Failures in Leadership

When it comes to posting about Jimmy Carter — Nobel Peace Prize winner, home builder, human rights advocate, international statesman — I could have gone in many directions. In light of his recent cancer diagnoses, I could have focused on his positive, post-1980 accomplishments, and may have gotten a lot of positive comments and referrals. Instead, I feel compelled to talk about his greatest failure: his leadership during his tenure as the 39th President of the United States.

Before I go on, I have to say it’s really unfair for me to criticize others for poor leadership. I have practically no leadership abilities at all. I’ve proven time and time again that this is a skill or talent that I simply do not possess, and almost every attempt I’ve made to take leadership of anything has been a fairly abysmal failure. However, I think I can recognize good leadership when I see it. I’ve known a lot of good, and even great, leaders personally, and through careful observation of their methods, I think I have a fair bead on what makes a good leader. I’ve also known a lot of horrible leaders, and am fairly certain I know what poor leaders lack.

Any post criticizing Jimmy Carter would also be unfair if it did not include a disclaimer statement about “level of difficulty”. Carter was elected President in 1976, a period of great internal strife in the U.S. President Nixon resigned in disgrace in 1973. America’s most divisive and most embarrassing confrontation — the Vietnam War — ended in 1975 with the Fall of Saigon. The Cold War’s nuclear arms race was well into its fearful Mutually Assured Destruction phase. Inflation was at a troubling 12%, and the nation was in a depressing funk barely masked by the revelries celebrating our nation’s 200th birthday. Carter was entering into a losing proposition, it would take immense skill to turn the ship of state around.


Yeah, times were GREAT!

Unfortunately, Jimmy Carter, during his tenure as President, was a pretty poor leader.

Of course, that’s not particularly insightful. Folks have been saying this for 35 years, Jimmy Carter has taken quite a bashing from all sides since 1980. If he hadn’t been so successful in his post-Presidential career, he’d be nothing but an entry on a list between Martin Van Buren and Calvin Coolidge: barely remembered unless you went to Carter High School or your commute took you over the Carter Bridge. I’m glad he went on to do great things after his presidency, he’s probably one of the most ethical men to ever hold the office, and he deserves better than a minor footnote in a history textbook. So how did an otherwise good man fail to be an effective leader?

In my opinion, one event, more than any other, illustrates exactly why Carter was such a bad leader as President. That event was his infamous Malaise Speech, delivered to the nation via broadcast television on July 15, 1979. This was a speech that, although initially receiving a favorable reception by the American people, would go down in infamy as the worst speech ever given to the nation by a seated President. This was a speech that would become so reviled, it not only resulted in the loss of the White House to the Republicans in 1980, it most certainly caused the death of American progressive politics.

But wait, something here doesn’t quite compute, does it? How could a simple speech ruin a Presidency and kill a political movement? Speeches are nothing, really, just air exiting through a larynx, magnified by microphones and amplifiers. Most people, even then, rarely listen to political speeches, and of those who do, few even remember anything about them. Throughout American history — over 400 years if you include the colonial period — only half a dozen or so political speeches (“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”, etc.) have entered into the national consciousness. It’s certain that dozens upon dozens of Presidential speeches quite literally sucked, full of triteness and pandering and even lunacy. Did any of them derail a presidency?

No, and this speech, itself, did not derail Carter’s. What killed his presidency, and what marked Jimmy Carter as a terrible leader during that phase, was he felt that the nation actually needed a speech to solve its problems. That was the fundamental mistake, the fundamental error, the fundamental misunderstanding of leadership that Carter had during that period. What he did was deliver a speech as the solution, rather than delivering a speech to communicate the solution. 

Not a great idea.

Not a great idea.

So many people in positions of authority try this tactic. These folks think that they can inspire people by words. They’ve heard the lore of those half-dozen cool American speeches, or have seen Patton, Braveheart, Henry V, or even Independence Day, and think “ooh, that’s what I need to inspire my troops, a good speech!” Well, no, nothing can be farther from the truth.

