Pharrell Williams was born and raised in Virginia Beach, Virginia, where his friends and family knew from his earliest days as a percussionist in the school band, and his singing performances in school plays, that the artist with the top song on worldwide pop charts for the last 10 weeks would amount to something rare. Even before Pharrell posted the ‘Happy’ dance video last October, he’d won seven Grammy Awards for songwriting, production, and performance, composed the soundtrack to Despicable Me and its sequel (which included ‘Happy’) and performed, produced, or composed alongside an A list of pop stars ranging from Beyonce’ to Miley Cyrus to Robin Thicke to Kanye West and Snoop Dogg.
With the ‘Happy’ video, and the enormous reach of the wired world, Pharrell has transcended boundaries of geography, class, and ideology. ‘Happy’ displays the powerful influence of music, verse, and video to attract and inspire a global audience. And though ‘Happy’ asks no more of its viewers than to laugh, dance, clap, lipsynch, and produce a video for YouTube, it proves just how quickly people, especially young people, can shape a global movement when they’re motivated.
On Christmas Day 2013 ‘Happy’ had 5 million views on YouTube. By May 10, 2014, it had 232 million views. Young people from nations on six continents had posted their own versions, many of which had attracted hundreds of thousands of views.
Now imagine, just for a minute, if that kind of global community could be called to come together to act on trends in a way that would make us just as happy.
One of the powerful unarticulated messages of ‘Happy’ is that it recognizes, ever so obliquely, that the world and its human community is a bit lost, what Pharrell describes as “a room without a roof.” His solution, emphatically stated, is “happiness is the truth.” Read More
On Thursday, May 15, Jacksonville, Florida hosts the World Arts Film Festival, a three-day exploration of 21st century short videos, discussion, workshops, and creativity. One of the stars of the weekend is Luka Lesson, an Australian hip hop artist, poet, and activist. Three of Luka’s videos will be among the 100 or so shown at the festival.
This is turning into a big month for Luka Lesson. On May 1 he also released ‘Exit,’ his second LP, which Lesson produced in Beijing in collaboration with Jordan Thomas Mitchell, an American musician and composer.
‘Exit’ is a triumph of insistent rhythm, and tremendous writing. Its 11 tracks are evidence of a maturing artist’s skill in expressing passion, love, anger, and urgency. Check out ‘Celebrate The Storm’ here.
One of the joys of my life these last fives years reporting and speaking around the world is to meet the impressive people doing their part to change what we’re doing. I met Luka last year in Beijing, where he performed at a conference of high school students from across Asia.
I followed Luka that day. And as I told those kids, Luka and I come from different continents, different generations. But we do the same thing. We look at the confusion of what we face and translate it into language and images and narratives that help people understand. We make the complex simple.
Luka’s worked hard on his craft. It’s been two years since his riffs on love, the playful prose on fate and birth, the gifts of lyricism and rhyme, the easy charm and apparent intelligence, touched so many audiences that Australia, almost by consensus, named the Brisbane-born artist the nation’s slam poet champion.
It’s also been two years since Lesson released ‘Please Resist Me,’ a high wall of slam poetry that at times is slick hip hop ice blown to high ridges by the strong grooves of such songs as “Killing Time,” and “The People.” The album’s other tracks form emotional caves and cultural crevices jammed with politics and personal pain, love and anger, and learned critiques of custom and society.
BENZONIA, MI — On April 16, 1995, in one of my last articles as a staff correspondent with the New York Times, I wrote this assessment of American environmentalism’s evolving challenges. “The movement that changed the nation’s environmental ethic a generation ago is reshaping itself, and the most important aspect of that effort is a new openness to what works and what doesn’t in environmental protection.”
Six days later, on the 25th anniversary of Earth Day, I met at Beulah’s Brookside Inn with Traverse City environmental attorney Jim Olson and a few more regional green heroes and formally incorporated the non-profit Michigan Land Use Institute.
The Brookside closed its doors a few years ago. And earlier this year, as MLUI approached the 19th anniversary of its founding on today’s 44th Earth Day, I received notice and a survey from the organization. It asked for my thoughts on a branding project that may very well conclude with a change in the Institute’s name. Holy focus group, Batman! What works and what doesn’t in environmental protection may include an alteration in identities.
Now, right here, allow me to acknowledge that an MLUI name change is personal. But it’s not sour grapes. I was 38 years old in 1995, and a year into a life-changing scrap with the state’s natural gas industry over drilling practices in northern Michigan’s Antrim shale. Benzie in the 1990s also was Michigan’s second fastest growing county. Among the legion of proposals popping up around here was one to turn US 31 north of Luddington into a four-lane highway. I was convinced that a professionally staffed group that focused on the ecological and economic consequences of development could do important work and prosper financially.
I put $13,000 of my own money into the organization that first year. Ted Curran, an important ally and supporter, added management guidance and welcome funding. Florence Barone and Arlin Wasserman put their keen intelligence to work. We got lucky in the summer of 1995 when 27-year-old Hans Voss, the MLUI executive director since 2000, showed up at our door looking for work. We had an active board that included Gary Appel, an educator, and whose wife, Mimi Appel, helped with development. These and a host of other people — Dick Hitchingham, Gerard Grabowski, Jack Gyr, Marty Jablonski — helped get the joint rolling in a way that steadily built our record of pragmatic advocacy, and keen communications skills.
In 1998 Stewart Udall, the Secretary of the Interior during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, and a close friend, called the Michigan Land Use Institute the most successful new environmental organization in the United States. We were smart and fearless. I was with Hans when conservative Governor John Engler announced in 1998 that there would be no natural gas drilling in Antrim County’s Jordan River Valley, which we described as the Yosemite of northern Michigan. I was with him again several years later when the state Legislature and Congress, in separate votes, outlawed drilling for oil and gas beneath the Great Lakes. Hans led both campaigns. Read More