Thursday, 30 August 2012

The 2012/2013 Rock Hall ballot: a new dawning?

Over the past three years, I have done predictions for the 2011/2012, 2010/2011 and 2009/2010 ballots for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I will admit I have never been remotely correct with a very few exceptions, but I still enjoy the work, especially as Future Rock Legends have been as slow as I have looking at the issue.

When I first looked at the future of the Rock Hall around the time of the 2005/2006 ballot, I always thought that the 2012/2013 ballot would be something of a turning point because I felt that it would mark the date at which underground political hip hop entered the mainstream consciousness of Blue America with the rise of Public Enemy and N.W.A., who were as central to the Bush Senior Era as bands like the Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix were to the 1960s. There was also key grunge artist Soundgarden, whose eligibility has been put forward without results since they did have a recording out on a 1986 compilation.

Some critics, however, doubt that an aging Nominating Committee will actually take advantage of the creativity of the Bush Senior Era and will focus on a few commercially successful artists that at least had critical respectability, along with a backlog that fails to shrink in size as it gets more and more remote into the past.

I am not sure that the Nominating Committee is opposed to rap, even though it has been slower that I would have guessed half a decade ago at inducting those rap artists one would have expected to see on Rock Hall ballots.

I predict that the following eleven artists will be on the 2012/2013 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ballot:
  • The Shangri-Las: A group oddly overlooked for many years that both epitomised the girl-group sound with such songs as “Leader of the Pack” and later covered by such heavy rock groups as Aerosmith, the Shangri-Las would on the face of it be expected to have been at least seriously considered much earlier: they have after all been eligible since 1990/1991. Perhaps confusion over what side of “women in rock” they really represent has hindered them, but now it seems the Shangri-Las should ahve a real chance.
  • Captain Beefheart: Now deceased but still unique, Beefheart has been part of the backlog for two decades without a nomination. The fact that the MC5 and New York Dolls have not recently been nominated suggests some may think a new name will need to be tried, and Beefheart is one who might draw attention if he were nominated. Many people know the name but not his music, though Trout Mask Replica remains an icon.
  • Yes: A much-respected band in a maligned genre, Yes is one group I have been expecting on a ballot soon after the induction of Genesis. In some ways, they were a more respected group even though they did go the way of their contemporaries after the “punk revolution” and tightening of the belts by record companies. Their reputation is good enough that a place on the ballot does not seem improbable.
  • War: The rap revolution ought in theory to revive interest in 1960s and 1970s funk that was the precursor to rap. Although War, largely arising out of the Animals’ Eric Burdon, are not a classic “funk” band in that sense, they do stand as one of the most important “soul” artists of the 1970s. Having been nominated twice makes one think War must have a good shot at getting on the ballot again, especially with a sampling compilation album Rap Declares War at the height of the Bush Senior Era.
  • KISS: If you are looking for a metal group for this year's ballot, it is tough since key underground metal artists like Slayer, Sepultura and Pantera stand so far from the Nominating Committee. KISS, however, have already been nominated once and seem the most likely metal group to balance out this year’s ballot. Their commercial success and over the years, improved critical reputation stand KISS in quite good stead to eventually get in.
  • Donna Summer: As the queen of disco and often cited as a snub, Summer has been on the ballot often enough to suggest she will get another chance even at a period much more difficult for established candidates than was the period from 2002/2003 to 2011/2012.
  • The Cure: Having reached the 2011/2012 ballot twenty-five years after they grew to prominence in the United States, but before their number two hit “Love Song” is telling in their favour. As the first band to popularise the “goth” image the Cure are of considerable cultural significance, and they had a definite if not crucial role in the culture of the period.
  • Sonic Youth: Although it took time before they were discussed, they were a band who captured attention by their remarkable guitar tunings and pop hooks that allowed a band generally viewed as “noise rock” to sign with a major label and in 1994, even dent the Billboard Top 40. Their influence, both in terms of women-in-music and in new guitar sounds, is such that it woudl be hard to see Sonic Youth missing out as the Bush Senior generation emerges.
  • LL Cool J: The first of the major rappers to emerge commercially, LL Cool J has already been nominated twice and it seems like it will only take a couple more nominations before he is elected as the rap section of the backlog disappears. Many see LL Cool J as the first “new school” rap artist - preceding the political and gangsta rappers by two years with Radio - and such acclaim furthers his chances.
  • Public Enemy: Not only the most political and most influential of all the hip hop artists of the Bush Senior Era, but also successful commercially with four Top 20 albums in the early 1990s. Chuck D and Flavor Flav were icons of the generation coming of age during the Bush Senior Era, rivalled only by Metallica. Rolling Stone, too, lavished praise on Public Enemy’s late 1980s and early 1990s albums, which only confirms them as the premier chance for the class of 2012/2013.
  • N.W.A.: Because they burned out badly after one famous album in Straight Outta Compton, N.W.A. never achieved the fame or infamy of Public Enemy, but they were equally important to the rap revolution of the Bush Senior Era. Where Public Enemy focused on politics, N.W.A. combined this with the gangster lifestyle of so many blacks to create the controversial genre of “gangsta rap”, which led to calls for censorship in the 1990s.