My first encounter with a real leader was my Boy Scout scoutmaster. He was a quiet, soft-spoken guy. I can’t remember his speaking voice, honestly. But all the kids loved him because he did stuff. We always had stuff to do, every meeting was full of activities, and our camping trips were chock-full of things to do. His job moved him to second shift, and we got a new scoutmaster. That one was a chatty guy, and the absolute worst scoutmaster. Activities dropped, camping trips dropped, and I dropped Scouts entirely.

Later, I worked at an apple orchard. The owner was not necessarily soft spoken, but he was a great guy. He motivated us to work hard, not through his words, but because he was a hard working guy. If you were employed by him, you would be ashamed to be a slacker because he worked so hard.

I would see other good leaders who displayed good leadership because they loved what they did, or they took the time to teach those under them, or they took bold moves, or they were simply good at their job. They were leaders because they did stuff, not because they talked about stuff. It’s not even about caring for your people — there is no doubt that Jimmy Carter cared about the American people — it’s about recognizing that doing is a prerequisite to leading. 

If Carter had focused more on getting things done as President, he could have made all the crappy speeches in the world and no one would have cared. But he felt the people needed a speech, and history has proven that was a bad choice. Fortunately, Mr. Carter would go on to do plenty of good things in his post-Presidential career, and now he is well respected by many. But for one, brief time, when it was needed the most, he had the wrong idea of what true leadership actually is.

Well, maybe I stand corrected.

Well, maybe I stand corrected.


I didn’t bring my camera when I visited the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site. All photos used in this post are public domain and hosted on Wikipedia Commons.

Jimmy Carter National Historic Site

Character Above All Essay on Jimmy Carter

Jimmy & Roslyn Carter Work Project at Habitat for Humanity

Google Map to JCNHS

Everything Is Ruined

Liberty, Authority, and Madness

I do not want to be writing about this. It’s two days before Christmas. I do not want to write about this. But I can’t shake it out of my mind. It’s consuming me in an unhealthy way. The only way through it is to go through it, so I guess I need to write about it. Then maybe I can relax. Which might be impossible.

An infinite number of curses upon cop-killer Ismaaiyl Brinsley. God dammit.

Having a cause in this media-saturated age, interwoven as it is with high-speed social networking, and choked to death with pundits whose jobs are not to inform, but to inflame, is immensely frustrating. It is so easy for events to go out of control, so easy to divide people down ideological lines, so easy to replace discourse with patriotic sloganeering, and so easy to drive total crackpots to commit insane acts of violence.

This Ismaaiyl Brinsley character ruined everything. God dammit.

Look, there are serious issues with law enforcement, and the lousy laws that enable them. Yes, I know, it’s #NotAllCops. It’s also #NotAllCities (or towns or counties or whatever). A  fair criticism of this post can be applied to the generalization that “there are serious issues with law enforcement in this country”, but I tend to think that problems in this country are the problems of this country. Like it or not, we are all in this together, and if we have flaws in our Constitution, in court rulings concerning the Constitution, or in the execution of laws under our Constitution, anywhere in the country, it violates all our fundamental rights. Cleveland today, Shelbyville tomorrow. These things are a real problem for all of us.

A lot of people will disagree with me, many quite vehemently. Many, if not most, Americans love their police departments and the cops who serve in them. I understand completely: these men & women take great risks and do very dangerous jobs and have to deal with the worst of society on a daily basis. I, on the other hand, drive a desk. There’s no way I can understand what it’s like to do a job where every knock on a door can end in a bullet to the gut. The most I have to worry about is carpal tunnel syndrome. I get that, I really do.

But here’s the problem, and it’s a fundamental one: people in authority are the biggest threat to our liberty.

Let’s go back to my lame, doughy life. I do computer work for a living. How much of a threat am I to your God-given rights? Well, I could learn how to write viruses and manipulate social media to crack your bank account passwords. That would be a pretty harsh violation. I could stalk you, or threaten you, or send a lot of pizza deliveries to your house. I could do worse. And all that would be bad.

