Saturday, May 31, 2014

"...We Refer You To The Jimmy Castor Bunch And Their Lyric Line..."Gotta Find A Woman...Gotta Find A Woman....Gotta Find A Woman....."

We ain't exactly Reader's Digest around here.
But, we do recognize the merits and benefits of increasing our word power.
noun: paradox; plural noun: paradoxes
  1. a statement or proposition that, despite sound (or apparently sound) reasoning from acceptable premises, leads to a conclusion that seems senseless, logically unacceptable, or self-contradictory.
Admittedly, when seeking insightful and penetrating perspective on the current state of country music, the first research source that comes to mind is, generally, not People Magazine.
After all, there's the pre-conception that very little insight or penetration is going to be found in a publication offering up cover stories, complete with glossy photos, about Princess Kate's supposed baby bump.
But, son of a gun (or sum bitch, as traditional Tennessee expression would offer), right there, in plain sight, is a report on the said current state and its now not only obvious but blatantly obvious lack of acknowledgement of the attempted contributions of the estrogen side of 16th Avenue South.
Spend any time at all listening to country radio these days and the gender gap becomes clear. With the occasional exception of Miranda or Carrie, you'll be hard pressed to find a female voice on the air – or a song about something other than drinking on a dirt road/in a field/on the beach/in a truck.

And that gap on country airwaves seemed all the more vast after listening in at Keith Urban's All 4 the Hall benefit for the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum last week. From hard-rocking Brantley Gilbert to Reba McEntire's traditional twang; from Urban's pop stylings to Mary Chapin Carpenter's Americana vibe; from Underwood's pipes to Kacey Musgraves's storytelling, the lineup was a reminder of how big a tent country music can be.

In that spirit, here's our call to country radio's gatekeepers: Keep that tent open wide! It's not just about getting more women's voices out there (though we should), it's about remembering how good the genre can be when it tells the many, nuanced stories of our lives rather than reducing everything to the bottom of a Dixie cup.

Here are six artists we want to hear more of:
Kacey Musgraves Yes, she's been hyped – and deservedly so. But despite the Texan's meticulously crafted songs like "Merry Go 'Round" and "Follow Your Arrow" – and a sound that can only come from a honky-tonk-loving heart – country radio continues to look the other way.
Check Out: "It Is What It Is," a beautiful shrug of a song (co-written by Brandy Clark and Luke Laird) about resignation in a doomed relationship

Ashley Monroe Like Musgraves, she had one of last year's best releases with her Vince Gill-produced Like a Rose, but even with her pal Miranda Lambert singing praises and some Pistol Annies cred (she and Lambert form two-thirds of the group), Monroe still hasn't found a place on radio as a solo artist. It's our loss – just listen to her album's title song or the wicked humor of "Weed Instead of Roses."
Check Out: "Two Weeks Late," heavy on the pedal steel, it takes on "woe-is-me" with a wink.

Brandy Clark Already a hit-maker for other artists – she co-wrote Miranda Lambert's "Mama's Broken Heart" (with Musgraves and Shane McAnally) and The Band Perry's "Better Dig Two" – Clark saved some of her best work for last year's debut, 12 Stories. Lyrically witty (have a listen to her single "Stripes"), Clark has a voice that's rounded and rich. Her songs are ready-made for country radio, but you won't find her voice there.
Check Out: "Hold My Hand, " a vulnerable ballad about that moment when you meet your partner's former lover.

The three other artists mentioned in the People article can be found at the magazine website.

But these three examples more than illustrate the point, not to mention the aforementioned word with which we are increasing our word power today.

Clearly, any moron can tell that these three ladies, at the very least, are writing and singing the kind of stuff that deserves an audience, the kind of audience that is not only found online and/or in the Opry House seats, but also on the other side of the microphone from what's left of the live voices narrating your periodic journey through country music via your FM of choice.

Yet, turn on that chosen FM at any time day or night and the odds are staggeringly in your favor that what you will hear is yet another guy singing yet another song about yet another truck driving down yet another dirt road either coming from or heading too yet another party where there will be yet another keg of beer to ingest while enjoying the sensual visual delights of yet another glop, drop or stream of honey traversing the curvature of yet another woman's shapely ass.

And although you can't see what you're hearing while you hear it, the odds are equally in your favor that said guy singing said song will be attired in yet another t shirt, not necessarily color coordinated with his ball, train or hunting cap, most likely worn in a manner that would allow said singer to rush from his stage show to his off work time recreation of playing catcher on his favorite pick up team.

Put less verbosely, backwards.

Meanwhile, writers and singers and singer/writers like Musgraves and Monroe and Clark and their fellow non-fellas go on writing their songs, singing their songs, recording their songs while receiving rave reviews, clear and obvious live fan appreciation and zip zero nada in the way of radio airplay.

