Saturday, December 21, 2013

Krauthammer, Christie and the Way Forward

Although it is a passion of mine and it also usually garners more response than most other category of post, I’ve avoided politics here at GNABB of late. It is not due to a lack of interest on my part. And this past year has definitely presented some important topics for discussion. Perhaps I find it easier to talk about music or Christmas television specials than to unravel the complexities of the world. Perhaps it is also that I am constantly evolving, politically, constantly considering and reconsidering my stances. My views on the greatness of Springsteen are pretty set in stone by this point, regardless of the mediocrity of his recent output. But how do I feel about possible Syrian intervention? I’m not so sure.

I think I did set out a fairly consistent political ideology in our epic discussion/debate over on ANCIANT’s site awhile back. While I do listen to talk radio rather frequently in my car on the way to and from work most days, I don’t necessarily agree with them. Michael Medved comes across as the most reasonable to me out of all of the nationally syndicated guys that I listen to. If you had to peg me somewhere, I guess you could call me Center-Right. Deep down, if they really understood their own beliefs, I think you would find that most of the tax-paying country is there too. That’s why Reagan was so popular. That also explains our success as a country.

But I am excited now because I think that I have found someone who really reflects my own beliefs and presents them in the most brilliant way that I have heard in a long time. I was listening to talk radio one afternoon last month (I don’t even remember which show), and the guest was columnist Charles Krauthammer. I listened to a rather long segment, and found myself nodding and agreeing with almost everything he said, even saying “yes!” out loud in my car to nobody in particular. This is who I have been looking for. I also was immediately drawn into the way that he made his arguments. He was promoting his new book ‘Things That Matter,’ which is a sort of Greatest Hits collection of his columns from the past 30 years or so that have appeared in Time, The Washington Post and The New Republic. Most are relatively short editorials (a couple of pages), although he also includes several longer essays adapted from lectures that he’s given over the years. Needless to say, I rushed out and grabbed a copy. What a brilliant book.

It is divided into four sections, “Personal,” “Political,” “Historical” and “Global.” The personal essays are fun and good, ranging from heartfelt obituaries, to reflections on his former career as a psychiatrist, the intricacies of chess, dog shows, astronomy and the joys of being a fan of a mediocre sports team (in his case, the Washington Nationals, in an editorial entitled “The Joy of Losing”). There was only one essay where I disagreed and felt he was off base, the one where he is a bit dismissive of the natural childbirth movement (both of my children were born naturally), and uses an extreme case to make his point. But that aside, they were all enjoyable.

The meat of his writing, though, deals with politics and history. He tackles topics such as the legacy of the French Revolution, Angry White Men, affirmative action, Newtown, immigration policy and social security reform (in “Of Course It’s a Ponzi Scheme,” where he argues for its importance, but also makes crucial suggestions to keep it solvent, saying “When FDR created Social Security, choosing 65 as the eligibility age, life expectancy was 62. Today it is almost 80. FDR wanted to prevent the aged few from suffering destitution in their last remaining years. Social Security was not meant to provide two decades of greens fees for baby boomers.”) He also tackles euthanasia, stem cell research, religion in public life, 9/11, Middle East policy and the Iraq wars (arguing convincingly in several columns that Obama has squandered a historic opportunity in Iraq with his withdrawal. Regardless of the wisdom of entering the conflict, we were in a hard fought position to really influence the Middle East for the better, but Obama lost all of that opportunity. Why did Obama let it go? A mixture of wanting to fulfill a campaign promise, an inability of the Left to make a decision that might shed some positive light on anything initiated by George W. Bush and Obama's own ideological worldview, which I will address in more detail below). All of these topics he tackles with sharp reason, compassion and rock solid logic.

There are 85 total editorials/articles in the book, so obviously I cannot discuss in depth all of them or even many of them here. But I will discuss two of them that had a particular effect on me.

Krauthammer is Jewish, and he has about six or seven essays relating to being Jewish and the state of Israel. I found these to be particularly interesting, especially the 15 page essay, “Zionism and the Fate of the Jews,” where he traces the entire history of the Jewish people, argues for why the diasporas have actually saved them historically as a people, gives grim demographic data showing why Jews are soon to be an endangered species, and makes the best argument I have ever seen for supporting and sustaining Israel against Middle Eastern aggression. It is an absolute must read.

But I guess the most prescient essay/article is the final one, appropriately entitled “Decline Is a Choice.” Here he brings together many of the points he has made over the years, both dealing with foreign policy and domestic policy, and makes a fascinating argument for how they are inextricably connected, and how what Obama has been doing both with health care and internationally makes perfect sense due to his ideology. I agree with Krauthammer that Obama has done long term damage to this country, but it is not due to him being stupid or him “hating America,” as so many ignorant Tea Partiers and loud talk show hosts argue. It is due to what Krauthammer calls Obama’s worldview of Liberal Internationalism (and he goes into much detail as to what that means), and therefore a withdrawal of American hegemony and simultaneously the building up of the welfare state are ideologically and logically (for Obama) connected. Krauthammer (and I) disagree with that ideology, and the requisite destiny that must follow from that ideology, but it has an internal logic nonetheless, and Krauthammer explains it. American decline is actually the goal, but not out of hatred of America or even being unpatriotic. It entails some arguments that I intuitively have felt for some time now but have never been able to articulate to my satisfaction (and some additional arguments that never occurred to me), but once again Krauthammer lays it out here, as well as the reasonable, conservative alternative.

What I like about Krauthammer is that he seems to be the Center-Right, “reasonable conservative” voice that I argued for so passionately in our debates on ANCIANT’s site. I knew they were out there!

His ideas and arguments offer a way forward, not the decline of Obama’s agenda and not the shrill, suicidal cliff-jumping of the Tea Party either. (I think, ironically enough, the likely candidate that would follow a Krauthammerian worldview is Chris Christie, which is why the “elephant in the room” has my early support for 2016).

It is not that some Tea Party darlings like Ted Cruz are idiots. Cruz is no Palin. Cruz graduated cum laude from Princeton, attended Harvard Law School and has argued multiple cases in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. He is a lot brighter than I am. But he is either wrong or dangerous or both. He knew that his faux filibuster and spearheading of the government shutdown would not kill Obamacare. So why did he do it? Why is Cruz dangerous? He shut down the government of the United States to position himself in the primaries for 2016. That is utterly Nixonian. Cruz is dangerous, smart and an ideologue (Nixon was also dangerous and smart, but crucially he wasn’t an ideologue, he was the ultimate American practitioner of realpolitik). Do not underestimate or sleep on Cruz. Our path to national recovery and continued international hegemony (and I do not use that word in the negative), our path in between the equally dark futures of Obama liberalism leading to European social democratic malaise and the harsh Cruz Tea Partiers (who may be correct on some of the most crucial issues, but their tactics are uncompromising and counterproductive), is the way of Krauthammer and Christie. I firmly believe that.

‘Things That Matter’ by Charles Krauthammer, 2013: ***** out of *****

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Class of 2014

I was a bit off in my predictions this year (only got three), but the Class of 2014 is pretty solid, although it could have been better considering the nominees to choose from. Nirvana was a no brainer and everyone knew it. I’ve never been a fan, but I cannot deny their impact or credentials. It has been a given all along that they would be inducted in their first year of eligibility.

