On Whatever This New Woodstock Thing Is, And Music Festivals Generally

Woodstock! The Summer of ‘69! Max Yasgur’s field! Truly, of all of the aging-rock-dudes thing to still be talking about, this is very much among the aging-rock-dude-est of them. I’ve written much previously (most notably here) about how the constant “you had to be there at the time, and nothing now will ever be as good as anything then” attitude of aging rock dudes is a direct-line contributor to the fact that rock music as a commercial and mainstream concern is basically a moribund prospect 1, and I suppose it’s inevitable that this particular well, which has only ever been profitable, even when it’s been a disaster.

The rock and roll nostalgia market seems to be turning over pretty well in a bunch of forms anyway. I mean, it’s pretty much the entirety of the portion of the rock and roll environment that does well commercially 2, even down to the most popular rock acts being straight-up flat-out nostalgia acts, for the most part, even when they’re composed of veritable children.

On top of all this, the music festival has grown from being an occasional landmark event to being a constant nightmarish plague that destroys summer touring schedules and makes it much easier for people to marginalize bands by cramming them all together on bills and staring at them idly while they take drugs or pictures of each other or whatever. But they’re commercial juggernauts for the people that put them together, between ticket prices that steal the breath out of your lungs and sponsorship deals for being seen on the livestream or whatever.

The point here being that it seems perfectly reasonable that someone would get it in their heads to try to bring back one of the biggest, most storied names in the music festival scene to try to wring some more dollars out of it, because 50 is a big, round number, and it can potentially reveal an enormous, even rounder number after a dollar sign for the people that are willing to put this together.

Woodstock, however, also comes freighted with some baggage, given that they brought the name back a couple of times already. The 1994 event went well enough that they brought it back in 1999, which event is the one that is talked about in terms of its infamy. It was a poorly-managed, cash-gouging, anti-human dystopia, full of poor sanitation, overpriced water, and ultimately people getting assaulted and setting things on fire. Depending on who you talk to, this event was either apocalyptic or the crisis was overstated, and “only” half a dozen people reported being sexually assaulted 3 and “only” some of the event was set on literal actual fire.

The person who’s putting this together is Michael Lang, one of the organizers of the original Woodstock 4, and he seems pretty willing to acknowledge that he is choosing to revive a brand that has some…baggage attached to it, in addition to the good name that will inspire, theoretically, people to dig into their wallets and assume that this is going to be a one-of-a-kind event, and pay (I’m assuming – the ticket prices haven’t been announced yet) accordingly.

Except that while Lang seems to be holding onto the idea that he can recapture the hippie magic of the first Woodstock, rather than being at all clear-headed about the things that need working on. In an interview with Rolling Stone, he seems happy to acknowledge the mercenary nature of Woodstock 99 only obliquely, stating that the problem is that, yes, it was price-gougey, but it was also “just a musical experience with no social significance” 5, which I’m sure is a big relief to those who thought that maybe an event that became publicly known for unpunished property destruction and sexual assault might be “significant” to the people who were assaulted or had their things set on fire 6.

I guess what I’m saying here is: this still seems pretty blinkered, and is clearly a case of someone not seeing the forest of infrastructural issues for the trees full of money. His concern is that people paid too much for water (which, in his defense, did become a sort of synecdoche for the whole price-gouging issue at the festival itself) and some people did some destructive and dangerous things, but it’s all going to be ok, because he’s also going to include a tent for activism 7. And this is why this seems so onerous to me: Lang has come out and said that the way to make sure that the music festival at which he’s going to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the most famous single music festival ever is to make sure that it’s engaged with more than just the music, all while not actually engaging with anything except the artists and activists that he’s paying. This is dumb.

There’s probably no way to stop this, and, honestly, it looks like it’s already not going well: the thing was sort of soft-announced in November of last year, with some publicity finally happening more-or-less now. There is no announcement of the bands beyond a cryptic acknowledgment that someone from the original Woodstock is playing, and that the dude wants some people to do tributes to Jefferson Airplane and whoever else. If there were bands clamoring to do this, they would be telling us that. If they had secured anything more than a facility, they would be telling us that. But for the love of god, don’t go to this thing, for a couple of reasons.

The first is that music festivals are awful. They’re awful for fans, who are shunted around like cows, and they’re awful for the bands that play them. While I can sort of imagine the appeal of paying an absurd amount of money to go to a field to do drugs and watch an endless procession of god-knows-who play god-knows-what in front of me, I can’t imagine doing so under the auspices of someone who 1) has said more about toilets than music in the promotional materials for this thing and 2) almost certainly has no connection to anything other than the name of the music festival that made him famous half a century ago, and it seems to me that this is just a way to have a weird, highly-public bad time.

But the second is that we all deserve better. Yes, we all deserve better from something called “Woodstock” that now appears to be a directionless, amorphous thing without any sort of clue about what it will hold, but we deserve better than most music festivals. This is another of the results of the bottom falling out of the record-selling industry: the ticket-selling industry is now trying to get the most people out there so they can make as many secondary dollars on them as possible.

Most music festivals are nightmarish, and are built to suit the people who are the least interested in the “music” part of them: a million bands playing in several simultaneous heats over the course of several full days is great for people who want to enumerate experiences for social media purposes or whatever, but terrible for anyone who wants to further any kind of relationship with a musician or set of musicians. Even your favorite act in the whole world isn’t going to be nearly as worthwhile sandwiched between “that band you kind of like” and “That rapper that had that song on the radio all the time six months ago” 8. It’s just not going to happen. It’s definitely not going to contribute meaningfully to any existing relationship you might have with any given act, and it’s highly unlikely to contribute meaningfully to any new relationships.

Music festivals are a huge part of the economy surrounding popular music, and I suppose that’s just something I’m going to have to live with. Every year I consider trying to figure out how to write about them – this is a blog, after all, focused on what is popular and honored in the culture at large, and music festivals are a part of that – and I just come up short. I don’t get it, and I don’t think anyone does outside the economies of scale: if you get enough people in a field together and make it seem exclusive enough, people with more money and more concern for being seen than sense will buy tickets, and you will make a profit.

I don’t have any particular reverence for Woodstock in any of its incarnations (see next week when I talk a bit about the music at previous Woodstocks, because that sort of thing is more in my mien hereabouts), but this is a particularly naked cash-grabbing opportunistic thing, and it is gross.

And so I’m here to say: fuck whatever this turns out to be, and fuck music festivals generally, and fuck whatever dumb brain disease makes it so that people can’t be satisfied that something happened, and keep needing to make things that are called the same thing happen again and again.


  1.  as I almost always note after this sort of statement, I think this is generally a good thing: the things that have dropped out of rock culture generally are at the margins, and the millions of people who were part of the rock “fanbase” that weren’t in fact people interested in rock music, but rather interested in the significations thereof, and that the field of rock music is now considerably more populated by people who are there intentionally, and because they want to be for its own reasons, and this is generally a good thing for any genre, with the commercial trappings being more able to view as having been their own stupid shackle in the first place. 
  2. which, again, I don’t care about, and rock bands still exist and are productive in such number and to such an extent that it’s still impossible to keep up with it all, especially in the more interesting and more experimental corners. Rock music: still pretty great, guys. 
  3.  the sexual assault at music festivals thing is a real problem, and one that mostly people just shrug their shoulders about, because I guess there’s got to be some sort of critical mass of these things before money is spent on the solution. 
  4. he’s the taller guy with the curly hair that they talk to a bunch in the movie, which, incidentally, is maybe my favorite concert movie, and which I love very much and will watch any time it is on. 
  5. he also is weirdly focused on the technological/comfort advances in portapotty technology, which is….something I guess. 
  6. this is not to come to the defense of the people that organized and/or price-gouged the business, but merely to be comfortable speculating that there could have potentially have been some collateral there that was “significant” to someone. You know, socially. 
  7. a thing that Jay-Z does at Made in America, which is fine, but is not the same thing as structurally supporting things. 
  8. and let us remember that even the original Woodstock, whose ghost is being chased here, still featured, say, Sha-Na-Na and Country Joe and the Fish, in addition to The Who and Jimi Hendrix. This dude has always been willing to just fling shit at the wall to see what would stick. 