Well, as I, and many others, have written before as we traveled down this same dirt road, the fact is that we've traveled down this dirt road before.

And there really is nothing new to be said on the matter.

Because, the fact is that what we got here is not so much the ladies failure to communicate.

What we got a dad gum mystery.

A mystery rooted in this unmistakable, undeniable, irrefutable truth.

Somebody is buying all that crap in a backwards ball cap.

And by somebody, I mean a lot of somebodies.

Trust me when I tell you that no deranged individual is sitting in any office of any or all radio station general managers, holding a gun (or guns, that is the right of all Americans, you know) to their head and threatening to remove said head from shoulders unless said station continues to play the dirt road/truck/party/honey dripped on ass playlist, the whole playlist and nothing but the playlist or so help them, God.

There is no need for that.

Because somebody is listening devotedly, even fanatically, to all that crap in a backwards ball cap.

And by somebody, I mean a lot of somebodies.

Therein lies the mystery.

If you read any comment section of any web article having to do with contemporary country music or if you should witness, even participate, in an actual conversation having to do with contemporary country music, you will be hard pressed to find anybody who will admit to liking all that crap in a backwards ball cap.

And by anybody, I mean everybody.

But somebody is buying it.

And by somebody......

Which brings us back to our good intentions to increase our word power.

No one seems willing to admit to liking it, everyone seems willing to complain about it, but the crap in the cap not only rules the radio roost, it's a smack down damn retro return to those glorious yesteryears of clubs that allowed men, all men and only men, so help them, God.

And the women were not only required, but expected, to stay home, stay quiet and/or stay pregnant.

While at the same time, writers and singers and singer/writers like Musgraves and Monroe and Clark and their fellow non-fellas go on writing their songs, singing their songs, recording their songs and receiving rave reviews, clear and obvious live fan appreciation.

But zip, zero, nada in the way of radio airplay.

It's an enigma, wrapped in a riddle, inside a box.

Or, at the very least...say it with me......

...a paradox.

For what it's worth, there is precedent for this kind of thing.

This kind of thing being defined as something that anyone who is asked expresses disdain, even contempt, for yet continues to flourish and succeed because somebody is buying it.

And by somebody, I mean a lot of somebodies.

Not just a little ironically, as it turns out, this particular something is not only female friendly, but as over loaded with estrogen as the country music charts are soaked with testosterone.

Only, in this case, crap would probably be spelled with a K.

People can't stand em, don't want em' and wish that they would just go away.

Country crap in a cap.

Keeping up with Kardashians.

Six of one.

But somebody is buying it.

And by somebody......

Sum bitch.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

"...So, A Little Blacktop Every Now and Then Would Kill Ya?...."

Hey, baby, jump in the truck.

And let's take a ride down a familiar ol' dirt road.

With Collin Raye.

[Collin Raye, is an American country music singer. He made his solo debut in 1991 with the album All I Can Be, which was the first of four consecutive albums released by Raye to achieve platinum certification in the United States for sales of one million copies each.

Between 1991 and 2007, Raye charted 30 singles on the U.S. country charts;  Four of Raye's singles have reached Number One on the Billboard country music charts: 1992's "Love, Me" and "In This Life", 1994's "My Kind of Girl", and 1998's "I Can Still Feel You" ]

As a platinum-selling country music artist and, more importantly, a lifelong fan of the genre, I’d like to send out this heartfelt plea to the gatekeepers of the industry:

Enough already. 
I’d like to think that I am expressing what nearly every artist, musician and songwriter (with perhaps a few exceptions) is thinking when I contend that the Bro’ Country phenomenon must cease.

It has had its run for better or worse and it’s time for Nashville to get back to producing, and more importantly promoting, good singers singing real songs. It’s time for country music to find its identity again before it is lost forever.

I know, I run the risk of being labeled as a “has-been, carrying sour grapes” by speaking out.

Nothing could be further from the truth. I had my run from 1991 until 2002 and I’m quite thankful for that. 

I have more hits than I can possibly play in a single concert. I had my day and I do not begrudge anyone having theirs. 

But as someone who grew up loving and being forever affected by the true greats of country music, I simply have to offer up this plea to the Nashville country music industry to reclaim the identity and poetic greatness that once was our format. The well-written poetic word of the country song has disappeared. 

There appears to be not even the slightest attempt to “say” anything other than to repeat the tired, overused mantra of redneck party boy in his truck, partying in said truck, hoping to get lucky in the cab of said truck, and his greatest possible achievement in life is to continue to be physically and emotionally attached to the aforementioned truck as all things in life should and must take place in his, you guessed it...truck.

