easy solution for the lack of diversity in entertainment.  It's a symptom of our country's bigger race issues.

What do you think?  Does his article have any merit?  Do you disagree with anything he wrote?  Comment down below.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

What I Learned From My Facebook "Like" Sabbatical

I decided a month ago to quit liking things on Facebook.  The impetus for the liking vacation initially was to force myself to have something to say to people on my timeline and actually try to connect with people with my words versus a way-to-easy-to-accomplish action of merely liking something.  I also wanted to see what my feed would look like if I didn't let Facebook easily know what my preferences were.  The results were interesting.

Liking Is NewSpeak
The first thing I noticed was that not liking something was REALLY difficult to do.  That like link/button/icon was so easy to use, that not letting the person know I liked something without it made me reconsider how much I actually liked the post in the first place.  If I liked something and wanted to show it, I forced myself to comment.  I also forced myself to comment with at least 3 words in a sentence.  Simply writing "Cool!" wasn't sufficient.  I had to add value with my comment in some way.  By limiting myself in this fashion, my commenting became less frequent but was more insightful as to how I actually felt.  It was like providing color to the monochromatic pallet of like.  I now understand the power and (dis)advantages behind George Orwell's "newspeak" of "good, plusgood, doubleplusgood, etc.".  Merely liking something doesn't convey emotion but intention.  It  generalizes the meaning behind it and waters down enthusiasm behind truly liking something because you're not forced to comment on what you like to give context and depth. 

My Feed Got Really Really...Boring
My feed completely changed after the first few days.  The number of posts with clickbait titles went to zero ("This girl got hit by a bus.  You won't believe what happened next!").  Many of the posts from pages I've liked started popping up as the Facebook algorithm desperately wanted to know what I  responded to.  The feed is a bit random now as Facebook tries to lure me to click on like.  It's pretty awesome.

My Friends Are Lost
Since I'm in comedy, I saw everybody's posts for their shows, videos, and funny musings.  Now, I hardly see any of those since I've stopped the Like Machine.  I see a lot more posts from closer family and friends but a lot of general things as well.  It's like I have no friends on Facebook (600+ ... not braggin', just sayin'). 

It's been a pretty interesting experiment.  Starting Monday 9/22 with a 30 day like-a-thon.  I haven't decided what the terms will be exactly but I'll write another post along the way.

Friday, August 29, 2014

My Billy Corgan Ravinia Setlist (Part Three)

In my previous post, I began exploring in-depth my choices for Billy's upcoming Ravinia setlist.  I didn't win the contest to earn a meet-and-greet with him and the rest of the band, but, hey, I made a valiant effort :).  In this point we'll explore the remaining 10 songs in the list.

 Let Me Give The World To You
This Rick Rubin produced track is probably the poppiest, most radio-friendly track from the Machina II release.  It honestly should've been on Machina I.  I'd be interested in reading Corgan's reasoning behind leaving it off the record.

I consider this song a gem amongst non-album tracks because of the way it was produced.  It employs some dulled out drum tracks that brighten up mid-way through the song along with some auto-wah, some mandolins, and what at least sounds to me to be a cheap synth organ which, when added together, make the song weird and poignant to the lyrical matter.  Billy wrote this song as a tribute to the former bassist of a Chicago band called Red Red Meat who died of AIDS in the early 90's.  The track ended up on the No Alternative compilation which was produced to raise awareness of the AIDS epidemic and help bring relief to those afflicted.

This song is such a rare track to be performed live that it would send the Ravinia crowd into a frenzy!

Try, Try, Try
I'm not a huge fan of this song as-is.  This was released as a single from Machina I with a disturbing video to accompany it.  I included it in the set list because it would continue the "awareness" factor that Glynis introduced before.
That's the Way My Love Is
As mentioned before, Zeitgeist was a hard record for many of us to get behind.  At the time it was released, it had largely mixed reviews.  Even I couldn't really accept it for the great album it is at the time of its release as I struggled between what the Pumpkins were at the time and what I wished they would've been.  Luckily, this song transcended that inner struggle and is one of the strongest tracks on the album.  It was released as the second and final single for Zeitgeist with a good video to accompany it.  The poppy nature of the song would bode well at Ravinia and simultaneously satisfy the yearnings of the long-term fans.

Ahhhhh, Rhinoceros... This song was released from Gish with much fanfare.  The video screams "indy" but the song screams "PUMPKINS" louder :)  This song is so old that it would pick up the vibe of the concert to be a bit more electric in response to this being played.

