A Considered Look at Every Inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Part 3

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 2. So 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 and Part 2 of this series.

Class of 1988

The Beach Boys

WHO THEY ARE: Those lovable lads from Los Angeles who wish they all could be California girls, and also wish that Rhonda would help them.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: 1988 is another of the years where most of the inductees seem pretty obligatory. The arguments for the Beach Boys are their popularity, and their pioneering use (on Pet Sounds) of the studio as a place to be self-indulgent, which some people call “innovative production” and I call “including fucking dog sounds on your dumb surf record.”

AND…?: Sigh. I get it, I do. They did stuff their way, and that’s fine. The fact that their music went from “relatively enjoyable pop music” to “insufferably self-indulgent pop nonsense” is certainly not because Brian Wilson’s vision failed him or anything – the records that exist 3 are clearly a part of his whole vision, and those records had an undeniable impact on the people that liked them.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Oh fine, sure. It’s not the “Things I Like” Hall of Fame, after all.

The Beatles

WHO THEY ARE: Four lovable lads from Liverpool. I’m sure if you’ve read this far, you’re at least passingly familiar with The Beatles

WHY THEY’RE HERE: True story: the Beatles are kiiiiiiiind of bending the rules by being inducted in 1988. Their first single actually came out in 1964, which the eagle-eyed among you will notice is 24 years before 1988, missing the 25-year cutoff. Whether this is just a nod to the inevitibability of their inclusion, or whether there’s a loophole I don’t know about is anyone’s guess. In any event, you know why they’re here. I don’t have to tell you this.

AND…?: Oh, sure. They made a bunch of great records. When they were terrible, they were terrible genuinely, in ways that reflected their desire to push their music to its furthest corners. They underwent two transformations, from gigging rock and roll combination to studio-bound construction back to live-room rock and roll outfit, and made good music in every form. There are a bunch of reasons why they’re overvalued, and why the constant comparison of other things to the Beatles is context-blind and kind of dumb, but that’s not a knock against their actual output and existence.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yes

The Drifters

WHO THEY ARE: Four lovable lads from NYC. You may know them from their many hits, or from the several dozen people that have, at one point, been conscripted into singing under the Drifters name.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: See above w/r/t “many hits.” They also had a bunch of people in the group at various times that went on to be famous 4, which I guess must count in their favor? I don’t know, man.

AND…?: As assemblages of vocalists go, this was a pretty good one. As exercises in commercialism and recycling members all the time and all that go, it’s also a pretty effective one. Their artistic impact is basically nill 5, but they were popular and stuff.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Not really.

Bob Dylan

WHO HE IS: The lovable lad from Hibbing, Minnesota. A nobel-prize winner, because the world is a strange, strange place.

WHY HE’S HERE: Because, to be as brief as possible, he’s Bob Dylan.

AND…?: I mean, he’s Bob Dylan. Much like the Beatles, there are ways in which his case might be somewhat overstated, but that doesn’t meant the case itself isn’t still immense. He always did his own thing 6, and he’s made a tremendous career out of being a unique, singular personality. He has, along the way, written a couple dozen of the best songs ever written, even if sometimes they’re few and far between.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Absolutely.

The Supremes

WHO THEY ARE: The four lovable lasses from Detroit. They would eventually be known as Diana Ross and the Supremes, and they would also go through latter-day Supremes at a rate that could be considered “alarming”.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: Well, they have dick-all to do with rock and roll, as per usual, but they were hugely successful – 12 number ones is nothing to sneeze at – and they were a very effective mouthpiece for Holland-Dozier-Holland, the songwriting/production team that wrote most of the aforementioned number on hits.

AND…?: Eh. They’re fine. I have to allow a great deal of give when it comes to this stuff – the rock and roll hall of fame includes an enormous amount of this kind of music, despite it having very little to do with rock and roll. Under that rule, I guess the Supremes are deserving, but even grading on that particular curve, only just deserving. They were successful and Diana Ross is a good singer, but that’s about all they’ve got.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: This is a very slight yes.

Woody Guthrie

WHO HE IS: The lovable lad from Okemah. You definitely know “This Land is Your Land.”

WHY HE’S HERE: Woody Guthrie was more or less the formative influence on the Greenwich Village folk scene 7, and indeed on folk music all over America in the second half of the twentieth century. He is that rare bird of folk musician who wrote at least one song that became – in the traditional sense – a folk song. He was a tireless representative of his causes, and he did more or less everything in his career guided by his own compass.

AND…?: He was great. He’s here in the “influencers” category, which is appropriate, and he’s up the same year as Bob Dylan, which is thematic and perhaps inevitable.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Of course

Lead Belly

WHO HE IS: The lovable lad from Mooringsport. His best-known compilation proclaims him the “King of the 12 String Guitar,” and who am I to argue with that?

WHY HE’S HERE: He introduced the world to what would become the definitive version of a tonne of standards – “Good Night Irene”, “Midnight Special,” “In the Pines,” “Gallows Pole”, “Good Morning” and “John Hardy” among them 8. He really was a virtuosic twelve-string guitar player. He’s also an underrated singer.

AND…?: He’s also here in the “influencers,” which is undeniable for the number of people that have covered his version of the songs listed above alone, even if you leave aside the skill and talent on display in his performances.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yes

Les Paul

WHO HE IS: The lovable lad from Waukesha. He has his own year-round exhibit in the HOF, and it’s pretty cool.

WHY HE’S HERE: He invented the solid-body electric guitar 9. More importantly even than that, he invented multitrack recording.  

AND…?: Without Les Paul’s inventions, you literally do not have Rock and Roll as it actually exists.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yes

Berry Gordy, Jr

WHO HE IS: Berry Gordy Sr.’s son. Weirdly, he is actually Berry Gordy III, but he goes by Junior. Why not?

WHY HE’S HERE: He’s the founder of Motown records.

AND…?: The last few classes there’s been a record label founder. Might as well keep the streak alive.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Oh, whatever.

Class of 1989

Dion

WHO HE IS: The wanderer himself. He’s one of the guys who was basically knocked off the charts by the Beatles et al.

WHY HE’S HERE: He performed a mod blend of R&B styles pre-British Invasion, which was pretty influential. Also, I don’t know how much it matters, but he took the falling of his star in stride, and has not stopped making music, recently recording as a blues traditionalist.

AND…?: It’s admirable that he’s worked so hard at his thing, and his early hits are pretty good and undeniably influential, so I suppose we’re fine here.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Sure

Otis Redding

WHO HE IS: A soul singer, responsible for “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay”, the first posthumous number 1 10.

