THINKING OUT LOUD...

by

Sorry this blog hasn't been updated in a while. That Detroit Top 100 Songs list, coming as it did on the short Thanksgiving week, took a lot out of us. And then I've always found Thanksgiving to be a semi-depressing, or at least bittersweet, holiday, although I did enjoy spending the first in a very long time with my Michigan family. My 12-year-old nephew told me at dinner that he "thinks" he "likes" Nickelback, which led me to the decision that I'm going to have to give him his first Ramones album for Christmas. Certain online events after the holiday then depressed me even more, and not seeing the sun (I'd forgotten!) for days on end hasn't helped much, either.

Reaction to the Top 100 list was largely positive; there were complaints, of course (the absence of Sufjan Stevens and Brendan Benson...and those letter writers had a point; as for the exclusion of Saturday Looks Good To Me...well, maybe...). But, then, we actively solicited complaints in the story itself. One writer complained that we "blew it" by not including "The Wind" by Nolan Strong & The Diabolos... which, of course, was No. 11 on the frigging list. Nothing like reading something before complaining about it! We even heard from our pal Marshall Crenshaw, who was happy to be on the "Bubbling Under" list (in my perfect world, "Cynical Girl" and "There She Goes Again" would've both made the Top 100) but wasn't at all pleased to see the Dirtbombs's "Motor City Baby" missing from our final tally. But the music geeks (and I write that with the sincerest affection) dug it, as did most of the music biz "insiders" (and "outsiders") on the Velvet Rope. (On the other hand, you may notice one Velvet Roper from Detroit – and one of the Rope’s loudest neocons, the Velvet Rope being the only place I know where Bush supporters actually quote John Lennon – was quite upset by the exclusion of post-Amboy Dukes Ted Nugent and Kid Rock on the list. All of which definitely proves Rick Nelson’s point that you can never please everyone....)

Kinda disturbing and somewhat depressing, though, were the mostly anonymous comments on Jasper's local webvomit site (you need to scroll down the page to find them). I guess it all started because the Von Bondies' "C'mon, C'mon" was nowhere to be found on our list. And if the exclusion indeed upset that many people so greatly, perhaps it should have been there. And following that line of thought, perhaps we should've actively solicited even more people to vote in the poll; not enlisting Ben Blackwell was a major oversight on our part. Totally coincidentally, Ben did his own list of the 10 Most Important Detroit Singles at the same time we were compiling ours. Ben's one of the more astute rock critics (and a student of the form) Detroit's produced in a long time, and he interestingly picked a lot of the same songs (or at least artists) we had our list. And Ben did indeed pick "C'mon, C'mon" as an honorable mention, despite the infamous "disagreement" between Jason Stollsteimer and Ben's more famous uncle.

The truth is, however, the Von Bondies didn't get mentioned at all on any of the lists among those we polled. I was living in L.A. when their major label debut album came out...and I excitedly listened with great anticipation...and then listened to it three more times...and, geez, I just didn't hear the appeal (even if their label publicist was a very good friend of mine). That surely doesn't mean they wouldn't have merited inclusion if they'd made it onto others' (or at least placed extremely high on one voter's) list. But, alas, they didn't.

As was written, both in the article and the instructions sent to voters, the main criterion here was impact. I got into an argument with another Michigan blogger on this site earlier this summer about "vitality”; he argued that vitality can only be discerned years after the fact. And I still say that's nonsense, as I certainly knew the MC5, the Replacements, Elvis Costello & The Attractions, among dozens if not hundreds of others, were vital the very first times I saw them. In the case of impact, however, yes, it is quite important to have some hindsight when weighing that factor. Otherwise, you end up with ridiculous lists, like the one SPIN Magazine did in the mid-'90s, listing the Greatest Rock Bands of All Time. The Beatles were something like No. 7 or even No. 8; the Stones were only a couple of notches higher. And No. 1 on that SPIN list was Public Enemy. Even at the time, it seemed absurd (and, hey, I was a big PE fan)...but in retrospect, it seems ridiculous and historically inept. Two or three years ago, Britain's NME did a similar list and the No. 1 rock band of all time was Radiohead. Now, perhaps one can make a case for Radiohead as the greatest rock band of all time, above the Beatles, Ramones, Sex Pistols, etc. but...nah, on second thought, you really can't. And I refuse to be part of any list that would appear that ridiculous with some hindsight.

