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L.A. Beat

The world as we know it

Society sliding down a slippery slope with censorship

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The last several years have witnessed some interesting turns when it comes to the topic of censorship. As a regular reader of news, a passionate music lover and something of a bookworm, I always find the whole issue of censorship interesting. Raised on science fiction fare like 1984 and Fahrenheit 451, the idea of a totalitarian "Big Brother" regime telling me what I can and not like has always frightened me.  

I was raised around action movies and rock and roll music. Over the years, I have been exposed to hundreds of 'offensive' words in scripts, lyrics and paperback novels, so to a certain extent, I am not easily offended.

Last year, Dr. Laura Schlessinger, one of North America's most popular syndicated talk show hosts stepped down after she used (in a conversation-relevant way) the word "nigger" on one of her daily call-in shows. She used it a number of times, attempting to explain how that offensive word is bandied about so casually by many inner city black people — and even more so by hip-hop artists and HBO comics. Because Dr. Laura is caucasian, a number of listeners took offense to her using the term aloud. Lambasted by many major news outlets, Dr. Laura chose to turn in her letter of resignation rather than publicly apologizing for what she said on-air.

“[My] First Amendment rights have been usurped by angry, hateful groups who don’t want to debate. They want to eliminate,” she said.

Several weeks ago, the censorship spotlight turned to Mark Twain's classic novel - Huckleberry Finn. Written in 1884, the book was written in a time when the 'n' word was commonplace. African-Americans were looked down upon, enslaved and discriminated against. In the pages of Huck Finn, there is no shortage of appearances by two characters known as "Nigger Jim" and "Injun' Joe" — two low-income characters who Huck Finn befriends.  

A new version of the book was recently released for use in classroom settings throughout the U.S. In the new version, every reference to the words 'nigger' and 'injun' have been removed; replaced in the new version by the words slave and Indian, respectively. The idea is that teacher's can adopt this new version if they are uncomfortable introducing racial history discussion to their classes.

Some other ongoing censorship controversies are related to 1951’s ' The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger and 1960's To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. Between them, these books contain racism, violence, anger, prostitution, and sexual behaviour. For decades, they have been used as study material in language classes, as they also touch on individualism, on history, on civic duty and daily life struggles. However, because some individuals are either easily offended or content to turn a blind eye to our own history, the titles are being considered for being redacted, with substitutions made for offensive language.

A number of things bother me about this 're-writing' decision and process. Originally, these authors were writing in a different period. Their works captured and created those worlds, passing down cultural memories and descriptions of our history to future generations. These books, offensive or not, have historical context stamped all over them — ranging from periods of abolition to emancipation; from racism and crime to courtroom justice; from attending private schools to growing up troubled and alone as a runaway in the big city.

The authors of these novels don't hit you over the head with the fact that certain characters are doing something wrong - but by the end of the books, readers are expected to understand the mistakes they made. The main characters in all three of these books were essentially uneducated and were living in a country (and time period) in which discrimination was rampant.  Yet in all three novels, the authors' goals included spreading tolerance and acceptance while forming new appreciation for those who are different.

Last but not least, it was announced recently here in Canada that an old classic rock song by Dire Straits is to be essentially banned from airplay, at least in its original format. 'Money for Nothing" was a huge hit released in 1985 my Mark Knopfler and company, and I've lost count of how many hundred times I've heard it on the radio.

Last week, one homosexual listener in St. John's, Newfoundland, took offensive to one verse in the song, calling it "derogatory to gay men."   

The lyrics in question included the word "faggot." The song is sung by the point of view of a grumpy store deliveryman who envies the life of an MTV rock star. Grumpy, macho and jealous, the singer calls the rock star the 'f' word, just like this:
"See the little faggot with the earring and the makeup,
Yeah buddy that’s his own hair.
That little faggot got his own jet airplane,
That little faggot he’s a millionaire."
 In our modern rock and roll, other curse words or insults would work just as well, it's true. F- words and S- words and D-words and more.

 This single track was released nearly three decades ago, and one single complaint from a St. John's listener has resulted in the following Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) command: the St. John's station must in future play only either a) an edited and trimmed version of the song or b) refrain from playing the song at all.  Keep in mind this is a rock and roll song that won a Grammy award; that has been played regularly across the country for three separate generations, and that is typically played in an edited format anyway, as the original album version is over eight minutes long - but still.

To summarize the CBSC statement, the council said while it realizes that Dire Straits used the word sarcastically, and its use may have been acceptable in 1985 when the album was first released, but is now deemed inappropriate.

