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I suppose it is kind of preposterous that one imagines himself important enough to write down his opinions for others to read. Chattering superciliousness is one of the most infuriating things about academics and so-called intellectuals, generally, who feel compelled to share their thoughts. But here it goes, anyway.

Book Review of Do No Evil




The following review is from Kirkus, the nation's premier book reviewer:

"An effective integration of ethics, morality and business principles. In a logical progression, Berumen offers a historical review of major thinkers in philosophy and ethics, including John Locke, Immanuel Kant, David Hume, Thomas Hobbes and many others. He develops a framework for universal morality in which moral imperatives--rather than being matters of subjective opinion--immutable. The basis for universal morality, however, must be the avoidance of death and suffering, not just the general pursuit of good--"Being good is not good enough to be moral." The author also dissects current ethical debates, including extensive discussions, of social justice, animal rights and the environment. He explores the free-market economy, acknowledging what he believes to be the superiority of capitalism over socialism--"My theory shows that capitalism is not only ethically permissible, but also that socialism is more difficult to justify on ethical grounds"--and he highlights the principles of individual ownership and property as anchor points in his argument. He balances his argument by noting that the rights to property must be limited, and that morality provides a check on unrestrained capitalist pursuits. In the final section, the author elucidates the many layers of the managerial and corporate environment, deftly analyzing the fiduciary, social and moral relationships between the players in a corporation.

A fresh, convincing ethical examination. "

Selected Links for Reviews/Purchase: 

Miley Cyrus and Malibu: Coming of Age in Art and Life

Miley Ray Cyrus’ legion of fans, most of whom literally grew up with her and her music beginning with her Hannah Montana days, were not disappointed with her new single, “Malibu,” the precursor to a forthcoming album. It may seem strange that a somewhat respectable boomer in his dotage--one who in 1964 was at the Hollywood Bowl Beatles' concert at age 12; the Monterey Pop Festival at 15 in 1967 with a cavalcade of 60s rock greats; who living as a runaway hippie in a Haight-Ashbury flophouse and hanging out at Golden Gate Park for several months that year, listening to the Airplane and Dead for free in the park; and someone who as a young adult was in the Saturday Night Fever-Boogie Nights disco era --would be commenting on Miley Cyrus’ work at all, let alone being a big fan. However, I expect more of my vintage will start becoming just that as a result of her new music. As anyone who knows me would surely tell you, I love my old stuff from the halcyon days of my sometimes unbridled youth, but I’m not, and I never have been stuck in the past, and I do a pretty good job of keeping up with current trends in several musical genres. Besides, there is a lot of great music today. Maybe that means I'm perpetually childish. But the young nearly always determine musical trends, so, I'm okay with that. 

I came to Miley Cyrus in a circuitous way. Of course I had heard of her as Hannah Montana and of her popularity among kids some years ago. My daughter is only a few years older than Miley. But I never paid any serious attention until I read an article about Miley a couple of years ago--in the midst of her noteriety as pop's bad girl (all exaggerated)-- about celebrity generosity, and in which she was featured as being among the forefront in bounteousness among entertainers (in both time and money), and at the top among teen and young adult stars. It impressed me. It was then that I did a little research via YouTube and iTunes and took a retrospective look at her music, and I’ve been a fan and followed her ever since. Indeed, I've studied her music and I have read a fair amount about her, including the several post-Hannah controversies, as well as some autobiographical material. I have written at length, elsewhere, about her musical evolution and talent, and a bit on her biography (see here), as well as a rejoinder to some of her critics (see here), to which I’ll add a coda a bit later in this piece. In a word, I think she is one of the great pop-rock entertainers and artists of the modern era. My principal purpose in this piece, however, is to comment more specifically on her new song, “Malibu,” which was just released earlier today, and to do so with the knowledge that she hopes this will be a new beginning for her musically (and personally, as well). 

To encapsulate, Malibu is surely a love song, but something more than that, and it’s a highly personal, as has been much of her music. The song is upbeat and happy, not plaintive or wrought with lovelorn angst, and with some definite foot-tapping, torso moving, head bobbing back-beats. It's excellent driving music. It is lyrically simple and beautiful. Miley’s voice is in perfect form, and her Tennessee accent is quite audible, subtly, and at not full-throttle in a Grand Ole Opry way. This is not one of her power ballads, or one where she blows the roof of with pipes that should only belong to someone twice her size, and there’s no “sitting on a cornflake” stuff as in Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz  (much overlooked and containing some my favorite pieces). It is nearly conversational in a kind of casual, sing-song, breezy sort of way, where she’s using her mid-to-upper middle range voice (she’s technically a mezzo soprano, though many characterize her as an alto). One can almost imagine her singing it to her lover as part of a conversation on a park bench. Her diction and tone are clear and distinct. There is a beautiful run, but no unnecessary warbling and trilling.

The lyrics of the verse tell a story. I suppose we can’t know its meaning for sure, that is, unless she tells us. She's told us a few things, and it is clear that it is autobiographical in nature. But I think most of it is pretty clear. I am not going to give a complete musical exegesis, but just highlight some of the main parts of the song, including a bit of armchair interpretation. 

The piece begins with a thank you to her lover for bringing her to live by the ocean in Malibu, where she has found this new solace and a renewed sense of freedom. I view Malibu as something of a metaphor. While she was from Tennessee and without much coastal beach experience, I suspect it could be anywhere that brings her comfort. The ocean and coastal environs obviously do.

I never came to the beach or stood by the ocean
 I never sat by the shore under the sun with my feet in the sand
But you brought me here and I'm happy that you did
 'Cause now I'm as free as birds catching the wind
I always thought I would sink, so I never swam
 I never went boatin', don't get how they are floatin'
And sometimes I get so scared of what I can't understand

One can imagine a pop star of her fame, what with obnoxious paparazzi having followed her around since her early teens; people hunting for naked or private pictures constantly; with expectations of everyone to be one thing or the other in order to satisfy an image that they choose, rather than the freedom to be the person she is; and the pressures of 12 years (she’s only 24!) of constant celebrity, work, and criticism that would cause many, especially a child or near child in her late teens and early twenties, to wither emotionally—oh and yes, the pressure of adulation, too, and the problem of inner self-doubt about being deserving of it, something that has driven more than one famous person to therapy or worse. This is followed by an admission of being frightened about what I take to be feelings or things about herself that she didn’t fully understand, emotions and worries that required her to run away and distance herself rather than risking failure. This, I suspect, entails some acting out in both life and on stage … not at all unexpected of most young people, sans the stage. She did it in both places. But in real life, from everything I've read from people who know her personally, never to excess or out of control, despite the reputation fueled by her stage antics and a lot of sanctimonious and often hypocritical moralizing by others. 

My interpretation … I thought I’d sink, i.e., fail … I never fully committed because I didn’t understand … and that scared me. But now she’s happy, and it’s due partly to him insofar as he is the object of her love, and he might have helped point her in a direction ((i.e., Malibu), but more than anything, because she has found herself, whom she wants to be, and what she wants to do. She found this in Malibu. I surmise a little about her personal relationship and its ups-and-downs, but this is an acknowledgement of not only reconciliation, but change making the very possibility of a reconciliation to occur. Malibu is the overarching metaphor for security and comfort and knowing herself. Peace with herself, which, and this isn't entirely unusual for a youngster, came with some struggle. 

Then she gives the raison d'être for the song in the lyrics of the refrain. That through it all, notwithstanding ups and downs of the past or even ones to come, it has come to this--and this is where and with whom she wants to be:

But here I am
 Next to you
The sky is more blue
In Malibu
 Next to you
 In Malibu
Next to you

Then she shows her pure delight at just being with her lover, and that it is much more than just the physical attraction that usually begins a relationship, especially among the hormonally propelled young, but the thing people do for the entirety of a good and long-term relationship, namely, talk to one another. And it makes clear she wants her current peace of mind and the relationship she now has to remain intact. The personal giveaway is that her lover, who in real life everyone knows is her fiance, the actor and surfing enthusiast, Liam Hemsworth, explains the ocean's current to her, something a surfer might understand, while she just smiles--and as anyone who has ever been in love knows, when your lover talks with enthusiasm about anything, whether or not it is something that would ordinarily interest you outside of that conversation, or even if you don’t understand it, you are simply delighted at the happiness he or she derives from telling you, for allowing you to share in their enthusiasm, because, quite simply, you are in love, and you can hang on every word ... not because of what is said, but because of whose saying it. Who in a romantic relationship has not given or received such a smile, as though what is being said by the one you love is the coolest thing on earth? She says: 

We watched the sun go down as we were walking
I'd spend the rest of my life just standing here talking
 You would explain the current, as I just smile
 Hoping I just stay the same and nothing will change
 And it'll be us, just for a while
Do we even exist?
That's when I make the wish
To swim away with the fish

That’s the key. She doesn’t want it to end, she is in bliss, and she wants it to continue. It’s not just sex or romance, it’s more complete, more complex, less fleeting,  … it’s the yearning to be with someone you love forever, to swim away together, to be inextricably tied to one another, and for a moment of pure delight and bliss to last. One wonders, she says, could it even be real, do we exist, is it an imaginary thing, an illusion. If one reviews some of her music in the last three albums, particularly the last psychedelic experiment, one realizes she often speaks allegorically. A student of Miley's music can sometimes pick out the meaning because of knowing about her; but it is not always obvious even to those who follow her, and one must be left imagining, which is how it should be. 

