Music Features

Banned From the Internet

When I first realized that nearly everything captured on film or video over the past 100 years was available on the internet the first thing I did was a Youtube search for the children’s television show from the early 70s, Ultraman.  Sure enough, I found a multitude of clips that I hadn’t seen in almost 40 years.  Ultraman was my favorite TV show as a child and forecast, or implanted, a love of science fiction that I never got over.  Like most kid’s shows, it’s mostly crap (to see how crappy, click here), but the joy in its rediscovery wasn’t about aesthetics.  Like a young child looking up at the stars and for the first time grasping the awesome size of the universe, we stand before the vastness of content on the internet humbled, insignificant and exhilarated.  If you’ve got the time and maybe a soupcon of computer savvy, you can find almost anything.  Virtually every movie or tv show you’ve ever heard of and thousands you never will is sitting out there on someone’s server waiting to be streamed or downloaded. 

Well, almost.  Let me bring you all back a few years to March, 2007, a more innocent time when real estate prices were expected to rise without limit, and you could still loathe George Bush for incompetently driving the country off every cliff he could find, instead of feeling guilty about it because you now know he didn’t mean to, and it was all Papa Cheney’s fault.  The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction ceremony was being broadcast and while this particular form of institutionalizing is superfluous, sadly ironic and somehow depressing, every once in a while you get a pretty decent performance or a few laughs watching Bono don the garb of Beat poet and deliver a pretentious induction speech.  So I try to catch as much as I can stand of the annual festivities, and I happened to chance upon this one seven years ago at a wonderfully opportune moment.  Patti Smith was being inducted that year and when I flicked on the tube she happened to be right in the middle of a searing performance of one of her greatest and most controversial songs – a song she had introduced as her mother’s favorite.  The song was Rock and Roll Nigger, and she shouted the lyrics as fiercely as she had 30 years before:


Jimi Hendrix was a nigger.
Jesus Christ and Grandma, too.
Jackson Pollock was a nigger.
Nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger,
nigger, nigger, nigger!!


Oh, it was glorious.  Keep in mind this was only seven years ago and we had long been taught by right-thinking people that the word nigger cannot be used in any context, and was to be replaced by the ridiculous euphemism “n-word”.  Now, virtually all commentary dealing with racial issues invokes this surrogate phrase, and we are treated to a cleansing of history that claims that students were escorted by the US Army troops into Little Rock High School in 1957 while crowds shouted the n-word at them.  No, they called them niggers, and they meant it.  If the troops hadn’t been there those brave kids would have been lynched, not “l-worded”.  So here was Patti, co-opting the racial epithet to celebrate the outsider, the ones who were shunned by society and ended up making it better.  And she spat in the face of all those who tell us what language we can and cannot use in order to socially engineer our thinking.  And of course we come up against the hilarious irony that now, as American society has evolved, institutionalized racism has been outlawed and overt bigotry pushed to the margins, the biggest controversy involving the “n-word” is whether African-Americans should use it when referring to each other (  Another problem for proper thinking white liberals to solve for everyone.  Fuck that, said Patti.  She chose the word carefully, meant it in a particular context, and trusted her audience to understand her meaning, even in an age overwhelmed by political correctness. 

I’d love to give you a link to that performance, not only because of its significance, but because it was so fucking awesome.  But I can’t.  As far as I can tell, it has been thoroughly scrubbed from the internet.  If you’re so inclined, go try to find it and report back on the comments of this page if you do.  Maybe I don’t have the skill to dig far enough into the deep web where perhaps it still lurks in shame and ignominy, but given that every other performance at the hall can be summoned with a few keystrokes, somehow I doubt it.  Sure, you can find her doing the song in concerts all over the world, but the Hall has seen fit to pretend that the whole thing never happened, even as they link to a separate performance of the song with Flea and Johnny Depp on their web archives.  I don't know how they did it, and I'd like to think I avoid paranoia at all costs, but I'm certain it was done.  After all, isn’t that what the spirit of rock and roll is all about, shutting down free expression and stifling uncomfortable truths?  Nothing to see here, says the Hall of Fame, please move along.  Rock is now a commoditized attitude associated with cars, sneakers or tv shows and can’t be risked in the service of personal freedom, a quality useless if not antithetical to the marketplace.  The Hall of Fame and co-conspirator Jann Wenner are guardians of the brand, and no raving, aging poetess will be allowed to threaten it.  Nice try Patti, we love you for your spectacular chutzpah and righteousness, but you had to know it wouldn’t fly in the end.  The war is lost and everyone has surrendered and gone home.  And for any of those dreaming silicon-heads that want to assure us that the web is the only place where true freedom resides and will solve all our social and political problems - fuck you too.  The minute you stop fighting for them all your precious God-given rights will be snatched away and flushed down the toilet.  Go ask God to get them back for you, see where that gets you.

“But I don't want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.” 

-          Aldous Huxley, Brave New World