Politics, Cruises, Sports, Halls of Fame, and Other Dumb Things

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Last month I published my 100th article on WordPress. Since then, I’ve struggled to come up with number 101. I even mulled over sending longitudes to a permanent dry dock. But like a pressure valve in a steam engine, there needs to be release.

Should I write about the recent U.S. presidential election? I don’t think so. If I do, I’ll either be preaching to the choir, or my words will fall on ears clogged with wax. Better to wait for the pending avalanche before hurling my snowballs from the chairlift.

I could write about the recent anniversary cruise my wife and I took. We had a wonderful time, but the trip was marred by the revelation that our ship, Caribbean Princess, had, only days before, been fined a record $40 million in damages for polluting our oceans with oily waste, then trying to cover up the crime. trumpYet during the muster drill the first day, the boatswain’s mate (or whomever) had, with the temerity of a Pinocchio or Donald Trump, announced that Princess Cruise Lines is serious about environment protection.

To paraphrase Tiny Tim: God help us, everyone.

However, there were highlights to the cruise. One was meeting music engineer/producer/bandleader Alan Parsons (The Alan Parsons Project). It was following a Q and A session in one of the lounges on the 7th deck (starboard, aft). It was a relief to hear a little good music being played after all the hip-hop, electronica, and lounge lizard sounds.

The down side was that the occasion was instigated by a deal between Princess and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (RnRHoF). This, friends, is a capitalist wet dream as slick as Vaseline (or oil). If you’d like to know my not-so-obsequious views about RnRHoF, please see Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Part One.i-robot

I could write about how my Cleveland Indians blew a 3-1 lead in the World Series, losing their final two games at home. Against the hapless Chicago Cubs, of all teams.

Or how my Cleveland Browns have lowered the bar for patheticism (is that a word?). They’re currently 0-14 and are aiming, once again, for that top draft pick. And maybe the record books.

But getting back to the marriage between the Princess and the RnRHoF: I could write about the argument I had with one of the guests at our cruise dinner table. He had the gumption to suggest the band Styx was more deserving of RnRHoF recognition than Jethro Tull. Sacré bleu, monsieur!  He’s a doctor, so you’d think he’d be smarter than that.

But, I guess even smart people can have their dumb moments. At least, when it comes to music, voting, selecting vacations, or whatever.

Go Browns… (yes, bloggers can be dumb, too).

Note: header illustration is courtesy of and copyright Tim Shields, 2002

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Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Part Two

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Despite all the computations
You could dance to a rock ‘n’ roll station,
And it was alright

               (Lou Reed, from the Velvet Underground song “Rock and Roll”)

Last month I inducted five bands into the longitudes Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and promised there would be five more.  These, then, will wrap up the Top 10 artists I feel should have already been inducted, but so far been shunned by that other Hall.  You know, the one whose museum is in Cleveland but whose VIP induction ceremonies are usually shifted to the Waldorf Astoria in New York.

Sorry about the sarcasm.  I should try to keep things upbeat, especially when it comes to music.  Anyway, this induction is a time to celebrate!  A time to be happy! 🙂  And one of the best things about this ceremony is the total absence of self-congratulatory music biz backslapping, cronyism, and sloppy post-induction onstage “jamming” by bloated, bag-eyed, half-drunk, over-the-hill millionaire rock stars wearing ill-fitting dinner jackets.

Well, I tried.

The next five acts being inducted are… (Paul Shaffer, please leave the building):

New York Dolls: how can longitudes induct a band that made only one great record, and one very good follow-up?  Well, the Sex Pistols made only one great record, and there would be no Sex Pistols – and therefore nobody to label the RnRHoF a “piss stain” – had it not been for these proto-punk nasty boys.  Led by Mick Jagger look-a-like David Johansen (aka “Buster Poindexter”), the Dolls’ music was often ramshackle, but it was delivered with in-your-face panache. dolls Songs like “Personality Crisis,” “Subway Train,” “Frankenstein,” “Trash,” and “(There’s Gonna Be a) Showdown” are stripped-down rock & roll before the fall, straight out of a Staten Island garage or Bowery basement.  Classic New York City hard rock, with exaggerated androgyny just for humorous effect.  Iggy and the Stooges made it to the RnRHoF, as well as the cartoonish Alice Cooper, so why not these guys, three of whom are already dead??  I’d ask record exec and RnRHoF guru Ahmet Ertegun, but he’s in rock & roll heaven too.

