March 2012

Glam-Rock Bass Players Who Are Clearly High

Bass players get no respect. This is been an understood rule of rock bands for as long as there have been rock bands. The best possible exception to the rule comes when the bass player is also the front man, like Paul McCartney, Geddy Lee, or that guy from Night Ranger who was also that guy in that other band. Those guys got respect because they were the face of the band. And of course, Suzy Quattro, who was not only the singer, but she was also a hot chick in leather. She probably could have played a tuba and looked cool. But most bass players know that they are forgotten men. Sonically, they are the foundation of the music, but to the audience, they can be all but invisible.

It's no wonder, then, that so many of them have fallen into the smoky embrace of marijuana, presumably as a means of coping with their sad anonymity. This proclivity was most pronounced during the glam-rock era, as my research as uncovered.

Exhibit A.

Steve Priest, Sweet, "Blockbuster"

Steve Priest is clearly high. First, he's dressed like a Nazi (in an alternate take he's sporting a drawn-on Hitler mustache), in England, within living memory of World War II, while the band sings a song called "Blockbuster." Although the name is a pun here, a "blockbuster" was a Wehrmacht bomb big enough to destroy an entire London block. You'd have to be pretty high to think this was acceptable behavior.

Secondly, he makes a "toke" sign to the audience, and more than once, too.

I personally oppose drug use of any kind, but one has to feel for Mr. Priest. When does the camera focus on him during the song? Only when it's time for him to deliver a line sounding like a fey Count Chocula. This is the same voice he is required to use in "Ballroom Blitz." Such humiliation is the regular pattern for bassists. When there's a goofy voice or other musically embarrassing job to be performed, it's always the bassist who gets roped in.

Exhibit B.

Charlie Tumahai, Be-Bop Deluxe, "Fair Exchange"

If you're not sure you agree with me that Charlie is high during the song, wait around until 1:20 or so.

Be-Bop Deluxe was a great band, not very well known in America, and this is a great track. But Charlie is clearly high. Why is he so upset? I think he's just overshadowed, even though he is a very talented musician. Bill Nelson is a fantastic guitarist, and Simon Fox on the drums is no slouch, either. So the camera's rarely going to be checking out poor Charlie. Heck, at one point (around 2:00) the camera lingers for several seconds on the keyboardist, when he's not even playing anything. The bassist would never get that kind of attention.

Exhibit C.

George Ford, Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel, "Make Me Smile"

Okay, George is so high in this video that I'm getting a contact buzz just watching him. The best evidence is right at the end of the first chorus, around 1:10. Taste the rainbow, man.

George, like all bassists, gets no respect, but he is clearly beyond caring. Really, the whole band is beyond caring, as you can see during the song's break, when the keyboardist makes absolutely no attempt to pretend that he playing what we are hearing. You see, the band was originally simply called Cockney Rebel, but Steve Harley cheesed off the band enough times that all the other guys quit, then he hired these replacements, and expanded the name so that everybody would be clear about who was in charge.

There's probably lots more evidence out there, but I think I've made my point. Pot-smoking glam rock bass players, I salute you. May you one day get the respect you deserve.

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A Comic Strip That Will Live in Infamy

So I'm reading the comic strip "Frazz" today, and a teacher at the school where Frazz works is asking for the difference between famous and infamous. Right away, this seems a little odd, because the words aren't similar. It's like asking for the difference between heinous and popular. Frazz says he can demonstrate using a quote from George Carlin, and the teacher recoils, thinking, I guess, that the quote will use some salty language or something like that. Frazz says that's the point; the teacher knows who George Carlin is because Carlin is famous, but is worried about the quote, because Carlin is infamous.

Let's just set the record straight right here: George Carlin is not infamous, not by a country mile. Carlin was a comedian who sometimes created controversy with his act. That's all.

Other things that are not infamous:

  • the "wardrobe malfunction" at the Super Bowl with Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake
  • the Neil Young album Trans
  • George Lucas's decision to edit Star Wars so that Greedo shoots first

Infamy, properly used, is a very heavy label. To gain some perspective, remember the words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor: "this is a day which will live in infamy." That's the standard. Infamy is not merely being famous in a controversial way. It's not properly applied to an act merely because it is famous for stupidity, silliness, bad taste, or offensiveness.

Of course, words like infamous are misused all the time in the haste of ordinary speech, and no great harm is caused. But is it too much to ask that Frazz take a little more care when directly asked for a definition?


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A Small Victory for Proper Capitalization

So I see the following headline in the Birmingham News:

IPad Released Today

Ah, yes! That's the way. In the first place, I've never understood why newspapers and other print media feel obliged to follow the stylizations of a company logo. This subject was covered in detail, and with more authority, by Washington Post copy editor Bill Walsh on his blog. While this sort of thing is bad enough, it's even worse when the logo style is followed even when it should be trumped by basic rules of grammar and composition. In this case, I imagine the pull to lowercase that initial I was strong. What would web people think of IPad? Are we giving up our street cred? After all, this is the same newspaper that has a regular feature that's nothing more than list of links to "interesting" web sites, even some that that the author of the piece himself admits no interest in. If that's not surrender, then I don't know what is.

