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For your convenience: all the columns I wrote in English or I translated into English.

Ik heb er lang over geaarzeld maar laat ik ook eens een duit in de zak van Sinterklaas doen.

Persoonlijk heb ik helemaal geen leuke herinneringen aan Sinterklaas.

Mijn eerste confrontatie met Sinterklaas en zwarte piet, als 4 jarige op de kleuterschool, was veelzeggend. Ik was doodsbang voor die man met zijn pikzwarte helpers. Ik vond Sint een griezel met zijn middeleeuwse kledij en zijn zware donderstem . Maar zijn Pieten vond ik nog veel enger; die durfde ik gewoon niet aan te kijken. Ik had nog nooit iemand met een donkere huidskleur gezien.

sinterklaasZe zeiden dat Sinterklaas een groot boek had waarin al je zonden opgeschreven stonden. En als je iets stouts had gedaan zou hij je voor straf in een zak naar Spanje meenemen. Bibberend wachtte ik mijn beurt af, me intussen zeker wetend dat ik afgevoerd zou worden omdat ik op mijn eerste schooldag het niet trok om van mijn moeder gescheiden te worden en als reactie mijn broek vol scheet. De juffrouw van de school was daar overduidelijk not amused over geweest, had me een hele dag in de hoek laten zitten en gaf mijn moeder een uitbrander toen ze me later die dag ophaalde. Als dat geen enkele reis naar Spanje op zou leveren wist ik t niet meer.

De anticlimax die volgde kon niet groter zijn: eenmaal op de schoot van Sint kreeg ik van Piet een enorme glimlach en een hand vol oudbakken pepernoten waar restjes wol van zijn handschoenen aan kleefden. Toen nam de Sint zijn boek ter hand en wist me te vertellen dat ik een brave jongen was geweest en kreeg ik een cadeautje mee; een of ander prul wat ik prompt vergat mee naar huis te nemen.

Sinterklaas23Wat ik me verder vooral herinner over Sinterklaas is dat mijn moeder elk jaar haar uiterste best deed om mij en mijn zusje van een paar cadeautjes te voorzien. We hadden het niet bepaald breed in mijn vroege jeugd dus moesten we het met een kleinigheidje doen. Mijn moeder werd gedwongen extra uren te werken om die klote prullen te kunnen betalen. Vervolgens werd je in de dagen na Sinterklaas door je klasgenootjes de ogen uitgestoken met de trapauto’s, poppenhuizen en noem maar op die met veel moeite naar school mee werden gesleurd.

En Zwarte Piet? Wij kregen op de lagere school al tamelijk jong de geschiedenis rond Zwarte Piet te horen. Ik was een jaar of 8 toen me over de slavernij werd verteld. Nou werd het echt niet gebracht op een manier van Piet is de slaaf van Sint en punt uit. Sint was een goede man en zijn knechten dienden hem vrijwillig, maar hij had ze wel eerst uit de slavernij bevrijd en zijn pieten hadden ervoor gekozen bij hem te blijven. Zo werd dat destijds echt gebracht. Het verhaal werd wat verzacht maar in die tijd (begin jaren 70) draaide men er verder niet omheen. De slavernij was geschiedenis en niet iets wat men licht moest vergeten. Maar het feit dat er op mijn school geen donkere kindertjes waren die door dit verhaal gestigmatiseerd zouden worden maakte het natuurlijk wel makkelijker het op deze manier te vertellen.sinterpiet

Vanaf mijn 11e tot mijn 14e speelde ik zelf zwarte Piet in het verzorgingstehuis waar mijn moeder werkte en vermaakte ik de daar wonende bejaarden. Die oudjes waren tenminste niet bang. Maar de kinderen op straat wel en een hand (verse) pepernoten veranderde daar niks aan. Dat is in beginsel altijd de taak van Piet geweest; kindertjes bang maken. En je kan keihard roepen dat dit tegenwoordig niet meer de bedoeling is en dat Sint en Piet niets meer met zonde en straf te maken hebben; kijk eens goed naar een kleintje dat voor het eerst met een piet geconfronteerd wordt. Zie je ze onbevangen op Zwarte Piet af rennen en hem spontaan omhelzen zoals ze bijvoorbeeld met figuren uit Sesamstraat doen? Dacht ’t niet;het is altijd een spannend of zelfs angstig moment voor ze.

Kinderen maakt het verder geen ene moer uit hoe Piet eruit ziet. Het gaat om zijn rol in het spel; hij is de helper van Sinterklaas, hij kan afhankelijk van het kind zijn gedrag aardig of onaardig naar je zijn. Dat was de kern van het spel.