So, when some of these anonymous posters on webvomit decide to get personal, one is inclined to respond that when they (or their own indie labels) come up with something as monumental as, say, "Runaway" or "96 Tears" proved to be with time (and the vitality of both was obvious even in their own time -- take it from someone who remembers both hits on the radio as a young child), then maybe we'll have something to talk about and/or debate. But the whole anonymous personal attacks thing (and, yes, I know it's rampant on the Internets, as Dubya would say) gets kinda depressing after a while. It, of course, plays into some of the ignorant attitudes I've encountered in Detroit since returning, a lot of it displayed in the comments sections on Jasper's Website.

If someone thinks the list was indeed "a sad joke," that's certainly a valid opinion if they truly feel that way. But the Internets (which is a perfect device for this, the age of the narcissist) has also created an environment in which clueless people can spout off about anything and everything without knowing what the fuck they're talking about -- in other words, "Often wrong, never in doubt" would be their motto. For instance, the same person who complained the list was "a sad joke," added "its not fair 3 of the people voting on it aren’t even from/grew up in Michigan." Now, I realize this person may have grown up in a recent climate where nobody loses and everyone on the team gets a trophy, thereby never learning that life isn't fair. I assume he or she is referring to voters Brian Smith, who was the music editor here for many years, a religious reader of CREEM during his formative years, and knows a thing or two about the local scene; Don Waller, who wrote the very first (and most comprehensive) book on Motown Records in the early '80s and is still recognized as an expert on Detroit musical history and beyond; and Mike Hurtt, another music historian (and New Orleans transplant), who writes about Detroit music and musical history in many national and international publications, most recently reviewing the Go's last album for MOJO Magazine. But the very idea that these people shouldn't have an opinion on Detroit/Michigan music is pure hogwash. That's like claiming that, say, Lester Bangs should have never been allowed to have an opinion on Iggy & The Stooges, Alice Cooper or the Velvet Underground because he grew up in California (and all of those acts may have never had a career -- or at least the same type of career -- using that criterion). Likewise, the great Nick Kent should have never been allowed to write about anything except British artists. And yours truly should have never been allowed to write about Brian Wilson (even though I'm now considered an expert on the subject) because I grew up in Bad Axe, Michigan. Like I said, total hogwash.

Brian Smith, of course, was singled out in those comments for special abuse and as the person probably most responsible for the Von Bondies' exclusion from the list. Now, it is true that the band did uninvite Brian from covering their U.K. tour for this paper at the last minute. Nevertheless, Brian was also the one responsible for insisting we review the band's recent new lineup "comeback" show in NYC, which resulted in this exclusive rave review by noted rockcrit Katherine Turman (who maybe shouldn't have been allowed to have an opinion on a Detroit act, since she grew up in California and now lives in NYC, where she produces Alice Cooper's syndicated radio show). Brian doesn't "hate" the Von Bondies. In fact, he's even defended them (to an extent) when I've mentioned to him that I just didn't hear the appeal when I listened to that debut LP. So, if that makes him "a bitter, failed musician," I'm not sure I understand how one jumps to that conclusion and makes that connection. I'm just curious, though: How many people who agree with that sentiment have been awarded their own gold record (as Mr. Smith indeed has)? And I've read his stuff, long before I worked here, dating back to the infamous irreverent L.A. pop culture magazine, Pop Smear. He's won journalism awards over the years. He's far from a "bitter, failed music critic." So since Brian is too nice of a guy to say it himself, may I be allowed to say this on his behalf, addressing those courageous anonymous posters on webvomit? Fuck you. There. I feel much better now.

A guy named Brandon -- formerly from Ann Arbor, now based in NYC -- also frequently makes an appearance in those threads. Brandon has corresponded with me on occasion; he seems to know a lot about the local music scene and he seems like a nice enough guy, even if he has consistently displayed himself to be a bit of an ageist (note his comments in this particular thread) and has suggested since my arrival here that my ancient grandfatherly status will mean that our competitors will have more of an "edge" than we do (though, talking in strictly '60s and '70s terms, what's "edgy" today is probably Hannah Montana...I mean, think about it...). Brandon is certainly entitled to his opinions, but when he argues that in order to make our list, a record had "to be a corporate radio hit to be worth a shit"...well, Brandon is talking out of his ass (no pun intended). Why? Well, just as a great many of those Top 100 records were on totally independent labels (in any decade's terms), songs like the aforementioned "Runaway" and "96 Tears" didn't come to prominence on "corporate radio"...because there was no such thing as "corporate radio" when these songs were originally hits. Corporate radio wasn’t even a concept until the early ‘80s. And, in fact, it was the Telecommunications Act of 1996 that really made the notion of "corporate radio" explode. For years now, I've lamented that there is an entire generation of adults out there now who know nothing, politically speaking, pre-Ronald Reagan (perhaps that's why some believe he should be on Mount Rushmore, while some of the more politically astute among us believe he should've been tried for treason). But maybe I should have been lamenting the fact, instead, that there are now several generations who've grown up sans the luxury and thrill of real, non-"corporate," pop radio. Oh, well. What are ya gonna do?