But in the end, I have no power, no authority. Eventually I would be caught, and I would be tried, and I would be sentenced. The laws are meant to keep me from doing those nasty, nasty things.

When you look at the lowest of society, those who most often clash with law enforcement, they have even less power to violate your liberties. Yes, there is crime in these areas. Yes, the crime there is nasty. All that is true. But these folks have far less power, far less authority, than even I do (I can at least afford a really good lawyer).

Now let’s take authority figures. Police officers. FBI officers. DEA officers. The NSA. Even Congress (or state legislatures, or other lawmakers), through the laws that empower those law-enforcement officers. Depending on your level of conspiracy-belief, you can toss in various corporations and high-power donors who fund those lawmakers’ candidacies. What can these people do to your civil rights?

A lot. An incalculable amount, actually. They are the ones who have the authority to do so. So I’ll say it again: authority figures are the Number One threat to your fundamental civil rights. If you doubt this, read the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson is basically calling out the King of England for using authority to violate fundamental rights. He’s not calling out pirates or brigands or thieves, he’s calling out the King, Parliament, and British law enforcement.

This is why it is vital that we treat any overreach by any law enforcement officer or agency with the gravest seriousness and to the fullest extent of the law. They are both our protectors and our greatest risk to liberty. Yet recent cases concerning police overreach — most egregiously the Eric Garner case in NYC and the Dontre Hamilton case in Milwaukee — suggest it is not taken seriously (shooting 14 times in self defense? Would you get away with that?). There is enough going on, enough cases being reported in all sorts of jurisdictions, that there is definitely something wrong happening. And we have to take it all seriously.

Unfortunately, many protestors and their allies, missed the real point, and muddied the message. The real message isn’t “there are bad cops”; it’s the cultures, systems, and laws that are in place that suggest that we do not take overreach seriously.  They made it all about “bad cops”. That was the message that got through. It was a whole “us vs. them” message, a message whose only possible result would be inflaming the situation.

Which led to that asshole Ismaaiyl Brinsley ruining everything. God dammit.

Now we’ll never get it fixed. Brinsley screwed it all up. He brutally murdered two police officers for no damned reason whatsoever, and in doing so, he’s ruined any chance of fixing it.

When you have a cause, especially one you are the minority, you have to keep the moral highground at any cost. I had seriously thought that this cause — the cause of implementing better law enforcement practices and better systems of checks-and-balances — had that moral high ground, even in spite of the Ferguson looters. Other protests all across the country were fairly peaceful, even in NYC. It looked hopeful, maybe this would be noticed and lawmakers would be emboldened to work against the entrenched systems to get real change done.

But now, that moral highground is lost. Lost because some batshit crazy asshat decided shooting cops was a good thing.

Without the moral highground, the cause is lost. People will reflexively, and jingoistically, forever link “reforming police” with “murderous looters”. All the Facebookers will post all their memes and motivational posters full of pithy little slogans. Everyone will be peer-pressured into keeping silent about the real problem and keep silent they will. Lawmakers will pick up on all of this, and do nothing (or perhaps make it even worse).

The cause is lost. I hope liberty doesn’t suffer.

Things I’m Thankful For

Here are a few things I’m thankful for:

  • I’m thankful that I’ve had a pretty lucky run on this Earth so far.
  • I’m thankful that I was born with certain advantages that made it easier.
  • I’m thankful that I’m a fairly smart guy. I inherited that from my mom’s side of the family. I also got my snark from that side of the tree as well, and because my snark provides me with infinite enjoyment, I’m very thankful for it.
  • I’m thankful that I don’t mind working hard. I inherited that from my father’s side. My father is a hardworking man, and my grandfather fed his family through the Great Depression by working his ass off, either in employment or by foraging for their very survival. When in doubt, work hard. It usually clears things up.
  • I’m also thankful I was born with another advantage, something that put me to the top of many lists, and made my life easier than so many others, for I was born a white man.
  • I’m thankful that I can walk into an office, a law firm, a bank, or a grocery store without being prejudged because of the color of my skin.
  • I’m thankful that, if I run out of something crucial for me or my family, I can walk into a convenience store at 11:30 PM without having my intentions questioned. At worst, people think I’m just a dumbass, whereas others who may enter such a store late at night are instantly believed to be criminal until proven otherwise.
  • I’m thankful that I’ll only be pulled over or questioned by law enforcement if I truly do something wrong or suspicious. Others can be pulled over simply for having a non-preferred skin tone.
  • I’m thankful that if I do get too drunk, or too angry, or too belligerent in public, or even to a cop, I can probably get a fair break and a decent defense. I probably wouldn’t get shot outright.
  • I’m thankful I can succeed or fail based on my own strengths & weaknesses, of both talent and character. Others have the deck stacked so hard against them, they have to exhort a Herculean effort simply to earn a comfortable living.
  • I’m thankful I was born a guy, and I don’t have to deal with some utterly bullshit glass ceiling that restricts either my salary or my advancement opportunities.
  • I’m thankful that, in my youth, I could go to dates or parties without worrying if the other person in the room was going to drug me & invite their friends to rape me.
  • I don’t even have to do unnatural things to my hair simply to fit in. Boy is that a big deal.

There is no greater blessing than to be able to go through life and succeed or fail based on one’s own talents, skills, actions, and character. Unfortunately, there are far too many people in this free country who have to do all of that while being hamstrung by the prejudices, indifferences, and intolerances this land has carried for over 300 years.

If you want to share the blessings you have received, work to make this country a better place. Race, color, creed, or gender should never be used to make anyone’s life harder.

Unfortunately, that’s simply not the truth in America today.


Post-Election Disappointment

It’s been close to a week since the midterms, and the disappointment still lingers.

Now if you’re still with me, you might be saying “another liberal scumbag” or something similar. But you’d be far from the truth. I actually agree with some GOP fundamentals. The cost of doing business here, including the hiring of employees, is too high. This keeps our economy depressed. There are many things controlled by the feds that really belong with the states. And many of our social programs actually result in a culture of entrapment and dependency that’s counterproductive.

Regardless, I’m not only incredibly disappointed in the GOP takeover, I’m actually disgusted.

It’s About Ethics, Stupid

Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign famously told its staffers “it’s the economy, stupid.” This was meant to keep them on-message: that all other issues are effectively meaningless in the eyes of voters. People vote with, and because of, their pocketbooks. Totally understandable, you can’t really fault folks for wanting to provide for their families.

Unfortunately, there is actually something more important than the economy. That something is ethics.

I’m not naive enough to suggest we have to elect ethical politicians. I’m not naive enough to suggest that Congress or state legislatures need to be squeaky-clean with nothing but honest men & women doing nothing but good, honorable work. That would be like suggesting unicorns are a sustainable food source. Unethical politicians are part-and-parcel of governing since the Roman Empire. Both parties have them, always have, and always will.

But there’s something deeply disturbing about today’s Republicans. They have reached a level of unethical behavior that’s well beyond free hot tubs and kickbacks.

The Pockets of Big Business

Big money in politics is also nothing new. But we have to go waaaay back to the robber barons to see the level of corrupting influence we have today. We have reached a point where our very freedoms are challenged by Big Business. Of course, you can pick apart big-money donations and find reprehensible influence-peddling amongst Democrats and Republicans, and say “they all do it”, but the Republicans made absolutely certain that this influence peddling not only continues, but that it’s absolutely protected as free speech.

Yes, I’m talking about Citizen’s United. Citizen’s United clearly puts the principle of free and fair elections, and sane and responsible government, at direct risk. Citizen’s United basically said it is perfectly acceptable for money to control the political process and the political discourse. And who supports Citizen’s United wholeheartedly, and refuses efforts to put political power back in the hands of the people?


