Sunday, December 30, 2012

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Snubs

I recently gave kudos to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for an excellent Class of 2013. Now it is time to get back to bashing the Rockhall.

First, with these type of endeavors, nobody is going to be completely happy. Unlike with some sports related Halls of Fame, you cannot rely as heavily on statistics. The Rockhall explicitly claims that it does not weigh album sales, chart-topping hits, etc. very heavily. The only solid criteria is that someone is not eligible until 25 years after the release of their first record or single. After that, the Rockhall states that it recognizes those artists who "have had a significant impact on the evolution, development and perpetuation of rock and roll." And that "criteria include influence and significance." That is really all of the guidance that the powers that be provide. There is a Nominating Committee that nominates a group of nominees each year, and then approximately 500 voters (industry insiders, critics and all previous inductees) get to vote. This year a public poll resulted in one vote for the masses.

There are some true headscratchers (Percy "When a Man Loves a Woman" Sledge being the most obvious), but I think that you can make an argument for the majority of inductees. Where it gets less credible is when you compare some of the inductees to some of the major artists still waiting on the outside. The first five or six classes were easy. Who's going to argue with Elvis? Beatles? Dylan? The Byrds? The Who? But as time has passed the decisions have gotten more controversial. I think in part because enough time had passed between the 50's/60's and the mid-80's, when they started this thing, that time had narrowed the focus a bit. Also, nearer to the birth of the music, it was not nearly as fragmented as it has become. In the early days there really was a more or less monolithic "rock and roll" music, at least until the late 60's.

So, here are some thoughts on the biggest snubs thus far. I have grouped them by genre or time period. The number in parentheses that follow some of the artists indicate the number of times they have been nominated but have not made the final cut. If there is no number, then they have not even been nominated yet. I am not a big fan of many of these selections, but whether I personally like them or not is irrelevant. This is a point that the Nominating Committee and Voters need to be reminded of. Not all of these are slam dunks either. But they are ones that deserve consideration. And all of them are more deserving than Percy Sledge.

The 1950's and 1960's: Paul Butterfield Blues Band (2), Dick Dale, Johnny Burnette and His Rock and Roll Trio, Link Wray, Love, MC5 (1), The Monkees, The Zombies
As I stated above, this era has been covered pretty thoroughly by now. It also helps that many of the powers that be grew up themselves listening to these artists. None of these are the top tier of the 50's or 60's, those have already been inducted, but they would still be solid inductees to round out Rock and Roll's first two decades.

Progressive Rock: King Crimson, Yes, Electric Light Orchestra, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, The Moody Blues
Always despised by critics (who seem to value simplicity as truth), it is no surprise that Prog Rock has gotten the shaft in the Rockhall. The bands who have been inducted associated with the genre have had considerable crossover success outside the genre (Genesis, Pink Floyd and Rush). King Crimson and Yes are two of the more egregious snubs overall. If influence is criteria, they are arguably the leaders of an entire genre.

Hard Rock/Heavy Metal: Deep Purple (1), Jethro Tull, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, KISS (1), Motorhead, Motley Crue, Thin Lizzy, Ozzy Osbourne, Blue Oyster Cult
As neglected (or even moreso) as prog is metal and closely-related hard rock acts. Like prog, this is a genre often dismissed by snooty critics. But Purple, Priest, Maiden, KISS, Motorhead...all were innovators and leaders within this enduring genre. There is simply no excuse for their absence, and their influence is undeniable.

Soul/R&B: Barry White, Chic (7), War (2), Janet Jackson, The Marvelettes (1), Whitney Houston, Kool & the Gang, Bill Withers, The Spinners (1)
I actually think that the Hall has done an excellent job with this genre, and black music in general. But, as you can see, there are still some important acts that could be added. The Nominating Committee has definitely tried with Chic.

Rap: Africa Bambaataa (1), Eric B. & Rakim (1), LL Cool J (2), NWA (1)
Recently, as rap artists have started to gain eligibility, the Hall has not hesitated to nominate and induct them. Public Enemy, Grandmaster Flash, Run DMC and The Beastie Boys are already in. These others will follow.

The 80's: The Cars, The Cure (1), Depeche Mode, Devo, Duran Duran, The Eurythmics, INXS, Journey, Joy Division, New Order, Peter Gabriel, The Pixies, The Replacements, The Smiths, Sonic Youth, Bon Jovi (1), Def Leppard, Gary Numan
"A musical wasteland" is how influential Nominating Committee member Steve Van Zandt described the 80's. Jann Wenner recently proposed shortening the 25 year threshold to 20, in part to leapfrog the 80's and get to the 90's bands that he likes more. Here is where the generation gap on the Committee really comes into play, and it is my biggest beef with the Hall. They just don't grasp why these artists were significant. They can induct the marginal Dave Clark Five from the 60's, but can't get around to even nominating The Smiths. Look at the number of nominations, and incredibly out of that list above, The Cure have gotten one nomination and Bon Jovi also got one (and Bon Jovi is far from the most important in that list). That's it. The Committee claims to be adding new members to address these deficienies, but the results are not there.

Influential Cult Artists: Big Star, Can, Kraftwerk (2), Nick Drake, Kate Bush, Roxy Music, T. Rex, Stone Roses, Television, Lou Reed
Velvet Underground, already inducted, is the best example here. Artists who did not have huge (or in some cases, hardly any) commercial success, but cast a large shadow on other artists. These are where the "influence" criteria comes into play. They may not bring ratings for the ceremony broadcast, but the story of rock and roll is incomplete without them.

Other: Cat Stevens (1), Steve Winwood (1), Hall & Oates, Willie Nelson, Jimmy Buffett, Cheap Trick, Chicago, Dire Straits, Doobie Brothers, Gram Parsons (3), Steve Miller Band, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Sting
Chicago and Hall & Oates were simply too commecially successful to ignore. Willie Nelson and Gram Parsons (like Johnny Cash, already inducted) were country artists who had a big influence on rock artists. Jimmy Buffett inspired an entire subculture to rival Deadheads. SRV will get in soon for revitalizing blues music, I think they are just waiting to get in most of the classic blues influences first.

Early Influences: Frank Sinatra, Lightnin' Hopkins, Sonny Boy Williamson II, Kingston Trio, Bing Crosby, Django Reinhardt, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, John Coltrane, Ella Fitzgerald, Karlheinz Stockhousen, Merle Haggard, Scott Joplin, etc.
The Hall has done a decent job acknowledging pre-rock influences with the Early Influence category, but there are still more. Sinatra especially, who had a massive impact on pop vocals.

There are more, of course. But these are the ones that stand out to me. Here is my list of the Top 10 Snubs, considering impact and influence:

Yes, King Crimson, Judas Priest, Hall & Oates, The Cure, Duran Duran, The Smiths, Deep Purple, KISS, Peter Gabriel...These 10 are no brainers and should make up the Class of 2014.

To see a complete list of current inductees, go here. Thanks to Future Rock Legends for the statistics.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Thoughts on Sandy Hook

It goes without saying, given the outpouring of grief since Friday, that the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary is unfathomable. I think that it is horrible for any reasonable person to ponder, but it especially hits home if you are a parent. You can’t help it, but one of the first things that came to mind was an image of my own daughter, with a mix of terror and incomprehension on her face, facing the barrel of a semi-automatic assault weapon that only has a place on the battlefield or with a SWAT unit. The only solace, if this is any, is that with that firepower it is quick. We can discuss mental illness and these shooters all day long (and better intervention protocols for potential shooters who show signs of mental deterioration is a must), but I think it does come down to, as Springsteen sang in “Nebraska,” “I guess that there’s just a meanness in this world.” We can dress it up in psychological explanations if we want, but here is where religious people have a better grasp than others. Evil simply exists. But should we be arming evil with assault weapons?

As an educator myself, I was particularly struck by the heroism of the staff of Sandy Hook. I often get irritated when the word “hero” is overused in our society. Often people get labeled “hero” when they are doing what they are supposed (or being paid) to do. But these heroic women went above and beyond. The principal and school psychologist who confronted the shooter in the hallway armed with nothing but the determination to protect their kids. Teacher Janet Vollmer, who after barricading her classroom door, had the presence of mind to herd her students to the back of the room behind bookcases and keep them calm by reading them stories as gunfire echoed outside. The other teacher (I forget her name), who similarly hid her kids in a closet and kept them quiet by constantly reassuring them and making close eye contact, because as she said in an interview, “I wanted the last thing that they saw to be me instead of the gun.” Many other teachers who, risking their own lives, went into the halls to grab as many students as possible and get them to safety. Special note must be taken of 27 year old teacher Victoria Soto, who hid her 1st grade students in closets and cabinets, and when he entered her room she tried to tell the gunman that her kids were in the gym, and then threw herself into a barrage of bullets when he opened fire on the huddled children in the closet. Teacher Anne Murphy made a similar sacrifice, positioning herself between her students and the bullets that took her life. Soto and Murphy saved lives with quick thinking, tried to save more, and gave theirs protecting them.

