On the Lists
The phenomenon of "list writing," where publications/Web sites rank most anything in order to stir discussion, is running rampant in journalism right now, and music writers and editors seem particularly prone. Thing is, it's easy, people like to read them and, even better, complain about them. Last week, we told you about the conservative rag National Review and its compilation of the "50 Greatest Conservative Rock Songs," where reporter John J. Miller chose tunes that he interpreted to be in line with "conservative values" (or at least values that conservatives like to claim as exclusively their own). The list set off wild chatter on both leftist and music blogs, leading Miller to go back to the well with 50 more alleged righty anthems. Our favorite moment is when Miller shows his credence as a music critic by calling Jesus Rock group P.O.D., a "super-hip band." Two other lists in the past week also have music fans that sit in front of their computers all day abuzz. A list of the "100 Best Living Songwriters" from Paste magazine was leaked recently. The list is extra friendly to the artists the magazine has championed over the years (Cincinnati's Over the Rhine comes in at No. 74), but it's hard to argue with choices like Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen (who make up the Top 3).
One of Rock & Roll's most dubious and enduring pieces of mythology got another slice of "evidence" on June 2, when Vince Welnick died from an apparent suicide, reports say. The 55-year-old Welnick, who had played with The Tubes and Todd Rundgren, was more recently known as the last keyboardist in the Grateful Dead. Students of Rock lore will know that the keyboard chair in the Dead is a seemingly doomed position -- Welnick is now the fourth Dead keys-man to die before their time, leading some to allege a "Dead keyboardist curse." Ron "Pigpen" McKernan died in 1973 of liver disease, Keith Godchaux died in a car wreck in 1980 and Brent Mydland died of a drug overdose in 1990. In a profile of Welnick in 1993 written by Paul Liberatore, Welnick recalled getting the call from Bob Weir about his new job -- "He told me, 'You're next up. Is your life insurance paid up?" If you know Bruce Hornsby, tell him to proceed with caution. Hornsby also played keys with the Dead in the early '90s. Though his obvious pact with the devil (I mean, how else do you explain the popularity of "The Way It Is" in the '80s?) might offer some protection.
Clear Channel Not Pro-Choice?
The music industry's PR nightmare of the past few years continues with the recent announcement of lawsuits aimed at Clear Channel. Following accusations of widespread payola between labels and radio stations (and don't forget the ongoing "sue the customers" tactics used to try to stop illegal downloading), suits against Clear Channel Communications Inc. reportedly accuse the radio behemoth of limiting airplay for artists not using Clear Channel's own concert venues and promoters, allowing the company to (allegedly) charge as much as they want for concert tickets due to lack of competition. Clear Channel spun off its concert promotion arm, now calling it Live Nation, after the U.S. Justice Department launched an investigation into such claims (the gov backed off after the split). The suits -- including one reportedly filed by a Cincinnati man -- claim that Clear Channel and Live Nation are still operated by the same people.