Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Only Time In History An Airplane Ever Crashed, And Turned Into A Starship

Trying to explain the history of Jefferson Airplane, Jefferson Starship, and Starship is like trying to explain the history of the French government from 1789 to 1870. Let's see ... first there was a king, and then there was a revolution, and then there was Napoleon, and then Napoleon left, but then he came back, and then there was a king again, and then there was a "citizen-king," and then Napoleon's nephew took over? I lost track right around 1810. Basically there needs to be a Periodic Table of Jefferson Airplane/Jefferson Starship/Starship. If you really want to sort it out, there's this amazing website called Wikipedia. Here's the short version:

Jefferson Airplane were a late '60s San Francisco psychedelic rock band, originally featuring, at its core, Paul Kantner, Marty Balin, Jorna Kaukonen, Jack Casady, and, from their second album onward, co-lead singer Grace Slick. In the early '70s, Kantner and Slick formed a temporary side project called Jefferson Starship, which was not really meant to be a proper band (they also had a baby together, but never married). Kaukonen and Casady frequently performed as a side project called Hot Tuna, and although Jefferson Airplane, Jefferson Starship, and Hot Tuna co-existed for a time, by 1974 the band split for good into either Jefferson Starship or Hot Tuna, leaving Kanter, Slick, and Balin as the core of Jefferson Starship. Many other members came and went. After going on a drunken tirade during a concert in Germany in 1978 where she gloated about the US winning World War II, Slick was kicked out of the band, and soon after, Balin left as well. In 1979, another lead singer, Mickey Thomas, mainly known for singing lead on Elvin Bishop's huge hit "Fooled Around and Fell In Love" in 1976, joined Jefferson Starship. Mickey Thomas had never been in Jefferson Airplane. Slick, presumably more sober, rejoined in 1981. By 1984, Kantner had finally had enough of the band's transition into increasingly cheesy arena rock, but all the other members of Jefferson Starship totally wanted to keep going. Kantner said that if they wanted to keep going, they would have to do it under a different name, God damn it. Legal action was taken. Slick and Thomas suddenly had a needle to thread: they needed a new name that still retained the sense of connection with the old group, while also managing to satisfy the rigid decree of the court system. What if they dropped the "Jefferson" and became, simply, Starship? The perfect solution for all involved! Although the initial Starship lineup was essentially the 1984 lineup of Jefferson Starship minus Kantner, the only member of Starship who had ever originally been in Jefferson Airplane was Grace Slick. And then the Germans invaded Alsace-Lorraine in revenge for Slick's drunken tirade.

But what about the music, Little Earl, what about the music?

Early '80s Jefferson Starship is what happens when a band just ... keeps ... going. Why are we a band again? We've got to keep being a band because being a band is what we do. No one asks how we got here. To ask is to make trouble.

Jefferson Starship's early '80s hits are like the early '80s hits that time forgot. I've never heard them played anywhere. None of them were very big hits, but there were a bunch of them. It's like their popularity declined, but they never quite got unpopular enough. They still had an excuse to keep making records. And unlike most other aging '60s veterans, the band dove eagerly and brazenly into the MTV age. You thought the video for "We Built This City" was bad? Wait till you get a load of some of this shit.

Most people probably think of Jefferson Starship as having retained some semblance of taste and integrity before the shameless slide into Starship, but I discovered a shocking secret. In reality, Starship really began once Mickey Thomas joined Jefferson Starship in 1979, long before the name change. Mickey Thomas was like the Safeway Select Cola to Steve Perry's Coke. When "Jane" hit #14 in 1979, sounding like Toto after a long night at a biker bar, any lingering Jefferson Airplane fans probably headed for the exits, but Mickey was just getting warmed up.



"Find Your Way Back" found its way to #29 (#3 on the Mainstream Rock chart) in 1981, just as Slick rejoined the band at the last minute. According to Wikipedia, "Although not appearing in the band picture on the gatefold cover, she is listed on the back cover of the LP with the credit 'Introducing Grace Slick' and her picture is on the lyric sleeve with the note 'Grace Slick courtesy of Grace Slick.'" Ha ha, guys, very funny. The video finds Mickey Thomas trying to give Oates a run for his money in the mustache department, as well as wearing the world's tiniest tie. Also, I love how there's a group photo at the end, and then an entirely separate photo of Grace Slick that suddenly flies in out of nowhere. She's gone light speed!



"Stranger" stalled at #48 (#17 Mainstream Rock), took its title from Billy Joel, its opening drum beat from "My Sharona," and I think Grace Slick took her hair from Bride of Frankenstein and her necklace from her neighborhood hardware store, but other than that, it's not bad. Most unintentionally hilarious moments:
  • 1:02 - Eyes! So many eyes!
  • 1:10 - Mickey Thomas has a sheet over his head, and as the camera zooms in, the sheet ... flies off his head! Slowly!
  • 2:05 Mickey walks through a dark room toward a brightly-lit doorway, stands in the doorway, and then ... turns around! And then disappears! In a blinding flash!


