Introducing Tournament of Rock IV: Monsters of Corporate Rock!

Tournament of Rock IV: Monsters of Corporate Rock!Yep – the Tournament of Rock is back. Our previous ToRs have proven to be big fan favorites (especially the controversial Legends competition), and we thought it might be fun to have another go at it to celebrate the relaunch of the site. So, get ready for ToR4: Monsters of Corporate Rock.

First off, what do I mean by “Corporate Rock”? We’re not going to  get too wound up in definitions on this one, but in general:

  • CorpRock is a breed of Rock & Roll/Rock that is more about product than art, commerce than concept. It’s true that music is a business and that even the hardest of the hardcore artistes in it would probably love to be able to pay the bills. But some bands start out as serious craftsmen and then sell out – there’s a term we’ll probably hear more of – and some bands just start sold out. They’re not in it to make a political or social statement, they’re in it to make hit records and as much cash as possible. In other words, bands who cared more about commercial validation than critical/artistic merit.
  • From an industry standpoint, CorpRock emerges from the Album-Oriented Rock and Arena Rock genres as well as the closely related Pop/Rock, Contemporary Pop/Rock, Soft Rock and even Adult Contemporary formats.
  • “Oh, you’re talking about ButtRock,” said my buddy Mike Smith when I tried to explain it. Kinda, yeah. Although it’s broader than that.
  • I enlisted my fellow Scrogues in the task of elucidating the concept. Mike Sheehan volunteered this: “A willing and cynical overuse of a handful of chords in 4/4 time, with a bridge, insipid lyrics and within 4:00 clocktime?” Also, “whatever gives record execs like Dullard McLoafers, Esq. a chubby.”
  • Lisa Wright offers this angle: “Bands who jumped from smaller labels to larger ones that traded artistic control for promotion.” Good one.
  • Wufnik weighed in, intelligently as ever: “I hate to bring up the term, but authenticity comes into play here. The difference between the Beatles and the Monkees. So my read of this is that for one reason or another, these bands lost whatever claim to authenticity they may have once had, if they ever had it in the first place. It’s the difference between Fleetwood Mac when it was Peter Green’s band, and when it was taken over by Lindsay Buckingham. Not that there’s anything wrong in principle with inauthenticity–I enjoy Stevie Nick’s faerie act as much as the next person, although it’s not something I’m going to spend a whole lot of time listening to. I’m just not likely to confuse Stevie Nicks with, oh, Laura Nyro, or the Bay City Rollers with Big Star. But you can dance to all of it.”
  • Lex emphasizes the role of the label in constructing the Corporate band: “We also have to consider the record business. Good band gets popular doing what it does; signs to a major label; major label wants X number of records and expects Y amount of sales. Band is burned out, drugged up, whatever and turns out crap to meet contractual obligation. Record company promotes it, forces radio play, etc. and 20 years later some song that the band wasn’t even trying with is still in classic rock rotations.”
  • Jim Booth agrees on the whole label problem: “We like to say that it’s about the players, but it’s never ALL about the players. It’s as much about the assholes who run the players’ business for them – from Colonel Tom to Brian Epstein to Peter Grant to Malcolm McLaren to Suge Knight to Jimmy Ienner – the people who make rock corporate are the people who collect the checks. They have more influence on what artists do than we ever talk about. It’s the Problem of Rock. Its impulses are all anti-authoritarian and anarchic, but its power and appeal has made it the thing it finds anathemic to its soul – corporate.”

I don’t know if this adds up to a nice, tight, one-sentence definition, but by now hopefully we all know what neighborhood we’re in.

Another question that arises is whether this is all automatically bad. Well, not necessarily. I mean, the staff here hates a lot of the bands we’re going to be voting on, but we like some of the others. Heck, two or three of my all-time favorites are included. And guaranteed, there are artists on the list who are central to the soundtrack of significant parts of your life, bands who helped define your youth culture, perhaps. Bands that were playing at major events in your life. So we’re not telling you they all suck, although some surely do. We’re simply considering some of our society’s biggest and most popular bands.

The Rules

Rules? We’re talking about Corporate Rock. Ain’t no rules or standards or criteria – you vote for whoever your favorite is, and it doesn’t really matter why they’re you’re favorite.

Here’s how it will work. There are 80 bands and artists and we have dumped them into 16 pods of five. Each pod contains one band we have informally seeded (although we didn’t kill a lot of brain cells trying to sort that out scientifically, either) and four others from the pool, selected more or less randomly (we did try and avoid pairing similar bands, so you won’t see multiple ’80s hair bands in the same pod for the most part). We’ll introduce them and you’ll use the poll at the bottom to vote on whoever your favorite is. Winners advance to the Sweet 16.

One note. There are a number of bands who managed, in their careers, to be both worthy artists and shameless sell-outs. The trajectory is what Lex describes above – start off as somebody really good, and then get overrun by the desire for money and fame. When we introduce these bands, we will let you know that we’re talking about a particular period and we’ll indicate where we think they crossed over from art to product.

