Monday, June 8, 2009

Recording Academy Dumps Polka

The Recording Academy (Grammy Awards) has just decided that they are going to eliminate the award for best Polka album.


Or better yet: Who stole the kishke?

They claim that they want to ensure that its awards show will remain “pertinent within the current musical landscape.” They also claim that the category is attracting too few entries. Perhaps they simply can’t deal with the fact that the Polka King, Jimmy Sturr, keeps winning the award. Now if this were actually the legitimate claim, then certainly the categories of Pop, Country, Rap, Latin, and Gospel have nothing to fear. But if we are talking about what is pertinent to the current musical landscape, we will also have to eliminate the other categories that don’t “sell.” This then would put pretty much the rest of the lot into the same dilemma as Polka: Rock, Reggae, R&B, Jazz, Historical, Folk, Dance, Comedy, Classical, Children’s, and Blues.

Blues gets only two awards. Compare this to the relevance it has in relation to the history of American music. At the same time, World Music gets three. Children’s also gets three. Jazz, which holds a place in the American music lexicon that is obviously pertinent, gets eleven Grammy’s. Yet no one buys the CDs. Classical gets fourteen, and they sell fewer CD’s than Jazz.

Did you know that Gospel gets more awards than any other category, with 22? Wow! I can’t even remember the last time I ran out to buy the newest Gospel album. Oh Yeah, it was NEVER.

The Grammy Awards is supposed to honor the rich diversification in American music. So have they the right to decide whose heritage is more important than some one else’s. I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. My heritage is Welsh and Dutch, but believe you me, I can oompah with the best of them. And after all, isn’t the role of the Grammy Awards to let these diverse musical styles fuse with each other in the full spectrum of American music. Is not polka just as much a part of our lexicon as say, Best Hawaiian Music Album, or Best Native American Music Album, or even that coveted Best Surround Sound Album?

If we are going to reward music, we are going to have to consider all that it conveys to all people. And if this is the case, then we have to consider what the classical composer Schoenberg wrote in his autobiography—“For the wonderful thing about music is that one can say everything in it, so that he who knows understands everything; and yet one hasn’t given away one’s own secrets, the things one doesn’t say even to oneself.”

On the other hand, if relevance and pertinence is everything, then we must listen to the words of Stravinsky—“I consider that music is, by its very nature, powerless to express anything at all, whether a feeling, an attitude of mind, a psychological mood, a phenomenon of nature…If, as is nearly always the case, music appears to express something, this is only an illusion and not a reality.”

Fortunately there are still people who believe otherwise. The Julliard School estimates that there are between 20,000 and 40,000 Americans who consider themselves composers of classical music. If it weren’t for them, the music that I listen to would surely die. Let’s hope this doesn’t happen to polka.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Teenage Violence Against the Homeless

On May 11, three teenage boys (ages 18, 17 and 17) assaulted a homeless man in Reynoldsburg, Ohio. When they were done with him, the victim was a bloody mess. Just one year ago, a man was shot in Columbus, when he tried to stop two teenagers from throwing rocks and bottles at a homeless man.

This is not an uncommon occurrence. For years, advocates and homeless shelter workers have given reports of men, women, and even children being harassed, beaten, set on fire, and even decapitated.

What is happening to our youth?

In Los Angeles, a homeless man was recently doused with gasoline and set ablaze. And here’s the troubling part: the assaulters had targeted him in mind. The suspects remain at large.

And if this wasn’t bad enough, you can go to You-Tube and watch, what are called, Bumfights. Yes--teenagers go into areas where the homeless live, pay them to fight each other, and record it for entertainment. The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty attributes a 65% increase in violence against the homeless due to these videos. The numbers are probably even higher, since many attacks are never reported.

The National Coalition for the Homeless have statistics from 1999 through 2007, which report 774 acts of violence against the homeless who actually receive shelter (this does not include those who live on the street), resulting in 217 murders. Of these murders, only 85 qualified as hate crimes.

Excuse me?

The U.S. Congress, in 1968, defined hate crimes as crimes in which the defendant intentionally selects a victim because of their race, color or national origin (Title 18 Section 245). It mandates that the government must prove both that the crime occurred because of a victim’s membership in a designated group and because the victim was engaged in certain specified federally-protected activities, such as serving on a jury, voting, or attending public school.

There have been several laws enacted subsequently to provide additional coverage. The Hate Crimes Statistics Act of 1990 authorizes the Justice Department to collect data from law enforcement agencies about crimes that “manifest evidence of prejudice based upon race, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity.” It, though, says nothing about economic or housing status. The poorest of the poor, again remain the “silent ones” in a culture that rewards wealth.

Is homelessness a disability? Certainly many are on the streets due to a disability, such as mental illness.

The Hate Crimes Sentencing Enhancement Act, of 1994, defines hate crimes as “a crime in which the defendant intentionally selects a victim, because of the actual perceived race, color, national origin, ethnicity, gender, disability, or sexual orientation of any person.” The problem is that this law only applies to attacks and vandalism that occur in national parks and on federal property.

We now need to ask ourselves—how and why are we responsible for the behavior of our youth?

Why are we, as communities, increasingly taking punitive actions against homeless people? And, does this send a message that these people are less than human and that attacking them is acceptable?

Let us not forget: Violence is learned behavior! Not only do children (remember-teenagers are children) learn behaviors from their family and peers, but also learn it from what they observe in their neighborhoods and in the community at large. These behaviors are then reinforced by what they see on television, on the Internet, and in video games.

The perpetrators of these crimes are angry adolescents. You simply do not commit murder unless you are angry and resentful. These are children who have, no doubt, lived with rage for years. They feel cut off socially and emotionally.

To deal with this dilemma, we have to start by seeing our society as an organism, in order for it to properly function. It must become an organic whole of internally-connected members who share a single, unconscious process.

So, where do we start?

Here are some ideas—

• The inclusion of housing status in the pending state and federal hate crimes legislation.
• Start with our communities. Begin with awareness about the causes and solutions to homelessness in our schools, and how to deal effectively and humanely with people experiencing homelessness in their communities.
• Have speakers visit both public and private schools for the purpose of information and education (made up of homeless and formerly homeless people).
• A public statement needs to come from the U.S. Department of Justice acknowledging that hate crimes and/or violence against people experiencing homelessness is a serious national trend.
• Guidelines for local police on how to investigate crimes against and work with people experiencing homelessness.
• “Housing Status” needs to be included in information to the checklist of data maintained as part of the National Incident Based Reporting System maintained by the FBI.
• Most important of all—our federal, state, and local governments should create and provide adequate affordable housing and services to bring an end to homelessness in our communities.