I didn’t mind the first two or three hundred versions of these gems but I think we can all agree by now that everything’s been said about a redneck and his truck, that can possibly be said. It is time to move on to the next subject. Any subject, anything at all. 

Willie Nelson once wrote in his early song, "Shotgun Willie," that “you can’t make a record if you ain’t got nothing to say.” Apparently, that’s not the case anymore. 

Disposable, forgettable music has been the order of the day for quite a while now and it’s time for that to stop. 

Our beautiful, time-honored genre, has devolved from lines like, “I’d trade all of my tomorrows for one single yesterday ... holding Bobby’s body next to mine,” and “a canvas covered cabin, in a crowded labor camp stand out in this memory I revive. Cause my Daddy raised a family there with two hard working hands….and tried to feed my Momma’s hungry eyes,” down to “Can I get a Yee Haw?”

And the aforementioned Truck! “Come on slide them jeans on up in my truck! Let’s get down and dirty in muh truck, doggone it I just get off riding in muh truck, I love ya honey, but not as much as muh truck!” Oh and we can’t leave out the beautiful prose about partying in a field or pasture. 

Now I’m not saying all songs should be somber ballads or about heavy, profound emotional subject matter. On the contrary, great fun, rockin’, party songs, describing the lifestyle of blue collar country folk have always been a staple of the genre. But compare for a minute the poetic, “middle American Shakespeare” infused lyrical prose of classics like Hank Williams’ “Jambalaya” or Hank Jr’s “All My Rowdy friends are coming over tonight” or Garth Brooks’ “I’ve got friends in Low Places” or his “Ain’t going down till the sun comes up” to the likes of contemporary offerings like “That’s My Kinda Night,” or any of the other 300 plus songs from recent years that say the exact same thing in pretty much the exact same way. It’s like comparing a Rolls Royce to a ten speed. 

Finally, I’m not pointing a finger at the artists and especially not the songwriters. They’re simply doing what they have to do to make a living. 

It’s the major label execs, the movers and shakers, the folks who control what is shoved down radio’s throat, that I am calling out. They have the power and ability to make a commitment to make records that keep the legacy of country music alive, and reclaim a great genre’s identity. 

Who knows? Some of these Bro’ Country guys could actually be awesome singers with potential to be great artists! But we‘ll never know, as long as they’re encouraged by the industry to continue being redneck flavors of the day. 

It’s not fair to them or to anyone. 

Thankfully there are a handful of artists out there currently who are trying to keep integrity in the mainstream. Miranda Lambert is one of them. There are a few others but not nearly enough to rescue the terminally ill format. 

It must start with the gatekeepers. The true fans of country music deserve nothing less.

The artists of my era knew we weren’t as cool or great as the true greats of the past but we did try to hold to a standard that they had set, which built and sustained the Nashville industry and truly made country music an American art form. It needs to be that way once again. 

God Bless Hank Williams. God Bless George Jones.