And yet, like loyal fans sitting in the bleachers when their team is down 9-0 in the 9th, there still must have been at least one or two old hippie burnouts, desperately clutching their ticket stubs from the Fillmore days, hoping that Paul and Grace would be able to turn this (star)ship around and fly it back to glory.

Their faith would be ... how should I put it? Misplaced.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

"Illegal Alien": Phil Collins Turns Mexican AKA "It's No Fun" Reading These YouTube Comments

I believe that, at some point in popular music history, as with the great government of our United States, there existed a system of checks and balances. If an act decided to write a song about illegal immigration and perform it with a slightly racist Mexican accent, there would have been forces involved that would've stepped in and said, "Hold on, are you sure you don't want to think twice about this?" However, there have been occasional lapses. I believe that such a system existed at some point prior to the '80s, and at some point after the '80s, but research has led me to believe that it didn't actually exist during the '80s.

This is the only explanation I can give for Genesis' "Illegal Alien." It plays the politically charged issue of Mexican immigration to the U.S. for ... comedic value. Get ready, folks, because In The Air Tonight: The Secret Life and Twisted Psyche of Phillip D. Collins is about to get topical.

Thanks to a certain fluorescent presidential candidate I need not name, Mexican immigration is an issue that, in 2016, remains at the forefront of our political debate. But as the catalog of Genesis proves, it is an issue that is not necessarily new. However, it is an issue that, from where I stand at least, is not now, nor ever has been, particularly hilarious.

Ha Ha Ha! Oh those Mexicans, trying to feed their families by picking produce for a shadow economy! That's a real knee-slapper, boy. I don't personally find the song offensive, but then again, my tolerance is notoriously high. It doesn't sit quite as well with Stephen Thomas Erlewine, who writes, "Phil's Speedy Gonzalez accent is an outright embarrassment (although in some ways it's not all that far removed from his Artful Dodger accent on the previous album's "Who Dunnit?")." Outright embarrassment? Try being a bald drummer. That's an outright embarrassment. The song receives a more enthusiastic recommendation from the less culturally sensitive Patrick Bateman:
"Illegal Alien" is the most explicitly political song the group has yet recorded and their funniest. The subject is supposed to be sad - a wetback trying to get across the border into the United States - but the details are highly comical: the bottle of tequila the Mexican holds, the new pair of shoes he's wearing (probably stolen); and it all seems totally accurate. Phil sings it in a brash, whiny pseudo-Mexican voice that makes it even funnier, and the rhyme of "fun" with "illegal alien" is inspired.
Congratulations, Genesis: you've impressed a psychopath. On paper it doesn't seem quite so tasteless, aside from ... well, a couple of segments:
Got out of bed, wasn't feeling too good
With my wallet and my passport, a new pair of shoes
The sun is shining so I head for the park
With a bottle of tequila and a new pack of cigarettes

I got a cousin and she got a friend
Who thought that her aunt knew a man who could help
At his apartment I knocked on the door
He wouldn't come out until he got paid
Now don't tell anybody what I wanna do
If they find out you know that they'll never let me through

Cause it's a-no fun being an illegal alien
Cause it's a-no fun being an illegal alien
It's all right, "Felipe Collins," you can trust us. We won't squeal on you.
Down at the office had to fill out the forms
A pink one, a red one, the colors you choose
Up to the counter to see what they think
They said "It doesn't count man, it ain't written in ink"
Don't trust anybody least not around here

Consideration for your fellow man
Would not hurt anybody, sure fits in with my plan
Over the border, there lies the promised land
When everything comes easy
You just hold out your hand
Yep, no problems in America all right; you just hold out your hand ... so the migrant guy next to you can place a head of lettuce in it. Then things start to get a little sketchy for "Felipe":
Keep your suspicions, I've seen that look before
But I ain't done nothing wrong now, is that such as surprise?
But I've got a sister who'll be willing to oblige
She will do anything now to help me get to the outside
A sister who's "willing to oblige"? So the guy's trying to prostitute his sister to get across the border? Hey, if that's what it takes. Unsurprisingly, according to Wikipedia, that last verse was edited out of radio versions and the video mix. Maybe they shouldn't have bothered: "Illegal Alien" only hit #44 in the US and #46 in the UK. Who knows, maybe if they'd kept that verse in, it might have really set the charts on fire.

But here's what the song was truly missing: Phil Collins wearing a bad wig (shaped like an eggplant stem?) and a cartoonishly droopy mustache. That's what was missing. And the requisite poncho and sombrero at 2:34. Is he holding ... cucumbers as drumsticks? I've gotta say, despite their protestations to the contrary, it sure seems like a lot of fun being an illegal alien.



