Move aside punks. Here come the gangstas, the ones who really dare to tell it like it is. Natalie Maines and Pink are artistes who are openly ashamed of having a President like George Bush Jr. That kind of fearlessness has earned them "moral" outrage. Danny Alexander of Rock & Rap Confidential reports.

Why are Natalie Maines and Pink my favorite gangstas? I've thought Natalie and her fellow Dixie Chicks Emily and Martie belonged in the hardass company of Ice Cube and Scarface at least since their unrepentant murder fantasy, "Goodbye Earl," which came out about six months before Pink began spittin' tough guy lyrics on "Hell Wit You" and "There You Go." Six years later it's not just Natalie who's "Not Ready to Make Nice." Pink starts her new album laying into virtually all of her peers with "Stupid Girls" before turning on Dear Mr. President."

Given their penchant for blond Mohawks, you might want to call these two singers punks. But punks think too small. Punks, with nihilism at one end of the spectrum and anarchist utopianism at the other, never really grapple with reality on a grand scale.

That's the job for gangstas, because they're the ones who ask the big questions in pop music. They may not have the politically correct answers, but that's because they're responding to different and more important questions. Not ready to make nice, the gangsta instead asks, "How do we take over?" Gangsta in any genre carries forward an implied critique of capitalism, often accompanied by the call for peace and class unity that emerges from a focus on the imposed violence of the status quo.

That's what's in Maines's voice when she declares, "I could never follow" or I "wouldn't kiss all the asses that they told me to" or "I'm not ready to back down 'cause I'm mad as hell." And that's what's on Pink's mind when she declares "we're not dumb and we're not blind." Both artists' strength lies where some would see a weakness - their vulgar directness.

"Let me tell you 'bout hard
Minimum wage with a baby on the way
Let me tell you 'bout hard work Rebuilding your house after the bombs
took them away
Let me tell you 'bout hard work
Building a bed out of a cardboard box
Let me tell you 'bout hard work
You don 't know nothing 'bout
hard work!!!!!"

The Dixie Chicks' and Pink's new albums tackle similar themes with songs like the Chicks' "The Long Way Around" and Pink's "Long Way to Happy," which are both about the singer's refusal to let the world see them cry. They both end their albums with something akin to prayers - not religious prayers but pleas to the universe.

Natalie Maines and Pink each confront the political moment we're living in with an unusual variation on a staple of women's music in the rock and soul era - the Sunday morning reckoning song. That image comes from the idea of, say, Aretha Franklin, singing "Think" or "Respect" to her man while she's trying to decide whether to finish frying breakfast eggs in that iron skillet or to use it, sputtering eggs and all, to lay him out if he won't do right. (The great 1971 Persuaders hit, "Thin Line Between Love and Hate," tells what happens when she decides one way, from the man's hospital bed. It's more than fitting that the Pretenders' Chrissie Hynde turned out a brilliant cover of that one 13 years later).

What's unusual isn't the political dimension of the Chicks ' "Not Ready To Make Nice" or Pink's "Dear Mr. President." All Sunday morning reckoning songs have a political tenor that raises above the vehicle since the politics of the bedroom are so often used as a metaphor for the larger society. But what is unusual about these two songs is the futility of the plea, on one level, and the hopefulness on another.

Maines's open letter is aimed at the media industry that propagandizes real world hatred and war without offering a critical thinker enough rationale to justify murder. One result is that people threaten to assassinate her for saying she's ashamed of the President. With Pink, the letter is aimed directly at the President, reckoning with grieving mothers, imprisoned fathers and children as collateral damage both here and abroad. In neither case is there any hope that the villains will listen, but the swelling music declares a great hope for unity among a much larger group who might.

Fear of this sort of rallying cry is
one reason the Democrat and
Republican politicians who've been
hawkish on this war have joined hands
against youth culture. After all,
the nearly-unanimous bipartisan
pro-war juggernaut that is our
Congress would like us to forget
that they promote violence to
solve problems, and here's Pink
saying they know nothing about the
people they want to use and abuse.

It's a piece of the bridge in Pink's reckoning song that I hear most clearly as a duet with Maines. Together, they might jointly declare, cast iron skillet at the ready…

"Let me tell you 'bout hard work
Minimum wage with a baby on the way
Let me tell you 'bout hard work
Rebuilding your house after the bombs took them away
Let me tell you 'bout hard work
Building a bed out of a cardboard box
Let me tell you 'bout hard work -
You don 't know nothing 'bout hard work!!!!!"

Fear of this sort of rallying cry is one reason the Democrat and Republican politicians who've been hawkish on this war have joined hands against youth culture. After all, the nearly-unanimous bipartisan pro-war juggernaut that is our Congress would like us to forget that they promote violence to solve problems, and here's Pink saying they know nothing about the people they want to use and abuse.

Whether politicians take aim at gangsta rap or gangsta video games is immaterial. The gangstas raise their voices wherever they can in crude, unrepentant ways because the stakes are too high to fret over manners or political correctness. They reveal "good manners" for what they really are - a systematic tool for dismissing anything said by the outcasts Pink says she wants to hear.

Pink literally cries out for these outcasts because, like all of the great gangstas, she thinks big. What polite society - whether conservative or progressive - hates most of all are those who listen to and engage with the unwashed masses.

Unintimidated by the rapidly tightening cultural noose, the best gangstas continue to dream of a world where, as Maines sings in "I Hope," we "can all live more fearlessly." - Rock & Rap Confidential






For more... email singbigo@singnet.com.sg with the message, "Put me on your mailing list."


 
October 13 , 2006