Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Artists Rolling Stone left out of its guides

Ever since Rolling Stone putout its most recent Album Guide a whopping nine years ago, I came to know the tremendous criticism it received on for omitting a number of artists seen as important by other music critics.

When I first read the 1992 edition, it was fascinating to me because I realised there was a world of music far beyond what could be heard in the cloistered confines of Melbourne’s ultraconservative, ultraconformist suburbs. It took me a while to realise I might like some of it: I had assumed that what people called “alternative” was basically loud, thrashy and similar to the worst pop/punk bands of my young adulthood.

However, it did not take me that long to see that there was far more rock music than even Rolling Stone covered, especially when Joe S. Harrington’s and David Keenan’s writings shattered my conceptions of the period and place I had grown up - showing it of no significance to the music world whatsoever. Many of the groups praised by Harrington and Keenan were not even in the other rock guides I possessed, and they intrigued me even with no expectations of liking them.

When the 2004 edition came out, I clearly knew what was wrong with Rolling Stone, yet looking through it really made me think a great deal about how much I had known and have known since. This table is based on a list by “schmidtt” from the Rate Your Music site, and artists I like are italicised.

Those artists included on Joe Harrington’s and David Keenan’s best-albums list are noted in the last two columns. It would be possible to search for rock artists on those lists who have never been in a Rolling Stone Album Guide (Half Japanese for instance)
1979 1983 1992 2004 Harrington Keenan
David Ackles Reviewed Unreviewed Unreviewed Unreviewed

Radio Birdman Reviewed Unreviewed Unreviewed Unreviewed

Cockney Rebel Reviewed Unreviewed Unreviewed Unreviewed

Kevin Coyne Unreviewed Reviewed Unreviewed Unreviewed

Van Dyke Parks Reviewed Unreviewed Reviewed Unreviewed

Flaming Groovies Reviewed Unreviewed Reviewed Unreviewed #89
(Teenage Head)

Dave van Ronk Reviewed Reviewed Unreviewed Unreviewed

Norman Blake Reviewed Reviewed Unreviewed Unreviewed

The Red Krayola Reviewed Reviewed Unreviewed Unreviewed #44
(Parable of Arable Land)

Pearls Before Swine Reviewed Reviewed Unreviewed Unreviewed

Hawkwind Reviewed Reviewed Unreviewed Unreviewed #91
(Quark, Strangeness and Charm

Hatfield and the North Reviewed Reviewed Unreviewed Unreviewed

Henry Cow Reviewed Reviewed Unreviewed Unreviewed

Yellow Magic Orchestra Reviewed Reviewed Unreviewed Unreviewed

Ultravox Reviewed Reviewed Unreviewed Unreviewed

Louis Armstrong Reviewed Reviewed Reviewed Unreviewed

Robert Johnson Reviewed Reviewed Reviewed Unreviewed
The Complete Recordings
Ella Fitzgerald Reviewed Reviewed Reviewed Unreviewed

Duke Ellington Reviewed Reviewed Reviewed Unreviewed

Bert Jansch Reviewed Reviewed Reviewed Unreviewed

Tim Hardin Reviewed Reviewed Reviewed Unreviewed

Incredible String Band Reviewed Reviewed Reviewed Unreviewed #88
(The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter)
The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter
Captain Beefheart Reviewed Reviewed Reviewed Unreviewed #45
(Trout Mask Replica)
Trout Mask Replica
The Pink Fairies Reviewed Reviewed Reviewed Unreviewed

Sparks Reviewed Reviewed Reviewed Unreviewed #67
(Kimono My House)

Badfinger Reviewed Reviewed Reviewed Unreviewed

The Raspberries Reviewed Reviewed Reviewed Unreviewed

The Shoes Reviewed Reviewed Reviewed Unreviewed

The Only Ones Reviewed Reviewed Reviewed Unreviewed

The Damned Reviewed Reviewed Reviewed Unreviewed

The Saints Reviewed Reviewed Reviewed Unreviewed #30 (Eternally Yours)
#19 (I’m Stranded)

Big Star Reviewed Unreviewed Reviewed Reviewed #55
(Radio City)
Throbbing Gristle Unreviewed Unreviewed Unreviewed Reviewed
Heathen Earth
Giant Sand Unreviewed Unreviewed Unreviewed

Dexy’s Midnight Runners Reviewed Unreviewed Unreviewed

Grace Jones Reviewed Reviewed Unreviewed

Magazine Reviewed Reviewed Unreviewed

The Gun Club Reviewed Reviewed Unreviewed

Talk Talk Reviewed Reviewed Unreviewed

Aztec Camera Reviewed Reviewed Unreviewed

The Chameleons Unreviewed Unreviewed

The Meat Puppets Reviewed Unreviewed

Michelle Shocked Reviewed Unreviewed

Slowdive Unreviewed
Tindersticks Unreviewed
Will Oldham Unreviewed
Godspeed You Black Emperor Unreviewed
My Morning Jacket Unreviewed
Interpol Unreviewed
The Delgados Unreviewed
Arab Strap Unreviewed
The Mountain Goats Unreviewed
Broadcast Unreviewed
The Walkmen Unreviewed

Monday, 18 March 2013

Crucial but too slow!