This song is a fan favorite regardless of tenure in the Pumpkins Militia.  The acoustic version of this wonderful song is just as powerful as the electric version so it would fit in fine at Ravinia.  Again, this would buttress the buzz built by having Rhinoceros played just before.

At this point of the setlist, it's barn burning time.  We're gonna hit the crowd with popular songs that almost everybody in attendance would know and sing along with.  Would Billy agree with this approach? Probably not.  However, I wouldn't put it past him to go against his own convictions for this event ;-).

1979 off of Melon Collie and the Infinite Sadness is a great song and cemented the Smashing Pumpkins as a viable force in the mid 90's with cross-over appeal.  The video is actually pretty awful to watch but, hey, I bet it was fun for those involved as it tried to capture the exuberance of youth :)
The b-side album released after Siamese Dream featured this song.  Pisces Iscariot is loved as much or more by Pumpkin fans as the albums that came before/after it.  Starla is a stand-out track from the collection as simple as the rolling main riff is.  I've heard this song done gorgeously on acoustic guitars just as many times as it's been done lacklusteredly.  My hope would be to go "balls out" on this and use as many musicians as possible to make it as "spacey" as the original recording.

I remember being 18 in a guitar store when the tab for this song came out in a magazine and thought, "Hmmm...never heard of this song.  It must suck."  Cot damn was I wrong!  Drown off Cameron Crowe's Singles sountrack is one of my favorite songs of all time.  It was definitely written in the Siamese Dream era and has a lot of similarities to Mayonaise as far as chord progressions are concerned.  However, it departs from that song majorly in that it's way "spacier" than most of their songs and has like 4 minutes of feedback at the end that I listen to every time the song plays.

Again, this is such a well known deep cut that it would continue the explosion of support from the crowd.

Tonight, Tonight
We've reached the end of the set!  What Pumpkins concert would be complete without the most over-played song of all time, Tonight Tonight?!  As usual, I'm biased against any popular A-sides.  However, it would a spectacular way to end the night.

That's it folks!  Let's see what Billy conjures up for Ravinia!

My Billy Corgan Ravinia Setlist (Part Two)

In part one of this series, I discussed the trials and tribulations I went through to become and continue being a Smashing Pumpkins fan.  I feel that all of those years of toiling in the trenches to support my favorite band gives me a unique qualification to suggest a set list for Billy Corgan to play in his upcoming Ravinia appearance this weekend. We're going to explore the first ten songs.

To Shiela
This is the first track off the Adore record. Billy used to open up shows with this acoustically and I figured this would be a fantastic choice to open up the Ravinia concert with.  It can be played acoustically and electrically as well.  If Billy wanted to start out acoustic, as his set has been advertised, then this is a great track to jump off with. He could play this solo or with the band (I'd prefer solo).

The American Gothic EP was released shortly after the Ashville, NC residencies documented in the Pumpkins DVD If All Goes Wrong featuring studio versions of songs written during that era.  This song is a meaty acoustic-based song that I felt would do well in a supportive format of Ravinia.  Lyrically, there's a lot of attitude behind it.  The band could really rawk it out but keep the vibe of a controlled storm brewing - just waiting to explode into full blown rawk - but not.  Also, this would be a hidden gem for the true b-side loving fan like myself in the crowd.

Of A Broken Heart
This track is a nice acoustic track from Corgan's post-SPv1 band Zwan's sole release Mary Star of the Sea.  I threw this song into the mix because it would showcase that era in his career.
This track from Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness has always found its way into SP shows as an acoustic-only track played by Billy by himself.   Not only is it a good song sans a band but it would soothe the ravenous, bandwagon fan out there expecting to hear a popular song from their youth being played by the man himself.  At this point, he's satisfied the hardcore Corgan fan and catered a bit to the casual fan.
Bye June
As silly as the lyrics are to this song, I still love it.  Apparently this was one of Billy's many 4 track home studio recordings that got a bit of polish in a formal studio and released as-is.  It can popularly be found on the Lull EP.