I sit in a sometimes awkward position of being an educator and a (moderate) conservative. I say this because there has been a war of words against educators (and public sector workers in general) from the Right. It is particularly vicious on talk radio. (And unlike many critics of talk radio, I actually do listen regularly). Honestly, I agree with some of the complaints. I proudly live in a right to work state and do not belong to a union because I disagree with some of their politics and how they protect the bad teachers along with the good. But words from the Right go beyond just disagreeing with policy, as they often question our basic competence (without understanding, or willfully ignoring, all of the issues involved in our troubled school system, many of them not teacher-related), integrity and dedication as a profession. The next time Limbaugh or Gallagher want to take verbal shots at teachers, it would do them some good to remember Victoria Soto.

Another thing, it is a myth that teachers are all, or mostly, on the Left. I can tell you from personal experience from working in two large high schools, the political leanings of my colleagues are really split down the middle. I have just as many conservative colleagues as I do liberal ones. Granted, I do live in Texas. Also contrary to popular belief, most of my colleagues are very professional about not allowing their personal political beliefs into the classroom. This whole indoctrination complaint from the Right…I just don’t see it. At least where I teach. I pride myself that even though I teach AP U.S. History and we are constantly discussing and debating political and historical issues, my students do not have any idea what my personal beliefs are. I do what an educator should do, and that is play devil’s advocate to get them to think and defend their positions, whatever those may be. In fact, it is a running joke with my students throughout the year as they try and figure out which way I lean or vote. I like that they cannot figure it out, because I teach them to think critically about both sides of the spectrum. Even at the university level, where it is supposedly worse, I had some notable conservative professors. Having graduated from the University of Texas law school, don’t tell me they are only bastions of liberal thought when you have Lino Graglia teaching law classes.

Guns, guns, guns. The 2nd Amendment is only 27 words long (the number of victims in the massacre, by the way, if you include the shooter’s mother whom he shot at home that morning). As a history teacher and student, I do appreciate the importance of the amendment. It is no coincidence that it is listed second only to the most basic freedoms of speech and religion. We won our independence from Britain because we had an armed citizenry, since there was no real professional army. Quite simply, we would not have become independent when we did but for guns owned by lots of people. From the revolutionary beginning on, the second amendment has been sincerely viewed by many reasonable people as one of the most crucial protections against tyranny, the argument being that an armed citizenry keeps the government in check. These beliefs run deep in our history, all the way back. There is some credence to that argument. But…

I can no longer see how we can reasonably allow semi-automatic weapons such as the Bushmaster used by this shooter to be purchased by regular citizens without a real need for them. I think that we can start the conversation at these semi-automatic military grade assault weapons and the rapid load magazines (such as the 100 round magazine the Aurora shooter used, and that thank God eventually jammed). I sympathize with the argument that armed citizens can be the first line of defense against these shooters (in fact, here in my city, the other day someone opened fire in a parking lot with a handgun and an off duty police officer who happened to be there shot and wounded the gunman, who did not hit anybody). I read one conservative commentator claim that it would have been better if the principal of Sandy Hook had been trained with weapons and had a weapon in her office. Maybe so. Things would also have been different if the shooter didn’t have a semi-automatic weapon at his disposal (and really, there is very little “semi” about it when you can fire several rounds per second). A well placed shot to the head from the principal with a handgun would have been as effective as if she had emerged from her office armed like Rambo.

My point here is that I am not for complete gun bans. I am a gun owner myself. And there are simply too many guns already in circulation to put that cat back into the bag. Also, there is some merit in allowing concealed handguns. Or perhaps allowing a few people on the campus of a school, after extensive training, to have a handgun in a secure location. Much like how they allow pilots to have guns in the cockpit now. That would have helped on 9/11 against terrorists wielding boxcutters. I feel better knowing that on my very large high school campus, we have two armed police officers there most of the time. Before Friday, nobody thought that might also be necessary at elementary schools.

ABOVE: The Bushmaster semi-automatic model that was used at Sandy Hook. Should most any American citizen be able to buy this?

After Clinton signed the assault weapons ban in the 90’s (and which expired in 2004), over several years, the number of those weapons in circulation did start to decline. So we should reasonably start there. Assault weapons and high-volume magazines simply are not necessary, and these attacks are increasing in both frequency and in ferocity. One of the common denominators is the availability and ease of purchase of these assault weapons and high volume ammo magazines. Hunters do not need assault weapons to kill deer, and there is no other reasonable explanation to own them. In most of the recent mass shootings, the weapons and ammunition were purchased legally (often over the internet). In the memory of Charlotte, Daniel, Olivia, Josephine, Ana, Dylan, Madeline, Catherine, Chase, Jesse, James, Grace, Emilie, Jack, Noah, Caroline, Jessica, Avielle, Benjamin, Allison, Ms. Soto, Ms. Sherlach, Ms. Rousseau, Ms. Murphy, Ms. Hochsprung, Ms. Davino ,and also Ms. Lanza, we can at least start there.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Headline of the Year?

"Maneater: Hall Bitten By Oates" from the Sandusky Register. Here's the story with the headline. "Watch out boy, she'll chew you up."

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Class of 2013

Not to say “I told you so,” but I told you so. The Class of 2013 for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is:

Performers: Heart, Albert King, Randy Newman, Public Enemy, Rush and Donna Summer.

The two Lifetime Achievement inductions will go to Lou Adler and Quincy Jones.

Recall my original predictions when the 15 nominees were announced. Sure you do. Take out my prediction of Deep Purple, and slide Albert King from an Early Influence Induction to the Performer category, and that is the only difference, people (well, I didn’t predict any Lifetime Achievement inductions, but I’ve been pushing Quincy Jones for years). OK, done gloating.

I cannot fault any of these inductees. My only disappointment is that there were more in the 15 nominees that really deserve induction as well. It was a hell of a group of nominees. But this class is strong.

Heart broke ground for female rockers and also had a handful of great hard rock hits, Albert King had an enormous influence on rock guitarists rooted in the blues, Randy Newman was one of the more influential singer-songwriters of the 70’s and beyond, Public Enemy made rap grow up and gain a political conscience, Rush straddled prog and hard rock while influencing both (and probably inspired more musicians to pick up their instruments than almost any other band) and Donna Summer was the Queen of Disco. Nice diversity in this class with each inductee making crucial contributions to their genres. I’m cool with Lou Adler being honored and Quincy Jones was long overdue.

Normally I enjoy skewering the Rockhall for some of their decisions, but all I can say here is “well done.” Now, that doesn’t mean they still don’t have egregious omissions of both crucial artists and in entire genres or eras, but that should be another discussion. We should celebrate this class wholeheartedly, because they all richly deserve their inductions.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

RIP Dave Brubeck, 1920-2012

Today we lost one of the last of the great jazz musicians from when jazz really mattered. Dave Brubeck was not only one of the great jazz pianists of his (or any) generation, but he helped to define and pioneer the West Coast/cool style and boldly experimented throughout his career. Additionally, he took a strong stand on civil rights. Back in the ‘50s and even into the ‘60s, it was still frowned upon in certain parts of the country to have an integrated band. Brubeck stood up for his black bassist, Eugene Wright, time and again, canceling shows when Wright’s presence was objected to and even backing out of a television appearance when it became clear that the show intended to keep Wright off camera. Brubeck was willing to take some career hits to protect his band and to stand up for what he thought was right.

Brubeck will primarily, and rightly, be most remembered for his groundbreaking work with his famous Quartet in the 50’s and 60’s. Their daring experiments in rhythm and time signatures will endure. What is most impressive is that Brubeck did what very few jazz artists have been able to do (I’m talking being in the company of Duke Ellington and Miles Davis): make bold, experimental music that also has enough mass appeal to crossover and sell tons of records.

In my book, 1959’s Time Out is in the Top 10 of jazz albums. It contains such standards as “Blue Rondo a la Turk,” “Strange Meadow Lark” and, of course, “Take Five.” Much like Miles Davis with Kind of Blue, Brubeck made an album that not only went platinum, but also took bold risks, mostly in time signature. “Blue Rondo a la Turk,” for example, is in 9/8, while Brubeck and saxophonist Paul Desmond’s solos are played in 4/4. The jazz standard “Take Five” (written by Desmond) is in 5/4 time. Speaking of Paul Desmond, and I think that Brubeck himself would admit this, Desmond was just as crucial to the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s success as Brubeck himself.