If the eleven artists listed above do not make the 2012/2013 ballot, then it will probably because some of these make the list:
  • The Spinners: A popular funk group of the 1970s long ignored by thsoe in authority, the Spinners’ commercial success has seen their fame not appreciated by the Nominating Committee until recently, when they were nominated without success in 2011/2012. The more competitive atmosphere of 2012/2013 may not favour them, but they should not be ruled out.
  • Dick Dale: As the original “guitar god”, Dale has attracted much attention even though he never had any commercial success. His influence on more famous stars such as Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page, however, is a very good reason for Dale’s being enshrined, and his consideration after a long period (he has been eligible since 1988/1989) and the Nominating Committee may be keen on recognising the first so-called “guitar god”.
  • Joe Tex: Previously though of as a certain induction soon after several nominations, Tex may well be drifting away from the radar of the Nominating Committee with the rap revolution to be accounted for - this even though some have though Tex’s style of singing to influence rap and that he was a rival to first-time inductee James Brown.
  • The Monkees: Apparently vetoed by some in the Nominating Committee, but the Monkees have long been viewed as a severe snub even though some regard them as a joke. They were the best-known “teen pop” group during the 1960s, and their members later had success as solo artists in the 1970s. Given that some in the Nominating Committee have long voted for the Monkees, it would not be impossible to see 2012/2013 as a year for them.
  • The Sir Douglas Quintet: Their “Tex Mex” sound won them and leader Doug Sahm critical acclaim and a longtime cult following, which clearly has had them viewed as a crucially important band in the development of country rock during the 1970s. They reached the ballot in 2005/2006, so one should certainly look at them.
  • T. Rex: One artist whom I have expected to see on the ballot soon with their critical reputation and status as the moniker for the glam movement, T. Rex are only doubtful because of their “one hit wonder” status for “Get It On” in the United States. However, the status of their album Electric Warrior with Rolling Stone as number 160 on their (disparaged) Top 500 ought to dismiss such claims - even its cover art has been ranked as some of the best ever.
  • Chic: Six places on the ballot without an induction is questionable: being cited as an influence my most commercially successful bands of the 1980s makes them of importance to that era, which may lessen their chances in 2012/2013 and later. Voters could neglect Chic forever, but its hard to see how one of the most respected groups in a movement that shaped the late 1970s just as much as acclaimed punk could be out of the running.
  • Black Flag: If they get in Black Flag would - even including the Velvets - be the least commercially successful group to ever do so, but their influence on music is of great importance. Their sheer aggression was a total stripping down and hardening of rock, yet when combined with elements of progressive rock it shaped the sound of such bands as Metallica and Megadeth, and also such post-rockers as Slint.
  • Afrika Bambaataa: As the rap era gets into full swing with the 2012/2013 newly eligibles, Afrika Bambaataa - already on the ballot in 2007/2008 - would have a very good chance of being enshrined as one of the first pioneers in rap with “Planet Rock”. Their relative lack of commercial success may not be an issue with so many critics choosing to ignore the commercial artists of the Reagan Era.
  • The Replacements: Although they never reached major commercial success the Replacements were and remain one of the most critically acclaimed bands of the Reagan Era, and did make the transition to a major label much more effectively than Minneapolis rivals Hüsker Dü. Their chances do depend on whether Reagan-Era underground acts will be acknowledged, but Richie Unterberger once said they had a real chance.
  • Boogie Down Productions: Though not as critically acclaimed as N.W.A., they are generally regarded as an important pioneer of “gangsta rap” with their debut album Criminal Minded - which notably received a review from avant garne webzine Dusted, suggesting even today they have hip credibility. Then there is leader KRS-One rapping for R.E.M. on “Radio Song” as further evidence BDP might be on the radar.
  • The Pixies: Regarded as an essential influence on Nirvana and the first of the American “alternative” groups to become a big seller - though they were much bigger in Europe - the Pixies are a group whose sales are considered questionable for the Hall, though no alternative group before them sold as well. It is still tempting to think them as too “underground”, but then their critical reputation and influence might be enough for a chance eventually.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

