Friday, December 19, 2014

Boos and Applause

Boo...Spineless Sony and the theater chains (and the malls who put the pressure on the theaters) who do not negotiate with terrorists, instead they simply obey the commands of terrorists and pull "The Interview" from release.

Applause...Alamo Drafthouse theater in Dallas, Plaza Atlanta Theater in Atlanta and Capitol Theater in Cleveland. After not being able to screen "The Interview" as planned due to Sony's spineless retreat, those theaters planned to screen "Team America: World Police" instead (recall the comedy from the creators of "South Park" which lampooned Kim Jong Un's father, Kim Jong Il). Alamo Drafthouse had tweeted: "For the record, we were still going to show ["The Interview"]...But now we'll be showing "Team America" in its place...because AMERICA, F YEAH." On top of that, Alamo Drafthouse was going to hold the initial screenings of "Team America" for free.

Boo...Paramount Pictures, who then spinelessly pulled "Team America: World Police" from release, so these theaters could not screen that film either. Tweets Plaza Atlanta theater: "Team America World Police pulled from all theaters as per Paramount Pictures."

So f*** Sony, Paramount, AMC, Carmike Cinema, Cinemark, Cineplex, Regal and Southern Theaters. Why is it that these smaller, independent theater companies have the stones to ignore threats and stand up for free expression, while these bigger companies do not? Drafthouse would be just as open to lawsuit as Regal or Sony if something happened at a theater, yet Drafthouse and other smaller theater companies still have principles. The ironic thing of course, is now everyone wants to see "The Interview." It actually got some pretty horrible reviews. If it had been released like any other film, it would have faded from memory quickly.

As many have already suggested, since Sony has sunk the money into the film anyway and is not going to screen it at theaters, why not release online? Make it free for download. Get some hackers of our own and ping the damn thing back into North Korea. Mitt Romney suggested that Sony release the film for free online, ask for $5 donations, and then donate it all to the ebola fight. There is so much that Sony could have done to turn this around, and yet they won't. As one Senator tweeted, I would rather decide for myself what movies to see, not have North Korea make that decision for me.

Good opinion piece on from Jeff Yang, Hollywood's Complete Moral Surrender.

ABOVE: From now on, whenever possible, I will be having my cinema experiences at Alamo Drafthouse. They have locations here in San Antonio, and I know they are in Houston, Austin and Dallas as well. Regardless of this recent incident, they are a great company. Comfortable seating, they also serve dinner and alcohol. In addition to screening bigger films, they also usually have a good slate of indie films.

Christmas Spirit?

My wife's mother picked up my almost five year old daughter from school the other day. While they were stopped at a light there was an alleged homeless man asking for money at the intersection. My daughter wanted to help him so she gave him her chocolate she had. He was appreciative. I was quite proud of her generous spirit and so yesterday when I was driving my daughters to school I brought it up in the car and, in my view, gave an excellent speech about generosity, charity and selfless giving. At the end of my brilliant sermon, she said "well, Daddy, I gave him the chocolate because I want to get presents at Christmas." (See Santa is watching post below). I guess what matters is our actions right? Regardless of motivation? Picking up on the silence as I contemplated the action/motivation issue, she hastily added "oh, and to show God's love. That too." Good girl. Cover all of your bases.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Class of 2015

At 2 a.m. this morning the Class of 2015 for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was announced.

Recall the nominees were: Green Day, Nine Inch Nails, NWA, The Smiths, Lou Reed, Sting, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Kraftwerk, Chic, Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, The Marvelettes, The Spinners, Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble, War and Bill Withers.

There was a fan ballot that counted as one of the approximately 500 ballots. The top five of the fan ballot were: 1. Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble (31% of the vote with almost 20 million votes), 2. Nine Inch Nails (22%), 3. Joan Jett & the Blackhearts (15%), 4. Bill Withers (6.5%) and 5. Paul Butterfield Blues Band (6.25%). Four of those five also scored inductions this year. (Thanks, as usual, to Future Rock Legends for the data). The inductees are…

Green Day: Power punk pop or whatever you want to call it, they were a no brainer and got in on their first year of eligibility. They’ve got so much that critics love, (faux) punk attitude but actually are power pop masters with a leftist manifesto/concept album under their belt to boot. Of course the Hall could not resist. No argument here, either, though.

Bill Withers: Nice to see. Unique talent who wouldn’t play the industry game and walked away from music entirely after a very successful 15 years or so. His early records are fantastic singer-songwriter/soul fusion. Later stuff not so great. But get Still Bill.

Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble: The Hall did something right in correcting their initial nomination. At first it was just Stevie Ray Vaughan nominated, but after holy hell was raised in many quarters (including here at GNABB) over the exclusion of SRV’s crucial band, the Hall did the right thing and without explanation several weeks later added “& Double Trouble” to the nomination. SRV has been one of the biggest snubs and remarkably this was his first nomination. As predicted, as soon as he was nominated he was a shoo-in. Vaughan not only influenced a generation of guitar slingers, but he was at the vanguard of saving Blues music from being a museum piece and dragging it into the modern age as a still vital genre.

Joan Jett & The Blackhearts: When nominated, I predicted she would be inducted and also stated that she is probably the least deserving of all of the nominated artists. I really like Joan Jett. If anything, her influence is in her look and attitude and inspiring gritty rocker girls. But even just listening to a hits collection of hers shows that the substance of her music is fairly thin, and many of her hits were covers. No real innovation at all. But she is cool.

Lou Reed: It is a shame that his high profile from his recent death is probably what inspired another long overdue nomination and induction. Some may feel that his induction with Velvet Underground was enough, but I say no way. His solo career was as influential, deeper and more interesting. Risk taker to the extreme, he inspired anyone in rock who didn’t want to follow the beaten path. He didn’t always succeed, but he changed the game by always trying. Love Lou. Lou joins the elite Clyde McPhatter Club (artists with two inductions, named after the first artist to accomplish the feat. Trivia: there is only one artist with three inductions – Eric Clapton [Yardbirds, Cream, solo]).

Paul Butterfield Blues Band: I have to say that I am surprised that PBBB made it. I have always argued their worthiness, although most music fans could not name one of their songs or albums. One of the very first interracial bands in rock, they featured two virtuoso musicians in Butterfield (harmonica) and the guitar playing of Mike Bloomfield. Probably most famous for backing Dylan at his epochal Newport Folk Festival performance, they also deserve credit for pioneering the exploratory jam in rock with the still bold sounding “East/West.” Check out the entire East/West album to see why PBBB deserves induction.

The powers that be also chose to resurrect the Early Influence category and inducted the Five Royales. That’s cool, although like many other inductees under this category, I'm not sure whether they are really Early Influences if many of their hits were during the rock and roll era. But whatever, they are deserving.

Here is the requisite bonehead move that the Hall has to make every year. In the Musical Excellence category (often used for deserving sidemen and session players), they decided to give a backdoor induction to…Ringo Starr! Lennon, McCartney and Harrison all have been inducted twice (as Beatles and as solo artists in the main Performer category). Probably knowing that Ringo would not be voted in, they slid him in here. Why? Did they just want all four Beatles to have two inductions? People like him. He did play on a lot of other artists’ records as a session player. He even had some hits. But still…

I have always contended that for a second induction, you have to have blinders on as far as the work that they were already inducted for. Therefore, you have to pretend that Ringo was never a Beatle and that the first music we ever heard from him was his first solo work. On that basis, there is NO WAY that Ringo Starr would be inducted on his own terms. This is glitter leftover from being a Beatle. To be honest, I would not have inducted George Harrison as a solo artist either. McCartney is questionable. Lennon is probably the most deserving as a solo artist, but even he is a minor one. The Beatles are The Beatles, but that should have no bearing on inducting them a second time for their post-Beatles work. Maybe Lennon, perhaps Macca, probably not George, no way Ringo. Stupid.

I was disappointed not to see The Smiths or Kraftwerk inducted, but not surprised. The voters are so far pretty cold to the alt-80’s. In the last three years, The Cure, The Replacements and now The Smiths have been nominated and not made it in. I was also surprised that NWA did not make it. Too controversial?

That Musical Excellence slot should have gone to Nile Rodgers. Chic was nominated for a 9th time and did not make it. Just put Nile in here for both his Chic work and his excellent and important production work that he did for countless artists. That would be deserving, and they could give the Chic nominations a rest.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Of Music and Theft: Led Zeppelin

It has been awhile since I posted a Record Guide. I've almost exhausted the artists for whom I can really draft one, and I was recently working on one for Led Zeppelin. I was originally going to address their copyright and plagiarism issues within the Guide, but soon realized that it was a post unto itself.

