Posts Tagged ‘war’

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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Mistakes Were Made — Again

The last U.S. troops have been pulled from Iraq. To all the folks who served in that country, thank you. I’ll never know what you went through, but I’m certain it wasn’t pretty. I hope you’ve at least made it home safely. And to those who’ve lost a spouse, a family member, or a friend in that country, I am truly sorry, and very much appreciate the sacrifice you’ve made. So thank you, all of you.

Instead of saying “thank you”, however, I really should be saying “I’m sorry”. It certainly seems much more appropriate, and much more honest. What I really should do is paraphrase terrorism expert Richard Clarke’s famous opening statement to the 9/11 Commission: your government failed you, those entrusted with protecting you failed you, and the people of these United States – all of us – failed you, too. It was a terrible, terrible mistake to invade Iraq. It was off-purpose, off-policy, off-mission and incredibly stupid, and should never have been done in the first place.

I wonder what you, the Iraq veterans, think when you hear or read comments like this.  It probably pisses you off something fierce. You went halfway around the world to some Godforsaken country, fought a ruddy complicated insurgency, avoiding exploding garbage cans and roadside trash all the while, and hopefully made it back home in one piece, all to hear jerks like me say stuff like “it was all a mistake”. But I can’t say anything else about it. It was a mistake, a huge mistake, and a mistake that didn’t need to be made.

Now, I could write paragraph after paragraph about the manipulated intelligence, the fabricated link between Saddam Hussein & al Qaeda, and the lack of WMDs. I could write about the theoretical Neocon conspiracy to commit fraud upon the country and the world for their own political (or perhaps financial or perhaps retributional) gain. I could discuss at great length all the strategic and tactical blunders that occurred: dropping the ball in Afghanistan; letting bin Laden go; not providing adequate body armor; poor Humvee design; aggravating international relations; trusting the advice of an ex-pat Iraqi playboy. But all of these things have been talked about ad infinitum, and by people far more knowledgeable. I will say that all of these things, put together, are enough to convince me that we owe you all a tremendous apology for all we’ve put you through.

From the viewpoint of an amateur historian, here’s the real reason why we owe you an apology: it seems we all forgot what “war” really meant. Which was completely idiotic, we’ve been in enough wars that we should definitely have known better. But in the days leading up to the invasion, I heard almost no one in power talk about war in realistic terms. No one talked about the inevitability of American casualties. No one talked about the inevitable impact on families. No one talked about the certainty some veterans would suffer disabilities, brain damage, or PTSD. No one talked about the inevitability of massive civilian casualties, and the immense amount of guilt good soldiers have when they kill civilians. No one talked about friendly fire, prisoner abuse, and other ugly facets of war that I will not speak of here, but all of these things are (and here’s that word again) inevitable in wartime. We basically forgot history and repeated it, which is sacrilege to a historian (even an amateur like me), and man am I sorry for that.

I do want to be clear on one thing: I have no illusions that we live in some “cuddly, fluffy” world where there is no real evil and war is pointless and we should all plant daisies in our gun barrels. No, not at all. War has been and will continue to be necessary in certain situations. But before you go you have to weigh the reasons for the war (including the accuracy of the intelligence), the benefits of the victory, the risk of a defeat, versus the damage it will cause, and THEN make a decision whether war is necessary. With all the unreliable intel and shady connections (not to mention MUCH bigger fish to fry, namely al Qaeda & the Taliban), there is no way that such an analysis, done sanely, would result in “yes, let’s invade Iraq”. But a sane analysis was not done, so we invaded, and the entire country owes you an apology for that.

So why am I the one apologizing? I didn’t sign any declaration of war. I’m just some schmuck with a homemade soapbox. Well, it’s simple: I am a citizen of this country, which happens to be a democracy. According to the law of the land, I have a say in government equal to every other citizen. I am 1/300-millionth responsible for everything that happens in this country. And every other American citizen is equally responsible, and they also need to be accountable for the nation’s failings.

We all like to sit on our fat asses in our Lazy-Boy recliners and piss-and-moan about the government. But you know what? The sh*t that happens here, like the fatally flawed invasion of Iraq, is our fault. We’ve allowed this to happen to our country, through our sloth and our focus on rash consumerism and our willingness to vote for people “we’d like to have a beer with” rather than paying attention, voting soundly, and fighting for what’s right. We can all whine and cry that “we’re all powerless” but you know what? We are powerless because we allow ourselves to be powerless. All we want is Monday Night Football and Wal-Mart and 3-D movies and Starbucks. We don’t want to be involved, we don’t want to take a stand, we don’t want to take our country back. Even with this recent wave of activism from both ends of the political spectrum, how many people are actually involved in movements like the Tea Party or Occupy Wall Street? 1%? I seriously doubt there are 3 million people actively involved in these or other movements intent (rightly or wrongly) on fixing our country. The real 99% just doesn’t give a damn.