Dave Brubeck has been an active jazz musician and innovator for sixty years. He was a brilliant pianist, bold experimenter, genial bandleader, a patriot (he served in Patton’s Army during World War II, where he formed one of the first integrated bands in the U.S. military), gentleman and, as the title of one of his most famous songs proclaims, he was a “Real Ambassador” for jazz music around the world. RIP Dave Brubeck.

ABOVE: Here's Brubeck's Quartet performing their most famous tune, "Take Five"

ABOVE: I personally like "Blue Rondo a la Turk" even more than "Take Five"

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

50 Years of Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and a review of 'Skyfall,' 2012

The release this year of the 23rd official Bond film coincides with the 50th anniversary of the release of the first film, 1962's Dr. No. Skyfall is both a triumphant Bond film that ensures at least another decade of thrills, martinis and babes, as well as a perfect celebration of this cultural icon.

Daniel Craig's tenure as 007 started off magnificently with Casino Royale, one of the best Bond pictures and a perfect reinvention of the character for modern audiences. The follow-up, Quantum of Solace , was a disappointment (in part due to chaos created by MGM's financial struggles), but Craig and Co. have recovered strongly with Skyfall.

ABOVE: Daniel Craig is the best Bond since Sean Connery.

The best Bond films have memorable, flamboyant villains. Think Auric Goldfinger, Red Grant and Rosa Klebb, Telly Savalas's rendition of Blofeld...and now add Javier Bardem's bleach-blonde maniac Raoul Silva to the pantheon. Bardem takes this role by the balls and makes Silva a wry, sadistic masterpiece of a bad guy. Honestly, Silva may be the equal to Goldfinger as far as Bond villains go. He is that good, that memorable, and absolutely chews up every scene he is in. Funny enough, he is what Christopher Walken should have been in A View To a Kill, but wasn't.

It says something about the quality of this film that the most memorable scene is not one of the very impressive action sequences or a seductive tryst with a beautiful woman, but a six minute conversation between Bond and Silva. It is safe to say that Bond had never previously been confronted by such a, shall we say, ambiguous villain who makes Bond (and the audience) so genuinely uncomfortable. The best Bond villains have a sadistic streak in them and are the less cartoonish ones, and Bardem brings all of that to the table.

ABOVE: Javier Bardem's Silva checks Bond out and (possibly) likes what he sees

In fact, this is probably the most impressive cast and production team ever brought to a Bond film. Craig has finally made the role entirely his own, Bardem steals every scene with relish, Judi Dench's M has a larger role than in any previous Bond film (she is basically a co-star with Bond she gets so much screen time), and God bless Ralph Fiennes, whose meddling beaurocrat Mallory, who in his own way is as much a threat to MI6 and Bond as Silva, is set up for a fantastic recurring role in Bond films to come.

ABOVE: Ralph Fiennes' Mallory feels that changes need to be made at MI6

Director Sam Mendes brings a higher craft here than your typical Bond flick. Bond's background is explored and revealed more than ever before, and he is confronted by an emotional blow that is rare in Bond films, only approached in the underrated On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

Mendes is a fan too. It being the 50th anniversary, Skyfall lovingly plants references to Bond's history throughout the film, from the obvious like the classic Bond theme and a fun reappearance of the beloved Auston Martin from Goldfinger (complete with machine guns and ejector seat) to more subtle references like M's padded office door. But while honoring the past, this Bond is setting up for the future, showing that Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace were only the precursors. Skyfall finally brings classic elements into the new Bond universe, such as a new Q and Moneypenny (I like that they waited for the third film of Craig's tenure to bring in some of the Bond familiars, as opposed to throwing them all in at once). In a great scene between Bond and the new Q (played with perfect nerdy arrogance by the youthful Ben Whishaw), Mendes reaches for his own brand of humor in the naturally antagonistic relationship between the Quartermaster who lovingly invents state-of-the-art espionage equipment, and Bond, who mistreats these wonderful gadgets in the field. When Bond expresses disappointment in his new batch of equipment ("It's hardly Christmas"), Q retorts "what did you expect, an exploding pen? We don't do those anymore."

The Craig era has done almost everything right in setting Bond up for the modern era. I think that now they can (and should) be even more bold in defying the formula in the future.

**** out of *****

So what is it about James Bond that still keeps us coming back after 50 years? Some things are easy to figure out. Bond is the ultimate male fantasy: dangerous, boozer who never loses control, gambler, ultimate consumer of only the finest of everything, savior and of course, seducer of beautiful women. He is decisive and competent in a way we would all love to be, but he is no superhero that is completely unreachable. In fact, in many of the films, he makes mistakes, gets bested, and often gets the crap beaten out of him. But he does triumph. He is flawed, selfish, cold and hedonistic, yet has a rock hard loyalty to crown and country. (Skyfall puts that loyalty to the test, as it is sometimes not repaid to him in kind.) As world events (be it possible nuclear holocaust during the Cold War years or the terrorist threats of today) threaten us, Bond is a powerful myth to hold on to, that one man can still come in and save us from these threats and anxieties.

Bond has become a cultural icon, a touchstone as powerful as Han Solo or Batman. So we Bond fans are forgiving, because let's face it, many of these films are terrible. But that hardly matters. For Bondphiles like me and countless others, it is the character that matters, and what he represents. We forgive cringe-worthy double entrendres (especially from the Roger Moore years) and predictable plots. We accept different actors playing our Bond (six so far). For a great analysis of the Bond phenomenon, read Roger Ebert's famous write-up on Goldfinger.

Here's a quick Bond film guide, with one or two sentences only for each:

Dr. No (1962): Sean Connery bursts on the scene as the definitive Bond. Fun in that all of the formula had not been set yet.
Rating in Bond universe: **** out of *****
Real rating: ****

From Russia With Love (1963): The best Bond film, in my book. Connery absolutely owns the role here, it features one of the more interesting plots and one of Bond's most formidable foes, Robert Shaw's Soviet killer Red Grant.
Rating in Bond universe: ***** out of *****
Real rating: *****

Goldfinger (1964): For many, this is the Bond film. Goldfinger is a fantastic villain. From the brassy theme song belted by Shirley Bassey to the silent henchman with the deadly bowler hat, this is what we love about a Bond flick.
Rating in Bond universe: ***** out of *****
Real rating: *****
ABOVE: "You expect me to talk?" "No Mr. Bond, I expect you to die."

Thunderball (1965): A bit slow in parts, but overall it still deserves to be included in the truly classic period.
Rating in Bond universe: **** out of *****
Real rating: ***1/2

You Only Live Twice (1967): Connery is bored by now, and this is the first one that is ridiculous.
Rating in Bond universe: *** out of *****
Real rating: **

On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969): George Lazenby's only outing as Bond, it was much-maligned for not being Connery. But most fans and many critics have reassessed this one and now consider it one of the best.
Rating in Bond universe: ***** out of *****
Real rating: ****
ABOVE: Telly Savalas was a great Blofeld. George Lazenby did a fine job. His main sin was that he was not Sean Connery.

Diamonds Are Forever (1971): After the commercial flop of Lazenby, the Bondmakers lure long in the tooth Connery back for one more. Terrible.
Rating in Bond universe: ** out of *****
Real rating: *

Live and Let Die (1973): Roger Moore debuts in a tricky film that tries to adapt Ian Fleming's most blatantly racist Bond novel into a blacksploitation flick.
Rating in Bond universe: *** out of *****
Real rating: **

The Man With the Golden Gun (1974): Bond fans are so conflicted on this one. It is a terrible movie, but features one of the best villains in Christopher Lee's sadistic assassin Scaramanga. Note: midgets are not menacing (Herve Villechaize).
Rating in Bond universe: ** out of *****
Real rating: *
ABOVE: Too bad such a great villain (Christopher Lee's Scaramanga) was wasted in one of the worst Bond films.

