Saturday, 17 July 2010

Keltner analysis of undiscussed Rock Hall Artists: Joy Division

The site A List of Things Thrown Five Minutes Ago, discusses various artists' credentials for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

After finishing my analysis of the Rock Hall backlog, I always intended to analyse artists who have never been discussed by the Nominating Committee, but still might have credentials to justify induction. The aim of the process is to find out whether, on the basis of the Keltner list for a Hall of Fame, the Nominating Committee really is completely ignoring artists who have undeniable credentials to be in the Hall.

I do admit that there are some problems with the criteria, especially given known biases of the Nominating Committee and how they effect who is already in the Hall, but still I cannot see any better alternative.

I have so far done six Keltner tests on undiscussed artists:
My next artist, first eligible in 2003/2004, is Joy Division. They formed in 1977 in Salford as a reaction to the Sex Pistols' shows in Manchester. Guitarist Bernard Sumner and bassist Peter Hook were the initial members, and were soon joined by vocalist Ian Curtis, who when Sumner and Hook met them had
on the back of his jacket. Terry Mason joined as drummer, and the band maned themselves Warsaw after a song from David Bowie's album Low. After a single gig, Mason became the band's manager and Tony Tabac, the Steve Brotherdale, joined as a drummer, only to be replaced because he wanted Curtis to join his other band Panik.

When they asked for a replacement drummer, there was only one response, a schoolmate of Curtis in Steve Morris. Because another London punk band was called Warsaw Pakt, at the start of 1978 the band renamed themselves Joy Division after the prostitution wing of a Nazi concentration camp. Their debut EP, An Ideal for a Living, was released at the beginning of June 1978, but during that period Joy Division made many other recordings that were never issued. They contributed in September to a compilation EP titled Short Circuit and very soon after signed with Factory Records and recorded along with the Durutti Column, John Dowie and Cabaret Voltaire for A Factory Sampler, the label's debut release.

After this Joy Division began work on their first full-length album Unknown Pleasures. Released in 1979, it was critically acclaimed from the beginning, but failed to sell even in the UK. Since that time, however, it has become one of the most acclaimed albums of its era.

Following the release of Unknown Pleasures, Joy Division had a number of appearances on BBC2 television and made a nationwide tour during the autumn of 1979.

They then released the single “Transmission” during November and the devoted following they developed earned them the nickname of “cult with no name”. The beginning of 1980 saw the band tour Europe, but Ian Curtis experienced tonic–clonic seizures, and lack of sleep and long hours completely destabilised him. The latter half of March saw Joy Division record their second album, Closer, and May saw them planning to tour the United States for the first time.

However, on the eighteenth of May 1980, all Joy Division’s plans were thwarted immediately when vocalist Ian Curtis committed suicide. He had been diagnosed as an epileptic in 1979, and had been taken ill earlier that year. By May, Curtis was suffering from a failed marriage and he hanged himself after visiting his wife on the seventeenth.

Following Curtis’ suicide, interest in Joy Division’s music continued to rise, and Closer peaked at number six on the British albums chart and later charted even higher in New Zealand. The single “Love Will Tear Us Apart” charted also in Australia. The remaining members of Joy Division, who had vowed before Curtis’ suicide that they would change the name of the band if he left, continued with Morris’ girlfriend and later wife Gillian Gilbert as New Order. (New Order might themselves have some case to be in the Rock Hall, and some have suggested that they could be combined with Joy Division for a more viable Rock Hall candidacy, though nobody in Cleveland has ever thought of this and probably never will.)

An evaluation of Joy Division's Rock Hall credentials based on the Keltner criteria, which actually come from the Baseball Hall of Fame follows.

1) Were Joy Division ever regarded as the best artist in rock music? (Did anybody, while Joy Division were active, ever seriously suggest Joy Division were the best artist in rock music?): This is very doubtful. Joy Division had many rivals in terms of critical acclaim and name-dropping by musicians amongst the post-punk bands of the late 1970s, and at no time did they really stand out from such bands as Television, Wire or X, plus there was such bands as proto-thrashers Motörhead and hardcore punks Black Flag to compete with even if purely artistic merit is one’s criterion.

2) Were Joy Division ever the best artist in rock music in its genre?: The same thing, in essence, applies here. Even after Lloyd and Verlaine split up, there were such new bands as X and Wire emerging to equal them or nearly do so. Then there are such lesser-known and even less commercially successful bands as Pere Ubu and The Pop Group who were even more artistically adventurous and difficult to listen to, and who writers like David Keenan and Piero Scaruffi have considered as definitely superior.

3) Was any member of Joy Division ever considered the best at his instrument?: No. Ian Curtis’ despairing lyrics might have been viewed as outstanding, but none of the band's members have dominated polls for lists of best at their individual instruments.

4) Did Joy Division have an impact on a number of other artists?: Yes. Their dark, brooding sound is cited as the key to understanding first-generation U2 and their use of electronic rhythms inspired the mainstream emergence of groups like The Cure who began at the same time, and as Joe S. Harrington points out, later even The Smiths.

