Just For Fun: Lyric-Writing Ethics!

I’m writing a new musical legal ethics seminar that I’ll be premiering with my brilliant musician partner Mike Messer at the end of the month. It’s going slow: the trick is to simultaneously make the song parody lyrics funny as satires of the songs and to set out substantive legal ethics problems along the way. And the lyrics have to rhyme and scan.

Writing song lyrics is one of my many pseudo-useless talents that I have never figured out how to monetize significantly, but I am still a perfectionist about it. Competent lyric writing is becoming a lost art, and there were hacks polluting the art decades ago even when the Sondheims, Simons, Berlins, Dylans and Joels roamed the plains like buffalo.

I’ve collected examples of terrible lyric-writing for decades, and my White Whale is the Most Incompetent Recorded And Widely Heard Lyrics Ever. So far, nothing has topped, or rather ducked beneath, the execrable theme song of the popular TV Western “Bat Masterson” (starring Gene Barry), which you can listen to in the YouTube clip above just as TV viewers could hear in 108 episodes from 1958 to 1961.

The lyrics are incredibly bad. Let’s examine them:

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From The Book Of Great Stupid: Pat Benatar’s Virtue-Signaling Self-Censorship

It is kind of sad, really. So many progressive ideologues are so bereft of persuasive arguments, real facts and non-emotion-based analysis that they must resort to a paltry supply of tools, most of which are unethical: insults, fear-mongering, intimidation, race-baiting, bullying, protests and rioting, and attempted restriction of speech and expression. It is the last that is the topic here at the moment, and an especially stupid example.

Senior rock singer Pat Benatar now refuses to perform her hit song “Hit Me with Your Best Shot” as a protest against mass shootings. That song is 42 years old, and, correct me if I’m wrong, but is the song Benatar is most associated with. Her refusing to sing “Hit Me with Your Best Shot” is like Andy Williams refusing to sing “Moon River.” But you see, in increasingly delusional Woke Land, eliminating words, pictures and song lyrics that relate to bad things, event, people, places and things, like guns and shooting, is a step toward making everyone “safe.”

Except that “hit me with your best shot” doesn’t refer to guns or shooting at all, but never mind: anything to signal virtue, however moronically. Benatar is removing a popular, indeed classic piece of popular culture to accomplish absolutely nothing constructive at all, while standing for the fatuous proposition that banning artistic works that mention guns ( even though her song doesn’t) will help address the problem of homicidal gunmen. Or maybe her idea is to hold her own song hostage until the Second Amendment is repealed.

Hmmm…is that a more or less stupid theory than the first one?

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Comment Of The Day: “Council Rock Elementary School, ‘Jingle Bells,’ And When Something Trivial Demands A Strong Response (Part One)”

The infuriating/ridiculous/frightening saga of an elementary school in Brighton, New York deciding to ban “Jingle Bells” inspired several superb posts, none better than the Comment of the Day by Charles Abbott. Mr. Abbott lives in Brighton, and provided much insight regarding this weird episode, which I wrote about here and here. And here is Charles’ Comment of the Day:

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Brighton is a suburb of Rochester NY. Rochester NY is about half way between Buffalo and Syracuse in the western part of New York State.

Brighton is a prosperous suburb, mostly inhabited by households in the upper middle class or professional classes. The suburb of Brighton is contiguous to the City of Rochester. The Brighton Central School District student performance consistently ranks among the 10 best school districts in all of New York State. This has a lot to do with the characteristics of the households who live there, as well as the quality of the teachers and the curriculum.

It’s worth mentioning that a Brighton zip code, 14618, is possibly the “most Jewish” zip code in New York State west of the Hudson River Valley. I live in 14618–offhand I can think of 5 synagogues within a 2 miles of my rhouse–two of them are pretty large by local standards. A Jewish friend of mine pointed out to me that I actually live within an “eruv” (look it up–it was news to me!). I mention this because observers have long noted the tendency of Jewish Americans to lean liberal or Left. The most conservative suburb of Rochester is probably Greece, NY to the NW of Rochester. Brighton tends to be a liberal suburb–upper middle class and liberal–perhaps smugly liberal. Continue reading

There Is Hope: Sometimes Justice Arrives, Just A Little Late

I just learned today that “Shout!,” the Isley Brothers’ classic, never reached higher than #47 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1959, in a single that covered both sides of the 45. Listening to the recording now (and forever), that is simply stunning. There may not be a more exciting, spontaneous, rousing recording of any song by any artist, ever.