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977): Roger Moore finally comes into his own as Bond in what many consider to be Moore's best outing.
Rating in Bond universe: **** out of *****
Real rating: ***

Moonraker (1979): Trying to cash in on Star Wars, Bond goes to space. The first half is actually pretty good. But the second half...
Rating in Bond universe: *** out of *****
Real rating: **

For Your Eyes Only (1981): Literally tries to bring Bond back down to earth and tone down the spectacular. Actually fairly gritty for a Moore-era Bond.
Rating in Bond universe: *** out of *****
Real rating: ***

Octopussy (1983): I've got a soft spot for this one since it was my first Bond film to see in a theater. While there is some silliness, as there always is with Roger Moore's Bond, I defend this one and think it holds up. Should have been Roger's swansong. But...
Rating in Bond universe: *** out of *****
Real rating: ***

A View To a Kill (1985): The nadir of the series. Moore looks like the grandfather of the women he beds at this point, and almost everything about this one underwhelms, even Christopher Walken's villain. Duran Duran's title song is the only highlight, that kicks ass.
Rating in Bond universe: * out of *****
Real rating: *
ABOVE: Roger Moore was too old to be chasing Christopher Walken on top of the Golden Gate Bridge

The Living Daylights (1987): Poor Timothy Dalton, he was ill-suited to play Bond. He tried to bring back some realism and the gritty character of Fleming's novels, but that is not what the filmmakers were doing.
Rating in Bond universe: *** out of *****
Real rating: **

License To Kill (1989): Diehard Bond fans kind of like this relatively brutal and straightforward entry, but it tanked at the box office and sealed Dalton's fate.
Rating in Bond universe: *** out of *****
Real rating: **

Goldeneye (1995): Bond returns after a lengthy absence in the hands of Pierce Brosnan, who looks like he was born to be Bond. This was an excellent rebirth, and held much promise for the Brosnan era. But...
Rating in Bond universe: **** out of *****
Real rating: ***1/2

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997): Pierce was a great Bond, he was just saddled with crappy writing and films.
Rating in Bond universe: ** out of *****
Real rating: **

The World Is Not Enough (1999): Like I said...
Rating in Bond universe: ** out of *****
Real rating: **

Die Another Day (2002): ...And again. Sorry Pierce, it wasn't your fault. Ice castles, invisible cars and windsurfing off icebergs.
Rating in Bond universe: ** out of *****
Real rating: **
ABOVE: Pierce, you were a great Bond. It is not your fault that most of your movies sucked.

Casino Royale (2006): Daniel Craig defies the cynics and reinvents Bond in the best Bond film since Connery's heyday.
Rating in Bond universe: ***** out of *****
Real rating: *****

Quantum of Solace (2008): A disappointment after Craig's strong debut, the film was hampered by MGM's impending bankruptcy and a weak overall plot. I did like that its story was directly connected to Casino Royale, though.
Rating in Bond universe: *** out of *****
Real rating: **1/2

Skyfall (2012): This recovery bodes well for the Craig era, with Javier Bardem's villain being one of the best of the series.
Rating in Bond universe: ***** out of *****
Real rating: ****

Bond Films Tiered (listed chronologically within tiers):

1st Tier: From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, Casino Royale

2nd Tier: Dr. No, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Thunderball, Goldeneye, Skyfall

3rd Tier: The Spy Who Loved Me, For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy, Quantum of Solace

4th Tier: You Only Live Twice, Live and Let Die, Moonraker, The Living Daylights, License To Kill, Tomorrow Never Dies, The World Is Not Enough, Die Another Day

5th Tier: Diamonds Are Forever, The Man With the Golden Gun, A View To a Kill

Bond Theme Songs Ranked:

1. Goldfinger
2. Dr. No (the Bond theme)
3. A View To a Kill
4. You Only Live Twice
5. Live and Let Die
6. The Living Daylights
7. Thunderball
8. Diamonds Are Forever
9. On Her Majesty's Secret Service
10. From Russia With Love
11. The Spy Who Loved Me
12. Tie: Moonraker, License To Kill, Tomorrow Never Dies, The World Is Not Enough, Die Another Day, For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy, Quantum of Solace, Goldeneye, Skyfall
13. The Man With the Golden Gun

ABOVE: Shirley Bassey's brassy title song for Goldfinger. Bassey holds the record for Bond title songs. She also sings Diamonds Are Forever and Moonraker.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Message From the Grave

From an obituary in the Kansas City Star:

"Loren G. "Sam" Lickteig passed away on Nov. 14, 2012 of complications from MS and heartbreaking disappointment caused by the Kansas City Chiefs football team."

Friday, November 16, 2012

Advice For Conservatives

First things first, congratulations to President Obama for a hard fought and close victory. As is often the case, the electoral college picture did not reflect the actual popular vote, which was quite close. As one talking head said before the election, whoever wins, about half of the country will be disappointed. But I do not harbor such ill will that I hope for the opposition to fail in their leadership of this country. I sincerely hope that Obama is more successful in his second term, although history is against him on that. Second terms are generally more difficult and less successful than the first. But there have been exceptions, and I hope Obama is one of them. I sincerely hope that he was being honest in his excellent victory speech, when he said that he had learned from his experiences of the first term and wants to be better in the second. He is an intelligent man, so I think he does have the capacity to learn, analyze and adjust. I would love to see a smart pivot more to the middle, such as Clinton made after his own rocky start.

Despite the hasty proclamations that demographics have heralded a new era in our politics, I still believe that this country is essentially center-right at heart. Even if many people don't really know it. I do see the growing Hispanic population as the key electorate of the future. I am fairly familiar with this demographic. I married one, have dated many, live in a city where they are the majority, and about 80% of my students over the years have been Hispanic. I have grown to appreciate and love much about this vibrant and warm culture. Which is why I think I can say this confidently: Hispanics should be a fairly easy group of voters for conservatives to appeal to, if only conservatives were smart about it. In many ways, the Hispanic voters have conservative values. The strong Roman Catholic faith, the focus on a tight family structure and certain values related to that that still run deep in the culture, a very strong work ethic and entrepreneurial spirit. This should be prime conservative territory here!

But no. Many conservatives take untennable positions on immigration. When Rick freakin' Perry supported some generous immigration policies, even he was attacked by fellow conservatives as being "soft." I'm no fan of Perry, but it is ridiculous when even he is attacked for not being conservative enough. The bellicose Tea Party element have created a suicidal rhetorical divide of us vs. them. Gay marriage is a lost battle, drop it. You lose anyone who knows well or cares about anyone who is gay. Not to mention, you lose the gay population itself, much of which is wealthy and might otherwise be interested in a party that does more to protect personal wealth. (Abortion is a more difficult matter, because if you are sincerely pro-Life, then nothing could be more political. I don't get people who say abortion "should not be a poltiical issue." That is basically code for "accept the Pro-Choice position." Anyway, that is a different discussion.)

I feel like the Republican Party, while not dead in the water, is currently adrift in similar waters that the Democratics had to navigate in the 1980's. When a fringe element takes control and makes the most noise and grabs power, leaving more moderate elements cold. It took a Clinton to save the Dems, and a similar figure will have to emerge on the Republican side as well. I think they will. Eventually. It is hard-wired into this country's DNA to have a competitive two party system, despite some periods of dominance by one or the other.

I have been following with much interest the hand wringing, soul searching and circular firing squad of self-analysis in the aftermath of this election on the Republican side. Many Tea Partiers and talk radio types insist that the answer is to double down, that the problem was that Romney was not conservative enough. I sympathize with Romney and think he would have been a good president. He just wasn't a good candidate. He is a moderate at heart, but had to make himself a "severe conservative" to navigate the self-destructive Republican primary. There was no other way, and he paid the price.

Of all of the things that I have read or heard, I really like David Frum's column for CNN, a link is here. It is entitled "Conservatives, Don't Despair," and it has some great advice that should be followed. I would suggest reading in its entirety, but I like this quote on the ridiculous and hysterical cries from some conservatives that the Obama agenda is an insidious attempt to move America towards socialism:

"The United States did not vote for socialism. It could not do so, because neither party offers socialism. Both parties champion a free enterprise economy cushioned by a certain amount of social insurance. The Democrats (mostly) want more social insurance; the Republicans want less. National politics is a contest to move the line of scrimmage, in a game where there's no such thing as a forward pass, only a straight charge ahead at the defensive line. To gain three yards is a big play."

He goes on to point out:

"Whatever you think of the Obama record, it's worth keeping in mind that by any measure, free enterprise has been winning the game for a long, long time to this point.

Compare the United States of 2012 with the United States of 1962. Leave aside the obvious points about segregation and discrimination, and look only at the economy.

In 1962, the government regulated the price and route of every airplane, every freight train, every truck and every merchant ship in the United States. The government regulated the price of natural gas. It regulated the interest on every checking account and the commission on every purchase or sale of stock. Owning a gold bar was a serious crime that could be prosecuted under the Trading with the Enemy Act. The top rate of income tax was 91%.

It was illegal to own a telephone. Phones had to be rented from the giant government-regulated monopoly that controlled all telecommunications in the United States. All young men were subject to the military draft and could escape only if they entered a government-approved graduate course of study. The great concern of students of American society -- of liberals such as David Riesman, of conservatives such as Russell Kirk and of radicals such as Dwight Macdonald -- was the country's stultifying, crushing conformity."