The Best of the Second Half of 2018

Hey guys! So ordinarily I make this list and I write some words about it, but due to some unforeseen scheduling stuff I didn’t make it through doing so. I might come back and replace this post with one with words in it later, but as of right now I thought it was better to get it out and take a mulligan on this set of songs. I’ll catch up next time, I promise. 

The thing that hasn’t changed is that there’s a folder full of songs available for download here, and there’s a Spotify thing (that is, inevitably, missing some of the songs) at the bottom, and you can listen to all the stuff and be made very happy, like a very happy person, because these are absolutely, unquestionably, no-questions-asked the 50 best songs of the last six months of 2018. I’ve also made the list here in case you don’t like folders full of songs or Spotify, and just want to look at a list of songs. They’re in alphabetical order on the page here, obviously, but in more like a playlist order in the Spotify list.

Anderson.Paak – Tints (f Kendrick Lamar)

Arabrot – Maldorer’s Love

Armand Hammer – No Days Off

Meg Baird & Mary Lattimore – In Cedars

Blood Orange – Charcoal Baby

Nathan Bowles – Ruby/In Kind I

Busdriver – The Year I Became a Motherfuckin G

Anna Calvi – Don’t Beat the Girl Out of My Boy

Cloud Nothings – Offer an End

Daughters – Guest House

Deafheaven – Honeycomb

Flatbush Zombies – New World Order

Four Fists – Annihilation (f Sims)

Steve Hauschildt – Saccade (f Julianna Barwick)

Tim Hecker – This Life

Hypnodrone Ensemble – Monotransitive

The Internet – Look What U Started

Mick Jenkins – Smoking Song (f BADBADNOTGOOD)

Lil Wayne – Uproar

Low – Poor Sucker

Makaya McCraven – Atlantic Black

Milo – Failing the Stress Test

Nicki Minaj – Coco Chanel (f Foxy Brown)

Roy Montgomery – Landfall (f Liz Harris)

Georgia Anne Muldrow – Overload

Murder By Death – I Have Arrived

Marissa Nadler – Blue Vapor

Open Mike Eagle – Relatable (peak OME)

PC Worship – Shell Shower

Petite Noir – Beach (f Danny Brown & Nukubi Nukubi)

Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs – GNT

Joey Purp – Elastic

Adam Remnant – Sourwood

Marc Ribot – The Militant Ecologist

Emma Ruth Rundle – Control

Saintseneca – Ladder to the Sun

Amanda Shires – Swimmer

Slowthai – Drug Dealer

Smino – Krushed Ice (f Valee)

Jon Spencer – I Got the Hits

Spiritualized – I’m Your Man

Vince Staples – Fun!

Sumac – Arcing Silver

Swearin’ – Grow Into a Ghost

Earl Sweatshirt – Nowhere2Go

Thou – Supremacy

Jeff Tweedy – Having Been is No Way to Be

Chester Watson – 40 Acres

Yowler – Where is My Light?

03 Greedo – Basehead

HM: Black Thought – Streets, Brotzmann/Leigh – It’s Almost Dark, Lando Chill – Peso (f Quelle Chris & Rey), Kilo Kish – Elegance, Nothing – I hate the Flowers, Vic Mensa – Klonopin, Panopticon – (Cowering) at the Foot of the Mountain, Soccer Mommy – Scorpio Rising, Thalia Zedek Band – Fighting Season, Throat – Shortage (version), Cloquet – Call It

The 76th Annual Golden Globes

The new year dawns, and with it, the new awards season. More than just a necessity for getting people talking about the film industry in the face of the fact that nothing good is going to come out for a couple more months, and people are trying hard to get back into the drudgery of their day-to-day lives coming off the bender of performative aspirational consuming and daydreaming that the holiday cycle begets, the Golden Globes are also an award given entirely by film critics.

The Hollywood Foreign Press is a fascinating body in its own right, and I’m not going to touch on too much of it here, except to say that I’m probably spending 2019 being even more considerate of who it is that’s sending the message in each of these awards shows.

Because 1 it is a message, and it’s being sent by a body for a set of reasons, and those reasons, it turns out, matter. We live in a world where a man can rise out of the trashiest corner of popular culture and declare himself expert enough to lead a nation. Our consideration of popular culture matters. Again, this is a point for another time, but as the first awards show of the year, it gets into the headnote here.

But all of that is a look ahead, here in the middle of what’s supposed to be a look backward at the year that just happened. The Golden Globes themselves continue to shift, but only in the direction they already had been – the “television miniseries” category continues to be the place where heavyweight prestige dramas duke it out, regardless of whether or not they have continuing seasons and all that, and a dismaying percentage of the movies involved are fucking biopics.

So it goes.

Best Miniseries or Television Film

I will give Escape at Dannemora this: it has a premise that could very easily go wacky, and a cast that basically reads like a comedy, and still manages to pull a boring-ass “based on a true story” execution out of that. Great job, Ben Stiller. Similarly, I’m surprised Russell T. Davies managed to write an entire miniseries – in this case A Very English Scandal – that managed to stick more or less to its plot, sort of. Great job, Russell T. Davies. I would have sworn that The Alienist aired more than just one year ago, but it didn’t 2, so here it is. The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story had some really great moments and a couple of truly great performances 3, but was also baggy through the middle and didn’t actually help itself out any with its reverse-chronology storytelling. My misgivings about Gone Girl aside, Gillian Flynn is a very good screenwriter, Amy Adams is a very good actress, and Sharp Objects was a very good miniseries.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Sharp Objects

Best Supporting Actress in a Series, Miniseries or Television Film

Thandie Newton continues to be underappreciated for her work in Westworld, even as I also believe that Westworld itself is somewhat over-praised. It’s not enough to get her the win here, but I think it’s worth acknowledging. She’s certainly better than Yvonne Strahovsky is in The Handmaid’s Tale. Penelope Cruz did a good job playing her literal actual real-life friend 4, but it wasn’t that good, and I’m also not sure how much of a feat that is. Patricia Clarkson did a good job on Sharp Objects, a generally good show. Alex Borstein was the only thing that was watchable about The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, so it goes to her.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Alex Borstein, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

Best Supporting Actor in a Series, Miniseries or Television Film

It’s nice to know Alan Arkin is still out there, certainly. He’s still a good actor or whatever, even if he’s basically given a fat ball down the middle playing a cantankerous agent. Given that latter information, though, I have decided not to reward pandering. Kieran Culkin continues to be the more interesting Culkin, acting-wise 5, but still not actually very good at it. Edgar Ramirez is in The Assassination of Gianni Versace for like twenty total minutes, despite being the title character, and while he does a fine job, he’s not that impressive 6. A Very English Scandal is very English boring awards-bait, and Ben Whishaw (who I like, generally) does not rise above this. So that leaves us with Henry Winkler’s excellent turn in Barry.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Henry Winkler, Barry