WHY HE’S HERE: Much like his fellow dead-too-young soul singers from earlier classes 11, he’s here because he led his bands through the kind of performances that would be associated with rock and roll – small band, backbeat-forward, etc. He wrote some great songs, had some hits, had a great voice, and died tragically young, which gives him an easy hook in the rock and roll enshrinement world.

AND…?: Oh, Otis Redding was great. He’s not rock and roll, but as I’ve previously stated, I’m not fighting that fight here.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yes

The Rolling Stones

WHO THEY ARE: The other half of the British Invasion Diumverate. The one that still, inexplicably, exists in some form or another.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: They sold a lot of records, they had a lot of hits, they did a lot of different things, and during all that they also occasionally managed some great music. I mean, more in the early going than in the late, but you know how it is.

AND…?: Their period of 64-73 was as good as you could want, if a little overloaded with some chaff. Their story overwhelms the actual music a lot of the time 12, but the music more than stands up on its own, even if they are, like Dylan and The Beatles, a bit overpraised.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yes

The Temptations

WHO THEY ARE: Another Motown-based vocal group. Editorially speaking, Motown is entirely over-represented in this Hall of Fame.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: Because the Hall of Fame was bound and determined to get every single person who recorded so much as a hiccup in the damn building.

AND…?: Look, the Temptations aren’t bad. “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” is often “well actually”’d as not being where the Rolling Stones got their name, if you choose to believe that, but it’s a great song nonetheless. I just think that the case for their specific induction is pretty thin.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: No

Stevie Wonder

WHO HE IS: He’s another Motown signee, technically, but since he was much, much better than The Temptations, I’m not going to rant about him here.

WHY HE’S HERE: Stevie Wonder was one of the people who demanded and received unprecedented amounts of creative control for his musical output. That alone is influential enough to get him in there. He had hits for several straight decades, and still is out there, albeit at this point as a nostalgia act, but still performing like Stevie.

AND…?: All of that is leaving aside the run of albums from 1972-1976 13, which are an artistic high water mark, and which came a full decade into his career. It also doesn’t touch on the sheer outright impressiveness of making records by setting all the instruments up in a circle and going from one to another, recording parts.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Absolutely

The Ink Spots

WHO THEY ARE: The first doo-wop group.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: I guess there’s some value in being first, and doo-wop is the thing that predates both rhythm and blues and rock and roll, but, like, I think that’s also reaching too far back here.

AND…?: I guess they’re alright? It’s early doo-wop, it’s pretty far removed from anything I’m able to evaluate. Of all the doo-wop groups I’ve spent time listening to, they sure are one of them.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Nah

Bessie Smith

WHO SHE IS: A massively influential, hugely popular singer…of jazz music.

WHY SHE’S HERE: ??????? I mean, it is impossible to overstate her effect on jazz singers. But this is the same problem as the Ink Spots – once you’re at “twice removed” it’s a little bit harder to figure out what’s going on. I guess by the time you filter her jazz singing down through all the stuff and get to the bottom, there’s some influence from Bessie Smith in there, but it’s certainly not direct.

AND…?: I’m not a vocal jazz dude. She had a nice voice, and a lot of people sang like she did. Sang jazz like she did. Because that’s what she did. She sang jazz.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Nope

The Soul Stirrers

WHO THEY ARE: The world’s most famous gospel group

WHY THEY ARE HERE: I think at this point, once we’ve had to deal with The Ink Spots and Bessie Smith, then we’re officially in “they felt obligated to include somebody” territory. A gospel group.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: Obviously becase The Lord willed it.

AND…?: This is nonsense. Obviously nonsense.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: No

Phil Spector

WHO HE IS: Tyrannical superproducer and murderer who conceptualized the “Wall of Sound” [^14], although also did plenty of regular-old traditional producing.

WHY HE’S HERE: Well, he’s a right bastard, if not an outright monster, but he sure did know how to produce records that sound great and that people like. He presents a masterclass in trying to separate the art from the artist.

AND…?: It’s really hard to separate the art from the artist in this case, because so much o his working method was directly related to the monstrous behavior itself. I suppose he did have his impact, and denying that is denying the good things he did actually do for the world in favor of only considering the bad, which I guess I’m against, but man. What a dick.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Sure, albeit reluctantly.


  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.  one of the things not being addressed by this piece is the existence – or several-decade-long lack thereof – of Smile, but it should be mentioned that this record is disproportionately huge in the band’s backstory. First of all, we love an unfinished “masterpiece,” and second of all, we love stories about figures descending tragically into (drug-induced) madness. Smile for a very long time provided both. The fact that it eventually existed in a form that was cosigned by Brian Wilson sort of diminishes that aspect of it somewhat, but it was there, and it was real, for a long, long time. 
  4.  former head Drifter Clyde McPhatter, Ben E. King, Jimmy Lewis, Johnny Moore, probably a couple of other people I’m forgetting. 
  5.  that’s not to say all of their music is bad – some of it is quite good – just that the things that are good about it are also present, to a greater extent, in the form of acts who weren’t just “whoever happened to accept a check from George Treadwell to back Clyde McPhatter this week” 
  6.  I mean, his “thing” eventually included gospel albums. And, most recently, recordings of standards, despite the fact that he sings like Bob Dylan. That’s a dude that absolutely does not care what you think of his output. 
  7.  see Bob Dylan, above, and Joan Baez, several installments from now. 
  8.  he didn’t write them, generally, but almost always when you hear someone else playing one of those songs, they’re playing it his way.
     
  9.  although Leo Fender was the first one to mass-produce them. 
  10.  He died in a plane crash after it was recorded, but before it was released. 
  11.  Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye, et al 
  12.  the famous girlfriends, the tax evasion, the drug use, the famous feuding 
  13.  Music of My Mind/Talking Book/Innervisions/Fulfillingness’ First Finale/Songs in the Key of Life 

The Best-Selling Graphic Novels of 2017

So the fine folks at Nielsen BookScan have released their numbers, and now we know what the best-selling graphic novels of last year were. Since I have never, in this space, considered what the best-selling graphic novels 1 say about us all 2. So let’s soldier onward, into a new space!  

In this case I’m specifically writing about the “Adult Graphic Novels” chart 3, so here we go!

March: Book One

WHAT IT IS: The first of the three parts of John Lewis’s memoir of the civil-rights era.

WHY IT’S HERE: The whole thing won the National Book Award at the end of the 2016, which probably goosed exploratory purchases of the first volume. Also, if you’re someone who doesn’t habitually read graphic novels, but aren’t opposed to the prospect, then a graphic novel that won the National Book Award, about a Civil Rights-era hero who is also a sitting Representative is probably the one for you.

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: Well, other than that we like history in general, it probably says that a book about a real-life person who stood up for what he believed in is a real comforting balm, given the national situation.

