Tournament of Rock IV: the Rick Springfield pod

Tournament of Rock IV: Monsters of Corporate Rock!We have an upset: in pod #10 Eric Clapton takes out Starship, thanks to a remarkable display of apathy on the part of our voters. I guess low turnout is bound to happen here and there in a contest like this, huh?

Let’s see if we can generate a little more enthusiasm for pod #11. I mean, if there’s anything we can all agree on, it’s Jesse’s Girl, right?

  • #16 Seed: Rick Springfield
  • .38 Special
  • Matchbox 20/Rob Thomas
  • Steve Miller Band
  • 3 Doors Down

Rick Springfield

Although Rick Springfield’s music was frequently dismissed as vapid teen idol fare, his best moments have actually withstood the test of time far better than most critics would ever have imagined, emerging as some of the best-crafted mainstream power pop of the 1980s. … Powered by the classic single “Jessie’s Girl,” which eventually hit the top of the charts, and the Top Ten follow-up “I’ve Done Everything for You,” Working Class Dog was a smash success, and Springfield eventually returned to his first love of music when concerts conflicted with his television career. The follow-up, Success Hasn’t Spoiled Me Yet, was released in 1982, spawning the Top Ten smash “Don’t Talk to Strangers”; 1983’s Living in Oz offered more of the same, including the Top Ten “Affair of the Heart,” although it betrayed signs that the gears were beginning to wear down on the Springfield machine.

Me: Rick was undoubtedly a corporate superstar. But he is also a minor deity in the Power Pop Underground, which keeps alive the flame of Beatles-esque guitar pop. And periodically he’ll crack off a record of surprising introspection and depth. Tao comes to mind, as does his 2012 release, Songs for the End of the World. And 2004’s Shock/Denial/Anger/Acceptance was an unmitigated ragefest that sounded like he’d been listening to a lot of Queens of the Stone Age. No, really. One of my all-time favorites.

Jim: Yes, being a talented power pop writer and performer who’s also handsome and a soap opera star makes you a corporate whore. I’m sorry, but making a living is not illegal….

.38 Special

Initially, .38 Special were one of many Southern rock bands in the vein of the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd; in fact, the band was led by Donnie Van Zant, the brother of Skynyrd’s leader, Ronnie Van Zant. After releasing a couple of albums of straight-ahead Southern boogie, the band revamped its sound to fall halfway between country-fried blues-rock and driving, arena-ready hard rock. The result was a string of hit albums and singles in the early ’80s, highlighted by “Caught Up in You,” “If I’d Been the One,” “Back Where You Belong,” and “Like No Other Night.” .38 Special’s popularity dipped in the late ’80s as MTV-sponsored pop and heavy metal cut into their audience. Though the band had its biggest hit in 1989 with the ballad “Second Chance,” it proved to be their last gasp — they faded away in the early ’90s, retiring to the oldies circuit.

Bonesparkle: Hey, look – hillbillies can sell out, too!

fikshun: Just because you hail from the South, it doesn’t mean that you can’t also butt rock.

Jim: Ooh, the guys in Lynyrd Skynyrd got killed in a plane crash – let’s cash in on that….

Matchbox 20/Rob Thomas

As the lead singer and principal songwriter for Matchbox Twenty, Rob Thomas found success with a blend of ’70s rock influences, slick hooks, and 1990s post-grunge crunch. The Florida-based band broke through in 1996 with “Push” and never looked back, issuing single after single, scoring hits in various radio formats, and watching their debut LP, Yourself or Someone Like You, go platinum 12 times over in the U.S. Thomas himself won numerous songwriting awards as the scribe of such Matchbox hits (including “Real World,” “If You’re Gone,” “Bent,” and “Mad Season”), and he later parlayed that success into a career as a solo artist.

Jim: The male equivalent of Gwen Stefani and No Doubt….That is not a compliment….

Me: True corporate whores aren’t measured by their capacity for selling out. They’re measured by how thoroughly they corrupt everything they touch. One day I’ll come up with a clever term for this power, but for now let’s just call it the “Santana Factor.”