The Enriched World’s hard heart: can government not help?

Today, whilst I was at my half-sister’s for the first time for months - despite a number of letters dealing with the problems my mother has had with cancer and a masectomy that still troubles me though she was cleared earlier than last year, she and her partner asked me to watch a program about Australians whose families live in refugee-stricken nations of Africa and Asia.

The program was extremely interesting to watch: it showed much more than I had ever previously known about the horrific conditions experienced by Somali refugees in the arid and brutally hot eastern part of Ethiopia. The conditions, in a climate that reaches 45˚C in most of the year and a barely more tolerable 35˚C between December and March, are terrible. There is no shelter, just rooms for people to live in held together by metal poles. When a strong wind blows, I saw terrific dust storms.

The situation in cooler Afghanistan was similar, only the less harsh climate with more water from snowfall and spring rain made it seem much less nasty. Still, the conditions in Afghanistan were very poor, and the men interviewed had no jobs or any chance of obtaining one.

My relatives, who talked whilst I kept quiet, were saying that Australia should be doing much more to help and accommodate the large number of refugees that are in these camps. The refugee camps in the eastern Ethiopian desert, according to the program, are “tent cities” (though the “tents” are flimsy as I noted) of many hundreds of thousands of people, and my relatives argue that instead of trying to move the refugees to places like Christmas Island, Australia should try to accommodate them with their families here.

The trouble with this is that, ecologically, Australia is already known to be seriously overpopulated. The total water runoff of the continent south of the Tropic of Capricorn have a 100-year minimum of around twenty cubic kilometres per year - which with the shift in the rain belts poleward could fall considerably lower. More than that, Australia is the fourth most biologically diverse nation in the world and even with very limited and extensive land use most of its unique biodiversity could be severely threatened quite soon. In contrast, the Enriched World of Europe, temperate Asia, North America, New Zealand and extratropical South America have easily manipulated ecosystems of low fragility and temporal variability.

All the more telling is how the more developed Enriched World nations of Europe, North America and New Zealand, even with their superior social services, cannot compete with Australia in attracting refugees, despite the fact that their governments complain intensely about Australia’s poor treatment of refugees and argue for it taking more.

What this ignores is that social services cannot substitute for a privately hospitable environment in which people willingly give to each other. Writers like Arthur Brooks, Anthony Gill and Erik Lunsgårde have clearly shown that the more developed parts of the Enriched World are totally lacking in this quality precisely because of the very large sizes of their governments. This large size of government serves to prevent people in the Enriched World from wanting to help each other: instead they want to take from the government or from the rich. No matter how good a welfare system such a government brings, the way it drains the non-existent natural resources of Europe, North America and New Zealand is devastating for the very thing these low-fragility nations should recognise their need to do: help support nations that are poor or have ecological problems from infertile environments.