The game starts soon. We hope you have as much fun playing as we have putting it all together.

Mayors call for end to NHL lockout

I don’t always see eye-to-eye with Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, but I’m 100% down with him on this one.

DENVER — Mayor Michael B. Hancock joined mayors and city leaders whose cities host National Hockey League teams across the country to call for the NHL owners and players to return to the bargaining table and end the lockout.

“This is about more than hockey. Our communities invest in our NHL teams, and our local businesses depend on NHL seasons. This is about our small business owners and middle-class workers: restaurateurs, hotel managers, concession workers and fans. It’s about the vitality and economic stability of our communities,” Mayor Hancock said.

In a normal season, more than 15,000 people come to downtown Denver 41 times a year for an Avalanche game.  If each person spends $50 outside their ticket price, canceling those games has an estimated economic impact of $31.8 million per season on downtown Denver’s economy.

Hizzoner joins mayors from other NHL cities in urging both sides to get back to the table and work out a deal. While I’m good with this in principle, I think in truth they’d be better off calling the league office directly and asking to speak with Mr. Bettman…

Welcome to the new Scholars & Rogues

You’re probably noticing that we’ve painted the place and put up some new drapes. The migration to our new host (actually, our old host – we’ve moved back to where we started in 2007) has been in the works for months. But it’s been a bit of a task, and I’d like to offer massive thanks to Brian Angliss for his work. You know Brian as our resident climate expert, but he’s also our IT guru, and there’s no telling how many hours he’s put in on the move and redesign. Also, many thanks to the rest of the crew – there was plenty of tedious detail work to go around, trust me.

Now, a few comments on the new site and what it means for the reader.

  • New Design: Our old look was a little stale, and this new design strikes us as cleaner and more contemporary. The news/magazine layout also better reflects S&R’s identity as an online journal. Frankly, we were never sure the old design visually or functionally told the whole truth about who we are. And finally, we’re making great use of our new logo (which I absolutely love – many thanks to Laura Manthey Design for helping us nail it).
  • Quicker Access to Content: With our old site’s one-column news hole structure, the top screen only let you see the most recent story or two. Now, between the featured post slider at the top and the top of the two-column news hole below, you’re seeing (depending on your monitor settings) at least six stories. And, as you scroll down, you’re seeing two stories at a time instead of one. The overall effect: a far better at-a-glance take on what’s happening at any given moment.
  • Improved Signal-to-Noise Ratio: Before, there was a lot going on in the sidebars – advertising, promotional widgets and the like – and you may not have really cared about most of it. The new site has stripped all of that away – no more advertising, and the sidebar content is more relevant to the core S&R mission and hopefully to your reasons for visiting.
  • Enhanced Notifications: WordPress makes it easy for you to follow S&R. Click that link at the top of the page and you’ll receive notifications when we post something new.
  • Better Treatment of S&R Honorees: We’ve always honored a “scrogue” in our masthead – someone whose work and career we respect, someone whose story we wanted to share with you. We have moved that to the sidebar now, just below the logo, and unlike in the past, you can click the image to go directly to the story from any page or story on the site. Up first: William Gibson, whom I have called the most important writer of the past 30 years.

Finally, we’ve recently conducted some soul-searching sessions and we concluded that we have drifted away, over the past year or two, from what we think sets us apart from other sites on the Net. For instance, our need to attract eyeballs for our advertisers (which was essential if we going to pay our hosting and maintenance bills) caused us to occasionally lose touch with our commitment to quality over quantity, resulting in content that was sometimes developed because, well, we needed something new up. Also, we had come to over-rely on guest posters, especially where political opinion was concerned. We’re not denigrating those folks – they were talented writers – but that driving S&R message, the site’s defining identity, wasn’t coming from us.

In essence, we had outsourced our mission and had ceded to others the responsibility for speaking in our name.

Since this move frees us from the corrupting need for ad revenue, you won’t be seeing any more of that. Our staff is evolving, as always, and we will use guest content in the right context, but we pledge to our readers that we’re refocusing on the kind of insightful, reflective writing that helped us establish our reputation when we first launched.

We’re excited. You know when you move into a new house and there’s that great evening, when everything is finally put away and you can finally relax and enjoy the place? Yeah, that’s us right now, with our legs kicked up in front of a roaring fire with a pint of premium micro.

We hope you like the new digs as much as we do. If you have any comments, we’d love to hear them.

Exploding the myth of progress

Tom Wessels had to pull over when he heard President Bush’s statement: “Economic growth is the key to environmental progress.”

As an ecologist, Wessels was stunned.

Bush’s comments, made on Valentine’s Day in 2002, aired on NPR. Wessels’ response, The Myth of Progress: Toward a Sustainable Future, published in 2006, explodes the myth of growth as a scientifically unfounded—and unsupportable—idea. Continue reading