Remix Culture: Barack Obama will Not Buy You Fries

30 04 2010

I’m quite fond of President Obama. I think that he’s obviously an intelligent, thoughtful, and tactful man. It’s mostly because of those qualities that I’ve always wanted to hear Barack Obama call someone an “ignorant motherfucker.” Luckily, I live in a day and age where that dream has become a reality.

Yeah, you heard it. I wasn’t sure if it was real, either. But that’s totally Barack Obama, and he totally isn’t going to cover the cost of your french fries. The audio clips have been taken from Obama’s audiobook of “Dreams From My Father.” As far as I know, the person who decided to extract these clips has not yet been awarded a medal. I assume it’s pending.

These clips have been up on the internet for over a year, and frankly I’m surprised I hadn’t heard them before. The earliest mention of them I can find is on the Boston Phoenix blog. Apparently, these quotes are attributed to Obama’s friend Ray, and the President is merely dramatically reenacting them for our unabashed amusement. Obama should thank his lucky stars that this stuff got released in 2009 and not 2008. I can’t imagine what all the beer-swilling crackers would have thought when a Muslim, socialist black man appeared on their TV and began calling them motherfuckers.

At this point, though, I have to wonder if my level of respect for President Obama wouldn’t increase a little if he started calling people “ignorant motherfuckers” to their faces in the course of political debates. It’s not like he wouldn’t have plenty of opportunities. And the internet would love him for it.

In summation: President Obama smokes, drinks, swears, and has frequently inhaled marijuana. He is, therefore, our coolest president ever. Four more years!


The Digital Campfire: Leon Czolgosz

29 04 2010

My next round of creepypasta is an especially short-and-to-the-point one.

Leon Czolgosz
Leon Czolgosz, assassin of William McKinley, the 25th President of the United States, was electrocuted for his crime on October 29, 1901, at Auburn Prison in Auburn, New York. Among the personal effects found in his cell was a U.S. quarter stamped with the date 2218. The face in profile on said quarter was not George Washington, but rather a face which has yet to be identified.

Okay, so this one obviously isn’t much of a creepy story. But I love it for the following reason: it’s a fantastic lie. As a casual fan of lying (I’m not compulsive, just a hobbyist), I have nothing but respect for this complex, detailed, direct and utterly-full-of-shit statement. It’s the type of lie that’s so patently absurd that people might actually believe it if you adopt an appropriately matter-of-fact tone.

Imagine saying this one out loud (you’d have to learn how to pronounce Czolgosz).There’s so many details and so much formal language (“personal effects,” “yet to be identified.”), that most people would be confused before you hit the fifth comma. Then, before they’re able to fully orient themselves within your story, you abruptly end with a completely ridiculous lie. Now, you simply have to observe the gathered onlookers as they nod, trying to piece together what the hell you were just talking about. And then, you get to laugh and laugh and laugh.

Take care in using this story around coin-collectors or Snopes readers, though. They will likely smirk and point out that the Washington quarter wasn’t introduced until 30 years later. If you’re looking for a tactful method of dealing with this possibility, I suggest smacking the offending brainiac upside the head with a frying pan and scampering away. PROTIP: as you flee the scene, consider shouting “He’s on to us!”

Adventures in the Public Domain: Funeral March of a Marionette

29 04 2010

Older readers will likely remember the song “Funeral March of a Marionette” with memories of Alfred Hitchcock’s television shows. Younger readers will recognize it’s use in a plethora of animated cartoons, from Ren & Stimpy to Animaniacs. “Funeral of a Marionette” has been given a second life as musical shorthand for “WARNING: WEIRDNESS AHEAD.” It’s a tune that perfectly encapsulates playful eeriness, saying “This is going to be a little spooky, but you probably don’t have to put the kids to bed.” In cartoons, this song will generally be accompanied by monsters and/or mad science.

