Sunday, July 04, 2010

Lazy Sunday # 126: The Ballad of the Kingsmen

Fear not! This site has not become moribund. I'm just down the road on the trail of stories and things got a little complicated over the last week. But the Legion is now safely ensconced on the West Coast for the summer and posts will flow freely in the days to come.

My focus will be seriously split for the next while and based on what's already bubbling up, some may struggle to make the connections within the seemingly unrelated subject matter of what's to come. But the linkages are becoming clear to me and hopefully I can make them visible for you.

Here's a first taste…

Some people compile a list of road tunes when they travel or pack an assortment of music they think will fit or enhance the mood. I go a different direction. I just roll with what comes over the satellite radio interspersed with my frequent News Junkie forays into what's going on in the world.

And as it should in life, reality and art inform one another.

To play fair with the news, I always skip around the satellite dial for takes from Fox and MSNBC and CBC and the bending over backward to be accurate BBC. Somehow from that mix I think you get closer to the real truth rather than a single truth somebody wants you to believe.

A lot of the news last week was still about the G20 in Toronto and the protests that had surrounded it. With the fences down and our Constitutional rights restored after being casually "set aside" for a weekend, some troubling personal stories began to surface. Stories that suggested we go most wrong when we trust our governments to know what's best for us.

Take Benjamin Elroy Yau…

Mr. Yau, 37, was walking to the Queen’s Park subway station before his 6 p.m. shift as an employee of the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission). There was no protest in sight and not many people in the street. Then two police officers “tackled” him to the ground and yelled at him to stop resisting arrest.

“I told them I wasn’t resisting arrest, that I was on my way to work. I was in full uniform, full ID, my employee card, everything,” Yau said. “They said, ‘Really? Well, you’re a prisoner today.’ ”

Berating Yau and swearing at him for being an “embarrassment” to the TTC, the officers dragged him half a block in handcuffs and shackles and threw him into a paddy wagon. Even after a TTC supervisor arrived to vouch for him, he was sent to the Eastern Ave. detention centre.

In custody, he went through “sheer terror” as he listened to other prisoners screaming and tried to sleep on a bloodied concrete floor. He was denied a phone call and fed only a “disgusting” cheese sandwich. His hands were cuffed the whole time.

Four charges that included resisting arrest and obstructing justice were dropped before he was released at 2 a.m. on Monday. The booking sergeant told him he was in the “wrong place at the wrong time,” said Yau, who’s never been in trouble with the law.

With that little nugget rolling through my head, I tuned to my favorite spot on the Sirius music dial -- Channel 103 -- "Outlaw Country" founded by Steve Van Zandt as "a sanctuary for the freaks, misfits, rebels, and renegades of country music".

In addition to offering great music from the Outlaw Country sub-genre, the station features phenomenal DJ's cum Country stars like Mojo Nixon, Shooter Jennings, Steve Earle and "Cowboy" Jack Clement, all augmenting the music with their own insight and anecdotes about where the music came from and why it still matters.

Outlaw Country developed as a reaction to the tightly controlled and manufactured Nashville image of the 1960's and 70's, where every recording artist was a clean-living, God-fearing "Good Ole Boy" in a rhinestone suit. The Outlaws wrote their own tunes and didn't stick to any formula, providing an infusion of energy and excitement that threatened to upset the entire genre.

Guys like Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson and almost anybody who came out of Texas delivered the message that just because Nashville said something was the way it needed to be didn't mean it was the way it needed to be. Despite being vilified and attacked by the Music Row establishment, the Outlaws stuck to their guns (and guitars) and won in the end.

In the wake of the G20, too many people with legitimate grievances about the way the world is being run are being painted with a radical brush. And completely innocent guys like Benjamin Yau have had their lives turned upside down so somebody could justify the Establishment's fear of being exposed as incompetent at best and paranoid beyond all reason at worst.

Musicians are used to being portrayed as the problem. From evangelical preachers sermonizing about "Race Music" to the soon to be ex-Mrs. Al Gore going after heavy metal artists, there's always some popular artist being blamed for problems they didn't create. But blaming them takes the heat off the people who really should be questioned.

There's an online petition for those who would like to see a guy like Benjamin Yau get some justice. You can find it here.

And this week's video is about that process of finding scapegoats by Todd Snider, one of the artists who regularly appears on "Outlaw Country". "The Ballad of the Kingsmen" could be about all of us if we don't start demanding what we're due instead of what somebody else decides is all we deserve.

Enjoy your Sunday.

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