Tag Archives: history

The Brohammas Guide to Music

When you are young your world is narrow. You think you know things despite the fact that you have never traveled independently past the corner or that fence around the school yard- but this is your world. And we all think our world is the world.olyNellyFurtado

In my world there were only four kinds of people: old people, Rockers, Wavers, and that mush in between who liked top 40. These were strict, and the only, categories that existed. Later in my youth a 5th wing emerged that we called “hicks” (we were not nice kids) but before Garth Brooks showed up in 1990’s, there was no such thing as country music, and we all knew he was really just top 40 in a cowboy hat.

I have recently learned that there are some of my generation, or maybe just a touch after mine, who somehow missed things musical and consequentially have no context with which to understand the world around them. They are adrift, left to silly things like books, the New York Times, and critical thinking with which they attempt to understand society and they are failing. It is sad, and bad, and it hurts my feelings, and it is well documented that I have all the feels. Not only do I have all the feels but I am a trained sociologist and musical anthropologist (in the same exact way Rachel Dolezal is a black person). This is me doing my part to give back. I am making the world better.

Prologue

Ska was a musical movement that began in the late 1950’s Jamaica with a signature fast paced backbeat.  It spawned both reggae (by slowing down and infusing Rastafarianism) and punk (by speeding up and infusing rock and roll). Punk made it into the atmosphere of my youth, but reggae did not. That is till one day (no joke) I found an unmarked dubbed cassette tape in the gutter while walking home from 6th grade. I took it home and listened to it and didn’t understand a word. I loved it. LOVED it. I listened to it alone in my room till I learned to decipher what was going on, and what was going on, was tearing down the corrupt Babylonian system and returning to Zion where racial oppression and materialism do not exist. It was exactly what I had been learning in Sunday School and sounded much better. It was Bob Marley’s Talkin’ Blues album and no else could stand it. I didn’t care, I still love it. It wasn’t till “high” school that everyone else discovered Buffalo Soldier and Three Little Birds. They thought Bob was all about peace and smoking weed. He was not. He was about fighting off oppression, religious devotion… and weed.

I have never smoked anything, not tobacco, cloves, nor weed.

The Specials, Rudy (1979)  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IbqiCxEIeEo

The Wailers, Small Axe (1976)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WJJeLFvYsT0

Kinky Reggae- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bNxTigI_qjw

Slave Driver (1973)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OlfblmgOaYE

You Can’t Blame the Youth (1977)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M3pi-6fInng

PUNK (ish)

Ramones, while they all gave themselves the last name Ramone, they were not related and it was none of their real names. They are considered THE founders of American punk rock music. They made these fast, loud, and pop sounding songs and they looked ugly and they liked it that way. Sedated (1978)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZLlLtSG7xe4

The Clash, founded in 1976 in London, broke up in 1985 Along with the Ramones and the Sex Pistols. They are what punk is and will forever be. -should I stay or should I go (1982)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oGIFublvDes

Blondie, Everyone knows Blondie. Their (it is a bond not a person) songs are on commercials now. They were part of the New York punk scene and, like the Talking Heads, are considered another bridge from punk to New Wave. Heart of Glass (1978)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WGU_4-5RaxU

One Way or Another (1978)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KXewIR7Y7cc

Dead Kennedys, Were a San Francisco punk band that was more popular in England. Everyone else went the other direction. They were part of a big censorship law suit. Holiday in Cambodia (1978)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qr6NOsluHYg

Talking Heads, while you would never think it by their sound, this is considered an essential punk band and the founders of New Wave. With this “founding” many consider punk to have died; with some following the Talking Heads into a new wave of music, and others sticking more with the loud chaos of thrash. Punk did -NOT- turn into heavy metal. Talking Heads were art school students. You can tell. Once in a Lifetime (1983)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I1wg1DNHbNU

Suicidal Tendencies, from Venice California they were considered a Thrash Band. I don’t know who listened to them in CA, but in Utah all the new wave kids listened to them. The song Institutionalized is the best song ever to help “outsiders” understand the mindset of white middle class suburban teenage boys. Institutionalized (1983)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aYItTxqTc38

NEW WAVE

Oingo Boingo formed in 1972, Lead singer Danny Elfman went on to write the scores for the first run of Batman movies, the Simpsons, Pee-Wees Big Adventure, Nightmare Before Christmas and pretty much any movie music that’s creepy. Most People Know the song Dead Man’s Party but to better illustrate the problematic creepiness of Oingo Boingo, try this song- Little Girls (1981)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H2LQMElLoLs

Or Stay (1990)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DwRnW89EsxI

U2 is from Dublin and started making records in 1980. It is hard to underestimate how big they were in both the 80s and 90s. Bono, the old guy who is always about some social cause, was/is the lead singer and he has been about causes since way back then. U2 was that magical kind of band that balanced singing about meaningful things without sacrificing the music. They could sing about MLK (which wasn’t the cool thing to do back in the 80’s) or just sing some introspective love song. I will admit that I stopped listening to them with the Achtung Baby album. They changed their sound and remained relevant. I did not. They have a million songs but I like this one. It displays the signature sound of 80’s U2 (not 90’s U2), along with the mainstream-rock-with-a-message that made them acceptable to the punk/New Wave crowd. Sunday Bloody Sunday (1983)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EM4vblG6BVQ

Violent Femmes, formed in 1981 and were discovered while busking in Milwaukie. First Album released in 1983 and contained songs that have now been re-made like Blister in the Sun. They are the most sing-a-longable band ever. Gone Daddy Gone (1983)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ekL7o8BQkZM

Midnight Oil, Australian band. Diesel and Dust album hit #1 in Australia in 1985 but it took a lil bit before the Americans got wind. This band is a great example of the singing about social causes from a position of privilege, toward others similarly situated. Which was very much an 80’s white people thing.Beds Are Burning (1985)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ejorQVy3m8E

INXS, Another Australian band that was a top 40 hit both here and there, but “Wavers” still liked them. Devil Inside was their biggest. This one is better. More representative of their 80’s vibe. Need You Tonight (1987)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PrZZfaDp02o

The Smiths, possibly the most New Wave band ever. Synthesized, artsy, and incredibly depressed. They formed in England in 1982 as a Post Punk band (the lead singer “Morrisey” wrote a book on the punk band New York Dolls before the Smiths formed). With songs like Girlfriend in a Coma and a very 80’s not quite androgynous but kind of androgynous look, they ARE New Wave., – Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now (1984)  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TjPhzgxe3L0

R.E.M. a New Wave staple out of Athens Georgia and the first album (cassette) I ever bought with my own money. “Stand” was their break out hit but the One I Love (1987) is a better representation of why their fans loved them. They were odd sounding… and depressed- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j7oQEPfe-O8

Depeche Mode, while I claim that the Smiths is the most New Wave band ever, Depeche mode is the most “iconic” new wave band. English, Gay but their videos had them playing straight, but we all knew they were an incredibly gay band. No one cared. And by no one I mean kids and adults weren’t speaking to us because we were kids and our parents were Boomers. Policy of Truth (1990)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M2VBmHOYpV8