Frum is a conservative himself, but a reasonable one. I suggest reading the whole article. As he says at the end:

"We need more sensible conservatives. As for the feeble conservatives, they should take a couple of aspirin and then stay quietly indoors until the temper has subsided and they are ready to say and do something useful again."

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Dez Reviews Neil Young & Crazy Horse's 'Psychedelic Pill,' 2012

Neil's had a busy year. Two albums released (the second one a double) and a stream of conciousness/autobiography published. Psychedelic Pill came out a couple of weeks ago, but I wanted to let it stew a little bit before reviewing it, to see if my initial reaction turned out to be off. It wasn't.

As loyal readers well know, Neil Young is my favorite musical artist. And the reviews for his latest venture with his garage band stalwarts Crazy Horse have been generally glowing, but I'm not feeling it on this one. These sprawling tunes came from the same marathon sessions that produced Americana earlier this year, but whereas that was a wonderful ramshackle romp through the American folk canon, these are all originals.

The spirit here was to capture the raw Crazy Horse at its best, but as hard as they try, there is no "Down By the River" here. And oh do they try. I find it funny how the critics fawn over the 27-minute (!) opener, "Driftin' Back" (or, as I would retitle it, "Driftin' Through Neil's Random Thoughts (For 30 Minutes)"). It's got a decent groove and I like the sharp effect of starting it off acoustically and then fading in the Horse. But the song is basically 6 minute spurts of Neil jamming with Crazy Horse separated by random, half-baked verses about, well, anything. It sounds like, and I bet this is what it was, a preliminary jam that instead of honing it and editing it into a real song, Neil just said "use that one, let's move on." A jam that is fun to play if you are one of the musicians, but a bit tedious to listen to. Would've made a fine 15 minutes or so, but not 27. One verse is about how he used to enjoy Picasso paintings until they were used as wallpaper prints, and then another about his well-known war against the sound quality in MP3's ("When you hear my song now / You only get 8% / You used to get it all now / You used to feel it all"). Then another verse about writing his book this year. Then something about "Gonna get a hip hop haircut." I doubt he even wrote anything down before singing this one. I would like to ask these critics, honestly, how many of them are going to return to "Driftin' Back" and ever listen to all 27 minutes again?

There are a couple of worthy keepers here. I really like the melancholy groove of the 17 minute "Ramada Inn," but whereas many critics point to this one as a lyrical highlight detailing the dying flame of a once passionate relationship, I find the lyrics a bit obvious and nothing remarkable. The groove and Neil's soloing, however, are quite hypnotic. The 16 minute "Walk Like a Giant," with its "My My, Hey Hey" bassline, is a bit inspired. Neil often revisits the 60's in his work, but mostly, as he does here, it is with regret and bitterness that the ideals were not fulfilled. And he also, significantly, usually blames himself and his comrades for the failures, not outside forces. (By far the best treatment of this theme is his acerbic 1986 shot at Crosby and Co. in "Hippie Dream," one of his best overlooked gems).

I also really enjoy the short title track, a blatant but fun retread of his classic "Cinnamon Girl." I especially like the over the top effects on the song, making it sound like it is swirling around in a jet turbine (there is also a "clean" version tacked on the end).

The bottom line with Neil Young for me is that even in failure, I still love the guy's spirit and cajones. The only time he can do wrong is when he's boring and safe, which fortunately is very rare (late 90's and early 2000's). In triumph or failure, he is pushing himself and taking risks. I view Psychedelic Pill as a sprawling miss, but an adventurous one. Another weird transmission from your crazy Uncle Neil.

** out of *****.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

I Voted

I voted Thursday night with early voting. I saw that this year broke the record for early voting, between 30-40% of all ballots cast this election will have already been cast by election day. I kind of enjoy the excitement of voting on election day, but I waited in line 45 minutes Thursday night as it was, so next Tuesday would be much worse.

No surprise, I voted for Romney in the presidential election. Why? Go review the great 121 comment debate over at ANCIANT's site for one of the most intelligent political debates that I have ever had the privilege to participate in. It is here.

I did not vote straight ticket, though. Never do. In fact, the majority of my other votes on the 23 page ballot, especially locally, were for Democrats. Working in education, I have seen first hand the damage done by the Texas brand of Republican. I am a conservative in many ways, obviously from my comments in the above referenced debate. And in the abstract, I do not have a problem with a standardized testing system. Students and teachers should be held accountable for at least a minimum competence before graduating.

But the beyond absurd version that has been created here in the Lone Star State, while at the same time cutting billions (yes, that's a "b") from the education budget...well, it will be interesting to see what happens in the next couple of years. If you think Republicans nationally hate taxation in any form, you should see Texas Republicans. Being a moderate at heart, I dislike extremist views all around, and that includes on taxation. The problem in Texas is rooted in our property tax and business tax system. We were doing really well, but a few years back they decided to alter the property tax system, and it cost the state billions. (We famously have no state income tax, so property taxes were the primary source of taxation revenue). To make up for the lost revenue, they claimed that changes in the business taxes here would make up for it, making it a revenue-neutral change. Didn't work out that way, and now we have a structure that mathematically cannot be balanced. Most intelligent observers on both sides understand this, but it is politically very difficult to change the property tax system now that it has been done. It would, in essence, be seen as an increase in property taxation, which is against Texas religion.

So Texas will continually need to cut heavily in different places to make up the difference. In the past couple of years, the target has been education. At the same time they have hoisted this amazingly complex standardized system on the schools (where students used to have to take 4 state tests in high school to meet graduation requirements, now there are 16 of them, with the scores on one effecting what you need to score on the others, and then the scores on the tests are now 15% of their average in that particular class...there is much more). And this year it appears that a school voucher system is in the works. Again, I do not object to a standardized testing system. But this one is ridiculous, and needs resources to help the students be successful, instead the school budgets are being slashed. I'm not sure that I even object to a voucher system, philosophically. But the voucher system also takes money out of the public school system at a time when they are broke.

So for these reasons, locally and statewide, mostly, I voted Democrat. In the school board race locally, the Republican candidate apparently feels that 16 standardized tests throughout high school is not enough and we need more.

Although, for the judges that will be hearing criminal cases, I went Republican on all of those.

I had promised earlier a post on Benghazi. I'll just tack a few thoughts on here. It is a very disturbing situation, and one that the national media has not really pushed for answers on. The Obama administration was caught with its pants down. Much evidence indicates that they knew very early on that it was a coordinated terrorist attack having nothing to do with some ridiculous YouTube video. Yet that was the story they pushed for days and days and days afterward. This is bad for several reasons. First, it is dishonest. Secondly, they unnecessarily brought attention to this stupid video and basically apologized for it, giving an already hostile region more fodder to use as fuel to dislike us. And it was unnecessary. Several talk radio commentators that so many people deride were saying, the very next day after the attack, that it had nothing to do with the YouTube video and it was a terrorist attack. Does Mike Gallagher and some local San Antonio radio jocks have better intel than our government? I doubt it. They were just immediately telling the truth, and it took the Obama administration two weeks to get around to the truth. Obama said the "intelligence was still coming in."

Secondly, it appears that there were real time requests for assistance from our military and special forces. They were held back, because according to one administration official, you don't send forces in harm's way without proper information. I'm not sure we would have ever fought a significant battle in our military history if we went by that standard. When do you ever have enough information to feel comfortable before entering the fray? By its very nature, warfare is chaotic, constantly changing, and you do not have enough information about what the enemy is doing.

But Obama goes further and states that "as soon as he knew" what was happening, he ordered aid. So, either he is not being honest about that because we know no aid was sent, or his orders were ignored. Not good either way. There is also evidence that ambassador Stevens had repeatedly requested more security. Yet Biden, in his debate, claimed that the administration knew nothing of these requests.

Anyway, Benghazi pisses me off. It should piss you off too. And not just because four brave Americans who were representing us abroad lost their lives.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Friday, October 26, 2012

NBA Fantasy Draft

Had my NBA fantasy draft last weekend. I've been in this league with these guys for about 7 or so years now, so I do look forward to it each year. We usually have about ten teams, with a solid core of guys who return each year and a couple of newbies who rotate in and out.

For those of you who know fantasy sports, this league is a rotisserie style system, where we use points scored, shooting %, free throw % (weighted for how many free throws attempted), 3-pointers made, rebounds, blocks, assists, steals and turnovers. We draft a Point Guard, Shooting Guard, another Guard slot, Small Forward, Power Forward, another Forward slot, two Centers and two Utility slots (any position), with three Bench slots.

