Monday, November 28, 2011

Eddie Trunk and The Salvatore Scale

One of the television shows i find myself watching a lot is That Metal Show on VH1 Classic. This is odd, because i have very little affinity for most of the music they feature on the show (not to say i don't respect it; i just rarely listen to those artists). However, what i enjoy about it is that the show is done by music fans for music fans; the discussions that take place on the show come from a place of passion and excitement, and it is one of the few shows on TV that is all about passion. It's funny, while the internet has become an institution dedicated to anyone being able to express their opinions, TV is still pretty much closed off in that regard. Movies, TV, music, all bring in literally billions of dollars a year for the same companies that own television stations, and yet there are very few shows dedicated to intelligent discussion of these types of media. That Metal Show is a place where people who are fans of hard rock/heavy metal can turn to hear people having an actual discussion about music. This is rare, and should be celebrated.

The host of the show is Eddie Trunk; as a fellow denizen of the Garden State, i have been familiar with Eddie via his radio show for 15+ years. One of Eddie's soapboxes is the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame - he feels that the Hall discriminates against heavy music and is run by (my words not his) snobs. He also makes a claim that selling a ton of records should factor in there somewhere.

Now, while i am sympathetic to Trunk's argument, i think we need to pull back a little and discuss what the Hall is, what it is supposed to be, and what can be done to improve it. Let me also say off the bat that i am not trying to bag on Eddie Trunk; he and i simply disagree on some of this stuff (we agree on a lot of it, too), and hearing him recently talk about this got me thinking about this issue.

From the official website, here is what appears to be their mission statement: The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum exists to collect, preserve and interpret the impact rock has made on our world.

First of all, let's call bullshit on this statement. If that was truly the purpose of the institution, then it would be displays on the supposed connection between heavy metal and suicide, or the West Memphis Three, or other academic ideas. This is there to celebrate the landmark people in rock and roll.

Well, sort of.

My first change i would make to the RNRHOF is the name: it isn't just about rock and roll. It is also about funk, doo wop, heavy metal, bubblegum pop, disco, rap, and every other form of popular music invented since 1955. Let's face facts, the name is a misnomer. So, i suggest a new handle for the place:

The Museum of Popular Music, 1955-Present

Sure, it doesn't have the same ring as "The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame," but the only way to make people stop saying things like "Grandmaster Flash, yeah, HE'S really rock and roll!" is to change the name. The toothpaste is out of the tube, and we're not going to suddenly un-invite all the artists that don't meet the strict guidelines of what "rock and roll" should mean. Plus, those guidelines change on a whim to support arguments, so who gives a shit. Change the name.

Secondly, there needs to be something more concrete in terms of what it means to be inducted. Let's call this the Buffalo Springfield corollary:

Buffalo Springfield released two albums during its active lifespan, and a third shortly thereafter that was made up of mostly outtakes and doesn't feature the full band on any one song. They had one bona fide hit, "For What It's Worth," and their members went on to form other, more successful bands, as well as influence the growing movement of folk, country and rock music blending together. This whole process, from forming to break up, took less than 3 full years.

And yet, this band is in the RNRHOF, and went in in 1997.

Why are they there? It isn't because they were an unquestionably influential band. They had influential members, but the band itself isn't exactly the Beatles or the Stones. It isn't because they were so popular that they dominated the charts for years - they barely made a blip on the sales radar during their years active. It isn't because the band contained the best work of its members - many members went on to do better stuff afterwards.

No, they are in because they are an answer to a fun trivia question, and because some people are insufferable nostalgists who think they were so important because they exist in the cultural sweet spot of 1967.

But why should any band be in the RNRHOF? I can think of six good criteria, and any inductee needs to meet at least four of these. I present to you, the Salvatore Scale:

1) Their influence can be felt today in more than just a niche sector of the music world
2) They signaled, or were part of, a sea change in the music industry
3) Featured superb musicianship or songwriting ability
4) Well respected by a significant percentage of the critical intelligentsia
5) They were popular to the point of ubiquity
6) They had a career exceeding 5 albums/10 years

No matter what the criteria was, the Beatles and Chuck Berry were getting in (and, actually Buffalo Springfield would be a close call on my new criteria). But let's look at a band that isn't in, and pisses a lot of people off, including the aforementioned Eddie Trunk, and see if they'd get in based on my criteria; let's take a look at Deep Purple.

1) Yes
2) Yes
3) Yes
4) Yes
5) No
6) Yes

They're in.

Now, let's look at 2008 inductee John Melloncamp:

1) No
2) No
3) Arguable
4) Arguable
5) No
6) Yes

Melloncamp is out.