Everything Counts (1983)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1t-gK-9EIq4

Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians, One hit wonder but kind of represents the “mood” that grew into Grunge. It wasn’t the noise. It was the mood. What I am (1988) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tDl3bdE3YQA

Red Hot Chili Peppers. You need to understand how old these guys are. They put out their first album in 1984, had a top album in 1999, and released another album just last year. They won’t die. They are like my generations version of the Rolling Stones in that they just keep playing, live way too hard, and just won’t die. Forget their new stuff because-meh-. The RHCP used to be all about silliness (and nastiness) and Flea, the bassist, is a real musician. Catholic School Girls Rule is agreat example of what they were all about but there is a little bit of nudity and a whole bunch of stuff a young Mormon kid should have had nothing to do with… but I did. This is their first time on TV (1984) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jZRdjZFffnQ

Under the bridge was their first break out top 40 hit, but what most people don’t know is that it was about the lead singers struggle with Heroin. The band one of its original members die from an overdose. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GLvohMXgcBo

The Breeders, was formed when the bassist of the punk band the Pixies wanted to be a lead singer. She formed the Breeders. They were in this weird space, that made sense to us then, as a post punk, sorta new wave but kinda becoming grungy right as grunge began to be a thing. Cannonball (1993)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fxvkI9MTQw4

GRUNGE

Pearl Jam was a bigger deal than Nirvana up until Kurt Cobain committed suicide. Nirvana sort of worked their way into the public sphere while Pearl Jam just kind of exploded on the scene with this song about a kid killing himself in front of his class. There were a lot of Seattle grunge bands on air around then and while Nirvana was grittier (I avoided saying grungier) than Nirvana, Alice in Chains was grittier than Nirvana. Eddie Vedder’s vocals had this certain sound, and could be understood… and he was trying to say at least a little something meaningful. Oddly enough, the drummer on this song is the same drummer from Eddie Brickell and the New Bohemians. New Wave kids liked Pearl Jam, and grunge, because it was depressing- Jeremy (1991)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MS91knuzoOA

Sound Garden was a Seattle band that was around before Pearl Jam, but didn’t hit it big till they all exploded on the scene together.- Black Hole Sun (1994)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3mbBbFH9fAg

Alice in Chains, was around (in Seattle) long before grunge was a thing, but they didn’t get popular till grunge became a thing. Of all that crew they were maybe not the grungiest, but they were the grimiest and the rockiest. When the other guys were listening to ACDC to get ready for a football game, I was listening to Alice in Chains and Pantera. Rooster (1992)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uAE6Il6OTcs

Primus is the band that plays the Southpark theme song. They were a sort of bridge from punk/wave over into grunge. They were not depressed but they were loud and “quirky”. The Bassist is perhaps the greatest ever. Flea might give him a run for his money but they don’t exactly do the same thing, because no one does the same thing as the bassist for Primus (Les Claypool plays bass and is the lead singer). If you have not heard this song before, and loud screeching isn’t your thing, stick through it till it gets to the repeated chorus. This song is unlike anything or anyone else out there. Tommy the Cat (1989)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r4OhIU-PmB8

Beck, Loser- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YgSPaXgAdzE

Blind Mellon was not grunge but was there at the same time. Blind Mellon is what you get if Pearl Jam had lived in a sunnier place, like LA, which is where they are from. This song must be included more for the video and the fact that everyone from this time remembers the bumble bee girl. She changed our lives, or at least how we view bumble bee man on the Simpsons. -No Rain (1992) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3qVPNONdF58

Smashing Pumpkins, Is what new wave kids listened to when they were worn out from listening to Grunge. It was kind of artsy, moody, and the lead singer was just creepy enough for a Cure fan to accept him. Today (1993)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xmUZ6nCFNoU

Weezer, is the band that took us back toward new wave after grunge died. New Wave could not be resuscitated so we got Indie instead. Sweater Song (1994)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LHQqqM5sr7g

POST PUNK-NEW WAVE-GRUNGE

Mighty Mighty Bosstones are kind of the band who took punk and ska and then created the thing that No Doubt later made popular. Ironically the Bosstones later became kind of popular with a watered down version of themselves and may have actually killed the genre they created. Someday I Suppose (1993)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gmOmAuhAQbE

No Doubt, IS early 90’s Orange County. They got, and then got more, pop success, but they were a punk-ska band. They, or really Gwen, is the precursor to the Spice Girls “girl power” bubble gum. Trapped in a box (1992)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DccmKKnizFY

Green Day, Is the early 90’s punk band that those of us who liked the first version of punk, didn’t really believe were punk. It is like they wanted us to believe they didn’t care what you thought about them, but were kind of trying to be cute at the same time (cute like pretty). So in that way I sort of see them as the founders of what it means to be a hipster. Watch them, then go back and watch the Dead Kennedys. You will see what I mean. Basket Case (1994)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NUTGr5t3MoY

Sublime is the neo punk band that we actually believed were punk… in a California way not a NYC way. To hammer that point home, the lead singer suffered a drug induced death in 1996. What I Got (1996)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Uc3ZrmhDN4

Sum 41 is included here just to help illustrate for those who might be a little young, the musical evolution of “punk”. This Canadian band might not be punk in a Ramones kind of way, they did pick up a little of Green Day’s gloss without appearing to take themselves quite as serious. Sum 41 is what happens when No Doubt and Green Day have a baby and the Clash are the grandparents sitting in a rocking chair complaining about kids not caring about real issues. In Too Deep (1999)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=emGri7i8Y2Y

Rage Against the Machine, Is what happens when kids listen to both Metallica and Public Enemy. They are more metal than punk, but would probably smash a hair band with their guitars. They are loud because they are making a point and that point should piss you off…. Hence the Public Enemy part. People who loved loud music listened to them, as did the socially conscious people-and those aren’t always the same people. Killing in the Name (1992)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bWXazVhlyxQ

System of a Down. So it goes Chuck Berry>Led Zeppelin>Metallica+Rage Against the Machine=System of A Down. Chop Suey (2001)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CSvFpBOe8eY

Heavy Metal

ACDC does not appear on the t-shirt of Beavis and Butthead by mistake. They are the grandfathers of what became heavy metal. They formed in 1973 and still tour. The Rolling Stones are representatives of an era, ACDC are representatives of a genre. Thunderstruck (1990) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v2AC41dglnM

Twisted Sister could not have existed at any other time than the 80’s. The lead singer bears a striking resemblance to Sarah Jessica Parker. Also, who can pass up a young Gary Busey? We’re Not Gonna Take It (1984)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V9AbeALNVkk

Guns N Roses is THE quintessential (because that word has to be in a musicology somewhere) Heavy Metal hair band of the 80’s. There are bands that were more glam rock than them (Def Leppard, Whitesnake, Etc.) and others that were “heavier” (Metallica, Iron Maiden), but no one was more pure rock and roll, cigarette smoking, whiskey drinking, groupie groping excess than G&R and their guitarist “Slash” is one of the all-time great metal guitarists, or just plain guitarists (if that is the word for a guitar player) ever and the lead singer pulled off feminine tough guy better than all the rest. Sweet Child O Mine (1987)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1w7OgIMMRc4

