If you’re much under the age of 35 you probably have no cultural memory of Morton Downey Jr. whatsoever, but he (and Joe Pyne, an earlier, slightly less-obnoxious pioneer of in-your-face television) is the very direct progenitor of the confrontational style of Fox News and reichwing talk radio we have today. The Morton Downey, Jr. Show was where the talkshow format merged with professional wrestling (and all that implies). After his example, the dam was burst forever on politeness and niceties in televised discourse. “Mort” was Network‘s Howard Beale come to life as a snarling, chain-smoking firebrand.
When The Morton Downey, Jr. Show first started airing in the New York metro area in 1987 on WWOR, the “super station” operating out of (not so) beautiful Secaucus, NJ, I was briefly into it, simply because I had never seen anything like it, or the shouting, spitting-mad, red-faced, veins-bulging lunatic who hosted it, not to mention his mouth-breathing, knuckle-dragging Neanderthal audience! Oy vey.
Initially, at least, it was riveting, trainwreck TV, but I soon went from watching it most nights (if I was home, which was admittedly rare in those days) to only watching it when someone really kooky, like Lyndon LaRouche, say, was going to be on it. Eventually The Morton Downey, Jr. Show seemed like it was all Tawana Brawley, Curtis Sliwa, low rent porn girls and too-samey high-volume, spittle-flecked tirades against “pablum puking liberals.” All the time. After a while you kinda “got” it and the novelty wore off.
For a brief moment he was everywhere (The Today Show, playing himself in movies and on TV, People magazine, even scaling that true pinnacle of pop culture success: being parodied on SNL) but Downey’s star—and the ratings of his syndicated talkshow—crashed and burned pretty fast. I think the rest of America got sick of him as quickly as we New Yorkers did. All told his rise and fall took under two years. In 1990 Morton Downey Jr. filed for bankruptcy.
I didn’t really know that much about his life, but I found the new documentary about the angry father of trash TV, Évocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie directed by Seth Kramer, Daniel A. Miller and Jeremy Newberger to be absolutely engrossing. It’s a well-made, well-researched film that tries to figure out what made a freak of nature like this tick. There is no simple answer, as the film demonstrates.
No, Morton Downey Jr. was no “Lonesome” Larry Rhodes, but he harbored a burning desire to become more famous than the domineering father he hated (“Daddy issues” evidentally loomed large in his life). He spent most of his career casting around for his niche, at first as a singer and songwriter (Dean Martin is seen praising a young Downey’s talents in a vintage clip) and then as a radio jock. Eventually he would be talent spotted by former MTV exec Bob Pittman, who wanted to do a “new” Joe Pyne type program.
His act was a shtick to a large extent, but Downey was also more or less true to his own (sometimes shifting) beliefs. Still his producers could feed him lines in pre-production meetings that he would parrot verbatim. Above all he was a showman, and during a break, he would often tell a guest he’d just insulted, spat upon and kicked off his show that they’d done a great job!
Mort’s talent for getting noticed deserted him about 18 months into his brief moment of fame and he was soon resorting to attention grabbing stunts like cutting his own hair and drawing a (backwards) swastika on his face in an airport bathroom, claiming that some skinheads roughed him up. That Downey was able to pass a polygraph test about the made-up incident and his far-out claims shows his capacity for self-deception.
Évocateur does a fine job getting near the bottom of what was obviously a bottomless pit of psychological misery (segments where Downey’s poetry is read aloud provide unexpected revelations of his self-loathing). If you remember the Loudmouth, or even if you don’t, without him there would be no Glenn Beck, no Molotov Mitchell, no Dana Loesch… it’s Mort’s prescient angry DNA that still informs rightwing media today and his influence seems likely to continue for the foreseeable future. With appearances by Beck, Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, Sally Jesse Raphael, Chris Elliott, Gloria Allred, Alan Dershowitz and Pat Buchanan. Downey’s friend and frequent sparring partner Al Sharpton appears in clips from the show, but he didn’t participate in the doc for reasons that will be quite obvious once you’ve seen it.
Downey was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1996 and had one of his lungs removed (but, true to form, not before he appeared on Larry King Live the very night prior to his surgery!). He died in in 2001.
Above, the hologram cover of UB44, their last good album
I thought I’d write a post sticking up for UB40—right after I duck from all the bottles whizzing past my head—and link to their insanely great Rockpalast gig from 1981.