The bottom line and conclusion of the piece is that is that she has found peace of mind in her love life, and greater happiness and security, overall, after some tumult--a sense that she can remain secure--and that having found this, it is a new beginning, a fresh start, leaving behind some things, by which I don't think she simply or only means an artistic style of this or that kind or antics on stage. I also think she means leaving things behind that were not good for her or for their relationship. And I think she means things that no longer seem relevant to her life. The last lines encapsulate the story: 

We are just like the waves that flow back and forth
 Sometimes I feel like I’m drowning and you’re there to save me
 And I wanna thank you with all my heart 
It’s a brand new start
A dream come true 
In Malibu

The song involves an admixture of musical styles that speak to all of the main genres of Miley’s background, including country, pop-rock, techno-electronica, psychedelic, and yes, hip hop. I’ve heard others, including her father and Miley herself, say it that harkens back to her roots. Indeed it does; however, it also uses an amalgam of all of the styles that she’s used  up through her Petz period that serve to move her art forward. One hears hints of all of it. No doubt the multifaceted background of her brilliant and prodigious musical producer, Oren Yoel, helped in this fusion. He played all of the instruments in the piece, I believe. A writer, engineer, and multi-instrumentalist, Yoel worked on several of her Bangerz pieces, and he even co-wrote a couple of Dead Petz pieces. He’s worked with a very diverse group, including hip-hop artists such as Kanye West and pop artists like Justin Bieber. He moves comfortably in every arena of the popular music world. 

There is at once a breezy aspect to the song, and a progressive, 4/4 driving back beat  accompanied by a loud bass, and with a use of polyrhythms and syncopation that lends both rock and earlier African American, percussive jive overtones, possessing stronger movement accents on the off-beats. The traditional 4/4 beat this is found in modern rock, pop, and in hip-hop in one form or another. It is said by musical historians that the 2 4 emphasis in the back beat began in the Middle East with hand held percussion instruments such as the tambourine which produced the rhythmic mood and incentive to dance.Clapping (and this songs mimics it in places) might be its real origin. It traveled widely and was eventually incorporated to create jazz, blues, rhythm and blues, rock n roll, and hip-hop, along with some of the more driving and eclectic accents of percussion from the African tradition. There are country string elements, too, almost steel guitar garnishes, and there's some subtle electronica evincing some acid rock. But the overriding feel is still pop, with just enough back beat to call it pop-rock. Some find the combo of pop and rock disturbing. Rock purists (like many jazz and hip-hop purists) often seek to define themselves in a way that excludes things, as though their music ought to be in a gilded cage.  It shouldn't, for rock, like hip-hop is and jazz was is just another form of popular music (as even Opera was), and in fact, many of the greatest rock artists did a considerable amount of what we might consider pure Britney Spears or Taylor Swift type pop, not least of all the sainted rock gods, the Beatles.

One of the prettiest parts of the song is the rising bridge of Miley singing  “aaaahhhhh, aaaahhhhh” where she gives just a bitty taste of her range (it’s quite large, a four-octave range when on her game, much larger than most all of her peers) and, more than anything, her vocal control; however, it is not one of those annoying, show-offy runs popularized by a couple of 90s and early 00s divas, warbling and wobbling around every note to the point of annoyance. 

The entirety of the piece must put to rest the silliness and outrage by some that one has heard in the buildup to its release suggesting that Miley has abandoned hip-hop, and only now that she’s catapulted herself into super-stardom. This is wrong on several fronts. First, she was a superstar well before her several (not nearly as many as some seem to suppose) hip-hop songs in Bangerz. She could fill any stadium, and she was reputed to have some the largest ticket prices in the business on the aftermarket with her extraordinary popularity among her age cohort. Ask the parents who had to buy the tickets. Her stage and video antics that borrowed from hip-hop included much more: there was Madonna, Gaga, and acid-rock stuff going on, along with a good deal of subtle and not-so-subtle erotica that hardly belongs to hip hop, but nothing kids don’t see today all the time on their ubiquitous devices, and nothing more outrageous than what Madonna was doing decades ago, both on stage and in real life. They also seem to forget that Miley left her Bangerz period almost immediately after her touring, then beginning her psychedelic and more introspective period, which was not seen as so controversial. (Also the time when she formed her charitable foundation. While she had long contributed time and money to various causes, her foundation gave her a new focus and sense of purpose).

What really created the controversy was her having said in her colorful way (no more riding cocks and such) that she was leaving behind misogyny, its attendant objectification of women, and bigotry, all of which are clearly found in aspects of hip-hop (and other, more traditionally white forms, too), and that she's doing so out of a sense of responsibility to others, along with a change in her own outlook and personal life. This was mistaken and twisted as a complete put down of hip-hip. It never was. And to suggest otherwise is tantamount to saying all of hip-hop is defined by these things, which it is not (despite what the great jazz artist Wynton Marsalis suggests). Miley said she was leaving those distasteful and now irrelevant (to her) elements behind, not discounting all of hip-hop, parts of which she continues to admire; indeed, it subtly informs Malibu, along with other influences.  

Second, what great artist doesn’t borrow, expand, modify, and evolve over time, whether the classical greats Mozart and Beethoven; jazz geniuses Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis; the pop-rock giants Lennon and McCartney; or the hip-hop/rap artistry of Ice Cube and Kanye West. No genre of music exists without outside influences; and every genre is subject to being adapted by others or morphing into something new, much as old-school rap morphed into modern hip-hop, Music never has and never will remain static, and no culture can be said to own it, just as no culture remains pure without influence, or sacrosanct without change or without informing other cultures who borrow from it. What Miley said she abandoned was the objectification of women and the over-sexualization that attends it, and bigotry more generally. What she wants to project in her music, at this point, is more happiness and love, which is reflective of her life.  Anyone who has studied her music and her performances, and knows anything about her personal interactions with others, knows she is at once a complete empath, and she is constitutionally unable to disguise her feelings at the time they occur. In other words, her musical style is patterned on her life of the moment, the way she feels then. That is called authenticity. Much praised, little practiced. With that said, the fact remains that she has maintained all of her influences in various degrees, all of the elements are in this one piece, and she has abandoned nothing musically insofar as I can tell. 

To suggest, as some have said, that she has betrayed a culture is simply preposterous. She is accused of capitalizing on hip-hop iconography of living in the hood and such, which of course is a phony accusation given the fact that the majority of hip-hop artists today are hardly off the streets of Compton or former gang bangers, themselves, tatted bodies and hood talk notwithstanding.  And any artist that picks up a horn, a microphone, a guitar, or uses an electronic device, beats on a drum, uses language, or utters a lyric in iambic pentameter has borrowed something from another culture. She has done service to music more generally, and that is a tribute to the styles that she has incorporated, not a betrayal. What is more, there never was and still is not an unjust expropriation or exploitation: after all, this is the youngster who gives music away and forgoes millions in earnings for her fans (in addition to millions of her wealth and her time that she devotes to the unfortunate, much not seen by the cameras with appearances at hospitals, blood banks, and such--out of the limelight). No one has suffered, and many have benefited from Miley Cyrus, including in the world of hip-hop with people she employed; and given some of the harsh comments she has endured, it is a testament to her strength of character and her fundamental kindness that she never stopped doing what she could to alleviate the pain of others.  What she has done musically is fuse the best of her experiences and left behind the worst--or things that no longer represent her more mature, adult self. A self that now includes another consideration: someone she loves and aims to please. As should we all in such a circumstance. 

Her video is simple, beautiful, and in my opinion, the best there is for an upbeat love song. It is not overproduced; full of highly-choreographed dancing; it uses special effects sparingly; and it has a cast of one, well, two, counting her dog. Miley is seen being what I suspect represents what Miley might actually be like in life outside of the publicity and media mill having to answer questions about her sexuality, drug use, and such… girlish, sweet, tastefully coquettish, and a little shy (don’t let her previous exhibitionism fool you—boldness on stage is cover for many performers); but comfortable in her own skin with just being herself. There are no fancy hairstyles or elaborate costumes. She is blessed with great natural beauty, and that is certainly an advantage in disposing of distractions; indeed, I think she is more beautiful today than ever before. There are balloons, beaches, grassy knolls, and a waterfall.  While I won’t take anything away from several of her Bangerz videos, especially, given that I’m a normal straight man,  “Wrecking Ball"-- there can be little question that this is the style suits her best. The reason I say that is that Miley Cyrus is one of the very few artists who can get away with simplicity by virtue of her highly expressive countenance and communicative body language. She doesn’t just feel the music, the music feels her … and she is able to project her feelings through music in a way that few can without a lot of artifice or staging. 