Welcome to the Jungle- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o1tj2zJ2Wvg

Metallica might not be the grandfathers, but are the epitome, of heavy metal. They are loud, fast, tough, and are not trying to be sexy even a little bit. Lars the drummer is famous for having no sense of humor. Enter Sandman (1991)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CD-E-LDc384

Def Leppard, This is glam rock. Pour Some Sugar on Me (1987)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AQ4xwmZ6zi4

Rap, Hip-Hop to Neo Soul

I am late to the game. I am so late to the game that I shouldn’t even be using that phrase. But I listen now (sort of) and I have listened back. That is not the story here, but what this is, is the place to explain that back when New Wave and Heavy Metal were going on, there were in fact such things as black people, and they weren’t all Michael Jackson. MTV, the radio, and genres were pretty separate back then… at least for suburban white kids in Salt Lake City. Which is what I was. So all I can do is explain how it was for me and some of us back then- and then draw a line back towards a bunch of stuff I missed. Which is a shame. Which is something that should be considered on a greater societal and historic level. I will be making some sweeping generalizations below knowing full well that some might read it and say, “nuh-uh, I knew about…”, but I am sticking to my guns because my point is still generally true. If you are the “nuh-uh” person, admit that you were a you back then, and not a we.

None the less-rap:

Beastie Boys start off this list not because they were the first or the best, but because they and heir music did, and in so many ways still do, occupy this odd space between social groups. Aletarnative and New Wave radio stations played the Beastie Boys. We thought they were “alternative”. They were white and they played instruments. In fact, they began as a thrash band in NYC being much more CBGB than  Run DMC. But none of us really knew that. We just knew they were wild and wanted to party and that was the extent of their songs. Little did we (we white suburban kids) know that the Beastis were part of a vanguard group that were pushing a dance club “thing” into a full-fledged genre. Their sound and demeanor endeared them to the punkish skate boarding Tony Hawk sorts (because Tony Hawk was young then) but they were solidly in –physically- the Rap scene. Their second album Paul’s Boutique (1989) was a pioneer in the sampling arena. But in the end we (we suburban white kids) just wanted to jump around being loud and obnoxious. So did the Beasties. Fight For Your Right (1986)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eBShN8qT4lk&list=PLJdDgfq34Jz1sPQT7P4RUd7HvqXG29CIX

Hold It Now (1986)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oB0NM6reiRE

 Salt-N-Peppa are solidly in the pantheon of Hip-Hop gods but we didn’t know that back then. All we knew is that this video some how found its way onto MTV, it was catchy enough that we all knew it, and it was obvious what they “meant” and that is a universal language. Push It (1986)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vCadcBR95oU

DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince is the very first rap artist I can remember hearing and the first one I can recall enjoying. Kids today might see/hear this song and think “Oh yeah, this is the Fresh Prince of Bell Air, aka Willow and Jayden’s Dad” but no- THIS was the Fresh Prince that allowed the TV show to happen later. Back in the 80’s this was just good time party rap. And regular white kids loved it. Parents Just Don’t Understand (1988)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jW3PFC86UNI

Tone Loc and few others (MC Hammer, Vanilla Ice, Fesh Prince etc.) had a couple top 40 or “crossover” hits that made their way into our environment but they were all sort of single blips into the pop world rather than representatives of a movement or genre. Rap was maybe a kind of thing, but it was “over there” and we didn’t pay any real attention unless something looked fun. Then we the pop people would reach over there and grab some of the fun. Wavers and rockers would never do such a thing, but pop people dabbled. Wild Thing (1989)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=387ZDGSKVSg

Young MC– Refer to Ton Loc above. Bust a Move (1989)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xy4FXhkm6Nw

Slick Rick tells stories. He wasn’t trying to be a clown or a gangster, yet he was funny without being soft. His songs have since been sampled by pretty much everyone and it is relatively well established that he is the grandfather of storytelling rap. We (we suburban white kids) had no idea he existed. Children’s Story (1988)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HjNTu8jdukA

Public Enemy We (we white suburban white kids) knew Public Enemy existed in the same way we were aware of Spike Lee. In other words we knew they existed but were not for “us”. We were stupid. Kids who has seen the train wreck television show Flavor of Love Fight might not appreciate that Flava Flav was part of what was perhaps the most important protest or empowerment group of that time period. They were musically, or artistically gifted, they were cool, and they were not shy about having a message, yet unlike the New Wave artists Public Enemy was not speaking to the privileged while similarly situated but rather rallying those without privilege to push and shove against privilege- and power. Fight the Power (1990)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8PaoLy7PHwk

Don’t Believe the Hype (1988)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9vQaVIoEjOM

De La Soul. New Wave is to Rock and Roll what De La Soul is to Hip-Hop. Except for the part where a whole bunch of rock people hate, and hated New Wave. I haven’t met anyone who loves rap who even dislikes De La Soul. They were witty, had a great sound, and were just plain good. Me Myslef and I (1991)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FJEzEDMqXQQ

Tribe Called Quest has been described by some critics as the most intelligent and artistic rap group of the 90’s. The fact that the three foundational members remained artistically productive after the crew broke up in 1998. All that being said, the Tribe is great music and could, and should have been recognized as such by more than just the “rap community” (with everything that implies insinuated). But I completely missed them. I may have heard their name, but they got zero attention from me, or most people like me (white people), and were even ignored by the pop white people (who I don’t claim were “like” me). A big reason why they were ignored, and a whole problematic scenario (see what I did there?) will start with the next artist. In the mean time this classic song doesn’t just include the Tribe but a whole bunch of everyone including the head jester of hip-hop, Busta Ryhmes. Consider that a bonus. Scenario (1991)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q6TLWqn82J4

Snoop Dog. It boggles my mind that this guy has become such a joke, as in intentionally funny, doing cooking bits as the harmlessly high foil to Martha Stewart. Today he is best known for some sort of half baked Snoop specific shizzle fizzle styled slang but back when he first came out he had the whole white world terrified. In retrospect we should have been able to see the clown but we were too busy thinking he and every other gang banger (synonym for rapper) were at any given moment about to drive around the corner and kill every last innocent one of us. I’m not exaggerating.  Not only did we think Snoop Dog was about to kill all of us, but we were convinced that what he was doing was the very definition of rap. Somehow (side eye) we (the white people) completely forgot about DJ Jazzy Jeff, Ton Loc and the idea that a rapper might not be trying to kill- or rape- someone. I am not being melodramatic. If you ask almost any old white man, the kind that are old enough to be my parent, to name one rapper, odds are they will only be able to come up with “Snoopy Dog” and then will undoubtedly go on a rant about saggy pants, stupidity, and handbaskets. All of that is due in large part to the fact that Snoop and his California contemporaries did something magical that caught on and crossed over. All of the Rockers in the neighborhood took off their ACDC t shirts, but on an a Raiders puffy coat and tucked a blue bandan in their sagging pants pocket. This, this right here, is when hip hop started to take over become mainstream. That is not to say that “Gangster Rap” was ever really mainstream, but before this time rap was an occasional blip not a BOOM. MC Hammer blipped. These guys from Compton and Long Beach crossed over in numbers and sent old white people running for the hills. Gin & Juice (1993)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DI3yXg-sX5c