Many of you reading this, especially most of the serious reggae fans among our audience, probably consider UB40 to be something akin to the Hootie of reggae, and to a certain extent, that’s a pretty fair assessment. What’s popular—UB40 are the most popular reggae group ever, selling over 70 million albums—isn’t necessarily any good, and frankly I personally don’t have any time for anything they’ve put out for three decades, BUT... they weren’t always known for turning out bland reggae for white folks. People with really good taste in music—even a lot of reggae heads—actually loved UB40 back then, as difficult as this might be to remember. Not to mention that they were much loved by Crass punks. Oh yes they were…
In the early 1980s, I lived in the South London area of Brixton, specifically off Railton Road, the so-called “Front Line,” in a neighborhood known at that time for rioting, anarchist squatters, and hundreds of out-of-work dreads, loitering, smoking three-paper joints, drinking, kicking soccer balls and openly selling weed on this huge concrete basketball court.
The above described scene was immortalized in the Eddie Grant songs “Living On the Front Line” and “Electric Avenue,” the latter being a street that crosses the former. If you were a white kid walking down Railton Road in 1983, you were more likely than one of the rastas to have your pockets searched by London police under the “suss laws.” It was simply assumed (with good reason) that if you were in that vicinity, then you were probably there buying some hash. It got to the point where I had to take the long walk home from the tube station to avoid an unpleasant interaction with the cops. I probably had to empty my pockets half a dozen times.
In any case, to set that scene, reggae in general, but UB40 in particular was normally what was heard being blasted out of the buzzing, blown-out speakers that my West Indian neighbors would so thoughtfully put in their windows. I’m telling you that they were as ubiquitous as those Cher or Kylie megahits were in gay neighborhoods. UB40 records were even played at blues parties. Their early singles and first three albums were an intrinsic part of the soundtrack of daily life in Brixton thirty years ago, as weird or as hard to believe as that might sound today.
UB40 were not, I repeat, not really regarded so much as a “pop” band then, but more like “heavy”—if somewhat doom-laden—socially-conscious, reverb-drenched psychedelic dubmeisters. The group’s name referred to the UB40 card then issued to the armies of unemployed who were “signing on” to collect benefit in Margaret Thatcher’s Britain (Their first album was called Singing Off). Indeed, their early material was dark and bleak, taking on topics like racism (”King” and “Tyler”), being nothing more than a number or a statistic to the government (”One in Ten”), famine (”Food For Thought,” the first single on a totally independent record label to crack the top 10 of the UK singles chart) and Thatcherism (”Madam Medusa”). They also came up with skankin’ stonkers like their smokin’ “Reefer Madness” instrumental and I’m sorry, but that song is simply fucking irresistible, I don’t care how big of a rock snob you are.
If I am honest, I will tell you that although I knew that UB40 were a racially integrated reggae band, I’m sure I would have thought they were more than a little bit goofy had I known that a short-haired white guy was the front-man. Truth is, I had no idea that Ali Campbell wasn’t black. You certainly can’t tell from his voice and the decidedly minimalist album covers gave no hint at what they looked like—not that it was a secret, they were on TOTP, of course. Being white is hardly something to hold against the man or his music, my point is, to use George Michael’s phrase, you should listen without prejudice to the first three UB40 albums and you might hear something you really dig. There’s some great music hiding in plain sight that you probably missed out on because, well, it’s UB40.
I will say it again, there’s no Hootie factor whatsoever to early UB40. Hell, there’s not much indication at all of the shiny, happy crowd-pleasing direction they would take—a considerable U-turn creatively, to be sure—on their fourth album, the gazillion selling megahit, Labour of Love in 1983.
Below, a phenomenal 120-minute long set from Germany’s Rockpalast TV show dating back to 1981.
1. Present Arms
4. Food For Thought
5. Earth Dies Screaming
6. Don’t Let It Pass You By
7. Lamb’s Bread
8. Silent Witness
10 One In Ten
11 Madam Medusa
12 Don’t Slow Down
13 Dr. X
14 Burden Of Shame
15 Signing Off
I can still remember where I was the first time I heard Daft Punk’s “Da Funk.” It was the summer of 1996 and my brother had taped a 1995-end-of-the-year-round-up show by Annie Nightingale off BBC Radio 1. Well, I say “first” but actually it was the second, as I had previously heard it in a dj mix, but at that point I had no way of knowing what it was. Thankfully Ms Nightingale was forthcoming with information, meaning I could track the tune down myself (in a shop and by word of mouth, remember the days?)
To say that “Da Funk” blew my mind is a bit of an under-statement. As a piece of music it referenced both the genres I was loving the most at the time, house music and hip-hop, but far from being some tawdry “hip-house” jam, “Da Funk” was the perfect summation of the best elements of both genres without compromising either. Everything about the record was perfect, including the feeling of “what the fuck was THAT?!” I got after hearing it. A year later Daft Punk released Homework, and it became the record that, more than any other, defined the late 90s for a whole generation of kids who were sick to death of grunge and Britpop and looking for something new and exciting that wasn’t about the past.