I said I detect shyness in Miley that might come as a surprise others. Some of what she has done before, I suspect, is to counteract that. To illustrate, the whole sticking out the tongue business has become a set-piece and insignia, now something expected of her, but I think it originated as a girl with the discomfort of being on display, of being unsure of herself, a certain awkwardness (hardly uncommon with a teenager), of being constantly photographed and not knowing what to do. I picked up a definite sense of insecurity and a feeling of social awkwardness in some tellingly autobiographical lyrics in Petz. Maybe I’m over-reading things. Of course this is speculative, so that's a possibility.  After all, I don’t really know Miley and I never will. But I am betting I’m very close to the mark on this.

I must add, this song was written in car (she wasn't driving, thankfully, she used an Uber driver) on the way to her gig as a coach on The Voice. If I spent ten years on it, I could not come up with such a pretty piece.

Do I think Miley has conducted herself perfectly. Of course not. She is a normal person, aside from her artistic gifts--a normal girl and young woman, except she grew up before everyone with a kind of pressure that most of us will not experience. She made some mistakes, of course. But she knows that, and her critics are intent on characterizing her by them. They were minor. The fact is, Miley Ray Cyrus, while not perfect, is about as decent a person as one will find. Her generosity towards others speaks for itself.   

Here’s my overall assessment. "Malibu" is a beautifully constructed love song: lyrically, vocally, and instrumentally. Visually, it is Miley at her very best: being herself, naturally, and without a lot of trappings (to see more of that style, see her Happy Hippie backyard performances and some of her more intimate concert work, or her live BBC radio sessions). I think it will have great appeal, not only to fans of several musical styles, but to all ages. This, I think, will be the piece that will cause older folk to notice Miley’s vocal and performance chops. Miley is 24. She’s been around a while, so people sometimes lose sight of just how young she is. This is better work than many very famous artists were doing at that age, including several at the forefront of the music scene today. To put it in language Boomers and rock music history buffs might understand very well, she’s long passed the "I Want to Hold Your Hand," adolescent stuff … though clever, well sung, and age-appropriate to the audience and the artists, to be sure; and she’s just left her Rubber Soul era, where her brilliance became more manifest, and in which she sought her musical stride and self-confidence, while experiencing the turmoil of going from girlhood to womanhood under a microscope and in front the world, all the while without ever stepping over the edge, remaining in control of her art, her values, her responsibilities, and her fundamental sweetness and generosity of spirit. This, then, is her Revolver period, one where all of her experiences come together and her music turns completely adult. And as the Beatles had George Martin, she’s had some help along the way, too, not least of all, Stacy Jones, Mike Will Made It; Wayne Coyne; and more recently, Oren Yoel. But she is the central artist and driving force, the prism that bends the light, the weaver of the musical threads, and without whose genius it could not be done. Her Sgt. Pepper and the White Album phase has yet to come, but I suspect it will be much sooner than later.  Miley Ray Cyrus is a force of nature, an entertainment genius, and no ordinary pop-rock singer destined to flame out anytime soon. Mark my words.

Link to my artistic analysis and bio of Miley.

Rejoinder to criticism of Miley. 

Miley's Happy Hippie Foundation

MB 5-11-17


The Vicissitudes of Genius: Miley and her Critics

Miley Cyrus just announced that she will soon release new music, something her many millions of fans have been itching to have for several years. In my judgment, she is the most gifted young pop-rock artist of the modern era, and I have already said why I believe this is the case at some length, here.   Now, there is no universal, objective standard of reference for judging music. It is necessarily subjective, and at best it is measurable only within a particular musical-inertial frame of reference, primarily a cultural one, often writ large. With that said, Miley is my personal favorite among the current pop-rock artists for the reasons I have adduced elsewhere (Some purist wags have said, "oh, she's not really rock." Nonsense, they haven't listened to all she's done if they say that ... and I've seen nearly every great rock band since the Beatles.).

I should like to address and focus on the recent contretemps regarding her interview with Billboard, here, wherein she distanced herself from elements of hip-hop, specifically, the more misogynistic and sexually gratuitous parts. This created a minor firestorm in cyberspace and twitterdom. It was obviously not possible for her to deliver a complete disquisition in a brief interview for a magazine, and it is impossible to capture the entire context of what was being asked and said, and to capture the complete intention behind what is said in such a piece. Miley is an artist, anyway, and not auditioning for the State Department. Not long ago, when she incorporated elements of hip-hop (and electronica and much else, I’d add) in her Bangerz album, she was unfairly criticized by some for trying to be black and for exploiting black culture in order to shed her Disneyfied image. All manner of outrage was evinced by moral scolds who clung to her erstwhile Disney image, and then there were the other moral scolds who saw her as a poseur qua inauthentic interloper in black culture. And it usually involved a great deal of slut and woman shaming by both sides (oh yes, some of her hip-hop critics were saying some pretty nasty things about her twerking abilities not being up to par, and even worse).  Plus she was said to be using African Americans as mere props in her staging, as though they were there unwillingly and without pay, in effect shaming them as mere tools as opposed to knowing artists in their own right. And now, she is being criticized for abandoning hip-hop and blackness, only when it is convenient, and only now that Disney is well behind her. This is all nonsense. And to no small degree, there is a subtle racism and sexism implicit in much of the criticism that is thrown her way.

First, let’s get one thing straight. No one person or culture “owns” music.  And there is no form of popular music, including its various iterations, marching band, ragtime, blues, jazz, rhythm and blues, pop, rockabilly, rock, folk, soul, funk, hip-hop, country, bluegrass, electronica, variations thereof, etc. … or classical music, for that matter, which does not borrow from other forms as it moves through time. None of it can be said to be pure, standing alone in a bubble, as though it sprung fully-formed from the head of Zeus like his daughter Aphrodite. It is preposterous to suggest that music has been invented by any culture extant or in thousands of generations out of whole cloth. Many cultures, sub-cultures, and ethnic groups from diverse parts of the world have participated in the formation of major musical movements. It would be absurd to suggest that Mahalia Jackson’s magnificent rendition of “Amazing Grace,” written by an English clergyman (and penitent former slave trader) in the 18th century, was co-opting Anglo-Saxon culture, or to suggest that late in life when she sang some pop and rock tunes it amounted to a betrayal of the African American gospel tradition. The former added luster to the latter, in fact. Similarly, the brilliant Wynton Marsalis did not betray black culture by playing Bach … or forsake Bach by playing Duke Ellington. He does both, and very well.  But when Miley sheds her fifteen-year old self (and a very talented one, at that), adopts some modern popular forms (first pop-rock, then incorporating hip-hop and electronica), and then moves again into some older territory (psychedelic) in a new way, then yet again into some new form (she’s telegraphing that it is, at least) that we are told subtly evokes her roots, she is criticized by multiple audiences (a minority in numbers, grant you, but a disproportionately vocal one) for not sticking to what they like … this, when some of the very same people criticized her for entering into those musical arenas in the first place. Speaking of hypocrisy. I'm sorry, but culture and attendant musical forms are not sacrosanct possessions of a chosen few, and they do not themselves stand alone without other influences.

Second, yes, I know, there have been and there will be more cries of her not understanding hip-hop culture. As though all successful hip-hop artists grew up in the hood in places like Compton. I’ve read many tweets suggesting “she never really was hip-hop, we told you so,” etc., or that she was merely using it as a crass utilitarian, and then all along planning to abandon it when convenient. Well, none other than Drake, a friend and fan of hers, supported Miley in her efforts to incorporate aspects of hip-hop in her music and stage act. It is simply not true that she is abandoning hip-hop in the sense that its influence on her has been lost or unappreciated. Moreover, it is rank hypocrisy to suggest as some have that she "exploited" black culture for her own gain. Precisely what are other commercial hip hop artists doing, including black ones? And when they pick up a trumpet or use sampling of a white boy band, are they exploiting white culture? It is all ridiculous. Art is to be shown, displayed, imitated, adapted, improved upon. And cultures move along similar paths.  And I seriously doubt Miley at 20 had a master plan in mind on the trajectory of her musical style for the purpose of commerce. This is the woman who gave her last album away for free, after all. What is more, she did not suggest she was forsaking hip-hop, and she amplified her position further, here, in her rejoinder to some of the outcry. That will not satisfy the sanctimonious, of course; but thoughtful people can see she is attempting to do some good.  Fact is, she has done a lot of good, and not simply in music. Would that her critics give as much in time and money to those suffering privation as Miley has done. The evidence is abundantly clear that she is hardly single-minded and driven by commercial success.