Pale Horse
Oceania was well received by fans and critics both.  This song to me is a very Pumpkins song with the "Thorazine...Thorazine"/"please come back" hook in it.  I could hear a bit of Adore in this song for some reason.  It would work well acoustically and would cast a favorable light to playing the newer material well.
Widow Wake My Mind
Trying to find a song that captured the songwriting aesthetic attempting to be shown in the beginning of the Teargarden by Kaleidyscope project is difficult as I still haven't embraced the songs released completely.  With that said, I felt it was important to find something reminding people what Billy was trying to do in the aftermath of carrying the Pumpkins on his sole shoulders.  The psychedelia of early Pumpkins seems to drip a bit form this song as well.  I don't know how well received this would've been at Ravinia except from those of us who are familiar with it.

This is solely on the list as it was arguably the Pumpkins' greatest hit.  This is to appease those who want the 1992-1994 Siamese Dream era to be relived for three and a half minutes in 2014.

I absolutely LOVE this song from the Aeroplane Flies High box set.  Lyrically, it's such a strong view into what women must deal with on a daily basis with their body issues.  This song works acoustically and can be carried just on lyrics, melody, and acoustic guitar.

This is, as Billy used to say in early Pumpkin shows, "an oldie but a goodie".  The formal studio version was recorded in London at the BBC as part of the John Peel Sessions.  It was also played a lot by the band both acoustically and electrically.  I like this song in the set to showcase the early days of the band.

In part III, we will explore the rest of the list :)

Thursday, August 28, 2014

My Billy Corgan Ravinia Setlist (Part One)


I pride myself on being headstrong, stubborn, and perhaps a bit narcissistic on certain parts of my life.  One of those is that I can say I've been a long time Smashing Pumpkins fan (fan since 1992).  I was listening to Gish and the Lull EP when they first came out (even though I hated it all at the time). In fact, it took the Siamese Dream record to seduce me to the dark side.  Hummer is my favorite song off that record and a close contender for favorite of all time (we've got Drown, Marquis In Spades,  and Bury Me in the running as well).  The groove in the song forced me to have to go revisit Gish for which is still my favorite SP record to date.

Through the years, Billy has continued to challenge me as a fan.  Adore came out and was an awesome record even if it didn't have Jimmy Chamberlin in the fold.  The songwriting came through on that record.  Then Machina-era records were released with interesting songs and a challenging, half-finished concept attached to them for which honestly I couldn't really wrap my brain around.  I just accepted I was too dumb to appreciate Billy's brilliance in this and hopefully he would publish just the the fawk that concept really was (to this date, I still don't know what he was trying to do.  Perhaps the Machine reissue will solve that riddle for me).  The songs were much bigger and lyrically tougher to decipher than previous efforts.  Radio and MTV had turned against the band starting with Adore and stopped playing the new stuff in heavy rotation (yes, new stuff was being played but not nearly at the level Today, Disarm, or even Tonight, Tonight was).  Fans started turning against the band as well as they wanted more of 1992-94 than 1998-2000.  By 2001, being a fan of the band meant either you liked "old Pumpkins" or being a fool for liking "anything beyond Mellon Collie".
Then SPv1 broke up.  It was a good ending to an era of me dumping so much time and effort into proving to everybody I was the biggest fan (for which I wasn't).  I then watched the rise and fall of Zwan, which honestly should've been the next Pumpkins record.  Then lackluster solo releases from Billy, James (who released a solo record during the Mellon Collie era) and Jimmy were released and I even supported them by seeing them on tour.  The whole time I was yearning for a new Pumpkins record.

Pumpkins Alive!

When the Pumpkins reformed in 2007, I was very optimistic.  Yes, it wasn't the original line-up but I had already come to terms with the fact that we had a rotating rhythm section with D'Arcy Wretzky having already been fired (or left the band depending on who you ask) after the recording of Machina and Jimmy having been fired during the Mellon Collie tour thus giving me exposure to Matt Walker and Kenny Aronoff as touring drummers.  I was also quite aware of the musical contributions from D'Arcy and James on the other recordings and could live with the new album being a Billy/Jimmy record.  When Zeitgeist was released, I had a really difficult time digesting it.  Yes, it was rawk with fantastic drumming and soaring solos, but it was missing a bit of "soul"; I just chalked that up to a number of factors:
  • Billy, Jimmy, and I have aged.  We're no longer the people we were back in 2000.  Life experience and growth had occurred so we were all trying to reconcile our historical experiences of what The Smashing Pumpkins meant to us then with what was being produced now.
  • I REALLY wanted SPv1 back together to satisfy my youthful cravings.  Believe it or not, I was ok with everyone moving on with a new line-up.  I figured that if Billy and Jimmy were happy, their music would reflect it for the better.
Again, I was being challenged to accept new music along with the circumstances behind the making of it.  It took me until 2009-2010 to truly understand the brilliance of that Zeitgeist record.  I had  attended the shows where Billy's rants and antics alienated the old school "fans" as well as alienated his own bandmates at times.  The thing I respected the most was his willingness to pursue his passion.  He'd rather fall on the sword of trying something new and failing versus turning into an oldies act and capitalizing on the past.   I finally reestablished a visceral link between me and Billy as I was and still am going through the same artistic struggle as he is.  I feel a kinship with him in being hated for just trying to do art and be happy with what I'm doing.

