A Considered Look at Every Inductee Into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Part 14

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,Part 2Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, Part 12, and Part 13 of this series.

2010

Abba

WHO THEY ARE: Our pre-eminent Swedish Disco-Pop group.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: Because people that were alive in the seventies like them. I have no idea why, or how, or for what reason. I do know that twenty or so years later 3 a bunch of people my age also decided to like them, for reasons that are equally elusive. Anyway, they sold a bunch of records and had a bunch of hits, like a bunch of the remaining seventies-holdovers we’re dealing with here. 

AND…?: There’s lots of stuff I like about pop music, and lots of pop music that I like, and this contains pretty much zero elements of any of that. I don’t get it, and, frankly, I’m not even interested in it enough upon hearing it to try to get it.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: No

Genesis

WHO THEY ARE: Sort of the English prog-rock band, or at least the one most people think of first when you say the phrase “English prog-rock band”. 

WHY THEY’RE HERE: They did, in their original incarnation, make some terrific prog albums. Their popularity was such that they sold a bunch of records during a period where they were a weird band with a performance-artist frontman (Peter Gabriel, who went on to be a successful solo musician in his own right), the least-interesting drummer in prog rock (Phil Collins, who went on to be a successful solo artist in his own right), a wildly talented bassist who was also their secret rhythm guitarist 4 (Mike Rutherford, who went on to be….uh….Mike in Mike and the Mechanics), and one of the greatest rock keyboard players of all time (Tony Banks) 5, plus several pretty good guitar-players, all of whom played oddly and didn’t write, y’know, hook-y songs or whatever. It’s impressive that they got big enough to sell a bunch of records, is what I’m saying. And then they became the first of Phil Collins’s bands, and therefore beneath contempt. But those first half-dozen or so records are pretty top-flight. 

AND…?: The Gabriel/Banks/Rutherford/Collins/Hackett lineup did the best work (Nursery Crymes/Foxtrot/Selling England by the Pound/The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway). Everything after that is bad, and the two albums before it are much patchier. 

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Sure

Jimmy Cliff

WHO HE IS: If you can only name two reggae singers, he’s the other one. 

WHY HE’S HERE: He managed a degree of success starting being the focus of the soundtrack (and, for that matter, the film) The Harder They Come and ending sometime before he’s on the soundtrack to Cool Runnings. He wrote a bunch of songs that were successful but largely forgotten in the meantime, and probably did a lot to let people in on reggae that was a bit more modernist or pop-inflected than Bob Marley’s roots-y variety. 

AND…?: Oh, Jimmy Cliff is fine in his way, and I’m not opposed to reggae having more entrants into the HOF, since every other goddamn genre gets a bunch. My reggae tastes run way more toward the dub end of things, but I suppose he’s there for no worse reasons than anybody.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Sure

The Hollies

WHO THEY ARE: Graham Nash’s other band.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: I reckon it’s because Graham Nash was the only member of Crosby, Stills, Hash & Young to not be in the RRHOF twice and they wanted to be fair. That’s about all I can come up with.

AND…?: Oh, I actually like the Hollies more than any other non-Neil Young CSN endeavor, they just weren’t, like Hall of Fame material. 

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Not actually, I’m afraid

The Stooges

WHO THEY ARE: Detroit, Michigan’s finest purveyors of rock and roll. Actually, they’re quite possibly the world’s finest purveyors of rock and roll (sort of, see below), but it’s funnier if it’s just the one city. 

WHY THEY’RE HERE: Well, their influence is basically incalculable. Everywhere they went they planted the seeds that would grow into any number of scenelets/subgenres. Most of the “screaming frontman” subgenres wouldn’t exist without the Stooges, as would a bunch of execreble cock-rock, but let’s not talk about that. They made most of their reputation while they were extant on their shows, which were easy to write about because Iggy Pop is a nutbar, but they also managed Rock and Roll’s finest thirty-six and a half minutes in the form of Fun House, the greatest rock record ever made. Their other records are pretty-good-to-great, but Fun House is a monolithic, life-changing masterpiece of a record, and even if it were the only thing they’d ever done, it would secure their place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And that’s not even the one with “I Wanna Be Your Dog” on it, which probably deserves its own glowing, adjective-filled praise-up, but I’m trying ot keep the word count down.

AND…?: Great band. It’s embarrassing that it took this long to get them in, and hard to imagine what anyone thought a rock and roll hall of fame without the Stooges was meant to be.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: More than almost any other band that was ever inducted, yes. 

David Geffen

WHO HE IS: The guy who founded Geffen records, among other things.

WHY HE’S HERE: OK, so for whatever reason in 2010 there’s a bunch of here receiving the Ahmet Ertegun award, after giving it out once (in 2008) since 2003. I don’t know what this is, but David Geffen is here becuase he was the A&R guy for a lot of people, and he started a record label that sold a bunch of records, and that’s the worst part of the HOF represents, and here he is.

AND…?: I have no opinion about David Geffen.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: I am of the longstanding opinion that I do not care about A&R people or corporate-label-people. So no. 

Otis Blackwell

WHO HE IS: Not an industry dude this time, but a songwriter. He wrote “Fever” and “Great Balls of Fire,” for example.

WHY HE’S HERE: In addition to those two songs, he also wrote a boxcar full of Elvis songs, including a bunch of huge hits. 

AND…?: I’m a fan. I also like his recordings, which tend to be a lot less overblown, vocally. 

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yes

Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich

WHO THEY ARE: They were the husband-and-wife songwriting team that wrote a bunch of Phil-Spector-abetted Motown hits.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: You know, for some of these there don’t need to be two of these entires, right? I mean, they’re here because they were the husband-and-wife songwriting team that wrote a bunch of Phil Spector-abetted Motown hits. I’m really constraining myself by my form here. 

AND…?: They’re good songs.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Sure

Mort Shuman

WHO HE IS: A pre-rock and roll singer who was huge in France.

WHY HE’S HERE: I guess because the glut of non-performers in this year needed a dude who wrote songs for, say, Bobby Darin. 

AND…?: I dunno, man, seems specious.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: No

Jesse Stone

WHO HE IS: Mainly he was Chuck Calhoun, the guy that wrote “Shake, Rattle and Roll”

WHY HE’S HERE: Well, according to Ahmet Ertegun, he “did more to develop the basic rock ‘n’ roll sound than anybody else”, which I guess is why he’s here winning the Ahmet Ertegun award.

AND…?: I pulled that last bit from Wikipedia because I only know a couple of Chuck Calhoun songs, and don’t have much of an opinion about them.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Sure, why not. 

Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill

WHO THEY ARE: Wildly prolific (and also married) songwriters.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: They wrote tonnes and tonnes of songs that were huge hits that everyone knows.

AND…?: I think I just about like one of those songs 6, although I admire that they went out of their way to be socially conscious, which is relatively rare among pop songwriters. Good for them.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: I mean, I guess so, but I’m not going to be happy about it.

2011

Alice Cooper

WHO THEY ARE: A band who is named for their singer, the first (and best) 7 shock rocker.

WHY HE’S HERE: There’s always been a heavy dose of the theatrical in rock music, but Alice Cooper were out there making the theatre the point. Because they had to make their point by first getting people into the music (a thing that later theatre-based rock dudes would not have to worry about), the music, for the first handful of albums anyway, is also top-notch heavy garage rock. They were great musicians and it’s hard to deny the influence of things like the guillotine on the presentation of rock music for a couple of decades, at least.

