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How did Jann Wenner hijack rock & roll? Since when are he and his hand-picked Rolling Stone minions who now dominate the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee the arbiters of greatness?
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1. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony (VH1 Classics):
How did Woody Allen put it in Bananas? “It’s a travesty of a mockery of a sham of a mockery of a travesty of two mockeries of a sham.” Or, to quote one of this year’s inductees, Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five: “It’s like a jungle sometimes, it makes me wonder/How I keep from going under.” Either one could easily describe this year’s edition, though the show, broadcast live for the first time on VH1 Classics and streamed on AOL Music, was not without its highlights. No matter what you think of her worthiness, and apparently a lot of people outside, and even from, N.Y. don’t agree with her induction, Patti Smith wore a rock & roll heart on her sleeve, and brought a few furtive tears to someone who has witnessed her noble attempt to invent and then reinvent herself from the very start. Whether she belongs in Cleveland’s somewhat tarnished hallowed halls along with her chief inspirations, including Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones, may be a matter of debate, but to many of us, she represents making the rock dream our own, using its power to find a purpose and a calling, while carrying the torch, that’s right, for the future generations she so generously saluted. My only beef was the exclusion of MVP guitarist and longtime collaborator Lenny Kaye, who deserves his own wing (or at least a sideman nod) based on his history with Patti and the influential Nuggets compilation alone. And who could argue with the intriguing segue from Smith’s “Rock & Roll Nigger,” her cheeky nod to those “outside society," to a rivetting Rev. Al Sharpton tribute to James Brown about how his acceptance by rock & rollers helped sustain his career. Unfortunately, the controversial induction of Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five, chosen over Dave Clark Five, who reportedly finished ahead of them in the final balloting, reeked of tokenism, especially the way-too-grateful reaction of the recipients, practically begging the assembled industry execs to give them another shot. Rap’s increasing presence in the RRHOF is a slam-dunk, for sure, though I insist, despite their historical importance, Flash and company did not deserve to be admitted before the likes of Run-DMC, L.L. Cool J, N.W.A.Tupac or Biggie. And the sight of a roomful of old white guys waving their hands in the air like they just don’t care, which they didn’t, made the whole thing come off uncomfortably as modern-day minstrelsy. Of course, you won’t hear me squawk about Ronnie Spector’s induction with the Ronettes… Girlfriend went through some hard knocks, and deserves the accolades and hopefully the boost it gives her career. Sheez, she merits an award just for surviving marriage to Phil. Naturally, the low point was the induction of Van Halen, with only Michael Anthony and second-string vocalist Sammy Hagar on hand to accept the honor. The well-publicized fact that Eddie Van Halen was in rehab makes his absence understandable, as does, to a degree, David Lee Roth’s ego tantrums about which songs to perform, but what was Alex Van Halen’s excuse? And if Velvet Revolver doing VH songs was cringe-inducing, the nadir was reached when Anthony and Hagar joined shameless Spector apologist Paul Shaffer and his long-in-the-tooth Late Night Band for a performance of “Why Can’t This Be Love?” that had me silently thanking God for TiVo. R.E.M. were typically understated and deserving (was that Michael Stipe’s mother sitting next to him?), enlivened by Peter Buck kicking over an amp that just missed smacking photog Kevin Mazur in the head, while the closing Smith anthem, “People Have the Power,” came off like pissing in the wind against the backdrop of an increasingly out-of-touch Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. After the death of co-founder Ahmet Ertegun, the megalomaniacal Jann Wenner, an Alexander Haig type who has now taken total control, contines to put the history of the genre under his considerable thumb. And that’s not just an embittered ex-nominating committee member speaking, but a lifelong rock fan.

2. The Riches (F/X): You can tell network TV is starting to feel the influence of HBO and Showtime, especially with this new series, which combines aspects of Carnivale and Big Love with weekly cliffhanger classics like The Fugitive and The Millionaire in its depiction of a family of roving gypsy grifters who squat in a vacant manse in an exclusive Louisiana suburb. Eddie Izzard, best-known as the cross-dressing U.K. comic whose one-man shows have garnered him a loyal stateside following, is almost unrecognizable as the bearded father of three kids and husband to an emaciated, corn-rowed Minnie Driver, fresh from her stint in prison with a heroin addiction. After posing as a graduate to pick-pocket an entire gym full of alumni at a high school reunion with the help of his kids, Izzard snaps up his paroled wife only to be driven from the encampment of their cultish clan, but not without grabbing a safe-load of stolen cash first. After running a car off the road in their Winnebago, leading to the fatalities of its two inhabitants, Izzard and the troops settle into the dead couple’s yet-to-be-occupied estate, promising to “steal the American Dream” as he fleeces the rest of the lawyers in the community (pronounced “liars”) by proving a ringer at golf. Of course, the trick will be to keep the snooping neighbors, authorities and revenge-seeking cult leader at bay, especially when Driver starts rooting around frantically on the front lawn in broad daylight for the hypodermic needle she just threw out the window. The three kids, played by a defiant Shannon Marie Woodward, the morose Noel Fisher and still-innocent Aidan Mitchell, are uniformly good, ingrained in the ways of taking advantage of marks, or “buffers,” as they're called here. A dark-hued tale of trying to fit in, The Riches mercilessly examines our obsession with materialism and middle-class niceties like work, school, home and family to examine the void at the heart of our yearning for a better life.

