Sunday, April 29, 2012
A while back, perhaps almost a year ago now, I had a very interesting twitter-based conversation with fellow Tampa-based blogger Clark Brooks and legendary hip-hop artist Chuck D, frontman for the great Public Enemy.
The conversation started on a response I made to Chuck D’s tweet comparing Run-DMC to The Beatles.
According to Chuck D, Run-DMC's music and performances set public excitement to levels not seen since The Beatles. Run-DMC, like The Beatles, were new, exciting, and harbingers of a new mainstream music scene. As the rock of The Beatles was derived from earlier influences such as Elvis and Chuck Berry, and later Muddy Waters, the hip-hop of Run-DMC was derived from Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, the Sugar Hill Gang, and several other hip-hop trailblazing legends. Chuck D also tweeted to me about the attention and national spotlight given to these two groups and that there was a buzz surrounding both of them. He said Run-DMC was no doubt The Beatles of their day.
Although I didn’t really have a leg to stand on in regards to the first-hand knowledge Chuck D of Run-DMC, I told Chuck and Clark that I would lean more towards comparing The Beatles to well-known historical hip-hop act NWA, although instead of cultural excitement, I would base my comparison on musical influence and impact.
Looking at NWA and The Beatles, I like to think of Ice Cube as John Lennon. Although some might initially think Easy-E, as it was Easy who put the group together and both Easy and Lennon died at an early age, I think Ice Cube is the better comparison. Cube was the songwriter for most NWA’s earlier albums just as Lennon was one of the main song writers for The Beatles. Like Lennon, upon going solo, Ice Cube got much more political, although instead of “giving peace a chance”, Cube became one of Amerikkka’s Most Wanted.
With Ice Cube filling the Lennon role, I think it makes sense to compare Dr. Dre to Paul McCartney. Both achieved extraordinary success outside of their original groups, with McCartney in Wings and Dre in his solo ventures and with Snoop Dogg and Eminem.
Of the remaining Beatles and NWA members, I would compare Ringo Starr to MC Ren and then finally George Harrison to Easy-E. Although each of the four here had respectable careers, none could quite capture the acclaim they had when they were part of a group.
During my twitter conversation with Clark Brooks and Chuck D, I asked Chuck what classic rock group he would compare to NWA. His answer surprised me at first, but I think is definitely worth exploration. He said he would compare NWA to The Yardbirds, which I think is another great comparison, although my personal opinion is that it falls a little short.
For those who might not remember, The Yardbirds were an early to mid 1960s rock group that featured, at one point or another, three of the greatest guitar players of all time: Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, and Jeff Beck. They also at one point contained another future Led Zeppelin member in bassist John Paul Jones. Right away, we can associate MC Ren and DJ Yella of NWA with Keith Relf, Chris Dreja, and Jim McCarty of The Yardbirds – members who although they recorded outside of their most well known act, failed to make any more mainstream waves.
So that leaves Clapton, Page, and Beck and Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, and Easy-E. I think that’s the perfect order as well.
Ice Cube as Eric Clapton: Clapton left The Yardbirds in 1965 because he claimed they were losing their blues roots. Ice Cube left NWA because he claimed they weren’t paying him enough. Clapton went on to join the John Mayall Band, Cream, and Derek and the Dominoes before going solo. Ice Cube went solo, but worked with the production team from Public Enemy before putting together Da Lynch Mob and being part of the Westside Connection with Mack-10 and WC. Both Cube and Clapton were able to toe two lines in their respective genres: Cube went from black militant rap to West Coast gangsta rap and back while Clapton meandered from blues to rock and back to blues. Probably the biggest difference here is that Clapton hasn’t ventured into movies and other media as Ice Cube has, but that might be a sign of the times.