Yet somehow it was quickly forgotten, until a fake group called “Otis Day and the Knights” performed a terrific cover in the 1978 comedy “Animal House,” and suddenly it was a standard at wedding and parties all over the country. Why? It’s just wonderful, that’s all, and nobody sang it like the Isley Brothers. For the most part, nobody tries: there were a few obscure covers before the song was rediscovered (The Beatles did a version in 1964), but it is one of those songs where nobody wants to be compared to the sublime original.

This kind of thing gives me hope. Good ideas get lost, bad ones thrive (for a while), hacks and phonies make millions and great artists die in gutters. But now and then justice happens, maybe by fate, maybe by luck, and just maybe because life is more ethical than we think it is.

Ethics Observations On A Suddenly Ubiquitous Meme

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This thing is everywhere, particularly on conservative websites. It was even quoted on Ethics Alarms.

Observations:

1. It’s not true. Try not to embarrass yourself by quoting it, for “Wet Ass Pussy” was not, in fact, the “Song of the Year.” At last year’s Grammys, which gives out the annual “Song of the Year” awards, “Wet Ass Pussy” by female rapper Cardi B was not even nominated in the category. The nominees were…

  • Natalie Hemby, Lady Gaga, Hillary Lindsey & Lori McKenna for “Always Remember Us This Way” performed by Lady Gaga
  • Billie Eilish O’Connell and Finneas O’Connell for “Bad Guy” performed by Billie Eilish
  • Brandi Carlile, Phil Hanseroth, Tim Hanseroth & Tanya Tucker for “Bring My Flowers Now” performed by Tanya Tucker
  • Ruby Amanfu, Sam Ashworth, D. Arcelious Harris, H.E.R. & Rodney Jerkins for “Hard Place” performed by H.E.R.
  • Taylor Swift for “Lover” performed by Taylor Swift
  • Jack Antonoff & Lana Del Rey for “Norman Fucking Rockwell” performed by Lana Del Rey
  • Tom Barnes, Lewis Capaldi, Pete Kelleher, Benjamin Kohn & Sam Roman “Someone You Loved” performed by Lewis Capaldi
  • Steven Cheung, Eric Frederic, Melissa Jefferson & Jesse Saint John for “Truth Hurts” performed by Lizzo

The winner was “Bad Guy.”

This year’s Grammys have not yet been awarded, so “Wet Ass Pussy” can be called the “Song of the Year” by any measure.

2. Therefore the irony, the dripping contempt for contemporary culture, and the implication of corrupted societal values are only effective if one is ignorant of the topic. Nice.

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Monday Ethics Warm-Up, 10/19/2020: Wherein My Head Explodes At Least Once

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1. KABOOM! Just when I thought 1) Georgetown could not embarrass this alum more thoroughly and 2) my head had been immunized from exploding comes the astounding news that Georgetown University has hired former FBI agent Peter Strzok as an adjunct professor. Strzok is now listed on the university’s staff page and he mentioned the Walsh School of Foreign Service on his Twitter profile. An alumnus, he will be teaching a “Counterintelligence and National Security” in the fall semester.

While engaged in an adulterous affair with then FBI lawyer Lisa Page in 2016, Strzok exchanged suspicious anti- Trump messages that called into question the legitimacy and fairness of the Mueller investigation. The FBI fired Strzok  in 2018 for  undermining public confidence in the non-partisanship of the bureau and federal law enforcement.

Stay classy, Georgetown! I already have my law school diploma facing the wall; I guess I can coat it with some kind of noxious substance…

2. The villain here is the professor. This is no time to be a weenie. Actually, there is never a good time to be a weenie. A professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law used “nigger” (referred to in infantile fashion by the law school’s announcement as “the n-word,” since “poopy badspeak” hasn’t caught on yet) in the context of discussing an offensive language case. But of course a student or six reported him, because they could, and it is an easy way for young progressive cowards to justify puffing up their pigeon chests because they get to cause trouble for someone who did absolutely nothing wrong.

