Wednesday, July 25, 2012

National Poetry Slam 2012 and a new video for "Smalltalk"

L-R: Kait Rokowski, coach Sam Cook, Guante, Shane Hawley, Khary Jackson and Hieu Nguyen.

After taking a year off, I'm going back to the National Poetry Slam (NPS) this August as part of the first ever united Twin Cities team. It'll be my sixth time going in five years. As part of the St. Paul team, we won twice. This is one of the strongest teams our scene has ever put together, and we'll be trying to bring a third National Poetry Slam title back to the Twin Cities. Whatever happens, I'm incredibly proud of the work we've produced this year.

On a related note, I got a grant this past year from the Minnesota State Arts Board to film a special performance and release the videos online for free. There's a BUNCH more coming (both poetry stuff and music stuff), but here's a special sneak preview, courtesy of Unique Techniques. This is my token "what it's like to be me" poem, SMALLTALK. It's one of the weirder poems I have, but it's 100% from the heart. If you're an artist, you can probably relate:


by Guante

When my girlfriend’s parents ask me what I do for a living…

I pull a straight razor out of my back pocket. I don’t tell ‘em I’m a poet; I sure as hell don’t tell ‘em I’m a rapper. I just pull a straight razor out of my back pocket.

And sure: I could lie, I could say that I’m a pilot or a handsome man or a teacher or the change that I want to see in the world or a pipe-smoking grad student. I could go on and on about all the locked doors I can open, or the exotic locales that have crawled up my nose, or the blinding glossiness of my resume paper. I could give them joyful heart attacks; I could Santa Claus their systems.

But I don’t. I pull a straight razor out of my back pocket.

And yeah: this is overly dramatic. But I’ve never been very good at smalltalk. I’m always too busy wondering where interesting scars come from. Too busy asking myself how many poorly aimed arrows and casual brushes of skin and drownings and split seconds of eye contact over the past ten thousand years have constructed this moment. Too busy imagining the soundtrack to my life dominated by smiling, adult contemporary alterna-rockers, and saying no; give me hip hop dressed in leather, knuckles cracking. Give me whatever the opposite of novocaine is, let it pulse beneath my skin and make every cut and lick and bruise unbearably magnificent.

Because we could talk about the weather, we could deaden our colors and round our jagged corners so that we may fit more precisely in our own carry-on luggage; I could rattle off a string of pop culture references and we'd all have a good laugh, but I don’t; I pull a straight razor out of my back pocket.

And just as her father begins to say “so, you’re a barber?” I SLICE MY LITTLE FINGER OFF.

They jump back, instantly, like characters in a poorly edited student film, their lines caught between their teeth, their eyes staring straight into the camera. Levitating with pain, I pick my discarded digit up from the Olive Garden floor, and with the black sharpie I always keep in my other back pocket, I write my name on it, and I say:

“Give me ten dollars and I’ll let you keep this. Not the finger. The moment. Give me ten dollars as tribute to the truth that we once stood here, that I did something worth remembering, that you on this day witnessed something larger than traffic, or stormclouds or time passing. For the price of a fancy breakfast, press your fingers to the wet cement of my tombstone. Stand in the background of my iconography. It’s only ten dollars; tell my bones they’ve done a good job keeping me upright—tell yourself, that this day did not blur by, that this journal entry would be more than an absent-minded doodle. For ten dollars I will carve my initials in your brainstem.

“What do I do for a living? I am an artist. I am a turtle without a shell, and I have the scars to prove it. I am pulling myself from the magician’s hat night after night and I have the scars to prove it. I am leaving fragments of my body in every dusty corner of this country and I have the scars to prove it. Give me ten dollars, and I’ll show you everything.”

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Guante + Graham O'Brien: "This is the Opposite of a Suicide Note" REMIX


New song. Download it for free. And please spread the word-- Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, whatever.  This song is also in a "Guante Sampler" set; you can download the whole thing for free if you want to.

Graham is one of my favorite producers-- if you don't know him, he's the drummer in No Bird Sing and Junkyard Empire, and he also produced Kristoff Krane and Sadistik's "Prey for Paralysis" album. Graham also put out a solo album called "Live Drums" that's unlike anything else out there. He's super talented, and I'm honored and humbled to work with him.

This is a song I wrote a while back. The original version was on the Guante & Big Cats' mixtape "Don't Be Nice." It's a pretty personal song, and touches on some familiar subject matter for me-- the idea that you don't have to be happy all the time to be a good person; it's okay to be angry. We can use these negative emotions as tools to build something positive.