Dr. Dre as Jimmy Page: Whereas Page took the Yardbirds into a different direction by bringing aboard Robert Plant and John Bohnam and calling the group “Led Zeppelin”, Dre left NWA but like Page, started a whole other “band” in Death Row Records. Both Dr. Dre and Jimmy Page both took the torch lit by their first groups and ran further with it thanks to their new colleagues than any of their former counterparts. Page and Dr. Dre found relative unknowns in Page and Snoop Dogg, respectively, and turned them into mega-stars. Both have also been astute on the business side of their music as well, as it was Page who re-released a lot of the Led Zeppelin live concerts over the years, repackaging and remastering using the most modern technology and of course Dr. Dre has used the power of promotions from commercials to using holograms to get his music heard and seen.
Easy-E as Jeff Beck: Of the three MCs in NWA to make it as solo artists, Easy-E attained far less acclaim then his two ex-mates. The same could be said for Jeff Beck, although Beck is still with us, unlike Easy-E. Even in death, however, Easy-E is overshadowed by other deceased hip-hop legends. Although Ice Cube and Dr. Dre left NWA and Jeff Beck was fired from the Yardbirds, both artists held long-term grudges against their former group members, with Beck saying “fuck them” at the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame and Easy-E recording Dr. Dre diss songs on his 187um album. While Beck has had the chance to play with former Yardbirds Clapton and Page on numerous occasions, Easy-E was never able to perform on stage with Ice Cube and Dr. Dre, although he did meet with them on his deathbed.
(Here is the weakness in Chuck D's argument. Easy-E and Jeff Beck are not a good comparison. Jeff Beck is a Rock'N'Roll Hall of Famer and no one will ever mistake Easy-E for a great rapper. Easy-E did however discover the multi-platinum Bone-Thugs-N-Harmony. While Easy-E stayed primarily solo in his post-NWA career, Jeff Beck was in close to a dozen more groups after leaving The Yardbirds.)
While I can definitely see Chuck D’s point that NWA does have some similarities with The Yardbirds, I still think the West Coast rap legends make a more apt comparison to The Beatles.
Along the same lines, there are other hip-hop to classic rock comparisons I think are fitting:
Rakim to Jimi Hendrix: This is the old high school analogy. What Jimi is to guitar, Rakim is to hip-hop lyrics. There were guitarists before Jimi, but none blew the ears off listeners like Hendrix, none experimented with as many sounds and effects as Hendrix, and few put on a show and had a sense of timing like Hendrix. For early hip-hop fans, Rakim is the same on the lyrical tip, with a sense of timing, dexterity, and flow that few had heard before. Rakim also brought a depth and intellect to rhyming and lyricism that was unheard of in the days of party hip-hop. Today, both Hendrix and Rakim are still considered among, if not the best to ever do what they did.
Lil Wayne to Motley Crue: I like to think of Southern Rap as the Hair Metal of hip-hop. It’s flashy, cheesy, and utterly materialistic, lacking the depth and relevance of its predecessors. Since the Cash Money Clique first broke through in the late 1990s, southern hip-hop has been one of the most formulaic genres in music. For a while in the 1980s, hair metal was the same to rock’n’roll. Hair metal had the makeup, the hair spray, the spandex, and the power ballad. No band was bigger nor more hair metal than Motley Crue. Southern rap had the pimp cup, the souped-up Cadillac, the crunk juice, and the song about being in the club. And no one has epitomized Southern rap more than Lil Wayne.
Tupac Shakur to Jim Morrison: This one is almost too easy. Both Morrison and Tupac Shakur died before their time, both were poets as well as lyricists, and both had tragic wild sides. Both Tupac and Jim Morrison were misunderstood stereotypes miscast in their particular time. While Jim Morrison was on the surface a poster child for the wild bacchanalia of the 1960s, he was in spirit a well-read intellectual who studied Greek mythology and was deep into Native American culture as evident by his poetry. Tupac was also miscast into the role of thug during an era when mainstream hip-hop drifted towards West Coast gangstra rap. As many would attest, and how he himself would say, he was an artist and also well-read in the classic literature of William Shakespeare. Unfortunately for both, it was the temptations of their hedonistic ways that would lead to their early demise.