While I still question her Rockhall credentials, I have softened my stance on Linda Ronstadt somewhat. I still think that someone who makes their mark as a vocalist singing versions of other peoples’ songs is a bit suspect as far as a Hall of Fame induction goes. The Innovation is nil, she did not take these songs in wildly different directions (making her different from, say, an Ella Fitzgerald or a Janis Joplin, who also primarily sang songs written by others but they took them to entirely different places). She just had a great voice and did the songs well. The Influence may be there in some form, but she did not stand so far apart from other very talented female pop vocalists to really singlehandedly influence generations of singers. The Quality can be good (to occasionally great). Just a weak Hall case based on their criteria, even if she is a talented singer with some great songs. Alright, never mind. I have not softened my stance. She does not deserve induction.

I was surprised that Cat Stevens made it, considering the competition. But then you have to consider the genre breakdowns. He had no singer-songwriter competition in the field (Ronstadt had no genre artist to compete against either) and the Hall traditionally likes singer-songwriter types. So in hindsight, perhaps he should have been given a better chance by me and almost every other Hall watcher than he was given. There were few experts predicting his induction this time around. He’s on the border as far as worthiness, but I don’t feel too strongly about it.

Great to see Hall & Oates make it. While slight on the Innovation (and perhaps Influence), the Quality is strong and while the powers that be do not officially consider sales and chart success, that had to be a factor amongst the voters. Hall & Oates are one of the most commercially successful duos in pop music history. A great group and deserving.

At long last, one of the biggest snubs has been rectified with the induction of Peter Gabriel. In relatively short order, Gabriel went from criminally neglected to joining the rarified air of the Clyde McPhatter Club (artists with two inductions, named by Hall watchers after the first artist to accomplish it…there is only one artist with three inductions, and that is Eric Clapton). With a 2010 induction as a member of Genesis and now for his solo work, Gabriel joins that elite group of artists. Not only is he unquestionably deserving for innovative, influential and quality work, he is also a personal favorite of mine, making his induction all the better. And unlike with the Genesis induction, he claims that he will show up to the ceremony this time.

And then there is KISS. I love KISS from a deep place of childhood. Their influence on other hard rock/metal artists is well documented through testimonials and they also influenced the business of rock and roll as well. Innovation, musically speaking, not a scintilla. But again, they innovated in a business sense and as showmen. Quality of work? Well you can decide that for yourself. For many, KISS has been one of the biggest snubs (inspiring petitions, angry letters to the Hall and even a “protest march” on the Hall of Fame Museum in Cleveland by the KISS Army).

Few people felt more strongly about this than KISS themselves, not surprisingly. Simmons especially has slagged the Hall for years (last year threatening to just “buy it and fire everyone”). The tune has changed this morning, though. Paul Stanley, through Twitter and other social media, has been basking in his induction. Now, apparently, The Hall is a legitimate and respected institution. Stanley says that “they finally see things our way.” Yes, there is reality and then there is KISS-reality. In contrast, KISS champion/That Metal Show host Eddie Trunk called Peter Criss this morning to congratulate him on the momentous news, but only spoke to his wife because apparently Peter was “still asleep.” (My favorite line from a Rolling Stone interview with Gene Simmons today was when asked about less than glowing critical reviews over the years, he replied that "Jesus also had people who did not like him.")

The E Street Band was inducted as part of the Musical Excellence category, as the Hall rightly continues to try and rectify past wrongs of inducting artists without their crucial backing bands. They need to continue to do this, and I applaud them for admitting a mistake and fixing it over the years. Bob Marley’s Wailers should be next. It is a little nepotistic as Little Steven Van Zandt is on the Committee, so did he play a part in inducting himself? Deserving nonetheless, although too bad Clarence Clemons and Danny Federici are not around anymore to enjoy the honor. The band should have been inducted with Springsteen himself in 1999, not 2014.

Early Beatles manager Brian Epstein and early Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham were inducted in the Non-Performer category. Solid picks. This category needs to be used more, as there are many individuals who were not musicians but that were nevertheless crucial to rock and roll’s history and development. Dick Clark and Alan Freed are in (I believe), but there are a host of other crucial DJs who deserve induction in this category. Wolfman Jack, anyone?

As for those left on the outside, I think it ridiculous that Yes is still not inducted. Whether you like their brand of pompous progressive rock or not (and I most definitely do), they may be the most important band in that entire genre. That very fact should make them a shoe-in. It was ridiculous that this was the first year they were nominated, and it is ridiculous that they were not inducted this time around. I have grown to appreciate Link Wray immensely during the past few months, and am now disappointed he did not make it in. That is eight strike-outs for Chic. I think they are deserving, but the voters have spoken. Eight times. Let’s give them a rest for awhile (although it took Black Sabbath an absurd eight times before they got inducted, and then without inducting Ronnie James Dio to boot).

Should be a fun ceremony to watch this year, with several potential dramas. Dave Grohl and Courtney Love do not like each other. How will the Nirvana induction go down? Who will perform with the living members of Nirvana? Are Peter Criss and Ace Frehley going to watch Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley perform with their hired guns in the Catman and Space Ace make-up? Or can they bury the hatchet for one night and have the four original members of KISS up there once again? If all four are accepting the award, how awkward will that be at the podium? Can’t wait to hear Gene Simmons tell us why KISS is the most important thing to have occurred in all of American history.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Kings of Jingaling

One of the joys of fatherhood is that I get to revisit the pop culture of my own childhood in my attempt to brainwash my children into liking the things that I used to like. This has been a fun holiday season so far because it is the first Christmas where my oldest daughter really has a grasp of what is going on. She has been incredibly excited about all things related to Christmas (well, at least the secular commercial version). We put up the tree and decorated it over the weekend, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen her have more fun. Granted, about 80% of the ornaments are in a small quadrant near the bottom of the tree, but she was having so much fun decorating that I just kept them there.

I have been introducing her to the classic Christmas TV specials of yore. In my mind there are six essential ones: ‘The Grinch Who Stole Christmas,’ ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ and the four canonical shows from Hankin/Bass: ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,’ ‘Frosty the Snowman,’ ‘Santa Clause is Comin’ To Town’ and ‘The Year Without Santa.’ Now, having viewed them all in recent weeks (and some of them over and over and over again), some thoughts (and of course, judgments)…

‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’:

This is clearly the king of them all. It has everything magical about nostalgia and the holidays. The primitive stop motion technology merely adds to the charms. My daughter is obsessed with all things Rudolph, and I’ve got to say that I enjoy watching this with her every time, even if it is the 86th run through it. Part of its charm, for me, is the anachronistic attitudes and the 'Mad Men' world in which it was made (1964). Check this scene out: when Rudolph runs away, and his father Donner decides to go look for him and Rudy’s mother wants to come too, Donner says sternly “no, this is man’s work.” Another nugget, after fighting off the abominable snow monster, Yukon Cornelius has supposedly gone over the cliff with the monster, thereby saving Rudolph and his family and friends, the narrator (Burl Ives as Sam the Snowman) says that although they wanted to stay and see if they could find Yukon, they “knew they needed to get the women back home.”

