The Democrats Stumble to the Finish Line, Part I

(Editor's Note: This is the first part of a two-part entry about the important decisions facing the Democrats with the final phase of the primary season. To read the next part, please go here.)

by Tony Romm*
Special to iVoryTowerz

Never quite the bastion of party unity, the Democrats seem poised this week to nail themselves in the foot. The Rules and Bylaws Committee, scheduled to meet this Saturday, May 31, must now determine the future of Michigan and Florida’s total 368 delegates less than three months before the Denver nominating convention.

Predictably, the media’s reportage elicits a level of political posturing almost equivalent to the election disarray that characterizes transitioning democracies, whereby polar opposites seek to recast party regulations and traditions in a favorable, subjective light. According to The Washington Post, Clinton supporters wasted no time this week mobilizing in protest of the Rules and Bylaws Committee’s “disenfranchisement” of Florida and Michigan voters. Meanwhile, Barack Obama’s traditional niche, always the vocal lot, has vowed equally and adamantly to oppose any breach of the rules — what it defines as any threat to the Illinois Senator’s presumptive nomination. In both circumstances, the Democratic contenders have showered the committee meeting with unprecedented hype, which certainly hasn’t facilitated an objective solution to the delegate dilemma.

At such a tenuous junction in the nomination fight, it is difficult to overlook the roads most discretely traveled. Although Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean made veritably clear in 2007 that impatient states would lose their delegates come Denver, it seems safe to posit that Dean also expected the nomination to have wrapped up before June 1. Stalling a solution — or, at least, a commitment to pursuing one — thus opened the possibility that either Sen. Clinton (D-NY) or Sen. Obama (D-IL) could accrue such a significant lead that Florida and Michigan wouldn’t matter outside of their inherent symbolic value. Indeed, this is to some degree the case today — by many measures, Clinton has no shot at the nomination — but insofar as the popular vote is concerned, the two states remain incredibly significant. Hence the importance of this weekend’s meeting.

Most troubling for Clinton: there is no solution that permits her to receive all of the delegates she obtained during the two questionable primaries. Florida and Michigan violated Democratic National Committee (DNC) rules and held their primaries ahead of schedule; thus, they were stripped of their delegates completely. And pursuant to the DNC charter, which DNC lawyers upheld in a memo released this week, only half of each state’s delegates can be seated in Denver, regardless of a compromise.

However, many of those “compromises” are hardly that at all. In fact, there currently exist only two sensible outcomes of the Rules and Bylaws Committee’s forthcoming delegate debate.

The first, obviously, is to heed Chairman Dean’s original proclamation and punish Michigan and Florida for their impatience. Of course, this verdict would draw the utmost ire from the Clinton campaign, which could challenge the decision at the next Credentials Committee meeting in August.

Assuming she did, her campaign’s fury would spell terrible news for the Democrats. Even if the Credentials Committee ruled in Clinton’s favor, the body’s decision is only a recommendation; its finality rests in the hands of the DNC at-large. And while both candidates would certainly renounce the impending floor fight, the absence of party cohesiveness would have a tremendous negative impact on whoever won the nomination, especially during a primary election cycle throughout which many voters have indicated they would rather choose John McCain than the Democratic opposition. That is, if they decide to even vote at all, after the Democrat they backed ends up off the ticket.

*Tony Romm is currently an intern at Slate.

(To read the final part of this post, please go here.)

(Political graphic © copyright Conservative Punk; this conservative blog allows use of its graphics with the appropriate credit.)

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The Democrats Stumble to the Finish Line, Part II

(Editor's Note: This is the second part of a two-part entry about the important decisions facing the Democrats with the final phase of the primary season. To read the first part, please go here.)

by Tony Romm*
Special to iVoryTowerz

The second, equally tumultuous solution to the dilemma posed by the dispute over delegates from Florida and Michigan would be to permit both states’ delegates a place at the convention, albeit at a major price. In addition to halving their size, the committee would have to respect Sen. Clinton’s gains while accounting for Sen. Obama’s absence — never an easy task when protestors believe their candidate deserves to win.

The 50-50 split is one idea, although it’s not a very good one. There isn’t much to suggest Barack Obama would have won either Florida or Michigan by a sizable margin, even if he did campaign aggressively in both states, so Hillary Clinton stands the most to lose in that arrangement. A second, more widely approved Michigan variation would instead award delegates based on a 69-59 split, providing Clinton a 10-delegate advantage (down from her original 18-delegate lead; even farther away if the Democratic National Committee halves the original figure).

But a better variation comes straight from the DNC's memo. At least in Michigan’s case, the Obama camp can argue that “uncommitted” voters, which comprised 40 percent of the state’s total base, were partially his supporters. So too can John Edwards, Joe Biden and Bill Richardson, all of whom also campaigned at that time. Thus, as reported by the Politico:

Therefore, following the principle of fair reflection of presidential preference, it can at least be said that the “Uncommitted” delegate positions should be considered as being allocated collectively to the candidates whose names did not appear on the ballot: Senator Barack Obama, former Senator John Edwards, Senator Joseph Biden and Governor Bill Richardson.
In other words, the Rules and Bylaws Committee could halve and split evenly the state’s uncommitted delegates among the four contenders absent from the Michigan ballot (at least in name). And by the principle of “right of approval,” the three candidates who exited the primaries months ago could allocate their delegates through endorsements (both Richardson and Edwards have already endorsed Obama). Then, Clinton could use the precedent to take the lion’s share of the available Floridian delegates, albeit slightly less than she would like. Both sides would receive less than they anticipated, but the compromise could reduce the possibility of a floor fiasco later this summer at the Democratic convention.