Here are a few others that I think make worthy comparisons:
Jay-Z and Bruce Springsteen
LL Cool J and Aerosmith
Wu-Tang Clan and Black Sabbath
Bob Dylan and Nas
Finally, what about Run-DMC, the hip-hop group Chuck D first discussed?
With their genre-crossing, groundbreaking, and trailblazing ways, Run-DMC, the self-proclaimed “Kings of Rock” are most like “The King” himself, Elvis Presley. Elvis took the blues and country and mashed it up with a little rock and took over the world. Run-DMC took rock and the new thing called hip-hop, mashed it up, and took the country by storm.
Rock and hip-hop are the premier music genres in America now and probably will be for generations to come. As such, there are a lot of comparisons that can be made between the artists of each, just as we can look at blues singers and jazz players and punk rock singers and metal screamers. In all types of music, there will be members of an explosive initial burst, personnel who are part of the scene when the music is either commercially accepted or rejected, and those who hold on when the music fizzles out of the public eye. So far in America, rock’n’roll and rock singers have had the longest lifespan. Although hip-hop and its MCs and DJs might never catch rock, it won’t be long until it surpasses the longevity of jazz and the blues and its artists find a secure place in the great American song book.
Tuesday, April 10, 2012
Here is another one from the binders from an Article and Essay class I took in Spring of 2002. Interesting to read where my mind was at when I was 24. Also kinda interesting to post this now, as I am on another military adventure. (Note: Some slight grammatical edits made based on the professor's comments. And I changed the names to protect the not-so-innocent.)
About once or twice a year foreign dignitaries, ambassadors, and other important people visit Fort Hood, Texas. Part of their tour of the post is a drive down Old Ironsides Road, better known as Motorpool Road. Along this road is the backside of the motor pools of every unit on Fort Hood. Each motor pool is a huge parking lot for the unit’s vehicles, be they HUMMWVs, Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles, service vehicles, or in the case of my unit, the 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, tanks.
I personally hate the motor pool. I would much rather be working in the air-conditioned office than sweating under the Texas sun in the motor pool. The motor pool is about a quarter mile from the office and I have to make the walk back and forth at least once a week to do maintenance on my vehicle, an M577 personnel carrier. There are times when I’ll spend all week at the motor pool working on the vehicle. Usually, however, my vehicle is in top shape so I am done with maintenance in a day, if not a few hours.
Whenever I walk to the motor pool I always take a peek at who is working in the guard shack. If I know someone in there I won’t hesitate to say "what’s up". Usually in the shack is Staff Sergeant Smith, the Battalion Master Driver. SSG Smith is a strange person. When in Bosnia he informed me he had a fetish for women who don’t shave. Some things I just don’t need to know.
Duty in the guard shack rotates throughout each platoon in the battalion. I’ve done my share. There is nothing quite like having to stand outside by an entrance gate in 20 degree weather for ten hours.
Walking past the guard shack I enter the main maintenance bay. This large bay is where drivers in the headquarters unit bring their vehicles to be worked on. It is also home of the Maintenance Platoon. Being that maintenance is very important to Army readiness, these guys have a lot of pull with the Headquarters Company Commander.
One of the leaders of the Maintenance Platoon is Staff Sergeant Ford. SSG Ford is the type of person who seems like he smoked out a little too often before he joined the Army. He is so laid back it is scary. And he is in charge of the fine American soldiers that make up the Maintenance Platoon.
Some of these fine Americans include Specialist McDonald, “Johnny Mac”, a guy who joined the Army in his early 30s and can’t wait to leave maintenance so he can work in pharmaceuticals; Private First Class Romeo, who specialized in impersonating the Battalion Commander; and SPC Foley, who had such a high tolerance for alcohol he could down a large bottle of Jack Daniels before going out for the night.