Out of ten teams, I randomly got the 5th pick in this year's draft. What made it difficult was that the two players that would be most likely picked in that slot are both injured (Kevin Love out for a month, Dirk Nowitzki out through December). The picks before me in the first round went Lebron, Durant (I would have picked Durant first, by the way), Paul and Westbrook (a bit high for him methinks, but it was The Ignorant Masses picking, afterall). Love and Nowitzki were out for me, so I went with Deron Williams as my first pick. Not a huge fan, but he is an elite PG and the star of the new Brooklyn Nets, and I subscribe to the theory that the key to fantasy basketball success is strong PG's and strong PF's. The rest of the first round went Wade (no freakin' way I'd touch Wade this season, he is way too injury prone and there is only one basketball on the court and he's on a team with Lebron), then Josh Smith, Bynum, Love (this guy couldn't make the draft, so he got stuck with the autopick by Yahoo, he also got Nowitzki through autopick and Dwight Howard, which means he is guaranteed last place in Free Throws) and Al Jefferson.

The draft snakes, meaning that the 10th pick also gets the 11th pick and then Round two counts down (meaning 1st pick doesn't pick again until 20th). For me, being 5th, the snake doesn't really matter. Sticking with my PG/PF formula, my 2nd pick was Pau Gasol. With Nash at the helm in L.A., Gasol should really benefit. I am optimistic that Gasol could have his best year (but the "only one basketball" issue also applies to the All-Star Lakers team, and I'm not too sure that Kobe will suddenly become a selfless team player). I've got a history with Gasol, this will be my third season with him on my fantasy roster. My third round pick I am really excited about, he could contribute in every category and is poised for the breakout year experts have been predicting. Nicolas Batum in Portland. Not exactly a household name, but should be a fantasy beast. My friend Paul was quite upset that I snagged him before he could get to him. Batum could be the key to my fantasy triumph.

ABOVE: Nicolas Batum should help me prevail over The Ignorant Masses and the other roadkill that make up my fantasy basketball competition this season

Another breakout candidate is Paul George, and I really wanted him, but he was snagged in the 4th Round three picks ahead of me. Those of you who have done fantasy drafts know that sinking feeling when one of your prime targets is snagged just ahead of you. So I picked up Stephen Curry of Golden State. He is a fantasy monster when healthy. But "when healthy" is the key. The guy's a walking china plate.

The rest of my draft went David Lee (I needed to start grabbing some Centers), Jeff Teague (more PG firepower), Kenneth Faried (lots of potential, prime breakout candidate), Michael Beasley (his career has been a bust so far, but he's in the best place for him to finally reach his potential - Phoenix), Sam Dalembert, O.J. Mayo (with Dirk out in Dallas until 2013, the rest of that team is wide open for fantasy production), Jonas Valanciunas (purely a fun long shot breakout prospect who will sit on my bench until he proves he's the real deal), Greivis Vasquez (hey, we're into the 12th round here) and Byron Mullins.

I like my team, but honestly I'm not super-excited (last year I had the first pick and rode Durant to 2nd place). But we'll see.

Those of you who know basketball, thoughts?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

IV's, Adenoids and Scamp

My two and a half year old daughter was diagnosed with pretty severe sleep apnea not too long ago (I've got it too). In her case, it was due to huge tonsils and adenoids. I still don't know what adenoids are, but apparently hers were huge. In fact, the doctor said that 90% of her airway was blocked by these damn things. So they had to come out.

Fairly routine surgery, but still a surgery, and anytime you do something like that on a toddler it is still a serious matter. The surgery went fine, but the overnight stay in the hospital for observation was not very fun. First and foremost, I got thrown up on three times. The anesthesia makes you nauseous. My wife: zero vomits. Me: all three. How did that happen? Each was a different color too. The first one was immediately post-surgery, so it was thick and yellow and full of bile. The second one was clear, since she had nothing left to get rid of since the first time. The final one was red due to the two popsicles she had just finished. I had only brought two changes of clothing with me, so I got to rotate my now smelly jeans.

We didn't get a private room (because there were none available), so we had roommates. If you think roommates in general are bothersome, try it in a hospital. First there was some little girl who had a nasty abdominal infection that the doctors could not figure out. Her extended family were all visiting and distraught, so there was a lot of "aye, dios mio" and so forth from various grandparents. Additionally, the kid's siblings were visiting, and they were bored and had colds. So we are in this small room with only a curtain separating us, with little kids hacking all over the place. If you want to get sick, go to a hospital. I wanted to throttle the little bastards. Guess what. On top of her recovery this week, my daughter seems to have a little cold now too. Hmm. Where did she pick that up?

The girl's condition worsened, so they finally moved her to a different room. Ah, our own private room! Until about an hour later when they wheeled in a 2 month old with respiratory problems. I didn't mind the crying of the infant so much as the parents, who wanted to read until 1 a.m., and therefore kept the light on in the room. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, I assume they thought the thin curtain that did not go to the ceiling or the floor kept the light from bleeding over, but it did not. When they finally shut it off, my wife was so pissed she immediately turned our light on to flood their side. I joined in and cranked "We Are Siamese" from Lady and the Tramp on our TV as loud as it would go. (Don't worry, the children did not suffer. Their infant was out of the room being fed or something. My daughter was wide awake anyway.)

Also, try explaining to a two year old why she can't take out the IV stuck in her arm for 24 hours. She just could not see reason on this matter. "I want it out, I said!" "Daddy, you take this out!" This is where the art of distraction comes in. Which brings me back to Lady and the Tramp. Lady is her current obsession, and thank Dios Mio that I thought to bring the DVD with me to the hospital. We basically had that on in a loop.

I am staying home with her for the week during her recovery. She can't go back to day care for two weeks due to a slight risk of hemorraging. Nice moment today: we went outside to play and it was a breezy fall day. We both sat down on the concrete driveway, leaned back and just quietly listened and felt the breeze as it rustled through my neighbor's very tall, neglected grass and weeds. This was one of the first times that I felt like I was with a real person, vs. just my infant or toddler. I don't know if that makes sense, but it was a great moment. This was not just my baby to take care of (which I love doing, don't get me wrong), but I was able to watch her sitting, smiling and enjoying the breeze and for the first time she struck me as more than just a baby or a little toddler.

I bought Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp's Adventure (straight to video from 2001) to spice things up. These days I'm watching both films several times a day (we also have to keep her from being too active during recovery. Try explaining to a toddler why she can't jump on the couch when she has been allowed to do so for her entire life). I now know both films intimately. I must say, I love the original Lady and the Tramp from 1955. It is so simple, elegant, gentle and flows at a lovely pace. As for Scamp's Adventure, not so much. Scamp, by the way, is Lady and Tramp's son (remember at the end of Lady, they had three daughters who looked like her and then a rambunctious son who looked like Tramp? That is Scamp.) The new one is much faster paced for today's ADD kids, but it loses so much in comparison to the elegant original. It is crude and shallow in comparison. My daughter differentiates them by saying "old Lady" and "new Lady." Although, just through repetition, Lady II has grown on me a little. Being the obsessive that I am, I have purchased all of the classic Disney animation features up through the 1970's for her, but Lady is the one so far.

Below is the famous spaghetti scene from Lady and the Tramp. Below that is a recreation/homage from Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp's Adventure. How they eat says it all. The classic of a bygone era and the crudity of today. F*cking ridicuous...

ABOVE: Buster (voiced by Chazz Palminteri) is the antagonist/bad influence in Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp's Adventure.

Lady and the Tramp: ***** out of *****
Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp's Adventure: ** out of *****

Posts on the way about Bond's 50th B-day, my latest NBA Fantasy Draft, the attacks in Bengazi and the Peter Gabriel reissues.

I leave you with Kraftwerk's "Ohm Sweet Ohm" (not to be confused with Motley Crue's "Home Sweet Home").

Thursday, October 11, 2012


One of the things that I enjoy about following the doings of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is that each year with their nominations and inductees, it makes me focus on artists I may have overlooked. Naturally I know who Kraftwerk is and I know why they are important. I’ve owned their seminal Autobahn for awhile, and found it interesting without falling in love with it. But once they were nominated for the class of 2013, it reminded me that I had wanted to explore a bit more. So this last week or so I’ve been on a Kraftwerk binge, a strict diet of the Aryan digital pioneers.

For those readers unfamiliar with them, they are one of those groups who get name dropped a lot as influential, yet a relatively few casual music fans are familiar with their material. That is a shame, I have recently discovered. Formed in 1970 in Germany, they use only electronic instrumentation. Their music leans heavily on repetitive synthetic rhythms and melodic, often atmospheric, keyboards. The list of bands and genres that they have influenced is ridiculously long, from their direct electronic progeny like Depeche Mode, Thomas Dolby and Gary Numan, to other artists as diverse as David Bowie, Coldplay, New Order and Franz Ferdinand (hell, what is Neil Young’s Trans other than an attempt at a Kraftwerk album?) They are also one of the most sampled groups for rap and hip hop music, and are considered the pioneers of modern house and electronic music. (Funny that this most Aryan and stiff of bands is one of the most important elements in a modern black artform in hip hop and rap). It is difficult to overstate their influence, so on that alone, they deserve induction into the Rockhall.