Only the GOP is working to guarantee that big money will control our political process, even when it opposes the interests of the population as a whole. They’ve basically put corruption into law.

Denying Science

The worst of today’s influence peddling surrounds energy. The Koch Brothers and other moneyed interests are basically using their millions to fight science. And the Republicans are the town criers of this inanity. There is something specifically reprehensible about science deniers. Basically, these people are combating the very laws of physics because they are on someone’s payroll. I can’t barely form words to describe how disgusting this is.

Science denial is very nearly the worst of the unethical behaviors. When you deny science you directly put people at risk. You compromise safety. You compromise health. You compromise food supplies. You compromise the education of our children. You compromise damned near everything. And that makes you a reprehensible human being.

And for what? Because some rich bigwigs donate to your campaign, control the media, and manipulate the message? And why are they doing so? To make money.

Refuting the facts in order to make more money is the very definition of unethical, scumbag behavior.

But What’s Even Worse …

So if you had to pick something that was truly unethical amongst politicians, what would it be? What would be worse than intentionally supporting & passing bad policies in order to profit your supporter? What would be worse than intentionally combating scientific data simply so your supporters could make more money?

How about intentionally manipulating the system solely so you can stay in power?

This is the worst of the worst. This behavior has been used successfully by tyrants the world over, for decades and decades, and we’ve rightly condemned them for it.

Yet, this is what the GOP is doing, and not just doing, but doing with full admission and even bravado!

These Republicans intentionally derailed Obama’s presidency simply so they would have a better chance getting elected. They intentionally manipulated election rules to benefit themselves. They intentionally gerrymandered congressional districts to ensure their own victory (fair representation be damned). They intentionally passed policies with the express intention of disenfranchising folks who might vote against them! This is Boss Tweed stuff, this is the direct manipulation of the voting process, of our very democracy! It is a thumbing of the nose at the fundamental freedoms, the very basis of our Constitution, the very foundation of any definition of “liberty”.

The Democrats aren’t particularly honest, I have no doubt of that. They also aren’t particularly bright, nor are they particularly good at running campaigns. But all of that pales in comparison to the sleazy, slimy behavior of Republicans. They simply do not deserve to be in power, regardless of their policies.

And yet, put them into power is exactly what we did.


Concepts of Time

When Lewis and Clark left St. Louis to explore the Great Frontier:

It’s only been 210 years since they set off. In the grand scheme of things, that’s pretty tiny. But look at everything that’s happened.

  • The country: Nearing 320 million
  • The population center is now actually west of Missouri, showing the great expansion of the country and the migration of her people.
  • New York City: 7 million
  • St. Louis: 300,000, and the city has existed so long it’s actually decaying (like all the other great industrial cities)
  • About three hours from Boston to New York if you’re a stodgy driver.
  • A couple more to fly to London
  • You can drive across the entire country in just a few days, or fly over it in about six hours or so.
  • But really, who cares? With Skype, you can talk to someone across country instantaneously. No reason to go anywhere.

It’s hard to fathom sometimes how quickly things have changed, and how much has happened in a measly 200 years.

Courtesy National Park Service

Courtesy National Park Service

Go to St. Louis. See the Gateway Arch. It’s way cool.


Jefferson National Expansion Memorial

Visionaries with Courage (Video)

Some Gateway Arch photos taken by the masses

Google map to the Gateway Arch

Thank You, Mr. Ackerman

Book Review: DARK HORSE: The Surprise Election and Political Murder of President James A. Garfield

The last few years have been a bit rough. Between home improvement projects, a near-career meltdown, and some (albeit minor) health problems, I’ve not only been away from blogging, but I’ve been away from my favorite hobbies. I allowed other, less interesting facets of my life to distract me from the things I love doing: traveling the National Parks and reading books on American history.