Best Actress in a Miniseries or Television Film

Longtime readers will remember that it used to be a running joke that when I couldn’t come up with a winner or didn’t have an opinion about a category in any given awards show, I would give the award to Mrs. Coach’s Hair. I abandoned the practice a few years ago, as all running jokes must eventually be allowed to run their course 7. Everyone in this category except Patricia Arquette (which: what?) did admirable work in the category. But, with apologies to Amy Adams, Mrs. Coach’s Hair is only attached to one of these women, and she also did a great job of actoring.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Connie Britton (and, by extension, Mrs. Coach’s Hair), Dirty John

Best Actor in a Miniseries or Television Film

Hugh Grant and Benedict Cumberbatch could have one hell of a boring-off for their work this year. It pains me to say that, and yet here we are. This is why more people should consult with me before they nominate people for awards. Or, alternately, before they write stupid television. Anyway, Antonio Banderas is a fine Picasso. The Alienist was fine, and Daniel Bruhl is a big part of the reason why. I must, however, single out Darren Criss, for doing such a great job of capital-A acting that I was able to put aside – if only briefly – how annoying I find capital-A acting and be impressed by his abilities. He really turned himself into Andrew Cunanan, and I can’t help but be really impressed by it.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Darren Criss, The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story

Best Actress in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy

Candice Bergen joins the “inexplicably nominated for awards for playing a character she played for many years many years ago.” She can join Debra Messing up at the head table of that particular club. Rachel Brosnahan does a fine job as the Standard Issue Amy Sherman Palladino Protagonist. She’s not very convincing as a standing-up comedian. Alison Brie is doing truly incredible work on GLOW, and is genuinely impressive episode after episode. Kristen Bell is the central part of the best ensemble, as part of the best television show currently on the air.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kristen Bell, The Good Place

Best Actor in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy

Oh, right. The best show except Atlanta. Maybe. I have a hard time choosing, guys. Anyway, this is the season with “Teddy Perkins,” and Donald Glover is nominated in part of rit, and frankly, that’s the best television episode to air in a very, very long time, Good Place be damned. The rest of these people are fine and did fine work, and maybe next year that will matter.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Donald Glover, Atlanta

Best Actress in a Television Series – Drama

This Golden Globes has the misfortune, for Caitriona Balfe, of appearing after a season that disappointed pretty much everyone 8. Much was made of Julia Roberts’ television work here, and her finally deigning to appear on some prestige television. She’s still just Julia Roberts, though, so while I suppose kudos for jumping on the thing of the times, fewer kudos for being the least of the acting Robertses. Elisabeth Moss is fine. Sandra Oh was fine in the surprising Killing Eve. Keri Russell managed to deliver a series of really excellent performances, that remained surprising and worthy of praise all the way to the end of The Americans, and that’s something to appreciate.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER:: Keri Russell, The Americans

Best Actor in a Television Series – Drama

Pretty much all the stuff I just said above except this time for Matthew Rhys. Pose was a nice surprise, and Billy Porter was a big part of why. Stephan James on Homecoming and Jason Bateman on Ozark, on the other hand, continue to be indicative of why this whole peak-tv prestige business is pretty underwhelming. I have very little to say about Richard Madden in Bodyguard. See? Matthew Rhys. He’s great, he deserves it.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Matthew Rhys, The Americans

Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy

Welp, Atlanta isn’t here because the Hollywood Foreign Press is dildos, so it’s gotta be The Good Place. Now, admittedly, I think I’d have a much harder time choosing, but it’s only the one, so it’s obviously The Good Place.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The Good Place

Best Television Series – Drama

Eh. Killing Eve and Pose are at least entertaining, but I really don’t see how anything tops The Americans, which climbed the mountain of figuring out how to stick the landing. You heard me. I said they climbed the mountain to stick the landing. Blow me.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The Americans

Best Animated Feature Film

So, Isle of Dogs was a fun little variation on the Wes Anderson thing. Incredibles 2 and Ralph Breaks the Internet were both worthwhile sequels to great movies, even if neither scaled the heights of the original. Mirai is beautiful. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not just the best Spider-Man movie ever made 9, not just among the very best superhero movies ever made, but might have actually been my favorite movie of the year, animated or otherwise. It’s so good, you guys.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Best Original Song

It really should be one of the songs from the Christmas-adjacent Spider-Man tie-in thing, but I suppose “All the Stars” is an awfully good song. Especially when put up against “Shallow” 10. The matching up of Jonssi and Torye Sivan is fine, and kind of inspired, but ultimately kind of boring. I have very little to see about “Requiem for a Private War”.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: SZA, “All the Stars” (f Kendrick Lamar)

Best Original Score

We got another example of Alexandre Desplat doing what Alexandre Desplat does. I’ve never much cared for Marc Shaiman, and I’m not super into it here either. With First Man, Justin Hurwitz may finally have done something that wasn’t the coolest part of the movie for which he was hired. Ludwig Goransson has done every Ryan Coogler movie, and while I here his music basically every time I look at Michael B. Jordan as a result, I actually didn’t think that Black Panther was his best work, although I did like the score. Marco Beltrami finally got to put his horror-movie-scoring talents to use in an interesting and creatively-fulfilled way with A Quiet Place, and that’s pretty cool.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Marco Beltrami, A Quiet Place

Best Screenplay

I have a fear that Green Book is going to be nominated for too many things. I really genuinely have this fear. I do not like this fear, because it implies that I am a joy-hating jerk who doesn’t like nice things, and that’s kind of true: I am a joy-hating jerk who doesn’t like nice things, and Green Book is very, very nice. I think that there’s nothing wrong with Roma, and I appreciate that Alfonso Cuaron wanted to at least do something interesting with the biopic, but none of that is the screenplay. Adaptations are tricky, and If Beale Street Could Talk is based on one of my actual all-time favorite novels, and I’m almost always unable to glean how much of that sort of thing is the source material and how much is the screenplay. It’s nice that they didn’t drop the ball, though. The problem, then, is that The Favourite is a goddamn period drama full of inter-court machinations, and Vice is a period-piece about the relatively-recent past. So maybe I’ll just call it for If Beale Street Could Talk and be happy with it.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Barry Jenkins, If Beale Street Could Talk

Best Director

Alfonso Cuaron and Bradley Cooper are both here for their passion projects. They both got to make the movies they wanted to make the most, and the result in both cases was so unspectacular that I kind of wonder why they were so hung up on it 11. I think I’ve already made it clear that I’m not here to praise Green Book. I think Vice was an interesting bit of business, but I dunno. Spike Lee is surprising in his continued ability to surprise and make the most of his work, and BlacKkKlansman was astonishing.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman

Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture

Well, at least nobody from Green Book is here. Two of the people from The Favourite are, though. It’s not going to be any of them. Amy Adams did an Amy Adams-y job in Vice, and that’s good for her. Claire Foy did a uh…job in First Man, and that’s I guess good for her also. I’m left praising Regina King for If Beale Street Could Talk, which is good for me.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk

Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture

Here’s some more of that Green Book! Gosh, I was almost worried I wouldn’t have to keep considering it every goddamn time. Timothee Chalamet remains delightful, but I have no idea why he’s nominated for his nothing-special work in Beautiful Boy. Perhaps because he’s him. It’s nice to see Richard E. Grant doing good work again 12, but I’m not really sure this is winner-caliber stuff. I love Sam Rockwell, and I love Adam Driver, and Adam Driver was in the better movie.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Adam Driver, BlacKkKlansman

Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy

The very least I can say for The Favourite is that Olivia Coleman is very Queen Anne-ish. Emily Blunt had the willingness to take on a giant, iconic role 13, and that’s a worthy decision, but, y’know, not the thing that wins here. Constance Wu was as good as everybody else in Crazy Rich Asians, a movie that I’m happy exists and that I’ll also be happy to stop thinking about. Charlize Theron was dunked back into the Jason Reitman/Diablo Cody well, and while it’s a fine outing for the triumvirate, it’s not as good as Eighth Grade. Eighth Grade is a pretty admirable piece of storytelling, and Elsie Fisher does a great job.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Elsie Fisher, Eighth Grade

Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy

There is no way that Lin-Manuel Miranda deserves an award for his performance in Mary Poppins Returns. I’m willing to die on that hill. Green Book is also back, here, and I’m not happy about that either. It’s a shame, because I generally like both Lin-Manuel Miranda and Viggo Mortenson, and here I am being upset with them. Life is pain. Christian Bale and John C. Reilly both played real people, and I’m not a fan, although I appreciate that there’s a Laurel & Hardy biopic out there in the world. That brings us to Robert Redford for The Old Man & The Gun, which is pretty good, and he’s pretty good in it. Hell, he’s Robert Redford.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Robert Redford, The Old Man & The Gun

Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama

The Wife is a serious attempt to grapple with an important and timely issue, and Glenn Close is very good in it. I shouted out Richard E. Grant for Can You Ever Forgive Me earlier, and I’ll do the same for Melissa McCarthy: she’s a gifted actor who doesn’t stray outside of her usual lane often enough, and I really wish that she would. Probably not the best here, but still pretty good. Destroyer is at least an earnest attempt to make Seachers-style rescue movie with a woman, and I think it brings Nicole Kidman one step closer to her character-actor-identifying magic phase 14. A Private War is trying really hard to do a big job about an embedded journalist, and it’s got some interesting parallels to Destroyer in execution, if not in philosophy 15. I’m not giving this award to Lady Gaga, because A Star is Born is stupid.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Glenn Close, The Wife

Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama

I suppose 2019 is, in addition to the year where I talk about awards shows and what they’re here for, also the year where I make it clear that I do not like biopics. I do not think they are a good thing for the world in general. I think that there is no way to fictionalize someone’s life in such a way that doesn’t diminish the people around them, I think that narrativizing something as complex and disordered as a human life is a great way to sell the idea of the human experience short, and I think that even good (or, well, “good”) biopics unfairly set the story of something in stone in a way that does violence to the world that it existed in, even if minorly, even if unintentionally. The acting in biopics, then, is even worse than usual acting, but also works to support my point in microcosm: it’s an impression with feelings in it, and its relationship to creating a performance out of words is the same as creating a story out of the cannibalization of events from the past – I think that it’s diminishing and not as good as, y’know, literally any available alternative. All of which is to say: Rami Malek is a good actor, but not as Freddie Mercury, and Willem Dafoe is a good actor, but not as Vincent Van Gogh. Lucas Hedges is probably a fine actor, but not as Garrard Conley, even with the names changed. Bradley Cooper worked very hard to make A Star is Born, and then turned in a Kris Kristofferson impression to anchor it to, which makes the whole thing seem even weirder. John David Washington was good in BlacKkKlansman.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: John David Washington, BlacKkKlansman

Best Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical

I don’t wish specific harm to any of these movies, except maybe Green Book, but I also can’t imagine getting particularly excited about any of these. The last couple of years the Golden Globes have made some really left-field choices in these categories, and this year it’s just super-boring. Ah, well. I guess it’s a good thing Crazy Rich Asians was good enough.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Crazy Rich Asians

Best Motion Picture – Drama

This is a surprisingly good field, considering that every category up until now has been pretty lackluster, but I have to land in favor of Black Panther if only because it avoids the Dork Age trap that superhero movies are on the edge of. When superhero movies want to add moral ambiguity, they generally do so by having the character teeter on the edge of interpersonal violence or brooding or whatever. Black Panther did it by having a philosophical difference between the good-hearted but imperialist protagonist, and the well-intentioned extremist antagonist. There are lots of reasons to love Black Panther, and that one is very much the result of it being a masterful example not just of that kind of storytelling, but of superhero storytelling in general, and it’s always impressive when something can carry out a story that works beyond its genre while still remaining of its genre.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Black Panther


  1. and, again, I think this is probably the year where I really buckle down and finish the thing where I limn the reasons why I do this all the time, which will double as a sort of defining document for the site itself. 
  2. 2018 was, as has often been remarked, one of the longest years on record. 
  3. Finn Wittrock isn’t nominated for the episode that dealt with Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, but very much should have been. 
  4. although the rumour has it that they’re not exactly such anymore. 
  5. this used to be more meaningful than it is now. 
  6. see also Penelope Cruz, above, although Edgar Ramirez and Gianni Versace were not in fact personal friends. 
  7. also it seemed unfairly reductive, and it had become pretty far-removed from its own origins. 
  8. although if I’m not mistaken, she’s nominated here for the season prior. 
  9. meaning Tom Holland got like a year and a half as the best one 
  10. the other radio song 
  11. please note that I don’t actually think either movie is bad as such, I just don’t understand what the draw was – how did the ideas contained in those movies sustain their directors through the process of not only making them, but of managing to convince people to help them make them. 
  12. I really love Withnail and I 
  13. iconic is not a word I use lightly, but jeez, if anything is iconic it’s Mary Poppins. 
  14. I think it’s coming, guys. She’s got a super-crazy intensity that’s almost Cage-ian, and I think she could really pivot into some truly insane work if she tried. She’s already made Practical Magic and The Paperboy 
  15. although I suppose they’re also entrants in a contest to ugly-up two of the literal most beautiful women in the world, which is an interesting development, such as it is. 

The Best Records of 2018

One of the things that has been interesting, upon surveying other folks’ lists this year, is how little continuity there is. It seems like everybody heard different stuff 1 and everybody liked different stuff, and the world is a vasty panoply of opinions. This is probably the result of there not being a proper new Kendrick record this year.

In any event, the whole thing seemed nicely wide-open, and there was tonnes of new stuff that got in, and tonnes of stuff by people I already liked who really kicked it up a notch, including 2018’s biggest surprise: a Low album that is so good that it was actually shocking. Now, I love Low, as longtime readers will be aware, but this thing is incredible. It gives one hope that anybody can step up, even if they were already great to begin with.

And there’s forty-nine other albums that are nearly as good. Truly, an embarrassment of riches.

    1. Low – Double Negative
    2. Blood Orange – Negro Swan
    3. The Body – I Have Fought AGainst It But I Can’t Any Longer
    4. Busdriver – electricity is on our side
    5. Grouper – Grid of Points
    6. Kamasi Washington – Heaven and Earth
    7. Jeff Tweedy – WARM
    8. Jean Grae & Quelle Chris – Everything is Fine
    9. Tim Hecker – Konoyo
    10. Vince Staples – FM!
    11. Sumac – Love in Shadow
    12. Fire – The Hands
    13. Earl Sweatshirt – Some Rap Songs
    14. Nathan Bowles – Plainly Mistaken
    15. Deafheaven – Ordinary Corrupt Human Love
    16. Mick Jenkins – Pieces of a Man
    17. Carla Bozulich – Quieter
    18. Sons of Kemet – Your Queen is a Reptile
    19. Spiritualized – And Nothing Hurt
    20. JPEGMAFIA – Veteran
    21. Daniel Bachman – The Morning Star
    22. Meshell Ndegeocello – Ventriloquism
    23. US Girls – In a Poem Unlimited
    24. Trampled by Turtles – Life is Good on the Open Road
    25. Peter Brotzmann/Heather Leigh – Sparrow Nights
    26. Joey Purp – Quarterthing
    27. Sleep – The Sciences
    28. John Prine – The Tree of Forgiveness
    29. Milo – budding ornithologists are weary of tired analogies
    30. Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour
    31. Hinds – I Don’t Run
    32. Yob – Our Raw Heart
    33. Chester Watson – Project 0
    34. Yowler – Black Dog in My Path
    35. Petite Noir – La Maison Noir/The Black House