Aside from giving Autobahn a fresh listen, I also grabbed their other most famous records, Trans-Europe Express, The Man Machine and Computer World. All are great, great records. I would also recommend the strong live recording Minimum-Maximum, which can also act as a solid introduction and overview.

My favorite has to be 1981’s Computer World. It may seem a bit obvious nowadays. A concept album about how computers and technology are taking over our lives and even effecting our emotions, but it was more of an astute observation in ’81. It is probably their most minimalist recording, with early 80’s computer bleeps and blips darting all over the soundscape, alternating between acting as sound effect and actual notes and melody. The bouncy “Pocket Calculator” is Kraftwerk at their most silly and whimsical. I don’t know how to verify this, but I read that the jerky and infectious “Numbers” is one of the most sampled songs (by rap and hip hop artists) in history. Give it a listen and you can see the early 80’s break dancers having a field day with these beats and blips. But “Computer Love” is the real treat. Not only does it predict isolated digital lives that we can lead nowadays (as well as online dating), but the music is simply lovely. People forget just how melodic Kraftwerk could be, and this song is so pretty, especially in the second half. I was listening to it and it was immediately familiar, and then I finally placed it. Coldplay’s “Talk” takes this beautiful melody and adds muscle with guitars and full band. I looked it up, and indeed Coldplay got permission from Kraftwerk to rework the music of "Computer Love."

What sets Computer World apart as one of the great concept records is that everything works towards the concept. Obviously the songs (“Computer World,” “Pocket Calculator,” “Numbers,” “Computer Love,” “Home Computer,” etc.) and the lyrics. But most concept records stop there. As in, they are “concept albums” because the songs are all lyrically related or tell a story, but the music is like any other rock record. Here, the entire sonic structure works for the concept along with the lyrics, creating a completely electronic-based music about a new electronic world. Brilliant.

Add Kraftwerk’s Computer World to my five star (*****) records list. As for the others…

Autobahn ****

Trans-Europe Express ****

The Man Machine ****

Electric Café ***

Minimum-Maximum (live) ****

They have a few others, but these are the most notable releases and the ones that I have been focusing on. Radioactivity and Tour de France are also available.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 2013 Nominees

Whoo! Now this is what I’m talking about. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Central Committee For Rock and Roll Affairs has come up with a ballot for the class of 2013 that is the strongest they have had in years. Out of the 15 nominees, there are only three that I think are borderline, and even those at least can have good arguments made in their defense. As always, I can still nitpick here and there (and yes, I will, but at the end of the post). As a reminder, artists are eligible 25 years after their first single or album release. First, let’s take a look at the nominees, then I’ll give you my prediction and I’ll give you my ballot that I will be submitting, followed by some closing comments.

You read that right. I have a ballot this year. My voice will be heard. And so can yours. OK, it is a very tiny, tiny voice, and more a symbolic gesture than a vote that will really make a difference, but I still appreciate the gesture. At the Rockhall website, when you vote in their poll, this year the results will be tallied and submitted as one “fan ballot” that will be counted alongside the other 500 ballots. Hey, I like it. I can participate in a small way at least. The other 500 or so ballots come from prominent music critics, industry insiders and all current Rockhall inductees (I seriously question whether B.B. King really should be judging the impact of The Cure, as would have occurred last year, but that is the subject of earlier and I am sure later posts).

But here are the nominees and some brief thoughts on each:

Chic: This is their 7th nomination, so the Committee clearly wants to keep pushing them. With Nile Rodgers’s illness, there may be some urgency to get them inducted before he passes on. They were great, important dance music innovators. I’d have no problem with their eventual induction, but not gonna happen with this class.

Deep Purple: Up to this point, one of the most egregious omissions. Shockingly, this is their first nomination. The Committee has shown hostility towards certain genres, and hard rock/metal is definitely one of the most underrepresented in the Hall. Their induction would go a long way in moving the ball for hard rock and for rehabilitating the Hall as far as some of the glaring omissions go. Like them or not (and I'm lukewarm on them at best), they were one of the pioneers for hard rock.

Heart: I was surprised that they did not make it in last year with their first nomination. They help to fill out hard rock and get more women in the Hall, two goals the Committee should be jumping to fulfill.

Joan Jett & The Blackhearts: I dig Joan Jett. How can you not? She is the ultimate rocker chick. That being said, I think she is on the bubble as far as being Hall-worthy.

Albert King: One of the last essential bluesmen still on the outside looking in (I'd also like to see Sonny Boy Williamson II inducted). I have a feeling that Albert will get the shady Wanda Jackson / Freddie King treatment. That is, being nominated, not making the vote cut, and then the powers that be slide him in anyway in the "Early Influence" category, even though his most influential work was done during the rock era, not before. It's a BS move, although Albert definitely deserves a spot in the Hall.

Kraftwerk: So pleased so see these electronic pioneers get another shot. They were nominated once before awhile back. First and foremost, the Hall should honor the pioneers.

The Marvelettes: Not that familiar with them. "Please Mr. Postman" is their best known tune. Not getting in this year anyway.

The Meters: Great New Orleans soul/funk pioneers, but in this weighty class, I think their induction is probably the least likely of any of these candidates.

Randy Newman: Yes! Yes! Yes! And yes! Zimmerman aside, of course, I think that Randy Newman is the most interesting singer-songwriter that the 60's and 70's produced. His chances are good. The trend lately has been to get one singer-songwriter in per class (Tom Waits, Laura Nyro, Leonard Cohen...all recent inductees. Randy is the man and better than all of those.)

NWA: Pioneers of West Coast Gangsta Rap, I'm all for their induction. And I'd LOVE to hear Ice Cube's speech. But with someone else also in this nominee list (see two below), I think NWA will probably have to wait.

Paul Butterfield Blues Band: LOVE this band and I think they were so innovative in an early period. I don't think they have a chance in hell of getting inducted in this class, though. That's a shame. East/West is absolutely brilliant.

Public Enemy: The consensus, and I agree with it, is that Public Enemy are the surest thing in this group of nominees. While I personally prefer NWA, Public Enemy definitely needs to be inducted for their injection of the political into rap. Flava Flav's speech will also be entertaining.

Procol Harum: This is a marginal pick. I'm glad that they are getting to some prog, but come on. Yes, King Crimson, ELP, ELO and the Moody Blues are yet to be nominated (ever), and the Central Committee in all of its wisdom are offering up Procol Harum?

Rush: I don't think there has been a louder chorus of outrage for any other band's snubbing. As the years have gone by, it seems more and more absurd that Rush had not even been nominated. Well, finally the Committee relented and gave them a shot. I'd be shocked if they did not get in with ease. This at least insures that the performances at the ceremony will kick ass.

Donna Summer: Here is the rare case where the Committee is right and the voters are wrong. This is her 5th nomination, and add to that her death earlier this year, she's got to make it this time. I'm not a fan of disco, and neither are the voters, apparently, but come on. She wasn't the "Queen of Disco" by accident. If you are the "King" or "Queen" of any genre of popular music, your Hall credentials are pretty strong. She had a boatload of hits and was a leading force in the genre. It is just a shame that she did not get in while she was here to enjoy it.

The trend has been five inductees per year, although last year it was six (I think mainly due to the fact that they really wanted the Small Faces/Faces to get in, who were probably just outside the top five in voting).

Anyway, if it is six again this year, my prediction is:

Deep Purple
Randy Newman
Public Enemy
Donna Summer

And Albert King getting slipped in as an Early Influence

If that is the case, that is a really strong class. If I had my choice and I were King of Rock, my six would be:

Deep Purple
Randy Newman
Paul Butterfield Blues Band

NOTE: On the Rockhall site, they only let you vote for five.

Hard rock, metal, prog, the entire decade of the 80's...all are still woefully underepresented. My shortlist of the most egregious snubs (not including those nominated this year): The Cars; Chicago; The Cure; Depeche Mode; Devo; Duran Duran; Hall & Oates; Iron Maiden; Journey; Joy Division; Judas Priest; King Crimson; KISS; Lou Reed (solo); Love; MC5; Motorhead; New Order; Ozzy Osbourne (solo); The Replacements; Peter Gabriel (solo); The Pixies; The Smiths; Steve Miller Band; Steve Winwood (solo); Stevie Ray Vaughan; Willie Nelson; Yes and Kool & the Gang. There's more, of course.

Anyway, go to Future Rock Legends for great analysis and discussion of all things Rockhall.