Todd Rundgren: the “Runt” seems like a 180-degree turn from the Dolls.  And like the Moody Blues from last month’s induction, he polarizes opinion: you either love him or hate him.  But Rundgren actually produced the Dolls’ classic debut album, as well as successful albums by Badfinger, Patti Smith, XTC, the Tubes, the Band, Hall & Oates, Grand Funk Railroad, Meat Loaf, Psychedelic Furs, and many more.  He’s also famous for his groundbreaking work in media technology.  But his induction rests on his own solo records, including his masterpiece, Something/Anything?, a double album filled with golden pop nuggets all written and sung by Rundgren and where he played almost all the instruments (long before the artist formerly or presently known or not known as Prince ).  Bravely changing direction, Rundgren followed with the kaleidoscopic A Wizard, A True Starrunt2Like many prodigies, Rundgren was erratic, and his philosophic excursions with his band Utopia didn’t help his case with RnRHoF.  But he’s one of the pop renaissance men, along with Paul McCartney, Brian Wilson, and Stevie Wonder.  And even more than the others, he was unafraid to risk failure or ridicule.  Songs like “We Gotta Get You a Woman,”  “Hello It’s Me,” “I Saw the Light,” “A Dream Lives on Forever,” “Can We Still Be Friends,”  “Time Heals,” “Bang the Drum All Day,” and others only scratch the surface of his significant contributions to rock.

Fairport Convention: similar to Love (see first induction), Fairport Convention is unknown to many rock fans.  They’re more familiar in England than America, where many hail them as Great Britain’s greatest folk-rock band.  Like the Byrds in America, Fairport covered a lot of Bob Dylan songs when they started, but they soon found their own muse, plundering English folklorist Cecil Sharp’s archives to create their own British Isles brand of psychedelic folk-rock.fairport  Singer Sandy Denny is regarded as having one of the best voices in rock or folk, sort of a cross between Bonnie Raitt and Judy Collins (her beautiful song “Who Knows Where the Time Goes” was famously covered by Collins).  Fairport also included critically respected guitarist-songwriter Richard Thompson.  If you haven’t heard this band, I encourage you to check out the albums What We Did on Our Holidays, Unhalfbricking, and Liege and Lief, which form the core of their catalog and earn them a spot in longitudes’ Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Procol Harum: yet another English progressive rock band.  What doesn’t RnRHoF like about these groups?  Are they too Caucasian, or European, or musically proficient?? (I’m convinced Genesis was inducted due to their Phil Collins-era pop molasses, not Peter Gabriel’s earlier, more intriguing influence).  But even critics of progressive rock are fond of Procol Harum.  Their lyricist, Keith Reid, didn’t play an instrument, but wrote clever gothic poems with references to rusted sword scabbards and haunted ships.  He had the perfect partners in pianist/arranger Gary Brooker and organist Matthew Fisher.procol  This axis was ably assisted by Hendrix-styled guitarist Robin Trower and thunderous drummer B.J. Wilson.  All of them gave Procol a sound like no other group, one that veered between crunching blues and soaring symphonic rock.  Last year they were nominated by RnRHoF but missed induction (“Sorry boys, maybe next time”).  A slap in the face to a great band that did “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” “Conquistador,” and made some very cool albums.  Longitudes hereby corrects the injustice.

