Denise Sullivan

Author, Journalist, Culture Worker

Hail to the Yeah: Obama Prevails

November 5, final campaign stop, Columbus, OH.

“Don’t believe the media. I think it’s going to be a landslide,” said Bob Dylan from the stage on election eve in Madison, WI.

The President and the Boss also put in a Madison appearance earlier in the day.


Filed under: Bob Dylan, Concerts, , , , , ,

Occupy Turns One

Hats off to West Coast artists Tom Morello, Jello Biafra and Michelle Shocked for joining Lee Ranaldo and New York’s Foley Square Park last Sunday for the kick off of the one year anniversary week of Occupy. Shocked performed “99 Ways to Loathe Your Lender,” sung to the tune of Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.” Though Shocked discourages filming of her shows, I hope she won’t mind that I found a barely viewed clip of her performing it (she follows Biafra’s spoken word piece). The protest standard, “Which Side Are You On,” was performed as a singalong (it’s as close as any song the movement has to an official anthem).  Happy Anniversary Occupy, and thank you to the Occupiers and musicians who represent the 99 percent.

Filed under: anti-war, Civil Rights, Coal Mining Songs, Concerts, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Folk, Occupy Wall Street, Punk, Songs for the Occupation, , , ,

Chuck D: A Hero to Skid Row

Rapper Chuck D brought the noise, the love and his ministry of music on Sunday to the folks who need it most:  The residents of LA’s Skid Row, the largest community of homeless people in the USA.

Chuck D organized Operation: Skid Row with LA CAN (Community Action Network) which provides homes for the homeless and with whom he collaborated on the new book, Freedom Now, concerning the human right to housing. He brought Public Enemy (Flavor Flav, Professor Griff)  along to the show which also featured the old school talent of Brother J of X-Clan, Kid Frost, Yo-Yo and Egyptian Lover of “Egypt, Egypt” fame, as well as Money B and Korrupt (read the full report from the LA Times).

“When America has a recession, black America has a depression. When America hits depression, then you have a group of people based on their visual characteristics who are in total desperation,” Chuck D told the Ventura County Reporter last week, though details about the concert were kept vague until the last minute,  to keep the focus on homelessness and to discourage gawkers and overzealous fans.

The Skid Row neighborhood is described as having the largest “stable” population of homeless people—approximately 4,000— in the US, though in practical terms, the area is anything but stable:  It is under-served, its residents for the most part are unheard, and it exists as a world largely invisible to the greater Angeleno and American population. Filmgoers caught a glimpse of the Hollywood version of Skid Row in the 2009 film, The Soloist, starring Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey, Jr,   based on the true story of LA Times reporter Steve Lopez and his relationship with a homeless musician, Nathanial Ayers.  At the beginning of 2011, Pulitizer Prize-winning journalist Patt Morrison of KPCC broadcast a two-part series on the area in which she spoke to residents, some of them belonging to families spanning three generations there, as well to law enforcement and emergency and social service personnel who serve the neighborhood.  More recently, eyes have been on Skid Row in relation to where its concerns intersect with the Occupy LA movement.

I can think of no better way to honor the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on his actual birthdate than by shining some light on the plight of our poorest—the bottom one percent—and making the effort to extend a hand to them. “Feed the people, their minds, body and souls, and hopefully attract attention to make this invisible situation visible,” says Chuck D, now celebrating 25 years since the release of Public Enemy’s Yo! Bum Rush the Show.  I have a feeling this is not the last we’ll be hearing from him or from hip hop on the matter of Skid Row.

More on Chuck D, Public Enemy and hip hop consciousness in Keep on Pushing.

Filed under: Concerts, Hip Hop, Keep On Pushing, , , , , , ,

Happy Birthday Dr. King

It was a long road to the third Monday in January when all 50 states observe Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in their own unique ways.  Largely owed for making the dream of a King holiday a reality is Stevie Wonder, who back in 1980, wrote the pointed song “Happy Birthday” then launched a 41-city U.S. tour (and invited Gil Scott- Heron along) to promote the idea which was first mooted by Rep. John Conyers in 1968. The musical efforts were ultimately the key in collecting the millions of citizen signatures that had a direct impact on Congress passing the law signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1983, declaring a day for MLK. Observed for the first time in 1986, some states were late to the party, however, by the turn of the 21st Century, all were united in some form of remembrance of the civil rights giant. “Happy Birthday”, which served as the Wonder-campaign theme (and is now the “official” King holiday tune) is  the last track on Hotter Than July. The album also features “Master Blaster”, Wonder’s tribute to Bob Marley who had been scheduled for the tour till he fell too ill to participate. Stepping into the breach was Scott-Heron whose new book, The Last Holiday, is part memoir/part the story of how Wonder used a song to bring home a US federal holiday. Born in Atlanta Georgia on January 15, 1929, Dr. King would’ve been 83 this year.