Well, it took me a while to figure this out, but I don't think the song was intended to be pro-immigrant or anti-immigrant, but was directed more at the opportunists on both sides of the border who were (and are) exploiting immigrants' desperation. It appears, however, that Genesis did not present this message to the public effectively. In the uncensored domain that is YouTube, many are the lamentations of those who long for a time when a world famous band could release a gleefully tasteless single and not be shamed by the PC Police:
why is it no fun? they get treated like royalty by our commie pres

Yeah it was funny back then, now try getting a job if you're not. What fun.

this was actually an early 80s MTV fave. it wasn't controversial at the time. it was just considered another video. things were simpler then, people were happier.

Great video. Unfortunately, there is no way it gets made today in this pussified country in which everyone is offended by their own shadow.

31 years later and nothing has changed. Everything comes easy you just hold out your hand.

This song needs a new chorus. Entitlement! For the undocumented resident. Entitlement! For the undocumented resident.

Nowadays you have to change the name to "It's No Fun Being an Undocumented Guest Worker With Government Amnesty"

Phil Collins recently said that he was going to change the song title to "It's Really Fun Being an Illegal Alien". He's dedicating the new song to President Obama.

We're going to build a great, great wall on our southern border and I will have Phil Collins pay for that wall.

Jesus, can you imagine if this song came out today? It would be a massive success simply due to the publicity from all the pundits bitching. Fox Blows & PMSNBC would have a feigned sand-in-the-vagina wankfest. I'M OUTRAGED! OUTRAGED, I TELL YOU! WHERE IS THE OUTRAGE?

I appreciate Genesis, but this song can easily strike a nerve. I would never sing this song Karaoke or play it with the window down. The song sounds good, but can come off as hurtful to people of Mexican Ethnicity (IMHO). I want to marry a Mexican Lady, they are beautiful and a SUPER TURN ON!!!

I'm offensive and I find this video highly Mexican.

Phil looks like Bob Hoskins in Super Mario Bros.

Great song...Those who are offended by it need to learn Spanish on my behalf. Cuz I sure as hell ain't gonna.

This is a song about the time when E.T. didn't pay his television licence.

doesn't he have a Jamaican accent towards the end.

Next in the series: West Side Story's "I Want to Leeef In America ...Everything Free In Amereeeca !"
Still, however misguided, it was nice of Phil and the boys to donate some album space to the issue. After all, no one was forcing them to raise the public's awareness. Or were they? From In The Air Tonight:
It was after a show in San Antonio. I remember it well because I was having trouble getting the right sound out of the hi-hat, so in a rage I threw it toward the back of the stage, and it accidentally sliced open one of our roadies. Chopped him clean in half. Anyway, great show, especially "Follow You Follow Me."

That's when Yovani gave me a tip about some new shit, he said it was killer: duck anti-histamine. "It's like crack without the jitters," he said. I knew I had to score some, but I had to go down to Nuevo Laredo, find Yovani's uncle Carlos. I got across the border around 3:00am, no problem. He said his uncle lived in a shack next to a duck pond. Made sense I guess.

"Quien es?"

"Phil Collins."

"Si, yes, Felipe Collins, bienvenidos, come in, Yovani tells me about you!" I looked around the shack. Several of Carlos' friends were sitting around a pool table, wearing ponchos and sombreros and drinking tequila.

"Mira, mi amigos, es Felipe Collins!" Carlos' friends gave me menacing grins and slowly inched toward me. "He comes for the duck medicine."

"I heard it was good."

"Oh it's bueno, it's muy bueno." Suddenly two of Carlos' buddies pulled out .44 Magnums and threw me onto the pool table.

"What should we do with this gringo, eh?"

"Let's hold him for ransom, make his rich white friends pay for him."

"Wait, fellas, please, it's a mistake!"

"The mistake was you coming into our country, taking our duck medicine, raping our people, laughing in our faces."

"No, listen, you don't understand. I need to keep drumming! I need to keep making hits! The world needs my chart-topping Divorce Rock!"

"Maybe the world needs a few of your teeth, eh gringo?"

Suddenly Carlos stepped forward. "Muchachos, muchachos, I propose a deal. Felipe, you want to hear my deal?"

"Yes, whatever it is, I'll do it."

"OK, good. We let you go - on one condition."

"Yeah?"

"You write song about illegal alien." Carlos' henchmen nodded.

"That's it?"

"There's more. You write song about illegal alien, and you sing it in stupid Mexican accent that makes you sound stupid."

I thought for a moment. "And then you'll let me live?"

"Then we let you live."

"And you'll let me out of Nuevo Laredo?"

"We let you out of Nuevo Laredo."

"And I get a stash of Duck anti-histamine?"

"Gringo, we almost blow your brains out onto pool table. No press your luck. No duck medicine."

So I left it at that. However, I told them I was starving, so they gave me two cucumbers, and I headed back across the border. The whole thing seemed a little fowl to me.