AND…?: If you stop at, say, 1972 or so, you’ve got a hell of a body of work and you don’t even need the guillotine.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yes

Neil Diamond

WHO HE IS: A man with a voice as powerful and velvety as his luxurious chest hair.

WHY HE’S HERE: That’s a real head-scratcher! Neil Diamond was a pretty good songwriter who had a bunch of success writing stuff that people liked and that was sometimes rock music, and he sang the absolute hell out of everything he ever sang, but what that has to do with rock and roll is pretty well beyond me. 

AND….?: Oh if you want to hear somebody lead a band in a non-rock-oriented context, and really feel a singer go to town, you can’t do much better than Hot August Night. I don’t know much of the rest of it beyond the singles, but it’s a great record.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: I do not actually think so. 

Dr. John

WHO HE IS: The dude most people think of when they think of musicians from New Orleans, probably. 

WHY HE’S HERE: You know, I suppose the guiding principle of this class of performer inductees is that they’re all very theatrical, – I mentioned it with Alice Cooper, but it definitely includes Neil Diamond and now Dr. John. He sold a bunch of records as a boogie-woogie piano player, which I do genuinely love, even though nobody thinks of him as being one of those. I don’t know that I could say much about his influence (other than on, say, Tom Waits, who was inducted the same year), either, but everybody seemed to like him.

AND….?: Obviously I’m kind of all over the place here. I like Dr. John’s music just fine, but it isn’t rock and roll, and it is probably the least interesting thing about Dr. John himself, or his performances.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: On the one hand, probably not , for the reasons outline above. On the other hand, there are tonnes of single representatives of styles and subgenres and all that all over the HOF, and Dr. John is no less deserving than any of them. So yes, after all that.

Darlene Love

WHO SHE IS: She’s the woman who sang that Christmas song you’ve probably still got in your head.

WHY SHE’S HERE: Well, she’s probably here as an apology for being mistreated by Phil Spector. This induction happened a few years before 20 Feet From Stardom, which makes it seem more genuine than it might otherwise. She was an accomplished singer, and did a lot of intersting stuff on a lot of recordings.

AND…?: She should be inducted as a sideman, given that she was primarily a secondary vocalist, except on that godawful Christmas song.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Not as a performer, no. 

Tom Waits

WHO HE IS: A gravelly-voiced faux-hobo (fauxbo!)

WHY HE’S HERE: Well, he made several of the finest records ever made. He’s also in on the theatricality theme of 2011, since he’s playing a character (conveniently named “Tom Waits”) pretty much every time he does anything in public. He’s a terrific songwriter, a great performer, and while he didn’t sell very much, he did manage to carve out a really interesting sonic/genre space for himself in a way that I would believe was influential.

AND…?: I’m serious about that “several of the finest records ever made” business.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yes

Jac Holzman

WHO HE IS: He founded Elektra Records.

WHY HE’S HERE: At least he got in after Elektra Records’s greatest band (The Stooges) got in. Pity he beat Love. Also: Love should be in the HOF. 

AND…?: Most of the stuff that was on Elektra until 1980 or so 7 represents the absolute worst of possible avenues to be a rock band, and I’m sad that he got in at all. Also, I have never once, not even one time, ever, seen his name and not, for some span of half a second or whatever, thought that it said “Jaz Coleman”, which would be much cooler. 

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Nah. Somebody else would’ve picked up the Stooges, and nobody else should have picked up Bread or The Incredible String Band.

Art Rupe

WHO HE IS: He started Specialty Records in the forites.

WHY HE’S HERE: Specialty Records did big business in “race” records in the fifties, and turned out to be a terrifically important labe.

AND…?: Art Rupe is still alive, and turns 102 next week. That’s fantastic, good for him.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Sure, I’ll put aside my usual label-guy screed in this case. I mean, I still don’t care about label guys, but 102!

Leon Russell

WHO HE IS: The first person to be inducted for “Musical Excellence,” the category that replaced “Sideman” 8. He was a piano player.

WHY HE’S HERE: He played piano on a whole bunch of records by folks who are inducted here, he wrote a bunch of songs that a bunch of people went on to cover, and he looked cool. 

AND…?: That sounds like plenty of reasons to me to get him in there.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yes


  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. I believe it was pinned to the release of a greatest hits album, but I’m not going to do the research necessary to be sure, because that would involve thinking about ABBA for longer than necessary. 
  4. generally he was the other guitar, they had several lead guitar players. He played a lot of 12-string parts. 
  5. Rick Wakeman and Keith Emerson are invited to lick ‘em. 
  6. that would be The Animals’ “We Gotta Get out of This Place” 
  7. It was a corporate label, so it always had more clunkers than hits, but at least in the eighties they signed The Cure and Billy Bragg and Bjork. You see what I mean. Stuff like that. 
  8. Which, I guess, means that when I said earlier that I thought Darlene Love should be inducted as a sideman, I really meant she should be inducted for “Musical Excellence”. 

The 2019 MTV Video Music Awards

Well, here I am writing about the MTV Video Music Awards. I does remain my favorite of the awards themselves as a television event, certainly, although I will say that for the second year running my ability to engage with the nominees has dropped.

It is entirely possible that I am An Old Person, and therefore pop music is leaving me behind. There are a couple of cases 1 where I think it is almost certainly me, and several more 2 where I’m pretty sure that it is definitely them, not me.

But, of course, there is no such thing as “definitely them,” there is only the fickle mind of the pop-music audience, and the record-selling companies that market thigns at them by makng brightly colored short-films to varying degrees of success. 

So anyway Missy Elliott will be receiving the Video Vanguard award, which is great, because she’s reliably entertaining, and her videos are great. 

Best Cinematography

As every year, I remain baffled by how to evaluate the cinematography in music videos. I guess some of the camera work is fine, as such, but I tried as hard as I could to figure out how it would make any difference. I will say that Solange’s “Almeda” is a pretty cool video, but seems exactly wrong for this sort of thing. I guess I’ll go with the one that mimics movies and call it a day.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Ariana Grande, “thank u, next”

Best Choreography.