Then again, the debate itself might be moot. According to the Politico, the once silent Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, has expressed a desire to prevent further infighting. She, along with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, have already taken to the phones to encourage uncommitted superdelegates to make up their minds, almost contrary to the Pelosi Club’s original intentions. Nor would her pursuit be a lone one: It is possible, though somewhat unlikely, that swaths of superdelegates could defect to Obama should Clinton act too aggressively (or gain too much) this weekend. But even then, amid the outpouring of faux-support — the escape that Democratic National Committee Chair Dean and the DNC secretly hoped for as early as 2007 — it might be too late for the party to nail itself back together. Then again, unity has never been the defining characteristic of the Democratic party.

*Tony Romm is currently an intern at Slate.

(To read the first part of this post, please go here.)

For more background on the 2008 campaign, please see these archival posts:
(Political graphic © copyright Conservative Punk; this conservative blog allows use of its graphics with the appropriate credit.)

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iVoryTowerz Radio: Beyond Inspiration

This week the musicology on the underground podcast delves deeply into inspiration and how sometimes music goes beyond inspiration. Yes, we're talking about borrowing musical ideas and sometimes what goes beyond borrowing. Listen for yourself to see if you can pick up the musical themes that carry through at least two of the sets on this podcast. We also have a musical tribute to Kansas City. Plus, this week the musical time tunnel stretches back about as far as we've ever been, looking at more than 80 years of inspirational sounds. Just check out this eclectic mix: power pop, heavy metal, new wave, jump blues, soul, country folk, and more. Strap on the headphones and enjoy.

(To download or stream this podcast, click here.)


"Musterion" by Joe Satriani
Rick's Metal Shoppe: "Money Talks" by Deep Purple
“867-5309 (Jenny)” by Everclear
“The Pedestrian" by The Foxboro Hottubs
Jeff’s New Wave: "Mystery Achievement" by The Pretenders
"Silver Lining" by Rilo Kiley
"My Sweet Lord" by George Harrison
“He's So Fine” by The Chiffons
Cover Me: "96 Tears" by Big Maybelle
"Kansas City Blues” by Big Joe Turner
“Kansas City" by Hank Ballard
"Kansas City Stomp" by Jelly Roll Morton
"Lay It Down" by Al Green
"War" by J.J. Grey and Mofro
"Chain of Fools" by Clint Black & The Pointer Sisters
“I'm Ahead if I can Quit While I'm Behind” by Jim Ford

(Mp3 Runs - 1:22:52; 76 MB.)

(The photo is by Toots Fontaine of the U.K. via Flickr, using a Creative Commons License.)

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NBA Playoffs: The Lakers Head to the Finals

by Hayden Alfano

The changing of the guard. The passing of the torch. Whatever you want to call it, it happens when the defending champions are eliminated from contention. It occurred last night, Thursday, May 29, in the National Basketball Association (NBA) playoffs, as the San Antonio Spurs were on the losing end of a 100-92 game with the Los Angeles Lakers. The win gave the Lakers a 4-1 victory in the best-of-seven Western Conference finals.

But that series may have done more than propel LA into the NBA Finals and to terminate the Spurs reign as the NBA champs. It very well could mark the end of the league’s most recent dynasty — and perhaps signal the start of another.

The Spurs have won four of the last nine NBA titles, including every other season starting in 2003. (It’s worth noting that the Lakers won three straight championships from 2000-2002. Those teams featured Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, however, and while Bryant remains and is now the team’s top gun, O’Neal’s departure for the Miami Heat — where he won a title in 2006 — meant that the Lakers essentially had to start over). During that time, the Spurs have drawn criticism from casual fans who say their physical, defense-oriented style of play is boring. Purists and those in the know, however, appreciate the steady play of Tim Duncan (who many say is the greatest power forward in history); the creative playmaking of Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili; the lockdown defense of Bruce Bowen; and Robert “Big Shot Bob” Horry’s penchant for seizing the moment.

These Spurs in this series, however, lacked the killer instinct that typically defines a champion. In Game 1, they blew a 20-point third-quarter lead. They let the Lakers off the mat again in Thursday’s series-clincher, squandering a 17-point first-half advantage. In Game 4, with a chance to even the series at two games apiece, they failed exactly where the Lakers had succeeded, erasing an early 14-point deficit but wasting opportunity after opportunity to take the lead.

Anyone who has watched the Spurs over the last several years can recognize that while the names on the back of the jerseys are the same as they have been, the players aren’t. Duncan has lost a half-step. Ginobili’s body seems to be betraying him. The bench is … old.

Despite all of that, however, the Spurs as constructed might be able to win a title in the next few years — if it weren’t for the Lakers.

While no one is ready to anoint Los Angeles as the 2008 champs just yet (they have to beat either the Boston Celtics or Detroit Pistons in the Finals first*), there is a growing sentiment in NBA circles that if you’re going to beat the Lakers any time soon, this is the year.

Bryant is the team’s star. Now in his 12th NBA season, he may seem too old to start a dynasty around, but for all the tread on his tires, he doesn’t turn 30 until this coming August. Besides, he doesn’t appear to have lost anything yet — he won his first Most Valuable Player award this year, after all.