Dr. Dre was a founding member of NWA, one of the great architects of the West Coast sound, but NWA happened before downloads, streaming, or even CDs outpaced cassettes. So those of us who weren’t trying to know NWA had no clue. Even if we had known, and I argue even those near me who did know, didn’t really get it. But we knew Dre. I include this song, and Dre, because this video and song captures everything the people like me in that period, thought about rap. I didn’t get it. In large part I didn’t get it because nothing in my life resembled the world they were rapping about and the only context I had in which to place this G thing, whatever that meant, were some kids around the burbs who were trying a little extra hard to be hard. Nuthin but a G Thang (1992)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0F0CAEoF4XM

Cypress Hill is included here because it illustrates a point. Somehow (side eye) we (idiot new wave white kids like me) thought the Beastie boys were great but this song was somehow stupid… and a little bit scary. Yet a million years later I still know that hook and that beat, and overall sound really because it is so very infectious. Insane in the Brain (1993)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RijB8wnJCN0

Diggable Planets was releasing music at the exact same time as the gangsters, yet people like me (white suburban kids) completely missed them. Had we heard them we would have tried to argue they weren’t really rap but something different. We were stupid. Digable Planets is great music. Rebirth of Slick (1993)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cM4kqL13jGM

Where I’m From (1993)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sl-pjb7y3y0

Arrested Development. We could tell at the time that Arrested Development was talking about important things, especially when compared to the Beastie Boys, but we just thought they were quirky. We did not, and most of us still do not, know what Afrocentric is/was. Arrested Development was Afrocentric. But we thought rap was just Snoop Dog. Mr.Wendell (1992)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wyDjRd0Tjss

Tennessee (1992)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6VCdJyOAQYM

Pharcyde, because it is classic and we missed it (I didn’t say it. See what I did there?). Passin Me By (1992)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QjsPG0Kspxo

Black Sheep, Again, because its classic. See above. The Choice is Yours (1991)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K9F5xcpjDMU

Craig Mack Have I made my point? Flava in Ya Ear (1994)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GNFqMx0gY7I

Tupak Shakur is one of two names people will bring up if you ask “who was the greatest of all time?” There are children who might say MR. Beyonce is in the running, and they might have a point, but the correct answer must include an argument about Tupak and Biggie. This argument may or may not end the way these two rappers ended, and it could also be argued that the reason they are considered is because of how they ended, but it is more than that. Tupak, possibly more than anyone else (that I know of but we have already established that I am not only not an expert but have historically been stupid) presented both ends of the angry gang banger who is going to shoot everyone and the conscious guy who loves his community and his mother. He came off as authentic on both fronts despite having previously been a back up dancer for the guys who brought us the Humpty Dance.

Brendas Got a Baby (1991) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NRWUs0KtB- I

Dear Momma (1995) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mb1ZvUDvLDY

California Love (1996)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5wBTdfAkqGU

Notorius B.I.G is the NYC foil to the LA Tupak. He is also the reason any of us know who Puff Daddy is. While Tupak had a bazillion of his songs released after his death, Biggie had a zillion songs about him released after his death, all made by Puffy. Ready to die Big Poppa (1994)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=phaJXp_zMYM

Common, Recently won an Oscar for a song he did with John Legend but he is not new. He is a staple in the stable of those considered “conscious” rappers. I Used to Love Her (1994)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C99iG4HoO1c

Fugees were the group that solidified rap’s place in the main stream without being gangsta and without being bubble gum. Fu-Gee-La (1996)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MPlb9HoOCxs

Lauryn Hill was a Fugee, then she became a hip hop diva- in a good way. Most importantly, she is the mother of Bob Marley’s grandchildren. Do Wop (1998)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T6QKqFPRZSA

Roots, go way back before the whole Jimmy Fallon hook up. Proceed (1995) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O5TUqdxqHS0

You Got Me (1999)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MJCHeEQV454

Erykah Badu is THE God mother of neo soul and is my favorite (of now not of all time *Bob*) ,

On & On (1997)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-CPCs7vVz6s

Love of My Life (2002)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dNk3R23Twgw

Tyrone (1997)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YY2-mrsXgMM

Tracy Morgan, Simone (2007)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FeSNt9YiUqo

India Arie, India Arie (2001)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mq86e4Fhja0

 

If you lived in Philly when I did, and where I did, you should recognize all of these places:

Musiq Soulchild, Just Friends (2000)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i7zsG3XFUd8

Jill Scott Long Walk (2000)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TSYMKUtNuw8

Getting In the Way(2000) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OiR6sU1igKM

When I first met the girl I would later marry I called my friend Riley and told her I met this girl who looked like a cross between Halle Berry and Left Eye from TLC. He laughed and called me stupid because that doesn’t exist, and if it did, she wouldn’t pay attention to me. When he finally met her he instantly apologized. Left Eye is the one in the red pajamas. We met in 1999. Had I still been the me from 1992 it would have never worked.

TLC, Creep (1994)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LlZydtG3xqI

Having grown up when and where I did, I did not appreciate rap. Then, when I was 19, I found myself sleeping in an apartment on Bankhead Highway in Atlanta and everyone within a ten mile radius bought the Goodie M.O.B. album Soul Food and played it as loud as possible for at least a year. Hearing those songs, then, in that place, I began to “get it”. At least a little bit. Whether or not I did, or ever could, “get it”, I began to love it. Cee-lo was a member of Goodie M.O.B. before he was a member of Gnarls Barkley, and before he was a judge on the Voice. It was mostly him who converted me.

Goodie M.O.B. Sesame Street. Skip to minute 2:58 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jHGx7BstZg8

Common and Ceelo together- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CodmNmI7XSk

Outkast is older than kids realize. Git Up Git Out (1994)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CssC- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jHGx7BstZg8DY4lO8

In due time (1997)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gvMCA9jHFZ0

Considering how quickly and easily I dove down this rabbit hole I now realize that I was indeed paying attention to something when I was younger, just not the things that would have been productive for my professional development.

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Hidden Figures… and Signatures: Black History Month

William Benjamin Gould was a slave in Wilmington North Carolina. His owner Nicholas Nixon would rent Gould out as a plasterer working on mansions and public buildings around town.  When he was finishing up the interior trim work inside the luxurious Bellamy mansion, he did a risky thing for a slave, he signed his work. He scrolled his name on the inside of a section of some ornate molding before he attached it to the wall. No one knew of it till 100 years later when his signature was uncovered during a mansion renovation. It was quite the find, not just because it was unexpected, and not just because slaves weren’t supposed to be able to write, but mostly it was unexpected because historians actually knew who William Gould was.bellamysignaturebetter

In 1862, one year after that mansion was completed, William and six other slaves stole a small boat and rowed it out into the Atlantic Ocean where the Union Army had a series of ships blockading the Southern coast. They were scooped up by the USS Cambridge and now finding himself a free man, Gould joined the Navy.