The adjunct professor has not been identified, but in an email from law school administrators, including Law Dean Amy Wildermuth, it was announced that the professor has resigned.

“The instructor apologized and expressed his deep regret to the class, and informed the class at 1 p.m. today that he was resigning immediately from teaching at Pitt Law,” the announcement said in part.  “We condemn the use of this word, and we believe that saying this word and words like it, even in an academic context, is deeply hurtful,” the note concluded.

Words are not hurtful. Meanings are hurtful, when they are intentional. This is virtue-signaling and language policing of the most indefensible sort. The professor, whoever he is, had an obligation to the school, the culture, his profession, common sense and himself to fight, not surrender.

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No, The Trump Campaign Is Not “Stealing” Neil Young’s Songs

Despite what you may have read, Neil Young is being a jerk.  This month, the singer sued the Trump campaign over its use of “Rockin’ in the Free World” and  “Devil’s Sidewalk,” both of which were played at a Trump  rally in  June. In his suit, the musician accused the campaign of copyright infringement for playing the tracks without a license, and asked for the campaign to be ordered to stop using them, as well as for statutory damages.

It’s a dishonest suit. The real reason for it is also in the complaint, in which he says Young “cannot allow his music to be used as a ‘theme song’ for a divisive, un-American campaign of ignorance and hate.”

Of course, it is the party Young’s sympathies presumably  lie with that have been inflicting hate and ignorance on the U.S., but never mind.

Young was on sounder legal and ethical ground in 2018, when he wrote that he had  no legal recourse to stop Trump from using his music, writing on his website, “Legally, he has the right to, however it goes against my wishes.”

Well too damn bad, Neil. You sold your right to have your wishes obeyed in such matters. You’re just virtue-signaling, and I hope the Trump Campaign counter-sues.

Campaigns purchase the same right to play songs that radio stations, shopping malls  or concert halls do by paying for blanket licensing deals with licensing companies like ASCAP and BMI. They act as agents of artists to sell the public performance rights for millions of songs on their behalf, including Neil Young, in exchange for a fee. Campaigns purchase special licenses , allowing them to use songs at venues around the country.  The licensing organizations’ consent decrees with the Justice Department preserve a fair marketplace by requiring them to offer their catalogs of songs to any “similarly situated” party that wants to use the music. Continue reading

Ethics Catch-Up, 7/23/2020: Waiting For Baseball Edition [Corrected]

This moment in “Field of Dreams” was how I started off my baseball and culture presentation this week. Ironically, the speech has always irritated me, because of its stagey blocking, and because it is a speech that sounds like a  speech, and is essentially right out of the book the film was based on. In the novel, “Shoeless Joe,”,the “Terrence Mann” character played by James Earl Jones was real life (and then, still living) recluse author J.D. Salinger. I dislike the speech, but the scene always moves me, for a personal reason.

As Terrance Mann stands, giving his speech, the ghostly players of the past silently assemble behind him in Ray Kinsella’s (Kevin Costner, of course) magic corn field. One of the players behind him has been identified in the film as Smokey Joe Wood, a 30 game winner with the World Champion 1912 Boston Red Sox. Just a few years before the film was made, I had been in the Fenway Park grandstands as  Smoky Joe, feeble, in his mid-nineties and in a wheel chair shortly before his death, barely threw out—more like dropped—the first pitch at a Red Sox Old Timer’s game, to a standing ovation.  And here he was, in that  corn field, but young and vital again.

Gets me every time….

1. Ethics query: is it ethical to perform “Piggies”? I just caught an old concert clip in which George Harrison and Eric Clapton performed the obnoxious pseudo-Marxist ditty “Piggies” (from the White Album) to thunderous applause.

[Notice of correction: I originally wrote that “Piggies” was a Lennon composition. All these years I assumed it was, heavy-handed and juvenile politics that it was. I am stunned that the song was George Harrison’s doing; I thought better of him.]

This was well after the Manson murders: I had never heard anyone perform the song in decades. Admittedly, it is just moral luck that a madman seized upon the White Album Beatles songs as his inspiration to mastermind the slaughters of  Sharon Tate, her unborn child, and her house guests, as well as supermarket executive Leno LaBianca and his wife Rosemary the following night. However, “Piggies” was the one song referenced directly in both murders. It is not inconceivable that if the White Album had omitted that song—no great loss, either–at least the LaBianca murders might not have taken place. I know I can’t hear the song without picturing carnage, and it seems to me singing the song is like a celebration of Manson’s work. I wouldn’t ban it; I don’t believe in banning anything.  I just think it’s bad taste to play it or perform it.

