The Iron Fist Dilemma

On March 17, 2017, Netflix will premiere its latest Marvel show, Iron Fist.  Much like its predecessors, Daredevil , Jessica Jones , and Luke Cage , the show will follow closely to its comic book source material, including its protagonist, orphaned billionaire martial artist Danny Rand, who became a martial arts prodigy after a plane crash landed him in the mythical land of K’un L’un. During his training, he obtains the ability to concentrate his chi (spiritual energy) into his fists, rendering them like iron, hence his moniker. The supposed controversy is that the show’s lead is white, rather than casting an Asian lead for this martial arts show. However, anyone who has read any iteration of Iron Fist’s comics in the past 4 decades knows that Danny Rand is white in the comics as well.

The dilemma is that white lead characters have been the leads in movies focusing on Asian cultures, from Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai, to Matt Damon in The Great Wall. Even Scarlet Johansson was cast as the lead in the live-action adaptation of Ghost in the Shell, sparking a debate on whether her lead character was “white-washed” or not even before it debuted in theaters. Where Iron Fist differs is that it’s actually following it’s source material, potentially nullifying any claim of white-washing.

The issue that should be in focus is not the ethnicity of an established character that follows the source material, but why an established character that can fit the criteria for inclusion hasn’t been utilized yet. A prime example is another martial arts hero from Marvel, Shang-Chi. Not only does he have a similar cult following to Iron Fist, but he gives Marvel a chance to put an Asian superhero at the forefront. In fact, Shang-Chi is part of the same Heroes For Hire circle that Iron Fist, Luke Cage, and Misty Knight inhabit, making him an easy chatacter to bring into the fold.

As casting trends have shown, inclusion and representation are beginning to matter more than ever. However, reassigning ethnicity may not always be the best solution. Sometimes, it’s about bringing an overlooked hero into the forefront.

Tales From The Bargain Bin: Jamiroquai, The Return of the Space Cowboy

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The same day I purchased Jamiroquai’s 1993 album, Emergency on Planet Earth, I also had the fortune of purchasing their 1994 follow-up, The Return Of The Space Cowboy. Amazingly, the first time I had heard of Jamiroquai was when this album debuted. I had the fortune of catching the music video of the album’s first single, “Space Cowboy”, on BET when I was 12 years old. Even then, I was hooked on the band’s sound, well before they eventually found massive success with their hit music video, “Virtual Insanity”, from their 1996 album, Traveling Without Moving. And while everyone has heard that album since that year, it can be said that only true Jamiroquai fans can say they’ve traveled with the “Space Cowboy”.

The band’s performance caliber had stepped up quite a bit compared to Emergency on Planet Earth. It could be said that the collective of vocalist/producer Jay Kay, keyboardist Toby Smith, bassist Stuart Zender, Drummer Derrick McKenzie, and Wallis Buchanan on the didgeridoo, had learned and matured  a bit between the two albums. The first single, “Space Cowboy”, an ode to weed (“at the speed of cheeba”), is a smooth, feel-good song to zone out to. The vibe smoothly transitions into a state of self-reflection with the second track, “Stillness in Time”, and revisits that self-reflection with “Light Years”, the latter track offering an uplifting hook to boot. (“Now I’ve got that sunshine in my life.”) Another change compared to Emergency is the presence of more love and relationship-themed songs, such as the broken heart anthem “Half The Man”, which reflects a man feeling that he’s missing his other half of himself after a breakup, and “Mr. Moon,” a lyrical plea to find that special someone, using the moon as a confidante for heartbreak.

The album does have it’s share of preaching, with tracks such as “Scam”, highlighting the common man’s economic struggle and the government’s efforts to tax the working class dry, “Manifest Destiny”, a somber reflection of the plight of the indigenous peoples of the world driven from their homes, and “Just Another Story”, a tale of a young man caught up in the drug game. The last song is as potent as Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues” and Stevie Wonder’s “Living For The City”. Much like Emergency, even the preachy tracks on Space Cowboy are catchy and infectious.

The Return Of The Space Cowboy is a great follow-up to Emergency on Planet Earth, and it’s a must for any true Jamiroquai fan. Of course, the strength of this album was dwarfed by the massive success of its successor, 1996’s Traveling Without Moving. Stay tuned for my review of that album.

Tales From The Bargain Bin: Jamiroquai, Emergency on Planet Earth

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About a month ago, I hit up my favorite thrift shop and managed to purchase not one, but two Jamiroquai CDs, their first album, Emergency on Planet Earth, and their second album, Return of the Space Cowboy, for the low price of $2 per CD. I couldn’t wait to start listening. Of the two albums, Emergency was the one I gravitated to immediately. I was familiar with the album’s pro-environmental stance, and I had glimpsed at the music video for the title track, which was a montage of environmental clips, from oil spills to endangered animals. Preachy, yet catchy.