And Santa is a real jerk. He comes to visit Donner and wife to meet the new baby, and once Rudolph’s nose glows Santa recoils ("Great bouncing icebergs!") and tells Donner that he needs to take care of the situation asap. Then he turns around and sings a happy song about Christmas to Rudolph. Later, when Rudolph’s fake nose pops off during the reindeer games, Santa scolds Donner “you should be ashamed of yourself.” When the elves sing their song for Santa (“We Are Santa’s Elves”), he looks visibly irritated and bored, slumping in his chair, sighing and covering his eyes, and says “oh well, it needs work” and then storms off. The song was delightful, what the f**k, Santa?

ABOVE: Wonder what happened to the stop motion puppets used in the show? Sure you do. Apparently Rankin/Bass had no idea how popular 'Rudolph' and their other shows would be, and so when production was over they gave the puppets away to employees, secretaries, etc. Apparently one lady got Rudolph, Santa and others and gave them to her nephew as toys. Some of the puppets "melted in the attic," but as you can see above the nephew brought Rudolph and Santa to be appraised on 'Antiques Roadshow.' They were estimated to be worth about $10,000 at auction. Which I think is actually a little low, considering the pop culture value, and the Christmas collectors market is pretty big. But they are damaged (Rudolph doesn't have his nose and Santa is missing half of his mustache.)

My favorite character, by far, is Boss Elf. He’s the elf overseeing the toymaking process who is always shouting orders and who gets all over Hermey the Elf for wanting to be a dentist instead of making toys. “Now you get to elf practice and learn to wiggle your ears, chuckle warmly, say ‘hee hee’ and ‘ho ho’ and important things like that!!” I shout that at my daughter at least once a day now and she enjoys it.

ABOVE: Boss Elf scolds Hermey

All of that aside, it really is the gold standard. With timeless songs, a classic story of misfits who join together and end up saving the day because of their oddities…it doesn’t get any better. The primitive stop motion techniques are strangely effective and evoke a warm nostalgia for simpler times and simple messages that are incredibly powerful (mid-60's gender role attitudes aside). And such a cultural touchstone too. I was reading the Lou Reed remembrances in Rolling Stone, and Michael Stipe references the “Island of Misfit Toys” (with no explanation). Most people of my age, I think, would instantly know what he was talking about and what he meant to say regarding Lou Reed’s appeal to outsiders.

***** out of *****

‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’

Confession: I’ve never been a huge fan of the Peanuts gang. I have never (and still don’t) get why everyone picks on Chuck. He seems a nice enough guy and tries to do the right thing, yet everyone thinks he is an incompetent idiot. I don’t get it. Even their beloved holiday specials are overrated. The Thanksgiving one is just OK, and the Halloween ‘Great Pumpkin’ sucks. That being said, the Christmas special has a real magic that is lacking in every other Peanuts special. It has a languid but pleasant pace that just couldn't be pulled off today, accentuated by the absolutely wonderful jazz score from Vince Guaraldi. The story is simple, with the only things at stake a Christmas pageant and a rather pathetic tree. But the message tries to cut through the commercialism of the holiday and find real meaning. It does so effectively.

**** out of *****

ABOVE: Boris Karloff and The Grinch

‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas’

The original animated show is absolute perfection. It is Dr. Seuss at his most witty, and to have the voice of Boris Karloff as both narrator and The Grinch was a masterstroke. Other than as the iconic Frankenstein monster, it is Karloff's most lasting work. The prose is great (since it is Seuss) and the story is a wonderful lesson about what Christmas should be about. Although even my daughter has picked up on the fact that The Grinch violates multiple animal cruelty laws in his treatment of his poor dog, Max.

ABOVE: Look closely at the still from 'The Grinch.' A little dog should not have to carry a sleigh of that weight. Uphill. In the snow.

***** out of *****

‘Frosty the Snowman’

This took a few modern viewings to click with me again, but it really is fantastic. One of the things I enjoy is that many of the voices sound like Sopranos actors. Jimmy Durante narrates, and his voice is so warm yet rough that it sounds like he is telling the story of Frosty while you are seated next to him in some mob-run bar in Jersey over some bourbons and cigars. But the story is great, the message good, and Santa is actually quite kind in this one, and disarms the villain by threatening not to ever bring him any presents ever again.

***** out of *****

ABOVE: A young Santa

‘Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town’

Like all modern comic book heroes who get the big screen treatment, Santa Claus needs an origin story. This is it. Narrated with class by Fred Astaire (with Santa voiced by Mickey Rooney), it actually presents an interesting story of Santa’s roots. But the pace is a bit slow and the music forgettable. It did not hold my daughter’s interest, nor mine.

*** out of *****

‘The Year Without Santa’

Mickey Rooney is back as Santa, and in this one the Red One has a cold and decides that since nobody remembers the real meaning of Christmas anyway, he’s done. It is up to Mrs. Claus to save Christmas, sending two bumbling elves and a reindeer down to find traces of Christmas spirit. The music sucks, and the story is slow. The only cool thing is the Miser brothers, Snow Miser and Heat Miser, who are competing with each other for global weather dominance. In doing some research, I found that the Misers have become minor cult figures. Needs much more Misers, less everything else.

ABOVE: Considering global warming (or 'climate change'), it appears that Heat Miser has gained the upper hand

** out of *****

Did I miss any crucial holiday shows?

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Day(s) 7: 3/14/1794 and 6/14/1798

My dear GNABB readers, I know it has been awhile since the last installment of my 31 Days list. Due to the unprecedented excitement and response, I decided that I needed to let things cool down for awhile before hitting you with another thrilling episode. I count this as one entry, although I have two dates, four years apart, listed here. But they are related. Since it has been awhile, a review of what has come before:

* Intro and Getting By the Obvious
(Yes, I know it says 30. Changed it to 31).
* Day 1: 7/28/1588
* Day 2: 3/4/1628
* Day 3: 2/10/1763
* Day 4: 8/29/1786
* Day 5: 9/11/1789
* Day 6: 9/17/1796

Now to the newest entry...

What Happened:

You can blame the country being torn apart at its very foundation, the continued enslavement of African Americans after slavery had disappeared from the rest of the Western world, and the slaughter of over 700,000 Americans on one man. He didn't mean to cause so much trouble. He was just a creative inventor and entrepreneur. His name was Eli Whitney.

ABOVE: Eli Whitney. Inventor. Entepreneur. Key cause of the American Civil War.

Slavery had been in the Americas ever since the Europeans arrived. It flourished in the Southern regions of North America mainly due to the type of crops that were grown there. Sugar in the Caribbean, rice, indigo...and cotton. Cotton was labor intensive, though. It took a man all day to get one pound worth of cotton, as he had to painstakingly separate the seeds from the fiber by hand. Slavery had been banned in most of Europe by the early 1800's, and it was on the decline in the United States as well. Most predicted, including our Founders who had owned slaves themselves, such as Washington and Jefferson, that slavery would die a slow and natural death in the U.S. as well. But on March 14, 1794, inventor Eli Whitney was granted a patent on the cotton gin, pictured BELOW:

Now, one man churning a cotton gin, could produce 50 times as much cotton in a day as before. This changed everything. The gin separated the fiber from the seeds, and the seeds could then be replanted for more cotton.