 

  • Adam Remnant – Sourwood

 

  1. Meg Baird & Mary Lattimore – Ghost Forests
  2. McKaya McRaven – Universal Beings
  3. Mezbow – MONOAkuma
  4. The Internet – Hive Mind
  5. PC Worship – Future Phase
  6. Rico Nasty – Nasty
  7. Hypnodrone Ensemble – Plays Orchestral Favorites
  8. Lando Chill – Black Ego
  9. Keiji Haino & Sumac – American Dollar Bill/Keep Facing Sideways, You’re Too Hideous to Look at Face-On
  10. Noname – Room 25
  11. Oneohtrix Point Never – Age Of
  12. Emma Ruth Rundle – On Dark Horses
  13. Ill – Ill Will
  14. Marissa Nadler – For My Crimes

  1. at least, once you got past the Carters and Cardi B and Ariana Grande and all that sort of thing. 

The 2018 Goodreads Choice Awards

Goodreads has chosen, everybody! These are some of our more interesting awards, because they really are just nominated and selected by the populous, or at least that section of the populous that is represented by the users of giant book-review-site Goodreads. As previously discussed, this creates an interesting window into the workings of how and why people choose and enjoy books.

As such, it’s worth looking at less as a standard awards-granting ceremony, and more as a view of what it is we’re getting out of the books that the people who are willing to spend their time publicly expounding about them find it worth publicly expounding 1 about.

So let’s look upon the expoundment, and come to some conclusions!

Fiction

Jojo Moyes – Still Me

WHAT IT IS:The third in the “Me/You” series of books, which started with the mega-popular Me Before You series, which was made into a movie starring Danaerys Targarayen and Finnick Odair. It’s here in the “fiction” category, and nowhere to be found in the “Romance” category, which is the result of either some “no true Scotsman” nonsense or the same weird anti-genre impulse that says anything that gets popular and respected can’t possibly be from its original genre ghetto. I suppose which of those things you think is in play depends on which vector your cynicality about the nature of book-expounding comes in from 2.

WHAT IT SAYS: It’s a bit of a boring way to start out here, but it says that people love both romance novels (even if they aren’t calling them that) and already-familiar properties, which leads to a bunch of sequels winning this kind of award.

Mystery & Thriller

Stephen King – The Outsider

WHAT IT IS: A new book from a gigantically-famous writer, working outside of his usual genre (horror), or even the genre of the majority of his non-horror work (crime fiction).

WHAT IT SAYS: It says that people like Stephen King. He’s a wildly-likable writer who usually does interesting work. He’s also long done some expounding of his own about how much he loves mysteries, so it’s probably gratifying to be recognized as such for his contribution to the field, I suppose.

Historical Fiction

Kristin Hannah – The Great Alone

WHAT IT IS: A story of the hardships of going to Alaska in the seventies, and trying to survive that decision.

WHAT IT SAYS: The aphorism goes that history is about the time it’s written, the time it’s set, and the time it’s read. I think that historical fiction skews more heavily to the time that it’s written, and so it’s useful to see what people are interested in in terms of historical fiction at any given time. I also think that historical fiction is, somehow, given a frisson of pseudo-respectability 3 because it comes with a sort of implied promise that you could “learn something,” as though all fiction wasn’t instructive about something. This is a rant for another day, I suppose, but The Great Alone’s win says a lot about the thoughts of the people who enjoy this particular re-framing. What it says (and I know I’m kind of dodging here) is probably better guessed by someone who would ever read it, a set of people of which I am not a part.

Fantasy

Madeline Miller – Circe

WHAT IT IS: A re-imagining of The Odyssey from the point of view of the titular character, and an examination of a very particular archetype in classical stories.

WHAT IT SAYS: It’s not just the movie-going public/film industry that’s into remakes 4, and when there’s one that’s as thought-provoking, compelling and competently-executed as this one, people really respond to it.

Best of the Best

Angie Thomas – The Hate U Give

WHAT IT IS: So this category is here because it’s the tenth Goodreads awards, and this was the one that was voted better than all the other winners. I suppose it makes sense that it’s a genuine actual popular sensation, with an attendant movie that’s currently in theatres (and has been for, like, months), and that everyone who’s encountered seems to enjoy.

WHAT IT SAYS: That if you execute a piece of literary work that speaks deeply to people, they will reflect that by giving it awards. If this seems like a precise for basically this entire write-up, well, it kind of is, but in something that has been named the non-specific “best,” it’s hard to pull out specific reasons. The Hate U Give is about the best choice going in the category, so I’m pretty happy that I don’t have to try to figure out, say, A Court of Wings and Ruin or The Fart in Our Cars.

Romance

Helen Hoang – The Kiss Quotient

WHAT IT IS: A well-received debut novel that seems a little left-field for an awards program without a lot of left-field candidates 5.

WHAT IT SAYS: It beat out some real titans of the field, and also the execrable E.L. James “reimagining” that came out this year, so it says that the Romance field was ready for this kind of left-field stuff, I suspect.

Science Fiction

VE Schwab – Vengeful

WHAT IT IS: It’s about superheroes, and their scary dystopian experiments and stuff.

WHAT IT SAYS: People love scary-ass stories about how well actually, superheroes are scary and fascists. Seriously, our 6 taste for this stuff is almost-bottomless, and it seems like all of it gets praised to the high heavens. This is also a book in a series, and those do well because of the aforementioned familiarity business.

Horror

Stephen King – Elevation

WHAT IT IS: Stephen King’s second Goodreads Choice award of the year.

WHAT IT SAYS: That Stephen King is a familiar and crowd-pleasing name, especially among horror readers, and his work is good enough to easily reach consensus in something like this. It’s a dull answer, but it’s a true answer. Unfortunately his popularity chases away anything that would otherwise be communicated by the winner of this category. That’s not to say he doesn’t deserve it, only that it’s hard to see anything when he wins a popular-vote award other than his popularity, which is extreme, especially in literary terms, even now.

Humor

Tiffany Haddish – The Last Black Unicorn

WHAT IT IS: The most recent result of Haddish’s meteoric rise to top-tier funnypersonism.

WHAT IT SAYS: This one has most to do with Haddish herself – she’s a lively, captivating storyteller – and the compelling nature of her narrative, which includes some truly harrowing origins and a genuinely inspiring triumph over same. Since a feel-good story is much loved, and Tiffany Haddish’s rise to fame was quick enough to make people curious about it, and the book itself so satisfying, it stands to reason that people have a lot of good things to say about it.

Nonfiction

Michelle McNamara – I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer

WHAT IT IS: The work of true crime writing that may someday inspire its own work of true crime – it led to the arrest of the titular character after the author’s death.

WHAT IT SAYS: It’s hard to beat the meta-story here, of a deceased true crime writer actually solving a case. It’s also got the fact that the police insisted that she did not, in fact, deserve this credit, despite using her exact information and methods, and that it’s a gripping, exhaustive reading of a very captivating situation. Plus she set out to bring a monster to justice, and then it happened, even if she didn’t live to see it. Let it be a lesson that a job well done, centered around a thing that is important to the person doing it, is often its own reward, and could be so much more. It’s chaos, be kind.

