Anyone who has been around here for a while knows I go back and forth on Greil Marcus. I don’t always agree with anybody, but I’ve mostly called him out when I thought he stepped on his own tongue. And I’ve called him out more than anyone else because I always find him interesting even when my disagreement is vehement.

From his website’s mailbag of 5/8/18, though, (and in response to a question about early seventies’ soul groups no less) there’s this:

I don’t think any Hall of Fame argument has merit when Joan Jett, who is a small-time but effectively self-promoting mediocrity, is in and the Shangri-Las are not.  It’s a matter of how you judge it. Kiss and Joan Jett, not to mention Patti Smith, are in the HoF because of their overwhelming influence on other people. I consider that a false standard. I think people ought to be judged on their own work, and that to consider uninteresting and self-promoting people important because of their influence on people who are even less interesting than than they are is absurd. Patti Smith is genuinely a hero to countless people for many good reasons. I once was one of her opening acts, was essentially kicked off the stage because I was taking up too much time (what I had been asked to do), was as angry as I could be, and then she came on, and after a few minutes I was humbled that I had actually been on the same stage as she was. Did she define what rock ‘n’ roll is and what it could be, and even what it should be? Maybe. Perhaps definitely. But you can’t even begin to raise that question about the Shangri-Las—they did what all of the people I’ve mentioned did, did it with more depth, and it’s almost irrelevant that they did it first.

That’s much further than anyone of Marcus’ stature has ever gone on behalf of the Shangri-Las, regarding the Hall of Fame or anything else.

Seeing the Shangri-Las in the Hall is one of about four things that have to happen before I can die happy.

But I don’t need that to say this: Believe me, all is forgiven…until next time!


24 thoughts on “ALL IS FORGIVEN….

  1. Well, who would have expected that! A self-styled “critic,” of all people! Kudos to him for daring to defy the party line. He’s got a long way to go before he echoes any of the insights you’ve described here about the crit-illuminati, or the Narrative leaving so many young, pioneering singers behind because they’re wrongly known to be the products of puppeteer producers. It seems that he’s even got to hurtle quite a distance before he can perceive, to quote one of your prior articles, “singing as part of the creative process, fully equal to writing and producing.” But it’s encouraging to see that he’s written something that takes a step in that direction.

    George Morton’s influence on the Shangs remains overstated, largely because of his tendency to exaggerate circumstances. The only reason I didn’t type “lie” is that he’s dead, and showing disrespect would admittedly ignore the fact that he did, after all, get the Shangs signed to Red Bird, and write the beginning bits of “Remember,” “Leader” and “Great, Big Kiss.” Jeff and Ellie fleshed out, structured and completed the songs for him, although Jeff has lied about Shangs sessions himself — there was, as Mary has pointed out, no motorcycle at Mirasound! And the Shangri-Las didn’t “exist because of Morton”! They were harmonizing long before they ever met anyone from the record business, and had made records before they met Morton.

    They’d also had more studio experience than him when they started working with him; and arranged their own vocal harmonies, which were unique at that time, chord-wise. I’ve always said that the greatest vocal groups, and especially the Shangri-Las, were presented with skeletons of songs. It took those particular singers to breathe life into them. And if ol’ Greil likes any tuneful punk, starting with the initiators (the Ramones), he can thank the Shangs. At least he’s taken a step by admitting their influence on Patti Smith, and that they “did [all of that stuff] with more depth” and “did it first.” Bravo.

    “Later may be too late” indeed. I wish Mary and Liz could still be around to see themselves inducted.

    I also wish I knew how to start an effective petition (do those even work?) and promote it properly. Not being a social-media participant, any efforts on my part might be in vain. But Greil paraphrased something that I’ve been saying for years, and with which nobody could be blamed for disagreeing, as it’s subjective: It’s not a valid Hall of Anything without the Shangs. No disrespect is intended toward all of the amazing, world-changing artists that *have* been inducted, of course. There’s simply no way, in spite of my attempts in the comments here over the past year, to properly articulate how much that quartet’s music has meant to me throughout my life, and why Mary’s voice remains the only one that can give me goose-bumps.

    That certainly must count, whenever a discussion ensues about “what rock’n’roll is.”

      • Thanks — and that goes double for all of the links you’ve shared with us in the past!

