Artistic risk and Gene Sculatti’s Binary Theory of rock ‘n’ roll

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Usually I write something it’s pretty much over, unless I’m on the elliptical and my mind wanders, like the other day at the gym. For some reason I thought back to my Rock and Roll Hall of Fame piece from May. And then I was reflecting further on the definition of rock ‘n’ roll, and what “makes it so great.”

To recap, the RockHall, in responding to Steve Miller’s criticisms during his post-induction press conference, stated that what makes rock ‘n’ roll so great is that it can “ignite many opinions”–a characterization that I ignited as one big crock of shit.

I then took issue with Ice Cube, who said, also in his acceptance speech, that rock ‘n’ roll is neither instrument nor style of music, but “a spirit that’s been going on since the blues, jazz, bebop, soul, rock ‘n’ roll, R&B, heavy metal, punk rock, and yes, hip-hop.” I didn’t care much for this definition, either, especially since he pointedly left out country, not to mention polka.

Like I said, not many country stars are in the RockHall, with Johnny Cash the only one coming quickly to mind outside of Bill Monroe and Jimmie Rodgers-both inducted as “Early Influences.” Seymour Stein always argued for Conway Twitty, whose career began in the 1950s with the rock ‘n’ roll chart success of hits like “It’s Only Make Believe.” I’ll always remember my late, great friend Dave Nives, who held various marketing and a&r indie label gigs and correctly ascertained, after I brought him a CD by polka legend Eddie Blazonczyk, “This is real rock ‘n’ roll.”

What is real rock ‘n’ roll, then, or what we have called since the l970s, “rock”? I have little idea from looking at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees, I thought, as I realized, with deep disappointment and mounting bitterness, that I’d only been on the machine for three minutes.

Then I drifted further into considering one of the main tenets of rock ‘n’ roll criticism, which these mostly old boys likely lifted from art criticism as a whole, that the rock ‘n’ roll artist must always take risks. As in crossing the street without looking? I wondered. As in throwing a pass from the one-yard-line on first-and-goal?

This is why I was never part of that old boys club. I never wanted my favorite artists to take risks. The Beatles could do it, for sure, but who else, besides, say Kenny Rogers?

Did I just say Kenny Rogers? Yes! By risk-taking criteria, Kenny Rogers is arguably the greatest rock ‘n’ roll artist of all time! The chronology: Houston native Rogers learned guitar and fiddle and played in a rockabilly recording band, The Scholars, in high school. He also recorded solo singles and performed on American Bandstand. Dropping out of the U. of Texas, he played bass in jazz combo the Bobby Doyle Three, and played bass on country star Mickey Gilley’s 1960s single “Is It Wrong.” He joined the Kirby Stone Four vocal group, then released a few unsuccessful solo singles before joining the successful New Christy Minstrels folk group–out of which the First Edition formed.

With the First Edition, Rogers scored the No. 5 pop-psychedelic “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” hit in 1968 and others including “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town,”
“Something’s Burning” and the distinctly country-flavored “Ruben James”–the band now billed as Kenny Rogers & the First Edition. Leaving the group, he then built a superstar country music career in the late 1970s and ’80s following the Grammy and Country Music Award-winning success of his No. 1 country hit “Lucille” in 1977; when it reached No. 5 on the pop charts, it also ushered in a remarkable country-crossover career generating a pair of pop chart-toppers in “Lady,” which was written and produced by Lionel Richie, and “Islands In The Stream,” his duet with Dolly Parton that was written and produced by the Bee Gees’ Barry Gibb. He also worked with The Beatles’ George Martin and mainstream pop producer David Foster. Besides Parton–who also recorded Rogers’ “Sweet Music Man”–Rogers had hit duets with Dottie West, Kim Carnes, Sheena Easton, Carnes and James Ingram, Nickie Ryder, Ronnie Milsap, Anne Murray, Wynonna, Alison Krauss and Billy Dean, and Whitney Duncan. He’s been represented on the charts in one way or other the last six decades, while spinning off a successful acting career–most notably his series of TV movies based on his Grammy-winning 1978 hit “The Gambler.”

Really, the guy’s done everything any critic could ask for and way, way more.

But otherwise, lets look at The Ramones, for example. Sure I like the Spector-produced End of the Century as much as the next guy–that is, if the next guy likes it–and I always loved Road to Ruin‘s country-flavored “Don’t Come Close.” And don’t forget, I wrote the fist book on The Ramones (Ramones-An American Band, if I remember correct)! But really, I and you really just want to hear “Blitzkrieg Bop” and “Beat on the Brat.”

