THE ANNUAL COGNITIVE DISSONANCE INSPIRED BY THE ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME HAS BEGUN

Always a fun process. Here’s a prime entry from the Chattanooga Free Press which opens with:

“What do Rush, Public Enemy, Heart, Randy Newman, Donna Summer and Albert King have in common? Absolutely nothing.

“That didn’t stop voters from electing them to the 2013 class of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.”

Then goes yaddah, yaddah, yaddah for a bit before this:

“This year’s attempt to appeal to a wider audience means that Flavor Flav, Public Enemy’s wall-clock wearing hype man, who is better known for dating actress Brigitte Nielsen and a series of other trollops and strumpets on various VH1 reality shows, will soon join the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Carl Perkins and Smokey Robinson as a Hall of Fame inductee.”

Just curious, but is the gap between say, Rush (who evidently fit the Free Press’ definition of “rock and roll”) and Public Enemy (who don’t) really any bigger than the gap between Carl Perkins and Smokey Robinson?

It’s fine for anyone to argue in favor of a narrow definition of “rock and roll.” But if someone is going to take the silly side in an argument, shouldn’t they at least strive for internal consistency?

Of course, when you run into talk of “trollops and strumpets,” it’s generally safe to assume gaps in basic logic may be lingering nearby.

I happen to be someone who loves the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame both as concept and flawed reality. But even if it existed for no other good reason, the annual flushing of The New Reactionaries from their hidey-holes would suffice….

 

THE ICE IS SLOWLY MELTING…THOUGHTS ON THE ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME CLASS OF 2013

For those who missed yesterday’s announcement, this year’s inductees are:

Rush
Public Enemy
Heart
Randy Newman
Donna Summer
Albert King

And in the non-performing categories:

Lou Adler
Quincy Jones

Congrats to all. Good year for the seventies and for black artists. And another pretty good year for women. All good signs.

Adler and Jones are solid picks by the Hall’s special committee. Given existing standards, their merits for inclusion are pretty much beyond argument.

As to the performers: Only the long overdue Summer was on my earlier list of the most deserving who aren’t in, but Heart was a very near miss and Public Enemy were first time eligible (hence, I didn’t consider them).

Randy Newman is a solid pick, especially given the Hall’s recent habit of honoring cult-level singer-songwriters (though Carole King’s absence even from the performer’s nominee list year after year still puzzles me no end–she is in as a non-performer). It does bother me a bit that I suspect at least some people are voting for these performers (Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, Laura Nyro) in hopes that their own hero will look better on the next ballot. Sort of a “if these people are all in, how can you deny X?” argument. That being said, I think Newman is more deserving than the others and, let’s face it, voters have a right to vote however they want for whatever reason.

That leaves Rush and Albert King.

Rush clearly benefited from a long campaign by its passionate fan base, and I like the idea–now incontrovertible–that fans really do have a voice in the process, however small. I’ve been putting together lengthy mix-discs of classic rock staples for the past couple of years and I have to say I don’t really distinguish them from that genre’s average except in terms of longevity. But, hey, the average is pretty impressive, and they by no means lower any existing standards.

Albert King is trickier. While he’s worthy on purely artistic grounds, he’s also one of those artists (like Patsy Cline or Peter, Paul and Mary) who had an undeniably large influence on rock and roll without actually being rock and roll. Because these acts made their important records during the rock and roll era–and, unlike Wanda Jackson, well after that era began–they can’t reasonably (or even unreasonably as in Jackson’s case) be put in as “early influences.”

It may well be that the Hall actually needs a new category for this kind of performer. Albert King is probably closer to being a rock and roller than Miles Davis (who was inducted a few years ago and would have been perfect for this imaginary category) or the others I mentioned, but it’s a little unfair for blues guitarists to be given this path to induction (Freddie King made it on similar grounds last year) when others just as important have little chance even to be considered.

I don’t know what this proposed category should be called, incidentally, (How about just “Influence”) but the idea is definitely worth considering.

 

SEGUE OF THE DAY–THANKSGIVING EDITION (11/22/12)

Tim Weiner/Warren Zevon

My holiday rituals are probably a little different than most. I spent part of the day working my way through the middle third of Weiner’s CIA history Legacy of Ashes. The “work” part didn’t come from the writing which is swift and cogent, but from the subject matter, which is acutely rendered and thus overwhelmingly depressive.