So the actual dancing in FKA Twigs’s “Cellophane” looked super-demanding, which puts me in the position of deciding whether that should get a choreography award or just, like, a physical exertion award 3. Luckily the nigh-robotic synchronized moves of BTS are here to present me with a safe option.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: BTS, “Boy With Luv” (f Halsey)

Best Art Direction

There’s a real thing happening in the music video world. Because there’s no more money in any of it, a lot of videos are tremendously low-budget. That makes the art direction, when it works, really pop, and also makes videos that aren’t tremendously low-budget seem both less-impressive 4 and also more noticeable 5. I mean, that’s interesting, but the answer is “Old Town Road”. So I’m not sure that it came into play very much this year.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Lil Nas X, “Old Town Road” (f Billy Ray Cyrus)

Best Editing

Much like with cinematography, I have a hard time deciding which video is better-edited under the circumstances, especially given that mostly my opinion of editing is “there’s too much of it”, but that’s also a cranky opinion, and doesn’t really mean much. I guess the “Almeda” video, which has a bunch of different sources, seems like it was harder to edit, so it’s the best one.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Solange, “Almeda” 

Best Visual Effects

So I try, when it’s VMA time, to consider the video itself, rather than the song, since the song isn’t really what’s being rewarded except in the category marked “song.” That said, every single song in this category is terrible, and I hated all of it. On top of that, most of the actual visuals here are garish, terrible and nonsensical. I guess it goes to Ariana Grande again, albeit for a different video. This is a weird year for me vis-a-vis the VMAs, guys.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Ariana Grande, “God is a Woman”

Best Direction

This is a category where the separation of song from video benefits the winner, because “Old Town Road” is a dumb jingle as a song, but a triumphant work of genius as a music video, and I have to think that the director is the person responsible for that. Good job, Calmatic. You put Vince Staples, Chris Rock and Billy Ray Cyrus in a music video together, and the world salutes you.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Lil Nas X, “Old Town Road” (f Billy Ray Cyrus)

Video for Good

Last year this was called “video with a message”, but I suppose the end result is the same. It’s still got John Legend in it, which in the end amounts to the same thing. I’m not entirely sure why “Nightmare” or “You Need to Calm Down” are actually here, but I guess this is why I’m not an MTV awards-granting executive. The Lil Dicky video is a lot of fun, and prevents me from having to spend even one more second thinking about the cover of “Runaway Train” that Skylar Grey abetted, so it wins.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Lil Dicky, “Earth” 

Best Rock

Every year I harbor fantasies of taking this entire category and throwing it out a window, because every year it is terrible and has nothing to do with rock music. It was weird to see Lenny Kravitz again, though, I don’t mind saying that. As always, Twenty One Pilots is again the closest thing to a rock band in the category.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Twenty One Pilots, “High Hopes”

Best Dance

As far as it goes, the actual videos in this category full of awful songs are ok. The weird manipulative dead-dog Marshmello video is a little unnecessary, but it’s more than made up for by the joy of Bebe Rexha murdering the members of the Chainsmokers with the scenes in Memento order.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The Chainsmokers, “Call You Mine” (f Bebe Rexha)

Best Latin

None of these songs really did it for me as such, but only one of them brought Snow back to public consciousness, and then put him in the video. That’s a real value add, right there. Anybody can sample “Informer,” but putting the man himself on the track is a real surprise. 

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Daddy Yankee, “Con Calma” (f Snow)

Best K-Pop

I’m sad that only one k-pop girl group is represented, since that wing of the scene is a little less same-y than the boy bands (and especially the boy bands represented here), but I like Blackpink enough that they probably would have won even with more options. 

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Blackpink, “Kill This Love”

Best R&B

I’m happier about this category than I am about most, mainly because even the songs that are terrible still have ok videos. I like Anderson.Paak so much, however, that even the worst song on his worst album is better than the rest of the field here. To be clear: “Make it Better” is the worst song on his worst album. Hard not to blame Smokey for that one. 

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Anderson.Paak, “Make it Better” (f Smokey Robinson)

Best Hip-Hop

Look, I was late to the “Old Town Road” train because, honestly, the song is bad. But I like Lil Nas X so much, and the video is so good, that I’m officially trying to make up for lost ground in terms of playing “Old Town Road”. 

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Lil Nas X – “Old Town Road” (f Billy Ray Cyrus)

Best Pop

I applaud the Jonas Brothers for making excellent use of their wives. I almost, but do not actually, applaud Taylor Swift for filling a video with people more interesting and entertaining than she is, and for trying to make something out of hugging Katy Perry. I applaud Khalid’s bravery for appearing on film in that fucking shorts suit. I applaud Ariana Grande for making a music video out of one of the greatest movies of all time. There are reasons I have, variously, applauded Bruno Mars and Card B, but another boring music video collaboration isn’t one of them. I don’t really applaud 5 Seconds of Summer for much, nor Billie Eilish. I gues that means Ariana Grande, by being the only person whom I liked something about unreservedly that wasn’t “the girl who played Jean Grey in the X-Men movies”, is the winner again. I write all this out so that you can see what I’m up against, here.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Arianna Grande, “thank u. next”

Push Artist of the Year

So “Push” is the name of what amounts to an “Artist of the Month” program over at MTV, and this is the award they give to the one of those artists that, I guess, turned out the best? I don’t know. Of the twelve artists they decided were gong to be big news, these six were the ones they felt they were most right about. I can’t really quibble with the selection, and I’m as happy as anybody to see such an award go to Lizzo, even though she should also be up for many other such awards.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Lizzo

Best Collaboration

I think the winner here is obvious, so I’m going to point out that, like most movie songs, “Shallow” doesn’t do much work outside of its own context like this, and also that the “Boy With Luv” video is super-weird to watch because Halsey is obviously cut into it post-facto. If there was an award for “worst editing” it would go to whoever’s job was to AfterEffects Ashley Frangipane into that BTS video. Anyway. 

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Lil Nas X, “Old Town Road” (f Billy Ray Cyrus)

Best New Artist

So one of the reasons that I’ve shortened my VMA writeups from the former “write something about everybody and consider” to the lightning-round style “just make a joke and pick the best one” is that the arena of pop music is in a place right now where I’d have to find, like, eight things to say about each thing that I liked, of which there are a teeny tiny number. So even under the circumstances, where I’m not saying as much, I’m still stuck with the following: I do not think that Lil Nas X rises above his novelty presentation, and as much as I like the video, I do not care about him as an artist, and while I think Billie Eilish clearly has something that has captured the attention, and H.E.R. is better than most, I’m going to have to go with Lizzo yet again, the only one of these people that I have any real enthusiasm for.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Lizzo

Best Group

I laughed for a good ten seconds when I saw the Backstreet Boys were here. I will never stop finding mirth in the hilarity of the pop-music wing of the record-selling indsutry trying everything they can to get somebody back on the map. Also I hate all of these groups’ output, but I respect the way that BTS did their thing, and I guess, just like every single year I do this, I have to shout them out for successfully cultivating a giant record-buying fanbase through none of the conventional means 6.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: BTS

Song of the Year

All of these songs, as songs, are awful. There are not two consecutive listenable minutes in any of these songs. Chris Rock saying “Boogity Boogity” is the best part of this entire field, but it’s not nominated. Nevertheless, it’s the winner, because I can’t think of any other way to make any of this work.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Chris Rock, “Boogity Boogity” (as appears at the end of the video for: Lil Nas X, “Old Town Road” [f. Billy Ray Cyrus])

Artist of the Year

Cardi….B? I guess? Despite the fact that she did nothing but feature on things during the period of eligibility? Is that good enough? It has to be, because the second-best artist here is Halsey, and the third-best is Billie Eilish and like, I can’t live this way. We need a better group of pop stars, y’all. 

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Cardi B (I guess?)

Video of the Year

Here it is. The cream of the cream. The let there be no sailing beyond. The foreign phrase that means something that’s the best. This would all be much easier if I liked Billie Eilish or 21 Savage I guess. Actually, 21 Savage isn’t bad. Generally speaking, he’s better than Lil Nas X, but I’m going to need to watch the “Old Town Road Video” again, because it really is the video of the year.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Lil Nas X, “Old Town Road”

That does it. Here’s hoping that some of our better pop stars manage to put something out in the next year or so. Also, if you know any aspiring pop stars who are better than this crop of folks, feel free to let me know and I’ll do everything in my power (which is nothing) to make them famous enough to get nominated for a vma.