Sinterklaas-nietMaar kinderen bang maken voor mensen met een andere huidskleur is niet slim. Daar komt nog bij dat de meeste kinderen tegenwoordig de klas delen met donkere kinderen. Kinderen een handvat geven om leeftijdgenoten als ‘anders’ in een hoek te zetten is nog erger; daar lok je pestgedrag mee uit.

En je kan jezelf overschreeuwen en beweren dat racisme niet bestaat; maar who are you fooling? Lees sommige commentaren uit het pro-pieten kamp eens. Neem als voorbeeld die reaguursels bij de selfie van Leroy Fer er eens bij.

Maar het beste argument dat ik in de hele discussie heb opgevangen was deze: is het opeens wel OK als de knecht/slaaf van Sinterklaas een blanke is?

En is het niet frappant dat uitgerekend deze week Mark Rutte ons probeert te overtuigen dat ongelijkheid niet iets is om je druk over te maken? Dat het zelfs goed is dat het bestaat? Dat we ons er maar bij neer moeten leggen dat als je als dubbeltje bent geboren je nooit een kwartje zal worden? Dat het “als je maar goed je best doet, je braaf verder leert, je altijd goed terecht gaat komen” opeens niet meer geldt? ? Dat of je in deze maatschappij maakt of niet weer afhangt van hoe rijk en geslaagd je pappie is? Net als vroeger in feodale tijden?

Wie staan hier handenwrijvend in de coulisse te kijken hoe we elkaar strot afbijten over een onderdeel van een oud volksfeest? Terwijl de miljarden de grens over verdwijnen naar belastingparadijzen waarvan onze eigen bananenmonarchie er intussen ook een is geworden.

En check dit artikel op de Correspondent eens over moderne slavernij. Als je daardoor niet in een pepernoot verslikt weet ik t niet meer.

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U.S. Republican presidential candidates published some outrageous assumptions about Europe these past weeks. Newt Gingrich claimed Europe is a ‘fundamentally wrong socialist state’, Mitt Romney said he can’t even find Europe on the map and last week Rick Santorum claimed in Holland we force elderly people to undergo euthanasia.

Respect is a two-way street my dear Americans, so here it goes: ten lovely European prejudices about the USA…

Americans like big things: big cars, big fridges, big TV’s, big guns. Needless to say most Americans are pretty big themselves.

Americans don’t like reading books. For them it’s enough to read advertising slogans. Americans don’t like listening either; a sound bite will suffice.

Americans love their religion and they hate Darwin’s evolution theory. They believe in a book that says the earth is only about 6000 years old and that Dinosaur fossils were left by God to test our faith.

Americans don’t like taxes so they work hard to get rich fast. As soon as they are (rich) they don’t have to pay taxes anymore.

Americans love democracy. Unless a country elects leaders the US doesn’t like. When  that happens the elections must have been a fraud, the country is automatically turned  into a dictatorship and is rife for an invasion.

Americans hate their government. They choose a new president and as soon as he’s installed they start obstructing him. They make sure none of his policies get ratified by congress and the senate and boo him for not keeping his promises afterwards.

Americans hate socialism. It’s remarkable how liberal means left wing in the US and right-wing in Europe. But there’s no left-wing at all in your nation. America has no left leg to stand on. No wonder your society is so unstable.

Americans love drugs. Regretfully it’s the wrong kind of drugs they love ; Americans like Ritalin, sleeping pills and Prozac and not the stuff that is actually fun to swallow or inhale.

Americans hate abortions but they love guns. Guns are the cause of countless retroactive abortions.

When American students fail at school they kill their classmates. Makes sense; failed students might have succeeded if their classmates wouldn’t have picked on them so much.

And to end this column I must add that Europeans at least recognize prejudices for what they are. Prejudices are half-truths. It’s a shame People like Rick Santorum can only get away with their outrageous claims only because the people who vote for him aren’t checking any facts.

Klik hier voor de Nederlandstalige versie of scroll naar beneden.

All discussion about the new US legislation on copyrights laws like SOPA and PIPA show there’s an urgent need for reformation of these laws.

The core of any copyright law itself is strange. The fact someone can put notes or words in a certain order and claim the right to be the only person on earth to do so. An author didn’t invent nor discover notes or words. It’s also conceivable another author uses the same notes and words in the same order.; unlikely but conceivable. I know lots of music that sounds a lot like other pieces of music and I read a lot of writers who claim similar thoughts on similar matters.