So there you have it. My Daft Punk background. I was there the first time round, and young enough for it to be absolutely MY thing. Does that make me an old fart now? Does that make my opinion on Random Access Memories, Daft Punk’s new album and the most hyped music product ever since the last most hyped music product ever, irrelevant?
Answer in the comments if you like, but to be honest, I don’t really care. Having grown up with Daft Punk, and had them make an immense influence on my own music production and song writing, I feel a personal connection to what they do that makes a review of their new album more than just another Internet commentariat bleating along with the herd (though I can’t stop anyone from shooting it down by calling it that).
So in as brief a nutshell as I can possibly put together, here is my review of Random Access Memories: potentially amazing production let down by really lacklustre songs. Now you know what I think. Feel free to ignore the rest of this piece if you want. For the rest of you, here are my gripes…
Daft Punk “Random Access Memories” full album stream:
This is a guest post by New Delhi-based social media consultant, Kartik Dayanand.
“We’re getting closer to a world where technology takes care of the hard work—discovery, organization, communication—so that you can get on with what makes you happiest… living and loving. It’s an exciting time to be at Google.”
These are the concluding lines of a recent announcement by the CEO of Google, Larry Page. It sounds great: technology will make our lives easier and we don’t have to work hard anymore. The machines, or rather ‘technology,’ they say will run our world. But…
I think we’e in the middle of an unfolding horror story!
It can’t simply be some bizarre coincidence, can it, that as we scale ever higher peaks of technological innovation, the USA is going through its worst recession in 97 years? The story is not too different in Europe and most of the rest of the world; there must be something seriously wrong somewhere. Stands to reason, right?
Plenty of words have been written on the topic of machines taking away jobs from humans, and the twin threat of outsourcing, but this time things are different, really different. They are so different that…
I have no hesitation in saying that the world is on the verge of screwing itself in a spectacular fashion!
Here is the proof…
The invisible robots
As a kid I used to imagine a future where robots would do things for us. That day has arrived but these robots don’t look like anything I imagined they would as a child. They don’t have arms or legs, they are computers and smartphones with the Internet acting as their brains. The talk about machines replacing humans is an age old story and we have managed pretty well so far, but this time things are different for two reasons: Distribution and Convergence!
Since the Industrial Revolution, even before, machines have replaced human jobs but they never had this ability to multiply and spread across the global with almost zero additional costs through the Internet. Take the case of the mailman vs email or traditional books vs Kindle books. In the later case, it costs next to nothing to distribute something that used to take time and effort, printing, warehousing, shipping and retail outlets in the past. Time and effort that was spent by real people doing real jobs which are simply not necessary anymore.
From bank clerks to airline ticketing attendants, there are many classes of jobs that are going extinct. Read this article: A look at jobs replaced by technology. Where do all these people go now?
But isn’t capitalism, to a certain extent supposed to be “destructive”? Isn’t that where innovation comes from? In the battle between man and machine there is an old argument that goes instead of a candle we now have light bulbs and in place of a horse and carriage we have cars, so “disruption” is good. But now we are faced with a new problem: Convergence.
Due to convergence of technologies, multiple tasks are now doable with but a single device. The smartphone and tablet are effectively destroying the calculator, camera, flashlight, alarm clock, wrist watch, notepad, audio player and multiple other industries. I am not merely talking about the things one can do via the Internet for the scale of disruption is unimaginable. Real people were making those products. They are now not needed anymore. And it’s not merely job loss, the products themselves won’t exist anymore.
And who manufactures these new converged products?
Most probably some company like Foxconn in China where Apple and many other companies build their products at dead cheap rates. Almost none of those manufacturing jobs are in the USA or anyplace in Europe. No wonder the Eurozone is in tatters right now, Greece is at 60% unemployment and Spain has 55% of its youth between the ages of 18 and 25 unemployed right now; forget manufacturing, they might never ever get a job that involves soft skills, all thanks to outsourcing.
Ousted by outsourcing
Outsourcing, while taking away jobs from many, has provided employment to millions in another part of the globe. This led to an increase in earning potential as well as spending capacity for millions who could now aspire to “things” and a lifestyle unimaginable earlier. New doors have opened where none existed earlier. However, there are dangerous pitfalls on this side too. There are already two main patterns one can notice emerging– Obsolescence and Cannibalism.
All the pitfalls of disruptive technology apply here too. You can never say when a particular piece of technology or service will become obsolete. The skills that we learn today might not be needed tomorrow; this applies to software professionals who are dime a dozen out there specializing in skills that could be without economic value tomorrow.