And the debate between the "thens" and "nows" regarding the condition of contemporary country music flourishes like a well tended field blessed with an abundance of rain.....
...that makes corn that makes whiskey that makes......
Well, you know....
Couple of thoughts.
First, the debate is all very engaging, entertaining, even energizing if you like a spirited conversation with someone simply for the sake of a spirited conversation.
If, on the other hand, you're hoping, even looking, for a solution or resolution of some kind....
...well, you're crankin up the wrong truck, honey.
Ain't gonna happen.
Buying, for the moment, Collin Raye's gracious, albeit arguable, premise that it's the evil "suits" and not the "singers/songwriters" who are solely responsible for the decline and possible fall of the down home empire, let's not kid ourselves.
Country music is a business, baby.
And businesses are in business to make profits, baby.
And contemporary country music might be considered "disposable and forgettable", but disposable and forgettable are selling like hotcakes.
Actually, Pancake Pantry pancakes, but only real Nashvillians can crack that code.
And if, God forbid, somebody in Music City were to record, for laughs or by accident, a song about a family of beer drinkin', honky tonk hangin', truck drivin' pygmies, played and sung in Swahili, using accordions, zithers, aerosol air horns, screaming hyenas and sprinkled percussively with a smattering of armpit farts and such song were to be accidentally released to the public and downloaded a couple of million times, then, bet the farm at the end of the ol' dirt road, baby, the next day the writers rooms and studios of Music Row would be an anthill of activity as writers, producers, musicians and singers worked long, hard hours coming up with their own version of a song about a family of beer drinkin', honky tonk hangin', truck drivin' pygmies, played and sung in Swahili, using accordions, zithers, aerosol air horns, screaming hyenas and sprinkled percussively with a smattering of armpit farts.
Again, none of this is breaking news.
And the debate, just like the miles and miles and miles of dirt road, will go on and on and on and on....
...right up to the nano second that  a song about a family of beer drinkin', honky tonk hangin', truck drivin' pygmies, played and sung in Swahili, using accordions, zithers, aerosol air horns, screaming hyenas and sprinkled percussively with a smattering of armpit farts is accidentally released to the public and downloaded a couple of million times, then, bet the farm at the end of the ol' dirt road, baby, the next day the writers rooms and studios of Music Row would be an anthill of activity as writers, producers, musicians and singers worked long, hard hours coming up with their own version of a song about a family of beer drinkin', honky tonk hangin', truck drivin' pygmies, played and sung in Swahili, using accordions, zithers, aerosol air horns, screaming hyenas and sprinkled percussively with a smattering of armpit farts.
So, the debate is a waste of time.
Cause what sells is what will continue to be produced.
And if an occasional classy, timeless work of artistic integrity happen to inadvertently come off the assembly line, then they'll be gravy.
The kind of gravy you can only find on Mama's table Sunday after church in the house at the end of the ol' dirt road.
Don't count on it, though.
Because integrity, at least in the artistic sense, is like filet mignon.
Everybody agrees on its status as an exquisite meal offering.
But the line at the finer steak houses of the world ain't got nothin on the drive thru at Mickey D's.
Again, nothing new here.
Here's a thing, though.
The, for the most part, unspoken, even unrealized, result of the continued, even enthusiastically engaged in, dumbing down of country music.
Perpetuation that comes in the form of keeping alive and well, through their words and music, the stereotype that people who live, laugh, love and die in the southern states of the United States are , to a man, woman and child,uneducated, unsophisticated, beer swillin', truck drivin', ass slappin', tractor lovin', bumpkins who wouldn't know a Hemingway from a Hemi, a Picasso from a velvet Elvis, a John Steinbeck from a John Deere, an F-16 from an F-150, the Bard of Avon from a badonkadonk in Amarillo or knight to king three from a queen of the silver dollar.
Country folk, by their nature, tend to keep things simple.
Simple, basic values.
Simple basic beliefs.
So, here are two simple things.
Stupid is as stupid does.
And stupid is as stupid sings.
People who live, laugh, love and die in the Southern states of the United States are, as a whole, not automatically or necessarily uneducated and/or unsophisticated.
Just as black people are, as a whole, not automatically or necessarily, living a life primarily focused on bling, bitches and cheerfully addressing each other as "niggah".
Despite what conclusions can be drawn given the tone and texture of current hip hop music.
But just as that hip hop perpetuates that cultural conclusion, so, too, does the continued proliferation of beer drinkin', truck drivin' party animals in country music perpetuate the conclusion that all Southerners are beer drinkin, truck drivin' party animals.
Look, nobody begrudges anybody a little down home fun.
Yee haw is a perfectly acceptable, even ingratiating, form of greeting.
But, seriously, greedy, tunnel visioned label execs (and the singers/songwriters who allow themselves to be pimped), do you really think that an occasional lyrical ride in the Camry down a nice paved street to an intimate bistro for a glass of Chablis set to a memorable melody would cause the wheels to come off the profit wagon?
Or F-150, as the case may be?
Fifty years ago, they took Amos and Andy off television because of accusations of racial stereotyping, ridiculing caricaturing and perpetuation of the perception that blacks were shiftless, aimless, uneducated and unsophisticated.
Meanwhile, on any country music station across the country, feel free to tune in at any time, day or night to hear perpetuation of the stereotype that people who live, laugh, love and die in the southern states of the United States are , to a man, woman and child,uneducated, unsophisticated, beer swillin', truck drivin', ass slappin', tractor lovin', bumpkins who wouldn't know a Hemingway from a Hemi, a Picasso from a velvet Elvis, a John Steinbeck from a John Deere, an F-16 from an F-150, the Bard of Avon from a badonkadonk in Amarillo or knight to king three from a queen of the silver dollar.
You'd think somebody in Nashville would have made the connection by now.
Must be hard to see things clearly.
What with all them trucks kickin' up all that dirt.


Sunday, May 4, 2014

"...Untweeting The Tweet Is Like Unringing The Bell...."

What we've got here is failure to communicate.

Somebody needs to tell these kids which talent is supposed to be front and center.

I'll be more than happy to help.

Coming up.

After last Thursday's controversial "American Idol" results show, Alex Preston and Jena Irene might have had reason to worry about a fan backlash. (They cast the two dissenting votes in an "Idol Twist" round that resulted in fellow contestant Sam Woolf getting sent home.) But now it's another top four finalist, Caleb Johnson, who's catching flak, after one of his shocking post-show interviews has gone viral.

