Lemmy Kilmister is the legendary frontman of the band Motorhead. We talk with him, and with Greg Olliver and Wes Orshoski, the directors of a documentary called Lemmy which premiered at South by Southwest in Austin.
Above: Royce the five nine talks about "flow" vs. "subject matter" in the craft of emceeing. He thinks flow is more important, and I'm inclined to agree.
Flow is the part of hip-hop that I find the most non-fans don't get. They can tell you why the positive message of a Jurassic 5 song is great ("it's like poetry!"), but they don't understand this core principle of emceeing.
Flow is all the parts of what a rapper does that aren't the content of the lyrics. It is the style, the aesthetic experience. It's why I think Missy Elliott (whose lyrics generally amount to: "I'm having fun! You should too!") is every bit as great an emcee as the much denser, more "contentful" Talib Kweli. The former is a part of the music, sometimes following, sometimes soloing. The latter often seems like he's having a fight with tbe song.
I think that it goes back to the idea that hip-hop is poetry set to music. It isn't. It's music made with words. A rapper doesn't use (much) melody, but that doesn't make him a poet any more than it makes him a novelist or a writer of technical manuals. At the core of hip-hop is the aesthetics of the rapper's voice. Lyrical content counts, too, but not as much as style, tone, timbre, rhythm. The rapper is making music every bit as much as the producer who made the beat is - his instrument is his voice.
From MaxFunster Dan, who understands that the customization craze extends far beyond your Honda CRX.
A special treat for Jordan, Jesse, Go! subscribers: a show from our newest MaxFun affiliate, Stop Podcasting Yourself. This one features our old pal Scott Simpson from You Look Nice Today. Enjoy the show, and subscribe to SPY in iTunes!
Matt Harlock is one of the directors of American: The Bill Hicks Story, a documentary about the legendary rebel comic which screened at South by Southwest. Harlock talked with us about the film in Austin, along with Hicks' brother Steve.
The film tells the story of Bill Hicks, one of the most influential and incendiary comics of the last 25 years. Hicks started performing comedy as a teenager, but found his voice in his mid-20s. Inspired by a group of comics working out of the Comedy Workshop in Houston, Texas, Hicks was fiercely personal and fiercely political, as well. He struggled against drug and alcohol addiction, getting sober in the early 1990s. He became a major star in the UK (Harlock and his co-director Paul Thomas are English), but never achieved the national impact he'd like to have achieved in the United States. In late 1993, Hicks was diagnosed with cancer. He kept the diagnosis secret from all but his closest family. He passed in early 1994 at the age of 32.
Vimeo is having some trouble at the moment - video of this episode will be up as soon as possible.
The guys above are God's Pottery. They're comic characters created by two New York comedians whose names I won't reveal, since they prefer to immerse themselves completely in their comic personae. The characters are sweet, idiotic Christian folk singers who sing inane and sometimes awful songs about morality for young people. Their intentions are good, their implementations are consistently horrible. The duo been very successful in clubs, they were nominated for a "Best Newcomer" award at the Edinburgh Fringe, they have an EP on Comedy Central Records, they appearead at the Montreal Comedy Festival, they even did a lengthy run on NBC's Last Comic Standing. When they released a book, I was happy to have the chance to record a few guest "commentaries in song" with the duo.
Last week's Sound of Young America featured the first of three segments we recorded, on the subject of adoption, and as you can see from the comments on the blog, it has not been universally acclaimed. I got about half a dozen email complaints, as well. Now, about 100,000 people listen to a given Sound of Young America episode, and 15 or 20 out of 100,000 is not a huge portion of that audience. It is, however, more complaints than we usually get. Did the segment merit the criticism?
Comedy is inherently subjective. Some people find some things funny, some people don't. In my mind, though, there are two questions here: A) was the segment funny and B) was it offensive. In my book, reasonable people can disagree as to the former. As for the latter... it seems clear that some people were offended, but I stand strongly behind the segment.
In the segment, God's Pottery describe adopted children as "God's little lost socks." The refrain of their song reminds adopted children that "you're just as special as a normal child." People objected to this on several grounds.
Some of the criticisms seem to have failed to parse the segment as a joke at all. I don't really know what to say to those people - the whole segment is pretty ridiculous. So, I agree with those people, I guess. If God's Pottery were real people then yeah, they'd be pretty awful. I gave them the most flowery and absurd introduction I can think of, and previewed the segment by mentioning their Last Comic Standing credit. I didn't explicitly announce it as humor. Saying, "this is a joke" would have sucked the funny out of things completely. So to those folks I say: sorry you were confused, but if you can't recognize a joke as a joke, then there isn't much I can do.