5) Were Joy Division good enough that they could play regularly after passing their prime?: No. They disbanded when Ian Curtis committed suicide, and even if we consider New Order as a successor to them, New Order did not play after they began declining in the early 1990s.

6) Are Joy Division the very best artist in history that is not in the Hall of Fame?: Certainly not. They had a very brief career that despite its considerable influence in the world of electronic music and the development of synth-pop cannot be considered of overwhelming significance artistically compared to many other bands like the MC5, Captain Beefheart or Can. Nor were they at all commercially successful in the United States.

7) Are most bands who have a comparable recording history and impact in the Hall of Fame?: No. Even with the 2009/2010 induction of the Stooges, most of the important critically slaved alternative bands remain out of the Hall of Fame. One can list Big Star, Television, Wire, the Buzzcocks, Hüsker Dü, the Replacements, Black Flag and the Misfits have rarely been considered.

8) Is there any evidence to suggest that Joy Division were significantly better or worse than is suggested by their statistical records?: There is little to say here. Ian Curtis' personal problems were in no way unique for a post-punk band, and there is nothing of note that might have influence on one's judgment.

9) Is Joy Division the best artist in its genre that is eligible for the Hall of Fame?: in the field of synth-pop, yes artistically as they were ahead even of Depeche Mode who have already been discussed by the Nominating Committee. However, Joy Division were too experimental at large to be considered a pop group, and as I have said in 6), they cannot be seen as the most essential omission from underground rock groups eligible for thw Hall.

10) How many #1 singles/gold records did Joy Division have? Did Joy Division ever win a Grammy award? If not, how many times was Joy Division nominated?: Joy Division never dented the Billboard Top 200 whilst active, and even in Europe and New Zealand where they did have some significant success, they did not have anything approaching a number one single or album.

11) How many Grammy-level songs/albums did Joy Division have? For how long of a period did Joy Division dominate the music scene? How many Rolling Stone covers did Joy Division appear on? Did most bands with this sort of impact go into the Hall of Fame?: As said before, Joy Division never won a Grammy and they dominated the music scene for a single small year at best. Very few bands wiht this lack of impact are likely to go into the Hall of Fame.

12) If Joy Division were the best artist at a concert, would it be likely that the concert would rock?: Probably not sufficiently. In comparison with most bands of the time there are not many live documents of Joy Division, and those are not discussed nearly as much as other artists from the “punk revolution”.

13) What impact did Joy Division have on rock history? Were they responsible for any stylistic changes? Did they introduce any new equipment? Did Joy Division change history in any way?: Yes. Joy Division made synthesisers a legitimate part of alternative rock and in doing so helped pave the way for modern electronic music. They also changed post-punk music away from the “hard and fast” standard into a slow drones that were very influential in indie rock in the 1980s and 1990s.

14) Did Joy Division uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?: Ian Curtis’ suicide can make one think that they did not do so, but overall apart from that they had few problems either as Joy Division or alter as New Order.

Verdict: There is a pass on very few criteria as Joy Division, so one feels the verdicts has to be “don’t induct”. One could consider inducting them together with their spinoff New Order, but unlike with Parliament and Funkadelic this has never been considered by the Nominating Committee (who haven’t actually discussed New Order).

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

7.5 million fewer cars could have been

Today, in Trading Room, it says that the outback is the key to cutting Australia’s appalling greenhouse gas emissions. The argument is that improving the methods of grazing would allow for greater storage of carbon in the extensive grasslands of the outback.

The trouble is this:
  1. the method will do nothing like enough to counter runaway climate change, as is admitted by the authors. 5 percent reduction will still ensure a shift of the arid belt to the far south of Australia, and a huge increase in outback rainfall that will, however, decrease grazing profitability. This paradox occurs because the soils in the wet/dry tropics are so poor that the food value of grasses is too poor for any large herbivore. The grasses are rich in toxic aluminum and manganese which makes them impossible to digest on such a large scale. In the relatively rich clay soils of the southeastern outback, fairly nutritious grasses and herbage feed extremely efficient and extensive grazing
  2. 7.5 million fewer cars could easily have been achieved if people in Australia had been willing to fight for a first-class public transport system through demanding that rail and tram services become the exclusive recipient of government transport funding and that freeway building be constitutionally banned.
  3. If all the money spent on CityLink, EastLink, etc. etc. had been spent on railway extensions and on giving buses priority on busy roads, Melbourne could have a public transport system equal to the best systems in Europe and Asia. With rigid laws against increasing road capacity and efforts to actually reduce it dramatically, such a system might actually more than recover costs
  4. Such a move could reduce Australia’s greenhouse emissions by at least 30 percent by now and potentially by even more in the future.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

The funniest few minutes for a long time

The past few short minutes have seen my brother do something that one could hardly imagine him ever trying to do. After he had discussed his view that the apparently defunct Politically Incorrect Guides are basically a tool to increase the power and wealth of the ruling class and the Catholic Church – exactly the view Socialist Alternative would have but one I never noticed on the surface of PIGs which claims that they are about protecting ordinary people from an over-powerful “Daddy State” – my brother then did something remarkable:

Being still in bed because he often works very late at night in debating and/or travels to places like Geelong and Bendigo, my brother tried to imitate how he thought Thèrése Neumann would have actually been living. He said in the silliest imaginable fashion that he had blood on his hands – he thinks that Thèrése’s wounds were deliberately inflicted as a show of piety rather than, as Adalbert Albert Vogl says, a consequence of her extreme suffering from a barn fire in 1918.