At the war’s end Gould settled down and started a family in Massachusetts. He became an active member of the community and his story appeared in occasional articles in various periodicals. Not long after the signature was discovered in Wilmington, Gould’s diary was published as a book titled, Diary of a Contraband.

Remarkable story.

Even more remarkable is that out of the millions of black people who have lived in North America since the late 1600’s, we have such comparatively few records of their names or their stories. We know some, like Fredrick Douglass, but there were so many more. There was Henry “box” Brown, or Crispus Attucks, or William Gould. Black people have been present and participating in every step of the United States’ evolution and it is when we consider the level of that contribution that we realize how they are disproportionately invisible; so few names and even fewer stories. But if we learn to look closer, there is still a legacy.whole-hand

Trinity Church in New York City was built by black men. So was the U.S. capital. Dozens of universities, Harvard, Princeton, UNC, UVA, were built by black people. We can imagine that somewhere, even if only symbolically, in all these buildings, hiding under the plaster molding, are thousands of signatures just like Gould’s. The dome at Monticello, the columns at Mt. Vernon, and the masonry walls of St. Augustine, all built by people with hidden names. Look for them. Ask about them. On Bourbon Street, in Charleston, or even St. Louis, look for the black people. They were there.

But you have to look.

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Marginalization

I am a Mormon. You cannot tell that just by looking at me, but it is very much a part of who I am. I could even argue that it is everything that I am. But you cannot really see it.img_5762

There are plenty of Mormons who like to think their Mormonism is visible, that we glow, but this is simply self-affirmation. You can’t see it. It isn’t like Orthodox Judaism or some forms of Islam with proscribed hair and clothing. We don’t even have any actual symbols to announce our faith. No crosses, no Star of David, no half moon and star. Some of us have created symbols, like Angel Moroni lapel pins, but these came “from the streets” not from God. But we know our own. We know who we are because we are obsessed with ourselves.

This is arguably why many people do not like us. We do not sit quietly in a corner, we let you know who we are. We knock on your door and ask you to join us. Odds are, if you want to be left alone, we still won’t leave you alone. This is one reason why, even if I am personally leaving people alone, they still might throw beer bottles at me, swerve their motorcycle to run me off the road, mock my faith loudly during board meetings, accusingly tell me what I believe in job interviews, misrepresent me in classrooms, sing songs mocking me in bars, spit chewed food at me, or the ever hard to really pin down- deeply ignore me. I have experienced all of these things personally.

Sometimes it happens without the other person knowing my faith. They say something negative with no intent to upset me because they don’t know. But most people I know, know what I am, and when the digs come they are intentional. It will not happen, but theoretically, I could always choose to simply not be Mormon. People leave the faith all the time. It isn’t like my last name ties me to an ethnicity like say, Lifshitz or Austerlitz, though I should say that names are how I know Ammon Bundy and Manti Teo were born Mormon. I could hide if I really wanted too, but odds are if I ever became somebody I would get outed. We out our own all the time.

For instance Derek and Julianne Hough, Aaron Eckhart, Ryan Gosling, all born Mormon. Roseanne Barr’s family joined when she was a kid and thanks to my favorite Pop-up Video bubble, the singer Jewel was Mormon till the age of 8. This was my favorite insider Mormon joke because we all know you cannot officially be Mormon until you turn 8, but the point is we are self-obsessed enough that even if you leave us, we will find and claim you. Just the other week I got a text while sitting in church informing me that the real life Rudy, the guy the movie portrayed, had just been baptized a Mormon.

There are some good explanations for this obsession; both historically and due to what it is like to live as a Mormon day-to-day. For example the governor of Missouri signed an extermination order in 1838 authorizing the use of deadly force to remove all Mormons from the state. During much of those years Mormons lived as refugees fleeing from place to place relying on each other for survival. Identifying and sticking with our own was critical. Then we went and founded a city. Then we went and founded a whole bunch more. Salt Lake, Las Vegas, San Bernardino, all Mormon. But manifest destiny couldn’t be stopped and in 1857 the United States declared war on the Mormons in Utah and occupied Salt Lake. As a kid my family regularly drove past the army base originally established by federal forces to keep us Mormons in line.

But that was forever ago, everyone who lived in those days is long gone. Yet this era is such a part of the Mormon cultural legacy that to this day every congregation across the United States send their youth on small summer “treks” where they dress in 19th century clothing and pull rickety human powered wagons called “hand carts” for a week in the woods to ingrain in these kid’s minds what their predecessors endured. If you visit Utah in July you will learn that July 24th, “Pioneer Day” commemorating the arrival of Mormon pioneers into the Salt Lake Valley is celebrated bigger and louder than the 4th. We refuse to forget.

But it isn’t just history, being Mormon today does draw some attention. While you cannot see my Mormonism, the fact that I have never tasted coffee, or alcohol, or that I was willfully a virgin at my wedding, have put me in some serious spotlights over the years, especially in high school and college. I weathered that storm, but even in the professional world I have had bosses question whether or not I could be an adequate host to important accounts if I was unwilling to drink at the bar with them or share a good glass of wine. I was of course willing to host clients at a bar, but I have learned through repeated experience, I repeat-much experience, that most people are uncomfortable drinking with a person who isn’t doing the same. Yet this one little thing which is such a miniscule part of my faith and an even smaller aspect of who I am as a person, has become my defining characteristic to a huge portion of my associates; clients, rugby teammates, neighbors, colleagues. It becomes rather annoying having that same conversation time and time again, “No not even a little bit. Nope never have. No it isn’t really that hard. Yes hats off to me and yes I still like karaoke.” My religious views on sexual expression influence what I watch in movies, television and online. I love movies and television, and the internet, but every Oscar season there is a large swath of nominated productions that I have not, nor will ever see. This makes me different than other cinephiles and makes me almost unable to meaningfully communicate in those circles.

Faithful Mormons are largely expected to marry other Mormons.

This can make things a little tricky if you don’t live around a critical mass of other Mormons. This is one of many reasons why so many Mormons want to live in Utah, or send their kids to BYU. They want some options, they want to fit in, and they want to be part of their people. Some of us feel this desire to be among our own very strongly, some of us are annoyed by the idea, but we all understand it. I am an American to the core, but having grown up in Utah, I have felt very much the expatriate living in other states. Looking back, at both my youth and my home state, I am a bit amused at how much I, and we, felt like ex pats even when we were living in Utah.

This is why the local Deseret News regularly prints lists of every identifiable Mormon playing in the NFL, the NBA, NCAA, Olympics, or on TV, or in congress. We take a special pride whenever one of our own does anything. I never watched the old MTV show Real World, till a Mormon named Julie went on the show and embarrassed me. I watched every episode of that season. There is a website, www.famousmormons.org that attempts to list every Mormon doing anything, the church puts out an official portfolio of monthly magazines (Ensign, Liahona, New Era, the Friend) yet you can find all sorts of extra Mormon themed magazines not published by the church, but more just published for Mormons by Mormons (LDS Living Magazine). We have created our own books, book stores, television stations, network of blogs (the bloggernacle), music, schools (SVU), all above and beyond what our hyper organized church produces and we cling to such even when we are already living amongst our own. We are self-obsessed.

