Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Tuesday Tidbits: Immigration Song

For as long as I can remember, I've been a huge music fan. This far-from-profound statement has nothing to do with anything, but I'll get to that in a minute. Led Zeppelin was, for many years, my favorite band. No one came close to even scraping the surface of their awesomeness. Cecil and I went toe to toe on many an occasion discussing who the better outfit was: Zeppelin or the Stones. I would say the Stones' music was drab and uninventive. He would claim that Zeppelin were nothing but blues-music ripoff artists. That debate, though it still silently continues, is one of another era. The multitude of things I appreciate about Zeppelin span myriad forms. The one I care to mention today is the imagery associated with their music. That is, not so much what the listener imagines, but the actual images produced and portrayed by the band.

One example of this is their dynamic album covers. Most of them are provocative and mystical, Coda notwithstanding. Another of the weaker displays of art would be the cover of III, which is a bit of a tricky album to initially embrace. At least it was for me, and in hindsight, I think that was only the case because of its chronological placement between II and the untitled album more commonly referred to as IV. That said, there are some really powerful cuts on III, but I've often felt it was a mistake to lead off with "Immigrant Song" simply because the jarring power of it drops off a massive precipice in terms of drive and delivery. This is in no means a criticism of the rest of the album's tracks. They are great and good in their own ways, but "Immigrant Song" is for sure the definitive track for that album.

The trouble with the album is its cover art. It's nothing shy of atrocious in comparison with the rest of the band's studio releases. There's no association for the art to go with the music like there is for say "Good Times Bad Times" or "Dazed and Confused" and the image of the Hindenburg on their self-titled debut. You could make this case with most any of their albums: the motley-crew Hell's Angels look of II goes well with tracks like "Moby Dick"; pick any track from IV and the image of the bent-over old man with the bundle of reeds on his back; the famous Houses of the Holy cover with "No Quarter" or "Over the Hills and Far Away"; and of course any dungeonesque track from Physical Graffiti -- I'm looking at you "Kashmir," "In the Light" -- goes well with the abandoned, industrial, post-apocalyptic look of its cover.

The point, though, is that there's an association with "Immigrant Song" and III as an album in its entirety, and the cover art released with that album doesn't fit. This is why I've always associated the image for Swan Song, the band's record label, with III, simply because it kicks off with "Song" and, lyrically, has a mythical feel to it, much like the winged man selected to represent the band's label. And the title for that opening track has had me thinking a lot in recent weeks, especially this current one.

I have, for the last 18 months been out of the restaurant industry and back in the social-services field I once ventured into right after college. It doesn't pay worth a crap. It can be taxing, stressful, and require a lot of driving, but I'm not in a kitchen nights, weekends, and holidays, logging 65+ hours on my feet anymore. And my position is one that has quite the philosophical, maybe political, dynamic sort of twist to it: I'm a bilingual case manager who carries a considerable number of undocumented clients on his load. The twist is that, to be a client for our agency, you must have some sort of mental-health issue or diagnosis in order to qualify. And obviously, yes, we do serve undocumented residents. But we're also a not-for-profit organization, which means we receive bundles of state and federal tax dollars to relieve the pressures of operational costs. Namely: the cost of services for uninsured -- who are as such because they're undocumented -- consumers and salaries for the folks that provide the services, i.e. mine.

In sum, it's likely what I imagine to be the worst-nightmare sort of situation for any conservative/right-wing/Republican type, and it's a prime example of why there is still such tremendous racial divide in this country. The topic of deportation has been in the headlines this week. The front page of The Kansas City Star yesterday discussed it, and today on Yahoo there's a piece about it as well. The latter link discusses the movement spurred by the Obama administration that utilizes fingerprints and allegedly targets illegal aliens whom've committed crimes, be they level one, two, or three variety of offenses.