It is a serious problem that these nations’ governments cannot recognise how their own deeply ingrained high taxation rates make them per se hypocritical to condemn refugees, because their private social structure is totally hostile to them. Taxes in the Enriched World would need to be largely or completely dismantled to provide opportunities for the building of communities that routinely occurs in Australia and which occurred in the Enriched World before the working classes pushed through welfare states. This is not likely when protests show how clearly Enriched World working classes have lost no militancy, but it is the only way to avoid a mass hypocrisy on two very distant but related issues.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Not a “people’s” list, really!

Today, “hip” music webzine Pitchfork is releasing a list of the “best albums of the past 15 years”, as voted by “the people”. To be consistent with other lists I will only list their Top 100:
  1. Radiohead: OK Computer
  2. Radiohead: Kid A
  3. Arcade Fire: Funeral
  4. Neutral Milk Hotel: In the Aeroplane over the Sea
  5. The Strokes: Is This It
  6. Radiohead: In Rainbows
  7. Wilco: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
  8. Animal Collective: Merriweather Post Pavilion
  9. Kanye West: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
  10. Sufjan Stevens: Illinois
  11. LCD Soundsystem: Sound of Silver
  12. Interpol: Turn On the Bright Lights
  13. Bon Iver: For Emma, Forever Ago
  14. The Flaming Lips: The Soft Bulletin
  15. The xx: The xx
  16. Arcade Fire: The Suburbs
  17. Modest Mouse: The Moon and Antarctica
  18. Fleet Foxes: Fleet Foxes
  19. The Flaming Lips: Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
  20. Radiohead: Amnesiac
  21. The White Stripes: Elephant
  22. The White Stripes: White Blood Cells
  23. Grizzly Bear: Veckatimest
  24. The National: Boxer
  25. Broken Social Scene: You Forgot It in People
  26. Daft Punk: Discovery
  27. Vampire Weekend: Vampire Weekend
  28. Bon Iver: Bon Iver
  29. DJ Shadow: …Endtroducing
  30. Beck: Odelay
  31. Belle and Sebastian: If You’re Feeling Sinister
  32. Beach House: Teen Dream
  33. Modest Mouse: The Lonesome Crowded West
  34. LCD Soundsystem: This Is Happening
  35. OutKast: Stankonia
  36. Phoenix Wolfgang: Amadeus Phoenix
  37. Elliott Smith: Either/Or
  38. Arcade Fire: The Neon Bible
  39. Kanye West: The College Dropout
  40. Radiohead: Hail to the Thief
  41. Panda Bear: Person Pitch
  42. Madvillain: Madvillainy
  43. The Postal Service: Give Up
  44. Animal Collective: Strawberry Jam
  45. Sigur Rós Ágætis Byrjun
  46. The Avalanches: Since I Left You
  47. The Shins: Chutes Too Narrow
  48. Dirty Projectors: Bitte Orca
  49. Spiritualized: Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space
  50. Beck: Sea Change
  51. Björk: Homogenic
  52. The Magnetic Fields: 69 Love Songs
  53. Modest Mouse: Good News for People Who Love Bad News
  54. The National: High Violet
  55. The Shins Oh, Inverted World
  56. Arctic Monkeys: Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I’m Not
  57. Yo La Tengo: I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One
  58. Kanye West: Late Registration
  59. Massive Attack: Mezzanine 
  60. Burial: Untrue
  61. Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Fever to Tell
  62. Boards of Canada: Music Has the Right to Children
  63. Deerhunter: Halcyon Digest
  64. Bloc Party: Silent Alarm
  65. M83: Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming
  66. Jay-Z: The Blueprint
  67. Animal Collective: Feels
  68. Queens of the Stone Age: Songs for the Deaf
  69. Sigur Rós: ( ) 
  70. Franz Ferdinand: Franz Ferdinand 
  71. James Blake: James Blake 
  72. Daft Punk: Homework 
  73. Portishead: Third 
  74. The National: Alligator 
  75. Animal Collective: Sung Tongs 
  76. The Strokes: Room on Fire 
  77. Wilco: Summerteeth 
  78. Elliott Smith: XO 
  79. Justice:  
  80. Deerhunter: Microcastle/Weird Era Continued 
  81. TV on the Radio: Dear Science 
  82. Fleet Foxes: Helplessness Blues
  83. The Knife: Silent Shout
  84. Outkast: Aquemini
  85. TV on the Radio: Return to Cookie Mountain
  86. Built to Spill: Keep it Like a Secret
  87. Air: Moon Safari
  88. Vampire Weekend: Contra
  89. OutKast: Speakerboxxx/The Love Below
  90. Kanye West: Graduation
  91. Wolf Parade: Apologies to the Queen Mary
  92. LCD Soundsystem: LCD Soundsystem
  93. The Antlers: Hospice
  94. Jay-Z: The Black Album
  95. Of Montreal: Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?
  96. Spoon: Kill the Moonlight
  97. Spoon: Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
  98. M.I.A.: Kala
  99. Girls: Album
  100. The Microphones: The Glow, Part 2
The thing about this list is that so little of it represents the music ordinary people have been listening to in the past fifteen years. Although I have followed less and less commercial music since the late 1990s when albums qualifying for this list begin, what most people have been listening to during this period is quite different.

