CATEGORY: ToR4

Tournament of Rock IV: the Journey pod

I was right. I did smell an upset, as everybody’s favorite corporate headbangers, AC/DC, took out #6 seed Bryan Adams – although not by as much as some might have expected. ZZ Top and ELO picked up some votes, too, making pod 12 the most competitive to date. We’ll see AC/DC in the Sweet 16.

Now we arrive at pod 13, where everyone finds out who those of us handicapping the competition think is the band to beat. Ready to meet your top seed? You better be, because they’re yours. Faithfully.

  • #1 Seed: Journey
  • Bee Gees (Disco era)
  • Foreigner
  • Kid Rock
  • Styx

Journey

During their initial 14 years of existence (1973-1987), Journey altered their musical approach and their personnel extensively while becoming a top touring and recording band. The only constant factor was guitarist Neal Schon, a music prodigy who had been a member of Santana in 1971-1972. The original unit, which was named in a contest on KSAN-FM in San Francisco, featured Schon, bassist Ross Valory, drummer Prairie Prince (replaced by Aynsley Dunbar), and guitarist George Tickner (who left after the first album). Another former Santana member, keyboard player and singer Gregg Rolie, joined shortly afterward. This lineup recorded Journey (1975), the first of three moderate-selling jazz-rock albums given over largely to instrumentals. By 1977, however, the group decided it needed a strong vocalist/frontman and hired Steve Perry. The results were immediately felt on the fourth album, Infinity (1978), which sold a million copies within a year.

Alex: The band that launched a thousand karaoke wannabes (about eight of whom are legitimately good).

Jim: Remember when Pete Townshend wrote “Rock is dead”? This is what he was referring to.

fikshun: When Rodney Dangerfield danced to their contribution to the Caddyshack soundtrack, it was an improvement. They are the dark, irrelevant stain on the original Tron soundtrack. With “Don’t Stop Believin’,” they annexed a portion of Canada for the U.S. (“South” Detroit = Windsor, Ontario). Their video for “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)” is perhaps the most parodied rock video in youtube history. They were the first band to become a coin-op video game (unfortunately, it wasn’t of the Mortal Kombat variety). When their singer lost his voice, they didn’t replace him with someone they could just rock with. They replaced him with an uncanny sound-a-like. Like Ridley Scott’s Alien, they are the perfect killing machine, unclouded by conscience or morality.

Bonesparkle: I used to wonder how a band that emerged from Santana could be so thoroughly whored out. Then I saw Santana pimping himself with Rob Thomas and Lauryn Hill and Eagle-Eye Cherry and Cher and realized that I must know fuck-all about cred. (Cher was on that CD, right?) How come Santana isn’t in this tournament, by the way? Wait – who are we talking about, again?

Me: Journey

Bonesparkle: Oh, right. Fuck Steve Perry. He kinda looks like Cher, doesn’t he? Her voice is more masculine, though.

Bee Gees

…Mr. Natural (1974), produced by Arif Mardin…was a departure with its heavily Americanized R&B sound, and the following year they plunged headfirst into the new sound with Main Course — the emphasis was now on dance rhythms, high harmonies, and a funk beat. And spearheading the new sound was Barry Gibb, who, for the first time, sang falsetto and discovered that he could delight audiences in that register. “Jive Talkin’,” the first single off the album, became their second American number one single, and was followed up with “Nights on Broadway” and then the album Children of the World, which yielded the hits “You Should Be Dancing” and “Love So Right.” Then, in 1977, their featured numbers on the soundtrack to the Robert Stigwood-produced Saturday Night Fever, “Stayin’ Alive,” “How Deep Is Your Love,” and “Night Fever,” each topped the charts, even as the soundtrack album stayed in the top spot for 24 weeks. In the process, the disco era in America was born — Saturday Night Fever, as an album and a film, supercharged the phenomenon and broadened its audience by tens of millions, with the Bee Gees at the forefront of the music.

Jim: Remember when Pete…ah, nevermind….

Me: Disco ruined my high school years. Boomers? They had The Beatles and The Stones and Woodstock and the ’60s. The kids coming along after us had New Wave and The Eurythmics. Us? We had the motherfucking Bee Gees and leisure suits. Remember when they had Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey? If I could have gotten there, that would have been my Woodstock. The only thing wrong with the whole promotion is that instead of blowing up Bee Gees records, they should have been blowing up the actual Bee Gees.

fikshun: The premise for the film Footloose was “what if there was a puritanical town where it was against the rules to dance?” The premise seemed plausible at the time because the toxic devastation unleashed by the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack was still fresh in the American psyche. We are a people still trying to heal. Hold me … please. I feel … unclean.