Alongside that I was also working through the last disc of a Willie Nelson box (not really all that much work) and the first of a reacquired Marvin Gaye box (no work at all), both of which have been sitting around the house for a while and therefore need to get on the shelf.

They were suitably familiar background music for reading, no more or less.

When I finally reached an impasse–that portion of any well done history of the secret police state where the citizen’s need to be informed is invariably subdued by the soul’s urge to throw things–I carefully put the book down and roamed about for a bit until I spotted my newly acquired copy of Zevon’s Stand in the Fire reissue, which I had missed seeing on my front doorstep until this morning.

Thought….well, if anything could cheer me up just now, why not “Jeannie Needs a Shooter?”…and put it in the player.

I hadn’t listened to my vinyl version in maybe ten years. Ordered the CD, frankly, because it was cheap and had extras.

The extras turned out to be okay.

They’re tacked on at the end and the highlight there by far is the then newly sobered up Zevon introducing a broken-throated version of “Hasten Down the Wind” by stating that, years earlier, it had been “the song that intervened between me and starvation, thanks to Linda Ronstadt.”

That’s the most poignant and accurate assessment I’ve ever encountered of Ronstadt’s role in the L. A. scene that made her jump through every cruel hoop imaginable before she finally turned it on its head and came out smelling like a superstar (a refusal to stay in place for which she’s evidently never been forgiven by the shady side of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee).

Believe me, Randy Newman and Jackson Browne and Don Henley, to name but a few, could have made some version of the same speech.

So it was a nice moment. But by then, it was almost an afterthought.

By then, I’d not only been reminded how great the original album was–great as in “I can’t actually believe this” great, a quarter-century plus after I heard it the first time–but I’d also been reminded that, long before Tim Weiner was on the case, Warren Zevon was really the nation’s once-and-forever biographer of the CIA.

And all the more prescient, observant and powerful for having so seldom mentioned them by name.

He didn’t have to.

When I’m done with Weiner’s fine, essential book (about which more in the book report of whatever month I finish it), I already know I won’t really be any more enlightened than I was the very first time I heard the very first line of this:

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

 

FOUND IN THE CONNECTION (Rattling Loose End #4, Jackie DeShannon, Just Another Female Something or Other)

Nine months into this blog and I’m already beating dead horses.

Still…

I just received Ace’s third collection of Jackie DeShannon’s complete singles on the Imperial and Liberty labels (this one covering 1967–1970). Beautiful packaging and impeccable sound mastering. Invaluable service to the existing catalog of a vastly underrated hero of the rock and roll era. Lots of good information for minutiae junkies like me.

What could go wrong?

Well, I could open the fabulous-looking cover booklet and, in the very first sentence of the liner notes, find DeShannon described thus:

“…One of the leading and most eclectic female singer-songwriters of our time.”

As ever, I have to ask….Would anyone putting together a similar collection of Randy Newman’s work or Van Morrison’s work or Brian Wilson’s work (to name three of DeShannon’s more prominent fans) think to describe any of them as “one of the leading and most eclectic male singer-songwriters of our time?”

And if anyone did think of such a thing, would it possibly survive the editing process?

Jackie DeShannon steadily wrote hits for herself and others for twenty years. She’s one of the greatest vocalists in the history of popular music. There’s never been a “singer-songwriter” league she couldn’t play in (even laying aside that she more or less invented the concept–or at least re-invented it in such a way that it eventually required a name). And on this, the conclusion of a three disc, 79-track series that constitutes the finest, most detailed recognition of her work to date, she’s still being relegated (albeit unselfconsciously) to the qualifying adjectives reserved for the farm team?

I guess I should be grateful, though.

I mean, at least they didn’t call her a girl.

 

QUICK THOUGHTS ON THE 2012 ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME NOMINATIONS…

(NOTE: The Future Rock Legends site has posted this year’s nominees. Please check it out and consider participating in the fan vote.)

You can go here, here and here to see who I think should have been nominated. The only overlap this year between my list and the actual nominating committee’s is Donna Summer so, obviously, she’s a no-brainer. In past years, death worked for the equally deserving Dusty Springfield and the hardly deserving (as a solo performer) George Harrison, so here’s hoping this will be her time.

I also voted for N.W.A. (along with Public Enemy, eligible for the first time), the Marvelettes, Heart and Deep Purple.