Very few people specialize in “real” skills anymore, right from a commerce graduate to a science student to a mechanical, civil or chemical engineer; all want to become Software-IT Professionals.That’s where the easy moolah is. Those who continue in the pursuit of conventional professions often find themselves in a unique fix, not able to compete with their counterparts in the IT industry in terms of fat paychecks. But there is an even bigger issue in play here, cannibalism.
In the modern world of outsourcing, cannibalism is a rampant practice. No one is eating anyone else alive but everyone is eating away at everyone else’s jobs.
Organizations are always looking at doing things the fastest and cheapest way. They achieve it by employing smarter technology, but where manpower is still essential they are always on the lookout for a cheaper option that can accomplish the same task in a shorter time-frame—the primary reason why outsourcing exists in the first place. Why bothering hiring and paying an experienced hand when a trainee will suffice?
For a country like India, that boasts of a massive youth population that is ready to be employed, the future can be quite unsettling. It is a win-win situation for the bosses, but the same can’t be said for the employees as job security simply does not exist anymore.
So basically, technology and outsourcing are screwing the west and the rest are hell bent on screwing themselves . To put it simply…
The West is already screwed and the rest are hellbent on screwing themselves by cannibalising themselves to obsolescence
So what is the solution?
James Altucher, one of the most exciting writers I have come across online recently, wrote a post on TechCrunch titled “10 reasons why 2013 will be the year you quit your job.” In it Altucher advises his readers to turn into entrepreneurs to save themselves. He makes some terrific points to support his case, but I wonder if it’s realistic to expect that everyone can become an entrepreneur? Someone has to be at the bottom of the foodchain and even if someone dares to do something on his own, the big daddies will give them sleepless nights. Also in an open economy where everyone has equal opportunities, it is the big corporations that have the maximum leverage. Everyone else is just part of the crowd.
Take the case of movies. The top hits today make more money than ever while the bottom is a horror story with the vast majority of films not even finding any avenues of release or exhibition; it is a problem of plenty. It is the same with businesses and tech start ups. The big corps capture the bulk of the market and the smaller fish are in the game only to be hooked or to be eaten by the biggies. No wonder income inequalities are growing wider across the globe between the rich and the rest of us.
The Rich becoming richer and the poor becoming poorer has never been truer than it is today!
Forgetting for a moment, the poorer countries where wealth inequality is extraordinary and the bottom of the pyramid is unimaginably huge. Instead take the case of America, which in everyone’s opinion is an advanced and wealthy nation. Truth is, top 1% of America’s wealthy elite control 40% of their nation’s wealth. You should check the video below to see the scale of this phenomenon.
The middle class is almost non-existent now. We might as well rename it the “temporary class.”
We aspire to reach the top, but in reality most of us are just a part of the vast bottom that is feeding the top!
Technology is wonderful, it really does help us to live better lives. It is good that most things are becoming automated, wonderful that we don’t have to work as hard anymore, but here is the catch:
How do we survive in a world where our worth is only determined by our last paycheck?
And if all the jobs are handled by technology, who will give us those checks? We have yet to figure out a way to live in this world without money. Somewhere this cycle of the world’s productive labor and capital going to the 1% has to be broken.
That reminds me of the famous line by Charles Bukowski:
“How in the hell could a man enjoy being awakened at 6.30 a.m. by an alarm clock, leap out of bed, dress, force-feed, shit, piss, brush teeth and hair, and fight traffic to get to a place where essentially you made lots of money for somebody else and were asked to be grateful for the opportunity to do so”
How in the hell did we end up here? I wonder too. It is high time we all started to talk about this. A global conversation. Until then, we shall continue to be willing and invisible participants in the mission to screw ourselves and our world over (and to what end? We already know the answer). We have done a pretty great job of it until now. It is high time we figured out newer (and BETTER) ways of living and surviving in this world that are not dependent on us working ourselves to death so that the 1%‘s kids can sit on golden toilet seats and have a servant wipe their asses with 600 thread count Egyptian cotton napkins. In the future we’re heading for, your kid won’t have a pot to piss in.
I hope Google has some ideas for that too. Maybe you have one. Let me know.
This is a guest post by New Delhi-based social media consultant, Kartik Dayanand.
Dangerous Minds is a compendium of oddities, pop culture treasures, high weirdness, punk rock and politics drawn from the outer reaches of pop culture. Our editorial policy, such that it is, reflects the interests, whimsies and peculiarities of the individual writers. And sometimes it doesn't. Very often the idea is just "Here's what so and so said, take a look and see what you think."
I'll repeat that: We're not necessarily endorsing everything you'll find here, we're merely saying "Here it is." We think human beings are very strange and often totally hilarious. We enjoy weird and inexplicable things very much. We believe things have to change and change swiftly. It's got to be about the common good or it's no good at all. We like to get suggestions of fun/serious things from our good-looking, high IQ readers. We are your favorite distraction.