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Reality versus mantras: Common, Larry Gatlin and The White House

Reality versus mantras: Common, Larry Gatlin and The White House (photo)

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As of yesterday, conservatives were on attack about Michelle Obama’s invitation of the svelte-and-sexual rapper Common to a poetry reading at the White House. Ostensibly bored with its own content and mimetic design, Huffington Post’s conservative counterpart, The Daily Caller, went looking for a most-readily decontextualized piece of Common’s backstory. In a segment recorded for Def Poetry, he defends Kobe and the King of Pop and suggests burning a Bush of the presidential variety. The piece was such political fodder that even Sarah Palin managed to fire off 25 thoughtful characters about the situation, via Twitter: “Oh lovely, White House…” Fox News, of course, diligently covered the story; the White House retrenched, sort of.

It’s easy to launch racism charges at the right’s criticism of Common, but that’s problematic for two reasons: First, we’re betting black country star Darius Rucker wouldn’t get the same treatment from Palin and her pals; after all, we don’t remember any stump speeches about Common’s Gap or Zune commercials. Those are good for the economy. Rather, what the right seems to be attacking here is the honesty and complexity–really, the thoughtfulness, in spite of or maybe because of its pop-culture accessibility–found in Common’s work. When Common raps on record or offers a rhyme tonight at the White House, he’s offering his view of the world. If that means he’s complaining about the woman who came home with him from the club just to watch movies and fall asleep or extoling each of the lessons he’s gleaned from reading the texts of history’s dominant religions, the worldview offered in his discography seems real and developed. Sure, Common has said things over the last two decades that might irk a lot of people, whether that be through his songs about sex or his sociopolitical stances. But his career has been defined by writing about more than one thing, more than just liking orgasms or not liking the president. The right seems scared of a voice that’s offering its mind’s full view–a complicated view of reality, no matter who it might offend.

Personally, I’m offended for related reasons by “Americans, That’s Who,” a single issued earlier this week by the country-gospel group Larry Gatlin & The Gatlin Brothers. In a Monday press release, Gatlin, who won a Grammy for “Broken Lady” back in 1977, had this to say about the glossy country dross: “We’ve known for some time that it would take a groundbreaking, monumental event for us to release this single to radio. The death of Osama bin Laden meets those qualifications. We would like to send a very special ‘thank you’ to the members of SEAL TEAM SIX and all of the brave American men and women in uniform who risk their lives to keep us free. Who are these good people? AMERICANS, THAT’S WHO!”

Let’s forgive the fact that Gatlin, always one for a gathering of arms, is trying to cash in on someone dying and pay attention to what he’s saying. The three-minute tune essentially lists all the things he thinks that American citizens and soldiers have done for victimized people in foreign lands. For Gatlin, the list includes feeding, clothing and housing poor people. Soldiers have freed folks and expanded democracy while leaving families for possible death overseas, all for freedom of speech. Somehow, though, Gatlin also takes a jab at the effete American media, singing that you won’t read about these beneficent efforts in the paper, though he’s certain that they’re true. Go ahead, Common, and consider the irony.

The tune ends with a full minute of harmonizing of both the title phrase and “Glory, glory, Hallelujah,” lifted, of course, from an old spiritual and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” No where is there any hint of the mistakes we might have made or continue to make as a country; for Gatlin, we’re all good, all the time. Too stupid and stilted to be a Trey Parker and Matt Stone satire, “Americans, That’s Who” presents a reality that’s so mitigated–or, really in Gatlin’s case, made-up altogether–it isn’t even expression. It’s a Hallmark greeting card version of a complex national identity, with the sort of sloganeering that, come campaign time, is scary.

The left, then, shouldn’t be surprised into reaction by the right’s condemnation of Common; it’s nothing more than the standard treatment the liberal media gets for not adhering to the Fox News cycle. Rather, it should be concerned that a song like “Americans, That’s Who” could ever be taken seriously, that it could be a single worth selling and singing. There’s nothing more motivational than a mantra.

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Millennial Wisdom

Charles Speaks For Us All

Get to know Charles, the social media whiz of Brockmire.

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He may be an unlikely radio producer Brockmire, but Charles is #1 when it comes to delivering quips that tie a nice little bow on the absurdity of any given situation.

Charles also perfectly captures the jaded outlook of Millennials. Or at least Millennials as mythologized by marketers and news idiots. You know who you are.

Played superbly by Tyrel Jackson Williams, Charles’s quippy nuggets target just about any subject matter, from entry-level jobs in social media (“I plan on getting some experience here, then moving to New York to finally start my life.”) to the ramifications of fictional celebrity hookups (“Drake and Taylor Swift are dating! Albums y’all!”). But where he really nails the whole Millennial POV thing is when he comments on America’s second favorite past-time after type II diabetes: baseball.

Here are a few pearls.

On Baseball’s Lasting Cultural Relevance

“Baseball’s one of those old-timey things you don’t need anymore. Like cursive. Or email.”

On The Dramatic Value Of Double-Headers

“The only thing dumber than playing two boring-ass baseball games in one day is putting a two-hour delay between the boring-ass games.”

On Sartorial Tradition

“Is dressing badly just a thing for baseball, because that would explain his jacket.”

On Baseball, In A Nutshell

“Baseball is a f-cked up sport, and I want you to know it.”


Learn more about Charles in the behind-the-scenes video below.

And if you were born before the late ’80s and want to know what the kids think about Baseball, watch Brockmire Wednesdays at 10P on IFC.

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Crown Jules

Amanda Peet FTW on Brockmire

Amanda Peet brings it on Brockmire Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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On Brockmire, Jules is the unexpected yin to Jim Brockmire’s yang. Which is saying a lot, because Brockmire’s yang is way out there. Played by Amanda Peet, Jules is hard-drinking, truth-spewing, baseball-loving…everything Brockmire is, and perhaps what he never expected to encounter in another human.

“We’re the same level of functional alcoholic.”


But Jules takes that commonality and transforms it into something special: a new beginning. A new beginning for failing minor league baseball team “The Frackers”, who suddenly about-face into a winning streak; and a new beginning for Brockmire, whose life gets a jumpstart when Jules lures him back to baseball. As for herself, her unexpected connection with Brockmire gives her own life a surprising and much needed goose.

“You’re a Goddamn Disaster and you’re starting To look good to me.”

This palpable dynamic adds depth and complexity to the narrative and pushes the series far beyond expected comedy. See for yourself in this behind-the-scenes video (and brace yourself for a unforgettable description of Brockmire’s genitals)…

Want more about Amanda Peet? She’s all over the place, and has even penned a recent self-reflective piece in the New York Times.

And of course you can watch the Jim-Jules relationship hysterically unfold in new episodes of Brockmire, every Wednesday at 10PM on IFC.

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Draught Pick

Sam Adams “Keeps It Brockmire”

All New Brockmire airs Wednesdays at 10P on IFC.

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From baseball to beer, Jim Brockmire calls ’em like he sees ’em.

via GIPHY

It’s no wonder at all, then, that Sam Adams would reach out to Brockmire to be their shockingly-honest (and inevitably short-term) new spokesperson. Unscripted and unrestrained, he’ll talk straight about Sam—and we’ll take his word. Check out this new testimonial for proof:

See more Brockmire Wednesdays at 10P on IFC, presented by Samuel Adams. Good f***** beer.

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