Foreigner

[Mick] Jones found immediate songwriting chemistry with [Lou] Gramm (one of the first songs they wrote together was the eventual hit “Cold As Ice”), resulting in the newly formed band taking the name Foreigner and signing a recording contract with Atlantic Records. Foreigner’s self-titled debut was issued in 1977 and became an immediate hit on the strength of the hit singles “Feels Like the First Time,” “Long, Long Way From Home,” and the aforementioned “Cold As Ice,” as the album would eventually go platinum five times over. Foreigner avoided the dreaded sophomore slump with an even stronger follow-up release, 1978′s Double Vision, which spawned such further hit singles as “Hot Blooded” and its title track, and the album stayed in the Top Ten for a solid six months. As a result, the album’s success established the sextet as an arena headliner and would go on to become Foreigner’s best-selling album of their career (selling seven million copies in the U.S. alone by 2001). The group’s third release overall, Head Games, followed in 1979…

fikshun: They changed an album cover at the last minute because they felt the design had homosexual overtones. They backed out of recording an album with legendary producer Trevor Horn after they discovered he had worked with Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Again, they were concerned about The Gay. If these guys are a corporation, they’re Chick-Fil-A.

Jim: Couple of English guys from failed bands form band with some American guys from failed bands. The “lead singer is a cross between John Anderson of Yes and Paul Rodgers during the period of Free with some Robert Plant thrown in.” What corporate record exec is going to refuse to sign that up?

Me: Not gonna lie here – I loved the first couple of Foreigner albums. I’m listening to the debut right now, in fact. By the time we got to “Dirty White Boys” the magic was definitely waning….

Kid Rock

One of the unlikeliest success stories in rock at the turn of the millennium, Detroit rap-rocker Kid Rock shot to superstardom with his fourth full-length album, 1998′s Devil Without a Cause. What made it so shocking was that Rock had recorded his first demo a full decade before, been booted off major label Jive following his Beastie Boys-ish 1990 debut, Grits Sandwiches for Breakfast, and toiled for most of the decade in obscurity, releasing albums to a small, devoted, mostly local fan base while earning his fair share of ridicule around his home state. Nevertheless, Rock persevered, and by the time rap-metal had begun to attract a substantial audience, he had perfected the outlandish, over the top white-trash persona that gave Devil Without a Cause such a distinctive personality and made it such an infectious party record.

Alex: The last good song of his I’ve heard is “Picture,” with previous pod member Sheryl Crow. He’s gotten progressively more ridiculous, especially with this video.

Lex: As for this pod, kill it with fire. And fuck Kid Rock. I’d like to say he’s not even from Detroit, because he isn’t. But I understand that once upon a time he hung with so e pretty cool kids in the Detroit scene and had bona fides. He certainly had a nose for money; he knew that the trailer parks of America yearned for someone to combine rap and rock in a more plasticine manner than had ever been done before. Then he realized that there was even more money to be made by going country – again, the trailer parks of America asked and Kid delivered. I feel like I should apologize. My city has produced two generations of douchebag, second rate rock stars that speak their ignorant minds a little too loudly on political matters. (Ted and Kid should do a duet someday.) But don’t forget, we also gave you Motown, George Clinton’s many musical incarnations, Aretha, and a fair number of other nice things. If you have to think of a white rapper when you think of the D, keep it to Eminem…who at least has actual talent.

Me: Wait a second – George Clinton is from North Carolina.

Bonesparkle: If we ever do a Tournament of Rock for White Trash/Trailer Park Douchenozzle Rock, here’s your #1 seed.

Jim: Uh, no….

Otherwise: A few years ago I did a bunch of work for Harley. Every year Harley has a big get together in Milwaukee. Who the main act is is a big surprise. Big big deal. The folks who run Harley are 100% posers, not an authentic bone in their bodies, and it eats away at them—they want to be trash, but they are suburban church-going folk. They try to think like their white trash customer base but just can’t bring themselves to do it. That year they picked Elton John, who thought he would win the crowd over by making a joke about how he didn’t ride a bike but was attracted to men in leather. They almost had a riot – well, to the extent old fat guys riot. Kid Rock was the next act and he saved the day. Of course, it was in part because he does racist trailer park shit and those guys love racist trailer park shit, but the story from the HD folks was he realized what was going on and worked his tail off to help out Elton and the company. So, yeah, I too find that Confederate flag in the video to be more obnoxious than I can say, but the dude can perform. I have it on good authority.