Saga Vol. 7

WHAT IT IS: The most-recently-published collection of Brian K. Vaughn’s current space opera, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink juggernaut.

WHY IT’S HERE: Non-superhero comics 4 always have a couple of darlings, books that people rally around, and that tend to find their way out of the usual markets to include casual readers and the curious and the like. Saga is one of the current ones 5.

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: That people got really into a super-cool whiz-bang story about space ships and sorcery that happens to speak to a desire to see an end to both a ceaseless war and generalized prejudice from all sorts of angles, and have continued to be into it all the way out here at the seventh trade paperback collection.

Everyone’s a Aliebn When Ur a Aliebn Too: A Book

WHAT IT IS:A book about a solitary alien that comes to Earth to learn about what life is like. That’s understating the book a great deal, but I can’t figure out a way to write this here that doesn’t. It’s also the backstory for a twitter account, which is an even weirder way to describe it.

WHY IT’S HERE: Graphic novels are a field that isn’t actually that big, especially here in the “Adult” category, and so when something takes over like Everyone’s a Aliebn 6, it’s easy for it to sell a bunch of copies.

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: That everyone can relate to feeling like a aliebn, and wants to buy a book about it.

March (Trilogy Slipcase Set)

WHAT IT IS: All three volumes of the above-mentioned memoir trilogy, packaged together.

WHY IT’S HERE: For the same reasons as the freestanding edition of volume 1, above, but this time with the modifier that slightly fewer people wanted to just read the whole thing in one shot, rather than buying them one part at a time.

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: That more of us are tentative beginners than are completionists.

The Walking Dead Vol. 27

WHAT IT IS: The 27th volume of a deathless, shambling, seemingly-immortal series of issues.

WHY IT’S HERE: At this point, TWD is a comics institution, and I would imagine its volumes will continue to appear here for as long as they continue to exist. It’s the rare occurrence of something being so popular that it basically attains its own momentum, and couldn’t not be a best-seller.

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: That even more than the oft-stated appeal of the zombie story 7what people really like is the comforting continuance of the same story they’ve been reading for fifteen years.

Batman: The Killing Joke Deluxe Edition (Hardcover)

WHAT IT IS: The very Alan-Mooreiest 8 of Alan Moore’s mainstream work. This is also the thing that got adapted into the animated movie that everyone got super mad at for sucking huge wet hose last year. Said adaptation was in conjunction with this, the “Deluxe Edition” of the graphic novel itself.

WHY IT’S HERE: Well, Alan Moore’s name sells 9, and TKJ is, even without the toxic buzz of the animated adaptation, a super-famous Batman story (Tim Burton, for example, cited it as the inspiration for his Batman movies). It postulates an origin for the Joker 10, it’s the story in which Barbara Gordon is gratuitously fridged 11, and it does, for whatever else its (considerable) flaws are, have pretty incredible art, so it’s been a prominent Batman book for a long time. A reissue was bound to sell like hotcakes.

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: That this kind of grimdark, dumb-as-hammers storytelling does big business among readers of “serious” “adult” graphic novels, and it probably always will. Actually, it probably has a lot more to say about us than that, but this is already a long entry (there are three footnotes in that one paragraph there), and frankly, I’m keeping it light. Suffice it to say that Killing Joke represents a bunch of what I detest about Batman, about a certain class of comics reader, and about Alan Moore.

Tokyo Ghoul Vol 1

WHAT IT IS: A manga about a world with ghouls walk among us, and also occasionally result in half-ghouls, of which, perhaps predictably, our protagonist is one.

WHY IT’S HERE: I mean, it’s not actually a zombie story, but it hits a lot of those buttons. It’s also fast-paced and has excellent art, and was bonkers popular in Japan, so it was probably only a matter of time before we started seeing it pop up.

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: That the manga audience is huge, and that horror manga does generally pretty well. It probably also says some of the same stuff as zombie stories, even though it is, once again, not actually about zombies.

My Hero Academia Vol 1

WHAT IT IS: A very funny manga about a kid in superhero school.

WHY IT’S HERE: It has the sort of generalized appeal of the “kid in a school for kids like him” 12, plus it’s funny. It’s also got a well-received television series, and adaptations are nearly always a good thing for book sales.

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: That a bunch of us wish we could be given superpowers by our idols and whisked away from our regular lives to go learn to be superheroes, probably.

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic

WHAT IT IS: Alison Bechdel’s first memoir, and the basis for the very popular Broadway show 13.

WHY IT’S HERE: This is another consensus favorite of a certain subset of the graphic novels market, and this one (even before the Broadway thing) poked its head out into the mass audience – it’s become one of the comics that people with no real connection to the larger world of comics have probably at least heard of, if not read themselves. That kind of thing clearly gives it legs in sales terms.

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: Well, we as a book-reading populous tend to go nuts for memoir. Bechdel’s is unlike anything else also – her tone is very different from the usual memoir, and she tells her story, which is plenty odd in and of itself, in a cockeyed sort of way, without being outright weird. It’s a really interesting piece of work, and its ability to be embraced by so many people that try it speaks to Bechdel’s abilities as a writer/drawer.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess Vol 

WHAT IT IS:  It’s a manga based on a video game.

WHY IT’S HERE: There’s tonnes and tonnes of comics that are based around licensed properties that vary pretty wildly in terms of tone and quality. I must confess, I do not know very much about this particular set of comics – I don’t read them, I don’t know anyone that reads them, and I’ve pretty much only seen them around in passing.

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: That we like to read the plots of video games in comics form. I mean, at least Twilight Princess has a pretty good plot.

Watchmen

WHAT IT IS: I have used the word “deathless” already, and also the word “juggernaut”, and also the word “venerable,” and it is a shame that I didn’t save them for this here, because this is the venerable deathless juggernaut of venerable deathless juggernauts. It is probably the single most influential superhero comic ever published, it is the work that almost single-handedly justifies Alan Moore’s entire thing 14, it is the superhero comic book for people that don’t like superhero comic books, it is the defining work of both serious adult superhero comics and the entire grimdark nonsense age that we are, somehow, going through again.

WHY IT’S HERE: It’s wildly influential, talked about more-or-less constantly, and is a rare thing that actually lives up to (most of) its reputation 15, so people recommend it fairly enthusiastically.

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: That we have a healthy appreciation for the classics, that we are suckers for dystopia, and that we’re still stuck in the thrall of a grimdark revival that I hate.

My Favorite Thing is Monsters

WHAT IT IS: A murder mystery (among other things) from the point of view of a monster-obsessed girl.