Or Elvis Costello: Sure I love the country album Almost Blue produced in Nashville by Billy Sherrill, or The Juliet Letters with the Brodsky Quartet and Painted From Memory with Burt Bacharach, or any number of other artistic excursions beyond “Alison” and “Watching the Detectives.” But I always hope that when he performs with the band in concert, he goes back heavy on his second album, This Year’s Model, his first with The Attractions, and far and away his most intense rock record.

Which brings me, circuitously-and I’m off the elliptical and back home now-to Gene Sculatti and the Binary Theory of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Gene Sculatti, truly one of rock’s great theorists, is credited by U.K. author Jon Savage, in 1966: The Year The Decade Exploded, as one of the writers for the seminal rock magaine Crawdaddy who actually began using the word ‘rock’ to describe the new mid-‘60s experimental rock forms manifest on albums like The Beatles’ Revolver and Jefferson Airplane Takes Off. But what brings us to him here is his most brilliant Binary Theory.

Right up there with gravity, relativity and evolution, the Binary Theory—and I hereby admit that I’m pretty much a layman here, in terms of understanding such scholarly rock stuff—addresses the deceptively simple elemental principle that a rock artist initially does whatever he, she or it does (roots-rock, let’s say) and becomes successful doing so. They keep doing it the first few albums and tours, and then the success wanes. So they announce with great fanfare a new direction (dance music, let’s say), and enlist the top songwriters and producers in the field—but the ensuing record stiffs. So they announce a return to form (in our example, back to roots-rock) with even more fanfare (a.k.a. hooey), either admitting to the mistake of the failed new direction or more likely, blaming the record company and/or just-fired management.

“That’s the riff, yeah,” says Sculatti, taking a moment out of deep study in his ivory tower to talk down to a relative ignoramus.

“It’s important to distinguish the binary move, though, from such things as organic progressions like The Who evolving from lean, mean mods to arena-ready pomp-rockers, or mere trend-hopping, like the Beach Boys doing a 10-minute disco version of ‘Here Comes the Night’ off of Wild Honey, or the Grateful Dead doing disco on Shakedown Street. And it’s different from polymaths like Prince or Bowie, who could slip into new and different musical togs monthly and always wear them well.

“Then there’s the Stones, who pulled the binary as a canny, if brief, career move: ‘Oh, you think you know us only as noisy young rowdies? We’ll show you!’ Hence ‘As Tears Go By,’ ‘Lady Jane,’ maybe even ‘Play with Fire.’ And Elton, who starts as an earnest Band follower, all Americana’d up–but eventually realizes what a cul-de-sac that is and lightens up into the pop guy he really always wa,s i.e. ‘Crocodile Rock,’ ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart,’ ‘Island Girl.’”

But “the real blatant binary cats are Kiss,” contends Sculatti, “who snag their biggest hit ever by momentarily abandoning bludgeon-rock for the reflective ‘Beth,’ and Alice Cooper. He starts out as a good solid rocker, gains some rep emphasizing the horror-show bit, but then–I’m almost sure pointed in this direction by management, who knew that songs about nightmares and dead babies wouldn’t get him into the Top 40–suddenly makes a complete U-turn and starts doing, and succeeding with, housewife-friendly ballads like ‘Only Women Bleed’ and ‘I Never Cry.’ I’m pretty sure I remember an interview with him later when he’d semi-retired and was doing the golf bit with Groucho: He said he could never go back to doing the immature shock-rock he’d become known for. Then, lo and behold, a few years later–and continuing well into the present day–he’s out there with the guillotine and all, right back where he started from.”

Sculatti kindly recaps.

“The binary is most often done by the act that dead-ends with whatever it first came to prominence with, so someone decides an about-face is the only rational move. Maybe it’s like Eno’s ‘oblique strategies’: Stuck for inspiration in the studio? Leave, go outside and stand on your head for 10 minutes or play hopscotch with the neighborhood kids–just do something different and your muse will return!”

Meanwhile, Sculatti, who’s also written for Rolling Stone, The Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Creem, Billboard, Mojo and other publications while authoring books including The Catalog of Cool, San Francisco Nights: The Psychedelic Music Trip, Too Cool and the Kindle book Dark Stars and Anti-Matter: 40 Years of Loving, Leaving and Making Up with the Music of the Grateful Dead, is issuing Tryin’ to Tell a Stranger ’bout Rock and Roll: Selected Writings 1966-2016, in both paperback and Kindle editions on Sept 21. The book collects more than 60 pieces from his prolific career. He’s also a featured participant in the just-released documentary Ticket to Write: The Golden Age of Rock Music Journalism.

