This Date in Music History: March 13

Scientology and 'South Park' kill Chef, plus Common's uncommon backlash

Mar 13, 2012 at 10:30 am
click to enlarge Oh no! They killed Chef! You bastards!
Oh no! They killed Chef! You bastards!

On this day in 1911, pulp fiction/sci-fi writer L. Ron Hubbard — who would go on to develop the self-help "Dianetics" program as well as found the Scientology religion — was born. Ninety five years later (to the day), one of his disciples, legendary Soul man Isaac Hayes, asked to be released from his contract with South Park (on which he brilliantly voiced the character Chef) following the cartoon's skewering of the Scientology movement. Hayes initially said he didn't mind the pair's satire of his religion, saying they were equal opportunity offenders, but someone from the "church" must've gotten to him, because he gradually shifted that position. Some reports emerged later that Hayes' announcement was written by someone else; essentially "someone quit for him," Fox News reported.

Still, Hayes was granted his release immediately, though creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone brought him back for an episode (with cobbled together audio previously recorded for other shows), essentially to kill his character off. The episode aired a mere nine days after Hayes (or someone representing Hayes) quit the show.  

Hayes passed away about two years later from complications from a stroke he suffered about six months after leaving South Park. Fortunately, Hayes' contribution to music was so large, the cartoon mess didn't impact his legacy too much. It still begs the question of what was worse for Hayes' career — Scientology or South Park?

Last year, a former Scientologist revealed a memo he claimed was from a higher up in the church who was "investigating" Parker and Stone, allegedly spying on the duo and their associates to dig up dirt. According to the former church member, the memos also show that the church gave up its investigation after not finding any weaknesses to exploit. The Church of Scientology has been repeatedly accused of such intimidation factors involving critics and former members who talk about the religion.

I, for one, have nothing against Scientology specifically, and wish all Scientologists the best of luck in reaching the highest level of their spirituality and one day meeting the church's alien overlords (or whatever it is they believe). So please don't start spying on me and digging through my garbage. You'll only find discarded debt collection notices, well-used Victoria Secret catalogs and empty beer cans, anyway. Heil, Hubbard!

And let's all remember Hayes as one of the baddest muthas in Soul music history and not the celebrity who was guided/misguided by his chosen spiritual beliefs or that fat cartoon character who falls off a cliff to his gruesome death on South Park. (Though, you have to admit, that "Chocolate Salty Balls" song was the jam.) Here he is in all his glory:

Click on for Born This Day, featuring Mike Stoller, Terence Blanchard and Common.

—-Born This Day: Musical movers and shakers sharing a March 13 birthday include Lakewood, Ohio, native and Big Band bandleader Sammy Kaye (1910); diverse Jazz drummer Roy Haynes (1925); half of the legendary songwriting team Leiber/Stoller ("Hound Dog," "Stand By Me," "Kansas City"), Mike Stoller (1933); U2 bassist Adam Clayton (1960); modern Jazz hero/trumpeter Terence Blanchard (1962); singer for Hard Rock band Disturbed, David Draiman (1973); and Hip Hop star and actor Lonnie Rashid Lynn, Jr., better known as Common (1972).

For such a smart, sensitive and positive-spirited artist, Common sure gets a lot of shit. Already a major Hip Hop star, Common became a household name thanks to Fox News and their ilk, who Breitbarted the rapper when he was scheduled to appear at the White House for a poetry function (which, as everyone knows, is code for "Muslim extremist terror planing meeting"). Conservatives took some of Common's lyrics out of context, making it seem as though his descriptions of street violence were glorification, when actually, if they'd let the track play through, people would have realized he was preaching against such violence. (Sound familiar?) It's akin to critiquing The Wizard of Oz for its stale rural setting, flat black-and-white presentation, demonizing of natural weather patterns that were obviously a clear attempt to support the theory of global warming — and not mentioning the tiny part of the movie that's in color.

Then he got blindsided by an unlikely foe, Maya Angelou, who complained that she contributed to a track on Common's latest album, but was not told that the track contained salty language (specifically, the "N word"). The two patched things up and Angelou said on a live phone call to BET's 106 & Park that she still thinks the MC is brilliant — border-line genius, in fact.  

Angelou made a plea for more civil discourse over disagreements, saying on BET, "Do your best to not be divided. This doesn’t mean you are supposed to support everything anybody says. Say 'I disagree, but I don’t disagree to the point where I want you dead and out of here.' "

Here's the controversial track, "The Dreamer."