But the difference between this year’s Lakers and the previous few editions are the players around Bryant. That group starts with Pau Gasol, All-Star forward from Spain, who came over from Memphis in a midseason trade that ranks among the most imbalanced in NBA history. Gasol was acquired in large part to fill in for Andrew Bynum, the team’s 20-year-old center who was enjoying a breakout campaign before going down for the season with a knee injury on January 13. Bynum’s expected to be back at full strength next year, and the thought of him paired with the 27-year-old Gasol for at least the next couple of years is one that has NBA coaches and general managers up at night.

Add to the mix versatile forward Lamar Odom — who excels as the second- or third-option he is in LA, rather than the starring role he’s been asked to play elsewhere — young point guard Jordan Farmar — who appears more ready to take over for veteran Derek Fisher every day — and the league’s best young bench, and the Lakers are, on paper anyway, at least as formidable as the Spurs of the last decade.

They haven’t won anything yet. But if they do win a handful of titles over the next several years, remember when it started.

Television Viewing Guide

The NBA Playoffs resume tonight, Friday, May 30, with a game between Boston and Detroit. Tip-off is at 8:30 p.m. EDT, on ESPN. Boston leads that series three games to two. Should Detroit prevail in Game 6, a deciding seventh game would take place back in Boston on Sunday, June 1, at 8:30 p.m. EDT, on ABC. Game 1 of the NBA Finals, featuring the Lakers and the winner of the Detroit-Boston series, will take place on Thursday, June 5.

(To see highlights of the final game between the Lakers and the Spurs, please check below.)

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Elvis Costello: A Retrospective

by Jeff Siegel

In the past 31 years, Elvis Costello has recorded 31 albums. This is an almost unbelievable number, and not just because Costello started his career as an angry young man doing New Wave who today is not especially angry, is no longer young, and has called the New Wave "a rapidly dating style."

It is unbelievable because rock stars do not last that long. Those that do, like Bob Dylan, are icons, the touchstones of pop music. The rest get their time on the radio, maybe make a couple of decent records, and become producers or house husbands or stock brokers. Ringo Starr, whose pedigree is longer than Costello's and whose career is 15 years older, has done just two dozen albums.

Yet there is Costello, the man who once told late night TV host Tom Snyder that cheeses mature, not angry young men, with a career that has lasted longer than the Eagles.* And the Eagles were a lot more popular. A lot, lot more popular.

Which is perhaps the most unbelievable bit of all. Costello, for all his missteps — the unforgivable Ray Charles comment, the Saturday Night Live pouting, the churlish interviews, the drinking, and the Lexus commercial — still has it. He is 53 and he can still record an album like this month's Momofuku — hard-edged, relevant, reflective and even a little angry, with songs like "American Gangster Time." It doesn't have the bite of his classic New Wave records (listen to Rykodisc's Live at the El Mocambo to get a taste of that) or the musical perversity of the second part of his career (Imperial Bedroom and King of America, for instance). But it's still the kind of album that would be a career highlight for most bands. In fact, combine it with the Faulkneresque The Delivery Man in 2004, and it is a career for most bands.

Which raises the question: Is it time to look at Costello in the same way we look at icons like Dylan?

I think Costello thinks so. He has always seen himself as being something more — if not better than the rest of the pop world, at least a lot more interesting. His liner notes are literary criticism, he has made classical albums and written orchestral pieces, and he has performed with everyone from Willie Nelson to Fiona Apple to Burt Bacharach. Plus, his tongue has never left his cheek, whether in his lyrics or his public life. Anyone who saw him at the 2004 Academy Awards, walking down the red carpet with Diana Krall, had to wonder: It's a joke, right?

But Dylan is Dylan, someone who changed pop music and pop culture. And Costello? He has not, for all his talent, changed much. If anything, he has been changed. New Wave is dead, and the political and cultural sensibilities that punk and New Wave assaulted are the order of the day. It's one thing to rip Margaret Thatcher, and deservedly, in "Tramp the Dirt Down" off of 1989's Spike. But it's another to make an inside joke about a posh noodle restaurant called Momofuku on that album's CD jacket. The outsider who wrote "Radio, Radio" never would have done that.

None of this takes away from what Costello has done in 31 years. It just makes it a little sadder to watch him do it.

*For those who are counting, the Eagles formed in 1971 and broke up in 1980 saying they would reunite "when hell freezes over." But the band did reunite and released Hell Freezes Over in 1994. The band has toured and released new material since, accounting for about 23 active years of touring and recording together.

(The photo of Elvis Costello in concert in Italy in 2005 is by Marco Annunziata of Italy via Flickr, using a Creative Commons License.
More of Annunziata's work can be found at his website or by contacting him at: marcoannunziata@marcoannunziata.com. Elvis Costello resumes his world tour June 21 in Glasgow, Scotland. To see Elvis Costello & the Attractions in a video for the classic "Pump It Up," please check below.)

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Kenya and the Witches

by R. J. Forman

Remember learning about the witch hunts in the U.S. and in Europe?

Maybe you even got to read The House of Seven Gables?

Did you get to see or read The Crucible?

Remember thinking how dumb those people were and how easily persuaded our ancestors could be by some crappy acting by young girls in a courtroom?

Ah, witches…

Well, guess what?

They’re hunting and burning those witches again. Only this time it’s in Kenya! As if Kenya needed any more problems….

Last week, Kenyan officials said a mob had burned eleven people to death; these people were suspected of being witches and wizards.

According to authorities the people in charge of the witch burnings went through two villages with a list of suspects.

The villagers had complained that the witches and wizards were making the smart village children dumb.

You know what was really making the smart village children dumb? Their stupid parents who believed that it was the fault of witches and wizards.