  1. most of the k-pop, most of the latin stuff and Billie Eilish, generally 
  2. Ed Sheeran, Drake, Sam Mendes, the usual suspects 
  3. that is to say, is it impressive that she met up with the choreography, or did the choreographer just say “do some really difficult pole work” and that was it? I mean, I’m sure it’s not that last thing, but I still have no idea how any of this works. 
  4. because of course a Taylor Swift video can be extremely art-decorated, there’s a budget and they can just do what they want. 
  5. because of course that Taylor Swift video is well art-directed, they could afford to hire whoever they wanted to do it. 
  6. you know, for a pop group, since every other band on Earth has to do it this way more or less by default, and this statement only applies in America. So there you go. 

The 2019 Hugo Awards

The Hugos are back! Mercifully, they come with considerably less controversy (as far as I’m aware) this year than even last year 1. There’s some issues with kids having to be supervised at all times (which apparently has to do with Irish alcohol laws), and the super-weird decision to stop allowing supporting memberships to be purchased two weeks before the event, which baffled just about everyone. 

Perhaps the most interesting thing about this year’s Hugos from the non-awards-announcing perspective is the attempt to rollback the “five of six” amendment, which was one of the attempted safeguards against puppy-style block nominating. It’s due to expire soon anyway, but the assertion is that it creates more administrative work for Hugo-party-attenders. It’s further stated that the other puppy-avoidance-tactic rule, E Pluribus Hugo, does most of the heavy lifting where that kind of thing is concerned, and it’s not going anywhere. I have no major opinion on the matter, other than that I like more nominees rather than fewer in general, I guess. 

Beyond that, and some necessary clarification to make the internet itself count as public display and a counting error on the Retro Hugo ballot, it’s all pretty smooth sailing for this, the first Irish Worldcon. Very exciting stuff, and it leaves us with nothing left to do but talk about the actual nominated works.

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer

Everyone here has done pretty good work and, it seems, is destined to do even more. Jeannette Ng is perhaps the least to my taste 2 of these folks, but she’s still not undeserving. Katherine Arden certainly earns full marks for showing up fully-formed and remarkably prolific. While I haven’t read all of the Winternight books, I liked The Bear and the Nightingale just fine. She also writes young people books, which I have not read but am told are excellent. R.F. Kuang is previously covered in this space 3, and I maintain the opinion that The Poppy War is a tremendous display of talent that I absolutely did not like, although I do look forward to what she writes in the future, given that she’s as good as she is already. Rivers Solomon wrote An Unkindness of Ghosts which is a terrific generation ship novel, and I’m super-excited about what happens next from her. It must be noted, however, that I thought Vina Jie-Min Prasad was the rightful choice last year, and her work this year has only gotten better, so I still think it should be Vina Jie-Min Prasad.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Vina Jie-Min Prasad

Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book

Without casting major aspersions over things that people otherwise like, this is probably the most difficult this category has gone down in the three years I’ve been writing about the Hugos 4. Rachel Hartman’s Tess of the Road was a convincingly-rendered character study in a character whose thoughts and behavior are tremendously difficult, and who learns how to live in the world in a more comfortable fashion, after some degree of tribulation. She definitely takes on the subject matter directly and unflinchingly (which is admirable), but her style wasn’t something that I ever really engaged with, and I found it (especially in the early going) to be frustratingly repetitive 5, to the point that I had a hard time getting through it. Holly Black’s The Cruel Prince is a court drama about faeries and humans, and is fine for all that, but none of that is anything I engage with as a matter of course, and I didn’t really get into this one either. Dhonielle Clayton’s The Belles takes a big swing at depicting a society that has gone mad in its obsession with “beauty” as the result of an apparently-divine en-uglyfying. The world-building is good, and there are a few moments of pretty effective horror as the nature of the titular belles reveals itself through the narrative, but it’s glued to a pretty standard narrative. The end of the book was very good, however, and made me wish that the first seven-eighths or so had been dismissed in a foreword or something so that we could get the story that happens after this book. It has a sequel, which presumably is that story, and I’ll probably read it because it’s that promising, but this book doesn’t have a whole lot going for it other than several hundred pages of table-setting. Peadar Ó Guilín’s The Invasion is a lot of fun, with a lot of really effective body horror. It’s the sequel to The Call, which was much better, but also blissfully completes the story in two books rather than drawing it out, which I appreciate a lot. It’s nice to see a book that’s so very Irish nominated at the first Irish Worldcon, and it’s definitely a book I’ve recommended, but it’s not got a lot of weight to it, and the first one was better than the second. This category, then, comes down to the same books it did at the Nebulas. Tomi Adeyimi’s Children of Blood and Bone remains more interesting and thought-provoking than well-rendered, and a few months ago, when I had just read it, I was a little more caught up in the emotional content and the richness of the world, and now I just sort of think that perhaps it’ll be better later, when the series develops a bit more plot and a bit less incident. That’s a quibble, though, since it’s still an excellent book. The one at the top for me is Justina Ireland’s Dread Nation, which is probably the first time I’ve  called the win for a piece of alternate-history work (a subgenre I’m not usually super-into), but which is a super-readable, super-affecting, and really well-told bit of Western horror-adjacent writing.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Justina Ireland, Dread Nation

Best Art Book

Hokaaaaay, so. I am familiar with all of the books here nominated, but as I’ve mentioned again and again previously, I’m not much for visual art, and have very little to go on in terms of evaluating these other than “I liked the pictures” or “I didn’t like the pictures”. Spectrum 25: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art is largely fine – there’s some good pictures in there! – but runs afoul of my general belief that best-ofs in this kind of thing have to be really exceptional to be competitors, and it isn’t really. Daydreamer’s Journey: The Art of Julie Dillon has the benefit of being about one artist, and it’s much more consistent, but I also find the pictures in there, devoid of their context, to be not as interesting as some of the books that do more story-telling with their art assemblage. The Books of Earthsea: The Complete Illustrated Edition is a cool collection of Charles Vess’s excellent art, but it also manages to, however well-rendered, limit the visual representation of one of sf’s finest works to one guy’s idea of it. The pictures are good, but some of the stuff doesn’t look right, and so it’s hard to really get behind it as a thing. It would probably rate higher if I thought of things visually the same way that Charles Vess does, I guess. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse – The Art of the Movie has a lot of subtitles and is, as suggested by the title(s), a collection of the concept art of the movie. It’s a wonderful movie (see below), but the concept art is a nice little addition to my enjoyment of the movie, and not really essential to the world. Tolkien: Maker of Middle-Earth uses a collection of letters and pictures and things to tell the story of J.R.R. Tolkien, and it’s an interesting way to do it, but ultimately it’s not as good a history as the book that I believe is the rightful winner. Dungeons & Dragons Art & Arcana: A Visual History is not only a collection of art that I’ve spent an enormous amount of my life looking at, but it does a pretty good job of also telling the history of Dungeons & Dragons, and does so better than the Tolkien book, so is the winner here.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Dungeons & Dragons Art & Arcana: A Visual History,by Michael Witwer, Kyle Newman, Jon Peterson, Sam Witwer 