I am sure many of you are aware of Zeppelin's latest legal woes. This time, though, it is not over a lesser album track. This time it is over what many consider to be the quintessential classic rock song - "Stairway To Heaven." Briefly, Jimmy Page has always claimed in a rather idylic story that he secluded himself in the Welsh countryside and wrote the music to this monolithic slab of rock greatness by the fire. Not so, say attorneys for the estate of one Randy California. California was the guitarist for Spirit, and he wrote a short instrumental entitled "Taurus" in 1968. "Stairway To Heaven" was written sometime around 1971 and was released on Zep's 4th record. The damning evidence, though, comes with opportunity. Led Zeppelin openned for Spirit in the late 60's when California and Spirit would have been performing "Taurus" regularly. One can just envision Page standing on the side of the stage listening to "Taurus" and maybe even subconsciously filing that melody away in his brain. The similarities with "Taurus" are in that acoustic intro before the electric section of "Stairway." Listen for yourself...

"Taurus" by Spirit...

"Stairway To Heaven" by Led Zeppelin...

Clearly there is much more to Zeppelin's song. Clearly there is a reason every rock music fan on the planet knows "Stairway" while "Taurus" remains an obscurity. Clearly there are some highly original parts to the multipart "Stairway." But all of that is beside the point. Legally (and morally) speaking, did Page use part of "Taurus" to write part of "Stairway"? If so, the credits should read California/Page/Plant, not simply Page/Plant. That is what the lawsuit claims as well. The stakes are high, of course, considering the still future royalties that "Stairway" will bring in. It is like "Taurus" is a bland, unseasoned plate of scrambled eggs that you whip up quickly at home before rushing out the door to work while "Stairway" is the most delicious, complex omlette you've ever tasted at the finest restaurant in New Orleans. But the omlette still uses some eggs. And the eggs should get some credit for the dish.

Perhaps one could forgive Page and Plant once. Maybe twice? Unfortunately Zeppelin has a pattern of not crediting source material. Below is an incredible video detailing crediting issues that plague Zeppelin's debut album. I recommend watching the entire thing. The "Dazed and Confused" part especially. Wow.

What makes this situation worse is that many of these blues artists whom Zeppelin and other early rock bands took so much inspiration from got screwed financially their entire careers through bad contracts, unscrupulous promotors and producers. Then to get screwed by young admirers who ought to be championing their musical heroes?

Here is an incomplete rundown of the legal history of Zeppelin's songwriting credit troubles:

* "Dazed and Confused" - 1967 song by Jack Holmes. Sued in 2010. Page's earlier band The Yardbirds had played shows with Holmes also on the bill and directly covered the song. Holmes now has co-writing credit post 2010.

* "How Many More Times" - Howlin' Wolf. Now co-credited after a lawsuit.

* "Whole Lotta Love" - Willie Dixon ("You Need Love"). Sued in 1985. Dixon now has co-writing credit on "Whole Lotta Love." This one is more on Robert Plant than Page. The thing that is the same here are lyrics. Plant apparently just started singing Dixon's lyrics in the studio over the music.

* "The Lemon Song" - contains verses from Howlin' Wolf's "Killing Floor." After a lawsuit, Wolf is now co-credited.

* "Bring It On Home" - Willie Dixon (who wrote the Sonny Boy Williamson song of the same name). Dixon co-credited in 1972 after threat of legal action.

* "In My Time of Dying" - credited to Zeppelin, but it is a traditional song that is in the public domain.

* "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You" - Anne Bredon wrote the song. Page claims to have never heard it, but it is the same song. She sued and Zeppelin settled, and she is now co-credited on the song.

So, what is merely inspiration? What is taking a song and making it so different that it becomes something new? What is outright theft? With Led Zeppelin this is difficult. It is not like Zeppelin are hacks. Even with all of these songs aside, the songs that truly are original from Led Zeppelin rank amongst rock's greatest. They are clearly one of the seminal rock bands. When addressing these issues, Jimmy Page always talks about in the whole history of music, songwriters are "inspired" by what came before and then work from those templates to make their own work. It is a tradition in blues music especially to work from earlier pieces and then launch into something your own. As Joe Strummer of The Clash once said, "the only original music ever written was Johann Sebastian Bach." Meaning that everything since has been inspired or reworked from what came before it. Even Mozart wrote many of his piece as "riffs" so to speak off of already existing, lesser compositions by others.

All of that being said, I think that what Zeppelin did is beyond that. As these lawsuits have proven, credit deserves to be shared with these sources. Page, Plant and co. certainly also deserve credit for taking these songs to places way beyond the original source. But the source deserves to share in the credit. And the substantial profit.