The age of the suspected witches and wizards? Between 70 and 90 years old.

I mean, come on, these people already had a foot in the grave. Why expedite that process and in such a brutal manner?

Apparently this is not a new problem in Kenya, either.

In the post-election chaos that plagued Kenya for months after December, some looters purportedly returned items they had stolen fearing that their victims had set witch doctors on them.

And it’s not just Kenya. Although witch-hunts may seem to be a thing of the past for us, they are very much present in countries such as Cameroon, Congo, Sierra Leone and South Africa. And if you know anything about any of those countries, they, like Kenya, really don’t need any other problems or human rights infractions like the cruel, unusual, and completely archaic witch-hunt.

Like so many other atrocities in Africa this has gone mostly unnoticed by western media and we’ll just stand idly by as it continues to happen.

That is, of course, unless some 13-year-old Puritan girls start screaming in a courtroom, like in The Crucible, but this time about "Goody Kenya."

(Photo taken in Kenya by The Wandering Angel of Makati City, the Philippines via Flickr, using a Creative Commons License.)

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Music Review: The Futureheads' This is Not the World

by Vincent Lee

After being dropped from 679 Recordings (a Warner Brothers label), The Futureheads rebounded by creating their own label, Nul Records, in the search for independence. And that search has resulted in a solid and consistent album. At nearly forty minutes and twelve tracks, This is Not the World (released Monday, May 26) is a shorter album and more direct than the British band's previous outing News and Tributes from 2006.

Upon a first listen one might discard This is Not the World, the band’s third release, as another boring and straightforward post-punk/pop album. In the barest definition this might be true, but a closer listen would reveal subtle creativity and extremely catchy hooks. No song even reaches four minutes, but each could easily be stuck in your head after only one or two listens. In addition to the catchy riffs the album has aggressive solos played with authority. Songs like “Walking Backwards” are prime examples of this style.

This is Not the World will satisfy a wide audience, but it is hard to pick out something that really defines this album as truly unique or special. Similar to most good post-punk/pop bands it is clear The Futureheads are somewhat held down by the studio sound. Most, if not all, of these songs would flourish in a live setting. This is Not the World will satisfy a broad range of listeners, but at varying degrees. Some might enjoy it as simple and pleasurable background music, while others may revel in the assertive solos and catchy lyrics. Any which way, The Futureheads are a pleasant surprise worthy of a listen.

(Promotional photo of The Futureheads from Nul Records. The Futureheads will make an in-store appearance to play and sign their new release on Wednesday, May 28 at HMV in Birmingham, England and the band will perform its next concert in London on Thursday, May 29, as part of a world tour. To see The Futureheads video for "Radio Heart" from the band's new release, please check below.)

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Ted Kennedy: His Fight Isn't Over

by Molly Kenney

Ted Kennedy may be facing aggressive brain cancer, but he’s sure as hell not been beaten yet. He hasn’t begun the fight and he doesn’t need an audience when he does.

For those who haven't followed the news, last week, Massachusetts Senator Edward M. Kennedy was diagnosed with a brain tumor, following a seizure that sent him to Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital. The senior Senator, who has served the Bay State since 1962, is well-known for his social activism, political savvy, and hard-fought personal and professional battles.

The last of the three Kennedy brothers, Ted has weathered the assassinations of John and Robert and the cancer of all three of his children, as well as the various Kennedy scandals that have kept the family in the news for more than half a century. In 1980, Kennedy ran a popular but ultimately unsuccessful bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, continuing instead with a Senate career fighting for reproductive rights, same-sex marriage, employment rights, the environment, and a living Constitution, just to name a few. Of course he’s not perfect — he’s a Kennedy. But he serves as a voice of reason in the midst of a reckless conservative administration and a reminder of what the Democratic party was and should again be, and those roles won’t stop if chemotherapy starts or if he loses the capacity to speak publicly.

So, let’s have some respect for an admirable public servant, the last of the old Kennedys, and an old man facing a tough medical battle.

Let’s not engage in egotistical, manipulative maneuvering like State House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi (who should be focusing on abounding allegations of his corruption) and others on Beacon Hill. Within hours of Kennedy’s diagnosis, DiMasi’s conversations about who Democrats should back to replace the senior Senator after his death had reached a dull roar on Beacon Hill. And there was plenty of lobbying for Governor Deval Patrick to officially weigh in on the matter as well.

Let’s not, although no one in their right mind would, act like Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), whose first public comment about Kennedy’s diagnosis served only to compare her healthcare advocacy to Kennedy’s. Then, to reiterate her insensitivity, tactlessness, and political masochism, Clinton mentioned Robert Kennedy’s June 1968 assassination as a reason for continuing her campaign through next month.

Let’s not write countless articles about the exact location and type of his tumor, try to document his emotions while he’s sailing on Cape Cod, or argue about the number of days he has left to live. As he has throughout his career, Kennedy will fight a private battle while continuing his public service. Many of his Senate colleagues have said that cancer doesn’t stand a chance against Ted.

(The photo of Sen. Ted Kennedy at a rally on behalf of Sen. Barack Obama at American University in March is by Shanda Wilson via Flickr, using a Creative Commons License.)

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Memorial Day, 2008

Prometheus brought down fire to men.
This brought up water.

The Gods are jealous — now, as then,

Giving no quarter.

— Rudyard Kipling

(Regular blogging will resume again tomorrow after the holiday. Photo by Sister72 of Monmouth County, NJ via Flickr, using a Creative Commons License.)