Various physical and financial barriers are easing up, and I hope to resume traveling in earnest when spring comes. In the interim, I knew I needed something to rejuvenate my reading. Unfortunately, the next subject for my blog — the home of James Garfield, 20th President of the United States — didn’t seem too promising. I knew very little about the man, and few people discuss his life or presidency. He’s all but forgotten, like a pointless tchotchke in America’s attic. I feared I would be in for another dull read. I still haven’t finished my densely boring pick for the French & Indian War. I wasn’t looking forward to a repeat of that.

I surfed around the Amazon store, and found Ken Ackerman’s Dark Horse. It had decent reviews, but I still wasn’t too confident in my selection, simply because of the subject matter.

I aDark Horsem immensely thankful I was proven wrong. Dark Horse was an excellent selection.

What Ackerman did with Dark Horse is something I really enjoy. Instead of focusing on every trivial tidbit about Garfield’s days in some ramshackle schoolhouse, Ackerman tells the important story: the sequence of events that set Mr. Garfield, tragically, on a path to his own assassination. Ackerman tells the story of Garfield’s surprising nomination and eventual election to the highest office of the land, including all the backroom dealings of allies and foes, and how a delusional slob would use factional loyalty as an excuse to commit murder. Ackerman takes all the items important to the narrative, and to the development of the characters involved, and weaves the story as a story, not as a lecture. This makes a topic as seemingly banal as Garfield’s assassination and makes it actually riveting.

Sure, this is no John Grisham novel. This is history, and history rarely lives up to Hollywood panache. But Ackerman did a great job telling the tale as it truly occurred. I am very grateful I picked this book to rejuvenate my hobby, it was exactly what the doctor ordered. I already have my next selection for my next historically-themed post on my Kindle.

So thanks, Mr. Ackerman. You’ve helped a hobbyist regain his motivation.


2014 Rock Hall Nominees

Last week, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame posted the nominees for induction into its 2014 class.

I’ve posted before about the Rock Hall. I love the place, and I think it’s actually important (many people don’t). I look at rock & roll as a uniquely American art form, something we should celebrate and protect. In the beginning, the Rock Hall was an affectation, but as rock’s founding fathers (and mothers) start to die off, and radio formats change, you can see the legacy and influence of rock & roll falling by the wayside.

When it comes to choosing who goes into the Hall, the RRHoF committee has their own criteria. I, being your average, over-opinionated human being, have my own. Here’s some thoughts about this year’s nominees. Note that the official rules say you can only pick five artists, so I had to make some hard choices.

The Bridge

www.rockhall.com It’s been said Jazz cheated on Big Band and had an illegitimate child with Blues, and named it Rock & Roll. Without the blues, there would be no rock. I’m a huge fan of good, quality blues acts, so I’m definitely partial on their entry into the Rock Hall.

The Paul Butterfield Blues Band filled a pretty big niche in rock history. Back in the 50’s, African-American blues artists like Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, and Howlin’ Wolf were out doing their thing. Folks like Elvis Presley would take that music and put it into fast-paced, feel-good music for dance halls. But no one could ever claim Elvis was “the blues”. He basically stole blues music away from them, and turned it into Rock & Roll.

Paul Butterfield and his ilk did something different. They took that blues music and let it evolve into modern blues. They gave blues music a path into white-bread culture, where it would grow and foster great talents like Clapton, the Band, Neil Young, and others. Like the Missing Link in evolution, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band are an important part in the chain of modern blues music.

The Last Great Bluesman

StevieRayVaughan-2015-NomineeUnfortunately, modern blues really wouldn’t last. By the late 1980’s, blues was “corporatized” and full of bland, cookie-cutter blues artists. You couldn’t tell one young blues musician from another. Folks realized the blues was great music, but the heart was leached out of it. Perhaps the record companies did it, perhaps MTV did it, perhaps we just didn’t have anything to be “bluesy” about anymore. Life simply became to easy in this country (but not for everyone, more on that later).