Finally, the only potshot against me in the thread came courtesy of one Uncle Grambo, who does show more courage than the others by at least not going anonymously. Oh, sure, Uncle Grambo is a pseudonym -- but everyone seems to know his name is Mark Graham. He runs the popular website whatevs.org; his brother is a Detroit News music scribe; I'm even told he was quite close to my predecessor here at the Metro Times. But once again, Mr. Graham seems to have his facts just a tad convoluted. He writes: "I think that Bill Holdship and Jann Wenner should be besties. They can both sit around listening to “Goddess In The Doorway” and talk about how sweet the `60s were." I take it that by "besties," Uncle G means "best friends." I'm told that he’s invented his "own language" for his site, and while I'm certain that Anthony Burgess of A Clockwork Orange fame or John Milton -- who invented the cool word "pandemonium," among other things, in Paradise Lost -- wouldn't feel especially threatened by what I've seen on the site, you still gotta give the guy credit for trying. Nevertheless, what Uncle Grambo writes makes little sense and has minimal basis in reality. While I certainly wish I had Mr. Wenner's money and I’ve written for his magazine a handful of times, I cut my critical teeth in the '80s at CREEM Magazine, where we viewed Wenner's Rolling Stone as an unworthy competitor. So it hardly follows that he and I would be "besties," especially given the fact that I’ve made fun of him in print on occasion.

And while the Rolling Stones were a pretty decent little rock band in the '60s and most of the '70s, if Mark had done a little research, he may have noted that I lambasted Jagger's Goddess in the Doorway when it was released and publicly ridiculed Wenner's review of it at the time (although I must admit that me and John Kordosh, another native Detroit son, were prominently featured in one of the best reviews of that album I’ve ever read). Beyond that, the '60 were a pretty cool decade (especially compared to the last seven years in America), even if I was a little boy during that era. The '70s were pretty cool as well (if someone had only told me back then that this is as good as it's ever gonna get...though I wouldn't have believed them at the time) -- but my decades (as far as critical prominence is concerned) were the '80s (though, I must say, if it hadn't been for the Replacements, Soft Boys and just a few others...) and the '90s. In fact, it was that latter decade when I was the first to put Beck (who Uncle Grambo lists as one of his favorite artists, though he may be kidding...it's hard to tell) on the cover of a magazine, back when he was still recording for Bongload Records. In fact, we titled the piece: "Who is Beck?" (In retrospect, however, I think we overrated the dude a tad, although my perception may be colored by the time Beck and his Scientologist actress wife attempted to have a friend of mine thrown out of an outdoor Radiohead concert because said friend was -- gasp! -- smoking one-hits of the evil weed...at, I repeat, a Radiohead concert. When that failed, Beck's wife accused my friend of groping her...oh, the stories I have to telll....)

At any rate, I know Uncle Grambo was just trying to be funny. And I appreciate that. I must admit I'm not sure the Internets always make humor totally apparent. I ran a funny (at least, it was supposed to be funny) photo with our announcement here of this year's Metro Times Blowout. But The Gorilla (another anonymous local gadfly who blogs at recordreviews.org) wrote a pretty smarmy comment about the photo, so I deleted it, realizing that it may confuse some people. The Gorilla obviously didn't get my humor...but that's OK because I often don't get his, either. Nevertheless, as we learned all those years ago at CREEM (which could be pretty funny in its own right), humor works best when you make fun of yourself as well as the targets you're aiming for. If you come across cooler than thou (and that's the crime of so many music and pop culture journals over the last two decades), it kinda negates the humor in the end.

Finally, the humor must have some basis in reality. Or, as Robin Williams has famously said: Reality! What a concept!

That’s OK, though, Jasper. I still dig your site and the things you write. You can’t help who ends up posting in the Comments section, I suppose

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