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Putting Power Pop in Perspective, Part III

(Editor's Note: This is the final part of a three-part series on power pop. To read the series from the beginning, please go here.)

by Rick Rockwell

If ever there was a musical form that engenders argument, it is power pop.

Often bands that belong to the genre get tagged with other musical categorizations, sometimes to their detriment. Some bands that merely play pop add in one bristling guitar line and their fans want them considered as a crossover power pop act, which not only gives them greater credibility with some of music’s cognisenti but likely wider airplay on FM radio. And then there are musical acts that borrow from power pop and find themselves categorized that way.

Take Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers for example. Back in the 1970s, Petty & the Heartbreakers were wrongly tagged as a new wave act. That kept songs like “Breakdown” off of some radio stations, which stubbornly resisted new wave and punk. It took the band’s platinum breakthrough Damn the Torpedoes in 1979 for the group to shake the new wave tag. Oddly, today, revisionists explain Petty & the Heartbreakers as power pop. Of course, any Petty fan knows that’s not accurate either. (This may be the result of Petty cutting several popular tracks with Dwight Twilley, truly a power pop pioneer and a labelmate of Petty’s on Shelter Records in the 1970s.) Petty’s sound can best be explained as one part Dylan, one part Southern rock, one part power pop (mainly The Byrds influences), add a dash of Springsteen, shake liberally, serve on your favorite stereo set at maximum, and the result is something unique.

The Go-Go’s and The Bangles, breakthrough bands for women, suffered some of the same fate: tagged as new wave, but really power pop acts. Although both were popular, radio formats being what they are, they might have enjoyed wider exposure if properly categorized, because power pop is a sound that is friendly to both Top 40 radio (or whatever that has evolved into these days) and FM rock.

Notable power pop acts from the 1970s and 1980s made this crossover possible. The Sweet in 1974 (Desolation Boulevard is the best example) was like a rich chocolate confection packed with a surprise guitar bite in the center. The irrepressible beat of The Knack’s “My Sharona” in 1979 made that group not only a one hit wonder, but also another example of a power pop guilty pleasure. The Smithereens’ “Girl Like You” in 1989 is yet another example. (And following the example of other power pop bands before them in honoring one of the fonts of this genre, The Smithereens released a tribute album to The Beatles in late 2007.)

Other bands that carried the power pop banner, like San Francisco’s Jellyfish in 1990, went the route of Big Star: little radio airplay but remembered by fans of the genre for adding new layers to the sugary cake that makes up this subcategory of rock.

Power pop also influenced the new wave, which was rippling across music culture at about the same time. The Romantics, Blondie, Squeeze, The Vapors, XTC, and others were all influenced by power pop. Even grunge bands, such as the Stone Temple Pilots (Shangri-LA DEE DA from 2001, especially the song “Days of the Week”) dabbled with power pop and brought power pop acts, such as Cheap Trick, out on tour as supporting acts.

The legacy of power pop is like the genre itself, highly debatable. Groups such as Fountains of Wayne and Weezer prove this type of sound remains vital. Others such as Fall Out Boy sometimes show power pop can be just like its pop roots, fairly transparent and flimsy.

Although past its prime, power pop endures, and like some of the best aspects of rock, that’s to be admired.

(To read this series from the beginning, please go here. To read the previous part in this series, please go here.)

(The promotional photo of Rivers Cuomo of Weezer is from MCA/Geffen Records. To see Weezer's video for the band's new single "Pork and Beans" please check below.)

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Putting Power Pop in Perspective, Part II

(Editor’s Note: This is the second part of a three-part series on power pop. To read the first post in the series, please go here.)

by Rick Rockwell

By the late 1970s, although The Raspberries remained the power pop band with the most chart success, another Midwestern group, Cheap Trick emerged as the band that would wave the banner of this genre the longest.

The band’s 2006 release Rockford was its first in almost two decades that drew much critical or popular attention. But from At Budokan (1978) until Lap of Luxury (1988), Cheap Trick was both interesting to critics, played on FM radio, and respected by a hardcore group of fans. After that, inconsistent releases, record company battles, and a sort of semi-retirement demoted the band to minor cult status.

Rewind back to the late 1970s. Amidst the explosion of punk and new wave, Cheap Trick arrived on the scene and most critics and music aficionados were unsure what to make of them. Lead guitarist Rick Nielsen’s jagged guitar lines raised the interest of some, and for a time the band was incorrectly lumped in with the punk and new wave movements. Cheap Trick’s tongue-in-cheek lyricism and satirical approach didn’t fit any genre at the time really. Sometimes they were serious. Sometimes, not. The pop side of the band was projected by pretty boy bassist Tom Petersson and the effusive Robin Zander on lead vocals/rhythm guitar. These two were what the Japanese schoolgirls loved and what pushed At Budokan on to the charts. But Nielsen and Bun E. Carlos (Brad Carlson) on drums represented the darker and quirkier side of the band. This embodied the trick of the band’s name: project a simple pop image (the band's critics often complained it was too simplistic although sometimes giving them backhanded respect for their musical chops) but underneath something much more complex and interesting is at work. Their lyrical references to Kiss records and other kitsch of the era were actually put-downs but Zander’s soaring vocals often sold the songs innocently. Fans of the band were in on the joke.

This was something different than the straight power pop of The Raspberries. It was power pop with an attitude. But because Cheap Trick was hard to classify, the band’s first few releases languished. Only the Japanese teens seemed to embrace them in any numbers. And that embrace, with the release of At Budokan, propelled the band forward worldwide.

