Steve Olson Has Come a Long Way From Appearing In Devo Videos

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Photos courtesy of Steve Olson
"Smoking Americans," by Steve Olson
To be sure, Steve Olson is the modern equivalent of a renaissance man with a street edge: he is a man of action, not bulky proclamations, weak dribbling philosophy or crimped visions. He steadfastly helped revolutionize skateboarding in the late 1970s, brainstormed the clothing line SOS, was cast in movies (Thrashin') and music videos (Devo's "Freedom of Choice"), showed up in adverts from Chevy to Reebok, has made penetrating art with the likes of Yaniv Evan (Powerplant Choppers) and music with bands like the Joneses, written a screenplay and contributed to Juicemagazine, and much more.

Since Olson is in Houston briefly making art and showing his work, Rocks Off caught up with the restless soul before he is inducted into the International Skateboarding Hall of Fame on May 15.


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Cover Story: Obamacare Still Lacking for Some Local Musicians

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Photo by Chris Gray
January 1, 2014 saw most of the final stages of President Barack Obama's signature legislation, the health-care reform initiative known as both the official title of the Affordable Care Act and more derisively as Obamacare, start to be implemented. The individual mandate that requires every able person to purchase insurance or suffer a tax sent thousands to HealthCare.gov, a glitchy mess of a site that many found confusing and unworkable, though it has since improved dramatically. The State of Texas' refusal to accept the federal government's expansion of Medicaid continues to leave hundreds of thousands without coverage promised by law.

Among those heavily affected by the ever-rising cost of health care are local musicians, most of whom make very little money even when working full-time hours. Three years ago, when the debate about the law was heating up prior to passage, we took an in-depth look at how the lack of a social safety net might be robbing Houston of its many musicians' full talents, while people who make it struggle to do so while providing for themselves and their families.

With the debate over and the federal government making a new push to reach younger Americans, this week's Houston Press cover story is an exploration of how exactly some of our biggest acts like The Hates and Blaggards are benefiting under the law, with some receiving coverage themselves or for a loved one for the first time in years.


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Macklemore Has Something He Wants to Say

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Last Sunday evening, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis accepted the award for Best Hip-Hop/Rap artist, one of six they were nominated for at the 2013 American Music Awards.

But instead of a traditional speech, Macklemore (real name Ben Haggerty) took the opportunity to speak up against racial profiling via video feed from their tour stop in Miami.

With what seemed like a mixture of nerves, excitement and gratitude, Macklemore said:


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For J. Lo: Five More World Leaders Who Don't Deserve a Happy Birthday

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J. Lo's Marilyn Monroe moment may not have gone as well as she planned.

You see, when Monroe sang the words "Happy Birthday, Mr. President" to John F. Kennedy, the controversy arose by murmurs of an affair. When J. Lo sang those words, scandal came by means of scathing headlines about human-rights violations and violent dictatorships. Not all press is good press, folks.

But in case you haven't seen all of the press about her recent dictatorial faux pas, here's what happened. The Chinese National Petroleum Corporation paid Jenny From the Block to perform at birthday party for Turkmenistani president Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, taking place at a resort in the Caspian Sea. Thing is, according to Human Rights Watch (and nearly every other watchdog group), he happens to be one hell of a nasty dude.

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Filibuster Superwoman: Musicians, DJs and Artists Who #standwithwendy

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There are times when snarky blogs about the state of the music industry seem wildly out of touch. This would be one of those times.

Another special session convenes today in Austin, with the Texas Legislature's agenda scheduled to address Senate Bill 5, which would virtually eliminate access to abortion facilities across the state. Updates on the state of Amanda Bynes' rap album and what Kanye named his baby can take a back seat for now.

Given that SB 5, if passed, will have a massive impact on the rights of women in this state, it seems far more appropriate to note the supporters of the movement to stop it. In honor of last week's filibuster superwoman, District 10 Texas Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Ft. Worth), and the push for the preservation of women's rights in general, here are dozens of musicians, DJs, music-industry insiders and other artists -- some from far beyond Texas -- who #standwithwendy.


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Why Psy and the Innocence of the Muslims Guy Are Nothing Alike

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This meme has been infecting my Facebook newsfeed lately, and I thought I'd reply. The facts are these...

Nakoula Basseley Nakoula spent a lot of his life making drugs, evading taxes, and commiting bank fraud, all acts that landed him in various institutions over the years. Because of the last fraud conviction the terms of his probation included no using alias or Internet usage without his probation officer's approval.

He violated both when he made Innocence of the Muslims, in addition to sparking protests where more than 70 people wound up dead. Nakoula ended up with a year in prison, and four years probation. As far as I can tell, he has never expressed any remorse or apologized for the trouble he has caused.

That's a bit more than simply "upsetting Muslims."

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An Election Day Playlist If You're On the Way to Vote

I love Election Day. Sure, early voting is great if you absolutely can't make it to the voting booth the day of, but given the choice I will always vote on Election Day. There may be lines, it may be out of the way, and it may even involve casting a ballot for someone I don't necessarily like, but voting makes me feel more American, and I like that feeling.

I also like making playlists, and I make them for everything. Seriously, I can't even make a 30-minute trip out of town without two hours of music to listen to, just in case.

What I'm getting at is that like anything else good in life, your Election Day drive needs a playlist. Struggling for ideas? Don't fret -- here are five songs to help you get in the voting spirit, no matter your political persuasion.


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Speak Out: How Far Is Too Far When Musicians Talk Politics?

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Photo by Groovehouse
Imagine this: You go to a concert to see one of your favorite artists. Suddenly, mid-show, he or she starts spewing political rhetoric. You disagree with his or her ideas, so you and many others leave.

Free speech is something we claim to value in this country, but we are biased against opposing viewpoints. Rarely do we show favor towards those who hold a different point of view.

This happens often with artists regarding their fans: Should they speak their political opinions and risk losing their audience? Is the potential backlash worth their right to free speech?


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The Republican Candidate's Guide To Picking Campaign Music

This week Republicans from around the country gather in Florida to celebrate all things conservative and curse Issac for stealing the national spotlight. For me the 2012 Republican National Convention marks the true start of the presidential campaign season, the playoffs to the primaries' regular season.

Hard to believe that there have already been two musical controversies for the Romney campaign this year, one concerning the use of a Silversun Pickups' track and the other dealing with Paul Ryan's favorite band.

As a Republican it can be real confusing trying to figure out which bands like you and which bands don't. Here are some clues I've come up with to help any right wing Rocks Off loving candidates avoid the dreaded cease and desist order.

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Music World Stands Up for Embattled Russian Punks Pussy Riot

Above: A burka-clad Madonna talks about Pussy Riot to her Moscow audience

Rewind: Vladimir Putin: No Pussy Riot on His Watch

Free speech is a valued thing in this country. It's why journalists, writers, musicians and artists exist and are able to do what they do. However, in Russia, it seems to be under attack.

One case that has really gotten the international music world's attention is the Pussy Riot case. In March, the Russian punk band performed their song "Virgin Mary, Redeem Us of Putin" outside Moscow's main Russian Orthodox Cathedral. All three burka-clad alleged members were subsequently arrested and charged with hooliganism on grounds of religious hatred.

If convicted, the ladies face up to seven years in prison.


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