So, a small round of applause for the News for letting common sense rule for one more day. If they really want to set things right, though, they should start writing I-pad.


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Regarding Titles

The rules regarding which words get capitalized in a title are few, but there is enough complexity that mistakes can easily be made when decisions are rushed. The basic rules, though, are pretty clear, or so I thought. Note that I'm not a purist about this; I guess I might want to be, but I've already crossed that threshold. My new book is going to be called Think Like a Programmer. As I told my editor, it really should be Think like a Programmer, because like here is a preposition. If it were a noun (Programmers and the Like) or a verb (I Like Programmers), it would be a different matter, but prepositions are not capitalized, unless, of course, they are the first word in the title or some other overriding rule.

But the publisher believes that although lowercase-l is correct, it looks wrong, and there's something to be said for that. And it's not as though they were capitalizing the a. I mean, no one would do that. Right?

Perhaps not. I read a lot of articles over at the A.V. Club. I have discovered many books, films, and music from the side, and I am grateful. The site does have some editorial quirks, though. Previously, I would've said the most annoying quirk is the requirement that film articles refer to characters using the name of the actor, not the name of the character (a fake example: "In a surprising twist, James Earl Jones tells Mark Hamill, 'I am your father.'"). For whatever reason, they drop the idea like a hot potato whenever they review an animated film.

But now another quirk, which frankly I hope is just some sort of automatic formatting rule gone awry or editorial laziness rather than an intentional choice, has overtaken the lead for most annoying quirk at the site.

Titles have every single word capitalized. E.g. "Zona: A Book About A Film About A Journey To A Room." (see). Man alive, does that look weird. At first, I thought this was an anomaly, but then I noticed it was near-universal and that I just hadn't been paying attention. I saw an article (in the series discussing Billboard Number 1 albums) about "Briefcase Full of Blues" by the Blues Brothers, and thought, okay, calm down, everything will be fine. But then, right in the first paragraph, we see: "In this installment, he covers Blues Brothers’ Briefcase Full Of Blues,'..."

Now I think they're just messing with me.

It's actually a recurring pattern. Occasionally, whoever edits the article titles rebels and actually gets the capitalization rules correct ("The Shins: Port of Morrow") but is unable to enlist the actual writer of the article into the confederacy ("The Shins: Port Of Morrow").

Again, I love the site, but I hope the editorial staff hasn't fallen into cahoots with a gang of language simplification zealots.


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Cat Week Is Over

With the posting of the Cats review, Cat Week is at an end. Up next will be a bit of a wild card, but something that goes to the heart of my feelings about family entertainment versus children's entertainment. Then coming soon after that, prepare yourself for...


Batman Week!

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In Defense of "E-mail"

I'm talking here about the word, not the thing itself. Originally, mail sent electronically was known as e-mail. This form of the word has been steadily losing ground to email. I'm here to say that this is wrong.

I've read all of the arguments in favor of dropping the hyphen, and none of them are convincing. Usually, the hyphen-less form isn't so much argued for, as assumed, with a mumbled justification of "words change over time." Which indeed they do, but not every change is for the better.

The common argument for dropping the hyphen is that the hyphen is originally used to signal the connection between two words that have not been commonly seen together to that point. After sufficient time passes, the hyphen is no longer needed. Thus, to the use the Strunk & White example, bed chamber becomes bed-chamber becomes bedchamber.

Here's the problem, though. In other cases, dropping the hyphen is a way of simplifying the language, making the word look more like it is pronounced. That is not the situation with e-mail.

Why? Because in e-mail, the e is literally the letter e. It stands for the word electronic, of course, but it's not a shortened form of the word electronic, which starts with a short-e sound. To see the distinction, suppose that mail sent electronically had been originally called electro-mail. Dropping the hyphen in this case would cause no problem, as electro-mail and electromail would be pronounced the same. But email looks like a word that is pronounced uh-MAIL, not EE-mail.

An analogy would be G-Man, a slang term for an FBI agent. The G is literally the letter G, standing for government, but not a shortened form of the word government. Therefore it would look ridiculous to write Gman or Gmen.

Likewise, writing email for e-mail complicates rather than simplifies. Some would argue that everybody knows how to pronounce email already, so what difference does it make how it is spelled? But that road leads to madness. Why not spell it eml, or 3ma!1 or whatever kooky string of letters pops into our head?


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Banacek: What Is Family Entertainment, Anyway?

Picture this... an American starlet is marrying a "shah." As a wedding present, the shah has given her a one-of-a-kind horse coach, studded with diamonds and other jewels, inlaid with gold, a fabulous treasure on wheels. The gift of the coach has been accepted and now must be sent aboard a cargo ship for its journey to their new home.



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