I don’t think a musical artist “owes” to any particular musical form hidebound allegiance, any more than a painter ought never adopt new ways of expression.  It is unlikely that any change completely walls off prior artistic influences.The early Rolling Stones started out as a blues band, primarily; and the blues remains evident in much of their later rock repertoire. Should we criticize the Stones for exploiting blues only to turn to Rock? (Sidenote: some of the blues greats, such as Johnny Lee Hooker, were grateful to the Stones, among others, for bringing more widespread awareness to the blues musical form via rock. Art takes from other art naturally, and it continues to morph into something new.) Picasso experienced many such criticisms in his lifetime whenever he changed his style, for he changed it substantially at least nine times in his lifetime.

Third, Miley is being accused of hypocrisy because she used overt sexuality in some of her music and in her stagecraft, and is now distancing herself from it. Some critics are unable to forgive her for no longer being virginal, perpetually pubescent Hannah Montana, while others are saying that she basically shouldn’t change from the aforesaid period of hyper-sexuality, for to do so is to abandon hip-hop or black culture and thereby to make a mockery of it. There is an apparent lack of self-awareness on the part of these critics, for that defines hip-hop and black culture very narrowly and, I should add, in a manner that is very much a mockery and inaccurate. Look, a whole lot of music is about sex, whether done so subtly or more blatantly and in one’s face. Miley was 20-22 years old in this period, for Heaven’s sake! Do you remember being 20-22 years old? What is more, hip-hop is not all about misogyny, and she never averred that it was. She did not forsake hip-hop. That is an utter misrepresentation. She said she was going to do some new things and distance herself from an aspect of hip-hop that she came to believe was inappropriate. But hip-hop's admirers (and I am one) must own the simple unadulterated fact that parts of hip-hop/rap are indeed quite misogynistic. The same also could be said of many songs of the sixties through the eighties by white-boy guitar bands, where women were very much objectified. It’s hardly a black or white thing, and it is not confined to hip-hop. The point is, it does not define hip-hop, and Miley did not suggest that it did.

Notwithstanding all of this, Miley is maturing, evolving, and understanding the things that she does artistically--because of her large international fan base and her influence over young people--can have untoward or positive and salubrious effects on others. She is choosing to do the latter. She wants to distance herself from those things that might have negative repercussions, particularly, at least as I understand her, those things that might feed into making girls into sex objects, which is to say, objects of pleasure wholly divorced of their personhood (nothing wrong with sex, to be sure … but not when it becomes the defining characteristic of another person's purpose), whether in the minds of young men or young women. She is not denying or abdicating responsibility for her own peripheral participation (though I think to the extent it is negative and present in her work, its impact is nominal and exaggerated by her critics); she is saying she is going to do something different in the future. That strikes me as a responsible, adult attitude, one that is to be lauded, not condemned. Yes, Miley has changed. Who among us can say they haven't? She’s 24!  One would hope so, much as one might hope that we all do, and for the better---and one also would hope her brilliant artistry will continue to evolve, notwithstanding the critiques of haters, the misinformed, the envious, and the assorted mediocrities that are always nipping at the heels of artistic genius.  They will be forgotten. One can be very certain that Miley Cyrus will not.

MB 5-6-17

Trump and Trumpism: American Fascism

I was watching a CNN program where a wag was describing Trumpism as populism, and then giving cover to Trump’s followers as aggrieved people motivated by legitimate concerns. It motivated me to write this open polemic to friends, some of whom confuse voting their conscience with principle. The two can be separable.

To my Friends of the Right, Left, and Center:

It is over year, now, since I first went on record and predicted Donald Trump would become a major political force and the eventual nominee of the Republican Party. Many of my friends at the time thought I had lost my mental bearings. I have not in the meantime changed my mind about either Trump or Trumpism. It would appear that he will lose the US election, although that is far from certain, and I won't rest easy until he does. And that ease will doubtless be short-lived, for I am less than enthusiastic about the likely alternative, Hillary Clinton, though I much prefer her over Trump. I also am very worried about the fact that he will have come very close, and that speaks to an ominous undercurrent in the US that is both large and powerful, and that will remain with us for the foreseeable future. It is a clear and present danger to the nation and, hence, a danger to the world.

When I was young, it was a commonplace on the political left to brand our rightist opponents as Fascists. More often than not, it was used as a facile pejorative, and without much thought to the lexical or historical meaning of the word. We knew it was bad, representing things we eschewed, and to identify the opposing right with brutal authoritarian regimes seemed appropriate enough. The appellation was overused and often used inaccurately. It thereby lost much of its significance.

In more recent years, it has not been uncommon to hear rightists use the term to brand leftist thought or activists. Bill O'Reilly, the loudmouthed, bully-broadcaster on Fox News, is guilty of this kind of abuse ... to cite just one recent example, he called David Silverman, the leader of an American atheist group, as being fascistic for his positions against organized religion and his support of separation between church and state.

In some quarters, Trump, now the Republican candidate for President of the US, has been called a Fascist or someone who supports fascistic beliefs. Others reject this, branding him as a mere populist or garden-variety authoritarian. And his followers, they would have us believe, are just gullible innocents oppressed by their circumstances and victimized, beguiled, and held hostage by his hateful rhetoric. I believe this is complete nonsense, I should like to posit that Trumpism is indeed closely linked to the ideas of historical Fascism; that Trump himself has all of the essential qualities of a Fascist leader; and what is more, that his partisans, wittingly or unwittingly, are a part of a fascistic movement. It does not matter that they do not know the etymology or history of Fascism. They in fact support it, and for all practical purposes, they are therefore, themselves, Fascists. Much like the millions of Germans who denied they were Nazis because they were not card-carrying members of the Party, we can no longer allow this distinction without a difference (i.e., I support Trump and Trumpism, but I am not a Fascist) to be swept under the rug and ignored as it often has been.

Contrary to a now common description, Trumpism is not simply a form of populism, although it shares some of its characteristics. Some liberals, especially in the political, academic, and pundit classes, are seriously guilty of whitewashing and, thereby, diminishing Trumpism's insidious character by referring to it as populism, and then qualifying it further by speaking of the grievances of its constituency. It enables them to evince sympathy for the perceived legitimate complaints and anger of the (supposed) underclass, while remaining critical of Trump himself, essentially offering excuses for the reprehensible behavior ... hate, violent overtones, jingoism, racism, and misogyny ... of his supporters. Always looking for sociological explanations for their fellow man's depravity, liberals' abiding sense of fairness and caring for the downtrodden (who themselves could care less about the liberals or their views) can sometimes obscure their perceptions of the reality of venal, evil forces. This was true in the 1930s, and it is just as true now. The consequence is a tolerance of the intolerable by distancing his supporters from Trump himself, and from Trumpism, I think this is a mistake and, often enough, even disingenuous and cynical, as though they represent potential voters and thus we cannot afford to alienate them,

The fact is that Trump's followers' views are deplorable, and Trump is the catalyst and lens for refracting their vile beliefs, Trumpism would not be possible without them. It matters not that some may even be our friends or relations, making an exception only for the mentally incompetent. Liberals and conservatives both need to call a spade a shovel and stop excusing the inexcusable.

Populism has taken various forms on the political right and left in different times and parts of the globe. It has a long history, at least dating back to Pericles in Athens and Julius Caesar in Rome, Broadly speaking, in modern times, populism is a political movement that centers on economic grievances, primarily, though not exclusively, by workers, the less affluent merchant class, and farmers, against the economic, social, and intellectual elites who are perceived as the causes of their privations. Andrew Jackson might well be the best example of an early populist leader in the US, and to date, the only truly populist president. The Populist Party of the 1890s consisted of farmers and some labor unions that denounced a system, whereby, in the words of David M. Kennedy & Lizabeth Cohen’s  American Pageant (2005), “the fruits of the toil of millions are boldly stolen to build up colossal fortunes for a few." One of the great populist leaders of this era into the early 20th century was Williams Jennings Bryan, a charismatic, religious orator and sometimes presidential candidate who railed against capitalist elites, as exemplified by his famous "Cross of Gold" speech. Huey P. Long, Sr., "The Kingfish," a governor and senator from Louisiana, led a populist movement in the Great Depression, and, had he lived, he might well have become president. Populism regained currency, again, in the 1950s. The historian Richard Hofstadter and sociologist Daniel Bell compared the anti-elitism and populism of the late 19th century with that of Joseph McCarthy's grievances against communism and American power elites, In the late sixties and early seventies, George Wallace led a third-party, populist movement that centered on race segregation, And the modern Tea Party has many elements of populism with its focus on white, male grievances with racial and anti-immigrant overtones.

Bernie Sanders' candidacy also capitalized on some populist sentiments against the elites, with much emphasis on the real and imagined burdens of white youth and the various real and imagined malefactions of the wealthy, and it is therefore not altogether surprising, after his primary loss, that there has been a small number of converts to Trumpism--or that there are some sentiments or grievances that are similar ... or if not out-and-out converts, there are people who rationalize (mistakenly, I believe) that Trump could be no worse than the alternative.