For a brief pop moment the band was everyone’s darlings. Nielsen got the call to work with hit makers Hall & Oates. Band members recorded with one of their heroes, John Lennon, although their session work just before his assassination was erased from the final mix of Double Fantasy. The Beatles’ producer George Martin signed on to steer one Cheap Trick album. (The influence of The Beatles on power pop shown through during this period as Cheap Trick cut excellent covers of “Day Tripper” and “Paperback Writer.”) Queen’s producer Roy Thomas Baker and Todd Rundgren (someone who was a master of various styles including pop and power pop) would follow as studio guides.

But by the end of the 1980s, power pop's bubble had burst, and Cheap Trick was spent.

Interestingly, the grunge bands of the 1990s turned out to be Cheap Trick fans. Perhaps it was the influence of Nielsen’s slashing guitar, but bands such as the Stone Temple Pilots, and Pearl Jam cited them as an influence and encouraged them to get back out on the road. Alt rockers, the Smashing Pumpkins, also provided encouragement.

After a decade of rebuilding a fan base, Cheap Trick enters 2008, with renewed interest from its audience. The band was the toast of Japan again earlier this year, successfully touring to mark the 30th anniversary of the Budokan release. Last year, supported by an all-star cast of singers and an orchestra, Cheap Trick played The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in its entirety at the Hollywood Bowl, to mark the 40th anniversary of that release. The band is set to repeat that concert next month.

Through Cheap Trick, power pop has shown it has resilience and that its roots track back to The Beatles. So this musical form also takes on that Beatles aesthetic that popular music can be something more than a thin commercial tune and that sometimes music can transcend its initial shallow origins.

(This is the second part of a three-part series. To see the first part in the series, please go here. To see the final part of the series, please go here.)

(Promotional photo of Cheap Trick from CBS/Epic Records. To see Cheap Trick cover "Day Tripper" — assisted by two additional unidentified drummers — in Chicago in 1981, please check below. )

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iVoryTowerz Radio Lightens Up

Philosophers tell us life is the search for balance. So how else to balance the ultra-serious sounds of progressive art rock on the underground podcast this week than with a hefty dose of comedy? This week's podcast includes various firsts, including the first time the program features an entire comedy set instead of just some fun sprinkled in among the songs. But don't despair, the usual variety is here: new wave, metal, a smattering of new releases, plus a historic trip through almost 40 years of progressive rock. Get the joke or get serious. Do as the music inspires, but most of all, please enjoy.

(This podcast is no longer available for download.)


"Overture: Mountaintop & Sunrise/Communion with the Sun" by Utopia
“Freefall” by Camel
“Lighten Up MacGraw" by Crack the Sky
"Hero and Heroine" by The Strawbs
"The One" by Sofa Kingdom
"Englishman in New York" by Sting
“Never Again” by Asia
"Magnification" by Yes
"Knife-Edge” by Emerson, Lake & Palmer
“Neurotica" by King Crimson
Rick's Metal Shoppe: "Fireball" by Deep Purple
Cover Me: "Pretty Woman" by Bad News
"Stonehenge" by Spinal Tap
"Bowie" by Flight of the Conchords
"Nevertheless" by The Rutles
Jeff’s New Wave: “Whip It” by Devo

(Mp3 Runs - 1:35:32; 88 MB.) Program contains explicit lyrics.

(The photo is by Marja Flick-Buijs of Aalsmeer, Netherlands via stock.xchng.)

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NBA Playoffs: Detroit Grabs an Edge

by Hayden Alfano

For the first two rounds of the National Basketball Association (NBA) playoffs, talking heads and fans of other teams have derided the Boston Celtics for their inability to win a road game. Celtics supporters have had one response: “Uh, actually, we don’t need to.” And until now, they’ve been right. For while the Celticss have tied an NBA record for most consecutive road playoff losses by dropping their first six away contests, their outstanding regular season — a 66-16 record that was the best in the league — gave them the right to play four games of each best-of-seven series at home, in the friendly confines of the TD Banknorth Boston Garden. The Celtics had been automatic in that building, winning nine straight at home to start the playoffs. If they could win every game at home, they’d earn the franchise’s 17th championship banner.

The landscape changed considerably Thursday night (May 22), as the Detroit Pistons pulled out a 103-97 victory in Boston, knotting the Eastern Conference finals at one game apiece and wresting away the home court advantage. Now, in order to advance to the NBA Finals, Boston will have to win a game in Detroit.

It won’t be easy. The Pistons are playing in their sixth consecutive Eastern Conference finals. And while those seasons have resulted in just one NBA title, in 2004 — leading even their supporters to characterize them as the Atlanta Braves of basketball — that experience has instilled in them a poise that makes them very tough to beat.

That unflappability was on display all throughout Game 2, as Detroit played with a recognition of the urgency of their situation without letting it negatively affect them. Indeed, the Pistons were at their best when it seemed most likely that they would fold: After Boston came out of the locker room on fire, turning a seven-point halftime deficit into a four-point lead, Detroit ripped off a 12-2 run, eventually extending the lead to nine points.

The Pistons’ poise seems to have percolated down to even their least-seasoned players. While several Detroit starters sat to start the fourth quarter, gaining valuable rest for the stretch run, rookie Rodney Stuckey put the team on his shoulders. Over a stretch that spanned the final minute of the third quarter and the first four minutes of the fourth, Stuckey scored ten of his team’s 15 points, capping an evening in which he scored 13 points in 17 minutes.