Whitney also popularized in the U.S. (although he did not invent) the idea of interchangeable parts for muskets. On June 14, 1798, Whitney signed a contract with the United States Treasury Department as a manufacturer of firearms. Now rifles could be mass produced.

Why It Is Important:

You might ask, as my students do when we cover this period, with the cotton gin, then wouldn't you need fewer slaves? No. Now that cotton could be produced in much larger quantities relatively cheaply, the cotton industry exploded. Hundreds of thousands more acres were planted, and the South became a monopolistic economy, all cotton all the time. Slaves were needed to plant the cotton and pick the cotton. Cotton, and therefore slavery, became the backbone of the region and an integral part of everyday life. It was the key to the wealth of the planter aristocracy. There were more millionaires per capita in Natchez, Mississippi than anywhere else in the world. One landowner there owned a plantation that was the equivalent size of five Manhattans. So whereas slavery was on the decline in the South before the cotton gin, the trend was reversed and slaves were in more demand than ever. The Constitution had specifically banned the importation of slaves after 1808, but many slaves were still smuggled in to the country. Also, natural reproduction (some forced) increased the slave population as well.

Cotton can be a harsh crop on soil, and so there was an ever increasing demand for more land for cotton production. This coincided with our biggest push West. The Civil War was as much about slavery as it was about regional power struggles. But it was not just about North vs. South power. It was about North vs. South vs. West. Would this new western territory (Lousiana Purchase in 1803, Mexican Cession in 1848) be slave territory or would it be free? The South had already lost the battle for the House of Representatives (due to the North's larger population), but there was a fierce fight to maintain a balance at least in the Senate. The new states carved out of this Western territory, being flooded by new settlers spurred by manifest destiny and many push/pull factors, would be key in the power struggle. Such milestones as the Missouri Compromise, The Mexican War, the California Goldrush, popular sovereignty in the Kansas territory, The Dred Scott Supreme Court decision, The Great Compromise of 1850...all were caused by or played a part in the regional power struggle, based on slave vs. free.

By the Civil War, the Southern United States was the largest cotton producer in the world. Cotton was in high demand, especially in Europe, due to the textiles boom. And the North's hands were dirty too. Northern textile mills were just as dependent on Southern cotton as Europe. Northern banks loaned money to Southern landowners. Since the South was only concentrating on cotton, Northern merchants sold to Southern customers all of the other necessities. Southern cotton wasn't just key to the South's economy, it was the fuel of the American economy as well in the first half of the 19th century.

So Whitney's cotton gin was the impetus as to why the Civil War occurred. Whitney's interchangeable parts for muskets then provided the means of mass slaughter.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Dez Reviews the Book 'Makeup to Breakup' by Peter Criss, 2012 (plus KISS Analysis)

Recall (as I am sure you do) that I reviewed original KISS guitarist Ace Frehley's autobiography awhile back. I decided to move on to original drummer Peter Criss' tome next. (Gene Simmons has one out too, and Paul Stanley supposedly has one in the works). The common perception regarding the original KISS line-up is that Simmons and Stanley were the more sober, reasonable organizers, while Ace and Peter were the drunken, drug-adled creative wild cards. After reading both Frehley's and Criss's accounts, I'd say that is probably true.

I have to say that I was genuinely surprised by how engaging Criss's book was from start to finish. Even the non-KISS parts held my interest, which I did not expect. His stories of growing up a street tough in Brooklyn, being abused by repressed nuns at Catholic school, playing gigs in mob-run bars, and getting into the music biz were interesting. Also his post-KISS life held my interest as well, especially his ultimately successful battle with breast cancer. But, of course, his decadent stories of KISS are why we are here. And The Catman delivers. It is a no holds barred, explicit rock and roll memoir that can get pretty sleazy, even for a rock and roll memoir. You have to hand it to Criss for at least coming across as honest about his rock and roll days in the fast lane.

Cross referencing Ace and Peter's accounts, some truths emerge...

1. Gene Simmons is an a-hole. Most of you knew that, but the depth of his a-holeness is truly infinite. As with Ace's book, Peter is is happy to dish on Simmons' sex addictions on the road. The stories are prolific. At their peak, the band had a separate hotel suite at each stop on the road where the groupies would all be waiting. While the others would at least clean up after a show before indulging, Simmons would not even bother to shower or completely take off his make-up. He would show up, declare that he was "ready for a hot meal," and grab whoever was available.

2. Ace and Peter were definitely viewed as the junior partners, yet Frehley was a key songwriter and often a fan favorite. Criss wrote and sang their biggest hit, "Beth." While Ace was bothered by Gene and Paul's condescending attitude, Peter is absolutely seething throughout the book. You can tell that he is genuinely hurt by their attitude and he feels wronged.

3. For the second KISS book I've read now, Paul Stanley still comes across as a ghost. Gene Simmons is drawn in vivid colors in both books (even showing moments of kindness and thoughtfulness amidst abhorent behavior), but Paul Stanley (the most frequent lead singer and "front man"), has very little personality, other than Peter describing him as "Machiavellian." "Gene was crass and brutal, but he had a real naivete about him. But Paul could cut your throat and he'd be out of the room before you even realized you were bleeding...Gene might have been a control freak, but Paul usually got whatever he wanted."

4. Both Ace and Peter feel as if they were done wrong by the other two. And they were. Yet, after reading both books and their entirely frank accounts of their own (and eachother's) substance abuse problems, I can also see things from Gene and Paul's points of view. As the sober two trying to keep the machine going, working with Ace and Peter would have been maddening. Ace and Peter both only partially acknowledge that.

As with Frehley's book, Peter Criss gives lip service to warning the reader about the dangers of drugs and alcohol, but also clearly revels in telling of his drunken exploits. (For good reason, they are extremely entertaining if they are all true...especially some stories involving John Belushi). One part that I found especially amusing was his description of some of the dives that he played once he went solo in the 80's and early 90's. Like a place called The Sandbox, that literally had sand for its floor and was about the size of a large playground sandbox. From Madison Square Garden to the Sandbox. Also, however unintentionally funny it was, where he discussed how disappointed he was that a solo album full of ballads for some reason flopped. He goes on about being despondent about this record not reaching the masses, and how he was particularly proud of a version of "Send in the Clowns."

ABOVE: KISS Pez dispensers

ABOVE: The KISS putt putt golf course in Vegas.

But in the end, what saves Peter's book is his frank, down to earth writing style. He is often as amazed as the reader is at the crazy rock and roll lifestyle of the 70's, and so it doesn't really come across as bragging as much as him just telling you what happened. He never does lose that average guy persona of a lucky musician from the streets of Brooklyn who happened to make it very, very big. There are no amazing revelations or deep messages here, this is just an engaging rock and roll memoir from a true survivor.

*** out of *****.

Since KISS has been nominated for a second time for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, here is my criteria breakdown for their Hallworthiness...