But I get it. Sometimes I get tired being different and just want to relax with a group of my “brothers and sisters”. Sometimes I want to watch something like Napoleon Dynamite with hard to explain inside jokes. Sometimes I would like to see a doctor who understands why I might be a couch potato yet have this health nut styled prohibition on tobacco and alcohol, yet won’t drink green tea. I would love a dance company for my daughter to join that understands why she won’t train on Sunday. But I also want to live in New York.

So I get it.

Because I get it, I refuse to listen to any white Mormon who makes the complaint that black people think too much about race. I reject any critique coming from people like me regarding black colleges, black television, a congressional black caucus, or a black history month. It is hard being an “other” in America. I know this because I am one. And as one who has experienced how “hard” it is to be Mormon in current society, yet only glimpsed what it might be like to be black, I testify that America is harder on black people than it is on Mormons.

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The White Side of Black History: the cow jumped over the moon

Peter Tosh had a song with the lyrics, “We teach the youth to learn in school, that the dish ran away with the spoon. We teach the youth to learn in school, that the cow jump over moon. So you can’t blame the youth (when they don’t learn), you can’t fool the youth.”

It wasn’t exactly a hit single but he was making a point. Our children are not stupid, but we often treat them as if they are, and even worse, sometimes we make them that way. For instance, when my oldest was in 1st grade and just learning about holidays, which were very exciting since they included lots of activities in class, and days off from school, she asked about Martin Luther King Day. Her teacher explained that a long time ago black and white people weren’t allowed to be together. Martin Luther King Jr. thought this was wrong and helped get those laws changed so we could all be together. It was a nice age appropriate story, except is was horribly misguiding.

It was misguided not only in this instance but also in that this foundational error rarely gets corrected throughout the entirety of most American kid’s classroom education.

The soft pedaling of lessons on American racial history is damaging because we do everything we can to remove perpetrators. There are great injustices in history, and those who suffered through them did some amazing things in overcoming thanks to remarkable leaders like Fredrick Douglass, Rosa Parks, and Abraham Lincoln. But somehow, these injustices just were. No one did them, it wasn’t anyone’s fault, it was just the way things were. When contrasted with the Revolution caused by King George and Redcoats, and world War II caused by Hitler and the Japanese, it is silly to think Jim Crow was created by a cow jumping over the moon. Yet that is pretty much how we explain it.

So we can’t blame the youth when they don’t learn.

But kids grow into adults and we often hang on to what we learned when we were little. It is important for people to know, and not just in light of current political atmosphere but because it is the truth, that those laws were made by white people. Those Jim Crow laws were made by white people who at best were trying to protect their own position and possessions with complete disregard for black people, or at worst, with the intention of hurting and repressing black people. The makers of those laws represented and were what made up “America”. That was us.

My eight year old understands this. She is old enough to get it. She is also old enough to understand, but still be shocked by, the knowledge that when Martin Luther King, and a whole lot of other people, started working to change those laws, it was the police who tried to stop them. She got a new respect for MLK once she realized how dangerous it was to stand up for rights. After seeing photos of police dogs and fire hoses my little girl paused for a minute, thinking. She looked sort of sideways at me, her white father, and asked, “was it dangerous for white people too?”

Great question.

I told her about a young white man named Jonathan Daniels who tried to help black people register to vote in Alabama. He was shot by a Sheriff in the middle of the day with witnesses. The Sheriff didn’t get in trouble. We talked about how it was safe for white people if they just left things the way they were, because the police were on the side of the white people, but anyone, no matter their color, were in danger if they tried to change things. I also explained that black people were in danger no matter what they did.

She understood that. She didn’t like it, which is appropriate, but it made sense.

It is important that we as a society understand that problems, and especially laws, are never “just the way things are.” We make things how things are. All the high minded ideals of the American experiment rely upon us as a populace participating. That is what makes our nation remarkable. Despite our flaws and imperfections, we have built in mechanisms that allow change and have held us intact despite violence and horror and centuries if injustices. We actually CAN do something. Of course it might be dangerous- but so is roller skating.

So, on this first day of February, Black History Month, I write about these things, and urge us to learn about these things, not to foster anger or hatred or “dwell on the past”, but to simply understand the truth. We were taught that the dish ran away with the spoon and consequentially we don’t understand how we got to where we are… and we can be better. We need to learn about our history so we can be better.

Happy February.

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Bear Flag Republic and Manifest Destiny: Monterey

California, just like Texas, is kind of its own place. We don’t normally relate the two today, I blame the 60’s, but believe it or not both places have cowboys. Both places have also once been Spanish colonies, then Mexico, then their own country, and then a state. Oh yes, and there were plenty of people living in both places long before Spain showed up (though I wonder why anyone would have ever lived in North Texas or Barstow).img_1552

Californians are always trying to be innovators and ahead of the curve, in any way they can, so naturally they tried to imitate Texas.

As the capital of the Spanish state of Alta California, Monterey was the focal point of Anglo American capitalists and settlers.  Mexicans kicked out Spain in 1821 and then things got a little silly.

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Americans kept immigrating illegally to Mexican California and when they couldn’t get the support from the Mexican government, they decided they would just make the place America.

But first they declared independence. They raised a flag with a California Bear and one lone star… like the one in Texas. These Americans living in Mexico declared they were their own country of California… and then later that same year (1846) America went to war with Mexico and the folks with that bear flag said “just kidding independence. We would rather be America.”img_1529

So in Monterey, amid the nice little coffee shops and a remodeled Cannery Row, you can find an Independence Hall just like in Philadelphia. Remarkably like Philadelphia. feather quill pens and everything.img_1561

Then Texas struck oil and California struck gold, Hippies moved to San Francisco, and depending on who is president, both states talk about secession.  img_1556

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Royal Presidio Chapel, San Carlos Cathedral

Five months after some colonists tussled with England in the Boston Massacre, Spain set up permanent shop in California. A Catholic priest and the Spanish governor picked a spot right next to a Native American town called Tamo.img_2303Tamo isn’t there any more but the cathedral is. It stands tall as California’s oldest brick building. Within a year the priest moved his mission down closer to the bay where there were more native people to convert. There weren’t enough natives up on the hill where the Spanish were building the presidio that were willing to help. Go figure.img_1511The tour guides there today are more than helpful. Volunteers devoted to sharing a place full of meaning an beauty. The Cathedral is that for sure.img_2301There has been quite a bit of work to restore the original Spanish Capital of Alta California. The place burned down once after an incident with a salute cannon. I tried but failed to find out who was being saluted when the cannon committed arson. The tour guide claimed not to know. I bet that guy from the Da Vinci Code does.img_1519The cathedral is still being used, and has always been used, as a church. Long before Kennedy became America’s first Catholic president, even before America had a president, there were Catholics coming here on Sunday.img_1525

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Football 101: the Ivy League

When you contemplate the upcoming college football season, because I know you do, what schools are on your mind? Perhaps it is the notoriously ferocious athletes at Princeton? Maybe ‘tis the physically imposing young men of Yale? Ah, or by chance you appreciate the absolute dominance of the University of Chicago?