WHY IT’S HERE: It’s more-or-less an instant classic – a visually distinctive, well-constructed book that really captured people’s attention. It has the benefit of being the debut work from 55-year-old Noble Midwesterner Emil Ferris, which created many a marketing hook, but it doesn’t even really need the gimmick.

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: That we are currently in a period of being really, really into murder mysteries, and that we love a late bloomer.

Black Panther Vol. 1 – A Nation Under Our Feet

WHAT IT IS: The beginning of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s run on Black Panther.

WHY IT’S HERE: Well, the Black Panther movie has been on the horizon for awhile 16, and this may or may not have something to do with that 17. Plus Ta-Nehisi has been on people’s minds for a while now, and it’s always a sales boost to have a name on the cover.

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: That there is an underserved market for comic books featuring black folks. Also that movies help sell comics.

The Legend of Zelda Legendary Edition Vol 1

WHAT IT IS: More Zelda comics. I’m led to believe (by googling) that this includes The Ocarina of Time, which is my favorite Zelda game, but does not have my favorite plot. Go figure.

WHY IT’S HERE: Because, unaccountably, people have a bottomless appetite for Zelda comics. I dunno, man.

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: That we can’t get enough Zelda, I guess.  

One-Punch Man Vol 1

WHAT IT IS: A wildly hilarious manga about a superhero that got its start as a webcomic and is also now a wildly hilarious cartoon. The manga doesn’t share the cartoon’s awesome theme song, though.

WHY IT’S HERE: Because it’s funny, and because the animated series is really popular, and, as discussed previously, adaptation is good for book sales.

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: Sometimes motherfuckers just wanna laugh.

Tokyo Ghoul Vol 2

WHAT IT IS: The sequel to Tokyo Ghoul volume 1

WHY IT’S HERE: Because a bunch of people started Tokyo Ghoul and didn’t stop after the first one.

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: That not as many people keep reading Tokyo Ghoul as start reading Tokyo Ghoul

The Legend of Zelda Legendary Edition, Volume 2

WHAT IT IS: Volume 2 of the bafflingly popular Legend of Zelda comics series, which is also the second such series here mentioned, which is, itself, also baffling.

WHY IT’S HERE: I am baffled

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: Something that I do not fathom beyond “people continue reading a series once they start it, and often that series is Zelda.” Baffling.

Going Into Town: A Love Letter to New York

WHAT IT IS: The follow-up to Roz Chast’s world-conquering Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant, this time about New York City, and specifically the whole-other-planetary-body that is Manhattan.

WHY IT’S HERE: People love Roz Chast, and people love books about New York City 18Also people loved Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant, which probably helped drive sales significantly.

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: Most of it’s in the “why it’s here” section, but also that we love memoir, and, weirdly, we love single-creator comics at least enough to propel them onto this list in between manga about zombies and/or Zelda comics. In Going Into Town’s case, it’s literally between Zelda comics.

The Legend of Zelda Legendary Edition, Volume 3

WHAT IT IS: I mean, it’s not that I’m opposed to it being Zelda comics. Some googling around shows that the art is quite nice, and I’m sure the stories translate well. I just don’t understand why it’s Zelda comics so much.

WHY IT’S HERE: Is it because we all still miss Robin Williams, and Zelda was his favorite? 19. Is it because the best video game of last year was a Zelda game?

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: It says that the vast panoply of human experiences contains much, and there is much about its contents that I may never actually understand.

Death Note Black Edition Volume 1

WHAT IT IS: The special fancy reprinted edition of onetime sensation Death Note

WHY IT’S HERE: Because it sold like hotcakes, because it was adapted into an anime that sold like hotcakes, it was made into movies 20 that did well. It’s a sales institution.

WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: Well, the premise is pretty understandably mind-catching: a notebook that kills anyone whose name is written in it, and it’s executed pretty incredibly, so people justifiably wanted to read a bunch of it. A reissue is a great excuse for people that weren’t yet on the train to get on the train, and so it sells like mad. The circle of life and all that.

And that about wraps it up for the sales year! I suppose it isn’t as revealing as some of these can be, but it might be interesting to come back next year and see how things have flopped around. Now I’m off to go remove “aliebn” from my spellcheck dictionary.


  1.  I’m going to use the term “graphic novels” in this post because it’s what the attached article, with the bookscan results, uses, so for those of you that know me and hear me talk, that’s going to sound weird, since I, by preference, exclusively use the word “comics”. It feels weird for me, also. 
  2.  A thing I have done previously for books here and here, and music here and here. 
  3.  the “Author Graphic Novels” chart is a little too repetitive, the “Superhero Graphic Novels” chart is too depressing, and I don’t know enough about children’s comics or manga to make that as entertaining. 
  4.  a definition which is stretched somewhat, given the circumstances here. 
  5.  Robert Kirkman’s venerable The Walking Dead is another, about which see below. 
  6.  see also My Favorite Thing is Monsters, below 
  7.  for many, it represents an ability to transfer the generalized opposition to “the other” into a socially-acceptable a form. You can learn a lot about American history, and about what its values are, by looking at the zombie stories that are popular at any given time. This is true for every single zombie story with which I am familiar. 
  8.  I can never remember how much of my opinion on the matter has been printed here, so suffice it to say: I like Alan Moore significantly less than you probably think I do. 
  9.  Watchmen appears below, and V For Vendetta is somehow on the “Author Graphic Novels” list. 
  10.  Kind of. Despite the gospel that the Joker became the Joker because of “one bad day,” as posited by the Joker in this story, it doesn’t really – for all that I don’t care for Alan Moore, he’s not as ham-fisted as that – but rather presents the Joker as an unreliable narrator willing to bend whatever truths are necessary to make it appear that he’s whatever he’s trying to appear as at any given moment. It is, to its credit, as interesting a story about the Joker as there is, for whatever that may be worth. 
  11.  generally speaking, “fridging”, from Gail Simone’s “Women in Refrigerators” involves the woman being killed, and in this case Barbara Gordon lives. She does, however, exist in the story only to be tortured, and the torture isn’t even aimed at her, she is a prop for the Joker to get to her father. It’s the worst kind of refrigerator-borne bullshit. 
  12.  c.f. Dianna Wynne Jones, Chris Claremont, J.K. Rowling, Rick Riordan, and much fantasy YA published in the last couple of decades 
  13.  see above w/r/t adaptations being helpful to sales. 
  14.  alongside Swamp Thing, and there are things about Promethea, Tom Strong, Miracleman and V For Vendetta that are admirable. 
  15.  It isn’t without its problems, to be sure, but even its flaws exist largely in service to its general effect. 
  16.  if you’re reading this on the day it was posted, it comes out today 
  17.  Well, this and World of Wakanda, I would imagine. But who knows, really? 
  18.  if this seems like a crazy sentence – and trust me, it felt plenty crazy to write out in the first place – go and look at how many bestsellers are, all or in part, directly about New York City 
  19.  I mean, his daughter is named Zelda, and he made no bones about why. 
  20.  in Japan. The Netflix movie was a turd. 