        (Any more hidden gems, DazzaB, if you’re reading this? Well, you knew someone was going to ask eventually!)

        I didn’t know a lot of that stuff before finding Johnny’s essays. I posted a comment earlier and included a few links for you to check out in case you hadn’t read some key articles here, but WordPress seems to have deleted the whole comment. I’m not sure why. Maybe some security thing is making links off-limits at the moment. I strongly recommend “LIFE AND DEATH….IN A SHANGRI-LAS RECORD, WHERE ELSE?” and “THE RETURN OF MARY WEISS.” Memory tells me that you’ve already read “MARY WEISS REMEMBERS.”

        • Well, John, I guess my first comment has returned. Pick one above to keep, I guess! Sorry for the accidental almost-double-post!

    • I don’t like to say the Hall (or any Hall) is invalid, whatever its faults…Let us say “incomplete!” And I agree that the subjective–the ability to change lives–has been underappreciated by the Hall to say the least. It’s amazing that so many who vote for these things, be they critics or musicians or industry “players” seem to lack the ability to recognize or remember the importance of this. Rock and Roll matters because, as the Showmen had it, it sank “deep in the heart of man.” Nobody embodies THAT part more than the Shangri-Las. I wanted to put Marcus’ quote up because he’s the first big league critic to say something like this on their behalf….Hope a few Hall nominating committee types are listening!

  2. So, one of the people who might actually be able to do something about the whole thing has finally seen the light. Now all we need is a few other key figures to figure it out. Because the Shangri Las should have been in the hall of fame a long time ago. They were just flat out one of the best groups, ever.

    • I heartily agree of course….It’s really a shame that Marcus and Christgau both turned down invitations to be on the nominating committee way back when. I think their voices would have thrown some serious weight in the right direction for a lot of deserving artists (including the Shangs). Still, Marcus has a pretty big megaphone in rock-crit circles. It’s a positive sign, at least!

  3. Something occurred to me, so I did some list-searching (Friday was a slow day at work), and the Shangs would be the first all-white female group in the Hall. Are they, the Go-Gos and the Bangles victims of this weird climate, in which all entities in the public eye feel that they must avoid being called “-ists” of any type, as if social pressuring is going to erase anyone’s prejudices? Is the Hall still making up for having inducted the Everly Brothers before Bo Diddley and Muddy Waters? Or is my hatred of “political correctness” making me read too deeply? I’ll accept that, if you think that’s the case. Maybe the Hall people simply figure it’s enough that the Shangs are already in the Vocal-Group Hall of Fame.

    What’s funny is that even if we leave white artists out of the equation, the Narrative to which you rightly refer picks its socially sanctioned favorites. There’s nothing more heartwarming to mouth-breathing Mainstream America than the story of a black maid rising from the shadows to bask in the light. That’s not meant to be criticism of the singer mentioned below — just indictment of the party line that “official” organizations feel pressured into parroting.

    The Blossoms were Spector’s first choice in ghost harmonizers, foremost in his ears being Darlene Love, who sang lead on “He’s a Rebel” among others. I’m sure you know all of this, but that song was attributed to the Crystals, as Phil didn’t want to wait for the actual Crystals to return from their current tour. The song’s writer, Gene Pitney, had to fly across the country and teach them their own song after it had been recorded.

    I bring this up because Darlene, who seems very cool and is a highly skilled, very humble lady (highly recommended documentary about backing singers: Twenty Feet from Stardom), was asked to perform not only “He’s a Rebel” after her Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame induction speech — with Bette Midler?? Never got her, never will — but another Crystals song, “Da Doo Ron Ron.” The thing is, Darlene hadn’t sung on that ’63 record. It had been the Crystals’ actual lead vocalist, Dolores “LaLa” Brooks. The Crystals, who aren’t in the Hall, don’t even get that? Their biggest claim to what the Hall calls “fame”?

    Not that the vast majority of viewers noticed or cared, of course. I think Zappa was right: Most people hate music, but they love entertainment.

    • There is not doubt that the Hall has an issue with women in general and, oddly enough, white women in particular. Why that should be so is one of those interesting psychoanalytical questions that can never be answered definitely but-t-t-t-t

      My own two cents is that, for starters, you better not look like the average rock critic’s high school dream date. You know, the one he was too shy to ask out? I can relate to that, but then again, I got over it. Not sure Dave Marsh or Elvis Costello ever did (just to name a couple I could see voting for the Shangs at least–though not for Linda Ronstadt!).