Now, I don't frequently make the commenter rounds on the Web postings that I read, but I will from time to time. As I write this, that Yahoo piece has over 7000 comments on it, and of the 10 visible on the first page, not one is enlightening. Of course you can follow the link and read some yourself, but there is one that I feel compelled to share, and it comes from the brilliant fingers of one Td40, who calls himself Octavio Leos. And he has (all sic) this to say:

"in dallas on the first day of the month in ghetto neighborhoods the mail runs late why?
because most of the blacks in that neighborhoods that sell dope ,rob,rape,murder,are all getting government checks ssi,food stamp,section 8,and they are constantly talking about new ways to get money from the government and dont provide sht for the land.I say send all the blacks back to africa and give the illegals their citizenship, thay will do alot more than tyrone and shenequa will ever even think about doing"

In a strange fit of irony, the song "1st of tha Month" has been rolling around in my head for the last few days, namely because one of my clients -- with whom I have a tremendous relationship -- was released last Monday from the local juvenile detention facility and farmed out to a group home. My heart goes out to him and his family because they are all in pain and simply could not make it work. But I'm taken back to the song because, right out of college, as I mentioned, I was in this same field in southwest Colorado, and my position was at a group home. At this facility, most of the kids were into hip hop, and at the time, Bone Thugs-n-Harmony were pretty big. If you're unfamiliar, they're an outfit out of the city that used to be known as Cleveland (Editor's Note: We're still calling it Cleveland, but, given its grave condition, that may change post-mortem.) who, more or less, made it big thanks to the late Eazy-E signing them to the Ruthless Records label.

But, at this group home, if you had privileges, you could rock your beats at a reasonable volume, and one of the favorites was Bone Thugs. Many, many were the days that I heard both "1st"

and "Ghetto Cowboy," which the kids always attributed to Krayzie Bone, which is fair, but actually a product of the Mo Thugs family, consisting of Krayzie, Layzie Bone, Thug Queen, Powder, and many others and under many variations of the Thugs nomenclature. Catchy tune, though:

Getting back to "1st," I'm titanically embarrassed to admit that I never, until recently, knew what that song was about. I imagine I used to think it had something to do with celebrating the beginning of a new month and fresh start, which is nothing shy of naive, white-bred, and simpleton of me, but regardless, what the song really is about ties in with that divide I was talking about, that mountain-goat-like head butting that people in this country do, and seem to want to do with regards to the concepts of immigration, race, and equality. I'm not ashamed to admit that, even in parts of this decade, I've wondered if racial tensions had subsided to some degree. What's made me feel ashamed, is that, on occsion, I've substituted the curiosity for some semblance of legitimate hope, and often times I feel that that was a massive mistake.

Working with clients on my mostly Hispanic case load, hanging out at my neighborhood dive, reading the papers, watching professional sports, almost everywhere I go, there it is, lurking in the corners, stomping in the streets. And I'm sick of it.

There are those that claim to try and improve things by bringing things to light, to the surface, but in my humble opinion, they often do more wrong than good. What we need, I think, instead of continuing to highlight the injustices, both alleged and real, are ideas that the majority can get on board with. And when I say majority, it is crucial to bear in mind that I exclude folks like our pal Octavius, who are painfully distorted.

And this is where sports comes in. This whole disaster in Arizona has contributed to the divide, and that's because it announces the message that the state government has made it lawful to request papers from minorities, whereas in our national sports leagues, we, in varying degrees, embrace immigrants, and pay them huge salaries, to come play for our sports teams.

All four of our major professional sports employ immigrants and have been doing so for years. Christian Okoye and Tamba Hali are two Chiefs that come to mind in the NFL. The late Manut Bol, and now Yao Ming of the National Basketball Association are two hoops examples. The two biggest stars of the National Hockey League, Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, are not Americans by birth. And Major League Baseball might be the biggest example, especially with all of the Latin-American talents brought to the United States to, eventually, play for big-league clubs.

Is there a foundation for professional athletes to advocate for immigrants? Can we make one? Look at the statutes created for these talents. Can this be a foundation for other types of immigrant workers? Or does this stuff already exist and I'm just too uniformed to know about it.

Let's get a discussion started in the comments. This means you, lone robot spammer.