Monday, January 29, 2007

Been there before

Do you ever make the uncanny discovery that people back in the olden days were just like us? That's been happening to me. I've been reading about the Romantic movement in the arts (roughly from the French revolution to the beginnings of Marxism). As it turns out, many of the leaders were young adults of the same age. In other words, this was a youth rebellion.

The Romantics were the hippies of their day: they rejected the moral authority of their elders, wore the same clothes as each other, and generally talked about emotions as an alternative to the distasteful world of the mind they had inherited from the enlightenment.

Above is a most famous painting from the era; compare the opening sequence from 1969's Easy Rider, and tell me this is not the same spirit:

Sunday, January 28, 2007

The trouble with Cool Jesus

My thought for the day: Jesus offers a full life, one that is infinitely open and exposed. In the context of faith, cool is nearly always a safe alternative: it allows us to hide behind a veil of cynicism or divisiveness.

From a ministry perspective, the Jesus we give to people will be the Jesus they make their own, at least initially. So when we present a Revolutionary Jesus, or a white (or black) Jesus, or a Buddy Christ, we'll be sending people down a road they'll have to recover from later.

So when we try to keep people inside the bosom of the church by cooling up Jesus, we're only shooting ourselves in the foot. I also have a gut-level feeling that Jesus' scandalous claims are much more interesting than cool Jesuses.


Thursday, January 25, 2007

God wears Dog

The fashion world is taking a beating lately. First, the self-proclaimed God of Rap was caught wearing dog fur, and in Brazil, fashion is being blamed for the anorexia deaths of several teenage girls.

The court of public opinion in that country seems to be fingering the fashion industry--for creating body image models that most girls cannot achieve. So Brazil's top model Gisele Bündchen, a tall blonde of German blood, felt the need to defend fashion. Anorexia, she said, isn't the industry's fault, it's parents' fault.

I don't know what I think about that, other than that she comes off as a Marie Antoinette.

But here's what we can learn about cool: For many people fashion and cool are coterminous. These twin tempests show us the difference: fashion is an industry and cool is an attitude. Fashion isn't cool, it wields cool (to sell product). But cool is by definition slippery and flees at the first sign of trouble. Cool doesn't get caught.

Fashion, on the other hand, can get caught. That's what happened to Jay-Z over the holidays.

Faux-fur coats, made in China and carrying his label's name, turned out to be real--real dog fur. Fashion can get humiliated, but not cool.

Actually, fashion predates cool by centuries, according to Joan DeJean in The Essence of Style: How the French Invented High Fashion.

Most likely, fashion will outlast cool, but in the short term it's fun to look as the "identity industry" as they like to call themselves, gnash against an identity being imposed on them from the outside.

Plus, there's something beautiful about the man who calls himself "Hova" (as in the God of Rap) getting caught pimping dog fur jackets.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Now I must market myself

Well, now that the book is beginning to show up in stores I need to get over my hangups and become the salesman I was born to be.

IVP tells me that the author is the best salesperson for a book. That makes sense. But by nature I'd rather blog and talk with people over coffee.

One thing that's been nice so far is meeting people I otherwise wouldn't have. This guy out of San Diego wrote me that he had read the book, and had a comment, and we had a pleasant exchange of emails.

I suppose marketing myself is just a matter of maturity. In my dream world the book would sell itself because of the sheer brilliance of the writing, but that's my dream world. So it's time to go out and sell my wares.

By the way, when I was looking for a picture for this entry, I found this Italian fishmonger dude. Look closely at his lower table. Would you like to buy a strawberry?

Monday, January 22, 2007

Hip Hop is Dead (precisely because Hip Hop is cool)

I’ve been doing some more thinking about Nas’s Hip Hop is Dead album.

It’s really a sharp album, with a lot of content. I recently listened to Snoop Dogg’s latest – which I’ll get to later this week, but Nas has a lot more to say, with a lot more thought involved.

Trouble is, he’s plain old wrong about hip hop’s revolutionary potential. Hip hop is no different than Rock and Roll in the 60s: immobilized by a mixture of navel-gazing and insistent decadence. Like rock, hip hop will never be a real movement, that really changes the world, as long as it remains an exclusionary domain.

Hip hop’s self-appointed stewards (whose ranks Nas clearly claims to join) envision hip hop as black cultural space; all others are welcome as guests. It is also, and less so, a male space. But most importantly, hip hop is profoundly cool. And as long as it’s cool it will never change the world, because cool only lives for the moment.

Look at this picture (ripped off a New York city educational website): it's the bored cool look. Nothing gets to me. I am master of my own circumstances.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Hip Hop is Dead

Hip Hop Is Dead. That’s the title of one of the top-selling Hip Hop albums – by Nas, a 30-something rapper from New York.

Of course hip hop isn’t dead. All you have to do is look at the emerging global golden age of hip hop. Even if, for argument’s sake, the music were dead in Nas’ provincial American world, an incredible level of creative ferment is taking place from Paris (MC Solaar, for example) to Dakar (Daara J). And we can’t fail to mention Germany’s Afrob, whose thick staccato flow has single-handedly opened the clunky German language for rhythmic exploration.

These people are not trying to be Americans. They are adapting an American medium to express local values. They are also changing hip hop in significant ways.

So is Hip Hop dead? The question is either ignorant or worse. It’s Nas’ attempt to redefine the boundaries of hip hop to “my hood”, as he says in the song. If it’s not exclusionary, it is ignorant: hip hop is currently experiencing its most creative ferment ever.