Memoir & Autobiography

Tara Westover – Educated

WHAT IT IS: An account of a woman who managed to achieve the titular education, despite her origins in a survivalist cult in the middle of nowhere.

WHAT IT SAYS: It says that we probably find it comforting – for reasons both obvious and not – to read a story about how you can, no matter where you start, overcome those ideas and be a different person 7.

History & Biography

Maxwell King – The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers

WHAT IT IS: A thorough biography of a guy who we all spent a lot of time with on television when we were kids.

WHAT IT SAYS: It says that everybody likes Mr. Rogers, and there’s something especially attractive about spending time learning about someone who devoted his life’s work to kindness, and preached of neighborly love to everybody. It’s also got deep appeal for pedants who like to tell people that, in fact, Fred Rogers was not a sniper.

Science & Technology

Stephen Brusatte – The Rise and Fall of Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World

WHAT IT IS: It’s sort of half-biography of an extinct set of species (it tells the entire history of dinosaurs, as far as that goes), half-travelogue.

WHAT IT SAYS: It says that dinosaurs are awesome, and people like it when other people write about going to far-off places. I’ve spent several minutes trying to come up with a joke whose punchline is “Eat Prey Love”. Get it? Because dinosaurs and prey. I’ll try harder next time, I promise.

Food & Cookbooks

Chrissy Teigen – Cravings: Hungry for More

WHAT IT IS: It’s the newest cookbook by former 8 model and Instagram celebrity Chrissy Teigen.

WHAT IT SAYS: Cookbooks are a weird market that I don’t always understand, despite owning several dozen of them myself. Since it’s less permeable than other aspects of book-selling, famous people tend to do well. When a famous person puts together a well-done collection of well-photographed and of-the-moment recipes, then the result is something that sells a lot of copies.

Graphic Novels & Comics

Sarah Andersen – Herding Cats

WHAT IT IS: A collection of the tremendously, alarmingly viral slice-of-life webcomics that you’ve seen shared on [literally any place where people can share webcomics] a billion times.

WHAT IT SAYS: It says that we still like books of comic strips when they pop up. The resilience of the joke-a-day comic strip is a truly awe-inspiring thing, and while it’s true that their form has moved to one that’s more hospitable than “printed three inches high next to Dear Abby”, it’s also true that the actual inherent qualities of the joke-a-day strip have changed surprisingly little in the 120 or so years since they started existing, and that’s pretty incredible given how much the modes of doing business with them have changed in that same time period. Anyway, people like these comics, so they like books of these comics, just like they always have. Joke-a-day strips are, it seems, a constant.

Poetry

Amanda Lovelace – The Witch Doesn’t Burn in This One

WHAT IT IS: The sassy follow-up to The Princess Saves Herself in This One, this one about witches instead of princesses, information you could probably have gleaned from the title. You’re so smart.

WHAT IT SAYS: It says that people like sassy revision of very old stories (see above w/r/t our insatiable appetite for remakes). Beyond that, it’s a mystery to me, as is the reception to most poetry.

Debut Author

Tomi Adeyemi – Children of Blood and Bone

WHAT IT IS: A YA novel that reads like a sort of amalgamation of a bunch of other YA-stuff that people like, only considerably more West African.

WHAT IT SAYS: Adeyemi certainly wrote a very good book, and also revealed a particular talent for getting herself in public, so a lot of people heard about it. It’s easy to read, and it’s a window into a set of cultural storytelling tools and devices that a lot of people aren’t familiar with, which I suppose comes across as a “twist” on some fairly-normal YA storytelling.

Young Adult Fiction

Becky Albertalli – Leah on the Offbeat

WHAT IT IS: A YA book about a young lady who isn’t like all the other girls who finds love in high school and it’s bittersweet and also did we mention she’s not like all the other girls?

WHAT IT SAYS: It says that the portion of the YA audience that votes on Goodreads does not have a wide variety of interests

Young Adult Fantasy & Science Fiction

Sarah J. Maas – Kingdom of Ash

WHAT IT IS: The final book in the Throne of Glass series, each of which has won this award, which is pretty impressive, in its way.

WHAT IT SAYS: That if the YA lit pack is after stories about girls who are proudly different and fall in love (bittersweetly), then the YA fantasy pack is after the very highest of fantasy, and specifically that they want Ms. Maas to write it.

Middle Grade & Children’s

Rick Riordan – The Burning Maze

WHAT IT IS: If Sarah J. Maas’s run is impressive 9, then Rick Riordan’s is twice so – he’s won this category eight years in a row. They might as well name the thing after him.

WHAT IT SAYS: This category actually has surprisingly more variety (to a degree) than the YA categories, which is why I’m less flippant about this one I guess. But seriously, eight Rick Riordan books in a row says “we the Goodreads awards voters really like Rick Riordan”

Picture Books

Grace Byers – I Am Enough

WHAT IT IS: It’s a picture book. I’m not heartless here. It’s got pictures and a message.

WHAT IT SAYS: It says “I Am Enough” is a very good message for a picture book.


  1. There’s more to say about this, and I keep meaning to get off my duff and write the thing I’ve got notes for about why I write about awards so much – I think it’s an interesting bit of cultural flotsam – left behind by the crashing of the cultural view into the mass of art that it inevitably crashes through to get to something like a “consensus” – for varying views of consensus. 
  2. I tend toward the latter, as could probably be gleaned from my previous writing on the subject. 
  3. it has its own genre-barriers to contend with, so it’s not actual respectability, it’s not like HF novels win literary awards very often. 
  4. I mean, it’s also the video game industry (see the re-ports of basically every game ever) and the YouTube-viewing audience (see the indefatiguable appetite for people that cover songs on YouTube) and the television audience (see the reboots, and also the clot of shows where people sing and/or lip-sync to pre-existing songs). It’s something about the media-consumptive behavior of Americans, to be sure. 
  5. see, for example, especially the YA categories, which are dominated by the same couple of people, and also a bunch of the non-winners but finalists, who tend to shuffle around in each category from year to year. 
  6. by which I mean “the audience for this sort of thing” I, myself, have no taste for it 
  7. although she does manage this parting of ways without scorching any earth or what have you, which is probably also comforting in its way. 
  8.  it is entirely possible she still works as a model, I guess? 
  9. and, as noted above, I do think it’s impressive 

A Considered Look at Every Inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Part 9

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a place that I find, as an institution, vexing. The actual, physical hall of fame – the pyramidal building on the lake in Cleveland – is pretty cool, but it is spoken and thought of often as an intangible – as a sort of arbitrating body on the worthiness of the body of rock musicians. My thought, for many years upon surveying lists 1 and the like was to think that they have about a fifty percent success rate for getting it anything like right.

But what if it doesn’t? Previously I listened to and considered each of the best-selling albums of all time, and learned that they were considerably more of a mixed bag than I had thought 2So what if the inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame are the same sort of deal?

And so it’s time to dive in and take a look at what the nominees and their enshrinement actually are.

Click the links for Part 1,Part 2,  Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7 and Part 8 of this series.

Class of 2000

Eric Clapton

WHO HE IS: God, as contemporaneous British graffiti would have it. He’d probably agree.

WHY HE’S HERE: Well, as far as white blues dudes go, he was the most popular and the most accomplished. He was an almost unbelievably mechanically talented guitar player – that dude could play notes.

AND…?: He’s like, the picture in the dictionary next to “not my cup of tea.” When he showed up and played songs instead of doing whatever ostentatious guitar masturbation was his usual metier, he was sometimes pretty ok. That didn’t happen very often though.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Sure, as long as I don’t have to listen to him.