Thoughts? Comments?

Friday, September 28, 2012

Two Great New Records

The Tragically Hip's Now For Plan A, 2012

As far as longevity, consistency and quality music, it is hard to top Canada's Hip. As time goes by, I admire them more and more. 2010's We Are the Same was a bit too slick for many Hip fans, although I rather enjoyed some of it (I still think "Morning Moon" is one of the greatest songs in their entire discography). But they definitely return to their rawer sound on some of their 13th album (15th if you include their Canadian debut EP and live outing), opening with the savage "At Transformation," one of those great Hip grinders as Gordon Downie snarls his way through.

ABOVE: "At Transformation." This is not the wussy sound of We Are the Same

This is a very good latter day Hip record, as there is much here to savor for the loyal fan or newbie alike. Tunes like "The Lookahead," "Streets Ahead" and soaring closer "Goodnight Attawapiskat" are generous with melodic hooks that in a more just world would be all over modern rock radio. There's really not a stinker in the whole batch (which, to be honest, is rare for a recent Hip record), but the centerpiece is "We Want To Be It," a song they've been featuring in their live sets for well over a year (known to fans up to this point as "Drip, Drip"). It is in the vein of "Grace, Too" or "Nautical Disaster" (both from their moody underrated 4th record, Day For Night) in that it builds with an almost creepy intensity in a fashion unique to oddball poet/singer Downie, who remains one of the most interesting vocalists and lyricists in the business.

ABOVE: "We Want To Be It"

A key feature of this record is balance. For every snarling rocker like "At Transformation" and "Streets Ahead," there are also moody pieces like the pretty title track and "Done and Done." The Hip have recovered from the alleged misstep of We Are the Same with a solid, near great record 25 years into their career. Quite impressive.

ABOVE: The lovely closer "Goodnight Attawapiskat"

*** out of *****

Los Lobos's Kiko Live, 2006/2012

NOTE: the show was recorded in 2006, but the disc was released this year to coincide with Kiko's 20th anniversary.

These type of releases are obviously not for the casual fan. It's not a new thing, but it is a practice that is getting more popular, where an artist will play one of their classic records live in its entirety. (Springsteen has done this in recent years, pulling out full length performances of Born To Run, Darkness on the Edge of Town and Born in the USA on the road).

Clearly the more the artist explores and changes things up, the more interesting it is. (That is why, for instance, Van Morrison's live release of Astral Weeks from a couple of years back is so great, he turns the record inside out, changing the order, slowing down the fast songs and speeding up the slow ones. Great listen.) I would expect Los Lobos to do interesting things with their masterpiece, Kiko (a record that is in my Top 10 favorites of all time). Los Lobos are a versatile band that loves to adventurously explore their material onstage. And, overall, they do not disappoint.

Opening with an extended "Dream in Blue" that really emphasizes the driving percussive pulse, they are respectful but also playful with the Kiko material. Kiko is a record of fascinating and intricate textures that cannot be reproduced live, so that, in a sense, opens the songs for shaking things up.

They don't best Kiko overall, of course, but some of the individual songs are actually made better. "Angels With Dirty Faces" and "Wicked Rain" have deeper grooves, and songs that were lesser songs on Kiko are actually made the showstoppers. Traditional-sounding Mexican folk song "Saint Behind the Glass" has more kick and features impressive playing on acoustic Mexican folk instruments, the title track is creepier, and "That Train Don't Stop Here" (which frankly on Kiko is a somewhat generic rocker) has a deep boogie and is turned into an eight minute guitar duel tour de force between David Hidalgo and Cesar Rosas.

It's almost not fair giving this a rating, because they have the headstart of working with the best material of their impressive career. But they do right by it. It is familiar enough to where it is definitely Kiko, but they do enough with the material to make it interesting and fresh even if you know Kiko intimately.

**** out of *****

Sunday, September 23, 2012

From the Mouths of Babes

"Ray, you're ridiculous." - My two and a half year old daughter to me this morning at breakfast.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Some Music and DVD Quick Hits

The new Killers record Battle Born is good, but not great. I applaud them for their unabashed emotion and devotion to the soaring radio hook, but there is no "When You Were Young" in this batch. *** out of *****.

Bob Dylan continues his streak with Tempest. Honestly, I more admire his recent work than love it, but he has definitely solidified a late career legacy since the 1990's. No rating on this yet, since I have only given it a cursory listen.

I'm a little baffled by the negative reaction to the new Band of Horses record, Mirage Rock. Perhaps I don't have really high expectations to begin with. I never thought that they broke any new ground or anything, they were just a really solid band. I guess I just always took their debut, Everything All the Time, as sort of lightning in a bottle and never waited for it to be replicated. But the new one is pretty solid, definitely better than the snoozefest Infinite Arms. *** out of *****.

I also thought that with Rick Rubin turning the knobs, ZZ Top had a shot at capturing some of that old down home groove. Not the case. La Futura is just more of the same overdriven sh*t they've been lazily slinging since the mid-90's. Billy Gibbons can still shred on the guitar, but his voice is pretty worn. Dusty Hill actually sings better nowadays, I don't know why he doesn't take more of the vocals. Why can't they play anything as subtle as "Asleep in the Desert" or "Sure Got Cold After the Rain Fell" anymore? ** out of *****.

Looking ahead...

...Looking back, but remastered.

It is the 20th anniversary of Los Lobos's masterwork Kiko, and they have released the requisite remastered version with some bonus tracks tagged on. I didn't buy it, but I do have on the way from Amazon Kiko Live, a recent concert performance of Kiko from start to finish that looks really promising. Considering that the Lobos like to expand and explore their music in the live setting, it could be a great homage to Kiko without merely replaying it note for note. At least that is my hope, I'll let you know.

Speaking of anniversaries, it is the 25th anniversary of Peter Gabriel's commercial breakthrough, So. He is celebrating in similar fashion as Pink Floyd did recently, releasing it in three new versions. First is a remaster of the album. But since his whole catalogue was wonderfully remastered already rather recently (all of which I bought, of course), is this a remaster of the remaster? But what I am excited about is the Deluxe Edition which includes a full live show from the So tour. Now that is something to get excited about, live Gabriel from that period is awesome. There is also a $100 Immersion Box that not even I will be shelling out dough for (which, funny enough, doesn't even include the fantastic b-sides from that era. How immersive is it when you don't even have the b-sides?) Since Peter continues to disappoint with his recent work, I can at least get pumped about material from the vaults from better days.

Now, I am really pumped about the new Tragically Hip coming out October 2, Now for Plan A. Many Hip diehards were pretty disappointed with the glossy We Are the Same (I wasn't, "Morning Moon" is one of their most gorgeous songs, I actually really like it when The Hip go a little mellow), but the cuts I've heard definitely respond to that complaint with grit and drive. This new one sounds like it rocks hard. I am so pleased that "We Want To Be It" is finally getting an official release. It is a tune they've played for awhile live (known to fans as "Drip, Drip"). Such a great song. "Goodnight Attawapiskat" is also top shelf Hip. Still one of the greatest bands out there, people!

Neil Young's had a busy year. He released the wonderfully sloppy Americana earlier this year. He has a book coming out next week. And next month comes the double disc Psychedelic Pill, filled with epic length Crazy Horse workouts from the same recording sessions as Americana, but these are all originals. I hope the man never stops.

Question and suggestion: when Bruce Springsteen released his stunning concert from London in '75 awhile back, I thought that was supposed to be the first in a series of archival shows he was going to put out, like Neil Young has been doing with his Archives series. But there hasn't been any more clearing of the vaults. Bruce, PLEASE put out that show from the Winterlands in '78!! What the hell is wrong with you? Readers, do yourselves a favor and go to Wolfgang's Vault and listen to the boot of this '78 Boss show. The next time you've got about four hours to spare. It is worth the time.

On the DVD front, Steven Spielberg has just lost some of the good will he earned earlier this year for his superb Jaws Blu-Ray release. I have heard that the new Blu-Ray version of Raiders of the Lost Ark is equally impressive, but I won't get to see it. Why? Because it is not being released on its own. You can only get it in the box set with the other Indiana Jones Blu-Rays. I'm not paying $70 for one movie. I have no interest in the crappy sequel, the grossly overrated third film, and the completely forgettable 4th. Raiders is one of my very favorites, but f*ck you, Steven.

I cannot wait for Universal's deluxe Blu-Ray restoration treatment of their classic horror films from the 30's, 40's and 50's. The original Dracula, Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, Wolf Man, Mummy, Invisible Man and Creature From the Black Lagoon are all being meticulously restored and from what I hear, will be absolutely beautiful. Can't wait.

Anything of interest that you know of?