To no small degree, the Tea Party movement was a precursor of Trumpism, and it cannot be denied that Fascism and Trumpism have characteristics of populism, and particularly in the sense that people are rallied against others who are seen as the root cause of their various misfortunes. But there are also some significant differences between populism and Trumpism. None of the aforementioned populist movements were truly fascistic in nature. Trumpism is different.

I hasten to acknowledge that Fascism is not a systematic doctrine, it is difficult to characterize, and there is considerable debate to this day as to what constitutes true Fascism. In many ways, it is incoherent as an ideology, and an admixture of ideas sometimes even in opposition to one another. It is best, I think, to look at some general characteristics that its several strands possess, but as much as anything, also to consider the actual behaviors of its leaders and followers from a historical perspective.

Fascism has many fathers in terms of its origins and evolution; but in terms of what I'll call European "movement" Fascism, a phenomenon that reached its apotheosis with Hitler and Mussolini, it is principally rooted in fin de siècle Italian, German, and French political thought, and as an offshoot of various Italian and German social movements, but particularly in Italian syndicalism and pan-German nationalism, Among the most influential thinkers were Georges Sorel, Enrico Corradini, Georg von Schönerer, Wilhelm Riehl, Oswald Spengler, and Filippo Tommaso Marinetti. There are others, but most influential of all, that is, prior to Adolf Hitler––was Benito Mussolini, himself, who catalyzed the views of various thinkers into a well-organized political movement, Hitler, of course, took it to another level, and, in the process, he nearly led the world into the abyss.

There is a myth that Trump resembles Mussolini as a person. It is often repeated, but said by people who obviously know nothing of Mussolini beyond the swaggering character that they see in old newsreels, Perhaps in his exaggerated attempts at machismo this is true, but it really ends there, Mussolini was a learned and well-rounded man, he had a doctorate and wrote learned papers, including one on Machiavelli's Prince ... a man who spoke several languages ... and he was a gifted orator with cogent syntax, the latter being a great distinction from Trump,  In contrast, Adolf Hitler's learning was eclectic, Aside from being a brilliant orator and dramatist, perhaps only equaled by Winston Churchill in recent times, Hitler was naturally bright and retentive. He also was a gifted street psychologist, a master of branding, use of media, and marketing, much as Trump is; however, from his youth, and also like Trump, he was intellectually lazy, and uninterested in systematic learning or scholarship. His venue was the coffee house and beer hall, not the library, much as Trump’s is television. However, unlike Trump, Hitler was exceptionally disciplined in managing his public persona, in control of his political machinations ... exposing himself only very carefully ... and rigorous in conducting his personal relations, The personality comparisons are not what are important about Trump ... for there are not many, really, and they are at best quite superficial.

So what is Fascism?  First of all, let's nip one common misunderstanding in the bud, It is does not fit in the traditional categories of right and left, which is not the way the self-styled intellectuals representing either ideological extreme would like to have it, believing Fascism to be the ideology of the other side, and which partly explains why it can appeal to erstwhile members of both ends of the political spectrum, It is nearly always presented by academics as a species of far right-wing politics ... but that is overly simplistic ... it is much more complicated than that. No less than an authority than Hitler himself thought Nazism, a species of Fascism, transcended left and right, borrowed from both, and was what he called "syncretic,” In the broadest terms, here are ten characteristics one will find in the three previously successful, large-scale fascistic movements in Europe. Taken individually each attribute may be found in other kinds of movements. But taken as a whole, in combination, I believe they typify Fascism.

1. Fascism is a form of hyper-nationalism that capitalizes on two principal things ... one, strong patriotic feelings, often founded on a mythical past that never occured, and two, the vilification of groups seen as sullying the nation and detrimental to the national interest, often represented by an ethnic or religious group, modernism, cosmopolitan elites, and outsiders more generally. ["Make America Great AGAIN."] [I am putting America first.] ["I think the guy is lazy. And it’s probably not his fault because laziness is a trait in blacks. It really is, I believe that. It’s not anything they can control."] (...just to name three of many--but more to follow illustrating the same point.)

2. While there certainly are elements of anti-elitist populism, Fascism also seeks to co-opt people in power, for power is its ultimate objective, and because it is more than willing to use utilitarian means to attain its ends, it will curry favor with economic, political, and intellectual elites wherever and whenever it can to secure it. [Simply look at GOP leaders and moneyed donors who previously denounced Trump, and the latter’s wiliness to use all the tools at his disposal of the elites his followers decry, e.g., the media.]

3. Fascism freely borrows from both socialist and capitalist doctrines ... for power is its goal ... and there is not a systematic economic doctrine other than that which is seen as necessary to attain power and to benefit the state, co-opting whatever economic power or centers of influence necessary to attain those ends, whether through markets, corporate interests, or popular measures with the masses ... so it is perhaps no coincidence that Mussolini was once a socialist involved in the labor movement (which he would destroy), and that Nazism had a vibrant socialist wing in its earlier years ... one eventually quashed (the Night of the Long Knives) by the mid-thirties and replaced by a kind of quasi-capitalism, an economic system best described as state corporatism. ["Well, the first thing you do is don't let the jobs leave. The companies are leaving. I could name, I mean, there are thousands of them. They're leaving, and they're leaving in bigger numbers than ever. And what you do is you say, fine, you want to go to Mexico or some other country, good luck. We wish you a lot of luck. But if you think you're going to make your air conditioners or your cars or your cookies or whatever you make and bring them into our country without a tax, you're wrong."] [From Trump's chief economic adviser, Steve Moore: "Capitalism is a lot more important than democracy. I’m not even a big believer in democracy."]

4. Conspiratorial and exclusionary thinking about groups and forces aligned against the movement is part and parcel to all fascistic movements, and plays a central role in the rallying cries of its leaders, whether the bogeyman is international Jewry, a particular ethnic group, the bourgeoisie, large corporate interests, liberal elites, Bolsheviks, or the media. [On Mexican immigrants: "They're bringing drugs,' crime and are 'rapists'."]["I’ve been treated very unfairly by this judge. Now, this judge is of Mexican heritage. I'm building a wall, OK? I'm building a wall.] [I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down. And I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people (ed: that is, Arabs) were cheering as that building was coming down. Thousands of people were cheering."] ["Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on. According to Pew Research, among others, there is great hatred towards Americans by large segments of the Muslim population."] ["On The Wall Street Journal: 'They better be careful or I will unleash big time on them."]["We won with poorly educated. I love the poorly educated."]

5. When out of power, fascistic movements always declaim against the legitimacy of those in power as usurpers who, through their machinations, rig outcomes and are not the true representatives of the people or nation. Already, a potential loss is being declared as a result of voter fraud and media rigging. Hints at violence as a consequence are not uncommon, ["I think you'd have riots. I think you'd have riots. I'm representing many, many millions of people. In many cases first-time voters ... If you disenfranchise those people? And you say, well, I'm sorry, you're 100 votes short, even though the next one is 500 votes short? I think you'd have problems like you've never seen before. I wouldn't lead it, but I think bad things will happen".]["Polls close, but can you believe I lost large numbers of women voters based on made up events THAT NEVER HAPPENED. Media rigging election!"] ["Election is being rigged by the media, in a coordinated effort with the Clinton campaign, by putting stories that never happened into news!"]

6, Every successful fascistic movement has been led by a charismatic and often bombastic demagogue who is seen as and who claims to be the embodiment of the nation, the vessel of the national will, and as the exceptional person--one without whom the nation cannot prosper or survive. The state and its leaders effectively become one, ["I will be the greatest jobs president that God ever created."] [After delineating the ills of the nation: "I am your voice. I alone can fix it."]

7. Fascistic movements view violence as a just means of achieving its ends, whether outside of or through the state, and law and order are common code words. Calls for violence or hints of violent recourse against opponents are common. There is often an exaggerated, hyper-masculinity on parade, with glorification of toughness and strength and power. There is a display of an authoritarian bearing, and the leader’s followers are admirers of it. ["When somebody challenges you, fight back. Be brutal, be tough."] ["When Iran, when they circle our beautiful destroyers with their little boats, and they make gestures at our people that they shouldn’t be allowed to make, they will be shot out of the water."] ["If she gets to pick her judges – nothing you can do, folks. Although, the Second Amendment people. Maybe there is. I don’t know."] ["Why can’t we use nuclear weapons."] ["You know what I wanted to. I wanted to hit a couple of those speakers so hard. I would have hit them. No, no. I was going to hit them, I was all set and then I got a call from a highly respected governor."]