After finally acquiring all the maintenance paperwork I need for my vehicle, I leave the bay. My vehicle is usually on the far end of the motor pool and I have to walk past everyone else in order to get to it. Along the way I pass all four of the tank units: Alpha Company, Bravo Company, Charlie Company, and Delta Company.
Each of these tank companies has their own personality. Alpha Company, or Aces, is a very family oriented unit. They have very few single soldiers in high profile positions (office work, supplies, etc.). There is also a large country music, southern, “redneck” vibe to Aces. Many of their soldiers can be seen wearing cowboy attire in their off time.
Bravo Company, the Bulldogs, seem to take on the personality of their First Sergeant, 1SG Sheller. He is a fiery, little red headed guy and very dedicated to bringing whatever he was doing to its next level of success. His soldiers shared that dedication, consistently being one of the highest rated companies in tank-training exercises.
If the Alpha Company Aces were a mature, family, down home country group, then the Charlie Company Cobras were its exact opposite. They were mostly single soldiers and lived the life. I had many friends in Charlie Company with whom I would go out drinking. I also worked on derogatory reports and police blotters when not in the motor pool and Charlie Company’s soldiers came up quite often. Even my best friends got in trouble for drug use and going AWOL (Absent without official leave- i.e. leaving without telling anyone).
Despite their faults, the Charlie Company Cobras were good and they knew it. They often competed with Bravo Company for the best company in the battalion. Charlie Company also included the battalion commander’s personal tank, adding to the prestige of the unit. He would only ride out with the best.
Lastly, was Delta Company, the Death Dealers. Despite their imposing name, Death Dealers were possibly the weakest company. They rarely finished tank-training exercises with impressive scores. They were nice guys, just not the best tankers.
After passing the tanks on my way to my M577, I find myself in the midst of the mortar platoon’s personnel carriers. The soldiers of the mortar platoon suffer from an identity crisis. They are the only infantry soldiers in a tank unit. They act differently than everyone else as well. It is not uncommon to see two mortar platoon members wrestling each other for fun. In contrast, tankers don’t do that. They are content knowing their tank can either blow up or run over anything opposing them.
Mortar platoon members also hold themselves to a higher standard. I had the pleasure of rooming with a mortar soldier for two years. Not only did we have to keep our barracks room to our first sergeant’s high standards, but also to the even higher standards of the mortar platoon sergeant.
Finally, after walking across the entire motor pool, I arrive at my vehicle. Hopefully, nothing will go wrong when I go through this weeks maintenance checks. I’d like to get back to the office as quickly as possible. Maybe I am a spoiled office worker who can’t work without air conditioning. I still hate the motor pool.
(This post originally appeared on Bus Leagues Baseball.com)
Before I left for Afghanistan in mid-March, I drove across Florida from my home in Tampa to my parents’ home in Melbourne. Along the way, on Florida State Road 520, just outside of Cocoa, Florida, I saw the remains of what was once the home of the Florida State League’s Cocoa Astros, the spring home of the Houston Astros, and for a season, the spring home of the then-Florida Marlins. Sadly, even at 55 mph, it was apparent the Cocoa Expo Sports Complex had seen better days.
Built in 1964, the Cocoa Expo Sports Complex was designed to host baseball, soccer, and other sports on its outdoor fields; basketball, volleyball, and other indoor sports in its indoor complex; and events such as the Florida State Fair in its exhibition hall. The 40-acre complex was supposed to be the premier multi-use event center in Brevard County.
And for many years it was. Shortly after the facility opened, the Houston Astros moved from Apache Junction, Arizona to the Cocoa Expo Sports Complex for spring training and made it the new home of their Florida State League affiliate, the Cocoa Astros. In 1972, the Cocoa Astros moved to Dubuque, Iowa, then to Cedar Rapids, then came back to Cocoa in 1977, before moving throughout Florida from 1982 to 2000 and then finding their current home in the Carolina League as the Lancaster Jethawks.