See, what this does is it neutralizes the two polar ends of the spectrum: the critic and the fan. If only critics picked who went in, the average person would be flummoxed at the prospect of visiting the John Fahey exhibit. If only fans picked, Bon Jovi would be in, and that may be worse. In fact, let's take those two artists and put them on the Salvatore Scale:

1) Arguable, leaning towards no
2) No
3) Yes
4) Yes
5) No
6) Yes

Bon Jovi:
1) No
2) Yes (albeit a terrible one, hair metal)
3) Arguable, leaning towards no
4) No
5) Yes
6) Yes

That's a no on both. And while i think John Fahey is an amazing, singular talent, he shouldn't be in the HOF. And neither should a band that had a few huge hits with zero substance and who critics loathe.

Now, where Trunk loses me is advocating for people like Bon Jovi or Journey - if these bands have influenced any real segment of the music making population, i don't hear it. They are both known by the general public for less than 5 songs. They are not my cup of meat, but they are fine bands if that's your thing (and Bon Jovi is my wife's thing, much to my chagrin). But i guarantee you, if i read the tracklist to Journey's Greatest Hits to a man on the street, he'd recognize just as many songs from Manfred Mann's Greatest Hits, and no one in their right mind is advocating for Manfred Mann to go in.

As for longevity, i put it last because it is probably tied with the ubiquitous popularity in terms of least important criterion. The Clash weren't a band for ten years, but they are supremely important (and have 5 truly great records). Guns N' Roses, eligible this year, have four full length original albums to their credit, an EP and a covers album. One of the four records came out 15 years after their peak, and only one of those albums is considered a "classic." They don't make the cut for me; if there was a category to induct albums, you'd be insane not to induct Appetite for Destruction. But i think you'd be more insane to put GNR up there as one of the most important bands of all time.

Just because someone sells a ton of records or records for 30 years doesn't mean they are great. To put this in baseball terms, this would be like Roger Marris being in the HOF - everyone knows him because of one stat, but he isn't a HOF caliber player, and it makes the Hall stronger to have him not in there. I would much rather have a Hall of Fame that is harder to get in to (but is fair) than to have Nickelback one day grace the Hall.

I also want to point out that i put songwriting and technical proficiency on the same bullet point, but that i weigh songwriting higher, and anyone who doesn't is a fool. This is why the Ramones are in the HOF and Steve Vai isn't, sans rubric or by the Salvatore scale.

The final point i want to make is that people who don't want to see pop or rap (or funk or whatever) groups go in need to think more broadly about this. I am 29 years old; i don't remember a time before rap music. Even if i wanted to not be influenced by hip hop culture, that would be impossible, it is part of the world in which i live. Run DMC changed music forever with both its original songs and its "Walk This Way" duet with Aerosmith. Madonna is a hugely important cultural figure. Their influence is felt in the "rock" world, like it or not.

And, much like interracial marriages, broad musical tastes produce the most beautiful children. There wouldn't be metal if Bill Ward didn't dig jazz, and Ozzy didn't idolize the Beatles, the Tony Iommi didn't play the blues. This is all part of the cultural soup we're floating in, and should be recognized as such. Sure, it is weird to see Madonna inducted alongside the Ventures, but tell me - who is more important to the music of the 20th century? If you say the Ventures, i'm going to kick you in the face, because you're a no good liar.

Most importantly, the Salvatore Scale gives a way to actually measure what a band has done, and judge it against a rubric. It protects against the snobs that Trunk has a problem with and the slobs that buy Miller Lite. It finds middle ground, and promotes the bands that really do matter. Next year, my favorite non-Beatles band of all time, the Pixies, are up for nomination. I doubt the Hall will recognize them, but let's see if the Salvatore scale vindicates them:

1) Yes
2) Yes
3) Yes
4) Yes
5) No
6) If you count Come on Pilgrim as an album (their debut EP), then they have five albums or if you include their reunion tour, they have more than ten years.

Regardless, they are in.

And so, yes, the RNRHOF needs a serious re-evaluation. But to do it based simply on record sales and/or longevity is a slippery slope to having Creed in there one day. And, to quote one of the original members of the Hall, that'll be the day that i die.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Sorry Jay (and the Jays), Verlander should be MVP

My buddy, and rabid Blue Jays fan, Jay Kumar (@koomdogg), tweeted this yesterday:

"Good for Verlander, but I still feel Bautista was more valuable to his team."

The Verlander in question is Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers starting pitcher and both the 2011 American League Cy Young Award winner and the 2011 American League Most Valuable Player. The Bautista in question is Jose Bautista, a formerly meh player who has found his inner Reggie Jackson over the past two years since joining the Toronto Blue Jays.

A lot of people are feeling the way that Jay feels, although some are replacing Bautista with Jacoby Ellsbury of the Boston Red Sox*. Their argument seems to be (and i haven't discussed this with Jay) that Bautista plays every day in right field (or third base), whereas Verlander starts games once every 5 days. His 250 innings don't contribute nearly as much as Bautista's 513 at-bats, according to these folks.