Speaking to After Buzz TV last week about his opinion of social media, Caleb expressed some of his lingering resentment over having to perform the fan-requested Aerosmith ballad "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" — a song he admitted he hates, and arguably his weakest performance of the season — by blasting his followers who supposedly regularly spam his Twitter feed with unwelcome song suggestions.

To dis his superfans (i.e., the people most likely to SuperVote for him) was foolish enough. But his politically incorrect wording made the situation much, much worse.

"[Twitter] gives access to a bunch of retards to talk to me," Caleb said, astonishingly. "I don't really enjoy having to see somebody telling me what song I have to sing. I think at this point of the competition, I can pick and choose my own songs and represent me. I don't need 10,000 people saying, 'You should sing this, you should sing that. Listen to me!' Fortunately, guys, I'm going to listen to myself, whether you like it or not."

Obviously, the use of the dreaded "R-word" under any circumstances would have been offensive and unacceptable. But the fact that Caleb seemed to be directing this slur at engaged, well-meaning fans (as opposed to "haters") was simply baffling… and it was possible career suicide, with the finale and a record contract only three weeks away.

While Caleb's aforementioned Aerosmith cover last Wednesday had been underwhelming, he'd easily rebounded with a tour de force rendition of Whitesnake's "Still of the Night" (ironically, also a fan request) that was actually one of the greatest performances of Season 13. (It even garnered kudos from Whitesnake frontman David Coverdale — on Twitter!) But Caleb squandered much of that goodwill with his thoughtless remark. Many fans, possibly former fans, took to — wait for it — Twitter to vent their anger and disappointment over what Caleb had said.
On Saturday afternoon, Caleb addressed this controversy on his Facebook page (but not on Twitter), posting:

"For the record that juvenile comment I made in the interview was not directed towards my fans but to the wackos that send hundreds of hate messages a day to me! You guys are amazing and I cannot thank you enough for your support. Sorry if it offended anybody it was the wrong choice of words. Also I greatly appreciate it when you guys give me song suggestions but it gets really overwhelming at the volume it comes in so please understand ! Rock on !:)"

Caleb's apology oddly didn't quite vibe with what he'd originally complained about to After Buzz TV (he hadn't mentioned anything about "hate messages," only song requests). Nor did he seem to demonstrate a true understanding of the hurtfulness of his words. Whether his Facebook statement was enough to repair any damage done to his reputation and help him maintain his frontrunner status heading into next week's top four show, we will soon find out.

But if Caleb does stay on the show in the coming weeks, it might be a good idea for him to re-enroll in the media training class that was offered at Randy Jackson's "Idol" workshop.

In the interest of staying on point and/or topic, I'll spare you my familiar diatribe about these shows cheapening the art of singing and/or music in general by insisting on turning them into the live performance equivalent of a three legged race at the company picnic.

Although these shows cheapen the art of singing and/or music in general by insisting on turning them into the live performance equivalent of a three legged race at the company picnic.

Meanwhile, there's a skill/talent being increasingly utilized in these situations that isn't getting the slightest bit of attention, let alone its due.

A skill/talent that should actually come with its own sound effect.

The sound of beeping.

More and more, and more often, people in the public line of sight (or "limelight" as your pre-smartphone, pre-flat screen older than dirt parents and/or grandparents used to call it) seem to find it a necessary, even essential, part of their public presentation to mouth off in ways unbecoming a civilized individual, let alone an officer on matters which have little, if anything, to do with their ability, or lack, to keep our attention for four minutes, give or take, with their God given gifts of song.

It should come as no real surprise that the title of that Dixie Chicks documentary has popped to mind.

Shut up and sing.

Can't, in fairness,though, really blame the celebrities, per se' as the fault, dear Brutuses, lies not in our stars, but in the advent of social media and, literally, instant communication allowing those stars to be heard and/or seen, literally, instantly, regardless of how profound, or not, insightful, or not, keen eyed, or not, ill timed, inappropriate and/or moronic.

Or not.

But, mostly, ill timed, inappropriate and/or moronic.

Throw into the salacious soup equal measures of the ravenous hunger and/or thirst people have for sensational, snarky, snotty, back biting, bitch slapping and the ready, willing and ableness of all forms of media to feed that ravenous hunger and/or thirst from a digital diner open twenty four/seven with a generosity of portions that makes the local Thanksgiving feast handout at the Salvation Army headquarters look like a scene from "Oliver" and what you have is grand guignol gossip on a global scale.

Caleb Johnson isn't, of course, even remotely close to the first "celebrity" to place a stylish item of footwear firmly in his potentially profitable pie hole.

And while it seems logical to assume that he never intended his "career" to head that way, he now finds himself eligible for inclusion on a list of "should have been seen and not heard-ers" that boasts such infamous mouthpieces as Alec Baldwin, Mel Gibson, Reese Witherspoon, Donald Sterling.....