In 1985, the big league Astros joined their minor league affiliate in departing the Cocoa Expo Sports Complex when they claimed the facility was “rundown” and told the City of Cocoa to pay for the renovations. After the city balked, claiming renovation had to be paid for by the Astros organization, the City of Kissimmee swooped in and lured the Astros and their minor league team an hour west.
After the Astros moved, a private ownership group bought the Cocoa Expo, put their own money into fixing it, and hosted various professional baseball-related events such as the Joe Brinkman Umpire School (1985-1998) and and an academy run by former Brevard County standout and current Major League manager Clint Hurdle. The facility also continued to host many amateur events.
On a personal note, I had a chance to play in one of the many amateur events during my final year of Little League in 1992. A few weeks after our season was over, my then-coach called to ask me if I wanted to participate in an exhibition against a team of traveling Brazilian teens. Never one to turn down the ability to play, I accepted. Although I don’t remember the final score, I remember the Brazilian team being very good and their pitcher throwing very fast, faster than most American kids my age. If I remember correctly, I went 0 for 2 with a strikeout and ground out.
A year after I played there, the Cocoa Expo Sports Complex hosted to its final professional baseball team. In 1993, the then-Florida Marlins played their first season in the Grapefruit League at the Cocoa Expo as they awaited the completion of Space Coast Stadium. Unlike the Astros however, the Marlins only used the complex for its stadium as they practiced and worked out in neighboring Viera adjacent to Space Coast Stadium on the fields of the Carl Barger Complex. Following the Marlins temporary residence, the complex still hosted amateur baseball, basketball, volleyball, and soccer tournaments, gun shows, and the state fair.
Unfortunately, time and the poor economy caught up to the Cocoa Expo Sports Complex. According to recent reports, in June 2011 the complex was foreclosed and seized by its main lender. After months of vacancy, with chains and locks and a sign announcing the foreclosure on the gates, new owners bought the complex and began $40 million dollars in repairs with the intent of making the complex a destination for amateur baseball, basketball, and volleyball teams from around the country. The new ownership attempted to open parts of the complex in March 2012 for a baseball tournament, but faced a wide array of complaints that the fields and facilities were unsafe and that the venue was “an open construction site”.
Will there ever be professional baseball at the Cocoa Expo Sports Complex again? Highly doubtful for three reasons. First and foremost, that doesn’t seem to be the intent of the new ownership. Second, while the complex might one day be suitable for college and amateur training and showcases, the main stadium needs far too many improvements to be considered a viable Florida State League destination. And third, and with Space Coast Stadium, home of the Brevard County Manatees since 1994, only 15 minutes south on I-95, I doubt there is any interest from a Minor League Baseball to place another team in the area.
Professional baseball history is also not on the side of the Cocoa Expo Sports Complex. Only once since 1941 has more than one team called Brevard County home. In 1972 the Cocoa Astros were joined by the four teams of the Florida East Coast Rookie League teams, the also-named Cocoa Astros, the Cocoa Expos, and the Melbourne Twins and Melbourne Reds. After one season, the Florida East Coast Rookie League folded and was never heard from again.
With their recent black eye and bad press, the new ownership of the Cocoa Expo Sports Complex might want to wait until the renovations are completely finished before opening the facility to the public. Until then, however, the Cocoa Expo Sports Complex will be devoid of all baseball and sit as a sad decrepit reminder of Cocoa, Florida’s minor league past.
Image acquired from ballparkreviews.com.
Friday, April 6, 2012
A few months ago, Jay Cridlin of the Tampa Bay Times Soundcheck blog wrote about the last of the mall-based chain music stores to close in the Tampa Bay area. Jay, like me, will kinda miss these once staples of mall culture. But with MP3s the format du jour, mall music stores were not sustainable. Their closure was inevitable.
However, the closure of mall music stores and their media brethren, the mall book store, is more than just a reflection of our media consumption habits. It means a massive change in how many of us experience the mall. It means the end of mall media browsing as we know it.