For the record, I don’t agree with the folks at FRL that this is an exceptionally strong ballot, especially not given the long list of the more deserving who have once more been left off.

However, I never have a problem finding five worthy candidates.

Heart was close to making my own list and N.W.A. were outside my consideration because they are just becoming eligible, so those were easy picks.

The Marvelettes are not, to my mind, as important as the Chantels or the Shangri-Las to either rock history or my personal pantheon. But they did have Motown’s first #1 hit, made lots of great records and are fully worthy of induction (as is Mary Wells). They are also the only pre-Beatles act on this year’s ballot and that ever more tenuous connection needs to be kept alive until the dozen or so still-deserving acts from that era get their due.

Deep Purple seemed the most worthy of the remaining acts since they did have a certain amount of weight in the early days of what’s now called (rather arrogantly and narrowly) “classic rock.”

As for the rest:

Newly eligible Public Enemy are a virtual shoo-in and Rush will probably get the most public support. I don’t have any problem with these two acts being in, though, to be fair, I probably don’t know enough about either act to truly judge their music.

Reactionaries who dream of a world where we all run back to the tribes tend to have a distancing effect on me.

On the other hand, Albert King and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band seem extremely marginal. If pure blues acts are going to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as performers, I think they should at least be giants in their own field. Not sure that really applies to either of these, though both, of course, made lots of fine music and had a monumental side or two. I’m just not sure history is any different without them.

Chic keeps getting nominated and they deserve to be in, but I would put them a long way behind Barry White and a shade behind K.C. and the Sunshine Band in the disco sweepstakes.

The Meters are fine. I probably should listen to more of their music, too, but I doubt I would rank them anywhere near War.

Kraftwerk represents an area of rock-as-machinery/machinery-as-rock that’s never been my cup of tea, but I find it hard to believe they should be put ahead of Roxy Music (and I’m not even sure I would vote for Roxy Music if they were on this relatively weak ballot).

Randy Newman is fine. His best music is the equal of anyone’s best music (though most of it was made a very long time ago and, for someone who is supposedly uncompromising and iconoclastic there sure has been a lot of inexplicable mediocrity over the ensuing decades). But he’s not as deserving as Jackie DeShannon or Carole King and he represents a disturbing trend of voters seemingly banding together and continually electing marginal singer-songwriters (Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, Laura Nyro) in hopes whichever one they really want in will be on next year’s ballot.

Procol Harum? Again, I probably need to listen more, but I’ve listened enough to feel pretty confident they aren’t hiding any Sandy Denny or Richard Thompson level geniuses in there. Save them for later. Put the Fairport Convention in first.

That leaves Joan Jett and her band, the Blackhearts. Very tricky case. I like her a lot, but maybe more as an icon and personality than for her actual records. Still, the moment when “I Love Rock and Roll” and “We Got the Beat” sat at #1 and #2 on the singles charts was a great, great breakthrough in the way half of the human race could imagine seeing themselves. And the fact that so many assumed Jett and the Go-Gos were cultural inevitabilities rather than visionaries who–taking very different paths–decoded and blew apart some of the world’s oldest hack prejudices and preconceptions at the exact same moment, has been long since belied by the “inevitable” culture’s inability to produce more than a tiny handful of worthy heirs for either.

So while I would put the Go-Gos in first, Jett’s worthy and I would make her my first alternate, just ahead of Chic.

All in all, this is by no means a terrible list to choose from (there’s never been a terrible RRHOF list to choose from, no matter what you might have heard). But the Hall’s most persistent patterns–inexplicably prejudicing writers and players over the singers who actually gave rock and roll its unique identity, resistance to women who do not long to be part of some boys’ club or other and the preference for cultish white acts (or white liberal approved acts like Public Enemy) over far more significant black ones–all generally continue.

Setting Donna Summer aside, War, Spinners, Jerry Butler, Dionne Warwick, Cyndi Lauper, Carole King and Linda Ronstadt were each big stars in their respective eras and at least matched the artistry of anyone else on this list. Those patterns are shifting ever so slightly, but until they are addressed more thoroughly, the hole in the side of the Hall’s leaking boat will only grow larger.

And given what a great and necessary institution the RRHOF is–and how vital it is becoming to the preservation of rock’s central, somewhat contradictory, idea of bringing the tribes closer together without obliterating their identity altogether, that’s a real shame.