Radiohead have been described by “janitor-x” as “a one-hit wonder for mainstream rock radio and a corporate rock band for the underground”. This does give you some idea of what line Radiohead have walked (with a lot of success, of course) over the period under review. The same is true of the Strokes, whose music is nothing more than bland “alternative” rock. Arcade Fire and the fleet Foxes, whose music I once lsitened to in a store, are the same: they hark back to the past without offering anything new.

The “freak folk” movement that made the most interesting music of the period since the grunge revolution of the Bush Senior Era is modestly covered, whilst such movements as metalcore (e.g. Converge) that people like “janitor-x” said represented the genuine underground are quite naturally completely overlooked. Although I have had little look in my extensive study of music at the instrumental-type underground that arose from the fertile “post-rock” movement of the late 1990s, that still does not prevent me from overlooking it, even though unlike metal and ahrdcore it has little popularity among the working masses in America.

Then, of course, it is possible to argue that there could be a failure in the list to represent movements that were genuinely popular, from teen pop to “nu”-metal. Whilst it is unlikely anything would be of value among such movements, there could still be more efforts to reach a different audience.

All in all, Pitchfork cannot be said to have created a “people’s” list, rather they have created an “academic’s” list that may not even reflect where music is going today.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

A reversal on the rhino poaching debacle?

In the early months of this year, as I have documented in a number of posts, it has been shown that the Vietnamese government has played a major role in the recent rhinoceros poaching epidemic in southern Africa that is severely threatening these species.

Now, however, after relatively minor attempts to apprehend poachers in South Africa, which holds the vast majority of surviving rhinoceroses, is news that the governments of South Africa and a seemingly reformed Vietnam are going to sign a deal to stop the poaching of rhinoceroses for their horn.

The deal encompasses:
  1. sharing details of rhinoceros hunts involving Vietnamese citizens
  2. bilateral cooperation to investigate presumably uninvestigated crimes by Vietnamese citizens
  3. education in Vietnam on the endangered status of rhinoceroses
One hopes that the formerly Stalinist government of Vietnam really is sincere about doing something to stop poaching of endangered rhinoceroses. The trouble is that so many governments have the problem of people like rhinoceros poachers donating money in such a manner that one is hard pressed to tell whether it is legal or not. More than that, the Herald Sun suggests that only mass political pressure has caused the South African government to do anything about the Vietnamese government’s purchase of rhinoceros products. If public pressure eases, then it is easy to see how rhinoceroses could be killed in even greater numbers than is occurring at present, even with treaties between the two nations’ governments firmly in place.