....oh, and land sakes alive, let us not forget Paula Deen.


Again, in fairness, most of the aforementioned talky transgressors committed their conversational hari-kiri in the context of private situations,

If being fully exposed to both video and audio recorders can reasonably defined as private situations.

Mr. Wants To Be The American Idol But Apparently Not Badly Enough To Keep His Mouth Shut Unless He's Warbling Whitesnake, on the other hand, let his fingers to the walking and talking without any more provocation that being asked an innocuous question about social media in one of dozens of interviews the kid has already given.

A softball he could have easily parked over the fence that he turned into a mucky mess that made Pine Tar Pineda look like a poster boy for superior sportsmanship.

See, here's the thing.

And the bottom line.

Whoever is helping this kid to attempt to build a singing career is outrageously remiss in teaching him one of the key fundamentals in any public relations campaign.

A little something that doctors, actually, learn from day one of med school. no harm.

Then, there's that thing about goals and focus and, more importantly, keeping eyes on the prize.

American Idol is a singing competition.

And those who compete are supposed to be competing as singers.

It's not an episode of Crossfire or The Five or The O'Reilly Factor.

Most people don't really care what Caleb Johnson thinks about anything.

Any more than they are anxious to hear Bill O'Reilly warble Whitesnake.

So, just in case no one has clued you, there, young Idol aspirant, which based on the most current empirical evidence, the fair assumption is that no one has......

The talent with which you are trying to impress people is your ability to sing.

Not your ability to walk things back when you mouth off.

Oh, and not for nothin', but the ability to walk things back is totally way past yesterday's news anyway.

Audiences were thrilled beyond measure the first time it happened.

March 25, 1983.

Motown 25th Anniversary Special.

Michael Jackson.


So, Caleb, dude, seriously, with all due respect there, buddy.

Shut up and sing.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

"...Pull Up To The Second Window....And May The Force Be With You....."

Just this past week..... a galaxy not so far, far away......

Editor's note: Lewis Beale writes about culture and film for the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and other publications.The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- Now that the cast of the seventh "Star Wars" movie has been announced, you can imagine the anticipation among the millions of fans of the film franchise. And why not? The six "Star Wars" films have been enormous successes: they have grossed over $2 billion domestically at the box office, spawned scores of books, comic books and merchandise (how many kids have their own light saber?) and made household names of characters like Darth Vader, Han Solo and Luke Skywalker.

They've also been the worst thing ever for the science fiction genre.

I say this as someone who has been a devoted sci-fi reader since childhood. I was so blown away by the first "Star Wars" film when I saw it in 1977, I went back two more times the same week to wallow in its space age fantasy. But here's the thing: George Lucas' creation, basically a blown-up Flash Gordon adventure with better special effects, has left all too many people thinking science fiction is some computer graphics-laden space opera/western filled with shootouts, territorial disputes, evil patriarchs and trusty mounts (like the Millennium Falcon).

"Star Wars" has corrupted people's notion of a literary genre full of ideas, turning it into a Saturday afternoon serial. And that's more than a shame -- it's an obscenity.

Science fiction is in fact one of the most creative literary genres around. The best of sci-fi is filled with meditations on what's "out there," what makes us human, how technology is used and how it is changing us. It takes up issues of race, sexuality and quite literally everything else under the sun. It is essentially about ideas, not action, and that's the problem, as far as Hollywood is concerned.

There are, for example, no light sabers, spaceships or Death Stars in the 1979 novel "Kindred," by Octavia Butler, who won the Hugo and Nebula, sci-fi's top awards, and was also awarded a MacArthur Foundation "Genius" Grant.

Butler's main themes are race and sex, and in "Kindred" she wrote about a modern black woman who travels back in time to the antebellum South, where she is enslaved. The novel is regularly taught in classrooms and has made at least one list of "Great Books By Women."

But Hollywood has yet to adapt it for the screen. Maybe if the lead character had a Wookie by her side...

Many of the great works of sci-fi have not been made into films -- The Foundation novels of Isaac Asimov, Joe Haldeman's "The Forever War," William Gibson's "Neuromancer," among others -- partially because they are too smart, too dense and too thoughtful.

Sure, some classics have made the transition, but the track record is spotty: David Lynch's "Dune" was a disaster, for example, and the recent "Ender's Game" was a mixed bag that was not successful at the box office. Francois Truffaut's "Fahrenheit 451," although stylish and intellectual, was a bit too frigid for a mass audience.

Which means that Hollywood studios, not known for thinking outside the box, opt for the "Star Wars" template -- lots of whiz bang, plenty of quirky alien characters, CGI to the max, plenty of explosions and little thought of any kind.