The 2018 Winter Olympics

It’s the Olympics! Longtime readers will know: this is not my favorite time of the quadrennium 1. This particular one is not off to an auspicious start: despite the completely unprecedented joint North/South Korean presence, there’s still the fact that Russia won’t be present at all, having mostly been banned by the IOC, and the spectre of the fact that North Korea is busily building all of the missiles it can can’t be helping matters any. And all this is aside from the regular problems with the Olympics: that they’re a tremendous financial drain on the local economy that almost never turns out to have been worth it in the first place.

That’s also aside from the fact that, additionally, the Olympics marry some of the worst things about sports 2, with the worst things about television 3, and it takes over everything in the culture for its duration, so there’s basically no getting away from the goddamned things.

But I don’t relish being a killjoy so, for the next however-many thousand words, I’m going to be your guide through the “fun” part of the Olympics: the seemingly-endless parade of events that differ only in one to two details, which may not even seem to be significant.

Alpine Skiing

Downhill

So the thing to remember is that every Olympic event requires a nigh-superhuman amount of time and devotion, and that everyone who is competing is not only the best their country has to offer, but has already established (via the extensive trial process of Olympic qualification) that they are good enough to compete. And in this case, they’re going to strap lengths of wood to their feet and hurtle down a hill, making sure to not crash into some gates.  

SHOULD I WATCH: No

Slalom

Downhill skiing with the added challenge of having to ski through gates sprinkled close together throughout the hill. The idea is to see the skiiers ability to turn quickly. At least the skiiers move more in this one.

SHOULD I WATCH: If you must watch a skiing event, it might as well be this one.

Giant Slalom

It’s slalom but, y’know, bigger. So the visual interest of watching the skiers turn or whatever is significantly less.

SHOULD I WATCH: No.

Combined

So the downhill skiing events are categorized as either “speed” events (Downhill, Giant Slalom) or “technical” events (Slalom, Super-G), and the Combined is one of each (Downhill and Slalom). So many gates to ski through!

SHOULD I WATCH: If you didn’t already watch the slalom, sure, but remember that the first part is going to be super boring.

Biathlon

Individual

Biathlon is one of the Olympics’ more baffling constructions. The individual form, which is the oldest form, has five laps of 4 km each 4 alternated with four attempts to shoot a target 5. I suppose, in theory, this would be hunting behavior in, say, the taiga or the steppes or whatever. Now it’s a sport that they’re going to compete in. The race is timed, missing the target adds to the distance you have to ski, and at the end the person who does it all the quickest is the winner.

SHOULD I WATCH: Nope! It’s a marathon combined with watching someone else shoot. It’s nearly unwatchable.

Sprint

This time it’s only 3 laps of 3.33 km 6, with only two shooting opportunities, but is otherwise the same.

SHOULD I WATCH: No. It’s better than the individual, because it’s shorter (which is great), but it’s still boring as all heck.

Pursuit

This time it’s 5 laps of 2.5 km 7, four shots 8. In the other events, the race is staggered such that each individual participant is basically alone on the course. In this one they are separated by the time that they finished a previous race – sprint – in. So they bunch up and sometimes have to wait for a shooting lane to open up. This makes it a race where it is sometimes necessary to wait. Doesn’t that sound positively scintillating?

SHOULD I WATCH: Lord, no. It’s a racing event where people queue.

Mass Start

This is the same course as the individual, thankfully, so I don’t have to type all of that out, and everyone starts at once and then waits in line to shoot. This race is the one where the shooting lanes are assigned, and oh my god why are there so many of these.

SHOULD I WATCH: Nopers.

Relay

3 laps of 2.5 km 9, two shooting rounds each, four interminable times. I’m not a fan of relay races in any circumstance, but relay distance races truly make a mockery of the notion of a spectator sport.

SHOULD I WATCH: Sure, if “a mockery of the notion of a spectator sport” sounds like a televised good time to you.

Bobsleigh

2 Person

So bobsleigh (or bobsled, as it were) is a timed race event on an extremely-dangerous track where people cram themselves into a thin shell and hurtle death-defyingly toward the ground. It is literally the least dangerous of the race events on this track, which is simply ludicrous. 2 person bobsleigh is the only version of the event that includes women, for reasons that I’m going to call “delightfully baffling” I suppose. For lack of a better thing to call them.

SHOULD I WATCH: Sure. It’s short, anyway, and it gets fairly exciting.

4 Person

Same deal, except more people shoved into the thing like Eisenhower-era college kids into a phone booth, and it requires more coordination to get exactly right. So it’s more technically demanding, but no more visually interesting, which kind of makes it microcosmic of the Olympics in general.

SHOULD I WATCH: If your appetite wasn’t sated by the 2 person bobsleigh races, then sure. Otherwise it’s just the same thing with more people, and it’s completely devoid of women.

Cross-Country Skiing

Classical

OK, so, the difference between cross-country ski events is the direction in which force is applied to the ski. If you’re pushing dorsally 10 it’s “classical,” and you do it for 50 km, and then everyone dies of boredom.

SHOULD I WATCH: It’s a 50 km ski race. Of course you shouldn’t watch it.

Freestyle

The other option to provide propulsion in the cross-country skiing world is to push laterally 11, which in a freestyle race, the athlete is permitted to do. To make sure this is clear, there are expert judges in international competition whose job is to make sure that the force applied to a ski by an athlete’s foot is in the correct direction. In any version of reality, this is insanity.

SHOULD I WATCH: It’s much shorter than the classical, at only 15 km, but that’s still too long to watch someone swing poles (which is the visible action of the cross-country skier).

Skiathlon

Rather than be free to do either way of providing thrust, as one is in the freestyle, in skiathlon it is mandatory to use both techniques. It’s the sort of thing that made one wish he had an angular momentum fetish. At least then it would be possible to get something out of it.

SHOULD I WATCH: No.

Sprint Classical/Freestyle

These are the same deal as their longer counterparts, but they’re shorter.

SHOULD I WATCH: It’s still not short enough.

Relay

This is a shorter race than the sprint, but it’s still a 10 km race, and it’s still repeated four times.

SHOULD I WATCH: No. Spoiler alert: I am never going to cosign a relay race in the winter Olympics.

Curling

True story: this year, curling events will start before the opening ceremonies, because there’s just too damn much curling to be contained in the regular strictures of the Olympic events. This year, they’re also allowing mixed doubles curling teams, and we will forever know if a man and a woman are equal wielders of a goddamn ice broom. SO EXCITING.

