Wiz Khalifa, Pittsburgh Council and History

Wednesday, 12 December 2012 03:30 PM Written by 

My, my, did the Facebook commenters  have a field day commenting on  Wiz Khalifa's visit home, and his reception in the chambers of Pittsburgh City Council as reported by Scott Mervis in yesterday's PG.  While he had many defenders, many of the dozens of individuals who had their say seemed offended by his open pot-smoking, deriding it as a poor example to the young and declaring him an unfit role model.  We've talked about proud musical traditions on this blog in the past.  So permit me to explore this one.

Late in 1957, RCA Victor released Elvis' Christmas Album, at a time when Elvis Presley, about to be drafted, was still a figure of intense controversy in America over his music, his stage gyrations and his overall existence. The album's funky rendition of the Bing Crosby favorite "White Christmas" upset many. Jerry Hopkins' 1970 Presley bio included a contemporary quote from Los Angeles DJ Dick Whittinghill, who refused to play any of the music, comparing it to "having Tempest Storm (a notorious stripper of that era) giving Christmas presents to my kids."

Seems ridiculous now, doesn't it?

In October, 1965 Queen Elizabeth inducted the Beatles into the Order of the British Empire (OBE). The honor, normally presented to distinguished governmental and military officials or others whose actions benefited Britain, was not one taken lightly. The Fab Four as recipients stirred up a major crapstorm as some older recipients, offended at seeing longhaired rock musicians given such an honor, returned their medals in protest (John Lennon returned his medal in 1969 to protest the Vietnam War and related events).

Honestly, I'm not a rabid Wiz follower. I get what he does, and I recognize rap is coming from of a tradition that began with African-Americans and was later picked up by whites. I've written about country rap here before.

I don't doubt the sincerity of Wiz's Facebook detractors. His marijuana habits are no secret, hence the jokes about giving him the honor next April 20th. Some dissenters seemed personally offended by Council's honor. I will say, personally, I'm not certain it was smart to appear in a ball cap emblazoned with the word "DOPE."

Surely most or all of the critics love music and have their own heroes, some of whom have had similar honors. In fact, let's take a 26 year trip down Memory Lane and examine some musical recipients of the hallowed Kennedy Center Honors, starting with the most recent.

2012 - Led Zeppelin :  drug and alcohol abuse, hotel smashing of legendary proportions, one member, John Bonham, died after an epic booze binge.

2010- Merle Haggard: juvey record--prison record for attempted robbery-pardoned by Ronald Reagan—later issues with cocaine which he quit cold turkey.

2008- George Jones: decades of alcohol abuse and occasional violence complicated in the late 70s and early 80s by cocaine.

2005- Tony Bennett: a very brief fling with cocaine during a 1970's career slump.

2003- James Brown: drug issues, a 1988 prison term for drugs and an epic car chase and domestic violence charges.

2000- Chuck Berry: did Federal time for morals charges after two trials and later served a brief sentence for tax evasion.

1998- Willie Nelson: you know the answer.

1996- Johnny Cash: pill abuse from the 50's to early 70's—fell off the wagon in the late 70's until 1997.

1986- Ray Charles: addiction nearly landed him in prison--he courageously quit cold turkey under medical supervision.

Need I go any farther?  I didn't mention plenty of others, among them lifelong pot smoker Louis Armstrong or country legend (and Willie pal) Ray Price, but that's for another time. Perhaps Wiz's critics are careful to scrupulously avoid any and all music by performers who dabbled in things addictive. Perhaps not. But I've seen this sort of nonsensical outrage before, and frankly, so have many of you.

If you don't like Wiz's rapping, or took umbrage over the Council visit, fine. Say your piece. Just be aware you're following a pattern established long ago, of folks whose moral outrage in one era elicited derisive laughter if not at the time, then years later.

Oh—forgot one:

2010- Paul McCartney: busted for pot numerous times, briefly jailed for possession in Japan in 1980, he's now officially "Sir Paul," knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 1997.  

Am I comparing Wiz to Sir Paul?  No. I'm just sayin'...

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