King Crimson: here is a British band that wrote long, complex songs with flute, violin, saxophone, and keyboards.  And the keyboards included a Mellotron, a modified tape replay keyboard, no less. Oh my God, what heresy!  What would Elvis say!  Delta bluesman Robert Johnson is rolling in his grave (wherever his grave is located).  Despite RnRHoF’s misgivings, longitudes recognizes Crimson’s importance in stretching the boundaries of rock, with their bold explorations into free jazz, classical chamber music, and dissonance.  Led by erudite guitarist Robert Fripp, the only permanent member, King Crimson in the beginning included talented vocalist Greg Lake, later crimsonone-third of the supergroup, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, and multi-instrumentalist and tunesmith Ian MacDonald (who later went for the bread and formed Foreigner).  Pete Townshend of the Who called Crimson’s debut album, In the Court of the Crimson King, “an uncanny masterpiece.”  King Crimson influenced a lot of musicians, from Genesis to Rush to Nirvana.  More than just a band, they were a forward-thinking musical aesthetic.  But RnRHoF evidently prefers the group Heart.  ‘Nuff said.

Frank Zappa, pondering the idea of a Hall of Fame for rock musicians

Frank Zappa, pondering the idea of a Hall of Fame for rock musicians

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Part One

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Rolling Stone magazine recently stirred anger over its rock star-styled cover photo of Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.  Marketing to young people’s fascination with beauty, celebrity, and danger is nothing new for RS.  They’re good at selling magazines, and they’ll undoubtedly sell a lot of copies of the Tsarnaev issue.

The RS Tsarnaev issue controversy deserves a blog post by itself, but that’s not what this one’s about.  RS is a bedfellow of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (RnRHoF).  And I’d like to talk about Halls of Fame here.

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Since Jackie Brenston‘s “Rocket 88” in 1951, rock music has had the power to galvanize young people.  I’m one of those who believes that the best rock also has integrity and adult appeal.  In the ‘50s and ‘60s rock music was the anthem of a generation.  Today it’s more the anthem of Chevrolet and Monday Night Football.

But, for better or worse, rock’s impact on popular culture is undeniable.  Unlike classical, jazz, country, or other types of music, rock is flexible in its form and delivery.  There are very few rules.  It can blend different genres.  It can have words (“Rocket 88”) or not have words (the Surfaris’ “Wipe Out”).  It can be strident (the Clash’s “White Riot”) or peaceful (the Grateful Dead‘s “Dark Star”).  It can be poetic (Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale”) or a crude street rap.

Procol Harum, circa 1968

Procol Harum, circa 1968

It’s also brutally honest.  I can’t imagine classical, jazz, or country doing a musical equivalent of John Lennon’s “Woman is the Nigger of the World.”

Rock is also cross-cultural and multi-generational, and it’s rarely static.  I listen to Bruce Springsteen on Friday evening after work, and Joni Mitchell late at night, alone, while wearing headphones.  Depending on the song, rock’s a drug that can affect the head, heart, or nervous system.  When I’m a little depressed, a soft-rock tune like Loggins and Messina’s “Brighter Days” can actually make me feel less isolated.  Sterling Morrison, the second guitarist in the Velvet Underground, once said that he considered music more important than politics.  I heartily agree.

Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols might agree, too.  Jones has his own memorable quote: “Once you want to be put in a museum, rock & roll’s over.”  Someday I’ll delve into what I feel the RnRHoF is all about, and why a lot of it is “bollocks.”  I’ll need a few beers for that one, though.

Sex Pistols, circa 1976 (left to right: Sid Vicious, Steve Jones, Johnny Rotten, Paul Cook)

Sex Pistols, circa 1977 (left to right: Sid Vicious, Steve Jones, Johnny Rotten, Paul Cook)

But since the RnRHoF is obviously here to stay, I feel a need to rectify some wrongs.  So for this blog post, I’m inducting the first five of ten artists not yet in the RnRHoF, but which I feel should have been inducted long ago.  Steve Jones won’t agree with this list, but that’s okay.  I love his band anyway.

Most people favor the music of their youth – me included.  But I’m not biased strictly out of nostalgia.  I really believe the high-water mark of rock music – with apologies to Elvis, Buddy and Chuck – occurred during the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s.  So don’t expect Goo Goo Gadget on this list.

