Posts Tagged ‘Ciccone Youth’

Depending on how one calculates such things, I‘ve seen either 33 or 42 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees in concert. The higher of the two numbers adds members of Hall of Fame groups, such as Jerry Butler of the Impressions, plus the “Tribute to the Byrds” band fronted by Gene Clark that featured original drummer Michael Clarke and second bassist John York (I’ve also seen Roger McGuinn, Chris Hillman’s Desert Rose Band and David Crosby); I’m hesitant to include them in my official tally as it’s somewhat akin to counting chads – but, in the immortal words of Grace Slick (via “Hey Fredrick”), “Either go away or go all the way in.” So I’ll count them if only for this post.

Mind you, I never set out to see that many (or few). It just happened.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s first induction ceremony took place in early 1986 at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York. Although the evening was filmed for the HoF’s archives, HoF spokesman Robert Altshuler is quoted in this report by New York Times scribe Robert Palmer as saying, “We intentionally avoided selling film or video rights for the evening, because we are and will remain a not-for-profit endeavor.”

In its first decade, the Hall of Fame was the culmination of many a baby boomer’s dream: The counterculture was finally leaping from the pages of Rolling Stone into the mainstream. The inductees were obvious, as all hailed – due to the rule that artists only become eligible 25 years after the release of their first record – from the baby boom generation’s collective youth, teens and early twenties: Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry and Little Richard, not to mention Ray Charles, Buddy Holly, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Byrds and Supremes. Were some major names left out? No doubt. But there’s no arguing the importance and influence of the selected icons (though I’m sure in today’s age of social-media outrage some ignorant folks would decry the “R&B” artists therein.)

In its 10th year, the ceremonies moved to TV; and, now, in its 34th year, that’s pretty much all it is – TV fodder. Some years it’s fun to watch. Some years it’s not. Nominees are decided by a select committee and the public is encouraged to vote, though that vote barely factors into the outcome, which is actually decided by about 1000 music experts. Looking at each year’s line-up, however, I’d wager that the results are tweaked more often than not. Worthy artists are honored, true, but worthy artists are also ignored. And, often, journeymen are feted as heroes simply because they’ve hung around. Nostalgia has come to count as much as importance or influence.

Who’s in and who’s not is simultaneously meaningful and meaningless, in other words. Which is why, when I hear (or read) criticisms of certain artists being included, I can’t help but roll my eyes. Does Whitney Houston belong? Biggie Smalls? Why not? From its earliest years onward, “rock and roll” has had a wide berth. Born from a jambalaya of R&B, country and jazz, rock is far more than what passes as “rock music” in today’s world. It’s been vocal groups like the Platters and rock rebels like Elvis, industrial noise like Nine Inch Nails and grunge rock like Nirvana. It’s never been a specific sound. It’s an aesthetic, an attitude. In that sense, they all pass that test. 

Are there groups I think should be in that aren’t? Of course. A slew of acts from the late ‘70s and ‘80s have been overlooked, including the Jam, Go-Go’s, Bangles, Sonic Youth and Ciccone Youth (that’s a joke, folks), as well as Hüsker Dü, Suzanne Vega, 10,000 Maniacs and [fill in the blank]. Whether any of them get in, who knows? I doubt it, myself. The cultural mantle has been passed from the baby boomers – who decried Generation X as “slackers” – to the millennials. And many millennials were weaned not on music, but video games. 

But at the end of the day, from where I sit, I don’t think the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame matters all that much. It’s akin to looking to any awards show – from the Grammys to the Oscars to whatever – or record reviews to validate your tastes. It’s silly. To me, the most important Rock and Roll Hall of Fame isn’t located in Cleveland. It’s my music library – and yours.

IMG_5111“Arete is the Aristotelian word which translates into ‘virtue,’ ‘goodness,’ or ‘excellence’ in any field. For Aristotle, Arete had many associations: intellectual, social, as well as defining a person’s moral nature. A more contemporary definition of Arete is the aggregate of qualities that comprise good character. In the context of this magazine, it means a forum for thought and reflection.” So reads the editor’s note inside this, the fourth issue of the short-lived Arete: Forum for Thought.