This Dire Straits ruling only technically commands the St. John's station to play - edited or play none-at-all, but this essentially opens the door, meaning that any other Canadian radio stations can get in trouble it they air the song in its full uncensored format. It is difficult for me to understand how just one single complaint in three decades can result in this Council decision.

THE CBSC statement can be viewed in its entirety via this link:

Making these censorship matters more difficult is the fact that at any given moment, my television listings are full of silly, immature, partially offensive programs like Jersey Shore, MTV Cribs, Entourage and more. When I flip to music video channels, I am treated to songs called Sexy Bitch and Pimp Like Me.

Five minutes of regular evening programming contain 10 times the language that Dire Straits offer in their entire musical career. There are millions of books in the world with more being published every day.  Likewise, there are billions of songs in the world, hundreds of which are a lot more offensive than any by Dire Straits.


Tough to choose the best CDs of 2010

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This was another good year for a music hack like me. Many well established and experienced artists released their fourth or fifth albums in 2010, while hundreds of lesser known acts appeared on the scene with debut or sophomore releases. In previous years, I have spent countless hours putting together best of lists, trying to narrow down the yearly output into a list of those discs I could listen to again and again.
This year, thanks to the vast amount of excellent releases, the wide array of up and coming acts, and an ever-expanding taste in music, the traditional Top 10 list idea was nearly impossible for me to accomplish.

However, the following albums were some that rarely, if ever, left my CD player for more than a week at a time.  But please, after reading these 11 summaries, note the longer list of other albums that surely deserve your attention.



Chris Hibbard
Music Lover

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls – presenting my choices for the best music of 2010! (in no particular order)

Frightened Rabbitthe Winter of Mixed Drinks

This third album will play with your emotions, tugging your heartstrings in all sorts of different directions.  Every single track is solid gold, with amazing lyrics used in perfectly worded arrangements. Some songs inspire you to dance, others to sob quietly in a room by yourself. Some make you smile, others make you think.  A five-piece from Scotland, Frightened Rabbit are hard to classify. Call them indie pop, indie folk, indie rock – call them whatever you want – I call them simply amazing.

Shout Out Louds Work

From Stockholm, Sweden, the Shout Out Louds first came to my attention in 2005 through Lethbridge’s own little station that could, CKXU 88.3 FM. Their first album was promising, their second was catchy as hell, and this, their third – well, their star just continues to shine. ...
It's truly the best album, they've ever done. They offer a unique blend of 80’s pop and modern indie rock. If The Cure made sweet love to Belle and Sebastien and had a beautiful two-headed baby – that baby’s cry would sound a lot like Work. While they’re not breaking any new ground as far as rock and roll formulas go, the songs get stuck in your head for days – and you’ll feel sad when the memories are gone.

Five Alarm FunkAnything Is Possible

A hyperactive 11-piece afro-funk orchestra from Vancouver, this band’s third album almost manages to capture the infectious grooves and bash-on-a-bus atmosphere of a Five Alarm Funk live show. This band never ceases to amaze me, and these newest tracks of pure awesomeness turn any situation into an immediate dance party.  Lots of variety means it appeals to all ages, and the huge rhythm section turns what would otherwise simply be super fun funk tunes into something more – something mind-blowing.

KlaxonsSurfing the Void

The Klaxons first offering came out at an inconvenient time – somewhat forgotten in the shadow of other British dance-rock bands like Bloc Party, Hot Chip and the Arctic Monkeys.  But with Surfing the Void, all those other bands seem like whimpering little groups choking on galactic dust. This album is just demented enough to be a head-scratcher but with enough hooks to be thrilling. When each song ends, there’s a sense of breathless anticipation, as to how in the world they can top that – and then they do. It’s a bit experimental to be sure, but is so full of memorable moments and produced on such an epic scale that when it’s over, you’ll be reaching for the play button one more time.

Nas & Damian MarleyDistant Relatives

When I first heard that Bob Marley’s youngest son would be collaborating with one of today’s biggest rap superstars, I was skeptical. I expected it to be some sort of lame cash grab, with lacklustre reggae grooves disguised beneath half-ass hip hop lyrics; in other words, sub-par for both performers. But boy, was I wrong.
Not only do I now call it one of the year’s greatest albums, I’d go so far as to call it one of the 21st century’s best collaborations – period.  This album is full of beauty, full of magic, full of politically charged and uplifting lyrics. Simply put, this is a prime example of two trademark musical styles melding perfectly – intense and energetic one moment, anthemic and old-school the next. Gorgeous and surprising.



Protect our musical heritage and history

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Previous centuries saw songs memorized orally and poems rehearsed with body language. Decades ago, we stored music on Victrola theory paper, wax vinyl, then reel to reel, then 4-track recordings. It all led to our more familiar mediums: 8-tracks, vinyl, cassette tapes, compact discs and now digital audio. Discreetly, as the twentieth century progressed, our society transformed itself with the help of radio, television and computers.