Styx

Although they began as an artsy prog rock band, Styx would eventually transform into the virtual arena rock prototype by the late ’70s and early ’80s, due to a fondness for bombastic rockers and soaring power ballads… Early on, Styx’s music reflected such then-current prog rockers as Emerson, Lake & Palmer and the Moody Blues, as evidenced by such releases as 1972′s self-titled debut, 1973′s Styx II, 1974′s The Serpent Is Rising, and 1975′s Man of Miracles. While the albums (as well as nonstop touring) helped the group build a substantial following locally, Styx failed to break through to the mainstream, until the track “Lady,” originally from their second album, started to get substantial airplay in late 1974 on Chicago radio station WLS-FM. The song was soon issued as a single nationwide, and quickly shot to number six on the singles chart, as Styx II was certified gold… [Tommy] Shaw proved to be the missing piece of the puzzle for Styx, as most of their subsequent releases throughout the late ’70s earned at least platinum certification (1976′s Crystal Ball, 1977′s The Grand Illusion, 1978′s Pieces of Eight, and 1979′s Cornerstone), and spawned such hit singles and classic rock radio standards as “Come Sail Away,” “Renegade,” “Blue Collar Man,” “Fooling Yourself,” and the power ballad “Babe.” Despite the enormous success of “Babe,” it caused tension within the group — specifically between Shaw and DeYoung (the latter of whom was the song’s author), as the guitarist wanted Styx to continue in a more hard rock-based direction, while DeYoung sought to pursue more melodic and theatrically based works… The bandmembers decided that their first release of the ’80s would be a concept album, 1981′s Paradise Theater, which was loosely based on the rise and fall of a once beautiful theater (which was supposedly used as a metaphor for the state of the U.S. at the time — the Iranian hostage situation, the Cold War, Reagan, etc.). Paradise Theater became Styx’s biggest hit of their career (selling over three million copies in a three-year period), as they became one of the U.S. top rock acts due to such big hit singles as “Too Much Time on My Hands” and “The Best of Times.”

Jim: My lead guitarist Steve and I were in a restaurant having a couple of beers before dinner and they were playing “Renegade” over the system. Steve looked at me and said,”There’s one good moment in this song.” I agreed, but a pretty waitress came up with our drinks and we forgot to tell each other what we thought that great moment was. Near the end of the tune they played a drum roll that lasted maybe one second. We both shouted “That’s it!” at the same time. That covers the career of Styx pretty well….

Me: The Grand Illusion was one of my favorite records of the “70s. But Cornerstone scarred me for life. If I’d had a crystal ball I could have looked into the future and seen Tommy Shaw with Damn Yankees and Dennis DeYoung doing “Desert Moon” and it would have all made sense.

Bonesparkle: In the 1977 premiere of Happy Days, Fonzie jumped the shark. Taking the cue, Styx in 1978 released Pieces of Eight.

Click to vote.

The rules.

Image Credit: Mike’s Daily Jukebox

CATEGORY: History

Telling History vs. Making Art: The ways we remember the Civil War

Part two in a series

“We may say that only at the moment when Lee handed Grant his sword was the Confederacy born,” wrote Robert Penn Warren during the Civil War’s centennial; “or to state matters another way, in the moment of death the Confederacy entered upon its immortality.” Writer/activist Albion W. Tourgee, however, considered that moment in a different light just two decades after it happened. “The South surrendered at Appomattox,” he lamented, but “the North has been surrendering every since.”

Such has been the complicated memory of the Civil War. The North won the war but the South won the peace, ensuring a lasting immortality for the Confederacy that has long since been debunked by historians but has nonetheless been firmly ensconced in public memory. Ulysses S. Grant lamented that it should ever come to pass. “While I would do nothing to revive unhappy memories in the South, I do not like to see our soldiers apologize for the war,” he said.