Earth Wind & Fire

WHO THEY ARE: An enormously popular R&B group

WHY THEY’RE HERE: They sold a bajillion records, and anyone with even a passing interest in R&B probably likes not only their records, but a bunch of records that sound very, very similar. Whether it counts as Rock and Roll is yet another argument, but I think I’ve hashed that one out enough in this space to call it a dead horse.

AND…?: The things that are the best about Earth Wind & Fire – the vocal interplay between the high-singing dude (Phillip Bailey) and the low-singing dude (Maurice White), and that unimpeachable horn section are somehow the only two elements that forty years of R&B didn’t take from EWF. That seems weird to me, although I suppose they’re also the hardest elements to duplicate.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yes

The Lovin’ Spoonful

WHO THEY ARE: A folk band who wanted to make sure everyone believed in magic. I’m also fairly certain that they were Les Moore’s favorite band in the comic strip Funky Winkerbean, which made some to-do out of some belonging (an autoharp?) of John Sebastian’s in a decades-old run of strips that I absolutely cannot find any evidence of. Ah, well.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: Uh…because they had a couple of hits and the Hall of Fame voters have fond memories of falling asleep to these records? Because, like, I’m pretty sure that’s all you can do to a Lovin’ Spoonful record. Fall asleep, I mean.

AND…?: I dunno, guys. Usually I can recognize that something just isn’t for me while also being able to recognize what it is that makes people like them 3

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: No

The Moonglows

WHO THEY ARE: Cleveland’s pre-eminent rhythm and blues act!

WHY THEY’RE HERE: They should be an early influence, as most vocal groups from the fifties should. They were from Cleveland, where the HOF is located, and there are very few things people from Cleveland like more than other people that are from Cleveland 4. They were also managed by Alan Freed, so I guess maybe that?

AND…?: The Moonglows were fine, I’m just not seeing what would get them in, you know? They weren’t that good.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: No, although because I am from Cleveland, I want very badly to say yes.

Bonnie Raitt

WHO SHE IS: The pre-eminent lady blues guitar player 5.

WHY SHE’S HERE: She’s the most popular lady blues guitar player.

AND…?: You know, I genuinely feel bad that I don’t have more to say here other than “lady blues guitar player,” but her music is pretty middle of the road. I’m sure she’s influenced a bunch of people to pick up guitars, but I don’t know who they are. She sold a bunch of records and stuff, and she was better than some of these people. Far be it from me to say that there should be fewer women in the HOF.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yeah sure, I just don’t have a very good argument for it.

James Taylor

WHO HE IS: Sort of the apotheosis of singer-songwriterism.
WHY HE’S HERE: If you believe in the power of non-rock-oriented singer-songwritering, then it’s probably James Taylor who did that for you. He actually did a lot to take the “rock” out of “folk rock,” and I would argue that his music is anti-rock, such as it is, in that any of the sonic signifiers of rock music (especially band interplay, dynamics and/or volume as a fundamental compositional element, and most especially a focus on the method of achieving the note over the note itself 6) are diminished or specifically reversed in the case of James Taylor’s music. I believe this even without taking into account my own feelings about rock music – there is no particular virtue in being a rock musician, in and of itself, but I think that James Taylor emphatically was not one.

AND…?: I also don’t think his songs were very good, but I appreciate that he approached them genuinely and performed them with authority,. I have no issue with him making his music, I just think that not only does it fail to serve the genre (which is very common, and about which see above and much of the material in the previous entries), but it is counter to the genre.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Not to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, no. I think he’s in the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame. That’s a good place for him.

Nat King Cole

WHO HE IS: A prominent vocal jazz dude. He also hosted a tv show.

WHY HE’S HERE: Because he was, in the manner of all “Early Influences” an influence on the folks that would influence rock and roll 7. But he was super-successful and was a big influence on the idea of music being personality and performer-driven.

AND…?: The year 2000 might be the year of inductions that are the least to my taste, and Nat King Cole is in keeping with the trend.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Sure

Billie Holiday

WHO SHE IS: Also a vocal jazz person. She was a much better singer than Nat King Cole and, indeed, just about everybody.

WHY SHE’S HERE: For all of the same reasons as Nat King Cole (except the tv show – she never had a tv show), only moreso.

AND…?: Billie Holiday was much better than Nat King Cole, even as vocal jazz remains my least favorite kind of jazz.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yes

Clive Davis

WHO HE IS: Yet another record label owner, this one one that is almost constantly fellated seemingly all the time. He talked a bunch of bullshits last year also, which was pretty entertaining.

WHY HE’S HERE: Again, because people can’t shut up about his ability to spend his money really changed things for the blah blah blah.

AND…?: His “eye for talent” is overrated, and I’m not a fan of him as a person.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Not really, but I’m probably alone in that one.

READER BE ALERTED: this is the first year that sidemen are recognized by the HOF, so there’s a bunch of them to follow, and 1 or 2 will be in every year subsequent to this one.

Hal Blaine

WHO HE IS: He was the drummer for the Wrecking Crew, who played on a bunch of records in the sixties in California.

WHY HE’S HERE: Like all of the people inducted under the sidemen banner, he’s here for being a more-than-capable studio musician.

AND…?: He’s an excellent drummer, and an induction for the people that actually made the sounds that appear on the records is great, and he’s definitely worthy of one of those.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yes

King Curtis

WHO HE IS: A sax player. That’s him on “Respect”

WHY HE’S HERE: He was a very good sax player, played on a bunch of records that you’ve all probably heard.

AND…?: So I’m generally in favor of the sidemen category as an idea, but the fact remains that they’re all pretty much slam-dunk choices 8

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yes

James Jamerson

WHO HE IS: Did you know Motown didn’t credit recording musicians until into the seventies? Doesn’t that seem insane? I think it seems insane. Anyway, the person who was not credited as playing the bass on most of the early Motown hits was this guy.

WHY HE’S HERE: He played bass on most of the early Motown hits

AND…?: Bass. He played it. He sure did play that bass. Bass bass bass.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Sure.

Scotty Moore

WHO HE IS: Elvis’s guitar player.

WHY HE’S HERE: He played guitar on Elvis records, and is genuinely (along with Hal Blaine) one of the people in the sidemen category that most people can recognize the playing of, and name without working too hard for it.

AND…?: He is very much one of the most influential guitar players of all time, and he was probably a large part of the reason why this category had to exist in the first place.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Unquestionably

Earl Palmer

WHO HE IS: A tasty combination of iced tea and lemonade, named for the alcoholic golfer who allegedly invented him.

WHY HE’S HERE: Because he is refreshing and delicious on a summer day, whether you’re on the golf course or not.

AND…?: I don’t know how a frosty beverage played on all those Little Richard albums, let alone ten years before he was invented, but he sure did.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yes

Class of 2001

Aerosmith

WHO THEY ARE: The textbook example of how far it’s possible to sink, quality-wise, and still remain some version of yourself as a band.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: Well, their seventies records were very popular, and did a lot to influence the image and sound (for better or for worse) of a lot of the hard rock that would come in the eighties. Sort of a de-homosexualized glam-image thing. Their sound was a little less influential, but that’s because they were never particularly sonically innovative.

AND…?: They’re fine. Their early records are very good, with somehow-increasingly-diminishing returns as they go, and presumably whatever their next somehow-deathless reunion record is going to sound like, it’s going to be really, really depressing. So it goes.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: This is one of those cases where I have to make a decision 9Taken as a whole, they’ve got about five good years as a band and about forty as a terrible mockery of a band. But those five years are better than most bands managed, so I’m willing to say it’s enough to get them in.