To be sure, the first "Star Wars" was a breath of fresh air, a fun flick for sci-fi geeks. But the series quickly ossified, a victim of its own success. Only two of the films -- "Star Wars" and "The Empire Strikes Back" -- show any originality. The rest tread water, give the hardcore fans the same old, same old. I mean, how many light sabre duels can you sit through before you're bored out of your skull? 

How many outer space dogfights? How many seemingly profound Yoda-esque thoughts?

Me, I'm giving up on the whole thing. I don't care that J.J. Abrams, a director with talent, is helming the new flick. He's hemmed in by audience expectations -- like casting the stars of the original in this film -- and recycling stale material. I'll pass.

Instead, I'll queue up "The Matrix," and enjoy the most original sci-fi movie of the past 25 years. I recommend "Star Wars" fans do the same. They need to be reminded what real creativity is all about.

Couple of immediate impressions found their way into my nebula.
First, Lewis Beale ain't gonna win no new readers, fans and/or friends from the faithful followers of George Lucas pool with his little essay of intended enlightenment.

Any put down, or perceived putdown, of the world of Star Wars is, to the aforementioned faithful followers, treason on a "calling for the registration of all hand guns" scale.

Something along the lines of preferring duck a l'orange to Duck Dynasty.

What is ya? Some kind of damn Commie or sumthin'?

Next, in my humble o, Beale makes a reasonable, measured and balanced case for his point of view, with only a cayenne pepper pinch of snark added to the presentation.

The kind of presentation that would be considered reasonable, measured and balanced by your average well educated, literate, erudite individual.

Which circle back, both neatly and ironically, to the primary fault in his presentation.

A fault on a scale just a little shy of San Andreas.

More on that in a sec.

Or light year.

EHHH! (sound of buzzer)

That was a pop quiz and only those who would find Beale's points palatable likely knew that light year is a measurement of distance and not a measurement of time.

Meanwhile, back at Degobah....

"Legitimate" science fiction (and, let's be honest, Beale leavens the loaf of lament with just enough self deprecating humor to avoid being tarred with the snob brush but underneath it all, I think we all know that snob is the correct sobriquet and Beale considers Star Wars to be legitimate in about the same sense that the spawn of Kim and Kanye is legitimate),  has always been much more about intellectual pursuit than insurrection protection, more about philosophy, sociology, psychology, physiology and/or biology than it has about advanced technology and/or Scientology.

The most sincere examples of the work are literary works of depth and substance, style as a means and not as an end, thought provoking, even inspiring, addressing, dealing with and, even at times, trying to make sense of mankind, mankind's existence and relevance in the universe, even the existence and relevance of that universe itself.

The very best, or at least best known, writers in the genre have long been respected as authors of serious intent.

Ray Bradbury, Ursula K. LeGuin, Isaac Asimov, Phillip K. Dick, Robert A. Heinlein. Arthur C. Clarke.

The list goes infinity and beyond.

Or at least where no man has gone before.

The Martian Chronicles, The Left Hand Of Darkness, I, Robot, Do Androids Dream Of  Electric Sheep, Stranger In A Strange Land, The Sentinel.

All seminal works considered essential reading and unquestionably significant contributions to both the world of literature and cultural history itself.

And not a Wookie or Jar Jar to be found among them.

Not to mention Tribble.

Hey, no reason why poor George Lucas should take all the phaser hits. 

Plenty of photon fun to be made of Roddenberry and his Wagon Train to the stars, too.

Not that there's anything wrong with any of them.

Not every meal need be the creation of a highly educated, intricately trained master chef of the cuisine.

Plenty of enjoyment to be found at the drive thru windows, too.

Nutrition and/or erudition, not so much, but enjoyment?

You bet your Big Mac, baby.

And you want fries with that?

Meanwhile, getting back to the point that has suddenly wandered far, far away.....

I understand and, for the most part, agree with Beale's contention about the junk food nature of Star Wars and its offspring.

But I think his belief that they've been "the worst thing ever for the science fiction genre" is a little harsh.

And runs the risk of causing a little de-cloaking of that previously mentioned snobbery that he, for the most part, avoids in his piece.

Because I grew up reading Bradbury and LeGuin and Asimov and Dick and Heinlein and Clarke, among a lot of others.

And I also read Flash Gordon and Tom Swift, watched This Island Earth, Invaders From Mars, Plan 9 From Outer Space and, more recently, Mission To Mars, Red Planet and Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.

Hey, let's be fair. One person's charming, moronic, borderline inbred family of hillbilly goofballs is another person's fascinating, borderline otherworldly group of strange visitors from God knows where.

And none of the crap ruined my taste for the classic.

Any more than the Quarter Pounder with cheese put me off the pleasures and sustenance of the pound of shrimp with Lobster sauce.