Filed under: Concerts, Gil Scott-Heron, , , , , , ,

Big Audio Dynamite Far-flung as London Burns, 2011

“I guess you want to know what we think,” said Mick Jones at Wednesday’s Big Audio Dynamite show at Club Nokia. It was the fifth day of the London riots, but Jones was far from the frontlines of his native Brixton; he’s on the road this summer celebrating 25 years of B.A.D., the post-Clash project he launched with Don Letts, the punky reggae DJ and filmmaker who also bears the distinction of introducing Bob Marley to his “baldhead” friends. Thirty-five-years ago this summer, Londoner Letts faced-off police at the Notting Hill Carnival riot (that’s him on the cover of the Black Market Clash EP); the events there had once-upon-a-time inspired Joe Strummer to write, “White Riot”. What binds the civil unrest London sees now to then is of course police harassment of youth, particularly those in low income areas hard-hit by austerity measures that have decimated after school programs and depleted prospective scholarship funds. But there was no need for such heavy asides or stage patter from Jones or Letts: They rock the bells in their topical tunes largely from the ’80s which still spell out the matters quite plainly, whether the trouble is racial and with empire building (“A Party”), or the petty grievances and gross injustices that drive them crazy, which they call out in their eponymous theme song.  The pair also appeared to be having a blast playing together again, each of their compositions seemingly more pertinent than the last. Still sonically and sartorially sharp, Big Audio Dynamite’s old songs can easily be repurposed as songs for the New Depression, from the debt ceiling rap of “The Bottom Line,” to the new jam, “Rob Peter Pay Paul.” The audience with a mean age of about 40 was averaged with the help of kids who likely first heard of B.A.D. thanks to their appearance at the Coachella Festival this year.  Personally, I was just happy to be in the house with a friend, listening to two artists who I believe have merged music with message seamlessly for the duration of their respective careers, as well as during their time as collaborators.  B.A.D. are the true torchbearers of the work done by the Only Band That Matters, and I am truly sorry to hear that Brixton, an area with which the Clash was closely aligned, has been hard hit during yet another season of civil unrest in London. “I kinda wish I was home,” said Jones in answer to the question of the riots, then he struck up “Sightsee M.C.,” the 1986 B.A.D. song in which he and Strummer had as much as predicted the recent replay: “You can guarantee that she’ll burn tonight ‘cos England keeps the household white.”

Read interview with Don Letts, originally published in Crawdaddy! in September 2010.

More on Don Letts and the Clash in Keep on Pushing.

Filed under: Concerts, , , , , , , ,

The Concert For Bangladesh

Forty years ago this August, George Harrison and his musical mentor Ravi Shankar organized the mother of all benefits with an all-star line-up: The Concert for Bangladesh at Madison Square Garden. Reeling from one of the world’s worst cyclones on record, refugees from East Pakistan (Bangladesh)—engaged in a liberation struggle from West Pakistan—flooded Shankar’s native Bengal region in India, a land still compromised from the great migration during Partition in 1947. Harrison heard his friend’s plea,and though he had no previous organizational experience he called on friends Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Leon Russell and Ringo Starr. Dylan, making his first public appearance in two years, chipped in “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” and “Blowin’ in the Wind.” Harrison offered up “Here Comes the Sun” along with “Bangla Desh,” composed for the cause. Bangladesh set a precedent for immediate, organized concert charity in the name of tragedy and political strife, gathering the biggest names in music in the effort to preserve humanity.

The concert is streaming for free this weekend on  iTunes in honor of the 40th anniversary, while musicians have united with UNICEF in their Month of Giving to  bring relief to the children in the Horn of Africa, currently impacted by drought and famine.

Read more on the Concert for Bangladesh and the history of charitable music concerts in Keep on Pushing.

Filed under: Bob Dylan, Concerts, , ,

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