Influence: 8/10...As much as many critics and Rolling Stone is loathe to admit it, almost every hard rock or metal group who came after KISS acknowledges a debt to them. Simmons and Stanley make it hard to like them these days (especially with their hired guns wearing Ace and Peter's make-up), but the KISS of the 70's was huge for their genre. Alice Cooper and others broke the ground with the glam show before KISS, but KISS took it to new heights. A lot of guitar players love Ace Frehley too.

Innovation: 4/10...musically, none. This is meat and potatoes c*ck rock. Any innovation would have to be on the business/marketing side of things, with the KISS Army, the action figures, etc. Rock and roll as marketing machine has never been done this masterfully before or since. I'm not saying that is necessarily a plus, but it is a fact.

Quality of work: 5/10...I mean, this ain't Dylan or the Beatles. But for straightforward radio rock, they've got some fun stuff and you could do worse. A couple of their records do hold up as pretty great hard rock records too (KISS, Destroyer, and the live juggernaut Alive!, which was one of the key double live records of the decade of big double live records).

Intangibles: +1 Bonus Point for being one of the biggest bands of the 70's, commercially speaking. The Rockhall proudly boasts that commercial success is not part of their criteria. Perhaps not. But I have always argued that since Rock and Roll is a popular music for the masses, massive commercial success should be a (small) part of the equation if an artist reaches Himalayan commercial peaks. And in the end, I bet it factors in for the voters as well.

Rockhall Credentials: 7/10 (averaging them all plus bonus). Borderline, perhaps, but they deserve induction primarily due to influence.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Link Wray Is Awesome

One of my favorite things about following the doings of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is that each year when the nominees are revealed, I try and listen to and learn about any nominee that I am not all that familiar with. Each year there is at least one whom I investigate and then become a fan of their work. This year it is Link Wray. With Wray, as with most of these artists I am talking about, I am generally familiar with who they are and I’ve probably heard some hits. But I don’t really know their music well.

Link Wray was an interesting dude. He is one of the few really important pre-late 60’s guitar heroes who still needs to be inducted (Dick Dale is another). He was way out there, using his native American heritage to add a bit of mystery to his persona. He may or may not have invented it, but Wray is widely credited with unleashing the power chord upon the world. For this alone he was a pioneer in the field. If you have ever played rock on a guitar, you owe a debt to Link Wray, as power chords are part of the basic vocabulary of rock guitar playing. His most lasting influence lies with his string of raw instrumental hits from the late 50’s and early 60’s. Listen to his stuff, and it is absolutely primal. His biggest song, 1958’s “Rumble,” was banned in many parts of the country for awhile. Now, that is not that unusual for that era, but I think what makes this situation wholly unique is the fact that “Rumble” is a freakin’ instrumental! Most banned songs are banned or censored due to lyrical content. But Wray’s guitar sound was so menacing that some radio stations felt that it alone could corrupt the youth.

ABOVE: "Rumble." Apparently this song is so sinister that if the youth of America hears it they will become instantly corrupted.

ABOVE: Here is "Deuces Wild," one of his tunes that has a killer rhythm to it.

Perhaps this is a sign that I am getting old and my memory is fading. I was searching on iTunes for a good Link Wray compilation to download, and when I found what looked like the best one, I noticed that the album cover looked familiar. So before I hit “purchase,” I went down to my CD collection (now mostly in storage under the stairs) and dug through and found the disc. I had apparently bought it a couple of years back. Obviously it hadn’t made much of an impression on me. I loaded it all onto my iPod and have not been able to stop listening to it. It is so great, so primal, so kickass. Track after track of mesmerizing rhythms from his Wraymen and killer grooves and riffs and solos from Link himself. I cannot recommend it strongly enough, it is an essential building block in rock and roll’s foundation.

ABOVE: Go get Rumble! The Best of Link Wray ***** right now.

Link had an interesting career detour in the early 70’s when he decided to go all Americana/Band/JJ Cale on us and recorded some highly regarded but hard to find records. The best of the lot is Link Wray from 1971. I highly recommend this as well, although it is miles away from “Rumble” or “Jack the Ripper.” He converted a chicken coop into a primitive three track recording studio and found an earthy sound that would make the likes of Jack White or The Black Keys salivate. It is such a great record (the best way to get it is to download it from Amazon for about $10).

ABOVE: Link Wray (1971) **** is worth the search.

I may have to revise my Rockhall wishlist for this class, because I probably need to make room for Link. With the large amount of older guitar players that are inductees and voters, he’s probably got more of a shot that I originally gave him as well.

Taking the Rockhall’s criteria:

Influence: 8/10…He was one of those touchstone early guitarists who was a big influence on the late 60’s generation of guitarists. Pete Townshend once said that he first picked up a guitar because of “Rumble.”

Innovation: 9/10…Anytime an artist introduces a key musical component to the basic rock vocabulary, that is going to earn high innovation marks. The power chord for rock guitar is one of the most basic and essential.

Quality of work: 8/10…This stuff still sounds awesome and rocks hard (I was playing it in my class the other day while the students were working on an assignment, and you could see the heads bobbing and feet tapping). Add his fantastic early 70’s work that is completely different, and you’ve got an impressive and eclectic body of work indeed.

Rockhall credentials: 8/10 (averaging Influence, Innovation, Quality). He should be in.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Dez's Record Guides: Creedence Clearwater Revival

Between 1968 and 1970, John Fogerty and Creedence Clearwater Revival released an astonishing six studio records (I am mercifully not considering ‘72’s dismal Mardi Gras). Three of those six rank among rock’s greatest albums. CCR didn’t quite fit in with the late 60’s Summer of Love ethos. John Fogerty unashamedly always aimed for the commercial jugular, and while they did jam here and there, his strength was the three and a half minute single. In many ways he was a throwback to the 1950’s rock and roll era that he so loved, yet ironically his songs still feel fresh and timeless while much of the other late 60’s rock is hopelessly of its time (take his protest songs, for instance. “Fortunate Son” and “Who’ll Stop the Rain” work for any era and still crackle with energy and rage, while other protest songs from the 60’s are almost as museum pieces for the 1960's). They were the ultimate swamp rock band, yet they hailed from California. And while John Fogerty is justly revered as one of America’s great rock and roll songwriters, CCR was most definitely a band. Fogerty’s songs absolutely depend on that deep, swampy groove of Doug Clifford, Stu Cook and brother Tom Fogerty. As much as he is loathe to admit it these days, CCR was all four of them, not just John Fogerty and some session guys.

Creedence Clearwater Revival (1968) ***
While there are some sparks here and there, they had not quite figured out what they wanted to do in the studio just yet. The extended jam on “Suzie Q” is groovy, but at eight and a half minutes, it is also clearly filling space. The furious cover of “I Put a Spell On You” works, but the only great Fogerty-penned tune here is “Porterville.”

Bayou Country (1969) ****
A huge step forward, “Proud Mary” is an American standard at this point, and “Born on the Bayou” is the pinnacle of their swamp rock sound. The Clifford/Cook rhythm section on “Born on the Bayou” is something you can’t fake, as simple as the song is. “Bootleg” may be one of Fogerty’s best non-hit album tracks, and is a song he has revived in his recent live shows. The playing time is dominated by two jams/songs, “Keep on Chooglin’” delivers with its one chord vamp and a dark hypnotic energy, while “Graveyard Train” just goes on way too long, therefore docking an otherwise perfect record one star.