3. Amy Winehouse, “Rehab”: Earthier than Corinne Bailey Rae, funkier than Joss Stone, sassier than Lily Allen, this highly touted Jewish U.K. newcomer, winner of a 2007 Brit Award as Best Female Solo Artist, comes off more like a salacious Nina Simone with the langorous sensuality of Billie Holiday. Gotta love any song that begins, “They tried to make me go to rehab, I said, no, no, no,” which could well be a modern anthem for the TMZ.com/Perez Hilton generation. She’s no mere one-hit wonder, though, with something that catches on virtually every track of her just-released Universal Republic debut, Back to Black, which debuted at #1 on the other side of the Pond. Already exceeding sales expectations in its first week, the album puts her on the short list of Best New Artist hopefuls for next year’s Grammys. And based on her cheeky interviews, she’s no mere pre-programmed pop puppet, but someone not afraid to speak out, consequences be damned, which is more than welcome in today’s way-too-politically correct pop music world.

4. Loudon Wainwright w/Joe Henry, Strange Weirdos: Music From and Inspired by Knocked Up (Concord): The soundtrack to Judd Apatow’s upcoming comedy Knocked Up, the writer/director’s follow-up to his mega-smash The 40-Year-Old Virgin, plays like the best Loudon Wainwright album in 15 years, and his first with a band in nearly that long. Apatow, a fan from his own teenage years, hand-picked the quirky tunesmith to write songs for the new movie, many of which became the basis for the score with the help of collaborator Joe Henry and such guest musicians as legendary U.K. guitarist Richard Thompson and Brian Wilson cohort Van Dyke Parks. Sardonic originals like the title track, about a mismatched couple trying to get along, the mock elegiac “Valley Morning,” the thick-as-smog “Grey in L.A.” and the tongue-in-cheek midlife crisis angst of “Doin’ the Math” make this an unmistakable album from the guy who turned a “dead skunk in the middle of the road” into a hit single. Criminally underrated, Wainwright stakes his claim here, as his sidekick Henry insists, to be included in the pantheon of quirky, successful singer/ songwriters such as Randy Newman and Tom Waits. Given a chance to stray from his ordinarily autobiographical bent, Wainwright sounds positively energized by taking the focus off his self to create songs from and for an outside narrative.

5. Lazydork.com: Dubbing itself “the definitive Internet movie drinking game site,” this ambitious online destination takes the concept to new heights by offering a complete data base of 919 (and counting) films and suggestions for getting rip-roaring drunk while watching some of the great (and not-so-great) flicks of all time. Simply enter a title, say Pulp Fiction, actor, director or genre, and voila, a choice of at least a half-dozen conceivable drinking games. For the Tarantino classic, the list includes taking a drink (or a bong hit, for that matter) every time 1) Anyone smokes a cigarette. 2) Anyone does drugs. 3) Anyone says, “Amsterdam.” 4) Anyone drinks anything. 5) Anyone says “watch.” 6) Food is shown or mentioned. 7) Anyone shoots a gun. How about anytime someone mentions a quarter-pounder is called Le Big Mac in France?

6. Rodney Bingenheimer: There was a delicious irony in the so-called Mayor of Hollywood, Johnny Grant, awarding a coveted star on the Walk of Fame to the Mayor of Sunset Strip, the legendary KROQ d.j., talent cheerleader and inveterate rock scenester who has broken and made a fortune for any number of musical acts he’s championed without getting his just rewards, at least financially. Still, that didn’t seem to bother the still-cherubic Bingenheimer, who arrived fashionably 20 minutes late to his own ceremony in a stretch limo to tumultuous applause and popping flashbulbs from a gathering that included Henry Rollins, Blondie’s Clem Burke, the Bangles and Michael and Pamela Des Barres, among other rock luminaries. Rodney’s stepsister related the story of the family’s first trip to L.A. from NoCal and her brother’s excitement upon seeing the stars along Hollywood Boulevard, never dreaming one day he’d be immortalized alongside so many of his idols. For someone who has fulfilled his lifelong ambition of being in the presence of stardom, without necessarily looking for any of his own, it’s the ultimate recognition, and a well-deserved one at that.

