ON THE COVER
CP: Lots of nice stuff in the Music Issue, including nicely-drawn connections between hip-hop and poetry in a spot on Curly Castro. I’m drawn most to Patrick Rapa’s cover treatment of Kurt Vile, which manages to reveal new things about a subject who’s been covered extensively in recent years. Observe:
His new album, Smoke Ring For My Halo, is due out next week on Matador. Where some of his earlier releases reveled in their mysterious, overcast sound, this new one’s noticeably crisper, with a few more mellow moments. Instead of charging out of the gate with a big rock number — as he did on his 2008 breakthrough, Constant Hitmaker, and his 2009 Matador debut, Childish Prodigy — Halo opens with the blissful and textured “Baby’s Arms.” The benefits of proper studio recording are all over this song: articulated acoustic guitar, beatific female backing vocals, a lone tambourine chiming in from another galaxy.
“The album’s not even out yet, and once it leaked some people just gave a review after hearing it twice and said, ‘Oh, he just has these personal lyrics and there’s no hooks, and it’s totally clean, and the dirtiness was part of his charm.'” Vile sounds a little pissed, a little exasperated, but mostly his usual philosophical self. “Did Bob Dylan have hooks? I don’t know. What is a hook, exactly?”
If a hook is some sticky guitar lick you hear long after the song is over, or a lyric you find yourself singing in your downtime, then Halo‘s got hooks. “Puppet to the Man” is Exhibit A, a desperate and bluesy rocker that builds a bridge out of a murmur and digs into the listener with quick, bleak lyrics. “This one goes out to all those who want the rat to survive,” he sings with a swagger, his voice reverberating as if off canyon walls. “Of course by this I am alluding I want him to die.”
Vile’s an upbeat guy — and he’s quick to say life is really good right now — but he does agree that Halo‘s got a cynical undercurrent. See lines like “Society is my friend, it makes me lie down in a cold bloodbath” and “My best friend’s long gone but I got runner-ups.” More than ever, Vile’s getting good mileage out of his sometimes sparse lyrics, and he was pleased enough to include them with the album, a first for him.
It’s equal parts sound and substance — first time he’s included lyrics with his album? it’s wonderful that Rapa observed and included that — and I dig it absolutely.
PW: Nina Hoffmann casts a wide net as she scrutinizes marijuana use and possession in the city and the shifting penalties associated with it. Street life, the court system, police presence and racial division all come into play in a complex but gripping narrative.
Inside the courtroom, it’s time to get down to business. Offenders caught possessing 30 grams or less get to make a deal: Agree to pay a $200 fine and attend a three-hour treatment class and avoid going to trial and risking jail time. Since there’s no legal representation in the court, the director presiding over the process makes sure to state the rules clearly. “We will not hear testimony or the particulars of your case. Upon successful completion of this class, your record will be expunged within six months. You may pay cash or money order on the date of your class.” Most defendants nod their head in agreement and opt for the fine and treatment class.
When they’re done, the offenders trickle out a few at a time, stopping to mingle; some discuss what happened inside. A little girl with a hot-pink backpack exits holding her mother’s hand. Her older brother walks beside them. The mom seems unsure about what happened inside. “This means we don’t need a lawyer, right?” she asks. A few people voice their shared suspicions about the lack of legal representation in the court. Others are just happy to be getting out of there. “I love weed,” says a smiling 20-year-old Desmont Brown as he exits the room. This isn’t the first time he’s been busted with weed, and he’s sure it isn’t going to be the last. The Germantown resident, clad in a Hugo Chavez-inspired military jacket, adds that he’s going home right now to smoke. “Marijuana is not a drug!” Brown says. “It’s weed! It’s everywhere!” The rolled-up Metro in his hand gets tighter as he waves it around to make his point. “Politicians smoke weed. Actors smoke weed. Everyone smokes weed!”
Despite the outspoken opposition from offenders, the diversion program is being hailed as a success in some circles. Nearly 80 percent of the 1,636 arrests for possession of 30 grams or less between June and September 2010 were diverted to the program, putting the city on target to collect an estimated $3 million to $5 million in savings and unclogging a criminal court system that was spending a tremendous amount of resources on misdemeanor offenses.
Others see the program as just another incarnation of the never-ending war on weed. “This whole thing is … just an excuse to make more arrests,” says a man donning long dreadlocks and a black leather jacket, as he exits the courtroom.
I’m left with only minor quibbles, like word choice: a guy wasn’t “donning,” as in putting on, his dreadlocks as he exited the courtroom. Also, this sentence, regarding Ray Carnation, seems a little sketchy: “What really happened was that he blew the whistle on racial discrimination within the PPD.” *needle across the record noise* Seems like a big story to encapsulate in just a sentence and not return to it. Last thing: I didn’t recognize the byline on this story at first, but it would seem congratulations are in order both for the former Ms. Sachdev’s recent wedding and on a very fine cover story.
INSIDE THE BOOK
CP: Calling out classical critics. Man Overboard performs oratory surgery. Lebanese, if you please. The FBI is in town; those identifying themselves as “female breast inspectors” are on notice.
PW: Fundamentals of English, or fundamentalist Christianity? Overdue South. National cuts affect local services to global populations: got it? Music, comedy, hair advice.
WINNER: It’s been an embarrassment of riches the past couple weeks, with strong stuff from both papers, but this week I have to give the nod to… The Onion, the city’s newest weekly. Ha, betcha you didn’t see that coming! I, for one, welcome our new satirical vegetable overlords.