Steve Miller Band

Steve Miller’s career has encompassed two distinct stages: one of the top San Francisco blues-rockers during the late ’60s and early ’70s, and one of the top-selling pop/rock acts of the mid- to late ’70s and early ’80s with hits like “The Joker,” “Fly Like an Eagle,” “Rock’n Me,” and “Abracadabra.” … Miller formed a blues band, the Marksmen Combo, at age 12 with friend Boz Scaggs; the two teamed up again at the University of Wisconsin in a group called the Ardells, later the Fabulous Night Trains. Miller moved to Chicago in 1964 to get involved in the local blues scene, teaming with Barry Goldberg for two years… He then moved to San Francisco and formed the first incarnation of the Steve Miller Blues Band, featuring guitarist James “Curly” Cooke, bassist Lonnie Turner, and drummer Tim Davis. The band built a local following through a series of free concerts and backed Chuck Berry in 1967 at a Fillmore date later released as a live album. Scaggs moved to San Francisco later that year and replaced Cooke in time to play the Monterey Pop Festival; it was the first of many personnel changes. Capitol signed the group as the Steve Miller Band following the festival.

fikshun: What needs to be said that Miles Davis didn’t already say?

Jim: Ever the opportunist – moved to San Fran in 1966 from Chicago and got a record deal in about a week – made some terrific records – then came the 70’s – and the decision to take the money and run….now the punchline (and indirectly referenced in my latest novel….) to jokes about who was the biggest sellout – him or Grace Slick….

Bonesparkle: “Abra abra cadabra, I wanna reach out and stab ya.”

Wufnik: Made some good albums, then went down the same road many of these people do. But, it also has to be said, was also responsible for one of the greatest rock songs ever – “Dime-a Dance Romance,” written by Boz Scaggs, from the Sailor album. Best played at eleven. Trust me – I’m never wrong about these things.

Otherwise: Spent a lot of your youth in elevators huh, Wuf? I hate Miller and Scaggs.

3 Doors Down

The founding members of 3 Doors Down — vocalist/drummer Brad Arnold, guitarist Matt Roberts, and bassist Todd Harrell — were raised in Escatawpa, a cozy town of 8,000 people. Although brought up in religious households, the musicians also felt the call of rock & roll at an early age, eventually forming a rock trio in 1994 to play a friend’s backyard party. As the years progressed, so did the band’s sound, and the group soon added guitarist Chris Henderson and retained a studio drummer so that Arnold could come forward and sing live. After touring the Gulf Coast’s venues, the band made its way to New York, where a showcase at CBGB’s brought 3 Doors Down to the attention of Republic Records. A subsidiary of Universal, Republic Records signed the musicians and issued their major-label debut, The Better Life, in early 2000.

Bonesparkle: Hold on – I thought 3 Doors Down was what Matchbox 20 changed their name to when Rob Thomas left and hired Carlos Santana to be his guitarist. No, wait, that was 3rd Eye Blind. Or…Deep Blue Something. No, dammit. that’s not right. They’re the band Daughtry was in with Clay Aiken. Right? Fuck, I’m confused. I can never remember this stuff.

Jim: It is best to avoid all bands with numbers in their names (see Special, .38). This rule increases in importance the closer one comes to the present time. 

Click to vote.

The rules.

S&R Honors Richard Joshua Reynolds: Self-interest, rightly understood, and our legacy of progressive capitalism

This is a song Charles Manson stole from the Beatles. We’re stealing it back. – Bono

When we hear talk about “markets” and “capitalism” and “business,” especially as such things are fetishized in the corporate media (think about how The Apprentice franchise has apparently made Donald Trump, a barking conspiracy theorist whose companies have declared bankruptcy four times and who has flirted with personal bankruptcy, as well, into something of a corporate statesman), the mainstream of our culture tends to think we’re discussing the exclusive domain of Republicans. The GOP is assumed to be “pro-business” and all too often those who oppose them (at the ballot box, in the Capitol, in the court of public opinion) must overcome the inverse assumption, that they are “anti-business” and perhaps even “socialist.” A great deal of money (much of it issuing from people like the Koch brothers) is spent fostering and reinforcing this ideology, and it’s nigh-on impossible to argue that their efforts haven’t been spectacularly successful.

If you’re of a more critical bent, perhaps you hear these terms and are more likely to think of our modern robber barons, of Bernie Madoff, Joe Nacchio, Bernie Ebbers, the Rigas family, Dennis Koslowski, Jeffrey Skilling, Ken Lay and all things Halliburton, of men whose pathological greed and power-lust knows no boundaries. Men who will sit around and joke about stealing a grandmother’s retirement – a joke that my own particular dark, twisted sense of humor can parse in the right context, but certainly not in a situation where they’re actually doing it, even as they speak. None of this is remotely new, of course. If you remember the ’80s, perhaps you recall Michael Milken and Ivan Boeski. And of course, our original robber barons – excuse me, I mean industrialists – those captains of commerce after whom we name buildings and institutions and even universities. Names like Astor, Carnegie, Drew, Duke, Gould, Mellon, Morgan, Rockefeller, Schwab, Stanford and Vanderbilt.

