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Same As It Ever Was: War, Peace, Wall Street, and the Smothers Brothers

1:45 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell


The Smothers Brothers dressed in Roman outfits as centurion and statesman

The Smothers Brothers. The work of the best jesters is timeless.

Firedoglake’s Elliott recently reminded me of the immortal humor of the Smothers Brothers. Though this duo was before my time, their humor resonates today in political satirists and jesters like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. From a lengthy discussion between David Bianculli, well known media critic and author of Dangerously Funny: The Uncensored Story of the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, and Fresh Air’s Terry Gross:

I think that it’s most visible right now in places like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert and Saturday Night Live and Bill Maher. All of them are outside of prime time, but they’re all sort of doing elements of what the Smothers Brothers did.

Stephen Colbert tried very briefly to throw himself into the presidential race, just as Pat Paulsen had. A lot of Jon Stewart’s humor is very much what the Smothers was, and he admits that they were a very strong influence. Bill Maher says the Smothers were a very strong influence. And Saturday Night Live I sort of see as what the Smothers Brothers almost had the chance to become.

Their appeal was cross-generational:

GROSS: And that’s one of the things that makes the story so interesting. You know, it’s the second half of the ’60s. The youth culture has become the counter-culture. Youth culture has also become, a lot of it, the anti-war movement. The country is, like, divided, people are going wild, and television is reflecting somewhere between very little and none of that.

Mr. BIANCULLI: Yeah, it’s almost – there are so many parallels to today that it amazes me, in that now you think of red state, blue state, and we have this giant divide, and the parties are divided, and the whole country seems, you know, ideologically divided.


And the Smothers Brothers came on, and at a time when there was one television in the house, and everybody watched it; for the first couple of seasons, they pulled this amazing magic act and straddled the chasm of the generation gap. They had Kate Smith and Simon and Garfunkel on the same show. They had Mickey Rooney and The Who on the same show and appealed to both, you know, generations.

As Elliott said, “even my businessman dad liked the Smothers Brothers!”

Censored for years, they kept on satirizing. In the end their uncompromising political message drove them off the air, with CBS firing the duo and the rest of their comedy ensemble under pressure from the White House. Though the Brothers and the ACLU fought a successful legal battle in response, their careers were effectively over. A documentary, Smothered, tells the whole story — but only clips seem to be available online.

Who Goes to Jail?

Compare the lyrics of “Big Time Crime,” the video above, with this story from yesterday’s Democracy Now! In “Who Goes to Jail?” Amy Goodman interviews Matt Taibbi about his new book, The Divide.

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Decentralized Dance Party Wins the Nobel Prize for Partying (#SXSW)

7:10 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

What does it accomplish to dance in the streets?

On March 16, 2013, Tom and Gary brought their Decentralized Dance Party back to Austin, Texas for a third time. The “DDP” is a roving dance party created by boomboxes carried in the crowd. The boomboxes are all tuned to the same micro-radio station powered by a backpack mounted FM transmitter. Playing popular hits that are easy to dance and sing with, mixed with bass-heavy newer tunes, the party begins at a designated meeting place leaked through social media and then roves all through an urban area.

Partying is misunderestimated by 99% of the populace.

Accordingly, it is rarely done properly and has never received the respect it deserves.

Partying is: “forgetting who you are while remembering what you are.”

It is the complete loss of the social conditioning that makes adult life monotonous and depressing and has the power to be a transformational spiritual experience. — from the Decentralized Dance Party manifesto

The Bill & Ted’s-esque mythology of the DDP is that two best friends travel back from the future to teach humanity how to party. The real story begins in Vancouver in 2009, which Gary Lachance calls “no fun city” for its lack of acceptable night life. To liven up the experience, Gary and his friends would rove with a pair of bicycle-mounted sound systems connected to iPods. One night around midnight, an iPod ran out of batteries so they tuned both sound systems to the same radio station while they rode and the idea was born. In 2010 the DDP began traveling North America, and within six months they say 20,000 people had experienced this street party. It’s only grown from there.