In an Ideal World all ideas and therefore also all music, literature, movies and art would be shared by all people.
But at a certain point people attached another way to earn money on art apart from simply selling it. A logical move at that time; radio stations attracted listeners by broadcasting music, earned money by selling air time for advertising. It was only fair the authors of the music got their share. But this model is obsolete since the Internet. It just doesn’t work anymore and the industry may be in denial about it but that doesn’t make it less true.

The World has changed.  People still love music but are sick of the never-ending flow of commercials. Thanks to the Internet one can enjoy music without having to listen to commercials. One can read articles without browsing through pages full of ads. Adds on the web are easily ignored. Advertisers need to find new ways to reach consumers; new ways that don’t irritate. And they haven’t succeeded in doing so by far. So with the help of major media corporations, who also depend on advertising money, they try to kill the Internet. By doing so they hope to turn us into couch potato’s again; taking in our daily dose of ads as we used to do back in the days before the Internet.

Musicians, writers and artists have a right to earn money with their craft. Any corporation that uses music to gain an audience should pay for that music. But this flow of money is drying up because the Internet offers such a huge amount of music. One can’t expect the public to pay for every bit of music they hear or share; that’s just impossible. That’s also capitalism; a simple matter of too much supply and not enough demand. But whenever the market works AGAINST big corporations they try to change the rules.

The fact that the supply of music that is rights free has grown in an even higher rate than copyrighted materials on the web is totally ignored by legislators. This segment of free music is the part of the entertainment industry will get hit hardest by laws like SOPA and PIPA. We as the public are forced to choose between commercial mainstream art and art made by people who share their passion for their own art. But the fact these forms of arts overlap is completely ignored. Someone who is trying to establish his name in art wants to use the Internet and share his art for free and gain notoriety that way. After gaining an audience he most probably wants to get paid so he can devote more time to his craft.

It’s about time copyright laws get modernized. Here are a few proposals. Some are pretty wild…
1.    Copyrights should be shortened in time. These rights now last until 70 years after the Death of the author and that’s way too long.
2.    It’s not nice if you’re years ahead of your time as an author and your work only gets discovered by the general audience decades after you wrote it.  That’s why the time copyrights last should be flexible. How about if they would last until 15 years ‘after’ mainstream audiences discover a piece? One may pinpoint the moment a piece breaks by looking at hit charts or increased value of the piece in question on the market.
3.    One should not be able to sell copyrights to publishers; they should be inalienable connected to the writer or artist. Publishers are leeches that benefit from work they haven’t written themselves and they bore us by reselling old music through shitty shows like the voice of Holland. Publishers are the ones that benefit from laws like SOPA and PIPA the most. Creators of art can and will not deny that the free flow of information and art works in their advantage but publishers do not benefit from anything that comes for free. They would not hesitate to turn the world into a police state if that would ensure their profits.
4.    Let’s put a limit to the amount of money that can be made with the copyright on a certain work of art. Let’s say 10 million dollars for a song or 100 million for a movie. After making such amounts  the creators of the art have enough money to last them a lifetime and this particular work of art should be declared as a ‘world heritage’ and used and shared or free by anybody.
5.    An additional law that prevents rerelease of these world hit songs as covers may be useful.

The Ideal World came a bit closer with the Internet. The spasmodic way the power mongers on this earth react to the changes made by the web proves that. It’s impossible for a  government to convince a Chinese worker he should work ten hours a day, every day, when that man is able to watch us working 8 hours for five days a week only. It’s impossible for a  government to convince an Arab student that his people are not ready for democracy because he and his countrymen might choose the kind of leaders our western leaders don’t like. It’s impossible for a  government to convince a western youth not to share the art he likes with anyone, not even with his friends.

Good music has an effect on people which is nothing short of messianic: listen to this; this kicks ass! That’s the way good music always got around; peer-to-peer.  In contrast one can only sell bad music by plugging it on radio and TV.