Except for it’s status as a pop culture icon, “Funeral March of a Marionette” would be considered one of Charles Gounod‘s more insignificant compositions. And, compared to “Ave Maria,” I guess it is, probably. But “Funeral March of a Marionette” is so useful from a storytelling perspective. The name itself is very apt, at once innocent, solemn and silly. It does bring to mind a procession of marionettes bouncily-but-glumly plodding along. And whoever decided to use it in multiple episodes of Ren & Stimpy was a genius. It perfectly reflects the good-natured grotesquery of the work of John K.

Adventures in the Public Domain: Write a Songs About Astrology and Mythology, Sit Back and Wait for a Black Metal Cover

29 04 2010

Today, I’m going to be taking a look at another piece of public domain music- namely Gustav Holst’s seven movement orchestral suite “The Planets.” But first, I’m going to give a shoutout to Aaron Dunn and Musopen. It’s a non-profit charity designed to catalog sheet music and recordings of public domain music. It’s a good idea in my book.

You might not be a big fan of orchestral music, but there’s still a decent change you’ve heard a portion of Gustav Holst’s “The Planets.” It might sound familiar if you’ve watched The Man Who Fell to Earth, The Right Stuff, or Wallace and Gromit in Curse of the Were-Rabbit. You also might have run across it if you’ve played the game Drakengard, or happen to be a fan of black metal.

Holst was an English composer and astrology whacko. He started composing “The Planets” in 1914. The concept was that each planet in the solar system was represented by an movement embodying it’s astrological significance and mythological namesake. Thus we have movements entitled “Venus, the Bringer of Peace,” “Mars, the Bringer of War,” and “Mercury, the Winged Messanger.” Pluto doesn’t get a movement, because it was discovered in 1930 and nobody cares about Pluto anyway.

The composition premiered at Queen’s Hall in 1918 and promptly blew the roof off the joint. “The Planets” quickly became very popular, especially “Mars” and “Venus.” Holst later revised a portion of “Jupiter” and so that the tune would fit the popular hymn “I Vow to Thee, My Country.” The revised portion of “Jupiter” (called “Thaxed”) has since been used as the melody for other hymns, as well as in the theme song for the World Rugby Cup.

Oh yeah, and the obligatory metal reincarnations.

Art via Re-appropriation: Me First and The Gimme Gimmes

28 04 2010

I am probably one of the few people in the world that can say they have a favorite cover band. By-and-large, the job of a cover band is to take bad songs and make them much, much worse. Even a competent cover of a good song usually suffers by comparison.

To be a good cover band, you really can’t play “straight” covers of a song. You need to use the old standard as a jumping-off point for a new artistic creation. The easiest way to make a cover song “novel” is to perform it in a different genre.

There’s a plague of pop-punk song cover out there. Most of them are lazy and uninteresting. Me First and The Gimme Gimmes are an exception. The band’s a supergroup comprised of members of heavyweight acts including Lagwagon, NOFX, and The Foo Fighters. The lead singer, Spike Slawson, apparently worked in the mail order department of the Fat Wreck Chords record label. Me First and the Gimme Gimmes create some of the most enthusiastic, upbeat, silly, and enjoyable music in the world of pop-punk today.

There are two things I really like about Me First and The Gimme Gimmes. One: they like to incorporate guitar riffs from famous punk songs into their covers, so you get to play “spot the reference” as you listen. Two: Not only do they make it a practice to cover a wide variety of genres, but they also cover a lot of genres that get overlooked by other, lesser artists. In fact, they generally represent a different genre for each of their albums. Like

Singer-songwriter tunes on 1997’s “Have a Ball.”

Showtunes on 1999’s “Are a Drag.”

Pop hits from the 1960’s on 2001’s “Blow in the Wind”

R&B in 2003’s “Take a Break.”

Country & Western in 2006’s “Love Their Country.”

And more singer-songwriter tunes on 2008’s “Have Another Ball.”

The one album that doesn’t conform to the “one-genre-per-shot” form is 2004’s “Ruin Johnny’s Bar Mitzvah.” For that album, they performed live at an actual kid’s Bar Mitzvah. Tell me that’s not awesome.