As Spinal Tap documentarian Marty DiBergi once said, “But hey, enough of my yakkin’… let’s boogie!”  Here are five artists to be inducted into the longitudes’ Rock & Roll Hall of Fame:

The Zombies: most baby boomers know their three hits: “She’s Not There,” “Tell Her No,” and “Time of the Season.”  But anyone who has dared plunge beyond these knows this band had a treasure chest of beautiful, carefully 220px-Odessey_and_Oraclestructured tunes that should’ve been hits.  Colin Blunstone’s breathy vocals were unique, and the group had not one, but two exceptional songwriters in Rod Argent and Chris White.  Next to the Beatles, the Zombies wrote maybe the prettiest melodies of any band from England in the ‘60s.  Not sure why the Dave Clark Five is in the RnRHoF and this band isn’t.

Jethro Tull: Tull began, like so many other Brits from the 1960s, as a blues band, but soon drifted into English folk.  They made a bunch of excellent albums: Stand Up, Benefit, Aqualung, Songs from the Wood, and the part-live double LP, Living in the Past.  They were one of the most exciting bands to see in concert in the ‘70s, with leader Ian Anderson’s simultaneous humming and flute playing (inspired by jazz multi-instrumentalist Rahsaan Roland Kirk) and elaborate group costumes and theatrics.  tullTull managed the trick of appealing to “heads” while also achieving commercial success in both the U.K. and U.S.  Often classified as “progressive rock” (loosely defined as rock that borrows from classical or jazz, and frequently using organ, woodwinds, strings, or brass) they were actually quite unusual, mixing hard rock with blues, folk, and even baroque: challenging and intelligent music that was also listenable.  The RnRHoF likes “listenable,” but maybe not “challenging and intelligent.”  But Traffic was inducted nine years ago, so why not this similar group?

Roxy Music: another unclassifiable band, though often lumped in the progressive and “glam rock” genres, Roxy was one of the most visually exciting bands of the ‘70s.  The leader was a stylish former art student named Bryan Ferry.  He had a unique tremolo voice that could fluctuate between heavenly highs and deep lows.  He was also a gifted and underrated songwriter.roxy  Early on, Roxy was the quintessential “art rock” band (the visionary, multimedia artist/producer Brian Eno was an original member), but by the early ‘80s Ferry was writing more mainstream songs, though on a higher plane than most radio-friendly acts.  Roxy was very popular in Europe, but couldn’t get beyond cult status in the U.S. because they were too weird and sophisticated.  The RnRHoF likes weird only when it’s unsophisticated.

Moody Blues: the Moodies are a difficult case.  They wrote some of the most pretentious lyrics in rock, but these were accompanied by luscious arrangements and melodies.  The main songwriter was lead singer and guitarist Justin Hayward.  Hayward was extremely prolific, writing the FM classics “Nights in White Satin” and “Tuesday Afternoon,” as well as “The Story in Your Eyes,” “The Question,” “It’s Up to You,” “Lovely to See You,” “Your Wildest Dreams,” “Gypsy,” and many more.moodies  The other members also occasionally chimed in with great songs like “Ride My Seesaw,” “Legend of a Mind” (“Timothy Leary’s dead…”), “I’m Just a Singer in a Rock ‘n’ Roll Band,” etc.  The band started in 1964 in Birmingham, England as part of the British beat boom, and they still tour today, although now they’re primarily an expensive nostalgia trip.  But their endurance, song catalog, and distinction of being the first progressive rock band have me scratching my head as to why only longitudes has inducted them.

Love: unless you were a hippie who lived in California during the late ‘60s or a rock critic with grandkids, you may not have heard of Love, rock’s first racially integrated band (along with the Butterfield Blues Band).  But they made one album that has guaranteed them rock immortality: Forever Changes, a psychedelic masterpiece that many rock historians rank with the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper.love  They started out in L.A.’s Sunset Strip in 1966, sounding like a garage-folk-rock band on acid.  Their legendary status rests on their first three records: Love, Da Capo, and Forever Changes, all of which feature some of the most innovative music and lyrics in rock.  Jim Morrison (the Doors) and Robert Plant (Led Zeppelin) idolized them.  The RnRHoF is still sleeping.

To be continued!