Regarding Patricia Calhoun's "The Art of the Deal," in the July 12 issue:
Patricia Calhoun has a lot of nerve to even talk about anyone else's artistic taste. Her paper looks like trash, reads like trash, and is trash.
Thank you, thank you, thank you, Ms. Calhoun, for your latest column. Anyone who loves the arts should pay close attention to what happens with this tier 3 funding. Given how quickly Denver City Council rolled over for the developers who want to tear down the Zeckendorf Plaza paraboloid, our arts money will not be in good hands.
The Plains Truth
Regarding Eric Dexheimer's "High Plains Grifters," in the July 5 issue:
The article on the Colorado Farms ranch was of special interest to me because of its location. For years I traveled those lonely highways at least twice a month, sometimes by way of Colorado Springs and other times up to Limon and then down Highway 71 to Otero County, my destination. As I think back now, I remember always seeing those beautiful ranch homes out in the middle of nowhere and the $50,000 tractors and other expensive equipment just sitting idle in the middle of what seemed like fields of dry weeds.
Regardless of who was traveling with me at the time, the conversation was always the same: How in the heck do these guys out in the middle of dry grassland and dust-covered fields manage to lead this kind of lifestyle, which by all indications seemed to be a very comfortable one? Little did we know that corruption is not only going on in the big city, but now has moved out to the prairies under the guise of subsidies to ranchers. This billion-dollar subsidy to farmers is a ripoff of every taxpaying citizen of this country, especially when those benefiting are investors from other states who, according to Dexheimer's article, know nothing about farming but plenty about taking advantage of government programs. There's a title for this kind of program in which people get paid by the government for doing nothing, and it's not "subsidies." It's called welfare--in this case, welfare for the rich.
I'm wondering what the Republican-controlled House will do about this kind of abuse, since the Democrats didn't seem to notice it. Of course, since they are getting ready to cut benefits to the poor and Medicare, I guess they'll have more money to throw at wealthy farmers for doing nothing.
The notion that contemporary popular music can exist independently of a capitalist market is a resilient one. Evidence of its resiliency can be found week after week in Michael Roberts's Backbeat section, where he's recently castigated local radio, current REM fans, KTCL's "Big Adventure" attendees and, last week, the latest incarnation of Lollapalooza ("Stick a Fork in It," June 12). In his view, all these pop-music events and industries are guilty of committing a cardinal sin in hippie ideology--the sellout. Those damn suits have killed the music again, man!
It's a familiar story--the music exists "back then" as a pure, unmediated expression of human emotion. Then, as the market grabs hold of it, its vitality is so exploited and drained that it becomes palatable only to "them"--those stupid "suckers separated from their wallets." It'd be an engaging argument if it hasn't been offered in one guise or another from Adorno and Horkheimer onward. From these folkist premises, the critical game becomes simply to identify the moment at which the market corrupts, with the critic's smug assurance that it always will.
What's even more striking than Roberts's tiresome "sellout" charges against musicians and "their art" is the contempt he shows for the audience for popular music. Again and again, the audience is massified and externalized--"5000 bodies" becoming a dim-witted, passive, undifferentiated "them"--incapable of independent thought and appreciation, unlike Roberts's "us." Interestingly, these are the same sort of audience descriptions that feminist media critics have exposed as subtly putting forth a masculine "active" media that overpowers and pacifies a feminized audience. For a progressive publication such as Westword, the cultural politics of such critical moves are shopworn at best and frankly regressive.
Instead of directing energies into an outdated critical project, let's start from the assumption that popular music is popular because of its deployment within culture and the market, not despite its presumed marketplace corruption. Once we take as a given that pop music is from its outset implicated in the market (as we all are), we can then start to question how meaning gets made in myriad dynamic, conflicted ways. We can't "sell out"--solely because we've all bought in through both our socialization and our consent. We're all lost in the supermarket; given that, it seems more productive to interrogate the ways active, differentiated groups of people cohere as audiences rather than playing pop-cultural status games over who saw R.E.M. at what moment in their rise in media coverage. Finally, only the scholars and canon-keepers care how Elvis did it in '57 or the Clash in '77. When you're eighteen, it only matters who's doing it now.
Big House on the Prairie
Regarding Alan Prendergast's "End of the Line," in the July 12 issue:
Sorry, but I have no pity for bombers and terrorists whose acts kill innocent people. So some of the prisoners in Florence say they're political prisoners? I say good riddance--and have fun with John Gotti.
Thank you, Westword and Alan Prendergast, for inspiring me to speak out in writing concerning the atrocity in Florence, Colorado. Of course, politicians and government officials were present en masse for the grand opening. Prisons make a strong statement for society: "We are out here, you are in there, and never the twain will have to meet."
But others were at Florence soon after a few prisoners had arrived. We were the people, representing all races and kinds of people, there to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters inside--who also are the people, and who will keep coming, ad infinitum, if nothing changes. Some were there because family members were already inside. It was not a great occasion for us. There was much sadness and many tears.
It is often stated that our prisons exist for the purpose of rehabilitation. Solitary confinement is not rehabilitation, and this prison is solitary confinement. I assume that the guards go home at night. But their days of imprisonment with their prisoners are far from exciting. Think for a while of the kind of violence this can breed.
None of us dares to say that we have not dreamt of, wished to do, or even done something violent to another person. For whatever reason, most of us have been able to control ourselves--or have gotten away with it. There are many types of violence. We did not used to talk of abuse in the home or marital rape. Some of us didn't even know a name to give, or else we had been so beaten down by violence of so many shapes and colors that we thought the violence against us must be justified because we didn't know how to please.
I tell you true: What is happening at Florence is no way for civilized human beings to treat any fellow human being!
Regarding Michael Roberts's "Let the Bad Vibes Roll":
As a third-generation Cajun musician living and performing with the Zukes of Zydeco in Colorado, I was initially amused but ultimately disheartened to read of Louis and Linda Cart's view of what constitutes traditional Cajun music here in Colorado.
Having worked professionally in Cajun music for over fifteen years, I have witnessed the Cajun explosion firsthand. In my travels and experiences, I have, like my colleagues the Carts, seen many examples of food and music, both Cajun and zydeco, that had nothing remotely to do with the culture I grew up with. It can be distressing to see a culture that you care for exploited and misrepresented.
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What is rare, however, is to find examples where someone gets it right. So I was pleasantly surprised when I first encountered Hugh Robertson and the Colorado Cajun Dance Band at a show in Breckenridge. Here was a band playing traditional "Dewey Balfa"-style Cajun music with all the energy and passion of the old master himself. Through Hugh I was introduced to Meredith Carson and the Swallow Hill Music Association. Since that time, I have been fortunate enough to participate in the fais do-dos and zydeco house parties that Swallow Hill sponsors.
I have yet to encounter the "wild parties" that Linda and Louis spoke about. Instead, I was able to witness a family-style event where it was a joy to see parent and child bouncing to a Cajun two-step or learning to dance an old-time waltz from one of the dance instructors. I was also impressed to find those involved with the music, dance and events to be very knowledgeable and respectful of Cajun traditions. By the way, some of those involved were actual Cajuns like myself who were drawn to this expression of our culture.
I'm moving back to Louisiana this fall to work on some music projects there. And if we can mix things up a bit in Louisiana, you can sure do it in Colorado. After all, if you are going to make gumbo, the first thing you have to do is stir up the roux.
J. Blake Castille