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"