The Internet is a beautiful invention that allows all people, (at least those with access to computers and smart phones; everybody except the real poor that is) to express themselves, spreading their own music, films, art and words online. If you’re not making any art yourself you can use the web to expose your own taste in music, films, fashion, politics or whatever by using social networks. That’s fun and almost everybody does it.  Billions of songs, movies, books and works of art are exposed through sites like Facebook every day. It’s not like that didn’t happen in the days before the Internet; it just happens a lot quicker and easier today. I wouldn’t have read more than 1% of the books I love, if friends would not have recommended them. Same goes for music. In this case it means even more, since my taste in music determines large parts of my identity, like my taste in fashion and politics. It also directed me towards a circle of friends that share my tastes and opinions. One doesn’t necessarily need to embrace everything a certain style of music propagates, but it at least exposes a person to new and fresh ideas. And one tends to picks up the things that appeal to you most. That’s freedom. And it’s the only form of freedom we have in this consumer paradise. One can’t really determine the way one lives. If that was the case I’d be a hunter/gatherer instead of a consumer. But at least I’m free to choose what I want to hear, see and wear.

Surprisingly it now becomes obvious the Internet can also be used to control and repress. It can be used to force a lifestyle upon you made up by other less benign beings.  A lifestyle that keeps you away from fresh new ideas and only exposes you to music made by today’s’ hit machines,  Disney movies, the Bible, clothing approved by fundamentalist Christians and/or Muslims, Bob Ross pictures and the political view of the Christian right-wing.

It is kinda bizarre that the same music industry that once propagated new ideas about freedom now wants to stop that same freedom in its tracks. It’s understandable that illegal downloading of music and movies is a problem, but confronting this problem by barring all forms of free exposure results in an Internet that exposes music, movies and in the end also ideas sold and approved only by big business. That way the Internet turns into a stale, boring, predictable and ultimately dead community; nothing more than a marketing tool that reduces your freedom instead of enhancing it.

Market mechanisms like supply and demand can actually go against the interests of big business. People want to taste new ideas, music, movies etc. for free. There’s a big demand for that. But the industry wants to regulate the supply. This form of regulation is where the real power lies. That is the real reason S.O.P.A. almost got passed. The Majors don’t like it when you’re exposed to music  they don’t promote themselves by finding it in you tube, Last FM, Spotify or Facebook. They want you to listen to the radio instead because they got the DJ’s in their pocket; D.J’s only play music produced by the majors. Payola may be outlawed but some animals are still more free than others.

It’s control that counts. There’s a revolution going on that strips big business of its power and S.O.P.A. was mend to stop all that. S.O.P.A. helps them regain the power to promote your music, movies, books clothing and art exclusively.  No exposure unless you’re promoted by a big media company. This allows big business to keep music nice and uncritical, keeps the same Hollywood crap rotating in cinemas, makes sure books with critical content are not read, bans computer programs that allow you to express yourself, or hide under the radar if necessary, and again makes art a plaything for the rich and powerful.

The rich want the power back they lost to the masses. They want a small elite with narrow-minded ideas to decide how you should behave and think. They don’t want any form of real freedom rampant on the Internet or anywhere else. Regardless of how much they love to use the word freedom in their own propaganda. In their eyes Liberalism is nothing more than the liberty to impose the goods they produced and to block ways to obtain free stuff.

You Tube, Facebook, Spotify, Last Fm; all these networks will be over if we don’t raise our voices now! We can’t afford to wait since it’s just a matter of time before governments around the globe will succumb to the lobby of big business and pass acts like S.O.P.A. in your respective countries.

Listen to Clay Shirky on TED explaining the real purpose of SOPA and PIPA here

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Syndey Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 14.000 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 5 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Does anybody on earth still trust his/her Government?

You’ll find that you can trust any government on the planet to do three things: protect corporate power, start wars and finding ever more ways to control you as citizen of your respected state. And that’s about all they do.

Government by the people for the people; those are nice words but they don’t mean shit anymore. As a citizen/voter, I don’t feel we have any control over our government.

We vote them in and as soon as our elected politicians take the stage we again and again find they are nothing but puppets. Puppets on a string; manipulated by big business.

Left or right-wing governments, it doesn’t matter. Do you really think the Left wing Brazilian government depends less on the approval of big business then the right-wing Dutch government does? The economy comes first, period. It’s the same anywhere.

Trust is vital for any democracy but I lost my trust.

Corporate power is bigger then governmental power; well, maybe not in China, but in China the government IS the big corporation.

Politicians learned to say exactly what the people want to hear. They hire spin doctors and marketers to teach them. And although they are fully aware that they “can’t fool all the people all of the time” they get away with it. There’s no alternative so we have no choice but to vote and hope for the best.

Democracy urgently needs to redefine itself. We are on a threshold that might lead to an abandonment of democracy. This same thing happened in the first part of the 20th century when democracy was replaced by either fascism or communism. I sure as hell don’t want to live in a fascist or communist state, but neither would I want to live in an authoritarian capitalist state like China.