Best Fan Artist

This category was made easier for me by containing the work of artists who don’t work exclusively in pictures, which I appreciate a great deal. Of the “pictures” artists, Likhain is my favorite – her pictures tend to be really busy ink-y things, all spindly lines and color gradients. It’s really effective 6. Meg Frank is also an excellent painter, whose work is more impressionist than representational, although I don’t know if I like it more than the other stuff in the category. I like pretty much all of it more than Grace P. Fong, who’s a good-enough drawer that draws pictures that fail to move me pretty much at all. Spring Schoenhuth works metal into fannish items, all of which look pretty cool, if not actually to my taste. It’s good work, though. Sara Felix is a mixed-media artist whose work is remarkable, and is admirable in its simplicity and directness. She also designs awards, including the 2018 Hugo. But it’s Ariela Housman who does the most interesting stuff to me – mostly text stuff, and she’s a fantastic calligrapher, but she also does illuminations that are terrific 7. She’s probably my favorite of this set.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Ariela Housman

Best Professional Artist

There are some extra-heavy hitters in this here category this year. Charles Vess is Charles Vess, and has done fantastic work, but is here primarily for his Earthsea illustrations, about which see above. John Picacio works in a style I actively do not like, and when I encounter one of his covers, I sort of wish I hadn’t. I’m sure it’s someone’s thing (he’s nominated here, after all), but it is decidedly not mine. Jaime Jones did the covers for Martha Wells’s Muderbot books, among others, and those are pretty good, but they’re also not so good that I would declare them deserving of an award of their own. He’s done tonnes of other stuff as well, but those are the things I think of immediately. He’s a highly-realistic artist, which never goes very far with me. Victo Ngai, whose work I’ve praised here in the past, is here largely for covers that I’m not into and her contributions to the Spectrum book, which I was also not into. Shame, really. I’m a little sad that I don’t get more out of Yuko Shimizu’s work – it’s clearly excellent 8, and I suspect that if I knew more about Japan or about visual art generally I might be in better shape as far as appreciating it goes. But I don’t. So it goes. Galen Dara’s work is terrific, and I like her use of color and form, and I often find myself wishing there were more of it, especially her excellent cover for The Future is Blue, which I love.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Galen Dara

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

Ok we’re out of the picture-evaluating woods, guys. It gets a lot smoother from here. I’ll start off here by addressing Dirty Computer. This here website is all over the place, content-wise – it sort of has a generalized idea of “looking at the way popularity manifests itself and how we decide to honor things in the popular culture sphere”, which is why so much of it is focused on awards shows. It also has a decided music bent, because most of what I consume in my free time is music 9, so that’s mostly how it comes out. So among the things I champion are pop music, science fiction, and weirdo R&B. Dirty Computer would seem to be directly inside my wheelhouse, and would, in fact, seem to be driving the very wheels of the wheelhouse themselves. It is not. For whatever reason, I have spent most of the last decade bouncing squarely off Janelle Monae. It’s weird and I can’t explain it. I like it fine, and some of the songs are quite good. I admire her as a person who exists out there in the world and does cool stuff. I do not much like Dirty Computer as an album. There. Now we have to wade through a bunch of tv first. Like The Expanse, which is about as good as it can be I suppose, but which I only watch around awards time, and then kind of slog through as much of it as I need to to get the idea. “Abaddon’s Gate” was a good episode, for what it’s worth, but it’s a good episode of an ok tv show. “Rosa” was also a good episode, this time of Doctor Who, a much better tv show, and “Demons of the Punjab” was better still, but since they aren’t comedies, and it’s my long-state belief that television is for comedies 10, they aren’t winners here. Luckily, the best show on television right now is a comedy, and as much as “Janet(s)” is the episode to talk about due to D’Arcy Carden’s tour de force performance as literally everyone in the show, “Jeremy Bearimy” is the better piece of sf, mainly because it does away with the issues that the show necessarily creates timeline-wise, and because it has Chidi’s breakdown, which isn’t great sf, but is one of the funniest things ever committed to television.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The Good Place, “Jeremy Bearimy”

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

This is a surprisingly strong field, given that it’s a field of movies. A Quiet Place is a scary good time, but the world itself falls apart if examined at all, and since these awards are meant to be about the fiction itself, rather than the spectacle, I think it probably fails to rise to the occasion. Annihilation was an ambitious swing at making an adaptation out of a work that is particularly hard to adapt, and, while I applaud the effort, certainly, I don’t think it quite passes muster either. Avengers: Infinity War is fine, but is the first three hours of six hours worth of fan-service, so also doesn’t quite make it over the line. Black Panther was nearly as good a superhero movie as has ever been made, and certainly the best one that Disney has accomplished – it has a great villain, a solid authorial position, and a bunch of other stuff that you’d want out of a movie. It comes in third because the other two are just…better. Sorry to Bother You is fantastic and funny, but sort of flops over under the same criteria as A Quiet Place, which is to say that it’s better at being satisfying in the moment than as a piece of narrative 11. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is the best superhero movie made during my lifetime. The alternate-universe stuff is great, the cast is great, the story is whippy, the villain is evil, the heroics are super, and the whole thing manages to buoy along its message by being, essentially, a perfect movie. Great job, everybody.

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

Best Graphic Story

It is the case that I like comics considerably more than I like movies, but also that this field wasn’t as good as it sometimes is. Much of the work was fine, but a lot of it was middle installments of long-running books, which can make it kind of hard to get into choosing it as the recipient of this kind of thing. For example, Saga did just fine with its ninth volume 12, and Paper Girls continues to get better with every volume, but they’re both just middle chapters of longer stories. Monstress has some of the best art currently happening in comics, but I still find the story somewhat difficult to engage with, and it’s never my favorite thing. Nnedi Okarafor’s Black Panther: Long Live the King offers an excellent look at the world in which Black Panther operates, and has a couple of really moving stories in it, but kind of doesn’t stand alone very well, and so doesn’t quite make the cut. Saladin Ahmed’s Abbot is a pretty cool socially-conscious supernatural noir, and is a good beginning to a story that I hope continues for awhile, but also doesn’t seem like it has a real ending. That brings us to On a Sunbeam, which also used to be a webcomic, but which contains an entire story in a really interesting world (or set of worlds, as it were). It’s also about interstellar construction/restoration workers, which pushes all my buttons where sf stories about working-class people are concerned. It’s very good, but it kind of wins by process of elimination, which is why I’m a little down on the category this year. Ah, well. At least none of it is bad.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Tillie Walden, On a Sunbeam