7. “The Catskill Sonata” (Hayworth Theatre, 2509 Wilshire Blvd.): This serio-comedic look back at the post-blacklist ’50s was directed by Paul Mazursky and written by Michael Elias, a contributor to the Mary Tyler Moore Show and Head of the Class who penned the screenplays for such film classics as Steve Martin’s The Jerk and Gene Wilder’s The Frisco Kid. Both writer and director spent their formative years in the upstate N.Y. area famed for producing Jewish comics and tummlers amid the gorging at each meal. The play takes place at the fictional Rosen’s Mountainview Hotel, a small, family-run resort far from better-known places like the Concord and Grossinger’s, where Kip Gilman’s animated, pot-smoking, hard-drinking Jewish TV writer, on hiatus from ‘50s superstar Arthur Godfrey’s show, tries to seduce the female residents in between counseling a young would-be writer, Daryl Sabara’s earnest Irwin Shukovsky, working there for the summer. Given the backgrounds of both Mazursky and Elias, there is plenty of Jewish shpritzing, as well as self-loathing, with some lively performances by Henry Jaglom veteran Zack Norman as a Jewish businessman who threatens to sell the place to the Hasidim, and Russian actor Elya Baskin (Air Force One, Moscow Along the Hudson) as the mustached ghost of Joseph Stalin. And while the leftist, pro-Commie party politics and blacklisting seem to come from another era, there’s also a kind of autumnal nostalgia for an irretrievable past, as well as a harbinger of the counterculture revolution to come. It’s all a bit didactic and overly obvious, but sitting in the small theatre on opening night surrounded by the likes of Mel Brooks and Elliott Gould is more than enough compensation.

8. La Fonda (2501 Wilshire Blvd.): Looking for a place to eat before showtime at the Hayworth next door, my wife and I stumbled upon this restaurant, in a classic adobe on the corner of Wilshire Blvd. east of Rampart in the no man’s land between Vermont due west and the downtown skyline to the east, right out of a '40s Raymond Chandler novel. Apparently a landmark, as soon as we walk in, we’re hit with the sounds of a dozen-piece mariachi band, the famed Los Camperos de Nati Cano, all punctuated horns, completely dressed in native garb, accompanied by a pair of dancers doing a high-spirited, full stomp corrida on the miked stage. After a coupla margaritas that go down real smooth, some chips and guacamole, and sharing a pair of reasonably tasty tacos con carne asada and pollo, we find ourselves in the middle of a full-on concert, surrounded by tables of patrons celebrating special occasions like birthdays and anniversaries. A young woman no older than 15 is brought on-stage from the audience to belt out a few numbers and, all of a sudden, the stage is cleared, as is the dining room, for the next round of diners and another performance. The bill comes to less than $40, money well spent indeed. Only in L.A., folks.

9. Jo De La Rosa: Even though the current season of Bravo’s guilty pleasure The Real Housewives of Orange County just came to a close, our favorite spoiled brat continues to pursue a music career, managed by her sleazy now ex-boyfriend Slade and mentored by none other than rapper/producer Won G, someone everyone in the biz knows, but nobody has any idea what he does. It’s hilarious watching her play the star, as Slade pays for a full-on photo and recording studio session, without her being able to sing a lick… not that it matters, of course. The scene in last week’s episode where she meets her fellow housewives at Jimmy Choo’s in Beverly Hills for a shopping trip as the total charged to their credit cards is tallied on-screen is as harsh an indictment of modern-day conspicuous consumption as can be seen on TV. That said, I kind of admire the pluck of De La Rosa, who seemed to rebound reasonably well from getting broken up with—on the relationship therapist’s couch, no less—by the equally spoiled Slade. Still, she was considerably less sanguine when the dude showed up at a neighborhood barbeque with a new slut on his arm just four days later. And now that the show is over, reality can begin as Jo looks to get a record deal for what shapes up to be a must-see sequel. A&R execs, you have been forewarned.

10. Gripe of the Week: How did Jann Wenner hijack rock & roll? Since when are he and his hand-picked Rolling Stone minions who now dominate the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee the arbiters of greatness? I admit to being a disgruntled former committee member and someone who never wrote for the hallowed publication, but this is ridiculous. Everyone knows how Wenner stacks his editorial staff with the most preppy, white bread, preferably Ivy League school grads, then insists they keep their desks and offices anally clean, coming off as just another self-loathing Jew in the media who refuses to surround himself with members of the tribe who aren’t similarly assimilated. Just think of any great writers Rolling Stone has produced and none of them lasted very long with Wenner—from Cameron Crowe, Lester Bangs, Joe Eszterhas and Paul Nelson to Hunter S. Thompson, he tends to drive away any strong personalities that butt heads with him. I don’t begrudge the man his success. Like MTV, he’s managed to continually reinvent Rolling Stone, which is certainly the forerunner of any number of modern culture magazines from Vanity Fair to Entertainment Weekly, and now that his beloved boomers are desperately clinging to pop culture relevance, he’s had to do his trickiest tightrope walking yet. But his rule over the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame isn’t a good thing. It’s prevented many of his pet prejudices—progressive rock and theatrical heavy metal, from Yes, Roxy Music and Genesis to Kiss, the New York Dolls and Alice Cooper—from being inducted, while allowing pals of his and Jon Landau—like Jackson Browne and Billy Joel—a free Hall pass. I, for one, have had enough, though I did just renew my Stone subscription. —Roy Trakin

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