Adventures in the Public Domain: Entrance of the Gladiators

28 04 2010

Have you ever heard that circus clown song? You know the one. Here, I’ll just play it for you.

If you didn’t notice the song title, it’s actually called “Entrance of the Gladiators.” I know, right? Doesn’t really seem like “gladiator”-type music. It seems infinitely more suited as a soundtrack to comic capering than it does cold-blooded murder in the name of entertainment. But then, there’s a fine line nowadays.

The song was originally composed as a military march in 1897 by Julius Fucik. A largely unknown composer named Louis-Phillipe Larendeau recorded the song with a small band under the title “Thunder and Blazes” in 1910. This version became popular with circus folk, who played it much faster than the traditional march tempo it was written for. The song became famous for it’s association with circus performances, for which it has become a cultural icon. If Larendeau hadn’t recorded a new arrangement of the song, it wouldn’t have caught on with circuses. Without the circuses, the tempo wouldn’t have increased, and we wouldn’t have the familiar “Entrance of the Gladiators” that we know and love today. If anybody in the world remembers the name of Julius Fucik, it’s because of the hard work of thousands of men named “Bobo.”

Because of it’s notoriety, it’s been reincarnated in various other works of popular music, from the sublime:

To the instantly forgettable:

To the unforgivably terrible:

The Digital Campfire: The Statue

28 04 2010

So, a while ago, I started a new little feature called “The Digital Campfire.” In it, I look at creepypasta: spooky stories copy-pasted across internet message boards. In my view, these stories can be seen as a revamped form of the ghost stories and folktales told throughout the ages. Here’s an example (taken from Encyclopedia Dramatica) entitled “The Statue.”

The Statue
A few years ago, a mother and father decided they needed a break, so they wanted to head out for a night on the town. They called their most trusted babysitter. When the babysitter arrived, the two children were already fast asleep in bed. So the babysitter just got to sit around and make sure everything was okay with the children. Later that night, the babysitter got bored and went to watch TV, but she couldn’t watch it downstairs because they did not have cable downstairs (the parents didn’t want children watching too much garbage). So, she called them and asked them if she could watch cable in the parent’s room. Of course, the parents said it was OK, but the babysitter had one final request… she asked if she could cover up the angel statue outside the bedroom window with a blanket or cloth, at the very least close the blinds, because it made her nervous. The phone line was silent for a moment, and the father who was talking to the babysitter at the time said, “..Take the children and get out of the house…we will call the police. We do not have an angel statue.”
The police found all three of the house occupants dead within three minutes of the call. No statue was found.

I was shocked when I read this as creepypasta, because I’ve heard this story recited before as fact (with a clown statue substituting for an angel statue). The first time I heard it was from my freshman English teacher in high school. I’ve heard it several times since then, as well. Skeptic that I am, I never flinched in my belief that it was an urban myth.

And according to Snopes, I was right. Snopes began receiving versions of this story in 2004. I first heard this story in my Freshman year in high school, which would have been 2003-04. The message board most associated with memes and copypasta, 4chan, was founded on October 1, 2003. That last fact isn’t necessarily related, but it’s a logistical possibility that this urban legend originated as creepypasta.

Assuming that the origins of this legend don’t go far back before 2004, it would mean that I heard this story pretty recently after it was developed. Assuming this story originated on the internet, it would have had to make the leap from “being typed on a message board” to “being spread by word of mouth” in a pretty short span. Think how quickly it must have moved to reach my technological-backwater community in Iowa.

Certain creepy stories and urban legends become “universal cultural knowledge.” Say for instance, the famous hook in the door story. Or the motorist flashing their lights because there’s a murderer in the back of a woman’s car. Or the one about waking up kidney-less in a tub of ice. Or the one about the babysitter on acid. But if you check the Snopes articles, all these stories have had decades to build their renown. Thanks to the arrival of electronic media, “The Statue” has been getting passed around like currency since it’s introduction to the world.