What’s frustrating here is that capitalism isn’t a privilege reserved for Republicans, nor is it inherently the work of the devil. It’s part of our culture’s progressive birthright, as well. Some of our most remarkable business achievements have been accomplished ethically, with a keen eye toward the ways in which the tools of capitalism can be used to create a greater prosperity for everybody. Enlightened capitalists like Richard Joushua Reynolds, for instance, created an economic base in my hometown that afforded generations of working class and minority employees an opportunity to participate in the rewards of their work, increasing educational opportunities and providing genuine security for their families. (Yeah, I know – tobacco. Let’s accept for the moment that it’s very bad and also acknowledge that at the time we didn’t know how bad.) Thanks to RJR’s stock investment plans, there were line workers in Winston-Salem, NC who retired as millionaires.

R.J. Reynolds and his family played a large part in the public life and history of the City of Winston-Salem. In 1884 he served as a city commissioner. Reynolds was politically progressive especially for his time. He established progressive working conditions in his factory, with shorter hours and higher pay. He also signed a petition for a property tax to pay for public schools and voted to approve an income tax. After his death, Katharine Reynolds continued his philanthropic activities.

Part of that RJ Reynolds progressive bent is something that only the locals seem to know about. The Reynolda Estate was a massive operation and required a lot of on-site manual labor to maintain. So he built a village that included housing and a comprehensive set of services for all his employees. This included building top-notch schools for the children of black workers, at a time when educating blacks wasn’t on anybody’s agenda. His black workers enjoyed conditions (and even management opportunities) that were simply unprecedented at the time.

The Reynolds family also brought Wake Forest University, my alma mater, to Winston-Salem via a massive grant of land and cash, and that institution, which has grown into a top 30 national university, today stands as the largest employer in the county and the new center of an evolving innovation-centered economy. Wake’s motto, appropriately enough, is Pro Humanitate.

There are other examples out there – feel free to populate the comment box with your own – but the point is that progressive, “Pro Humanitate” principles are not incompatible with capitalism and business.

I frequently refer to Alexis de Tocqueville’s seminal Democracy in America, a book published in 1835 that today remains one of the greatest assessments of the American system ever composed. For me, the most important idea in the whole of the book is the principle of “self-interest, rightly understood.”

The principle of self-interest rightly understood produces no great acts of self-sacrifice, but it suggests daily small acts of self-denial. By itself it cannot suffice to make a man virtuous; but it disciplines a number of persons in habits of regularity, temperance, moderation, foresight, self- command; and if it does not lead men straight to virtue by the will, it gradually draws them in that direction by their habits. If the principle of interest rightly understood were to sway the whole moral world, extraordinary virtues would doubtless be more rare; but I think that gross depravity would then also be less common. The principle of interest rightly understood perhaps prevents men from rising far above the level of mankind, but a great number of other men, who were falling far below it, are caught and restrained by it. Observe some few individuals, they are lowered by it; survey mankind, they are raised.I am not afraid to say that the principle of self-interest rightly understood appears to me the best suited of all philosophical theories to the wants of the men of our time, and that I regard it as their chief remaining security against themselves. Towards it, therefore, the minds of the moralists of our age should turn; even should they judge it to be incomplete, it must nevertheless be adopted as necessary.

It’s the erosion of this essential principle that lies at the core of what we have become. In short, capitalism of the sort practiced all-too-frequently in America has been obsessed with self-interest and totally unconcerned with rightly understood.

If we’re to regain our former greatness – and please, don’t mistake affluence with greatness – we must insist on rightly understood. Capitalism must be progressive, not corrosive. It must be about creating opportunity for everyone instead of building barriers to keep wealth in and people out. And while locking the pillagers up is an important and altogether satisfying step that a moral society must take, understand what Tocqueville says above. Our collective greatness is ultimately not about grand acts but about the small, the routine, the ordinary daily acts of self-denial.

Capitalism isn’t a dirty word, and shame on us that we’ve allowed a few sick men to steal it from us. It’s time to steal it back.


This post is adapted from a piece that originally appeared at Scholars & Rogues on June 9, 2007.

Image Credit: Wikipedia