Tears In The Ocean

When the Teargarden by Kaleidyscope and Oceania projects took shape, I had to accept my favorite drummer of all time was out of the band and replaced with a 17 year old kid.  Ouch.  Another challenge, Billy? Fine. I'll roll with it.  I accepted that Billy was a one-man-band at this point and was carrying the name on his shoulders without his right hand man.  OK.  I said to myself, "Let's see where he'll take it.  He did it well with Adore.  Perhaps he's got something even bigger than that."  The results were over-promising and under-delivery.

The Teargarden project sounded too good to be true.  Billy had spoken a lot about grandiose projects in the past so I knew when he said it'd be 44 songs released one at a time for free that the project would not be completed.  The songs weren't strong enough to stand alone or even together (except maybe Freak), but they weren't weak enough for me to totally abandon them either.  When Oceania came out, it was a very strong effort.  It was promising to listen to.  Having locked in guitarist Jeff Shroeder along with Mike Byrne on drums for quite some time and treating them with respect as full band members and allowing them to record their own parts really elevated the SP game.  The "soul" in the band had been found.  No, it wasn't SPv1 but at least there was a vehicle here for Billy to pursue his quest on rocking people with new music.   But this ride wouldn't last forever.

The Smashing Darkness

All of a sudden, SP goes dark after their extensive tour, Billy starts up Madame Zuzu's Tea Shop, gets heavily involved in getting Resistance Pro wrestling off the ground, continues work on reissuing old SP records, puts out some independent solo instrumental recordings, and makes occasional appearances here and there discussing the state of rock, the state of the SP, the state of the music industry, and the state of the state (the Alex Jones interviews are hilarious to watch).  I'm cool withe all of this.  Billy can't be SP 24/7 and needs to recharge his creative outlet.  However, it does challenge me a bit to "keep the faith" that the next Pumpkins effort is going to be good.

We then get news that Billy's working with Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee on two future SP records Monuments to an Elegy and Day for Night. AGAIN WITH A DRUMMER CHANGE BILLY?!  Ok.  Again, I'm cool with it.  I was never a big Mike Byrne fan anyway.  I felt like he butchered a lot of what Jimmy would do.  Don't get me wrong.  He's an awesome drummer and can play circles around me but I just never felt the "groove" with him.  Also, we start hearing that Jeff is the only guy left in the band other than Billy.  OK.  Fawk it.  It is what it is.  I was never a huge James fan anyway.  Billy did a fantastic job documenting the album progress on the SP website and that gives me hope that not all is lost with the Smashing Pumpkins.


So, we're now up-to-date with my fandom and are facing down the road of Billy playing a "solo-ish" set of music at Ravinia.  Billy puts out a call to everyone to write a 20 song set that we would love to see him play at Ravinia spanning his entire career.  There were no promises he would use your set if you won the contest, but I decided to submit the following songs:
  • To Sheila (Adore)
  • Pox (American Gothic E.P.)
  • Of A Broken Heart (Mary Star of The Sea)
  • Muzzle (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness)
  • Bye June (Lull E.P.)
  • Pale Horse (Oceania)
  • Widow Wake My Mind (Teargarden By Kaleidyscope)
  • Today (Siamese Dream)
  • Ugly (Aeroplane Flies High)
  • Smiley (John Peel Sessions/Gish era)
  • Let Me Give The World To You (Machina II)
  • Glynis (No Alternative/Siamese Dream era)
  • Try, Try, Try (Machina)
  • That's the Way My Love Is (Zeitgeist)
  • Rhinoceros (Gish)
  • Mayonaise (Siamese Dream)
  • 1979 (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness)
  • Starla (Pisces Iscariot)
  • Drown (Singles soundtrack/Siamese Dream era)
  • Tonight, Tonight (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness)

I'll list out why I picked these songs in my next blog.