That kind of clutch performance is common for such experienced Pistons as Richard “Rip” Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace, Chauncy Billups, and Tayshaun Prince. It wasn’t expected of Stuckey, who played his college ball in relative obscurity at Eastern Washington.

The way the Pistons play makes them beatable; they rely heavily on jump shots, and perimeter shooting can come and go on a whim. Boston won in Detroit during the regular season, and shooting guard Ray Allen broke out of his well-documented slump with 25 points Thursday night.

But Detroit has succeeded in this spot in this past year, and Boston — despite a core of veteran All-Stars in Allen, Paul Pierce, and Kevin Garnett — hasn’t even been here before. ESPN’s broadcast team spoke at length on Thursday about how the Pistons don’t get rattled. While Boston has answered those questions at home in this playoff season, they haven’t proven it on the road. Now facing a must-win scenario in one of the three remaining games in Detroit, they have the chance to show chops of their own.

Television Viewing Guide

Tonight, Friday, May 23, the San Antonio Spurs play the Los Angeles Lakers on TNT at 9 p.m. EDT. The Spurs will be looking to make up for the golden opportunity they missed after blowing a 20-point third-quarter lead in Game 1. The Eastern and Western Conferences are each playing every other night, so the Pistons and Celtics will resume their series Saturday night at 8:30 p.m. EDT on ABC.

(To see the top five plays from Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals as selected by the NBA, please check below.)

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Putting Power Pop in Perspective, Part I

(Editor's Note: After the debates concerning the Dave Clark Five and power pop that erupted this spring, in "The Dave Clark Five? Who is Kidding Whom?" and "iVoryTowerz Radio: Shame on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame," this post attempts to set the musical record straight. This is the first part of a three-part series.)

by Rick Rockwell

Pete Townshend of The Who is widely credited with inventing the term power pop to describe his band, but it’s debatable if The Who actually played that style of music. Or played it for very long.

Those who play power pop and the critics who write about it usually define it as drawing from the pop influences of The Beach Boys, The Beatles, and The Byrds. However, the power in the name means creating a harder sonic edge: power chords, thrashing lead guitar solos, and dynamic drumming, all condensed into tight three- and four-minute packages.

Several musical generations after Townshend talked about power pop, you can still hear elements of the genre in bands from this decade such as the All-American Rejects (whose wimpy sound borders on emo), Fall Out Boy (inconsistent, superficial, but occasionally inspired), and Weezer (this band has the genre down cold, and is usually a joy to hear).

The Who, which began as a Beatles knock off group specializing in playing to the gangs of the U.K. in the 1960s, became one of the leading bands of the second wave of the British Invasion. The sound of The Who, The Kinks, and other British acts actually may have reverberated back influencing The Beatles to toughen their sound with tracks like “Taxman,” “Day Tripper,” and “Paperback Writer.” But The Who went on quickly to rock operas with Tommy and Quadrophenia, and the rock press rarely applied Townshend’s description of his band’s music to The Who.

The Who, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks and other huge bands of the British Invasion were actually elevating pop beyond mere musical trifles. Meanwhile, acts like the Dave Clark Five were churning out more of the trifling music that many called bubblegum. Despite the Dave Clark Five’s inclusion in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, many musicologists, including Italy’s influential Piero Scaruffi, mark the Dave Clark Five as a mere musical asterisk in the 1960s, while bands such as Paul Revere and the Raiders and The Standells from the U.S. would prove potent influences in both garage rock and later power pop. (Wrongly, Rolling Stone wrote in the 1970s that power pop was a term invented as a euphemism for punk rock, and also mixed up the bubblegum sounds of the Dave Clark Five with the edgier garage rockers, like the Raiders. Perhaps this is the origin of the popular misconceptions about both the Dave Clark Five and power pop. As many know, Rolling Stone still often gets it wrong.) Notably, the bubblegum essence of the Dave Clark Five was spent by 1970, while many of the powerful bands of the British Invasion continued onward.

When it comes to the search for the first true power pop act, some actually point to Badfinger, the band The Beatles shaped as one of the first signed to The Beatles’ Apple Records. Badfinger released a number of energetic singles in 1969 which became part of the band's 1970 debut. However, like The Beatles, many found Badfinger's sound to be many more parts pop, without much of the power.

However, the 1970s would actually produce the true beginnings of power pop as a genre on to itself. The Raspberries in 1972 (a band that produced a number of charted hits) and Big Star (which had a cult following and even found it hard to get played on FM) emerged as the first pure power pop bands in the U.S. And although power pop precedes many of the musical upheavals of the 1970s, it would be carried along in the tidal wave later in the decade that produced the punk and new wave movements.

(To read the second part of this series, please go here.)

(The promotional photo of The Raspberries is the cover of their debut from Capitol Records in 1972. To see The Raspberries play "Go All the Way," what some call the first power pop hit, please check below.)

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Will Hillary Clinton Get the Message This Time?

by Jeff Siegel

Finally, after almost five months of caucuses and primaries, the pundits are hedging their bets about the Democratic presidential nominee. The New York Times reported this morning, in an impressively cautious bit of writing, that "Mr. Obama’s showing in Kentucky and his victory in Oregon appear to be enough to allow him to secure a majority of the delegates up for grabs in primaries and caucuses."

That Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) is now almost certainly the nominee just reinforces the point that the media have not had much of an idea about what was going on during this campaign.

That Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) has not yet conceded, despite almost no chance of winning the nomination, points to nothing other than her hubris and contempt for the party and its primary voters. That she doesn't have the delegates is irrelevant to her, which is a distinctly Republican frame of mind. George Bush didn't have the votes in 2000, and the GOP had protesters in the streets shouting that he should be president. Maybe Mrs. Clinton expects the Supreme Court to intercede on her behalf. It's certainly the elitist thing to do.

And do not read this as an endorsement of Obama, who has crawfished so far to the right so quickly that I'm surprised he hasn't been boiled, shelled, rouxed and etouffeed. He got the most delegates, so he will be the nominee, and only Mrs. Clinton doesn't see that. This doesn't mean Obama is good for the party or the country. I'm still waiting for a someone to give me a compelling rationale for his votes to continue funding the Iraq War, and he has not covered himself in glory with his support for the Bear Stearns bailout and his failure to support any of the common sense, progressive measures I've outlined here before.

Obama, in fact, is about to go even further to the right. I talked to a reasonably well-connected Democratic Party fundraiser last week, and he said Obama's running mate will be as conservative as possible. He mentioned Florida Senator Bill Nelson, Virginia Senator Jim Webb (who was Ronald Reagan's Navy secretary, of all things), and, horror of horrors, former Georgia Senator Sam Nunn. Each of these could run as John McCain's vice president and it wouldn't raise too many eyebrows.

But the choice will be Obama's, and not Mrs. Clinton's. Not that those of us who care about social justice will be able to tell the difference.

For more background on the 2008 campaign, please see these archival posts:

(Political graphic by The Culture Ghost; you can see more of The Culture Ghost's graphics at the blogs Guys from Area 51 and The Culture Ghost. This graphic is made available through a Creative Commons License.)

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Flunking the Critics & their Speed Racer Reviews

by Stephen Tringali

It’s no secret that film critics at large panned Speed Racer. Rotten Tomatoes shows that the film received a 34 percent rotten rating, concluding that “the Wachowski Brothers have overloaded Speed Racer with headache-inducing special effects, and neglected to develop a coherent storyline.”

The logic behind a site such as Rotten Tomatoes is that, though some people may hold a favorite film critic, no film critic’s analysis can be correct at all times. This is to say that “correct” translates into an accurate predication of public taste. As many already know, Rotten Tomatoes synthesizes these critical opinions and produces a single opinion. That one meta-opinion usually determines whether we make the trip to the movie theater.

Of course, with Speed Racer, I neglected to consider the Rotten Tomatoes opinion and went to see the film for myself. When I later told my friends that I had seen the film, they only groaned: “Oh, no. Steve, I can’t believe you saw that. I heard it was awful. Now, last night I watched blah blah blah and that, THAT was an excellent film.”

Under less peculiar circumstances, I would have agreed and replied that, yes, Speed Racer was dreck. I miss my $10 already. But this was not the case because the very sources from which my friends heard about Speed Racer (the critics) were not suited to analyze this film. Why? Because the very nature of the job — watching, considering and reviewing films — involves some degree, or even the very semblance, of critical analysis.

The original Speed Racer cartoon never supposed that it would become the subject of critical analysis. It was a simple anime that, along with Gigantor, introduced American audiences to the wild and off-kilter nature of Japanese animation. To suppose that the film adaptation would amount to anything greater — in an intellectually stimulating manner, anyway — is to anticipate disappointment.

And yet, many major critics set themselves up for disappointment by mistakenly analyzing Speed Racer as though it were not derived from a hyper-kinetic, mind-numbing anime series. Jim Emerson, writing for The Chicago Sun-Times, spouts: “Speed Racer is a manufactured widget, a packaged commodity that capitalizes on an anthropomorphized cartoon of Capitalist Evil in order to sell itself and its ancillary products.”

What Emerson doesn’t seem to understand is that, despite our own moral notions, Capitalist Evil proves a traditional player in the realm of anime marketing. Nearly all popular anime shows (see both the Gundam and Dragon Ball franchises for examples) proliferate action figure spawns in both Japan and North America. But, then again, Emerson doesn’t seem to hold the slightest appreciation for anime: “To us, [the original Speed Racer cartoon] was just filler between after-school reruns of Gilligan's Island and The Munsters. We watched it because it was on, and it was in color.”

Rolling Stone critic Peter Travers makes an even more egregious mistake in his analysis. He notes the film’s rather straightforward storyline and simplistic character development as faults, forgetting that the cartoon series never provided audiences with anything more: “Even the target audience of 10-year-olds might get jimmy legs sitting for a punishing 135 minutes as the Wachowski brothers projectile-vomit their cotton-candy dreams all over the big screen.”

Travers’ description is accurate — in the visual sense, anyway. What the Wachowski Brothers, the producer/director/writers of Speed Racer, have done is over-stimulating, anxious, and at times, difficult to digest. But that doesn’t necessary mean that the final product suffers. It is what it is: the most logical live-action adaptation of the Speed Racer cartoon series that could be imagined.

If the original television series, or any other anime product for that matter, fails to stimulate your interest, don’t expect that the live action variation will fire any neurons. As Travers writes, “…if you catch the movie in IMAX, take out damage insurance on your optic nerve.” And if that sounds like your kind of party — because I know it sounds like mine — then forget Rotten Tomatoes and forget critical opinion.

(The promotional photo of Speed Racer is from Warner Brothers Pictures. To see a trailer for the film, please check below.)

Editor's Note: This post is the last piece by Stephen Tringali for iVoryTowerz. For the second time, we send him off with a hearty good-bye and we wish him luck in his new endeavors. Steve is one of the original writers of the blog group and his views and attitude have contributed to the blog's character.

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