But I’m afraid that’s exactly where big business is trying to lead us into; a state where the government solely protects the interests of big business and oppresses their citizens to accommodate the 1% of rich people.

Why? Because it’s much easier to fulfill the needs of the 1% then it is to fulfill the needs of the 99%. Our needs are too divers; they require a lot of thinking and never-ending efforts for we not only need food, water and housing but elusive things like happiness, freedom, justice and respect. These are hard to get and they sometimes go against the wishes of the corporate moguls.

What we need is governments that set its priorities straight. Priority number 1 is the protections of citizens against corporate wrong doings. Government must be aware that corruption and other white-collar crimes come with the territory of a capitalist system. Crimes that include selling useless financial products only devised for quick profit.

Why is street crime being punished harder and harder while perpetrators of white-collar crime are left unpunished or get of easy? Shouldn’t there be mandatory sentences like 10 years in prison for every million stolen from the public? Shouldn’t white collar criminals be banned from doing business just like ordinary criminals suffer the three strikes and you’re out treatment?

I really don’t mind people getting rich by selling good and inventive stuff. I have a high regard for people like that. But I really hate greedy bastards who go to business schools with the sole purpose to get rich as quick as possible. They are the ones that destroy the earth, consume all its resources and trick us into buying useless shit. These people are not so different from your average drug lord. Why shouldn’t they be treated alike?

We need governments to take sides; the side of the people, not of the (multi-national) corporations!

The power of corporate lobbyist must be contained. Political candidates must be able to work without the support of big business. They must able to get by with the support of their voters, period! Obama proved that that’s possible with his campaign to get elected president. Well at least almost…No one is elected president without the approval of big business. And a president should also be able to execute his program without corporate power consent.

Too much power is gained by the wrong people. Marx have been right when he predicted capitalism will destroy itself but let’s not forget it will also destroy democracy and maybe the earth as a whole in the process.

Earlier columns on Occupy and the consumer society:

Your money is no good

No choice but to choose

picture by Banksy

To me it feels like people all over the western world have surrendered to the economical crisis. They have surrendered because there seems to be no way any of our governments can do anything to contain the power of the financial institutions that caused this crisis. These banks, hedge funds etc, may have even caused it willingly and premeditated. And if so this may well be seen as an attempt to overthrow democracy.

Ever since the Reagan and Thatcher administrations in the US and UK were voted in, these institutions have seen their power grow in an ever increasing rate. Now these institutions have become so powerful they can keep our government hostage and make them do as they please. Their demand is ‘jump through our hoop; deflate the size of government, the influence of your voters, break the unions and surrender your rights as workers.’

All my life I hear people around me say that democracy is just a farce and that the real powers exclusively belongs to the rich and powerful. These fat cats always have their way in the end, at the cost of the common man. I had a gut feeling that might be right but somehow I refused to believe it, tried not to believe it.

But what’s the long term gain here? What do these people want? In the end it’s people who plan and execute these schemes, not some monster robot or something (at least I hope so…). Did they look at China with their mouths watering? Will authoritarian capitalism replace democracy? Do they want to create an ant farm where people just forget about the pursuit of their personal happiness, to forget about freedom? It may well be, since these institutions don’t feel a need to comply to the wishes of society as a whole anymore; they grew so far above the rest of us, this social elite.

But who do these people think they are? How on earth do they derive any happiness in destroying the happiness of others, in making the bulk of people into slaves again?

But even more important; do they really think they can get away with it? Do they really think we all dozed off behind our TV and computer screens, mesmerized by their ever increasing flow of commercials, unaware, sleep walking? Is there anyone in the USA who doesn’t have family or acquaintances who lost their houses? Is there anyone here in Holland who doesn’t know that it’s almost impossible to get a job with an indefinite contract anymore? And without such a job it’s not possible to even buy a house? Is there anyone who is not aware government downsize only benefits these same financial institutions, the insurance companies, banks and big corporations in expense of our rights?

I used to live in a country where people had a sense of solidarity, where people actually had a say in how this country was governed, where health insurance was almost free, where people cared about their cultural heritage, where children had access to good education and were not put into mammoth sized learning institutions, where people could stop working at the age of 58 making way for the younger generation.

And sure there were people who took an unfair advantage of these benefits, but aren’t those people the same kind who try to deprive us of everything good society gained in terms of social care? I really don’t care if these people call themselves left or right wing; vultures and  profiteers always come from all directions.