Solomon Burke

WHO HE IS: Terrifically prolific R&B singer who had one foot firmly in classic-style R&B and another in old-style soul, and did both wonderfully.

WHY HE’S HERE: He had a real moment at the turn of the century, which I suppose led to the visibility he was granted that got him here. He was something like the Velvet Underground of R&B, although he had significantly more minor hits, making records that inspired people directly and immediately to start making other records, even if they didn’t sound exactly like him 10.

AND…?: I’m a little surprised, to be honest – he’s a fantastic singer and songwriter who made great records, but he’s a little outside even the purview of the RRHOF, but I’m super-happy to see him, especially after the deluge of “meh” that was the 2000 inductees.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yes, if surprisingly

The Flamingos

WHO THEY ARE: The bottom of the doo-wop barrel.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: I am not a doo-wop expert, or even what you’d call a doo-wop fan under the circumstances, so I am a little more in the dark than usual when it comes to this sort of thing, but The Flamingos were dishwater dull, and their big hit was probably the worst version of “I Only Have Eyes For You” I’ve ever heard 11. There may be some argument to be made by doo-wop folks for their importance to doo-wop, but I’m having a hard time translating it to Rock and Roll, y’know?

AND…?: Dishwater dull. Seriously. There is a limit to smoothness, and this is downright frictionless.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Nope

Michael Jackson

WHO HE IS: The King of Pop

WHY HE’S HERE: Because, regardless of any set of feelings or thoughts on the matter, he couldn’t not be, given the history and circumstances of HOF induction

AND…?: I like Michael Jackson fine, if mostly in small doses

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yeah

Queen

WHO THEY ARE: the patron saints of rock music at sporting events and crowded bars. The subject of the second-most-monetarily-successful music biopic ever made.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: Practically, because they made the most popular glam rock ever made, and ignited a bunch of glam-esque musical passions. Bands inspired by Queen continue to happen all the time. Ideologically, Queen (along with Led Zeppelin and, to a considerably lesser extent, Kiss) are one of those “of the people” bands, with the standard line on them being that they were enormously popular without institutional approval 12, and thus were inaccessible to those brain types who just don’t “get” it. It’s a popular position among bands so enshrined, and it serves the band’s legacy well.

AND…?: I am on the record as being one of those brain types on whom the charms of Queen are almost entirely lost. I get what there is to like, but it pretty much entirely fails to connect with me, and I don’t really hear anything special about it beyond the mechanical talent of their singer.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: I suppose they are, but there are a thousand rock bands I’d rather listen to at any given time.  

Paul Simon

WHO HE IS: Half of the only living boy in New York. The better half, to be fair.

WHY HE’S HERE: People really like Graceland 13, and he had plenty of hits besides, but mostly I think that this is probably mostly about making sure Art Garfunkel knows that he’s never the first banana.

AND…?: I don’t think I like any of Paul Simon’s non-Simon & Garfunkel music, but it’s undeniably successful and did a lot to bring “world” music to people’s attention, for whatever that’s worth.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Sure

Steely Dan

WHO THEY ARE: A pair of jazz-rock weirdos

WHY THEY’RE HERE: They were sort of outside-prog enough to seem weird to people that didn’t like prog which, at this point, still includes the HOF selection committee. Anyway, they were enormously successful and made a couple of records that people really like. Maybe they got inducted this specific year along with Paul Simon because Chevy Chase was out there bribing people.

AND…?: I mean, they’re fine. I’m happy to admit that they made records that changed the way a lot of things on the radio sounded, and I like some of what they do, but they’re primary issue is that it really doesn’t age well at all.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: I guess, but I could change my mind about that at any time.

Ritchie Valens

WHO HE IS: Early rock and roll dude who died the same day the music did 14

WHY HE’S HERE: He had a surprising number of hits given the fact that his recording career both 1) lasted only two years and 2) began when he was fif-fucking-teen. “La Bamba” is nigh-unimpeachable, and “Donna” is almost as great.

AND…:?: He only made the one record during his lifetime, although he also sort of (unfortunately) pioneered the practice of every single recorded scrap of music being exploited by his record label/estate, and it’s a genuinely great record. Hard to argue with that, really.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yes

NB: There are no early influences from this year, and will not be any more until 2009

Chris Blackwell

WHO HE IS: He started Island records.

WHY HE’S HERE: Because if you don’t fellate the record labels they might not give you stuff I guess.

AND…?: You cannot imagine to what extent I have nothing to say about the guy who founded Island records, despite liking plenty of Island Records’ output.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: As far as it goes, sure.

James Burton

WHO HE IS: a truly dazzling rockabilly guitar guy.

WHY HE’S HERE: He’s inducted as a sideman, and played on a tonne of pre-/early- rock and roll songs. He also continued to play for a frightfully long time.

AND…?: Oh he was fantastic, no argument here.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yes

Johnny Johnson

WHO HE IS: Chuck Berry’s piano player

WHY HE’S HERE: Leaving aside the HOF’s love of a piano man, he was pretty good, if generally overshadowed by Chuck Berry

AND…?: I think I have little to say but “Sure, why not?”

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Sure, why not?

 


  1. also the centerpiece of the museum itself, for those that have never been there, is a very long video encapsulating each inducted class, with clips of performances by most of them and things like that, and is generally a pretty cool thing to behold. 
  2. although they did, as you can read here and going back from there, skew toward “pretty bad” 
  3.  see above, as concerns Eric Clapton 
  4. NB that I have no idea how many HOF voters have any ties to Cleveland, it just seems like that would probably be a contributing factor. 
  5.  meaning she’s a lady who plays blues guitar, not that she plays guitar because of her lady blues. Although who the hell knows, she might. 
  6.  a functional definition of rock music is something that’s slippery, and every few posts in this series I need to highlight more aspects of them. I haven’t written the thing out yet because I don’t really know all the things that it would have to have in it in order to be a complete definition, and so I acknowledge that this argument in its current form remains somewhat undersupported and possibly even hard to understand. I assure you that it would not be any easier in person, but you’re welcome to give it a shot. 
  7. he died, in fact, the year that Help was released, so he didn’t really even live into the era we’d call “modern” rock music. 
  8. even looking down the line, I don’t really see anyone I don’t agree with, so it’s pretty clear sailing 
  9. for more about this decision, see previously. 
  10. nobody sounded exactly like him, though. 
  11. although it’s not like I’m kicking in doors to hear more version of it – I probably don’t think much more of the best version of it that I’ve ever heard, which is probably Peggy Lee’s, although, again, I’ve never done, like, a complete survey on it. 
  12. I’m not inclined to tie all of the rhetorical knots necessary to confront this argument w/r/t the HOF, but it’s a part of Queen’s “thing”, and it bears mentioning here. 
  13. and, y’know, appropriative post-colonialism in general. Big business, that. 
  14.  He’s up to 33% of the reason for it, in fact! 

Eight Tiny Lists for Hanukkah, Day 5: Albums I First Heard in 2018 That Were not Released in 2018

(With the following note: I didn’t know what to do with John Coltrane’s Both Directions at Once, which was pointedly not released at the time, but was recorded forever ago, and so I guess counts as an archival release? So consider it noted, and go get a copy, it’s great.)

  1. Planning for Burial – Quietly
  2. Satwa – Satwa
  3. Belong – October Language
  4. Bruxa Maria – Human Condition
  5. Sun Ra – Discipline 27-II