Right. Of course not.1200x-1

I find this amusing. Ironic, in the Alanis Morissette usage of the word.

You probably think of places like Auburn, USC, or maybe “the” Ohio State. You are wondering, or rooting for, who will win the Florida vs. Florida State game, or Texas vs. Oklahoma. You think of the SEC or Big 10. The PAC 12 or ACC. Do you ever consider the Ivy League? No? Let us consider it now.Ivy-League

Once upon a time America was a relatively new political institution consisting of mostly English expatriates and the ones with money wanted their kids to go hang out with other children of rich English expats. So they sent them to colleges. Places like Princeton, Harvard, Yale and Brown. There these young boys had parties, rioted over bad cafeteria food, memorized Latin, and had rituals where they beat each other up en masse. Now there were some exceptions. Some young men went to college because they were both rich and also nerds. These are the ones who read philosophy and were named Franklin Roosevelt. But make no mistake, FDR was the exception, most of them were more like Teddy. This was way before US News and World Report rankings or even before the BCS. Back then college rankings looked more like a pedigree chart and banking network. Back then college kids wore ties. On purpose.IMG_2580

But most schools, at least once a year, took off those ties, usually their shirts too, and had giant shoving matches or competitions. They varied from place to place but it was usually something like Juniors versus Sophomores trying to move a gigantic leather ball from one end of a courtyard to the other.  Or a tug of war. Or wrestling. It was a competition to win a bowl, or a jug, or bragging rights. Important stuff.penn

Over across the pond, where these boy’s granddaddies came from, school boys were doing similar sorts of things. Lots of kicking balls and roughhousing and being rich. At one school, called the Rugby School, they started picking up the ball rather than kicking it. The game started to catch on. This was about the year 1827. Back in 1827, England, or rather the fathers of rich English school boys, had pretty much colonized most of the globe. This colonization did include America at one time, but there was revolution and all that mess, so by 1827 when restless rich English kids graduated University, or when they needed to gain some legitimacy, they joined the Royal army and went and played their roughhousing games in places like Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. The boys at Harvard and Yale were watching their cousins but were soon distracted when some clowns attacked Fort Sumter.  That distraction lasted till 1865.resolver (17)

Once the American Civil War was over the young rich kids from up north had to go back to school. The rich kids from the south weren’t rich anymore and the poor northern kids stayed in the army. Funny thing is that once boys have been to war, or even if they were too young to fight while a war was going on, they get extra restless if then sent to sit in a classroom. Having good memories these young students recalled those games their English cousins were playing and decided to follow suit. This was pretty normal for them, after all the whole college thing itself was a bit of an imitation game. Harvard is built in a place they called Cambridge and Princeton had always been trying to be Oxford.IMG_2026

Anywhose, on November 6th 1869, Princeton visited the campus of their divorced sibling Rutgers and played a game of football. They did indeed call the game football, it was mostly kicking, and Rutgers won 6-4. Seven days later Rutgers sauntered on over to Princeton for a re-match. Playing on their own turf meant they got to propose their own rules, one of which allowed for a player to catch a kicked ball mid-air. Princeton won 8-0. Crafty buggers.

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Not too far away Harvard, like any rich kid who notices what the Joneses are doing, wanted in on the action. In May of 1874 they invited McGill to come down to Cambridge for a two game series. On the first day they played football with a round ball like they did in New Jersey. Harvard won 3-0. The next day McGill, being good Canadians who never poured any tea in a harbor, insisted that day’s game be played more like the updated version the English rugby boys were playing. It had an oblong ball and running. The game ended in a tie but the Boston boys were hooked. Later that very same year, 1874, 2,000 people showed up to watch Harvard win the rematch 3 tries to 0.

These rich college kids were on to something.wollen_last_cent

At this time all of America was getting “on to something”. Industrialization was becoming a thing, Manifest Destiny was all the rage, and more rich white people were sending their boys off to college to be with other rich white boys than ever before. Problem was back then telephones weren’t all that big and no one had televisions, so it was difficult for rich parents to keep in touch with their school boys and it was even tougher to make sure everyone else knew your kids were rich and important. Luckily one of the great ways to get rich back then was to own a newspaper. The internet hadn’t started the French Revolution yet and so the Bourgeoisie New York Times was free to cover the activities of rich college kids like the internet would a Kardashian.3707358200_0d296eab18_o

The sports page had things like rowing, fencing, and equestrian events. Pretty soon, thanks to all our practice at Gettysburg, Andrew Carnegie, and the White Fleet, there were even more rich people than there used to be and the sports page was covering football games at places like the University of Chicago, Notre Dame, and Stanford. This football thing was getting big. So big in fact that by 1903 both Harvard and Yale broke ground on permanent stadiums just for this game of football. Harvard’s could seat 30,000 people, Yale’s could seat 70,000. Neither school even had 10,000 students. But people were paying attention to the few students there were at those places, and as is always the case with Kardashians, there were a lot of imitators or spin offs. Soon you had people tackling each other and taking duck lip selfies in places like Pittsburgh and Green Bay. Not necessarily at the schools in those places- just in those places. I mean, these people weren’t even in college let alone rich. Just common Etsy users. The nerve!Yale_Bowl

With the spreading popularity of the game and the historically consistent need of rich people to win, the line between student and athlete was quickly blurred. Schools that wanted to make money by filling stadiums-er- wanted their students to learn valuable life lessons through winning intercollegiate sporting events, started dabbling here and there in paying certain individuals with certain skills to come be a student for their school for a few games here and there. This ruffled feathers. Up until this point college was first and foremost, a place for sons of rich people to commune amongst themselves, with the occasional exception for an extra serious student. This whole football thing was trying to shift those exceptions from smart nerds, whom no one cared about, to poorer (not rich) athletic kids, whom the public loved. Something had to be done.IMG_0542

Luckily America was blessed at this time with a president who was also a Harvard alum, so he understood the importance of the situation. He was able to concoct some national crisis or concern about how many people died playing football in 1905 (19). Hadn’t the civil war taught us anything about the value of life? Doesn’t America know we need these kids alive as we ramp up for the first world war? I mean college is where the children of Vanderbilts and Kennedys hang out. Premature violent death is for poor people and immigrants, not Vanderbilts, unless of course they are an officer in a glorious world conflict in places like Cuba, so stay tuned, but for now, football must be regulated! The following year 62 colleges signed on as charter members of the NCAA, a loose organization organized to make sure poor people weren’t being paid to play rich people games, and that the game would be safer. Teddy was great at this sort of thing.IMG_2563

So the NCAA got to work protecting integrity and human life. Most of the schools, Like the University of Pennsylvania, wanted to make the game safer by making the playing field wider. The idea is that if there is more room to run away from someone you are less likely to get ran over by them. Makes sense. Other schools, named Harvard and Yale, wanted to make the game safer by making this new trick called the forward pass legal. The idea is that if you are allowed to throw the ball away when you are about to get trampled, you are less likely to get trampled.Makes sense. This passing the ball idea made even more sense to Harvard and Yale since they had just built their new huge stadiums out of concrete and all those seats might be easier to fill if there was a new trick to watch… and it was physically impossible to widen the field since they hadn’t left any spare room when they built the 50,000 seat concrete facility for student recreation. Fortunately for the Doug Fluties of the world the forward pass won the day. But let me get back to the wide field advocates at places like Penn.out_of_the_game