Is that inconsistent with my objection to “canceling”  “Dixie,” “My Mammy,” “Rockabye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody,” “When Johnny Comes Marching Home,” “Oh Susanna!” and other songs that are redolent of the Old South? I would argue that those songs have the virtue of being great tunes and important cultural touchpoints…in other words, works of musical art that justify themselves. “Piggies,” in contrast, is musical junk, like about 20% of the White Album filler. Continue reading

Requiem For “My Mammy”

 

I was just running an errand, and on the Sirius XM 60’s Channel they were playing the top 40 songs from this date in 1967 (my favorite year). And what should come on but The Happenings, the Four Seasons-imitating group best known for “See You In September” and the whitest group in history, singing “My Mammy,” the Al Jolson trademark song that he originally sang in blackface.  (I apologize for using the non- “Jazz Singer” version of Jolson singing the song, but an article about blackface got Ethics Alarms banned from Facebook, and I don’t want to give them provocation to have me shot The video above also has another Jolson standard, “April Showers.” There’s nothing wrong with more Jolson; he was one of the great ones.)

I had forgotten that The Happenings had a mild hit with it as the follow-up to “I Got Rhythm.” “My Mammy,”music by Walter Donaldson and lyrics by Joe Young and Sam M. Lewis, is a terrific, tingles-up -the-spine song and performance piece (“I’d walk a million miles for one of your smiles!”), but I assume it is now impossible to present because of its blackface connotations.

The loss of “My Mammy” isn’t  a great tragedy, but it’s still a tragedy. Big chunks of our culture are going to be torched before this insanity burns itself out, if it ever does. I have a feeling that I’ll be fighting this battle for the rest of my life.

Comment Of The Day: “Life Competence Note: There Is No Way You Will Look Smart Or Competent Quoting ‘Imagine'”

I can’t fully express how gratifying it has been to see so many among the commentariat enthusiastically participating in a mass trashing of “Imagine,” John Lennon’s grandstanding ode to faux ethics Karl Marx-style. As I have mentioned here periodically, I have detested the song since I first heard it, and have had dire suspicions about the brain pan depth of any acquaintance who teared up when the thing played. Inspired and encouraged, I put “Imagine” torture among the punishment options in today’s poll on the best way to wreak societal vengeance on the teens deliberately coughing on supermarket produce,   and it’s doing surprisingly well:

A major assist for this Comment of the Day goes to Mrs. Q, who wrote,

Living in Portland it’s almost impossible to not hear this piece of shit song in every coffee shop, restaurant, and wherever else you’re trying not to loose your lunch. Once I was so aggravated at hearing it, I unethically told a fib to our waiter, that my (non-existent) sister committed suicide to the song. He turned it off and I enjoyed the rest of my meal…until Yellow Submarine came on. Karma indeed.

Imagine there’s no Imagine.

I was tempted to take up the challenge and compose an “Imagine There’s No Imagine” parody, but that would have required me to carefully listen to the song more than once, and I’d rather get the Wuhan flu.  Chris Marschner beat me to it, saving my sanity and earning his Comment of the Day on the post, “Life Competence Note: There Is No Way You Will Look Smart Or Competent Quoting ‘Imagine'”:

I have begun rewriting the lyrics and ask all to assist and improve.

Imagine there’s no Seven-Eleven
It’s easy if you try
No Big Gulps for the thirsty
Just whole wheat and rye

Imagine all the people
Living for today
So what else is new (ew ew)

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to plan or hope for
It’s just a fuckin zoo

Imagine all the people
Living life on the streets
They do (hoo hoo hoo)

You may say that I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
the Bernie bros will welcome you
And the world will be covered in pond scum

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
that means no one can steal from you
Cause your home’s under the bridge span

Imagine all the people
Huddlin to stay warm
(hoo hoo ooh ooh)

You may say that I’m a dreamer
I’m not the only one
There are other nuts among us
Just put your possessions in that box over there
and I will dispose of them when I can.