It was a bimonthly West Coast-based magazine that never made it East – or, if it did, it never made it to the magazine racks of the suburban Philly bookstores I frequented. I discovered it, I think, in mid-1988 via Writer’s Digest magazine, which mentioned its need of articles and reviews. I submitted some album reviews; the editor(s) bought a few (at $25 a pop) and printed one in the second issue – my take on Brian Wilson’s 1988 eponymous album. I submitted more; they bought a few and printed one in this, the January/February 1989 issue – my thoughts on Steve Earle’s Copperhead Road. I submitted more; they bought a few and…I don’t know. Free copies stopped arriving in my mailbox, so I have no idea what, if anything, they printed.

Anyway, by the time this issue reached me, I was leading a work life led by many a former English major: retail. The year before, I signed on with West Coast Video, which was attempting to expand into the CD market, and managed the CD department at a store in Philly’s Andorra shopping center, across the street from the apartment complex where my grandparents once lived. It was a thankless job in just about every respect, but I did well enough in it that, in early ’89, the division head expanded my responsibilities to include the Bala Cynwyd store.

It was in Bala, one Saturday afternoon in late February, that a cute brunette walked in, slammed her purse on the counter and said – no, demanded, “Where the hell are the Nanci Griffith CDs I ordered?” I’m exaggerating, of course, but that was how Diane and I met. She was impressed that I not only knew who Nanci Griffith was, but was familiar with her music. (I discovered her during my Folk Show days via a Folkways compilation – this one, in fact.) I, in turn, was pleased that she liked the Flying Burrito Brothers, whose new best-of I recommended to her.

So, today’s Top 5: January/February 1989 – as in, things I was listening to at the time.

nanci_one_fair1) Nanci Griffith – “More Than a Whisper.” Nanci, for those unfamiliar with her, is a Texas-bred singer-songwriter who learned her craft in large part – as so many of her generation did – from Townes Van Zandt. The live One Fair Summer Evening, released in late 1988, is a wonderful summary of the first phase of her career; and this song, originally released on her 1986 Last of the True Believers album, was (and remains) one of my favorites by her.

IMG_51162) Steve Earle – “Copperhead Road.” I’ve always liked good setups. I tried to create one with this review, though – reading it now – it didn’t quite succeed: “On his previous two albums, Steve Earle sounded cocky, occasionally substituting attitude for substance. He came across as a country-punk rebel, a good ol’ boy who admitted he was an angry young man at heart. The songs themselves were rough-edged wonders, though a few were cliche-ridden creations that seemed like last-minute studio stitch-togethers. On his last album especially, it appeared Earle was traveling down Hank Williams Jr. Boulevard, that stretch of highway where talent’s just as likely to get chucked out the window as an empty beer bottle.” Next paragraph: “But on Copperhead Road, Earle proves himself capable of creating first-rate country-cum-rock. Simply put, it’s one of the best albums of the past year.”

(Despite it not working the way I’d hoped, I was proud of the Hank Jr. reference, as I was a once-huge fan – and still am of his late ’70s/early ’80s output – but that’s a post for another day.)

3) R.E.M. – “Orange Crush.” There, in the review next to mine, is Holly Gleason’s perceptive take on Green, R.E.M.’s major-label debut: “No doubt, cries of ‘sell out’ have already begun from those begrudging the band’s ever-growing audience.” I remember those cries well; and, in fact, they’re still there, in some corners of the Internet. Green may not have been R.E.M.’s finest work, but it was damn good.

4) Indigo Girls – “Secure Yourself.” I was, for a time, a huge Indigo Girls fan, and saw them not once, but three times this year – opening for Neil Young in June and twice in August, when they headlined at the TLA on back-to-back nights. The last two were good, if somewhat short, shows – very distinct voices that blended well together, and their occasional lyrical preciousness was disarmed by their sense of humor and smart choices of cover songs. One highlight: Amy played part of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.” Another: they sang an Elton John song – “Mona Lisa and Mad Hatters,” I believe, but I could be confusing it with another Elton song. But then…I don’t know. It’s kind of what I wrote about Pat Benatar in the last Top 5; I moved on.

5) Ciccone Youth – “Into the Groovey.” Another band I liked for a time: Sonic Youth. They released a few albums that I enjoyed leading up to this twisted side-project, a tribute (or something) to Madonna and the music of the ‘80s.