Some folks understood it was a joke, and didn't think it was funny. Well, I thought it was funny. Not sure what else I can say about that. I think if a joke has a 70/30 or 80/20 funny to not funny ratio in its audience, it's doing pretty great. Not everything's for everyone. That's the life of a humorist. Hopefully you'll find the future segments funny, or find other humor on the show funny.
A third group understood it to be a joke, and also found it offensive. I have a fundamental disagreement with these folks. They seem to assume that because God's Pottery are profoundly ignorant on adoption (and theology), their joke targets the adopted. That couldn't be further from the truth. It's like saying Fred Willard hates dogs because he said so much idiotic stuff about dogs in his role as an ignorant dog show announcer in Best of Show. It fails to distinguish between the point of view of the piece and the point of view of the fictional characters.
Usually folks in my position just say, "it's satire!" and leave it at that. Is the piece satire? Not really. It's closer to farce. It isn't magnifying real life to show its flaws. It's a series of disastrous failures, each more colossal than the last. God's Pottery are exploring a classic comic trope: characters with exceptional confidence, even arrogance, and exceptionally poor ability. Characters whose idea of themselves is out of line with reality. It's every character Will Ferrell or Chevy Chase ever played. The subject of the joke here isn't the foibles of the adopted, it's the foibles of two profoundly ignorant characters whose good will cannot help them dig themselves out of a hole that's growing ever deeper. God's Pottery are idiots who don't know they're idiots. That's the joke.
No one, ever, in a milllion, billion, trillion years could sincerely espouse the position that the adopted are less than normal and expect to get a laugh from it. Not even Andrew Dice Clay. But satire is not the only form of humor that can be pointed, or have a point of view.
The joke of God's Pottery isn't about the adopted, and it isn't even about Christian folk singers. The God's Pottery perspective is a pointed joke about living an unexamined life. That applies to faith, yes, but it also applies to plenty of other things. (I don't think the joke is about Christianity any more than it is about the adopted.) It is, of course, ironic that for some of the folks who wrote to complain, their misunderstanding seems to come from a lack of examination on their own parts.
Now, jokes require a combination of comfort and discomfort. Some folks might hear the word adoption, and decide they're not on board for any jokes at all which involve that idea. That's too bad, because they're closing themselves off from humor and even insights, but it's totally understandable as well. There was another joke in the same episode, an off-hand (and clearly absurd and fictional) remark by Ian Roberts about euthanizing a dog. I'm a dog lover, with an adopted rescue dog at my house, and I thought it was hilarious. Some folks wrote me to say they didn't - and I came to understand the comedy screenwriting principle that people care more about a dog getting hurt off screen than a person dying on screen.
I talked to the guys from God's Pottery about this, and they were horrified. They'd been performing this song for years, and had never had a reaction like this. One of the guys' father is adopted, and this is one of his favorite songs of theirs.
Of course, there are always things that I think we here at TSOYA and MaxFun can do better. One of the most important is providing context for humor. It's important both for the joke and for the audience. I tried my darndest to come up with a way to put this interview out that signaled it was humor without deflating said humor. Crediting them as having been seen on Last Comic Standing was what I came up with. If you have a better idea, by all means, let me know. I also think we could have included a warning beforehand that it might offend or confuse some listeners. I had intended to include one, but we produced this episode the day we came back from SxSW, and it slipped my mind. There are things we could have done differently.
I was a Culture Studies major in school, and I care very much about humor as a form of discourse. I believe strongly that humor can lead to social change, and I certainly feel that humor can reasonably cause offense. I will also challenge material that I think has an offensive point of view. You can listen to my interview with Jimmy Carr, who differs with me and eloquently defends his position that the joke is more important than its content, for evidence of this. I will not, however, hold material back which I think is funny and has a sharp, smart point of view because it may offend some people.
I'm looking forward to airing two more segments with God's Pottery over the next month or two, and I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.
I've posted one outtake from our interview with Lemmy on the Monsters of Podcasting Tumblr, but I thought I'd save this one for the MaxFunBlog.
We did the interview in the basement bar of Stubb's in Austin; they were sound checking on the stage about 50 feet away. This outtake's called "Genuine Motorhead Feedback."