When I go to a mall, I don't browse for clothes, I browse for media. For years, every mall trip has meant perusing the racks and shelves of B. Daltons, FYE, Specs, Sam Goode, Walden Books, or any other of dozens of mall music and book stores. For music and book nerds like myself, they were the nirvana of impulse buys.
Where can I browse these days? No book stores, no CD stores. I guess the Apple Store is the best "browsing" spot. But who browses for electronics? I have never impulsively bought a computer or any other electronic component. So even if I were to walk into the Apple Store, I doubt I am walking out of there with anything unless I needed it.
The art of media browsing is dying. Do people really browse on Amazon or iTunes? Is Pandora the new "browsing"? Although I have never used it, my problem with Pandora is that discovery seemingly stays in niches. If I was listening to Metallica, it might take me forever to get the genre to morph into something classical. And that's if they include the Metallica S&M album in their playlist. At the music store, I could go from known metal to unknown classical in the time it took to walk down a different aisle.
Over at his blog on anthropology and economics, anthropologist Grant McCracken gives the outline for an essay (book?) on the death of "the mall" as we know it. Perhaps for some people, the mall is still a cultural destination, a place where they can browse the displays of style or hang out in the food court.
But for me, when the media stores left the mall, so did I.
Unfortunately, I still don't have a place to browse for new stuff.
And I won't even get into the fact that no one buys music for great cover art anymore.
(Disclaimer: I have written for the TBT and my articles have appeared on the TBT Soundcheck blog.)
Monday, April 2, 2012
The other day I mentioned on Facebook that I think the many people who have descended on Sanford, FL to protest the shooting of Trayvon Martin should next shift their focus to proactively protesting a huge Confederate flag that flies at the intersection of I-75 and I-4 in Tampa.
As most race-related posts tend to do, my Facebook post generated quite a few comments from friends and family. One of the responses I received mentioned the concept of "Southern Pride" as justification for the display of the Confederate flag. My response to that comment was my opinion that Southern Pride is an obnoxious ideal that clings to the past, a past that bothers or even offends many people, especially those currently regarded as "minorities".
In the last few days, my comment got me thinking about another ethnic symbol widely visible off the highways of the Tampa area. Since 2004, the Native Americans of the Seminole Tribe have proudly promoted and displayed their Hard Rock-themed casino and hotel off I-4 on the eastern end of Tampa. While white Southerners (an overwhelming majority of those who raise and support the Confederate flag) like to paint themselves as victims and cling to days before the South was home to a homogenistic American culture where everyone had equal rights and there was opportunity for blacks, Hispanics, Jews, Asians, gays, and other minority groups, the Seminole Indians have blended with today's American culture. While white Southerns announce "the South will rise again" and fly a battle flag that opposed the US flag, the Seminoles have created an entertainment complex that has made the tribe millions, if not billions, while keeping their own national flag in a display inside the casino.
The Seminoles, a tribe that was slaughtered, beaten, and forcefully removed from their homes more recently than any "Northern aggression", are not complaining about a changing world. Instead they have adapted and use the inclusive US capitalist system to take advantage of their neighbors' predilection for gambling and rock'n'roll memorabilia (which ironically also includes pieces from Lynyrd Skynryd, Molly Hatchet, and other Southern Rock groups). The Seminole Indians are not claiming they will return to power in Florida, a land they were predominant on from 1784 to 1842, instead they are working within the system while keeping their own culture alive.
Meanwhile, white Southerners, who have less to complain about than any other ethnic group, choose an attitude of protest, isolationism, and inhibiting progressiveness.
How does this make sense?
What if the roles were reversed? What if the Seminoles built a monument to their fallen dead along on I-75 and raised a giant Seminole nation flag and a Southerner built a casino on I-4 and named it the "Confederate Casino and Rock'n'Roll Hotel"? Would anyone make a stink over the flag? Would anyone go to the casino and hotel?