What is it about Joe Arpaio? That guy can breathe life into a non-story better than any public relations expert around.
More than six weeks after Arpaio made headlines with the news that he'd persuaded Tower Records to pull a rap CD that "takes on" Maricopa County's sheriff, the story is still making waves across the country via Associated Press stories and MTV and VH1's Web sites -- lighting up message boards and, ironically, stoking interest in heretofore unknown Phoenix rapper G-Rival, a.k.a. 32-year-old Gary Barocsi, and his Arpaio-bashing album, The Anti-Police Experience.
But for all the press the initial story's gotten, the truth still isn't out. It's not surprising news: As usual, our bumbling sheriff is picking the wings off a fly, harassing a guy who had the nerve to actually express his opinion -- albeit creatively and, okay, rather vulgarly. Making the tale even more sordid is the fact that Gary Barocsi is mentally ill, and probably shouldn't have been in jail in the first place.
If you've read the stories or seen the local television news bits, you know that Sheriff Arpaio was particularly offended by a cartoon on the CD booklet that portrayed a dog screwing Joe, um, doggy style. What the news reports didn't tell you is that the illustration is on the inside of the CD booklet -- unless you buy the CD, you're never going to see it.
In other words, big deal. Get over yourself, Joe.
Nonetheless, on the basis of the satirical rendering of the sheriff's love life, and some choice lyrics like "Good cop, dead cop/Wanna see 'em face down in the slop," the sheriff successfully persuaded Tower Records to pull the CD from its shelves.
It's obvious to everyone but Sheriff Arpaio himself that this never would have been a story, and no one ever would have paid G-Rival's self-produced demo CD a micron of attention, if the sheriff hadn't gotten his panties in a bunch after a television news crew showed him the disc. It's just another chance for our preening top cop to get his mug on TV and bloviate to the papers, much like the parading of his juvenile chain gangs on CNN last week.
The situation smacks of the Bill O'Reilly/Al Franken dustup, wherein Franken's book Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right shot to the top of the best-seller lists after Fox News, at O'Reilly's urging, launched a frivolous lawsuit against the satirist for putting O'Reilly's scowling puss on the cover of the book.
Funny thing is, prior to the media firestorm that the sheriff poured gasoline on, G-Rival estimates he'd only sold about 30 copies of the disc.
Since then he says he's sold around 150 copies, much of it on consignment at Zia Record Exchange's multiple Valley locations. G-Rival's no Tupac, and the production on his debut CD leaves a lot to be desired, but his rhymes are tight and, most of all, hilarious. It's the best local novelty record I've ever heard. He plans to enter the studio again soon to record a song that he says is even more hard-core on Arpaio.
When I called the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office to find out how Arpaio feels about his role in G-Rival's newfound celebrity and surging CD sales, I received a message back from Lisa Allen-McPherson, the sheriff's spokeswoman, suggesting that if I told the sheriff's office which record stores were still selling The Anti-Police Experience, she could probably get him on the phone with me.
Sorry, Lisa. You're the sheriff's tool, not me. I'll have no part in his experiments in censoring art.
Is G-Rival's disc incendiary? Somewhat so, but it's certainly not N.W.A's "Fuck the Police" or Ice-T's "Cop Killer." Though The Anti-Police Experience contains tracks called "Good Cop Dead Cop" and "Fuck the Police/Thanks," an examination of the CD art that is visible before purchase reveals some caveats: After a dedication to the Phoenix PD, it reads "I know some of you are honest but you've created a monster," and after the track listing for "Good Cop Dead Cop" he wrote "PHX only" in parentheses.
G-Rival's beef with our local law enforcement brigades began back in 1999, when he was arrested for arson, and spent about four months in Arpaio's jail before pleading to the charge for a sentence of four years of intensive probation and paying a substantial sum in restitution.
In my humble opinion, the guy should have taken his case to trial -- it's unlikely any jury would have classified G-Rival as an arsonist.
Gary Barocsi says that prior to his arrest he was diagnosed as schizoaffective, a mental illness combining the symptoms of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Because of his mental illness, for which he is now medicated, Barocsi's only income, he says, is from social security (which he immortalizes on his CD's first track, "Crazy Pay"), which shells out less than $700 a month.
Barocsi wasn't on medication at the time of the incident, as is noted in his court records. According to Maricopa County Superior Court documents and my phone interviews with Barocsi, the fire in question began when he was drunk at his condominium and wanted to light a cigarette. Lacking a lighter, he lit a piece of paper on the stove, and the fire erupted. He attempted to extinguish the fire, but it got out of control and destroyed the interior of the condo and its contents -- everything that Barocsi owned in the world. That's arson?
In a subsequent interview of Barocsi's neighbors by the Phoenix Police Department, the neighbors claimed that Barocsi had previously threatened to burn the condo down, which Barocsi denies.
Mentally ill or not, it makes little sense to destroy your own property, which included all of Barocsi's music gear and his clothing.
According to court records, G-Rival has had other convictions since, for criminal damage -- kicking out a police car window after being detained in the back seat without being charged for what he recalls as "four or five hours," and for sticking a "Fuck the Police" sticker on the bumper of a cop car.
G-Rival's no angel, but his antipathy toward the police is understandable. Because of his arson plea agreement, he's a felon for the rest of his life.
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And as for his attitude toward his jailer? Who can blame him?
Really, the sheriff should thank G-Rival and hold him up as a role model for his current inmates. Instead of reoffending and returning to the county jail, G-Rival took out his frustrations in art and music. Maybe the sheriff's inmate recidivism rate wouldn't be so astronomical if Arpaio pointed the inmates toward the recording studio.
"It's therapeutic, man," G-Rival tells me. "It's a better way to handle things. It would have cost me less to build a pipe bomb than to go record that CD, and less effort. But I'm not gonna do that, that's ridiculous."