He then went much further into trying to fit Thèrése’s story into his own utterly dogmatic rejection of any claim made by religion. Because, my brother says, previous so-called “fasting girls” had been found to eat donuts at night, my brother said with his very limited knowledge of German:
“Ich bin Thèrése Neumann”
“Ich habe keine Eucharistie gegessen”
“Ich möchte viele Krapfen”
“Ich möchte schlafen” (it is supposed Thèrése did not sleep after 1926)
He even imagined himself imitating Marthe Robin, but said he knew no French.

The whole way in which he trivialises how people observed these women live years with no evidence they could or were even able to eat or drink anything apart from the Eucharist is shocking to me. My mother even refers to it as “religious pornography”; given the graphic nature of the images of stigmatists, I actually tolerate this view but still steadfastly think it is nothing like so bad as Gail Dines shows ordinary pornography to be. According to Thèrése Neumann: Mystic and Stigmatist, even atheists actually observed her miraculous inedia without any kind of refutation.

Friday, 2 July 2010

A simple answer to the dilemma of the mining tax

Over the past month, controversy over opposition to Rudd’s “mining tax” has been a leading point on the newspapers, radio and television.

The consequences have been tragic for Rudd and his party: huge losses in the opinion polls, the removal of Rudd and his replacement by Julia Gillard, and ultimately a free ride for ecologically destructive mining companies whose policies mean the most ecologically sensitive country in the world untenably has six times the world average per capita carbon emissions. When you consider how Australia’s climate has changed since 1967, “acceptable” could be not above 0.5 to 5 percent the world average per capita emissions.

There exists a simple solution to the problem of the mining tax that would I hope please the ordinary, apolitical outer suburban voter upon whom governments in Australia depend for power and also do an urgently overdue job of removing some political power from the mining industry and their allies (the “greenhouse mafia” of Four Corners). The plan involves spending the entirety of the unfortunately abandoned mining tax on:
  1. railway improvements such as
    1. standardising narrow gauge
    2. improving alignment on existing intercity lines
    3. assigning funding for electrification of lines for which that is overdue, especially Melbourne to Geelong and Melbourne to Kyneton.
    4. the whole line from Sydney to Brisbane should be looked at for electrification if gauge breaks can be eliminated
  2. considering how to demolish roads so that their cost can be reduced and railways potentially profitable – and then ultimately demolishing them
  3. upgrading transit service in both urban and rural areas to at least equal the best anywhere in the world
Contrary to popular opinions that public transport cannot be profitable in low-density cities or suburbs, in fact public transport in both urban and rural Australia remained profitable until the highway boom of the 1960s. Melbourne public transport more than met costs until the freeway boom of the middle 1970s. If foreign countries were tough enough to force a constitutional outlaw of freeway building in Australia, public transport would certainly regain profitability. With profitability and no competition from roads, there would come incentives for investment lacking since the government began its major highway programs in the 1960s.

The goal of a CFC (Car Free Continent) is one Australia should have aspired to when the appalling Lonie-Underwood Report came out in 1980. That even one private motor car is too many for Australia’s sensitive environment is obvious from climate changes in Western Australia since then, no matter how much that state’s mining-dependent politicians are forced to deny it.

Does edginess have to fail?

Today in the Washington Post is an article in which Michael Gerson argues that the political division in America is not between the Democrats and the Republicans, but between what he calls:
  1. the “Ugly Party”, consisting of people who cannot keep their views private and rudely denigrate their opponents. They view rivals as less than human and do not believe there can be a common purpose to anything.
  2. the “Grown-Up Party”, not so edgy and likely to look at the practical implications of everything from energy policy to the September 11 terrorist attacks. It is said by Gerson to be more responsible and less willing to wish curses on its opponent.
I myself admit I can often have negative wishes about people like Robin Underwood - and even as I have changed with age some things about me - such as my antagonism towards one cent of public money being used to destroy the environment by building a freeway. However, the way in which the extraordinarily grown-up outer suburbs thrive whilst inner cities dominated by edgy groups that Gerson and David Weigel are extremely critical of. Rod Dreher’s blog does offer a very comfortable model, as does the work of people like Sharon Astyk.

It seems, indeed, that only trying to live a truly countercultural lifestyle and resisting any sort of consumerism or even the addiction to impossible quality that I have often had when gadgets go wrong (I recall ranting about a “50-year warranty” when a cassette player and again much later when an iPod both failed). I try to buy something that is traditional but functional - and have experimented with building my own furniture - and it at least with the little furniture I need, works. Clothes are something where I look for the same thing, and the problem is applying it to more modern technology where I know obsolescene is an unfortunate problem.