However, i think Verlander is the deserving MVP of the American League, and i will hopefully convince you all that Justin is worthy.

The best way, in my opinion, to judge a position player against a pitcher is my personal favorite statistic, WAR, or Wins Above Replacement. What this means is that, let's say that Albert Pujols blows out his knee on Day 1 of the season, and is replaced by the Cardinals AAA first baseman - how many wins will the Cardinals miss out on because of Pujols's absence? This is done by aggregating all their individual stats and comparing them to the stats of an "average" player out of AAA. It is not a perfect stat, but is a good cross-position tool.

Verlander and Bautista were tied for the AL lead in WAR this year, with 8.5. So, if either were not playing this year, their teams would have lost 8 or 9 additional games (let's round up for this argument). Let's use that to determine the value to both teams:

The Blue Jays finished 81-81, for fourth place in the AL East. Without Bautista, they would have finished 72-90, still good for fourth place. Although Bautista made the team interesting to watch, even during a mediocre season, without him, the Jays would have had almost exactly the same season overall.

The Tigers finished 95-67, first place in the AL Central. If you subtract the 9 wins that Verlander would have brought, Detroit would have finished 84-76, still finishing first in their division.

So, neither player pushed their team into the playoffs. However, the Tigers did make it, and in Verlander's 4 post season starts, his team went 2-2, so he was a wash in the post season.

I think the real judgment here has to come from which player would be harder to replace if he went down. Right field, Bautista's primary position, is a relatively easy position to fill defensively. His offensive prowess would be much harder, but if a few other parts were swapped out, finding 9 wins via offense over the course of a season wouldn't be impossible (although would probably hurt the team defensively).

As for Verlander, premier starting pitcher is maybe the hardest thing to come by in all of baseball. Verlander is durable, strikes out a ton of batters, and doesn't walk very many. To make up 9 wins from the rotation, that is significantly tougher. Plus, if you lose Verlander, there is no guarantee that whoever replaces him will go as deep into games as he does, therefore taxing the bullpen more, which might lead to less wins from the bullpen.

When a starting pitcher gets the ball, he has more control over the game than anyone else on the team. When a starting pitcher is as dominant as Verlander, it is hard to argue that he isn't the most valuable player in the league this year. One way to help this situation is to establish a Willie Mays award - it can be for hitting what the Cy Young award is for pitching, and the MVP can be what it is supposed to be - the award for the player who helped their team the most this year. If that is the case, Bautista is the Willie Mays winner for 2011.

But Verlander is still the MVP.

Sorry Jay.

*Ellsbury may be more valuable to his team than Bautista because he plays a more premium position and adds the component of speed to his game. Although he lacks some of the plate discipline of Bautista. I'd take either on my team.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Round Up Of My Extra Curricular Activities

I figured it was about time i started to collect my recent adventures in contributing to other sites/projects in 2011. So, here we go:


Expectations (Erin and I are podcasting about our upcoming baby!): Expectations

The Bureau Presents: A new podcast for the Bureau Records that i'm hosting/producing. Episode #1

Completely Conspicuous - Episodes 161, 162, 201

Multiversity Comics: Interviewing Scott Snyder, Interviewing Joshua Hale Fialkov

Feature Articles:

The Waster - Talking Shop With an Improv Troubadour (Bruce Hornsby Interview), Paley & Francis: Ragged is Part of the Charm

Pop Matters - Drifting Together, Drifting Apart: Sibling Relationships on Six Feet Under

Multiversity Comics - Friday Recommendation: New Teen Titans - Games, Friday Recommendations: Shazam! The Monster Society of Evil, The Walking Dead - Cherokee Rose (TV Review), This Month In Comics: September 2011

Music Reviews:

The Waster: Mister Heavenly - Out of Love, Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks - Mirror Traffic, St. Vincent - Strange Mercy, Wild Flag - Wild Flag, Mekons - Ancient and Modern: 1911-2011, Ryan Adams - Ashes and Fire

Comic Book Reviews:

Multiversity Comics: Green Lantern - New Guardians #1, Swamp Thing #3, Animal Man #3, Green Lantern Corps #1, The Red Wing #4 (with Joshua Mocle), Batman #2, Legion: Secret Origin #1, Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #3, Spaceman #1, Hellboy: House of the Living Dead (with David Harper), The Huntress #2, The Rinse #1, Batwing #1, Men of War #1, Mudman #1, Justice League #3, Wonder Woman #3, Action Comics #2, Resurrection Man #1, Mister Terrific #1, DC Universe Presents #1, Detective Comics #1, Stormwatch #2, The Shade #1, Justice League International #1, Nightwing #2/Red Hood and the Outlaws #2, Teen Titans #1

Holy cow, i've been doing a lot of stuff.