The most important question is what can we, common people, do to stop these capitalist whores in their tracks? Well what about this one:  what if we, the people start to refuse money that comes from workers in the financial sector? I don’t mean clerks or tellers, but the boys at the top who make the millions in bonuses. What if we just bluntly refuse to take their money saying YOUR MONEY IS NO GOOD. Your money is no good because it’s deprived from people who lost their homes, their jobs, and their livelihood. So I won’t clean your house, drive your car, protect you or aid you in any way nor will I sell you anything out of my shop. You made your choice to lie, cheat and steal your way to the top but now comes the time we as the masses have to stop you.

Sure there will be people who are still willing to be your slave and serve you, but what if we start refusing to serve those people also?  How long are you going to last? How long will it take before you learn the valuable lesson that you simply need us and you need us to be willing to aid you; you can’t force us. You can’t just kill us all…

It may sound a little bit naive and a bit like like the “what if they declare a war and nobody shows up to fight it” kind of thing, but still this might work. It will at least send a powerful signal that says NO MORE and says it in a non violent way.

And yes; you may laugh at my thoughts and dismiss them. But consider this: why would a man like Warren Buffet, who is rich and, as far as I know, also very smart, offer to start paying more taxes? Don’t you think he has considered that it may not take too long before the people, who until now always held the rich in high esteem, turn around 180 degrees and start seeing the rich and their greed as a problem that has to be tackled, because they stand in the way of us pursuing our happiness? Sure he has! And since he’s smart he knows that it’s better to pay a bit more in order to help solve this crisis and keep the high esteem intact. Better give in than to hold on to an amount of money he won’t be able to spend in two dozen lifetimes anyway.

To be the rich guy amongst too many poor; where the fun in that?

Nowadays, like most of my friends and acquaintances, I almost exclusively play music on my computer. I do play old records from time to time but mostly music I haven’t been able to find in a digital format; most of these records are obscure punk albums. Limited issues that somehow, very often totally undeserved, were forgotten and never reissued on CD.

I never cared for CD’s. First of all most new albums on CD are too long to survive my attention span. I rarely have enough patience to sit and listen to the same artist for over an hour. As soon as I hear a song on an album that isn’t just as good or better than the ones I heard earlier, the CD gets ejected. Maybe it’s because I grew up with records that contained no more than 20 to 25 minutes of music on either side. I still wonder if musicians are pleased with the extra play time CD’s provide. I think not, judging the endless row of bad or redundant songs that appear on albums today. To me it’s just another sign the marketing departments of record companies have gained too much power over producers and artists. More music for your buck instead of more quality. That’s definitely a good example of how bad marketing is ruining the music industry. Long length CD’s are OK for compilation albums or ‘best of albums’ of artists who had a career with a live span of over three decades. As far as I’m concerned 45 minutes will absolutely do for any new album.

Another thing that was so nice with vinyl was the two sides of the record. I tended to play one side for the first couple of weeks/months before I started to devour the second side. It was an absolute pleasure to start to digest 3 to 6 more songs of a really good album.

Typically a real good record didn’t catch on instantly. Records that digested easily were also the ones first discarded. (Been there, done that, heard it, had enough.) It’s the records that needed a lot of chewing, before the flavour caught on, that ultimately survived. And I don’t compare listening to music with eating for no reason.

Not surprisingly the records I still play today took a long time to catch on, but after they did they stayed with me forever. Butthole Surfers, first three albums (especially ‘psychic, powerless; another man’s sack’) , The first two The Birthday party albums, ‘In the flat fields’ by Bauhaus, Damaged by Black Flag, Dead Kennedys first three albums, ( including  ‘In God We Trust’, which was an EP but still counts as an album to me), Rock for light by Bad Brains (regardless of the shitty production by Ric Occasek) and Base Culture by UK reggae artist Linton Kwesi Johnson, just to name a few.

LP’s kept their flavor a very long time. Of course that comes with the territory when you’re young and more easily impressed, but I still play a lot of those records regularly. I never play CD’s anymore… Like most people who grew up with LP’s I hate the small artwork of CD’s, jewel cases and CD booklets. CD’s being indestructible soon proved a marketing myth. CD’s were the ritual suicide of the record industry.

Digital music was a sad business until programs like I-tunes made listening to music on the computer like listening to an extended radio show with a DJ that doesn’t chat and exclusively plays good songs. Off course one needs to hook up the computer to the old stereo so one can enjoy listening through a good set of speakers since most speakers for computers just won’t do, but that’s obvious.