While Harvard and Yale were the traditional homes of traditional rich people memorizing Latin and rioting over bad food, Penn was the traditional home of more practical press apprenticing Ben Franklin and P&L statement memorizing Joseph Wharton. Add in all the Keynesian economists over in Chicago and just plain nerds at that newfangled Cornell, and you have some relatively influential schools that were highly “invested” in winning football games. The NCAA, which more or less started as a meeting at the White House, settled on being mostly a club where schools could agree on rules like forward passes and flying wedges, and sort of skirted about the whole paying players and filling stadiums stuff so the grand settlement was that Pasadena California should build a big stadium not on any campus and host a “bowl game” every January. This may have been everyone’s undoing as no sooner did they start hosting this big game and writing about it in the Times, than schools like Washington State and Oregon were beating schools like Brown and Penn. It was just like Vogue putting Kim Kardashian on the cover; this was not in the original playbook. USC, Alabama, and Georgia Tech. Georgia Tech? There is a “tech” in the name of the school for heaven’s sake. This desire to fill stadiums and win games got so carried away that in 1916, a full 54 years before USC’s famous game against all white Bama, Brown fielded a brown player named Fritz Pollard. Imagine how popular you would be as a black man with a German name in 1916 (just as an FYI the whole world was in a war against Germany in 1916). Meh, who cares when it comes to football right? Elihu Yale must have been rolling over in his grave. But not everyone was ready to just roll over. Some folks were serious about school and integrity, and rich white boys- I mean education.77

So along comes this guy Robert Hutchins. He was one of those poor white nerds that Yale decided to be nice to back in the day. Huge mistake. First Yale let him in, then he becomes the Dean of the law school, and next thing ya know, bam, he’s the president of the University of Chicago. Ya see, when you let a non-rich nerd take over the show, they turn it into a nerd show. Poor Chicago. In 1935 a Chicago halfback won this fancy trophy they were giving to the best football player in the whole country called the “Heisman” (named after a guy who played football at both Brown and Penn). Four years later, this guy Hutchins CANCELS FOOTBALL! Ends it. Done. No more team. Nerd. Evil nerd. But what else was there to do? This game meant to keep roughhousing rich white boys busy had experienced some serious mission drift and was becoming-uh hum- common. The originally not rich nerd chose to cancel the fun so the school could stay nerdy, but the original club of rich white boys had another plan. They decided to take their ball and go home. In 1936 Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brown, Dartmouth, Columbia, and Penn, along with that new kid Cornell, unofficially banded together in what they were calling “an ivy league” and for the most part decided to just compete against each other and no longer mess with the rabble. This unofficial league had a gentleman’s agreement that they wouldn’t give any athletic scholarships and would only consider one’s actual scholarship (or pedigree) in deciding college admissions. This was a grand return to their educational roots and original scholastic ideals, though those ideals never really existed in the first place. Isn’t it ironic? Yeah, I really do think.8b04d512846bc903_large

Perhaps some of you do not like Alanis Morrisette, or are not of my generation so you have no idea who that is (the Drake of the 90’s), and consequentially you think I am being unfair in my historical descriptions of the non-scholastic motives of these birthplaces of God’s great game. This might be the case. I was once an offensive lineman so I am not above playing dirty. But consider if you will the idea that before the 1920’s there were no real admissions requirements other than graduating high school, for one to be admitted to college. I mean, way back when colleges started there wasn’t even such thing as a high school. There was only money. But in the 20’s a lot more people started enrolling in colleges and not just more people, but different kinds of people. Some of these people were burly non book reading types who were being paid to play football at Penn, but those guys were asked (paid) to come, and after all, there are only so many players on a football team. No one really cared. But there were also these non–rich only semi-white guys who enrolled in huge numbers called Jews. They hadn’t exactly been invited. Colleges saw this as a problem and thankfully for them they had almost 200 years of previous practice as a coalition of rich white guys and the occasional nerd to devise such things as “geographical balance” and “extracurricular considerations.” These were more or less quotas. In many cases, they were actual quotas.In the 1920’s places like Columbia (in this case Columbia specifically) upon realizing they had become 40% Jewish enacted these extra admissions considerations and successfully got that Jewish percentage down to 20% within two years. Now mind you this is the same Columbia that beat Stanford for the national title in the 1933 Rose Bowl. Go Lions!cops_gordon

New York was not the only place struggling with an influx of non-rich semi-white students. Consider this official statement from Harvard in 1922: “The great increase which has recently taken place in the number of students at Harvard College, as at the other colleges, has brought up forcibly the problem of the limitation of enrollment.

We have not at present sufficient classrooms or dormitories, to take care of any further large increase. This problem is really a group of problems, all difficult, and most of them needing for their settlement more facts than we now have. Before a general policy can be formulated on this great question it must engage the attention of the Governing Board and the Faculties and it is likely to be discussed by alumni and undergraduates.

It is natural that with a widespread discussion of this sort going on there should be talk about the proportion of Jews at the college. At present the whole problem of limitation of enrollment is in the stage of general discussion and it may remain in that stage for a considerable time.”0d1248ee26f2d6cbf70ee83156f27329

It was almost like the game was getting dangerous and Harvard found themselves unable to widen the field and instead chose to pass. They, and the other bastions of college football, were in danger of being trampled and unfortunately US News & World Report wouldn’t start publishing college rankings till 1983 so they were still dependent on pedigrees and bank accounts to decide which schools were best. In fact, these were such dangerous times that it was beginning to be hard to know what exactly was meant by best and how it should be measured. So Chicago quit, the Ivies formed a league, and Southern Methodist University eventually got the death penalty.exit the stadium

This all matters because I recently purchased this special eye black that comes in the colors of the university that employs me. I care about the intellectual development of my children and as a responsible parent I intend to decorate them in collegiate regalia when we go to the games starting this fall. It matters because we have recently learned that football teams in Illinois outrank the college president and that in North Carolina football players can get grades in a whole course of classes while the professor is away on sabbatical. These are great schools. I know this because both the BCS and a magazine tell me so. I have been to a great school and consequentially, and I write this with no irony, I can proudly pronounce the name Chris Fuamatu Ma’afala, with no help and ignore the red Microsoft squiggly lines with confidence. I am confident in my education.jefferson football

I was recently reading Walter Camp’s suggestions on how to train a top notch defensive end. His instructions included rowing and eating toast. Walter should not be ignored because he is who created Knute Rockne, Bear Bryant, Bobby Bowden, and Bill Belichick. I may even give old Walter Camp credit for Joe Montana, Joe Brown, Joe Paterno, and Joe Theismann. Yup, all of them. As I peek at ESPN.com while at my desk, listen to Jim Rome during my commute, or watch Sports Center while doing whatever verb describes what you do on an elliptical (ellipticate?) I think of Walter Camp.

And Walter went to Yale.yalecoaches

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