Aside from the subject matter, though, the real trick here was structure. I wanted to create a song that was all verse, no hook, but that didn't get boring. So some of that is in the beat, obviously-- the way it builds and breaks down and builds again-- and some of it is in the delivery and in the writing itself. I have other tracks like that-- "Winter is Coming" and "Lightning," and it's an approach that I like because it kind of bridges the gap between rap and spoken-word-- it's definitely rapping (AABB and all that), but it uses the slam poem's three-minute narrative arch instead of the standard rap song's 16/8/16/8 verse/chorus structure. Don't get me wrong though, the new Guante & Big Cats album will be full of hooks. It's just fun to try something different.

Thanks for listening.  Watch out for the first single from YOU BETTER WEAPONIZE coming soon.

3 Points About Rape Jokes that People Seem to Be Ignoring

Recently, comedian Daniel Tosh dealt with a heckler by saying “wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by like, five guys right now? Like right now? What if a bunch of guys just raped her?” This touched off a firestorm of both criticism and defensiveness and knee-jerk reactions. And this is nothing new. Comedians (good ones and bad ones) have been making rape jokes for a long time, and Tosh is just the current lightning rod. But I think this is a good opportunity for dialogue, especially among artists—comics, poets, rappers, writers of every kind. Here are three points I think are important:

1. We’re not picking sides between “pro-censorship” and “anti-censorship.” We’re picking sides between “pro-rape jokes” and “anti-rape jokes.”

This is not a free speech issue. As a comic (or poet, or rapper, or singer or whatever), you have the right to say whatever the hell you want to say on stage. But your audience has that same right. If you say something hurtful or offensive, they can heckle you, call you out, start internet campaigns to ban you from clubs, whatever. And you have to deal with that.

No one is trying to make it illegal for a comic to say offensive shit; we’re just trying to hold you accountable. That’s a huge difference, and people hiding behind the “free speech” argument are really missing the point. I want you to take chances on stage, to challenge people, even to deal with hecklers harshly—but there are a million ways to do that without joking about something that is extremely hurtful to so many people. Less offensive ways, sure, but funnier ways too.

2. “Edgy” comedy or art shouldn’t just be about saying naughty words and pissing people off; it should be about pissing people off in order to make a larger point.

I’m not against any kind of joke on principle. A good comic can make anything funny. But if you’re going to make jokes about rape, your excuse has to be something more than “it’s okay to hurt people because the bit landed, it was funny.” If you’re going to make jokes about potentially offensive topics, there’s an easy way and a hard way. The easy way is to just shout out offensive things in the name of free speech and “pushing people out of their comfort zones.” The hard way is to provide an unflinching, in-depth analysis of the way that people deal with these painful topics, to really explore them, in order to make some kind of profound point about them (and be funny).

Most people who make rape jokes (or gay jokes, or racist jokes, or whatever) aren’t smart enough to have anything worthwhile to add to the conversation. They’re hacks. It’s like a little kid shouting “poop!” in the grocery store and then grinning. Truly edgy writing pushes people out of their comfort zones, sure. But it pushes them toward something, some deeper truth or observation about humanity.

3. Rape jokes don’t magically turn people into rapists, but they do contribute to a larger culture of normalizing rape, blaming the victim, shaming, silence, etc.

If you’ve never heard the term “rape culture,” that’s really what we’re talking about here. No one is arguing that you’re worse than Hitler because you made an off-color joke; they’re saying that rape jokes are yet another “little” thing that contributes to a society in which women (and men) are raped. A lot.

These “little” things add up—maybe it’s a rape joke at the comedy club, plus a newspaper op-ed blaming the victim, plus a music video turning women into objects, plus a fellow student saying “that test raped me,” plus movies or TV shows that glamorize the “tough anti-hero taking what he wants without apology,” plus a family culture of silence and shame around sex, plus a police force who just goes through the motions when it comes to investigating or working to prevent sexual assault, plus a million other things—it’s a tsunami of shit. And you can add to it, or you can fight against it.

With Tosh, sure, his whole shtick is that he’s an offensive jackass; his joking about rape shouldn’t be surprising. But that doesn’t mean we should all just ignore him. If you’re against rape, you have to be actively against rape culture. There is no neutral. And just like rape culture is a tidal wave of “little things” as well as big things, fighting back against rape culture can take that same form. Call people out. Start conversations. Hold yourself accountable. Maybe something positive can still come from all this.

~Responding to Common Arguments About What Is or Isn't Offensive
~Eight Invalid Pop-Culture Arguments