Best Related Work

This is a pretty far-reaching and exciting set of nominations. The books are all fine, but none of them really rises above “fine”. Jo Walton’s An Informal History of the Hugos was a great set of blog posts, but reading it as a book is a little more difficult, because it’s easy for it to read like someone just listing books at you. It’s cool to get someone’s read on the set of Hugo nominees and the world around them all, but not a very good reading experience. Ursula K. Le Guin: Conversations on Writing is good, and a good central repository for Le Guin’s opinions on art and the reasons for making it, but it’s all stuff she’s said elsewhere, and so, while it’s excellent, it’s also not essential. Alec Nevala Lee’s Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard and the Golden Age of Science Fiction is a very good account of four very difficult people, and if you have a lot of interest in the subject matter is about as good as one could hope for, but requires a level of interest that the other works nominated here don’t require. Lindsay Ellis and Angelina Meehan’s The Hobbit Duology is terrific, but similar to Astounding, is probably much better if you’re already obsessed with the material it covers. The Mexicanx Experience at Worldcon 76 is important and essential work, and mostly just isn’t quite as important or essential as An Archive of Our Own. AO3 winning would be a major win for fan culture, and specifically for fanfiction, which has always been a huge and active part of fandom. Since the Hugos are a fan-granted award, it seems to make sense for the thing that would be fan-related would be the one that is fan-focused and fan-driven, and I can’t think of a single reason why it wouldn’t be the best choice in the field.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: An Archive of Our Own

Best Series

This is one of the toughest categories to evaluate. It was introduced last year, and is here again this year, and I’m basically over the same barrell. I’ve read some of all of them, and all of only two, so I’ll make this easy and decide it’s got to be either Yoon Ha Lee’s The Machineries of Empire or Becky Chambers’s Wayfarers. Wayfarers is good, and contains a lot of excellent utopianist humanism, which is right up my alley in the first place, and gets better as it goes, even if the second and third books are shockingly lacking in Dr. Chef-related content. The Machineries of Empire also gets better as it goes along, and in addition to a mind-bending set of rules about how the ships and the people that are on the ships work, and the way that the conflicts are resolved and basically every other aspect of the world-building, it’s also got a twisty plot that actually feels earned and not cheap, and a terrific ending. So I’m going with the Lee, here.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Yoon Ha Lee, The Machineries of Empire 

Best Short Story

For whatever reason, the Hugos seem to skew more fantasy-oriented this year. This is fine, and happens from time to time, but it does some damage to the short story category since, as an extremely generalized tendency, fantasy tends to work better at longer lengths, and science fiction tends to work better at shorter lengths. Sarah Pinsker’s “The Court Magician” is, as I have mentioned previously, my least-favorite Sarah Pinsker story yet. It’s still fine, but it’s not really a standout, and while it does its job as a short story well, the other stories here are better. T. Kingfisher’s “The Rose MacGregor Drinking and Admiration Society” is also a fun but kind of slight work by one of my very favorite authors. It concerns a young lady and her charms, and specifically the way those charms hold sway over several of the fey, in a nifty reversal of that kind of story. It’s clever and funny, but not the winner. Brooke Bolander’s “The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters, and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat” is similarly funny 13, but also kind of slight, although it’s got a very satisfying ending. P. Djèlí Clark’s “The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington” is a very good story about the lives of the slaves whose mouths used to hold the titular teeth. I can easily see it being someone’s favorite, but it isn’t really mine. Alix E. Harrow’s “A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies” is a top-notch story that literalizes both the magic of libraries and the importance of escape through literature. It’s the best of the fantasy stories here by a long chalk. Sarah Gailey’s incredible “STET” is not only a terrific and thought-provoking story, but plays with the form (the actual story itself is told in the editor’s notes and stuff, including the many invocations of the title) in a way that makes it even more impressive, and is the clear winner here.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Sarah Gailey, “STET”

Best Novelette

I usually mention at this point how I think novelette is a weird length, and how I also think that it’s weird that I have an opinion about the word count of a story. There, now I’ve said that. I mention it primarily because this category, as it has for every “novelette” category in any awards so far, has an eight hundred pound gorilla in it, so I’ve got a little space here. Naomi Kritzer’s “The Thing About Ghost Stories” is a surprising story about an anthropologist who studies ghost visitations and the way that people tell their stories about them. Zen Cho’s “If At First You Don’t Succeed Try, Try Again” is about a dragon that strives to ascend to more, and his relationship with a woman who believes in him. Daryl Gregory’s “Nine Last Days on Planet Earth” is a set of vignettes, and is excellently-drawn, but works better as a sort of tone piece than a story as such. It’s good, though. Simone Heller’s “When We Were Starless” is a fantastic story about memory and robots, and an apocalypse of our devising, and what is forgotten and what is remembered, and the importance of the latter. It’s as beautiful a story as I’ve ever read in which an AI museum docent is a primary character. Tina Connolly’s “The Last Banquet of Temporal Confections” involves a terrific magic device, and is an excellent revenge story (of which there are not very many) 14. But really, this category has belonged to Brooke Bolander the whole time, and The Only Harmless Great Thing is the best.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Brooke Bolander, The Only Harmless Great Thing

Best Novella

This is a pretty good category, not much out of the ordinary or noteworthy about it in and of itself. P. Djèlí Clark’s The Black God’s Drums is pretty good alternate-history stuff, but feels more like a prelude than an actual story. If there’s no follow-up or sequel or whatever, it will be a strange little orphan in his bibliography. Martha Wells’s Artificial Condition is probably my favorite of the murderbot books, but suffers from being another middle installment 15. Aliette de Bodard’s The Tea Master and the Detective is an effective and surprising detective story with some really well-done world-building in the background of it. Seanan McGuire continues to invent really interesting portal lands for her Wayward Children stories, and Under the Sugar Sky might be the oddest and most interesting one yet. It doesn’t have quite the same quality of story of the other installments, although I do like the protagonist a lot. Kelly Robson’s Gods, Monsters and the Lucky Peach is the best story about a time-travelling squid-woman I’ve ever read, and is therefore the winner. I may have made this exact same joke back at the Nebulas, but I apologize for nothing.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kelly Robson, Gods, Monsters and the Lucky Peach

Best Novel

And here we are, the most exciting of the categories. Or at least the one that requires the most time investment 16. I’m already in a minority here, mainly by thinking that The Calculating Stars was fine, but not that great. It’s a real crowd-pleaser, though, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see it win. I also wouldn’t harbor any bad feelings about it – it’s good, it’s just not as good as the other stuff in the category. Cathrynne Valente’s Space Opera, by contrast, could not be more directly up my street, from the first word to the last, and so it’s probably the book I enjoyed reading the most and will re-read the most often of all of these, but it’s not really the best book here, so I don’t think it should win. I’d be pleased if it did, though. Rebecca Roanhorse’s Trail of Lightning has a great protagonist and is in a great world 17, but I was a little let down by the ending. NB that this is kind of a recent development, and I liked it a lot more back when I read it around Nebula time. Yoon Ha Lee’s Revenant Gun is the best part of the series I just said was the best series back there a couple of categories ago, but very much does not stand alone, and so is kind of hard to evaluate as its own thing, and thus isn’t really a winner here. Becky Chambers’s Record of a Spaceborn Few is also the best part of its series, and does stand alone very well 18, but just isn’t as good as Spinning Silver. It’s odd for me to call a fantasy book the best of the category, but here I am doing so: Spinning Silver is amazing. It uses a fairy tale as a jumping off point to talk about inequality and privilege, as well as intentions, and the fact that actions have consequences. It’s a real triumph of a book, and it’s the winner here.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Naomi Novik, Spinning Silver