Before we knew it, we were living in a new world, one in which the media that is all around us, is essentially acting as a recorder for our collective memory. However, have you ever stopped to consider what might be happening to the recorded evidence of our North American musical heritage?

Radio and television recordings are reflections of our everyday lives — “bringing the world into every home, mixing information with fiction, entertainment with culture, and becoming the window through which we now access our environment.”

Through the immediacy of audio and video, we began building a historical record of our human events that hasThe records of modern music are slowly disappearing. accumulated over time - so much so that we now have an almost infinite repository of our collective memory. While previous generations used pen and ink to record their arts and culture, our generations used cameras. Yet as happens with our own human minds over time, that memory gets more difficult to hold on to.

We often take for granted all of our modern technologies and the contributions they lend to archiving or library services are no exception. We assume that somebody, somewhere, is collecting all of the information we produce — storing it just in case. As it turns out however, our audio heritage has already begun to disappear — lost forever — musical art that will never have the chance to be heard again.

A report was released last year from America's Library of Congress’ National Recording Preservation Board department. This report, “The State of Recorded Sound Preservation in the United States: A National Legacy at Risk in the Digital Age,” was the first of its kind — meant to assess our modern infrastructure's capacity to save antiquated audio recordings.

This report was startling, detailing how many of our old master tapes have been disintegrating over time or have been lost to fire and flood. Even worse, many master tapes and original works were once transferred to digital mediums, but have since been lost to corruption and file degeneration. Information for the study was gathered through interviews, public hearings and written submissions with people working in the audio and archivist industries.

The main purpose of the report being to answer some very serious questions: exactly where is all the music, and how do we ensure it's stored safely somewhere — somewhere other than in a cardboard box in the back of a closet or behind glass in a museum?


Music lover gives many thanks for Mark Berube performance

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One great thing about being a music lover in Lethbridge is our city's appeal as a mid-size stopover for the many hard working bands and artists touring across the country.  Our smaller size prohibits us from getting the major acts that Calgary or Edmonton get, but our smaller venues attract with huge futures ahead of them.
Mark Berube lit up the Slice for Thanksgiving. Photo by Amit Dahan

For instance, just last Sunday - while many people were having turkey dinners with family, I headed on down to The Slice. I had purchased tickets two months earlier for a particular show - a musician named Mark Berube who was coming through town. I was quite excited to hear Berube was coming, as I had picked up one of his albums several years ago and was very impressed. 

Berube has toured relentlessly across North America and Europe, sometimes over 100 appearances per year for the last five years. Touring in support of two excellent albums, with a third full-length coming out early next year, he is slowly establishing himself as an international artist to watch.
He has been nominated for a Western Canada Music Award, a Canadian Folk Music Award and has played the Winnipeg Folk Festival. He even opened for The Cranberries in Switzerland a few years ago.

Not being a forward-thinker, I had no idea at the time that it happened to be the same date as Thanksgiving. Neither did Mark Berube, who had latched on to an available show slot that jibed with his appearance at this year's literacy celebration, Wordfest - held in Calgary and Banff.
 Since he had come all the way here from Montreal, he figured he might as well play a few stopovers while he was here, promoting his newest EP. 

While his timing couldn't have been worse - since there were maybe 13 people in attendance (three of which were bar staff), the show couldn't have been better. 

CKXU provides a true alternative to mainstream radio

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Some aspects of a city are defined by its radio stations. Most have a classic rock station, a modern dance station, a country station, and the always present rock-alternative station.  In direct contrast to these are the most unconventional forms – campus and community stations.

Guided by a different set of rules, these non-profit stations are unconventional, less restrained, and more spontaneous. In Lethbridge, this most exceptional form of radio is broadcast live to the city’s 85,000 citizens from the University of Lethbridge Student’s Union building – CKXU 88.3, Lethbridge’s True Alternative.

In 1972, CKXU was just a little club that huddled around a five-watt transistor. CKUL, as it was known then, struggled and fought and won the glory of being broadcast on 99.6 Cable FM – a luxury that is now almost a thing of the past.  Later relocated to a different building on campus, with the help of a generous Student’s Union grant, CKUL upgraded to local broadband FM 88.3 and changed their call-sign to CKXU.

As any similar station can attest, over the years and decades, the station has seen dozens of personnel and volunteer changes. While the station is overseen by three paid employees; the Station Manager, Program Director, and Music Director, it is the 75-plus volunteer programmers that keep the station broadcasting 24/7.

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