SHOULD I WATCH: Actually, curling isn’t that bad, compared to say, a long-distance ski race. I’m sure there’s better stuff on tv, and it’s not that entertaining, but if you have to watch some Olympics, you can do worse than curling.

Figure Skating

Individual Short

Men and women are segregated here, but they each get two minutes and fifty seconds to perform items on a list of jumps/tricks 12, all of which are a little more esoteric than I can understand. That said: the requirements are definite, but the end scoring is decided arbitrarily by judges (with input from the execution of the required program elements), and it is thus a sport containing unseemly amounts of total bullshit.

SHOULD I WATCH: It’s visually interesting, and the physically-demanding parts of it are the sorts of things a layperson can notice, so sure. Be aware, though, that it’s tremendously frustrating, because again: it’s a judged event, and therefore bullshit.

Individual Free

Free programs are four or four and a half minutes, plus or minus 10 seconds. They are judged, in this case, by how well they skate in time to music. Having eliminated the technical requirements of the short program, we are thus adrift in the sea of bullshit that is “letting the judges figure out how good it was with no actual benchmarks.” This is the event where most of the dumbest things happen.

SHOULD I WATCH: No. If you want to see what skaters do when left to their own devices, watch the exhibition gala thing, where they can fling themselves around with abandon and not have to worry about the judges.

Pairs Short

True story: pairs skating includes a required move called a “death spiral” 13. Consider that even skeleton, which is basically a rush to meet death head-first, doesn’t have anything called a “death spiral.” That is metal as hell.

SHOULD I WATCH: Sure. It’s got the technical advantages of the individual stuff, but the moves and elements are more technically-involved, and more visually complicated. Plus one of the moves is called a “death spiral”.

Pairs Free

More of the same – looser time restrictions, no required elements, not as interesting, more bullshit, only this time there’s two people out there at once. Weeeeee.

SHOULD I WATCH: No

Ice Dancing Short

So in ice dancing, the first half of the program is compulsory (pre-arranged moves that everyone has to do and that are proscribed) and the second half is left up to the skaters to interpret, with required elements. The thing they’re dancing to is determined by the powers that be. Oh, and they don’t jump. So it’s the worst kind of figure skating.

SHOULD I WATCH: No.

Ice Dancing Free

They get to pick their own rhythms, music and choreography, but they still can’t jump. So it’s less stupid than the short program, but still pretty stupid, and on top of that, it’s still judged.

SHOULD I WATCH: No

Freestyle Skiing

Aerials

This is a combination of my two favorite things: downhill skiing, and events that are judged. In this case they shoot off of ramps and flip around a bunch of times and then the judge says “golly, by these arbitrary and unfathomable points of judgment I guess that guy was better than the other guy.” Then the next person does it. That said, the individual runs are blissfully short, and they do look cool flipping around up there, so it’s pretty good visually, if not as a sport.

SHOULD I WATCH: Yes

Halfpipe

Pity the poor skiier. For years they were alone as those who zoom on waxed pieces of wood. now the world has moved on, and skiing is the hobby of rich people 14, but that’s just not enough to get those eyeballs, so they have to steal events from snowboarding, the totally radical pastime of all the most exxxtreme of young people. This is, in a nutshell, why the Olympics are total bullshit: there’s no “tradition” in gluing skiiers into a snowboarding event, and the only reason it would have to be done is for the ability to draw in viewers for the various television broadcasts. It’s divorced from its natural state (snowboarding), it’s clumsily welded to a boring sport (skiing) and it’s a judged event (bullshit). It’s got nothing going for it, except for general bankruptcy and an ability to annoy me greatly.

SHOULD I WATCH: No

Moguls

Did you think that downhill skiing needed to be bumpier? Because if you did, I have good news for you.

SHOULD I WATCH: Not unless you feel you need to be made motion sick. 

Slopestyle

This is more x-games nonsense, only this time the people on the skis go over a thing that’s like a BMX course, only they’re on skis. Words cannot express how stupid this is. Any of the entertainment value that would come from watching people do cool shit in the air is completely negated by the fact that, from the word jump, it is literally impossible to take this dumb, dumb sport seriously.

SHOULD I WATCH: No

Ski Cross

This is like dressage for humans on skis. You know, the thing where they make the horses hop over jumps and stuff in a race. Only on skis, and without the horses. I suppose it highlights the existential abstract comedy of the whole thing – the people are like the show ponies! On skis! – and that’s useful from a general entertainment point of view, but I don’t think it’s enough to actually justify the existence of this dumb nonsense.

SHOULD I WATCH: No

Ice Hockey

“But,” I hear you saying, “if the Olympics are so terrible, why bother with any of it at all? Couldn’t you just ignore it like all the other stuff you don’t write about?” Well, I could. But then I’d be missing one of the finest sporting events the world has ever known: Olympic Hockey. International Rules Hockey is such a frigging fantastic sporting event that the Olympics can have all the stupid clown-show made-up events in the world, and I’d still have to pore over the listings to watch the damn hockey games. I mean, that’s kind of how it is anyway, but my point remains.

SHOULD I WATCH: Yes. And I don’t just mean “watch if you want to watch the Olympics,” I mean “you should watch Olympic Hockey. It’s so good it’ll make you forget it’s the Olympics”

Luge

So, Bobsleigh is a bunch of dudes crammed into a thin-shelled sled that rocket at insane, brain-splattering speeds down a course. The luge folks 15 do the same course, but they don’t have the shell. If you want to see people court an early, messy death, this isn’t even the one for you (see below), it’s just terrifying to watch. Stick with Bobsleigh, at least you can more easily convince yourself that not all of those people are going to die.

SHOULD I WATCH: No

Nordic Combined

Individual

The things that are combined in the Nordic Combined are a ski jump and a cross-country ski – one’s performance in the jumping part determines one’s time bonus in the cross-country part. This and biathlon are reminders that winter Olympic sports have always been dumb mashup events. I suppose it’s possible to appreciate the consistency, at least. Anyway, there’s no women in the Nordic Combined, despite there being women involved in Cross-Country skiing and in ski jumping 16. I guess just to get that last little bit of weird sexism in there. Tradition, everybody! Anyway, I haven’t gotten to ski-jumping yet, so you’ll be spoiled a bit to hear me say: it does not redeem cross-country skiing.

SHOULD I WATCH: No

Combined Relay

I mention it only because I feel I cannot say it enough: watching relay races is not a good way to have a good time.