Green River (1969) *****
The ultimate A.M. album. Concise, with all but one tune under the four minute mark, it harkens back a decade to when the single was king. Each one of these songs could have become a radio staple (and five of the nine did). I’ve argued that John Fogerty is one of the great American songwriters, masterfully evoking American themes, hopes and fears, and even the landscape (“Green River” is absolutely wonderful in its imagery), and GR is a textbook on how to write within those themes and in this format. The commercial charms of CCR are probably best represented here. It has been pointed out by others how dark Fogerty’s lyrics often are, filled with a sense of doom, yet the music balances that out to sound like jaunty radio rock. For instance, “Bad Moon Rising” is infectious, but it has lines like “I hope you have your things together / I hope you’re quite prepared to die.” It is an interesting dichotomy.

ABOVE: The happy street musician cover of Willy and the Poorboys belies a band already frought with internal tension

Willy and the Poor Boys (1969) *****
I go between this one and Cosmo’s Factory as peak CCR. WATPB is their most country-influenced record, dialing back the swamp rock of the previous three. “Cotton Fields” is simply joyous, while “It Came Out of the Sky” displays some humor and plays on America’s UFO/sci fi fixation of the 50’s and 60’s. “Effigy” is the spookiest song in their entire repertoire, but “Fortunate Son” is the real stunner here. Beyond any other Vietnam protest song of the era, it transcends the times and stands just as powerful today. This is because Fogerty dials into the class issues of the war with anger and defiance, and those things don’t change. It is a remarkable two minutes, and remarkably direct. Protest music doesn’t get any better (or more concise) than “Fortunate Son.”

The Concert (live) (1970/1980) ***
While their live recordings are spirited, they do not stray far at all from their studio arrangements, and this suffers from muddied recording quality and a lack of precision that is Fogerty’s forte in the studio.

Cosmo’s Factory (1970) *****
Even with a couple cover songs too many, CF is CCR’s tour de force. Fogerty had long conquered the 3 minute A.M. single, but he also revisits the longer jam format of their early days, and here he masters both. Opener “Ramble Tamble” burns for seven minutes, jamming on a simple progression but inexorably ratcheting up the energy. The other jam, 11 minutes on Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” brings Motown to the swamp and lets Fogerty stretch out on the guitar solos. Other than those, tight A.M. magic is the name of the game, with “Travelin’ Band,” “Lookin’ Out My Back Door,” the menacing “Run Through the Jungle,” “Up Around the Bend”…killer track after killer track. “Who’ll Stop the Rain” is a gorgeous and powerful anti-war song, and “Long As I Can See the Light” offers a prayerful close. And by throwing in spirited covers from America’s early rock and roll songbook (“Before You Accuse Me,” “Ooby Dooby” and “My Baby Left Me”), Fogerty boldly proves that his originals stand toe to toe with them.

Pendulum (1970) ***1/2
You’ve got to hand it to Fogerty here for trying to broaden the sound. For the first time, CCR features organ and some horns. It mostly works, with “Chameleon” and “It’s Just a Thought” using these new textures especially well. “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” is one of my all time favorite songs. “Rude Awakening #2” is the only place where they really overreach, and a sign that they might be finally losing some steam.

Mardi Gras (1972) *
AKA ‘Fogerty’s Revenge.’ Relations within the band had become truly toxic by this point. Tom had already left, leaving them a trio. Cook and Clifford had been asking John to allow them more input in the songs, and so John decided, fine, it would be a true democracy. As in, they would each be responsible for a third of the record. Each band member would write and sing his own songs, and Fogerty refused to play lead guitar on any of Cook’s or Clifford’s songs, only rhythm. I don’t think this is what they had in mind. Predictably, Cook and Clifford fail in spectacular fashion, much to Fogerty’s delight, I am sure. I think Fogerty was already looking towards a solo career.

Live in Europe (live) (1971-72/1973) ***
An interesting live document of CCR as a trio, but not essential.

ABOVE: CCR's Chronicle is one of the greatest compilations by any artist ever released

I counted 38 CCR compilations on Wikipedia. Most were budget packages, and there are really only two that you need if you want to go the compilation route. Chronicle (compilation) (1976) ***** stands as one of the most potent compilations by any artist in rock and roll, featuring 19 absolutely essential radio hits. Companion Chronicle vol. 2 (compilation) (1986) **** delves deeper into the album cuts, and is essential as well. Together, with a handful of essentials still missing, they paint a pretty complete picture.

John Fogerty solo

The Blue Ridge Rangers (1973) NR
John Fogerty (1975) ***
Centerfield (1985) ****
Eye of the Zombie (1986) NR
Blue Moon Swamp (1997) ***
Premonition (live) (1998) ***1/2
Déjà vu (All Over Again) (2004) NR
The Long Road Home (live/compilation) (2006) NR
Revival (2007) NR
The Blue Ridge Rangers Rides Again (2009) NR
Wrote a Song For Everyone (duets) (2013) NR

Fogerty’s solo career has been a stop and start affair, but he still displays some of his prodigious talents here and there. His best solo outing was the hit record Centerfield, containing a couple of tunes that can stand next to CCR’s best (“Old Man Down the Road,” baseball park perennial “Centerfield”). The whole record is very good, and fueled by Fogerty’s rage both at his former bandmates and especially his former management after a brutal court battle over copyrights (“Mr. Greed,” “Zanz Kant Danz”). For the great song "Old Man Down the Road," for instance, Fogerty was sued by his former management for plagiarizing himself. They owned the CCR catalogue, and "Old Man Down the Road," apparently, sounded too much like some CCR tunes, all of which Fogerty had written. You can probably understand the frustration. The rest of these records have their moments, but are uneven.

Bottom Line: CCR put together some essential albums that flow together wonderfully and should be owned in their entirety (Green River, Willy and the Poorboys, Cosmo's Factory), but they were also the ultimate singles band from the late 60's. So with them more than most others, a great compilation does them justice. It is hard to go wrong with the double whammy of Chronicle and Chronicle, vol. 2.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

“Blackfish” and The Ethics of Family Fun

As a Seaworld season pass holder for several years now, I was naturally interested in seeing the much discussed documentary “Blackfish.” For those of you who are not aware of the film, it is a scathing look at 39 years of keeping orcas (killer whales) captive for human amusement. Seaworld also claims it is for education, research and conservation. I think there is truth to all of those reasons, but primarily it is because the orcas are the main attraction for a multi-million dollar industry.

Using the 2010 killing of trainer Dawn Brancheau by Tilikum the killer whale at the Orlando Seaworld park as its starting (and ending) point, the film then covers in detail the history, ethics and dangers of keeping the ocean’s apex predators (even higher on the food chain than Great White sharks) in concrete pools and teaching them to do tricks for food.