8. Despite the popular appeals to "law and order," a trope of authoritarianism more generally, the fascistic conception of law lies outside of any legislative or judicial proceedings or the kinds of protections or due process enshrined by a constitutional authority. Often the law is construed as that which us willed by the individual or individuals in power. ['It is a disgrace. It is a rigged system. I had a rigged system, except we won by so much. This court system, the judges in this court system, federal court. They ought to look into Judge Curiel because what Judge Curiel is doing is a total disgrace. Ok? But we will come back in November.'] ["The problem is we have the Geneva Conventions, all sorts of rules and regulations, so the soldiers are afraid to fight."] [On telling generals to violate the Geneva Conventions, US Constitution, and the Uniform Military Code of Justice: "They won’t refuse. They’re not gonna refuse me. Believe me. I’m a leader; I’ve always been a leader. I’ve never had any problem leading people. If I say do it, they’re going to do it."]

9, A common attribute of fascistic movements is the creation of alternate realities, often with an adamant and repetitive disregard for the truth, even in the face of abundant veridical evidence to the contrary, especially when it serves the ends of the partisans or when said evidence conflicts with doctrine. ['An ‘extremely credible source’ has called my office and told me that Barack Obama’s birth certificate is a fraud.'] [(On unemployment: 'I've seen numbers of 24 percent — I actually saw a number of 42 percent unemployment. Forty-two percent. 5.3 percent unemployment -- that is the biggest joke there is in this country. … The unemployment rate is probably 20 percent, but I will tell you, you have some great economists that will tell you it's a 30, 32. And the highest I've heard so far is 42 percent.']

10. Symbolism is often an important aspect of Fascism, especially patriotic symbols that evoke feelings of group identity. The Nazis, in particular, made effective use of this. [An example, one of many, would be Donald Trump Jr.'s tweeted picture with the Trumps next to a green frog, a common alt-right/anti-Semitic and racist symbol, Of course, all the standard patriotic regalia and lighting and music are part and parcel to the Trump campaign, as it is with every campaign; but there are insidious instances of using other racist and anti-Semitic memes and symbols.]

This is by no means exhaustive, but I believe it captures the essentials, and though right and left populist movements might share in some of these characteristics in various times and places, when taken as a whole, I think they are substantively different, I have bracketed just a small sample of statements by Trump himself, or gave some examples myself, simply to illustrate and encapsulate some of the reasons why I think he meets these ten criteria. The amount of additional evidence is simply overwhelming. These are all in addition to his hateful statements towards the disabled and women, an admission to committing physical assault, and to being a sexual predator. Not to mention Trump’s threats to prosecute and jail his opponent, Hillary Clinton, if he wins, or, if he loses, to not recognize the results of the election. The latter are among the hallmarks of authoritarian regimes everywhere.

While I think Fascism and what it conveys is an important descriptor, and one worth preserving and using when it fits, I will readily admit its overuse has diminished its force and gravity. Moreover, it seems to many to be a dead doctrine, one now buried in the historical dustbin. It isn't. Setting that aside, though, the fact remains that the ascendancy of Trump and his craven Republican converts represent the most dangerous political phenomena in the US in the modern era.

The only silver lining is potential that an intellectually and morally responsible center-right party will rise from the ashes, and the apparent destruction of the modern Republican Party, a party transformed (historical irony, here!) by the white flight of the post-Confederate Democrats after the Civil Rights legislation of the mid-Sixties, and an unholy alliance between corporate welfarests and assorted disaffected racists, white Evangelicals, and white workers, a coalition cobbled together by Nixon and Reagan (the so-called silent and moral majorities, respectively), with the help of considerable gerrymandering at the congressional level, courtesy of the likes of Lee Atwater, Newt Gingrich, and Karl Rove. And all the while,  the more rational establishment is winking at the crass incitements of the unlettered by the Breitbarts,  Limbaughs, Hannitys and O'Reillys of the world, believing at the end a rational man can be inserted (e.g., a McCain or Romney), whilst the rabble are returned to their guns and religion. I strongly suspect both Nixon and Reagan would be appalled by the Frankenstein monster they helped to create--culminating in a hydra-headed amalgam of the Old Confederacy, Palinism, and Trumpism. It is no longer the party of Javits, Dirksen, Eisenhower, or T.R. (who left the party, despite today's ahistorical Republican hagiography of TR), let alone the party of Lincoln, Today it is the party of the ultimate vulgarian, Donald Trump.

Even with Trump's probable defeat, I worry about the possibility of violence, an intractable divide in our population, an impotent executive with a recalcitrant congress (that already lies in wait to foil her and perhaps even to impeach her), and an unstable world with dictators, fanatics, and jingoists run amok, some considerable amount of which is of the United State's own making.

I am not a fan of either Bill or Hilary Clinton, I have not had a choice that I thoroughly liked since George McGovern in the general election of 1972, But I do not doubt Hillary's intellectual or emotional bona fides, and I do believe that she believes in many of the same things that are most important to me (and most of my friends), not least of all, the rule of law, principles enshrined in the Bill of Rights, equality under the law, and a societal obligation to care for the least among us. She is more belligerent and hawkish than I would like; but she is also a quick study and learns from her mistakes, Perhaps she will have learned more about the unintended consequences of military interventions that are not in our strategic interests. I eschew her lawyerly-like triangulation and prevarications, a quality she shares with her husband; but these are certainly not unique to politicians of all political stripes. I also regret her seeming instinctive secretiveness (I still remember her “secret” health care committee days in the nineties), and her occasional (to be sure, sometimes understandable!) paranoia. With that said, she is much less of a liar than either her husband or her opponent, or for that matter, even the average politician, This is empirically verifiable by going here http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/article/2016/jun/29/fact-checking-2016-clinton-trump/, Trump represents a danger not only by virtue of his sordid and incoherent policies, but also because of his very unstable and petulant temperament. It would be a mistake to be fooled by his apparent isolationism and pacific statements, for his past behaviors and language are hyper-aggressive, and he has an overwhelming need to appear tough–––and like many of those who are especially egocentric and thin-skinned, he indicates a massive problem with self-esteem veiled by a fragile ego. This is a mixture for disaster with someone in charge of the most powerful military, police, and intelligence apparatus in the world,

It is said it couldn't happen here, Well, I suspect something similar was thought in the most technologically advanced, literate, and cosmopolitan nation on the face of the earth in the late 1920s and early 1930s. And it not only happened, it happened very suddenly, And in the process, both conservative and liberal forces were co-opted or eliminated. Had there been a choice for, say,  Pappan or Schleicher over Hitler in 1932-33, both imperfect men, but not Fascists, and both realistic alternatives at the time, tens of millions of lives might have been spared, I do not expect Trump will kill millions. But I do think he could irrevocably alter the course of history in a dark and sinister way.

Our choice is clear, I think, and it is essential that we do everything we can not to simply defeat Trump and Trumpism, but to defeat both by the widest margin possible at all levels ... in the hope of marginalizing his and his followers' power ... and to do all that is possible to change the balance of power in the congress, and especially the Senate, lest much mischief be done to damage the office of both the presidency and the nation. To let the perfect be the enemy of the good, or even the acceptable, is now simply unacceptable, given the stakes. Stein, Johnson, or McMullin will not and cannot win the presidency. To vote for any of them, or to write in another, or to not vote at all, simply reduces the margin between the forces of rationality and Trump. It therefore is a moral imperative to make that margin as large as possible for all of our sakes, and for the sake of posterity. He must not simply be defeated, but he must be utterly defeated. In the end, voting one's "conscience" ought not to be unconscionable. Put another way, a vote for anyone other than Hillary in this election is not a vote against Trump, but mere self-gratification with the delusion of acting out of principle.  

The evidence demonstrates that it is a waste of time to reason with Trumpers. This is not meant for them. Feel free to pass this on to the ones who might yet make a difference in the election ahead. It is more than a matter of conscience, notwithstanding the unsatisfactory choices. It is a matter of principle.

MB

21st Century Rock Queen: Miley Ray Cyrus

From the time Elvis exploded the musical universe and shook everyone up; Jerry’s piano burst into balls of fire; Mick had us all under his thumb; Janis took a piece of our hearts; Cherie bombed us; and Ann went all crazy on us, the best rock ‘n roll has always been in-your-face, bold, evocative, guttural––embroiling our animal spirits in a way that no other modern musical form can. It is basic, primeval, carnal, sensual, blood boiling, and rhythmic with a driving back beat that compels us to get up and move. One can find melodious, smooth, structured, soothing music elsewhere viz. on Broadway, in church, at a piano bar, at the opera, in the dentist's chair, or in elevators.  Rock doesn’t calm.  It doesn’t charm. It doesn’t sooth. It excites. It enlivens. It motivates. It takes one to another plane. And as often as not, it is overtly sexual. There’s a place for that other stuff, to be sure; but none of it does what rock can do. And rock can use those smoother, melodious forms quite effectively as punctuation marks. Indeed, the best rockers do exactly that. Take early Elvis, who had one of the best voices ever ... he could be very silken and smooth … but he also could rock down lonely street like no other singer before or since. Rock always riffs into something more primal: it gets our hips moving, hormones flowing, spines tingling, feet tapping, and our hearts pounding. It makes pictures in our minds; it brings memories imprinted long ago to the forefront; it grabs onto us; and if we let it, it can both elicit and communicate emotions in a way no other musical style does. 