I have a lot of appetites.

And moods.

And moments.

Peter Paul Almond Joy's got nuts.

Peter Paul Mounds don't.

And sometimes I feel like a nut.

Sometimes I don't.

And sometimes I feel like a Darth.

Sometimes I don't.

George Lucas didn't ruin anything.

If he's guilty of that assertion, then, seriously, kids, fair being fair, we really have to haul Colonel Sanders in for ruining people for a magnificent chicken cordon bleu.

Just my opinion, of course, but I think Lewis Beale should consider getting his nose out of the air.

Even if that remains the best way to view the stars.


Friday, May 2, 2014

"...It Can't Possibly Be A Conicidence That You Can't Have "Twitter" without "Twit"......

English teachers, please to forgive.

A complex societal manifestation with myriad causes and effects resulting from the intricacies of both the human mind and spirit, this issue ain't.

It's 'bout as simple as it gets.

Explanation follows shortly.

Sarah Jessica Parker is addressing her recent mysterious feud that unfolded last month on Twitter.

The war of tweets were exchanged when a female user questioned Parker's "children and their provenance." Specifically, SJP's daughters, 4-year-old twins Marion and Tabitha, who were carried via surrogate.

"I don't think you can be like that without thinking about what you are saying," the 49-year-old actress tells The Edit. "Other people can be mean, and that's something I just have to make peace with. That was my worry before engaging in social media; I was afraid of it. I see mean stuff every day: when I look at Twitter I scroll with one eye open and one closed. That particular day, it was just one of the things I saw.

"I kept scrolling and then I was like, 'Wait a minute, did she just say that?'" Parker continues about the "disgusting" tweet. "I went back and I thought, ‘Well, this isn't unhealthy paranoia, this is absolutely conscious. This was a choice.' She, not subtly at all, said that my children are not my children. There have been a few — let's say half a dozen — times in my career when I have wanted to respond. I don't want to encourage people picking on her, because that's no better. But I wrote back, 'What? Like, is this fun?' She never responded and deleted it."

Parker took the situation one step further to condemn women on women bashing.

"I can't stand [it] when women say unfriendly things to other women," she explains. "Why does it have to be like that? Why do we go from [I disagree with you] to I hate you, I attack you, I use words that I know are hurtful? And we've never met! You'd think at this point in my life I would be accustomed [to it], but we keep finding new ways of expressing ourselves, new outlets to be unfriendly and cruel."

The "Sex and the City" star isn't the only actress to let cruel haters get to her.

Last month, Minnie Driver announced she was taking a break from Twitter after receiving mean comments about her bikini body.

"God some people are horrible," she tweeted. "You try being photographed when you don't know it's happening, when you're on holiday with your kids."

Driver continued, "I'm out of this Twittersphere for a while. It's too mean sometimes, about your body , about your soul. Not worth it."

Jennifer Love Hewitt also took a break from the social networking site last summer.

"Unfortunately with all the negativity people choose to send on Twitter as well as threats to their own well being, I'm sad to say Twitter is no longer for me," she wrote in July 2013. "I have enjoyed all the kindness and love that came my way, as well as support. But this break is needed."

Some female stars, like Jennifer Lawrence, stay away from social networking altogether.

"It's kind of become funny to make fun of each other, and I also don't like other women slaughtering women," the "American Hustle" star said on "Good Morning America" in November 2013. "And all of us are just being so mean. We're so responsible for this younger generation, and media, it's what kids are watching. It's teaching people how to talk to each other and relate to each other. I don't like it. Why can't we just be nice? It's like we grow up and then get right back into high school."

Thanks a lot, haters… J.Law might have joined Twitter if it wasn't for you!

Sociologists, human behavioral specialists, pundits, prognosticators, analysts and "Barbie dolls" from both MSNBC and Fox News and not just a few Cliff Clavin wannabes will, no doubt, delight in dissecting this matter until it makes finely minced onions look like pineapple chunks.

As offered at the outset, though, it ain't brain surgery.

Nice people in the world.

Mean people in the world.

Up until, say, ten years ago, mean people could only find ways to inflict their venom and vitriol on people in a desperate attempt to compensate for a miserable life and/or hilariously miniscule penis size by doling it out via the horse and buggy era methodology of behind the back/backbiting gossip in and around the local watering hole, coffee klatch, backyard fence, office water cooler and/or snack break at the monthly PTA meeting.

Today, mean people can boot up, log on, log in and fling their shit like they were born to be primates.

And delight as their venom goes viral.

I suppose it's inevitable that we would like to believe that all of it is some deeply rooted, psychological/sociological phenomenon requiring years of research, examination and/or study.

But its not.

It's just mean people.

Having discovered a high tech way to be assholes.


In 140 characters or less.