Last morning, at 1:00, I finished a crucial article on Epinions about Australia’s dreadful environmental record and policy, which I had planned to write a very long time ago - when Howard was still in power - but forgot too easily. This is a severe problem because time has shown how important it really is to alter Australia’s image abroad to something that actually reflects its ecology and culture.

The article, I will admit, is affected by being written in bursts rather than steadily and with proper concentration, and I am certainly open to guidelines to make it flow better. I need to learn to concentrate and to do my writing on a one-at-a-time basis - something I found much easier when I had other work like caring for my deceased father.

Still, I feel that the message of the article: that nothing can be achieved to reduce greenhouse emissions unless a very rigid zero-emissions target is enforced on Australia - and that efforts in Eurasia and the Americas to do so are useless and even wasteful if a zero-emissions goal for Australia is not achieved. Thus, protests directed against, for instance, Japanese whaling need to be redirected against Australia’s dreadful greenhouse emissions record, both from fossil fuels and land clearing. The latter is especially notable because of the high carbon storage from Australian flora with their dense, deep rooting systems that extract water even in dry seasons and years, so that there are many analogies between clearing this long-lived vegetation and extracting fossil fuels from Australia’s soils.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Understanding cricket’s most common myth

Ever since I have studied old county cricket – an obsession that began when I was on holiday at Merimbula way back in 1991 – I have been struck by the manner in which the popularity of first-class cricket rose and fell with the prominence of spin bowlers, especially those spin bowlers who were prepared to spend lots of runs to buy wickets. This tendency applied not only in England, but also very dramatically in Australia during the 1930s and the Indian subcontinent in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.

People often deny that spin bowlers are a major attraction for spectators. Undoubtedly the freedom of strokeplay resulting from the dominance of spin bowlers, who do not restrict a batsman’s strokes as fast bowlers do, causes the strong correlation between abundant spin and large crowds. Still, I feel spin bowlers may have been more of an attraction for spectators than even Wisden could see.

Under limited-overs cricket such county spinners as Blythe, Roy Kilner, Freeman, Goddard, Doug Wright, Thomas Mitchell, Jim Sims, Roley Jenkins – not forgetting imports like Tribe and Jack Walsh – became an unaffordable luxury. Curtailed boundaries which allowed for easier hitting of sixes had had the same tendency during the late 1950s and 1960s. From England’s disaster against Bradman’s 1948 Australian team with its powerful fast bowling and ability to hit the “friendly” English bowling, authorities believed England had to discard its lenient wrist-spinners to be competitive. This was almost certainly true as regards actually winning international games; however, despite the unrivalled quality of the 1948 team’s play, first-class cricket attendances in Australia were already freefalling as Lindwall, Miller and Bill Johnston took over from wrist-spinners O‘Reilly, Grimmett and Fleetwood-Smith. The same thing happened in the Indian subcontinent as the champion quartet of Bedi, Chandrasekhar, Prasanna and Venkataraghavan disappeared and India’s bowling became dependent on Kapil Dev (possibly the game’s greatest player since Sobers). After peaking in 1947, fifteen seasons later crowds in England had fallen so much that every county was running at an increasing loss.

This rule even seems to extend before the “giving nothing away” strategy. When England’s fast bowling strength ebbed in the pre-war years, culminating in the brilliant team of 1911/1912, crowds  declined compared to ten years earlier when the standard of fast bowling troughed out momentarily, but increased when fast bowling weakened after World War I. When the financial viability of first-class cricket became threatened such patterns should have been obvious to every unbiased observer of cricket: only when attacking spin bowling predominates at all levels can first-class cricket pay its way from gate money without wealthy patrons or limited-overs games. Changes devised in the 1950s to make first-class cricket more attractive had the reverse effect because they failed to recognise the crucial role of attacking, “lenient” spin bowling in making first-class cricket attractive. As Bob Wyatt noted, all the rule and playing condition changes made after 1954 merely discouraged the attacking spinner to such an extent that he disappeared from the game, and first-class cricket became forever subsidised by limited-overs cricket.