Tom at the DDP, wearing a power glove & a fuzzy future outfit.

Tom is here from the future to teach us to party.

“Tom” is a role that several have played, but Gary says the current Tom is a keeper. A military veteran who served two tours in Iraq, he began traveling cross-country and sleeping in his van in order to follow the Decentralized Dance Party from location to location. After he constructed a powerful sound system out of a baby carriage (they call it “The Baby Boomer”), the DDP team knew they’d found their perfect Tom. He sees it as a healthy transition from being part of the machinery of war to bringing humanity together through the joy of dancing. “This is my passion,” Tom told me as thousands danced under Congress bridge in the heart of downtown Austin. ”I will do this for the rest of my life.” Now Tom leads the Decentralized Dance Parties by the light of his glowing “Disco Trident.”

Dance parties in public spaces were — and still are — a frequent part of the Occupy movement and modern global activism. The Portland eviction made headlines for including a dance party, and Occupy Austin has a huge and very loud “Party Wagon” that frequently appears on marches — including this most recent DDP — when it’s not simulating earthquakes. Yet it’s instructive to contrast police response to Occupy with their response to the Dance Party.


Anonymous guides the Occupy Austin Party Wagon at the SXSW 2013 Decentralized Dance Party.

During this recent Austin event, the march had traveled from south of Austin’s Town Lake onto Congress on its way up to the State Capitol when it encountered Austin police investigating an accident or vehicular crime scene. After a brief pause, we found we had police escort for the rest of the journey and every cop was smiling. At the Texas State Capitol, the notoriously humorless State Troopers (who even arrested Santa Claus) briefly detained Tom, but can be seen posing with dancers in later photos.
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Saturday Art: Bleep Labs’ Noise Explorer 5000 (#ArtOutside)

1:09 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

More of the art of Art Outside 2012: Flam Chen New-Circus Troupe, the Web of Wishes 

Saturday afternoon at Art Outside 2012, electronic artist and musician Thomas Fang took me on a tour of the Noise Explorer 5000, an interactive sound installation. Created by Austin’s Bleep Labs, it features homemade electronic musical instruments combined with ‘circuit-bent’ classics from the 1980s — Casio keyboards, drum machines, and childhood ephemera like the Speak & Math.

Two Bleep Labs Noise Explorer Users play with the instruments

Thomas Fang (right) guides two users of the Bleep Labs Noise Explorer 5000.

The Noise Explorer can be used by up to two explorers at its side-by-side stations. The users listen on headphones and can mix the levels of individual instruments or warp the sounds with effects pedals. The results can be recorded and played back later. The DIY art of circuit-bending  — modifying existing electronic objects into quirky instruments and aural art —  has been growing in popularity, but Fang suggests that an installation like this lets new people gain hands-on experience of its possibilities.

Circuit-bent Touch & Tell instrument with a photo of Snoop Dogg added

Circuit-bent Touch & Tell instrument

One of Fang’s most well known installations is the Furby Youth Choir, where he skinned and altered the childhood toy to create a flock of undead furbys that chirped, babbled, and sang in shrill tones to each other. In the Noise Explorer, repurposed toys like this Touch & Tell beep and talk in otherworldly, glitched up voices.

A tiny blinking 'robot' like box, the Thingamagoop features a blinking LED and light sensor

The Bleep Labs' Thingamagoop

One of the stars of the Noise Explorer soundscape is the Thingamagoop. Unlike the circuit-bent devices, it is a homemade creation of Bleep Labs. An LED light hangs from a tentacle-like protrusion at the top of this whimsical synthesizer in a box. Its blinks fall upon the device’s light sensor, creating a panoply of weird sounds that the user controls with the many knobs and switches. The Thingamagoop’s output can even be used to control other instruments.

A user of the Bleep Labs collaborates with Thomas Fang

Thomas Fang (right) collaborates with a user of the Bleep Labs Sound Explorer 5000 at Art Outside 2012.