Today we see comparatively little of this in popular music's structured, formulaic, often over-produced, uninspired, and highly-stylized forms. But there is one person who encapsulates all that is best about rock. She defines it. The best rock artist of our time is a pint-sized, pixie rocker named Miley Ray Cyrus. What? Hannah Montana née Destiny Hope Cyrus dba Miley Cyrus––the Disney apostate and now a whirling, twerking Dervish of the VMAs a couple of years ago––that Miley Cyrus?  Yes, that one, one in the same. But twerking Miley is sooo passé. She’s on to new things. It got your attention though; it changed the game. It wasn’t just elaborate stagecraft or computerized pyrotechnics, all fun to watch, to be sure--but now commonplace and expected. Miley woke you up. She startled you. She shocked you. And like Elvis decades before her, it brought out all the prissy Puritans and up-tight moral scolds in full force. Now, before you get your panties in a wad, and before boomers start invoking the old gods: John, Paul, Ringo, and George, hear me out.

It is true that Miley does pop. Dabbles in rap. And country. She’s got that authentic Nashville twang. Her musical roots are not dissimilar to pop sensation Taylor Swift’s, her near contemporary. Miley is also a damn good balladeer with a surprisingly wide, 4-octave vocal range, which is the same octave range as the melisma queen, Christina Aguilera. Technically speaking, she's  (D2) E2 - G#5 - E6 (C7) ... which very few singers can match. For more comparisons, powerhouses Celine Dion and Adele both have a 3-octave range, and pop diva Mariah Carey has a 5-octave range. In contrast to many singers in today's popular music scene, Miley's notes are definite, precise, and without unnecessary embellishment.  She doesn’t warble around a note to excess or bore us with gratuitous runs, as has become annoyingly customary in pop. Her natural state is as a mezzo-soprano.  But she can comfortably hit the high notes when she wants to, and she can go to lower registers much more comfortably, and with greater resonance, than most females. 

And it is equally true that Miley is just as punk as all get out, a rocker redolent of other great female artists such as Janis Joplin, Joan Jett, and Ann Wilson. She is capable of belting out any rock anthem there is ... and she can add many herbs and spices of vocal articulation along with the visuals of her supple and expressive body language, and her vividly expressive countenance (she seems incapable of hiding her feelings) to enhance the emotional impact, be it uplifting, sensual, angry, or sad ... and unlike many, she can do it all without props if she so desires. Her unencumbered visage, hands, posture, and movements are able to say it all in a way that no stage artifice possibly could. Watch some of her Happy Hippie yard performances to illustrate. Like the best rockers, no, like the best artists, she also doesn’t give a fuck what people think … it’s her art and she is going to do it her way. And that is what the most innovative rockers do.

It was very upsetting to those who saw her as the adorable, clean-cut Hannah to be transformed from her Disneyfied chrysalis into a sexual, self-confident, woman-in-control, punch-you-in-the-face rocker who would strut, prance, gyrate, grind, and stick her tongue out--not altogether unlike the bad-boy Mick Jagger did decades ago, who also, like Miley today, set many a parent on edge. Some still haven’t gotten over her metamorphosis, calling her disgraceful, slutty, or worse. She has done nothing more risque than Madonna did on stage for a much longer period of time starting thirty plus years ago; it’s just that no one ever thought of Madonna as being like Hannah Montana.  But unlike Madonna, off stage she’s more of a quiet homebody, happiest being with her pets and in her home taking playful pictures for her fans sans makeup and costumes. Oh yeah, she has partied and experimented, but not unlike many kids in their late teens and early twenties, and much tamer than her critics would have it. She was a typical kid and young adult, for Heaven's sake ... or at least with a typical young person's desires---desires undoubtedly constrained by what Disney expected for most of her teen years that she was finally able to unleash ... and typical except for being very rich, talented, and with a lot of access. But never out of control contra some other notable young pop idols.  

Also like Madonna, and Madonna's heir, Lady Gaga, Miley is attracted to holistic performance art, one involving her voice, her body, costuming, and props of her own unique design and style … and often enough, with trappings intended to provoke, evoke, titillate, and reflect whatever mood she happens to be in that day. However, as I said earlier, Miley needs nothing but her own voice and body to convey emotion. Don't get me wrong, she likes props, indeed, to excess in my view, but only because I am highly focussed on her voice and person; however, these affectations are as much as anything a product of her youth, her playfulness, and her admitted penchant for shocking people, and they are altogether supplementary. Indeed, I don't think there's a performer today who can visually transmit feeling as impactfully and artfully as she can with her body and voice, alone, without additional staging. And she is able to dominate a stage with her considerable charisma … and she can rattle your emotional cage with intention and purpose such that you feel exactly what she wants you to feel, which is what she is feeling, for she is like a prism of emotional energy directed in a coherent beam that penetrates her audience. You see it visually, for she is nothing if not physically expressive; but you also hear it come from deep within her, and you feel it inside you, whether it is sadness, anger, happiness, loving, or just wanting to get down and party. Her voice rises up from her chest in her 106-pound (soaking-wet) tiny frame as if it were coming from a deep cavern.  She uses her head voice rarely, but when she does it is pure, effortless, and she can go there with either soft tenderness or with piercing power. I think the real key to Miley's musical brilliance is that she is an empath, rather like a Geiger counter of emotion.  She feels everything and she communicates, no exudes for all to see, what she feels naturally. 

Miley is the daughter of country star Billy Ray Cyrus. She was born in Tennessee in 1992. She’s been around for so long it’s easy to forget she is only 24. Miley was wont to entertain from a very young age, seeking attention and center stage, and she had her first professional break in bit roles on her father’s television show, Doc. But what carried her further was no one other than herself and her own talent. No parental advantage makes one a superstar. She did that all by herself. Very simply, the girl could sing, and her smile and personality could light up a room. She had the vocal chops and the charisma that came across on both screen and stage. Indeed, her very name, Miley, is derived from the appellation and nickname “Smiley Miley,” indicative of the fact she was always happy and smiling as a child; her name was eventually formally changed from her birth name, Destiny Hope, to Miley Ray.  

By 13 she was a Disney television star where she played a wholesome teen … Miley Stewart, a regular teen girl by day, and by night––in disguise––a veritable junior rock goddess and teen idol, Hannah Montana. She quickly became Disney’s biggest star--a multi-platinum album artist, a movie star, and one of the biggest concert draws in the history of the tween-teen market. By the time she was 16 she was famous the world over as a real-life teen idol. Under the careful guidance of her parents … despite incredible wealth at a young age (she’s worth several hundred million dollars today), the pressure of being constantly watched and judged, she remained centered. 

Miley doesn’t have a backstory of financial privation, a dysfunctional family, or the customary (often invented) Sturm und Drang to inform stereotypical rocker angst. Her family was well-to-do, loving, and close knit … they still are. She apparently was even part of the so-called Purity Ring, chastity movement––and by comparison to many in her celebrity peer group, even her age group more generally, she’s has had relatively few romantic entanglements, notwithstanding a reputation to the contrary. The slut-shaming crowd, always at the ready to tear down women who dare to use suggestive or overt sexuality in their art, promoted the idea that her stage persona represented the way she behaved off stage. No doubt, in part this resulted from a calculated effort by Miley to shed her goody-two-shoes image; but it does also represent what she felt at the time, what a great many young adults feel at that stage in their lives, in fact, and she is nothing if not pathologically authentic about herself ... whether about her love life, sex life, likes, dislikes, worries, laments, and her pains. She bares her soul for all to see on stage and hear in song, and she is completely vulnerable. What you see is what you get with Miley. And what you see tomorrow may be entirely different than what you saw today or yesterday. Her art reflects how she feels at the moment. To observe her in concert (I've only seen those recorded and available on YouTube or television) is to see her performances always vary with her moods. 

Perhaps the biggest child star since Shirley Temple, it’s hard to express your adult artistry when everyone expects you to be a perpetually virginal, sweet, and precocious fifteen-year old.  She has effectively shed that image, but in truth, she is closer to being the good girl she grew up being, because she actually is a good girl (well, she likes marijuana and says fuck a lot ... but so what, that's tame), and she is in many ways the opposite of an unbridled party girl that those who don't follow her think she is. She is kind, selfless, gentle, sensitive, and full of grace. She is always in control even when she seems out of control. She knows precisely what she is doing, and by all accounts from those who know her best, she is in complete charge of both her art and her life.