SHOULD I WATCH: No

Short Track Speed Skating

500m/1000m/1500m

I’m just lumping them all together, here. Short-track speed skating is sort of classic-flavoured speed skating, and as such is about a satisfying a race event as there is: everybody starts behind a line, then skates around, then finishes at another line, and the first person across is the winner. Easy-peasy, and, since the longest race is still only 1500 meters, the whole thing is generally over quickly enough to stay engaging.

SHOULD I WATCH: Sure. It’s fun.

Relay

I mean, even the fact that short-track speed skating is as good as this stuff gets doesn’t change the fact that relays are still four times longer than the events themselves would otherwise be, and while the addition of teamwork and passing skills are useful and interesting, they’re still not useful or interesting enough to make watching a relay race engaging.

SHOULD I WATCH: No

Skeleton

So if luge is like bobsleigh without the protective shell, skeleton is the same thing only it happens head first. The speeds at which this takes place – head first – are enough to subject the body of the skeleton racer to 5 Gs 17. Anyway, the New York Times just did a thing about it. Go ahead and read that. I suppose I’m open to any arguments about why this is a “sporting event” worth watching for anyone that isn’t someone that explicitly wants to watch someone die, but I’m not convinced.

SHOULD I WATCH: Not unless you’re trying to watch someone die. NB that no one has actually literally died on the skeleton track. Yet.

Ski Jumping

Individual Normal/Large Hill

You ski down a big hill, then you launch off the end of it. Ski-jumping is a distance competition, which are my favorite kind of jumping competitions 18. It must be noted, further, that in non-Olympic ski-jump competitions, “normal” is the size above “medium,” because why should anything ever make sense? Anyway, a taller hill means they go farther.

SHOULD I WATCH: Yes. It’s pretty good.

Team Large Hill

So only the men get to compete in team ski jumping, which combines all the fun of relay races with all the fun of inexplicably not letting women compete. Fun!

SHOULD I WATCH: Probably not, although, to be honest, it’s not all that different from regular ski jumping (the team aspect really only comes into play for the scoring), so if you really want more ski jumping, you probably could.

Snowboarding

Parallel Slalom

The slalom in snowboarding is the same as it is in skiing – the two share many of the same courses and disciplines, mainly because the one is basically glued into the Olympics over the other 19 – except in this case the “parallel” means that two people run the course at the same time, next to each other. I guess this doubles the chances of a slalom race being exciting, in the literal sense that two people are doing it at once, but two times zero is still zero.

SHOULD I WATCH: Nope.

Parallel Giant Slalom

So it’s parallel slalom, only it’s giant. So there’s more of it. So it takes more time. And there’s less, like, movement. Because it’s just longer, see.

SHOULD I WATCH: Lord no.

Halfpipe

So, despite the fact that the inclusion of snowboarding, and its derived events, is clearly an attempt on the part of the USA to shore up their medal count (although Japan is gunning for them this year), halfpipe is at least an event that lends itself well to the snowboard (and not to skis – see previously). If you’ve gotta watch some snowboarding, this is the one to watch. And hey, why not? It’s dumb that it’s an Olympic sport, given that it has minimal history and/or international presence, but it’s not dumb as a piece of entertainment, so it could be worse. If they figure out how to make a halfpipe relay, for example. That would be worse.

SHOULD I WATCH: Probably

Big Air

Big Air is somewhere in between ski (or, well, snowboard) jumping and slopestyle. The snowboarders launch themselves off a ramp, then do some tricks, then land, then get judged and scored. Once again the flying and the spinning and stuff are fine, but it’s still not a sport, because someone still decides.

SHOULD I WATCH: It’s not actually as fun as slopestyle, so no.

Slopestyle

This is the same as it is in skiing – track, obstacles, jumping, judging – and, while I tend to think of it as being better-suited to snowboards, if I think about times when I would actually find a judged event with so many moving parts entertaining, I have to confess that I come up short.

SHOULD I WATCH: Oh fine, sure

Snowboard Cross

So this is known, non-Olympically, as “Boardercross,” and that’s because it’s basically the idea of a motocross track that you go through on a snowboard. It’s a race event, which helps, and it’s also still transparently a USA-booster. It has a lot of visual texture – a lot of ups and downs – and I have absolutely no doubt that it’s a tremendously difficult thing to have to do. But the things that make it difficult 20 aren’t things that it’s super easy to actually, y’know, see when you’re watching it, which makes it hard to get anything out of it other than the superficial “people are whizzing by on snowboards and sometimes they are also in the air” aspects of it.

SHOULD I WATCH: I leave it up to you to decide. If you need more snowboarding than halfpipe gives you, then sure.

Speed Skating

500m/1000m/1500m/3000m/5000m

So, long-track speed skating is largely timed (see below), and happens in four distance intervals per sex 21. They run two at a time, the fastest time wins. This officially means that long-track speed skating is the worst kind of speed skating.

SHOULD I WATCH: Probably not. It’s interminable, and in the end the two non-timed long-track speed skating events are more than enough speed skating to keep anybody satisfied.

Pursuit

So the two teams start on opposite straight sides of the track, and they skate around and around 22 and try to overtake (thus the name) the other team. Whether they do or not, the team that finishes the required number of laps first is the winner. Pursuit can be a little bit difficult to figure out if you aren’t paying attention, but it’s still better than regular long-track speed skating.

SHOULD I WATCH: Sure, if you like speed skating enough to need another event.

Mass Start

This is the proverbial “it” – a bunch of skaters start at once, and then race around until one of them wins. This is the first year this is going to be happening in long-track speed skating, which seems insane, and also proves my point that the Olympics hates people almost as much as it hates sports.

SHOULD I WATCH: Yes, this is one of the good ones.

And that does it! See you all in four years, when I’ll probably have many of the same opinions, but possibly could contradict myself wildly!