In his book Causes Won, Lost, & Forgotten: How Hollywood and Popular Art Shape What We Know About the Civil War, Civil War scholar Gary Gallagher articulates four interpretive traditions that arose in the postwar years that subsequently competed to impress themselves on public consciousness. These traditions suggest ways of trying to understand the war and its meanings:

(1) The Lost Cause tradition offered a loose group of arguments that cast the South’s experiment in nation-building as an admirable struggle against hopeless odds, played down the importance of slavery in bringing secession and war, and ascribed to Confederates constitutional high-mindedness and gallantry on the battlefield.

(2) The Union Cause tradition framed the war as preeminently an effort to maintain a viable republic in the face of secessionist actions that threatened both the work of the Founders and, by extension, the future of democracy in a world that had yet to embrace self-rule by a free people.

(3) The Emancipation Cause tradition interpreted the war as a struggle to liberate 4 million slaves and remove a cancerous influence on American society and politics.

(4) [T]he Reconciliation Cause tradition…represented an attempt by white people North and South to extol the American virtues both sides manifested during the war, to exalt the restored nation that emerged from the conflict, and to mute the role of African Americans.

“The Union, Emancipation, and Reconciliation traditions overlapped in some ways, as did the Lost Cause and Reconciliation traditions,” Gallagher notes.

Historian David Blight, who has focused much of his work on Civil War memory, argues that, in the half-century following the war, “the forces of reconciliation overwhelmed the emancipationist vision in the national culture” and that “the inexorable drive for reunion both used and trumped race.” As a result, national memory coalesced around the Reconciliation Cause, not just forcing blacks to take a back seat but ignoring their plight almost entirely in the name of healing and harmony for whites. “In many ways,” Blight says, “[it] is a story of how in American culture romance triumphed over reality, sentimental remembrance won over ideological memory.”

Thus, the Lost Cause tradition, which piggybacked off the Reconciliation tradition, became enshrined in public memory.  The Lost Cause, at its most extreme, sees its modern embodiment in “South with rise again” mentality. Historically, it emphasizes the valor of Southern troops, the prominence of the Army of Northern Virginia, the infallibility of General Robert E. Lee, the martyrdom of Stonewall Jackson, and the “truism” that the North won only by the brute force of superior numbers. The Confederate narrative in the Western Theatre usually gets conveniently overlooked because of the Confederacy’s string of losses there, which get framed in the context of the “Lost Opportunity”—the “what if” that sprung up after the death of General Albert Sydney Johnston in a freak accident at Shiloh: What if Johnston had lived? Slavery, as a cause of the war, is totally ignored in favor of a narrative that emphasizes “states’ rights.” “Black people would eventually have a place in the Confederate narrative, but only as time-warped, loyal antebellum slaves,” Blight points out.

Scholars have long established that slavery was the cause of the war, yet I still deal with visitors every day I am on the battlefield who believe that North and South fought over states rights. I talk with people—not many, but a few—who still refer to “the War of Northern Aggression.” On the flip side of that same coin, I’ve had one of my best friends, a black woman, tell me, “The Civil War is white folks’ history”—which, if the overwhelming percentage of white visitors to the battlefields is an indication, is true in fact if not in theory. The chasm between public memory and generally accepted scholarship remains wide.

Into that breach marches art. Film or book, fiction or creative nonfiction—it matters little. As a few examples will demonstrate, the territory is dangerous, and as historian Leon Litwack points out, the stakes are high:

Over the past century, the power of historians and filmmakers to influence the public, to reflect and shape attitudes and popular prejudices, has been amply demonstrated, often with tragic consequences. Rummaging through the past, filmmakers did not simply reinforce prevailing racial, ethnic, and patriotic biases; they helped to create and perpetuate them.

Robert Penn Warren, whose fiction and poetry frequently concerned itself with the war and its legacy, and who “continually struggled to find a proper balance between history as fact and fiction as art,” understood those dangers. “[I]f, without historical realism and self-criticism, we look back on the War,” he warned, “we are merely compounding the old inherited delusions which our weaknesses crave.”

Litwack was responding specifically to Ken Burns’ The Civil War, but no cinematic example demonstrates his point and Warren’s better than David O. Selznick’s Academy Award winning masterpiece, Gone With the Wind—Blight’s “sentimental remembrance” at its most extreme, the greatest paean to the Lost Cause ever.

————

Next: “Frankly, my dear….”

Cross-posted at Emerging Civil War