ABOVE: Tilikum

Some of this, I think, is common sense. Anyone somewhat sensitive to animal rights that visits one of Seaworld’s parks has to look at the size of these whales and where they are kept and see that there is something wrong. As much as I have enjoyed visiting Seaworld and I still am awed when I see the orcas up close, it has always bothered me. For a creature that can travel over 100 miles a day in the open ocean, these whales spend their entire lives in the equivalent of a one-bedroom apartment.

I can also see Seaworld’s argument. Although they did not participate in “Blackfish” (all of the trainers interviewed in the film are “former” trainers, so we do not know all of the bones they may have to pick with the company), Seaworld has since commented and presented their side of the issue in the face of the firestorm that has resulted from this pretty remarkable film. Seaworld does indeed promote education and they push their message of conservation hard and I believe that it is sincere. They also are active in many ocean rescue operations. Seaworld sends its specialists to coasts all over the country to assist in animal beaching incidents, animals in distress, etc. They do real and substantial work in these areas, and are responsible for the rehab and then re-release of hundreds of animals a year. They also display majestic creatures that have complex emotions and are highly intelligent in a way that can only be described as cruel and unethical.

There are some scenes that are really hard to watch. The toughest scenes deal with separating mother orcas from their babies. They interview this great, grizzled ocean adventurer who had been involved in the early cowboy days of the 70’s when Seaworld hired these guys to go out and capture the first batch of Seaworld whales on the open seas (now most of the new whales are born in captivity). They targeted the babies and took them from their mothers. This guy, who talked about participating in revolutions in Africa and South America and admitted to being involved in some “shady” things in those revolutions, said that the capturing of the baby whales was the worst thing he had ever done or witnessed. This grizzled mercenary is in tears talking about the cries from the whales in the water once the babies are captured and taken away to a life in the concrete pools of Seaworld.

ABOVE: Many captive orcas have a dorsal fin that is bent. It is very rare in the wild. There are various theories as to why this occurs, including having to swim in circles all their lives in relatively small pools. Seaworld claims that it is because they spend so much time above the waterline. BELOW is a typical orca fin in the wild.

The most emotional moments deal with the treatment of the whales themselves, not so much these fatal and near fatal incidents with trainers. The ex-trainers they interview seem to be smart people, yet they claim that they were surprised that the whales turned on them (also note that they have performed many times a day for decades, and there are only a handful of these attacks). As I stated at the beginning, these are apex predators. Have you ever seen footage of these whales attacking seals? How could it make sense to get in the water with them? And these are highly intelligent creatures. One of the saddest aspects about this is the intense boredom and lack of stimulation for the whales. That probably explains much of their abnormal and sometimes aggressive behavior.

I think the most fascinating sequence in the film dealt with a trainer who actually survived his ordeal. They have the footage, and this guy is a badass. The whale grabbed his foot and dragged him under. It took him all the way to the bottom of the deep pool, held him there, and then brought him back up to breathe. Then it brought him down again. And again. It knew how long it could keep him under. The trainer didn’t panic, talking to the whale and stroking it whenever they were on the surface. Eventually it let him go, and he swam like mad to the side. The whale turned around to chase and he barely got out.

They live about a third of the lifespan in captivity that they do in the wild. Tilikum, the male that they focus on for much of the film, has been involved with three human deaths so far. Two trainers and in a mysterious case, some mentally ill man who apparently hid in the park until after closing and got in the tank to commune with the whales. Tilikum is still performing in Orlando. After Brancheau’s death, OSHA filed a successful suit against Seaworld to keep the trainers separated by some sort of barrier from the whales. If you attended Seaworld pre-2010 vs. now, it is a very different show. Not nearly as exciting, but also a lot safer for the trainers. Seaworld is appealing to get the trainers back in the water to ride the whales. Tilikum’s value is mainly in breeding. They use him to make baby Shamus, and about half of the captive orcas in the world are related Tilikum.

ABOVE: If you go to a Seaworld park post-2010, you won’t see trainers in the water doing this kind of stuff anymore. Seaworld is appealing the decision.

It is an emotional and powerful film. The question arises, of course, do I still go to Seaworld? Do I still take my children there? Do I teach them it is the norm to keep these whales in captivity? My daughter loves it, and I have to admit from a selfish perspective, it is an experience to get so close to killer whales. But at what cost? Is this barbaric? Seaworld’s position is that the whales are happy and taken care of. At some level I am sure they believe it. But the evidence, and common sense, suggest otherwise. My daughter loves it there, I really enjoy it as well. Also, Seaworld is much more than killer whales and other sea creatures. It is an amusement park with roller coasters and rides and it is a huge waterpark. The last three or four times we have been, we haven’t even gone to see the killer whales. But is not going to the shows enough? We are still spending a lot of money at the park, funding their activities. I feel like in one respect I should be principled and not support their company, but it is also a fantastic entertainment product. And they also do some real good as well.

ABOVE: Seaworld makes a lot of money off of using their iconic killer whales as their unofficial mascot.

Funny enough, we were there this weekend. My college’s alumni organization put together a behind the scenes tour. They took us back to some restricted areas where they rehab animals. We got to get quite up close with some dolphins that seemed to be taking genuine delight in splashing us with water. The tour guide told us it was OK to take pictures back there, but asked us not to take pictures of animals through any gates (to be fair, there were only a few gates, most of the pools were open for the dolphins to swim freely). They didn’t want photos of dolphins with gates in front of them floating around. “You know, ‘Blackfish’ and all of that,” he said.

“Blackfish”: **** out of *****

Sunday, October 27, 2013

RIP Lou Reed, 1942-2013

Not really sure what to write on this one. I could give a straight obituary listing his accomplishments, but I'm not going to do that. Most of my readership knows why Lou matters. Why to a certain corner of the rock universe, Lou was Elvis. In a music that started out of rebellion and that was supposed to offer an alternative to the mainstream society, Lou and the Velvet Underground offered a more daring and darker alternative still to the alternative. One of the most impressive things about The Velvet Underground was that in the midst of Summer of Love and hippies, they were offering a realistic and gritty view from the streets. Yet they were also pretentious and Andy Warhol's band. But then they really weren't. I've always thought the Warhol tie was overblown. Beneath the howling avant garde experiments and seedy tales of junkies and low lifes was a pure foundation in great, classic rock and roll melodies. That was all Lou.

Obviously the Velvets' influence was immense. I've always loved the famous quote (sometimes attributed to Brian Eno) that they only sold 1000 copies of their first record, but everyone who heard it started a band. They actually did sell a bit more than that, but the sentiment is true. They were the ultimate cult band against which all other great bands who get that label are to be judged.

Lou's solo career was just as interesting (if not as earthshaking), and in some ways even more daring. He made some undisputably great music (Transformer), some savage (and glammy) rock and roll (Rock and Roll Animal), but also always stayed on the edge and daring to stretch that envelope. His biggest hit, "Walk On the Wild Side," managed to get substantial airplay for a song about transvestites and oral sex. Again, whatever subversive lyrics were at play, he could always anchor them with catchy music when he wanted to. Or, there was Metal Machine Music. The biggest "f*ck you" in all of popular music. A record of tape hiss and distortion. And it was a double. Even when he failed to reach his goals (like on Berlin), he still made very interesting music. The song "Street Hassle" may be his finest hour (or at least eleven minutes). An alternatively harrowing and humorous storysong that sort of takes Springsteen's epic street tales and drives them into the gutter. What is fantastic is that near the very end, Springsteen himself makes a brief uncredited cameo with a slurred, spoken word verse playing on his own "Born To Run": "Cause tramps like us, baby we were born to pay."