  1.  although it’s worth noting that this is my first return-trip to this well: it was the 2014 Winter Olympics that occasioned my first trip down this road. 
  2.  braindead, nigh-jingoistic regionalism, naked manipulation in the form of “human interest” stories about how whatever athlete overcame whatever thing 
  3.  events broken up to sell cookies and prescription drugs, pretending that the behavior of obsessive maniacs (all olympic athletes are obsessive maniacs) is normal, the presentation of factoids and trivia as information. 
  4.  or five laps of 3 km each for women 
  5.  two prone and two standing, alternated each time 
  6.  or 3 laps of 2.5 km for women 
  7.  or 5 laps of 2 km for women 
  8.  this time the order of the shooting is standing-standing-prone-prone. Isn’t that interesting? I submit to you that no, no it is not. 
  9.  3 laps of 2 km for women 
  10.  that is down toward the ground, engaging a special “grip” section of the ski designed just for this purpose. 
  11. that is out away from the body, providing resistance by the angle of the blade of the ski 
  12.  it invariably makes me think of show-jumping events, and the people involved as ponies. 
  13.  the man and woman join hands, and then the guy plants his plant foot and spins while the woman is flung out away from him, and held in position centripetally, nearly parallel to the ground. 
  14.  and really enthusiastic weirdos 
  15.   with a maximum of 2 such folks per sled 
  16.  and also in the other dumb-traditionalist-mash-up event, the Biathlon 
  17.  the article here linked notes that when people leave orbit in a space shuttle, they are subject to three Gs, and that is done inside a suit, inside an enclosed vehicle, and not headfirst. 
  18.  I mean, the spinning and flipping is fine and visually interesting, but also judged, and therefore bullshit. The distance stuff adds a nice, objective measure to the art of flinging oneself into the air. 
  19.  Also, while it’s common enough to think of snowboarding as an Olympic johnny come lately, this is its twentieth year of acceptance, which also says something about the stilted, “frozen in time” aspect of the Olympics. 
  20.  things like “managing air time” and “making it over moguls” and “not falling over all the damn time” 
  21.  the women’s longest race is 3K, the men’s 5K 
  22.  eight laps for men, six laps for women 

Making a Living Selling Buggy Whips, Part 7: On Turning Rights

I’ll try to keep this one brief.

The whole thing seems to begin – or rather, the first sign that something was going on – with YouTube beginning to sign contracts, directly with artists. The deals stipulate that YouTube would foot some portion of the bill 1 for music videos, in exchange for which there are (obviously) some business terms, and, in the most eye-catching bit of business, a “non-disparagement” clause. That seems like a crazy thing for a video-streaming service to have a music performer sign, until one pans out a little bit to consider a couple of things.

Shortly after the stories about YouTube’s non-disparagement clauses emerged, some similar stories came out about an unlikely force stepping in to shape the way that streaming services 2 move forward, in the form of the U.S. Government. The most germaine of these is the one that’s the hardest to do much about – The U.S. Copyright Board has agreed to hike its rates 40%, eventually increasing (at increments of 1% per year) a final royalty rate of 15.1 cents on every dollar 3. This is a huge increase, obviously, and creates problems for existing streaming models, but especially for Spotify, which has yet to become profitable, and which is preparing a public offering in which the path to profitability will have to be a part of the plan. It also presents a foreboding picture of the world of streaming services to come shortly.

As it happens, YouTube is planning to release its own music-streaming service sometime this year, and that’s the environment they are preparing to enter into – the one where the royalty rate for songwriters/copyright holders shoots straight up. Another thing that is affecting the way that the streaming giant is going to have to confront the world is a widely-publicized petition, signed by some several dozen artists, to have the DMCA revamped in order to (at least in theory) make it more difficult for user-generated spaces like YouTube to be let off the hook for hosting infringing content.

 

Under the current enforcement of the DMCA, the organization hosting is not responsible for the infringement provided they respond affirmatively to a “takedown” notice. That is, if I go throw a bunch of copyrighted material up there, and the holders of the copyright to that material write a letter to YouTube saying that I did so, they can remove it and the legal obligation is over. The petition 4 would have YouTube held responsible for this sort of infringement to a greater degree, which would, in theory, spur them to create new and novel ways to prevent people from infringing on the copyright in the first place. 5

Whatever happens with this petition, however, it now will exist in the world with the Music Modernization Act, a bill that would provide for a specific governmental body assigned to keeping track of rightsholders, and the creation of a publicly-available database of the person who holds the copyright to any given song, and would be responsible for issuing blanket mechanical royalties for all streaming services, with the end goal being that all songwriters/rightsholders would be compensated more regularly/generously for their work. Obviously if the case is going to be made that the disbursement of payments for the rights to these songs must be handled by this body, that also gives the petitioners a handy place to address their concerns about the enforcement of infringement upon the same rightsholders.

So what does this have to do with the non-disparagement agreements that YouTube is having people sign? Well, it could be related to a couple of things. It’s unknown, and probably immaterial in any meaningful sense, how much the constant bad PR and the above-mentioned petition had to do with the formation of a new rights group, but it can’t have helped. So in the short term, this could be an attempt to get the poeple that YouTube invests in financially – by supporting their production of a video, say – to keep from complaining about how the money that may or may not come in from that same video is meted out (or not, as it were).

This is, even just on its face, its own problem – nobody makes somebody sign a non-disparagement agreement if they plan on dealing fairly with them. This is pretty obviously, whatever the reason, a way to mitigate the risk factors that come from a new business relationship.

Even in the most non-conspiratorial reading, however, it is still clear that this does represent a new kind of direct relationship for YouTube, one where they are yet another business interacting directly with the performer, rather than mitigated through the label. It’s hard not to imagine, given the secrecy that already clouds such contractual objects generally, that there are some business terms in there that would, perhaps, be worth disparagement eventually. If they aren’t yet, then there’s every opportunity that they might be. After all, what we have here is merely the old record-selling industry model asserting itself again, where a company whose business is not, in fact, in music at all 6

In this case, by developing a relationship with the artists directly, and taking on part of the promotional budget 7, they are also (probably) placing themselves in better bargaining position when the time comes to renegotiate either these terms, or similar terms with labels down the line – if you’re going to muck around in the music industry, it probably helps to have some of the only artists still moving units around as a bargaining chip, and if you can legally prevent them from talking negatively about that relationship, well, more the better.

Obviously nobody not involved with one of the YouTube derals knows exactly what’s in it, and obviously this whole thing has some more shaking-out to do before it’s all said and done, but I’m pretty comfortable betting that the answer has more to do with Google coming out ahead here than any sort of objective idea of “fairness.”


  1.  or perhaps even the whole thing, it’s hard to say, given that there’s not really any information out there about this.  
  2.  see previous installments in the “Making a Living Selling Buggy Whips” series for more on this and its portent. 
  3.  the revenue model was the streaming industry’s preference, with the advocates for the songwriters and labels advocating a more direct per-stream outlay. 
  4.  whose signees include Paul McCartney, Jack White, and Taylor Swfit, thus bringing together “people who will sign any goddamned thing”, “people who are super-weird about how their music is presented,” and “people who are seemingly bottomless wells of greed when it comes to their product”, respectively. 
  5.  needless to say, predictions about how well this could possibly work, and by what mechanism this could be accomplished or enforced, are not quite the purview of this piece, or of my prognositgatory ability, although I’ll probably have some stuff to say about it if it actually happens. 
  6.  even YouTube, remember, is not actually in the business of content, but of selling ads for that content, which is Alphabet’s content-driven business model generally – obviously they also have physical businesses, including their web architecture/infrastructure businesses that don’t run on ad revenue 
  7.  from which music video budgets traditionally have come