Songs like “When You Gonna Learn (Digeridoo)”, “Too Young To Die”, and the title track, “Emergency on Planet Earth”, are the prime examples of the album’s preachy side. Even as heavy handed as the messages are, the groove of the music makes it impossible to stop listening. The band borrows influence from everyone from Earth, Wind, & Fire to The Brand New Heavies.

If you feel the need to skip the Captain Planet-caliber environmental and anti-destruction messages, you can always check out tracks such as “Hooked Up”, which offers the track’s music as a sound opiate/anti-depressant, or “If I Like It, I Do It”, a catchy song about anti-conformity. The instrumental piece, “Music of the Mind”, is so peaceful, it can be used for meditation, which I suspect was the purpose of the composition. Getting back on the up-tempo groove, the James Brown-esqe “Whatever It Is, I Just Can’t Stop” is a first-person observation of the struggles of alcoholism and addiction. The music is so catchy, you’ll have to read the lyrics to pick up on the message. Amazingly, with so much funk on this album, there’s only one track that comes close to a love song, the smooth, “Blow Your Mind”, a cross between an Earth, Wind, & Fire ballad and a roller rink jam.

Overall, this debut album is a good place to get your feet wet if you want to check out Jamiroquai. Yes, it’s got “Message” written all over it, but I’d be a fool to ignore how good the music is.

Tales From The Bargain Bin: Jamiroquai (Prologue)

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Looking through my CD collection, I just lately realized how many great and classic albums I have in my possession. Many of these albums, I’ve bought for less than $10, a lot of them I bought for $2 from my favorite thrift shop, and in  one case, one album I bought for 99 cents!  So, amazingly, without having to bleed my wallet, I’ve managed to satisfy my need for good music. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy paying full price for a new album too (Childish Gambino’s Because the Internet was worth the $13.99 I spent on it), but you’d be amazed with the classic albums you can find in the bargain bin. I’ve found everything from Norah Jones to classic Chick Corea. My most prized finds in recent months, however, have been of a beloved U.K. funk/dance band that thrived in the 90’s, during my teen years: Jamiroquai.

In the past 2 1/2 months, with random but regular trips to a local thrift shop, I’ve managed to purchase five Jamiroquai albums, helping me rediscover the band that I heard so much of in high school. These five albums are (in order of release): 1993’s Emergency on Planet Earth, 1995’s Return of the Space Cowboy, 1996’s Traveling Without Moving, 1999’s Synkronized, and 2001’s A Funk Odyssey. These five albums have not only been my biggest treasure from the bargain bin, but they’ve helped me look beyond the band’s biggest hit single, “Virtual Insanity”. As such, I’ll be reviewing these albums in chronological order, and I hope that I’m able to paint a picture for you the appeal of this band. Keep watch for my review of Jamiroquai’s first album for Sony, Emergency on Planet Earth.

Why Did Tenacious D Win a Grammy in a Metal Category?

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Photo credit: theartdesk.com

Okay, we all have our issues with certain Grammy winners. Either half of us think Eminem should have gotten “Album of the Year” for The Marshall Mathers LP,  or we think that Kendrick Lamar should have gotten “Best Rap Album” instead of Macklemore. Lapses in Judgement happen. Still, that doesn’t explain WHY a non-metal band like Tenacious D won a Grammy for a metal performance, beating out established and more deserving acts like Anthrax and Mötorhead in the process.

For those who are unfamiliar with the musical duo of Jack Black and Kyle Gass, I advise you to sample their work. They’re a fun and entertaining group. However, as much as they rock, they are NOT metal. Their genre is somewhere between hard rock and comedy, and even they know this. Their vibe is more “Weird Al” Yankovic than Iron Maiden. So, for a group like Tenacious D to dominate in a field dominated by bands like Metallica, Slayer, Pantera, and Megadeth, it shows the NARAS’ lack of understanding of a genre.

Let’s flash back to the 1989 Grammys. Metallica was the front runner for their critically acclaimed album, And Justice For All. Everyone had them pegged as a surefire win. Then the winner was announced: “And the winner is….JETHRO TULL.” Metallica, one of the most influential metal acts in the industry, lost to a band that wasn’t even classified as a metal band. This lapse in the committee’s judgment is so legendary, it was even referenced in Mike Judge’s The Beavis and Butt-head Ensucklopedia, with the duo claiming that Metallica’s Grammy snub was the reason the band “looks pissed off all the time”.

The fact that the Grammy committee is capable of making  the same lapse of judgment 26 years after the infamous Metallica snub says a lot about the committee. It says that not only are they unaware of the genres represented at the Grammys, but that they could care less about rectifying their errors. With this in mind, we should ask ourselves, “Is a Grammy really as important as the world tries to make it out to be?” There are so many musicians, vocalists, and musical artists of every type that have contributed so much to the world of music and the music industry that have never even been nominated for a Grammy. Does that make them any less influential? So let Jethro Tull and Tenacious D keep those little statues. A Grammy doesn’t make a band any more or less awesome than they are, and the fans are the ones who decide if they’re awesome, not a committee.