      It gets complicated, but when Dusty Springfield had to die (as did Donna Summer) to be elected, and Brenda Lee had to wait 16 years and Ronstadt had to wait 22 years and announce she had Parkinson’s….and all the people you mention plus Dionne Warwick and Marilyn McCoo (not white, but not approved deep soul singers either) and Cyndi Lauper and Lesley Gore and Jackie DeShannon don’t have so much as a SINGLE NOMINATION between them? Well there might be a problem there that doesn’t have anything to do with music or the actual history of Rock and Roll.

      Then there’s the story of Michelle Philips having to shame Jann Wenner into putting the Mamas and Papas on the ballot (whence they were immediately voted in)…and Ronnie Spector saying Phil getting indicted for murder was what finally got her out of the Nom. Committee (he had been blackballing her for years and probably Darlene Love as well)…

      One could go on.

      Thing is, I bet every single person who has ever been on the Nominating Committee would describe himself/herself as a card-carrying liberal’s liberal…But about ninety percent of the serious oversights from the fifties/sixties/seventies are women and/or black. And exactly none of dozens of articles I’ve seen in the mainstream media that highlighted this problem have ever evinced any awareness of history–they just round up names they’ve heard of and list them (Joan Baez was a regular on such lists for years until she was inducted, Patsy Cline still is–I’m surprised Doris Day has’t come up) and then put in the standard pc lines about the unfairness of it all

      And it IS unfair…just never for the reasons they mention.

      Alas, I don’t see it getting any better. But we can only try.

      PS–That story about Darlene Love having to sing “Da Doo Ron Ron” is one of the sadder anecdotes I’ve come across. There’s no excuse for that from an institution supposedly dedicated to preserving history. If it was her idea (I’m betting it wasn’t) they should have stopped her. If it was the Hall’s idea? Shame on them.

      • Extremely interesting insights. In fact, it’s even worse than I thought: You’re right that the names you’ve mentioned are confounding in terms of their (conspicuous, I’d think) absence from the list of inductees. Nominees, even. I wonder if the actual answer, naively Utopian as it might be, is to expand the committee to even more people, with more varied backgrounds and no voting hierarchy…or at least get some guys in there who DID go out with attractive girls in high school!

        • That last might help! Else guys who actually grew up…

          On a more serious note, I found it interesting that when Questlove was put on the Nom. Comm. a few years ago, people make a big deal of the fact that he managed to argue the room into nominating the Spinners. My thought was–Wait, you needed a black guy to tell you how important the Spinners were? Yes, there should be more diversity on the Committee, but stories like these make me not inclined to hold my breath it will either a) happen, or b) make much difference.

          • Wow– hard to believe that the group responsible for “I’ll Be Around” and “Could It Be I’m Falling in Love” would require any arguments. At least that’s some kind of proof that the system is based more on politics than hits!

            Heaven forbid it would be based on musical merit. I guess that has little to do with “fame” anyway.

            Maybe the neglect shown toward the artists mentioned on this page alone wouldn’t bug me so much if rappers weren’t inducted into a hall allegedly concerned with rock and roll.

  4. Well, rappers would have made a nice addition to the “Contemporary Influence” category I’ve been recommending…with Joan Baez and Miles Davis and a number of blues acts that have been included in the Performer category (whilst so many actual rock and rollers are ignored). And, yes, taking he Spinners out of the 70s is like taking the Temptations out of the 60s. It would be interesting to sit in on one of the Nom Comm meetings….But then again, it might just want to make me slit my wrists, so I better be careful what I wish for!

  5. About a year ago, three readings of a Shangs play were performed in Palo Alto written by David Stenn. Interestingly, David had the help of Mary Weiss herself, as he had built trust with her after many years and was honored with the task of telling the candid story of the Shangs. I have mostly heard the play called Past, Present, Future, but have, on at least one occasion, seen it referred to as Out in the Streets.

    I’m sort of desperate to contact David for reassurance that the play hasn’t been scrapped, and only those present for the three readings a year ago will ever know the truth. Do you happen to have any insights about this?

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