Now I don’t care about the lesser songs on CD’s; I delete them. Now I don’t care about the length of CD’s since I only play music on random mode, so I hear albums song by song. When I want to hear new music I choose the recently added section of my I-tunes.

I tag songs that catch my attention with one star and tag my favourite songs with two to five stars. It’s silly, but I love doing that.

In case you’re wondering; I don’t buy CD’s; I rent them at the music library or I download them. That keeps my house tidy and clearly arranged.

But now I finally get to my point: recently it started to occur to me that my computer has a strange tendency to choose songs that go with my mood almost perfectly. Note that my I-tunes library has almost all genres of music from classical music to jazz and soul to new wave, punk rock and extreme death/black metal.

At first it seemed the computer choose music depending on the song I chose to start with. But that’s not the case since it tends to choose songs I definitely would not have chosen because of certain moods I’m in. I’m talking about moods I don’t want to emphasize at a particular moments. I need to work and not get distracted by my mood too much. I know times when I’m just too much in love to hear certain love songs, but the computer plays them one after the other. Resulting in a mushy me. Crying over, you know; the little things. It doesn’t matter if I choose Slayer as the starting song; the next one the computer chooses will be a crooner. It really seems the computer is teasing me with my mood and makes me experience the emotions I tend to put aside.

Only yesterday I started with ‘I fought the law and I won’ by Dead Kennedys; next choice by the computer: ‘Je taime moi non plus’ by Gainsbourg. That was too much to handle so I changed it into Dayglo Abortions with ‘Aargh fuck kill’. But the next song that came on was by Einsturzende Neubauten: Jet’m; a song with a melody that strangely resembles the Gainsbourg song I just discarded, it holds almost the same keyboard line. Aaargh.

So I switched to a another play mode. The computer could choose punk rock only. So it started playing a lot of Buzzcocks, Descendents and more punk love songs. Songs that are rare in the genre but it choose them all. It’s a bit scary and it’s probably an illusion, but still…

The riots that broke out in London last week and are raging all across England at the moment are an event that was waiting to happen. In fact it’s amazing it took this long for it to emerge.

In the late seventies similar events that lead to the London riots we see today let to burning and looting. After that the streets stayed relatively quiet for 30 years.  At the end of the eighties the economic crisis that started in the seventies and the cold war were finally over and made way to the glorious nineties. The nineties were an era that in many ways resembled the happy sixties. But just like the happy sixties were followed by the depressing seventies the first years of the 21st century mark the end of a period of joyous consumerism.

Crisis strikes again.

Violence on the streets is a reoccurring cycle that entered a new phase with the riots we see in England at the moment. The images of looting that mostly harm those who, working hard, started their businesses in their own neighborhood, and especially the pictures of the student who was injured and got robbed by a thug (a white thug!) are sickening.

You may wonder why it’s seems to be so easy to turn people into ruthless animals. But if you add up the dominant youth culture and the ideals it advocates one just wonders why violence like this took this long to happen.

There certainly are similarities with the revolt of the eighties but there are huge differences also. Dominant youth culture in the eighties was Disco; empty entertainment that was al about dancing the night away high on coke. People who protested in those days were people who were into the counter cultural movement; Punks, Rasta’s and Squatters. These were people who tried to break free from materialism.

The youths that set England ablaze today are indeed part of today’s dominant youth culture; R&B and hip-hop. A culture defined by shameless materialism. Off course one may add that not all rappers are into bling-bling and bitches only, but the part of this culture that has gotten mainstream certainly is. It’s glorifying gangster culture; a culture that says to take whatever you can take. A culture that says every (rich) individual deserves respect no matter what they do and how they obtain their riches. A culture that advocates that respect can be enforced; if threatening looks and behavior don’t get you respect, violence will. “Get rich or die trying.”

The youth of today is tempted into the lifestyle of the rich; they see how those people live on TV and computer screens. But they also see that becoming rich is a dream that won’t come true by just studying and working hard. Back in the seventies people were proud to be part of the working class, but nowadays you’re an idiot if you are content with the life of a working man. If you learn a trade today you can make a very decent living of it but that’s not enough anymore; one must have a gold plated ceiling and a large swimming pool filled with whores to earn respect.

As a result of that attitude the youth takes to the street and simply grabs the possessions they think they have a right to own. The first couple of rioters who got convicted were not unemployed scum but guys who had an education and only obtained a shitty job with it.

The rioters are not hardened criminals; the business of criminals thrive a lot better under peace and quiet.

Society set an example. Young people see today’s rich grab whatever they want, and get away with it, because the companies they are involved in are “too big to fall”. The rioters themselves are too big in numbers to fall.