There was one exception in this “post-modern blues” era, and that man was Stevie Ray Vaughn. Vaughn was different. He wasn’t fronting a blues cover band, he was an actual bluesman, and a damned good one at that. He had that hardship in his music, hardship that was felt through his tremendous guitar playing. Nowadays, blues music has been relegated to small-town clubs and nostalgic filler pieces between sets by major artists to show “they respect the past”. Stevie Ray Vaughn was the last memorable member in a long line of bluesmen, and for that, he deserves a place in the Rock Hall.

Hip-Hop Rocks the World

NWA WEBI’m not a big hip-hop enthusiast. I can take it in small doses, but it’s not really my kind of music. Which is fine: it’s not meant for me. It’s meant for the same folks the blues was meant for back in the 30’s, 40’s & 50’s: the downtrodden and the disposessed. It’s their outlet, their release, and it’s just as valid as anything else that’s come before it. It’s pure rebellion, just like Elvis was pure rebellion against stuffy concert halls, James Brown was rebellion against stuffy gospel, the Grateful Dead was rebellion against stuffy conservatism, and the Ramones were rebellion against easy listening. Most “white folk” don’t like hip-hop because it’s rebelling against them, but judging by the shit-mess we’ve put this world into, we deserve to be rebelled against. Hip-hop is rock, if not in form then definitely in pure spirit of open rebellion, and deserves to be honored in the Hall.

NWA is the founding daddy of that harsh, rebellious, in-your-face hip-hop. I don’t even know what more to say. Me sitting here proclaiming NWA was vital to hip-hop’s maturity as an art form would be like me sitting here explaining how the Rolling Stones were important to rock. It’s obvious to everyone. If you think hip-hop should be in the hall, NWA should be at the top of it.

Funk Soul Brothers

WARI love old-time funk, soul, and R&B. My iPod is chock-full of P-Funk, the Isley Brothers, Tower of Power, Sly and the Family Stone and, of course, James Brown. If that stuff doesn’t make you feel good, you probably should get professional help.

So how in God’s name is War not in the Rock Hall yet? This is one of the biggest travesties in the history of the Hall, even bigger than Lynyrd Skynyrd’s long years of snubbing. I never found Lynyrd Skynyrd particulary interesting. They were a good band, a powerful band, and much-loved. But War, they had a tremendous sound, a unique sound, a sound that blended the happy peppiness of funk with a dead-stern serious message. They mixed African and Latin rhythms, put in a horn section, and tore it up in different ways on many, many songs. Man they were brilliant.

The Masters of Industrial Rock

Nine-Inch-Nails-2015-NomineeNow it’s time for some real heavy shit, the stuff that should truly be called “rock”. I’m talking Nine Inch Nails. The Nineties was an awesome decade for rock music, and we’ve already seen the best of the decade — Nirvana — in the Hall. Like the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s before it, the Rock Hall deserves to be absolutely stuffed full with representatives of the “grunge era”, and there’s no better addition than Nine Inch Nails.

It’s not just the work of the band itself, but frontman Trent Reznor has a great body of work outside that project as well. He almost deserves to be in as a “nonperformer” for his producing and writing credits, plus his movie soundtrack work. But being inducted as Nine Inch Nails is reward enough. They’re a great addition to the Hall, an early entrant for a ton of great Nineties inductees.

The Rest of the Nominees

So those are my five picks. Here’s a quick take on the rest of this year’s nominees:

  • Chic — disco was an evolutionary dead end, the Piltdown Man of rock music. It was pointless, shallow, musically uninteresting, and had none of the rebellion that’s coursed through rock & roll’s veins since Lead Belly.  I begrudgingly accept the Bee Gees as members, simply because one cannot deny the cultural powerhouse of “Saturday Night Fever”, but the other disco artists (ABBA? Donna Summer?) have no business there, and neither does Chic.
  • Joan Jett & the Blackhearts — I loved Joan Jett when I was young. They were a true rock band, a welcome respite from the strangeness of the Eighties. I have absolutely nothing against them, I just don’t think they really added much to the genre as a whole. Plus I am limited to five picks, I think the others are more deserving.
  • Green Day — simply too early. I definitely want them in the Hall. NIN is enough of a Nineties era band for this year’s induction ceremony.
  • Kraftwerk — I’m certain, some day, Kraftwerk will be in the Hall as “the founders of electronica”. I guess I’m still wrestling with hip hop & rap being in the Hall, I’m not ready for techno.
  • The Marvelettes and The Spinners — Fine groups, but I think the music of their style & era is so well represented in the Hall already, I don’t really see the point of them joining it as well.
  • The Smiths — I lived through The Eighties, and listened to all the music stereotypical to that era (Flock of Seagulls, Soft Cell, Thompson Twins, etc.), and I have to tell you: it’s  crap. Not quite “disco crap”, but only marginally better. It can be fun,  I guess. I find it annoying. What’s weird about The Smiths is they’re not even the most influential of the stereotypical Eighties bands! I don’t even remember them — at all!
  • Sting and Lou Reed — I don’t have a problem with band frontmen going solo and getting into the Hall twice. Clapton did it, so did Peter Gabriel and Paul Simon. The difference between those three and Sting & Lou Reed is they took their careers, their music, and their influence in new directions different than their band, making their own mark. Clapton’s solo work is so different from the Yardbirds and Cream; Peter Gabriel definitely turned left when Genesis turned right; and Paul Simon took music in awesome directions with Graceland and Rhythm of the Saints. My issue with Lou Reed is his solo work is nearly indistinguishable from the Velvet Underground’s. My issue with Sting is he did take his music in a different direction from The Police — into Easy Listening. Neither should be in the Rock Hall as solo artists in my opinion.
  • Bill Withers — this one was a hard one for me. He’s written some very good songs, and has been covered by dozens of great rock artists. I guess I find his work just a little too mellow for true Rock Hall status. I guess he’s on-par with James Taylor and Joni Mitchell, so he’s not completely unfitting for Inductee status. I’m really on the fence, and my ambivalence kept him out of my five picks.


Rock Hall Misses

Here’s a few nominees I’d like to see on lists in the future.

  • Prog Rock is lightly represented. Pink Floyd is in, Genesis is in, Rush (if you consider them “prog”) is in. You know who’s missing? Probably the most talented group of musicians to ever record a rock album. I’m talking about King Crimson. Yeah, they never had a big album and never became the commercial powerhouse of Yes or Emerson, Lake & Palmer. But that band had some of the best musicians to ever gather together and record an album. I saw them live in the 90’s as a “double trio”, with founder Robert Fripp and vocalist Adrian Belew on guitars, Trey Gunn and Tony Levin on bass, and Pat Mastelotto and Bill Buford on drums, and they absolutely blew my socks off. This wasn’t any “trippy progressive” stuff, this was simply … amazing. And you’ll hear lots of current artists extol their praises and cite them as influences. King Crimson definitely should be in the hall, just on their sheer talent.
  • I lamented the shittiness of Eighties music earlier. The best representative of that much-maligned musical era? The Cars. They epitomized the genre, ruled the airwaves, ruled MTV, and were pretty damned talented. Ric Ocasek is still producing stellar albums. I’d like to see them as the official Ambassador of the Eighties in the RRH0F.
  • Rick Rubin must be inducted as a nonperformer. Just look at this list of albums he produced:
    • Beastie Boys Licensed to Ill
    • Black Crowes’ Shake Your Money Maker
    • Johnny Cash American Recordings series
    • Danzig’s sdebut
    • Audioslave’s debut album
    • Neil Friggin’ Diamond’s Twelve Songs & Home Before Dark
    • Adele’s massive-selling 21

This is just the tip of the iceberg, only a sampling across so many genres and so many generations of artists. It’s just ridiculous what this guy has been involved in, and he’s not just a sit-back-and-write-checks producer. He’s involved in all of these projects, working with the artists. This guy should absolutely be in the Rock Hall, full stop.

What do you think? Like my picks? Hate them? Think I’m massively full of shit? Let me know! Oh, and let the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame know as well.


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