Well, I don’t give a damn if they don’t care. If someone’s a citizen of this country, then they are 1/300-millionth responsible for it anyway. And the least they can do for you, the Iraq war veteran, is walk up to you and, as sincerely as they possibly can, say “I’m sorry”.


UPDATE: another good post on this topic: http://themoderatevoice.com/132701/gratitude-wont-pay-the-bill-for-returning-iraq-afghan-war-veterans/

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Torture and Corruption 

Two sites in the National Park System have actually brought tears to my eyes. They represent events of such travesty and abhorrence; tears are a more-than-reasonable reaction. One of these sites is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, a topic for another post. The other is the Civil War prison, Andersonville, and its accompanying National Prisoner of War Museum.

National Prisoner of War Museum Placard

What does war do to humanity? Textbooks love to spout out casualties: how many died, how many wounded, how many missing, how many captured. How many sorties, how many megatons of TNT, how many cities bombed, how much damage done. The list goes on: how many refugees, how many homeless, how many orphans, how much disease, how much starvation, how many exterminated due to simply being of the wrong race in the wrong place at the wrong time. Numbers: simple, cold, heartless, textbook numbers.

None of these statistics can actually tell us what war does to humanity. That’s what places like the Andersonville are for.

Andersonville was a huge Confederate prison, not much bigger than your average Big 10 Conference college football stadium, except instead of 10,000 drunken fans, it held over 30,000 Union prisoners-of-war in absolutely fetid conditions. The sleeping arrangements, food quality, water purity, and sanitation were so horrid, 13,000 men died in a span of 14 months. At its peak, it was shoveling 100 corpses a day into the red Georgia clay.

Anderson Birdseye View — Courtesy of Wikipedia

If you think it was the Confederacy that left these men to die under such deplorable conditions, you’re right, but the Union did it, too. Camp Douglas in Chicago was as bad as Andersonville, it’s just that, as the victor, it was easier for the Union to ignore. Andersonville was run by the enemy, who must be held accountable. Our crimes, well, they’re justified because we won. Hurrah.

The civilized world should not ever tolerate inhumane treatment of any man, enemy or friend. Of course, a wartime society is anything but civilized. There’s something about war that turns people into something other than “human”. People look at all the atrocities from wars past and present, and say “oh, look what happened to those poor victims?”, and they are right to do so. But take a look at it from another angle. What happened to those poor perpetrators? What would drive a man, any man, to the point where he would starve another man, or poke a prisoner with sharp sticks, or Napalm children, or gang-rape young girls, or burn old women alive, or firebomb a city to ashes?

Freed WWII Prisoners — courtesy of Naval Historical Center

Man’s inhumanity to man: the real Neverending Story. But here’s the story that no one tells too often: all of these perpetrators of brutality, they were all created, too. It took thousands of soldiers to run Andersonville and the other Civil War POW camps. It took thousands of Nazis to exterminate millions of Jews. It took thousands of soldiers to execute the Bataan Death March. It took thousands of Hutus to slaughter the Tutsis. No sane man could believe that this many evil men are born every day, and that they also just happen to be born in pre-WWII Germany or mid-20th Century central Africa. No, these men, these masters of cruelty, are made.

Anti-Japanese Propaganda — courtesy of WikipediaHow is evil created? The answer: on purpose. Through dogma, or jingoism, or biased textbooks. By stating that the enemy are lesser creatures, creatures who would kill you given the chance, creatures less deserving of God’s grace, creatures who must be removed for the good of all. And then, by repeating that message over and over and over again, until the sheep-like masses buy into it, and agree. It’s hard to kill a fellow human being, but it’s easy to hate, torment, torture, and kill lesser creatures. So all you have to do is convince your people that “the enemy” are lesser than they, and your people will do your dirty work for you. Then you can go back to your secret retreat in the mountains and feast on banquets, or snog your high-priced whores, or choke on your pretzels, for you have created your own force of evil, ready to sacrifice their own humanity to the misfortune of the enemy.

This is why war must be avoided for all but the most vital and necessary of causes. As soon as you declare war against another, you are sacrificing the very souls of your own people. To wage war, your people must become monsters, and lose their humanity. War must not be used as a means to an end unless there is absolutely no other means: it is a weapon that leaves casualties for both the vanquished and for the victor. For one, it’s death. For the other, it’s inhumanity.

I think every American, regardless of political persuasion, should visit Andersonville. The lesson it has to teach is invaluable. It’s a lesson on what happens when society loses its humanity. If we all learn the lesson then maybe, just maybe, we can regain and keep ours for a long, long time.

Public domain photo

Sadly, my visit to Andersonville preceded my ownership of a digital camera. So no photo links this time.


I would be horribly remiss if I didn’t post a link to Amnesty International after this post.

Andersonville National Historic Site

Google map to Andersonville

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