For some reason, a moment in time has stuck with me all of these years. In high school, my friend Johannes and I were taking drivers' ed together. I remember one day at the end of the lesson and we were driving back into the school, and Lou Reed's "Dirty Blvd." was on the radio. Johannes and I both were chatting up the friendly drivers' ed teacher in the parking lot, asking all kinds of driving questions, with the car still running and "Dirty Blvd." playing. As Johannes and I were leaving, he admitted to me that he was trying to extend the conversation for the sole purpose of getting to hear the song in its entirety. He just didn't want to get out of the car until the song was over. That was exactly what I was doing as well. What a great song.

RIP Lou Reed.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Pumpkin Patch

We have taken my oldest daughter to the same pumpkin patch each year of her life. Whereas I generally view the purpose of the trips as, I don't know, picking out pumpkins for Halloween, my wife sees them primarily as photo ops. More operation than opportunity. My daughter is three and a half, and she has now made four trips to this same pumpkin patch. It is interesting to see how she has grown up. Below are one picture each per trip...

Bonus pic. Below is my youngest daughter during her first visit to the same pumpkin patch...

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

2014 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Nominees and Predictions

It is that most exciting time of year for all of those watchers of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It takes a special breed to be this obsessed with something so meaningless, but that is really what GNABB is all about, right? Once again for review, bands are eligible 25 years after their first record or single release. The criteria is fairly vague, generally it is cited as "influence," "innovation" and "quality of work." There is a Nominating Committee of musicians, industry insiders and such who create the list of nominees (see many previous posts of mine regarding the inside politics of this body), and then about 500 voters (other musicians, industry insiders, critics and all inducted members) get to vote from that list and the inductees usually number 5-7 each year. This year, as last year, through the Rockhall website here, fans can vote for five and that poll will be tallied and entered as one "fan ballot" amongst the 500 or so. I like it, even though it gives the fans little real power, we can at least play a miniscule part in the whole process.

For the second year in a row, I am pleased with the 16 nominees. There are several who are getting first time nominations from my own personal snub list. Here are the nominees, and then I will give you my predictions, my wish list and some final thoughts.

The Nominees (in alphabetical order)...

1. Chic.
This is their record setting 8th nomination. Someone on the Committee really wants them in. I think this year is their best chance yet, partly due to attrition. But Nile Rodgers has had a big year, and I think that might push them over. While I really prefer some other candidates here, I do feel they deserve induction. Funk/dance pioneers.

2. Deep Purple. A no brainer and one of the biggest snubs on the outside looking in. Hard rock/metal is one of the more disrespected genres in the Hall, and Deep Purple is one of the true pioneers of the genre.

3. Peter Gabriel. Surprisingly, this is Peter's first nomination as a solo artist. I find that ridiculous. Although he is already in the Hall as a member of Genesis, he is probably even more deserving for his own work. Innovation? Check. His recordings broke a lot of ground, and he was one of the most important western artists to incorporate world music into pop. One of the biggest solo artists of the 80's, his influence is huge and he is very respected.

4. Hall & Oates. Also a first time nomination, it is about freakin' time. Often wrongly dismissed, Hall & Oates are one of the most successful recording duos of all time. The Rockhall is not supposed to consider commercial success, but come on. And the quality is there too. Perhaps a little light in the "innovation" department, but still a deserving act.

5. KISS. This is their second nomination, so I guess the longtime KISS ban imposed by Dave Marsh really has been lifted. Disrespected and disregarded by critics, KISS is the ultimate populist hard rock band. Influential on entire generations of hard rock/metal acts. While not musically innovative, I would say they were innovative as businessmen in the industry for sure. And in a popular music like rock and roll, that does mean something. Quality of work? Well. It's all just rock and roll in the end anyway, right? Clearly deserving in my book.

6. LL Cool J. Rap icon and has been nominated several times. But there is another rap nominee that has a better chance this year.

7. The Meters. No chance. Great New Orleans funk band, but I don't think they are really Hall worthy. I like them a lot, though.

8. Nirvana. The most sure thing the Hall has had in a long time. It is their first year of eligibility, and they are a shoo-in.

9. N.W.A. They will probably be rap's representative this year, and are deserving. More responsible for rap's attitude in the early years than probably anyone else.

10. The Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Somebody's pet project on the Committee, clearly. I like them, I respect their playing and innovation ("East/West"), but no chance this year.

11. The Replacements. Well, color me impressed. One of the Hall's most neglected periods is the 80's, and the Replacements were crucial in the alt-80's scene. Love them, doubt they will make it in this year, but the nomination is a small victory in itself.

12. Linda Ronstadt. Ugh. Yes there is too much sausage in the Rockhall, but please. Sympathy pick due to her recent illness. She'll probably get in too, because she doesn't have anyone here to split votes with, and the institution is sensitive to accusation of lacking diversity.

13. Cat Stevens. No problem with him being nominated. Won't make it though.

14. Yes. Yes, yes, yes. Finally! It is shameful how the Hall neglects certain genres or periods that the Committee members dislike, and Progressive Rock is one of the most neglected. Innovation, influence and quality are all there. How they could nominate for the first time after all of this time a band that should have been in for years is embarassing. Whether you like their music or not, a band that is a pioneer and consistent leader in a particular genre should be the definition of a Hall of Fame act. Come on.

15. Link Wray. Important, but I doubt he gets in. I think the door on 50's acts is already closed.

16. The Zombies. One of the few remaining 60's acts that I think still deserves to get in. Much bigger in England than stateside, they created some fantastic pop music. I am sure Little Steven was behind their nomination, and for once, I support his efforts.

So there you have it, this year's nominees. First my predictions...

Nirvana - duh.
Chic - 8 nominations and Nile Rodgers having a big year = induction
Deep Purple - too influential and important to be left out.
Peter Gabriel - maybe I'm being more hopeful than anything, I just think he is too respected not to make it.
Linda Ronstadt / NWA / Yes / The Zombies - If it is five nominees it will be one of these, if it is six then two of them, if seven then three of them.

My hopes? I know Nirvana deserves it objectively over everyone other than maybe Deep Purple or Yes, but these are my personal choices, so...

Peter Gabriel, Yes, The Replacements, Hall & Oates, KISS. If I get a 6th and 7th, then NWA and Zombies.

As usual with this yearly post, I will leave you with my snub list. Artists eligible but still not in the Hall that should be (not that I love all of these artists, but objectively, they have strong cases for induction): Stevie Ray Vaughan, The Cars, Duran Duran, The Cure, Depeche Mode, The Pixies, Joy Division, New Order, The Smiths, Kraftwerk, Judas Priest, Motorhead, King Crimson, Kool & the Gang, The Commodores, Dick Dale, Lou Reed, Big Star, Cheap Trick, Jimmy Buffett, The Monkees, Roxy Music, T. Rex...etc. etc. etc.

OK, your thoughts?