  1. where there was some business with panels being handled terribly, and nominees being treated badly, and which I wrote about in last year’s Hugos piece. 
  2.  or, at least, the stuff of hers that I’ve read isn’t to my taste.  
  3. for the Nebulas 
  4. I fully acknowledge that three is not that many years. I get it. 
  5.  probably intentional, I understand, to reinforce just how baked-in to Tess the thoughts and attitudes that she felt governed her life were, but also: still hard to read.  
  6. Gosh I hope that sentence sheds some light on why I don’t talk about pictures more often. 
  7. it’s also worth mentioning here that she’s the woman who is the impetus for there being a reconsideration of “public display” in the nomination guidelines. 
  8. I did like her covers for Unwritten, but those were years ago 
  9. even more than books, in fact 
  10.  primarily for narrative reasons – it’s hard for me to ignore the constraints of the form when it’s telling a purely dramatic story, and I’m sure I’ve written about this somewhere else before, or you can buy me a drink and I’ll explain it to you at great length if you really want to know. I got reasons, is what I’m saying here, although I don’t think they’d be very interesting to anybody else. Or even apply to anybody else.  
  11. Note that I think this makes for a better movie experience, but also probably shouldn’t win awards. I’m trying to be consistent about the place I come from for all these things, is what I’m saying, and I’m not a naturally-consistent man. 
  12.  it’s nominated every year, and I suspect next year, when the tenth volume comes up, I’ll feel it’s more deserving, since the tenth volume represents the halfway point and kind of has a caesura, if not an actual ending. Also it’s followed by a hiatus, so I’ll be desperate for more Saga at this time next year. 
  13.  Well, it is funny, as is “The Rose MacGregor Drinking and Admiration Society,” but they are not actually similar.  
  14.  excellent revenge stories. Non-excellent revenge stories are a dime a dozen and I usually hate them.  
  15. it earns some points back for being the one with ART, the best non-murderbot character in the whole series 
  16.  the astute reader will be able to tell at this point that I am out of things to say in these little category-heading sentences, but I feel like I should say something. I guess this is the price I pay for a non-controversial, relatively-straightforward award situation.  
  17.  although it is not without its controversial possibly-appropriative elements, which I didn’t think about but which have, since I read it, been brought to my attention, so your mileage may vary.  
  18.  all of the Wayfarers books do – they’re connected by world, mostly, and a couple of characters, but they’re not really sequential 

More Like Wouldn’tstock, amirite?

So, Woodstock isn’t happening this year! I’d like to say this is something like a surprise, but of course it isn’t, because of course it was pretty much never going to happen. Oh, sure, Michael Lang had a bunch of lofty stuff to say about toilets or whatever 1, and about politics being the goal so that it wasn’t just a music festival, but also he announced the thing in January of the year that it was happening, which seems patently insane. 

And, it turns out, it was! It was off to a wobbly start basically as soon as it was off to anything, with the folks announcing it being coy about where it was to happen until they decided where they were going to make it happen, and then being extremely coy about the lineup 2 until it was finally too late to not announce it (presumably, I have no idea why they waited so long), and then it was, more or less, exactly what you’d think a Woodstock lineup would be in 2019. This seems, for whatever reason, to be precisely wrong: you’d think any part of it would have been surprising, but it was not. 

Of course, it didn’t turn out to matter. Whatever the list turned out to have been, it lost someone almost immediately, in the form of The Black Keys, who bowed out quickly, citing an unexplained scheduling problem.Now, perhaps this wasn’t a warning klaxon. Perhaps a giant rock band that’s been in existence for a couple of decades just….misread their calendar in regards to a Woodstock event and made a commitment they couldn’t keep. Perhaps that’s what happened. But it seems more likely to me that the “scheduling” problems had more to do with the schedule on the organizers’ end than on any of the bands. This is purely speculative, and I’ve been wrong before, but it sure seems like it all points one way, especially since the Black Keys folks were sure in their press release to point out that they wanted to let the public know before tickets went on sale. 

The tickets, then, were there real telltale sign. The socially-aware, non-music-focused Woodstock incarnation was meant to start selling tickets early for students, which then failed to happen at all. Of course, all tickets failed to happen at all, eventually, and it is at this point that our story, heretofore simmering on the road to failure, runs to a rapid boil.

A major promoter/financial baker, Dentsu Aegis, left the proceedings at this point, leaving the future in jeopardy to pretty much everyone that knew about it except for the stalwartly blinkered Michael Lang, who insisted that the festival “must” happen, and then accused Dentsu Aegis of stealing money from the festival 3, as well as uh…bribing artists to cancel or not play, which positions the actions of a Japanese ad firm as being specifically targeted to bilk Michael Lang. 

Whatever else was going on, this also followed an attempt by the Woodstock folks to reach out to Live Nation and AEG, two giant event promoters, to get their money involved, so it can’t have been as sudden and unforeseen a rug-pull as all that. This is another sort of tell-tale moment, when companies who are in the business of making money putting on giant shows full of famous people say, in effect, that they don’t think that this recognizable brand that represents a show full of the most famous people could possibly recoup this money. Seems like another red flag, but not to our intrepid forger-aheaders. 

It is at this point that the forging-ahead is made more difficult by the loss of the venue, and also another of the event’s producers (CID) in the same day. That’s quite an obstacle. The producer pulling out was never addressed 4 by the Woodstock, nor, for that matter, was the earlier fleeing of the garbage fire on the part of the original producers (Superfly), whom CID replaced 5. But the venue was addressed, with Lang again reiterating that this must happen.

Unfortunately, the state of New York simply did not agree in this read on the destiny of Woodstock 50, rejecting permits and forcing them to regroup around yet another idea, this time with something like a month and a half.

The venue had been a matter of some question from the beginning (as alluded to above), most  notably when, in the process of not actually announcing a venue, Lang declared the Bethel Woods site to be inappropriate for the event since it was “a 15,000 seat shed”, and this would not do for an event that was put together in all of eight months. He alluded, in the announcement that the venue was gone, to having another venue lined up, which turned out to be a nearby race track that also did not want this mess on their hands. At this point, someone at Woodstock re-iterated that they believed that they were being conspired against, stating their “[belief] certain political forces may be working against the resurrection of the Festival”. The evidence on offer in the press release is that the state of New York said some permits were incomplete, but the Woodstock folks said they weren’t incomplete. Obviously. 

Luckily. New York is like, right there by Maryland (?!), so the Merriwether Post Pavillion was willing to uh…jump into the fray and offer their venue for usage of the concert. Since MPP is a 19,000 seat shed, it was deemed adequate by the remaining event organizers 6, whoever they may still have been. It was not, however, deemed adequate by Jay-Z, who took this opportunity to leave the festival, as did John Fogerty and the John Mayer and the Walking Once-Grateful Dead.

Without a fully finalized lineup, with people leaving, and with a venue that is more associated with being the title of an Animal Collective album than peace & love, the promoters threw the last minute hail-mary pass 7 of making it a free event. Operator Seth Hurwitz told Pitchfork at this point that “they do still have a venue if they have a show,” which really makes it seem like the Woodstock folks are the only people in the world who actually believed it was still going to happen. 

And then the rolling boil of failure that got them this far boiled all the way over, leaving a sticky starchy film all over the stovetop, and more artists left, and, finally, the whole thing finally ground to a halt, a couple of weeks before it was actually meant to happen. 

So what do you say about a commemorative music festival that didn’t happen? Well, you say that the world has moved on. When I wrote about festivals before, one of the things that I thought would be interesting about it was that it would be a look at how a Woodstock would look in a world where there were a lot more music festivals than there were in 1969, or even in 1999. 

