Amy Schumer: Out of Formation?

Apparently, a lot of people are upset about Amy Schumer’s video of Beyoncé’s “Formation”:

They claim it is disrespectful, that Queen Bey is, or should be, exempt from parody. But what makes this a parody? Parody is defined as exaggeration for the purpose of humor. There is no exaggeration in this video. Nor is there any humor. Just because Schumer is a comedian does not mean everything she does is comedy. The audio track is the real song, not some Weird Al rewrite. And the video, which Schumer labels a “tribute,” is just a bunch of women on a film set dancing to a song during their downtime.

Mostly white women.

Is that the video’s real “crime,” that it most prominently features Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn, two white women, two blonde white women dancing to the song? Does this render the video cultural appropriation, unlike the thousands, literally thousands, of other YouTube “dance cover” videos featuring black fans dancing?

Has cultural appropriation expanded from condemning white artists for “stealing” and profiting from black musical styles to condemning white fans for consuming and enjoying black music?

Granted, the issue is a bit more pointed with the song “Formation,” which directly addresses the sad, and too often deadly, state of racial inequality in the United States, but for me, the video’s true crime is that it is boring. It would never pass muster on Lip Sync Battle.

Wait, is that an example of gender appropriation?

Phil Chess (1921-2016)

With his brother Leonard (1917-1969), Phil Chess founded and ran Chess Records. Chess began as a blues label featuring such luminaries as Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Willie Dixon, but is probably best known as one of the fundamental rock ‘n’ roll labels. In fact, they released what many believe to be the very first rock ‘n’ roll record, “Rocket ’88′” by Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats (Ike Turner’s Kings of Rhythm in disguise):

(That recording was licensed to Chess by Sam Phillips, who would soon found Sun Records.)

Chess Records went on to help define the sound of early rock ‘n’ roll with records by Bo Diddley and, especially, Chuck Berry.

In an odd bit of timing, on his 90th birthday the day before, Chuck Berry announced that next year he will release his first new album since 1979.

Dylan’s Nobel Prize: Lyrics Are Not Poems (and Poems Are Not Lyrics)

Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge fan of Bob Dylan’s. His lyrics taught me that pop songs can have depth and be thought provoking. If there were a Nobel Prize for Music, absolutely, give it to Dylan, but literature?

While often poetic, his lyrics are not poems. In that light, it’s interesting to note that 1973’s Writings and Drawings . . .


. . . was re-titled Lyrics when it was updated 12 years later . . .


. . . and has retained that title through all of its later editions. I defy anyone to read those lyrics without hearing the tune that accompanies them in their head.

Dylan has written a bit of literature. There are some poems scattered through the above volumes and in 1971 he published Tarantula, but I’ve never known anyone who made it all of the way through that novel? Prose poem? I’m really not sure what to call it.

On the other hand, Chronicles: Volume One fully deserved its 2004 nomination for the National Book Critics Circle Award for biography (it lost to Mark Stevens’s and Annalyn Swan’s De Kooning: An American Master), but that was just one book and it was published over 12 years ago (speaking of which, are we ever going to see the other two promised volumes?). This is hardly a corpus of work deserving of a Nobel. Especially when there are writers like Don DeLillo who are still being overlooked.

So while I admit to a momentary knee-jerk thrill when I first learned that the “voice of my generation” (a label he has always rejected) had won a Nobel, that voice is heard as music, not read as literature.


Playboy Reaches for the Sky

Sky Ferreira is on the cover (actually two alternative covers) of the October 2016, “The Renegades Issue,” of Playboy . . . 


. . .  for which she also serves as “guest art director.” She is interviewed by Bruce Dern, who alternates between playing cheerleader and mentor, and photographed by longtime collaborator Sandy Kim. Among the photos is Ferreira dressed (undressed?) as a Playboy bunny, . . .


. . . just like her idol Debbie Harry once was:


This is my first glimpse at the new “non-nude” Playboy. More accurately, it should be described as “non-fully nude.” Side nudity and bare butts are shown, including Ferreira’s, cleavage is accentuated, but nipples are strategically covered, unless seen through a wet t-shirt, as is the pubic area.

In accentuating the tease of striptease, this somewhat arbitrary compromise between the titillation of “lad mags” and the explicitness of actual porn highlights yet again our culture’s ambivalence toward nudity and sex, an ambivalence Sky Ferreira herself confronted when she fully exposed her breasts on the cover of her album, Night Time, My Time. Of course, Capitol’s packaging carefully covered the nipples for in-store display, . . .sky

. . . just like Playboy now does.