You can listen to and download recordings of the Noise Explorer 4000, a previous installation from Houston’s Free Press Summer Festival, or hear more from Thomas Fang on Soundcloud.

Find more from Bleep Labs at

Photos of Art Outside 2012 and the Bleep Labs’ Sound Explorer by Kit O’Connell, all rights reserved. Creative Commons-licensed video by Kit O’Connell, with additional audio from the Bleep Labs Noise Explorer 4000 and Creative Commons-licensed photos by Jon Lebkowsky and Church of the Friendly Ghost.

Watercooler: HoboTech (#ArtOutside)

6:00 pm in Watercooler by Kit OConnell

One of the high points of both my Art Outside experiences were sets by Hobotech, a highly eclectic electronic musician. His website describes the music as:

Hobotech is boxcar funk, deisel dub and badass bluegrass crunk, a creation of Producer/DJ Jon Margulies.

Wearing a floppy white hat, Hobotech spins music at his laptop.

Hobotech in the Deco Dome, Art Outside 2012 (Photo: Kit O'Connell)

Hobotech combines danceable beats with the sounds of America’s musical roots. Like electroswing, another recent innovation in electronic music, it avoids the monotony of repetition by tapping into a creative, rich vein of history. In many ways it exemplifies the eclectic nature of Art Outside and the Burning Man culture from which the event grew, where raver kids in neon fake fur hob-nob with neo-1920s flappers and scruffy outsider artists to the sounds of ‘Vaudeville Gypsy Rock‘ at the Folk Stage.

A crowd dances under the lights of projectors

HoboTech Show at the Deco Dome (Kit O'Connell)

Hobotech’s set was at the Deco Dome, a dance space which was alive with sounds, people, and the lights of bright, entrancing projections until dawn. Every moment at Art Outside is a collaboration: much of the projection equipment is donated in return for admission to the event, and a large staff of volunteers and crew bring the festival together from stage hands to cooks.

A woman contorts as she hangs from a trapeze

Bethany, an aerial performer at the Deco Dome (Photo: Kit O'Connell)

A man plays a guitar made from a shovel

A Hobo-Slide Guitar Made from a Shovel (Photo: Kit O'Connell)

Each set under the dome was diverse, with aerial dancers and fire spinners on a small side performance stage. At one point, Hobotech included a guitarist with a unique instrument made from a shovel.

For more from Hobotech, see

This is tonight’s open thread. What’s on your mind?

Watercooler: Katie Gray (#ArtOutside)

5:00 pm in Watercooler by Kit OConnell

Hi, y’all.

Art Outside is a beautiful experience this year — cold, but full of warm and open-hearted people. In addition to the warmth of human companionship, there’s also lots of gorgeous fire performance and even flaming art.

Katie Gray on a handmade wooden stage

Katie Gray performs on the Folk Stage at Art Outside 2012.

Last night I was really stunned by Katie Gray‘s stunning voice. Unfortunately, I am still working out all the kinks from my audio recording setup, and my live recordings weren’t what I’d hope. Here’s a lovely recording of a past performance by Katie, and a brief interview I conducted with her last night:

Find more from Katie Gray at

This is the latest myFDL Watercooler. What’s on your mind?

Watercooler: Hell Broke Luce

6:00 pm in Watercooler by Kit OConnell

Hi, y’all.

I had something else to write until I discovered this powerful new Tom Waits video, “Hell Broke Luce.” The song isn’t that new, but the video was published on Youtube just a couple days ago. An anti-war song with a definite military cadence, he explained the title in an interview with Slate magazine:

There was a prisoner in Alcatraz during a prison riot—this goes back to the ’40s. And during the riot, of course, everyone was nervous, and he scratched on the wall with a knife. And he wrote “hell broke luce,” and that’s how he spelled it. Alcatraz—they have an amazing bookstore. But I got separated from everyone else on the tour. After a while something happened with my headset, and I was out of step and I didn’t know where the rest of the people were, so I just sat in one of the cells for a while.