By her late teens, Miley wanted to break away from the Disney mold … and it was time for a full-grown, normal woman to emerge and to release the pent-up musical energy she held inside while dutifully purveying very respectable bubble-gum pop. Her first truly adult hit came with her oft covered pop-country anthem, "The Climb," which won MTV's best song from the  2009 movie, Hannah Montana: The Movie, and also the Teen Choice award for best single. This was soon followed by "Party in the USA,"  the infectious song from her album, Time of Our Lives, along with the award winning lovesong, "When I Look at You." These efforts resulted in Miley becoming iHeart Radio's International Artist of the Year in 2009. Her evolution as a serious rocker really began with her album Can’t Be Tamed in 2010, with the eponymous hit song and the sultry, “Who Owns My Heart.”  This is where we start to see some cracks in the good-girl shell. But these were still in between her earlier pop self and her rock self. The latter came full force with her next album, Bangerz, released in 2013, when like Venus emerging fully-formed from the head of Zeus, a rock goddess came forth with songs such as “We Can’t Stop” and “Wrecking Ball” (director's cut) … the former an in-your-face, party hardy, I don’t give a damn, paean to having youthful fun, and the latter an angst-ridden anthem of love and heartbreak, alternating between emotional capitulation to fulsome outrage, and a song that gives one more than an inkling of her vocal prowess. Bangarz had some mediocre tracks ... but so did Sgt. Pepper's and Exile on Main Street. Her "FU" song, for example, seems gratuitously in-your-face and without much point, a mere throwaway. The album was a hit, and “Wrecking Ball" (click for record-breaking, explicit version) deservedly charted at number one in the United States. 

Several songs in Bangarz were accompanied by visually stunning, and provocative videos with record-breaking views, and “Wrecking Ball” won MTV’s “Video of the Year” in 2014. Perhaps more than any other video in recent memory … and aside from the raw sexuality … in “Wrecking Ball” she is able to convey emotion in an authentic, evocative way that few singers can match, and one senses, or more accurately, one really knows that she is feeling the emotion she’s describing, that it’s not just an act, and her facial expressions and real tears, even a runny nose, add to and even say more than words alone could possibly convey. One doesn’t have to see it to feel it, but seeing it enhances the listening experience due to a powerful and charismatic presence that she visually conveys.

Miley received some unfair and wholly hypocritical criticism for borrowing from hip-hop culture, as though hip-hop stood alone without influences, and as though it was to be clositered in a gilded cage in which only a few were allowed to enter.  She was criticized for using black iconography and symbols, and for capitalizing on them to assist her commercial endeavors, a laughable criticism coming from those who do exactly the same thing day-in and day-out ... and who borrow freely from other forms. It is as silly as saying early jazz artists in New Orleans "stole" from ragtime and John Phillip Sousa and other musical fomrs for crass utilitarian purposes. No, they incorporated others' art into their own, for that's what artists do. And they are not beholden to any particular form, they are entitled to change, as most great artists do over time. 

Miley’s next venture was Miley Cyrus and Her Dead Petz, a quasi-psychedelic collaboration with the Flaming Lips featuring some pieces with subtle overtones of both country and punk. It received mixed reviews, as is the case with most worthwhile stuff, because it won’t satisfy the watered-down, pedestrian tastes of those accustomed to cute, smooth or flouncy, bouncy pop. Miley does things her way, and she made the album available for free! This is an internationally famous artist that could easily have made millions from it. That's the thing about Miley: she is true to herself and, first and foremost, to her art., and she marches to the beat of her own drum, critics be damned. It makes her nearly unique in the superstar arena. She actually does things for free.  To suggest she is a crass utilitarian or solely commercially oriented is simply a prima facie falsehood. Some of her most vocal critics cannot make that same claim. 

Petz is an avant-garde, highly experimental, autobiographically authentic, at times salacious, and in places, brilliantly conceived--and mark my words, it in due course will be seen as important and transitional.  The best pieces were written solely by Cyrus; but she had collaborators on some, and the hand of Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips is a significance presence. In a word, Petz should be considered a remarkable work from any artist, but particularly remarkable given that it came from a 22-year old. No one but Miley Cyrus could write and sing a heartfelt tearjerker about her pet blowfish, the late Pablow (along with some other tributes, thus the title). Laugh if you will; but then listen to it Then there's the vulnerable Miley of "I Get So Scared," which portrays the mixed-up honesty of a young woman trying forget a past love while playing the field. Or how about the plaintive "Slab of Butter" (get past the introductory stoner talk); the melancholy "Cyrus Skies"; the haunting "Karen Don't Be Sad";  the deep and provocative  "1 Sun"; or the lyrically light "Space Boots" --- nothing in Jefferson Airplane's psychedelic repertoire was better than these, and most of it was not nearly as good.  Petz is in parts a work of considerable genius. It has some very explicit and personal tracks about sex; offputting to some, no doubt--but that's Miley Cyrus, or at least she's the one willing to tell it in song, for it is not at all unexpected or uncommon for a young person to have many of the same feelings and anxieties that she evinces and manages to express so beautifully, and also often bluntly and unvarnished, which will undoubtedly make some listeners uncomfortable with the unfettered exposure to her inner emotions and desires. To be sure, there are a few throwaways (it's a double album, there are 23 tracks--and again, it was released at no cost), but it is a radical, extraordinary, and welcome departure from over-produced, derivative pop. 


While all this is going on, Miley has been involved in a great many charitable endeavors. At the grand old age of 24, she is one of the most generous celebrities in the world. She has contributed a great deal of money, time, and energy to causes ranging from the City of Hope to helping homeless and at risk youth. She has been very involved in supporting the rights of LGBTQ persons. People who have worked for her and who know her personally attest to the fact that she is a remarkably kind and compassionate person.  This sits in juxtaposition to her critics, the pious moralists who find tight pants, exposed skin, and some youthful, hormonal stage antics by a girl in her early twenties to be so reprehensible, but who in their suffocating sanctimony probably do comparatively little, if anything at all, to ease the privation of the less fortunate. Since her Hannah Montana days, she has used her celebrity to great effect in order to ease the suffering of others in different ways. Not just with money, mind you, but with her feet. Often, for example, she would … and still does … visit sick kids in hospitals to their delight, and she visits and encourages homeless and outcast kids. Recently she formed her charitable foundation, Happy Hippie, which supports various worthwhile causes primarily centered on youth.

One of the things that illustrates her integrity is her sense of loyalty--one that differentiates her from many in her industry--for example, the fact that she has kept the same musicians as her principal band since she was a young teen. That is highly unusual in an industry that manifests comparatively little fealty, and where there is considerable turnover in the musical support staff of a star of her stature. She doesn’t simply cast people aside, and she takes care of the people who depend upon her and upon whom she depends (see interview with her musical director and drummer since age 12, Stacy Jones). And she shows absolutely no jealousy or pettiness towards the successes of others in her industry, including her own musical family. Indeed, she goes out of her way to help others get ahead, and not least of all her little sister, Noah.


Now let’s get one thing straight: Miley Cyrus has vocal abilities which greatly exceed the capacities of the average pop or rock star. She uses her natural instrument to suit the music and the mood … she can growl, yell, croon, use falsetto, be smokey, go high or low, be smooth or sweet, devilish or coquettish, plaintive or assertive. When she rocks out, she uses her rock voice, which is incredibly powerful and capable of shaking the roof.  Her natural position is mezzo-soprano, but she is comfortable just about anywhere in the tolerable listening range. But unlike many of her contemporaries, she is in no need of auto-tune (click for examples) or high-tech help, notwithstanding the fact she does like to experiment with techno-electronica. Anyone who doubts her basic rocker pipes should listen to her hair-raising cover of Aerosmith’s “Dream On” with Adam Levine, Alicia Keys, and Blake Shelton as part of the television talent show, The Voice, where she is one of the musical judges. Or if you have any doubt about her ability to do a powerful ballad that can stand-up to anything Adele or Celine can do (actually, for my own tastes, she is better, and her vocal range is certainly larger), check out the song “Hands of Love” written by Linda Perry for the movie, Freeheld. Or listen to her Happy Hippie Backyard Sessions (available on You Tube), where she illustrates her remarkably smooth and powerful lower range in a duet with soprano Arianna Grande, covering Crowded House’s “Don’t Dream It’s Over;” or her cover of the emotional Dido classic, “No Freedom”, where it is  visually evident that she is enveloped and transformed by the sentiment the song conveys;” and listen to the incomparable justice she gives to her godmother Dolly Parton’s plaintive masterpiece, “Jolene”.   My point is, don’t think even for a moment that she can’t carry a tune. She can hold her own with the very best divas of any era.


She’s only 24! Keep that in mind. At that age, the Beatles and the Stones best work was yet to come. Miley Ray Cyrus has already done quite a bit, both in her music and as a compassionate and extraordinarily giving human being. And I hope and fully expect that there is much more to come from her. I can’t wait.

MB 2-4-17