If it had been recognised how attacking spin was so crucial to the appeal of first-class cricket, authorities in the Enriched cricket-playing countries of England and New Zealand would have aimed to see what was encouraging short-of-a-length seam bowling instead of spin, such as:
  1. covering of pitches
    • in Enriched lands there is no justification for pitch covering apart from short-term money gain
    • in fact, the incentive to waste time means less cricket is played on covered pitches even with more delays
    • on uncovered pitches, in contrast, fast bowlers cannot gain a foothold with as long run-ups as routinely used with covered wickets
    • in Tropical and Unenriched lands uncovered pitches can be very dangerous to batsmen and do not encourage spin as much since fast bowlers can get a foothold more easily
    • even on the extremely infertile soils of Australia and South Africa spin bowling did decline with pitch covering
    • in England, once pitches were largely covered, the decline in spin bowling can be seen from how:
      1. between 1890 and 1958 spin bowlers topped the averages in all but ten years
      2. since 1959 only Derek Underwood and Saqlain Mushtaq have ever topped the averages as a spin bowler
  2. poorly-drained squares with too much clay or “Surrey loam”
    • this created incentives to cover pitches because of the huge delays in the wet 1954 and 1956 summers – and even in some recent summers with full covering!
    • they prevent pitches from wearing even a little to help spinners in relatively hot and dry weather in Enriched countries
    • in the pre-World War I years, there were efforts to remove excess clay to improve drainage after the rainy summer of 1902
  3. artificial fertilisers
    • these encourage more green grass and tighten the binding to favour the short-of-a-length seam bowler who can move the ball off the seam
  4. changes in the new ball rule
    • when a new ball became available after a set number of overs rather than of runs possibly expensive overs from attacking spinners were no longer viable
    • outside England and New Zealand, the new ball rule had a very major role in the decline of spin bowling because the shine can remain on the ball for a much longer time on older soils possessing less lush outfields
Yet, despite all this evidence, in the crisis years of the 1960s such eminent writers as Learie Constantine (wrong man for the job?) said that:
“Like it or not, what people pay to see is fast bowling and fast scoring played in a serious way. It may or may not be cricket, but that is what they pay to see.”
If we look at those crowd figures described above, saying “people pay to see fast bowling” stands as patently wrong. England in 1947 and India from 1950 to 1980 had no fast bowling and huge crowds. No country with really strong fast bowling, not even the dominant West Indian teams of the 1980s or Lillee and Thomson in the 1970s, ever rivalled them in public appeal!

What motivates the suggestion fast bowlers attract spectators when crowd figures show this false? Most likely, I think, it relates to the character of the Boom and subsequent generations of the Enriched World, who tend to seek excitement at all costs. It has been thus thought that the violence of short-pitched fast bowling, especially with the candid statements of Lillee and Thomson in the 1974/1975 tour, would lure spectators. However, history shows that as merely a short-term thrill and that using such tactics can never maintain good crowds for long. In contrast, attacking spin bowling and freedom of strokes can lure crowds to long matches over generations.

It is also possible that people in England were quite desperate to attract young people to cricket. Thus, even when they could be shown (and knew) that large crowds at first-class games correlated very strongly with abundant enterprising spin bowling and the absence of short-of-a-length seam, cricket writers realised that the time and money required to develop the skills of spin bowling were much greater than hard hitting or (in appropriate athletes) fast bowling. Thus, cricket writers did not want to put youngsters under conditions where they would work a long time before reward. Such spin giants of old county cricket as Hedley Verity, Tich Freeman, Charlie Parker, Tom Goddard, George Dennett, Thomas Mitchell, Jack Young of Middlesex, and Tich Richmond all took years of practice after reaching adulthood to become top class – practice which Britons of the 1960s did not want and with high taxes could never afford. This meant claiming against evidence from figures within historic memory that fast bowling attracted crowds, a myth that no doubt cost English cricket a great deal in the long term.

Even today, there are those who believe the myth, as can be seen from Kane Middleton, Poonam Chauhan, Bruce Elliott and Jacqueline Alderson’s introduction to an article about injuries in fast bowling. It claims that the intensity the fastest bowlers bring can be a key factor drawing crowds to cricket, but as I have noted with Australia in the 1970s this is a short-term attraction. On the other hand, people with actual experience of cricket, such as Allan Border and Peter Roebuck in ‘Killer Trend’ (New Straits Times, 31 December 1988; p. 14), argue that as crowd figures suggest fast bowlers, even those who try to create an atmosphere more akin to gridiron or ice hockey, do not help the game’s attractiveness. In the view of this article an “unrelenting battle” with slow over-rates is the cause of the decline in first-class crowds over a long period, something I find extremely reasonable.

It seems that all too many historians and cricketers have ignored the evidence for this theory, but as a last word they should not do so! Looking at history I sympathise with this view, even if I look at it in a different light from twenty-one years of historical study.