The song is from Waits’ 2011 album Bad as Me. Wikipedia reports that Keith Richards plays guitar on this song.

So what’s on your mind tonight? Hear any good music lately?

This is the latest myFDL open thread.

Watercooler: Occupy Music

6:00 pm in Watercooler by Kit OConnell

Hi, y’all.

Music can unite us, but also divide us. I don’t always enjoy the music at Occupy; I’d sometimes rather listen to Drastik IV, whose video here uses footage from Occupy Austin, than most of the twangy folksinger types — an attitude that might not be popular here on MyFDL. For every person who loves a dubstep-fueled street party, there’s another occupier who’d rather we had a drum circle or a sing-along.

When Tom Morello called for his original May Day Guitarmy march, he invited everyone, regardless of talent or whether they were using a handmade acoustic guitar or a plastic Walmart toy.

I watched as the 99 Mile March of the Guitarmy arrived in Liberty Square and celebrated with song, dance and music. While the voices were sometimes out of key, what mattered was the people are singing together — the real unifying effect of music. Police crack down on drumming (as seen in 2 of today’s arrests) not, in my opinion, because of the noise it makes but because of the way that sound and rhythm can empower the people and lead them to greater acts of civil disobedience. Music inspires.

Real music made by people, for people, rather than a recording company, is a powerful tool of the 99%.

That’s what’s on my mind tonight. How about you?

This is the latest MyFDL open thread.

LIVE: 99 Mile March Reaches Liberty Square (updated 7:25pmEST)

11:42 am in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

The 99 Mile March, led by Tom Morello’s Guitarmy, began in Philadelphia in honor of the National Gathering. They also marched to honor the great folk music hero Woody Guthrie’s 100th birthday.

After marching all the way to New York City over several days, the march from Staten Island has grown into a massive crowd that is now singing and dancing in Zucotti Park, a.k.a. Liberty Square, the birthplace of Occupy Wall Street.

More information on Twitter: @99MileMarch #99MileMarch #Guitarmy #OWS

Update 7:25pmEST Music, voices and eating in Liberty Square while police continue to watch. Feed is live again.

Update 6:35pm While celebrating being in Liberty Square, an occupier asked the crowd to help clean up the park. At least one more drummer is present.

Update 6:20pmEST More song and live music in Zucotti. Pizzas have arrived, reportedly ordered by someone in Amsterdam (global pizza solidarity!). We are now watching JRozLive.

Update 6:00pmEST @OccupyEye is offline and I have switched to a new streamer, @Codeframesf. Police presence is increasing. More food sharing is scheduled, and a brief standoff occurred when security discovered someone sleeping on a bench. It is relatively calm now but the NYPD mobile command center was spotted onsite.

Update 5:15pmEST 35-40 police arrived in attempt to threaten protesters food supply, but backed down after protesters locked arm around the food.
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Watercooler: Ahoy, 1%

6:00 pm in Watercooler by Kit OConnell

Ahoy, y’all.

I’m sure more serious TransPacific Partnership news will come to light in the next few days, but this video made me smile! Such a clever action by these activists (I believe Occupy Dallas members were involved). Paddling a boat around a suburb of Dallas might not topple the power structure, but it gets attention from the populace in a unique way.

In these times, I think popping up and surprising the 1% from all sides is key. Even when we can’t fill Union Square with 40,000 people, the rest of us need to keep acting — sharing with our friends, documenting, investigating, knocking on doors, writing, feeding the hungry, making phone calls …

I spent last night with Occupy Austin‘s Bank Action, who seem to have a renewed vision and some strong new allies in our ongoing fight to kick big banks out of Austin. We’ve got something up our sleeve for this Friday, but I’ll talk more about that when I can. Like this action, it will also involve singing.

Take any small actions lately? Hear any good music or read any good books?

Talk to me about whatever is on your mind. This is today’s open thread.