It turns out that that was what was interesting about it. I don’t know much about how Woodstocks were put together. I’m a classic-rock sort of dude, and I like plenty of Woodstock-type stuff. I’ve seen the movie and read a book or two, I know the stuff that everybody knows, but I don’t know how any of this maps onto what happened previously. 

Here’s what I do know: people know better how to keep people safe and sane at these things, and there are now entire industries devoted to doing so, and for a dude who started the whole idea out to wade on in and seemingly insist that he was entitled to whatever it was that he wanted because he did it before any of the other people involved, well, that seems like, if nothing else, an interesting look at how that sort of thing plays nowadays.

The hubris of insisting that the music festival that you planned must happen again, even after it turns out to be a disaster pretty much every time it goes out 8, to the point where things that really, to the untrained eye, seem like a total failure of a set of people getting their shit together getting blamed on “political forces” and theft, is pretty indicative of several of the very important ways in which the world has moved on. 

There could have been a Woodstock. It probably should have gotten its permits and shit in order a long time ago, well before this one was even announced. It probably should have had a business plan that allowed it to exist. It probably should have involved several fewer last-minute last-ditch last-chance efforts and dragging back into the realm of the living. But it didn’t. Instead what it had was a dude who decided that he had everything going for him no matter what he did, wading into a field that, whatever his influence upon, was doing pretty well without him, and then failed, miserably and publicly, to pull anything at all together. 

Seems a shame, really.


  1. for some of my previous thoughts on this matter, which has given me much mirth over the course of the last six months or so, see previously. 
  2. For more on the announced lineup, see the happier times of, like, this past spring. 
  3. courts eventually ruled that the money was, in fact, due to Dentsu, but that Dentsu didn’t have the right to announce the cancellation of the festival, so it wasn’t, legally, cancelled. Just de facto cancelled, I guess. 
  4. presumably he was not involved in the conspiracy against Michael Lang’s money 
  5. I have no idea how many production companies were involved, nor how many it would normally take, so I don’t know how much of this is germane, which is why it’s all sort of crammed together down here. It seems real bad, but that might be a lot easier to say since I know that the event is already cancelled. 
  6. I’m using the term “organizers” pretty loosely here 
  7. hey look at that! A football reference! 
  8. And, honestly, for all of its portrayal as the locus of a certain kind of countercultural expression/limnation of a cultural moment, from a human and logistics standpoint, every Woodstock was pretty much a nightmare for a goodly number of people involved. 

Shamelessly Punting: An Ordinal Ranking of Awards Shows that I Cover Here

Nebula Awards (book awards get the highest marks, and I’m a dude who loves science fiction most of all)

The Shirley Jackson Awards (second to the Nebulas only because of my warm fuzzy feelings for the latter)

The World Fantasy Awards (I like books, you know? Good stuff, books)

Locus Awards (This one actually has the most useful list of nominees, since it covers the most ground, but I almost never get to all of them, and they’re hard to write about since I have a sort of general-case taste in a bunch of that stuff)

The Hugo Awards (True story: in the pre-Puppies days, you can probably find me not being super into the Hugos! I appreciate that they have an editorial stance – albeit one that comes from the community of Hugos people deciding what they wanted them t be and making them that way, which is pretty great – now, and it’s one that I like, and that’s made the Hugos somewhat more interesting for the time being, but generally speaking I wasn’t into them before that, and may someday go back to not being particularly into them. For now though, I write about them.)

The MTV VMAs (Some awards are here because I respect and care about them, and all of those awards are above the fold here. This one’s here because the telecast is reliably entertaining, and I like music videos as much as I like anything on television, generally)

The BET Hip-Hop Awards (Same deal as the VMAs, although the broadcast tends to be less entertaining. It does have the cyphers, though, which help a great deal and keep it up this high)

The Creative Arts Emmy Awards (It’s like the regular tv emmys except they honor web stuff and stuff that I care about, instead of stuff that I try to watch and mostly don’t, in fact, care about)

The Golden Globe Awards (A looser approach to the awards is also helped by the fact that the Hollywood Foreign Press has generally better taste than the Academy)

The Primetime Emmy Awards (These are mostly fun to yell about, but I usually like the comedy categories just fine)

Goodreads Choice Awards (They’re always a shitshow, but they’re still about books and every once in awhile they don’t infuriate me)

Grammy Awards (Straight up pop-music awards are ok, and the Grammys are the best of them in terms of watching the broadcast because they have the clout to get people involved, but their results are terrible and stupid to the point of legend)

The People’s Choice Awards (Post-E!) (They’re always dumb, but at least E! knows how to make them bright colored)

Billboard Music Awards (the performances are sometimes ok, but the awards are a foregone conclusion and kind of dumb)

MTV Movie & TV Awards (I can’t explain why I think this one is super-boring every year, but I never like watching it, and some of the categories are really dumb)

The American Music Awards (There’s just nothing that makes them stand out, other than their association with Disney, which is hardly a thing

The People’s Choice Awards (Pre-E) (Like the American Music Awards without the Disney angle)

The Academy Awards (Every year I think I’m going to just skip the Oscars entirely. Every year I don’t. I don’t have a very good reason for this, but man oh man do I hate everything about the Oscars)

The Teen Choice Awards (So here at the bottom we get the awards that I genuinely enjoy disliking, this is the first of those because it’s designed to present some sort of old-media idea of what kids are into, and then putting it on broadcast television, for which teenagers are nowhere near the audience. It’s an amazing overcalculation, and it’s a terrible broadcast to boot)

The MTV EMAs (I only wrote about these once, and it was interesting enough pop-video stuff, but it was also not very interesting in and of itself

The ACM Awards (the order of the shows on this list could change from time to time, and this one would have the widest swing, but country music is in such a terrible bro-fuelled, “authenticity”-focused, deeply sexist place from the industry end that it’s really hard to watch the ACM Awards anymore

The iHeart Radio Awards (The last awards-show gasp of the dying terrestrial radio industry is, on top of that, stupid and boring! That makes it fun to write about the bafflement, but not much else)

The CMA Awards (see above w/r/t the ACM awards for everything else, but they’re also so boring I almost never actually write about them)

The Nickelodeon Kids Choice Awards (I’ve only written about these once, and I’m unlikely to repeat. They are really dreadful)

The Best Records of July 2019

Lingua Ignota – Caligula (As intense as it is loud, this record has been a real boon for Our Hero, who’s had something of a rough month. I mean, I’d have probably loved it anyway, because it’s super-great)

Jefre Cantu-Ledesma – Tracing Back the Radiance (Neither particularly loud nor particularly intense, but only slightly less great than the Lingua Ignota record, this record is a lot more open and collaborative than other JC-L records, and it’s all the better as a result)

Pleasure Leftists – The Gate (they’re almost certainly the best rock band in Cleveland, and this is just a terrific tense rock album)

Oren Ambarchi – Simian Angel (It was a good month to be making semi-ambient semi-noise! This is as compelling a record as Ambarchi has made in several years, and I’m super happy about it)

Blood Orange – Angel’s Pulse (Even the songs that Blood Orange leaves off his albums are better than almost anyone else’s songs)