The consumer society created many monsters; you made the mess, now deal with it.

read this article on the Quietus; it has a slightly different view on rap music. Note that I wrote about the culture surrounding hiphop, not the music style

Klik hier voor een Nederlandstalige versie van deze column

To me the music of Amy Winehouse contained everything pop-music should contain; undoubtedly good music that is liked by all. And by ‘all’ I don’t mean the mainstream only.

Her music also stood far from vulgar entertainment. Rehab, her biggest hit, deals with a pretty controversial topic; not exactly something that immediately appeals to the masses. To me that’s another thing ‘good’ pop-music: it not only deals with the obvious issues like heartbreak but also addresses topics that may not exactly be your cup of tea. And if the artist is as good as Amy was, they manage to take you along on their journey and make you understand their feelings, however hard that may be. That’s art, and an art few contemporary artists seem to master.

I wasn’t a big fan of Amy Winehouse, but I always loved to hear her songs on the radio. Her music stood out in excellence compared to most ‘hits’ of today, It was a relief to hear something good in between all the crap. And I must admit that after seeing a live show of Miss Winehouse and her band on BBC television it turned me into a fan too. This was a show that depicted Amy at her best. No She obviously wasn’t sober, but she was in control. Everything about that show was great. She had a fabulous band, with great dancers, and her voice and performance were impeccable. The day after I saw that show I bought myself her albums, like 10 million people did before. And every time my I-tunes plays one of her songs I sing along. And that means a lot, being an old punk-rocker like I am, don’t you think?

Amy Winehouse died at the magical age of 27. But that’s not the only thing she has in common with other Rock Icons that died before their time. Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Kurt Cobain all shared one thing; they had big problems with their respective record companies about the direction their music was going. Their record companies just wanted more of the same. So in their view the direction had to be ‘steady as she goes’.

Apart from experimenting with drugs and booze, Brian Jones experimented with music that stood far apart from the blues rock the Stones got famous for. Not only the record company didn’t like that, but Jagger and Richards, his fellow songwriters, weren’t pleased also.

It’s a well known fact that Jimi Hendrix wanted to change directions and make jazz instead of Rock. Some people even claim his record company didn’t shun violence to withhold him of that idea.

Jim Morrison had a big problem with the rock star idiom; he much more preferred to be a poet instead of a rock star.

Kurt Cobain wanted Nirvana to go into a direction that was much less commercial and stood a lot closer to his punk-rock roots. It’s said that Geffen; the company that had Nirvana under contract refused to release an album that was made in between ‘Nevermind’ and ‘in Utero’ because it didn’t fit into the genre that was known as Grunge and therefore wasn’t saleable.

Apart from Cobain, producer Steve Albini and Cobains spouse Courtney Love thought this album was the work of a genius and would have changed rock music, but it wasn’t to be.

Not all big rock stars went under because of problems like this, but it is striking that most of the stars who lived beyond their 27th birthday not only got talent for writing and performing, but were talented business man/women also . Take Prince and Madonna for instance; Prince set himself free from any involvement by major record companies and started releasing records on his own label, saying good bye to mass appeal. But he’s still doing well and doing exactly what he wants to do. Madonna built a business empire of her own and also chooses her own direction. That direction may be pretty commercial, but no one has a say in it except Madonna herself.

It’s not a proven fact that problems with record companies caused the demise of the stars I mentioned in this piece, but it may well be a reason for them to flee into a huge intake of drugs and liquor. It won’t surprise me if Amy Winehouse lost her way into drugs and booze because of similar problems.

I saw an old interview with Amy yesterday. An interview recorded in my own hometown as a matter of fact. In that interview Amy spoke of her love for Jazz music. It may well be that the reason the album after ‘back to black’ took so long to get recorded because Amy was changing directions. And that this change of directions caused a problem with Island/Universal; her record company.

We probably never know for sure unless a hidden diary or tapped phone conversations surface. But it’s for sure breaking at a young age and breaking fast, is hazardous to ones health. When serving your first contract with a major you’re dogmeat and the bigger your success the higher the pressure becomes. Take in mind that if an artist manages to sell 10 million copies of an album in this day and age, and your album is at the top of the charts for over a year, you become a cash cow. You may be the cork on which a major company is keeping afloat. All that may proof a bit much for frail shoulders like Amy’s.

 (dit is de Engelse uitvoering van de column die ik eerder over Amy Winehouse plaatste. De Nederlands versie kan je hier vinden.)

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