5/22/2012 Eddie Blazonczyk: An appreciation

[Having reposted by Steve Popovich tribute from now defunct examiner.com, here’s a few Eddie Blazonczyk tributes, also from examiner.com. Eddie B. was a true giant, in every way.]

There was no one like him.

Eddie Blazonczyk. Big, personable, and with a voice so robust and warm it put a smile on your face as your feet started a-hoppin’.

Polka isn’t called “that happy, snappy music,” for nothing, and Eddie Blazonczyk sure made people happy.

“I have pictures of Ryan at 18 months with Eddie,” recalls Dee Dee Ogrodny, who was in Pennsylvania’s Grammy-nominated polka band Henny & the Versa J’s when her son Ryan, then the group’s seven-year-old featured violinist/vocalist, recorded “If I Could Be Like You Polka” with his idol.

“We wrote it in the living room on the floor,” she continues. “Ryan would bounce up and down in his playpen and jumper chair and sing Eddie B. songs!”

“If I could be like you I’d sing this song,” the young Ryan sang, “to make the people happy all day long/‘Cause those who play bring out such joy in me/My one great dream to be like Eddie B.”

Eddie Blazonczyk, known far and wide as Eddie B. and the king of Chicago’s Polish “push” polka style, died yesterday of natural causes. He was 70 and had retired after suffering a stroke in 2001, though his son Eddie Blazonczyk Jr. had kept his band, The Versatones, going until last December.

None other than Jimmy Sturr, who dominated the polka Grammy category, called him an icon.

“Everyone wanted to have a band like Eddie’s,” he told The Chicago Tribune’s arts critic Howard Reich. “But as much as everybody would have liked to have a band like The Versatones, nobody reached that pinnacle. Not only because of the musicianship in his bands, but because he had such a great voice. He was probably the best voice ever in polka music.”

Lenny Gomulka was a long-time member of The Versatones before striking out on his own as leader of the Chicago Push polka band.

“I traveled with Eddie throughout the country back in the day when we did 180 performances per year,” he says. “We co-wrote songs together and spent thousands of hours in the studio inventing new sounds and styles. He was always a perfect gentleman and tremendous talent: With his good nature and wonderful sense of humor, he made the polka world a much better place.”

As Blazonczyk Jr. told The Trib, his father was “a one-man music mogul” since the 1960s. He absorbed the full range of polka bands and styles at taverns and ballrooms on Chicago’s Southwest Side, then became a recording rock ‘n’ roller as Eddie Bell, touring with the likes of Buddy Holly, Gene Vincent and Brenda Lee before joining The Versatones in 1962; with his band The Bell-Aires, he had a hit with “The Masked Man (Hi Yo Silver)” and appeared on American Bandstand.

With The Versatones, Blazonczyk perfected the intensely dance-rhythmic Polish “Chicago push” polka style, his classic six-piece band format (bass, drums, accordion, concertina, trumpet, clarinet) blending traditional polka music with rock ‘n’ roll, country-and-western, Cajun and Tex-Mex forms in modernizing the genre. His and his band’s 55-plus albums included the 1986 Grammy-winning Another Polka Celebration; his many other awards incuded a National Heritage Fellowship Award (presented by First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton in 1998), and his induction into the International Polka Association Polka Music Hall of Fame.

“Music I, too, love to sing and play,” he sang back to Ogrodny in “If I Could Be Like You,” “and helping you to make the people smile/Is something that makes my job so worthwhile.”

One of his most remarkable concerts had to be a 1998 set at Central Park SummerStage.

“We were asked by an Eddie B. fan to add polka to our already diverse musical roster,” says Bill Bragin, who booked SummerStage then and now oversees Lincoln Center’s Midsummer Night Swing and Lincoln Center Out of Doors summer series.

“It took some convincing, because of our preconceptions about the limits of the audience it would appeal to,” Bragin continues. “When the day finally came, sharing a bill with zydeco master Geno Delafose, we were impressed by the broad appeal of Eddie B.’s upbeat, joyous music. My most profound memory is mid-set, when Cleveland International record impresario Steve Popovich pulled a $100 bill out of his wallet and announced, ‘Let’s call a dance contest!’ A young Polish-American man and women fought hard, but only took second place–edged out by a lesbian couple who had taken their first polka lesson earlier that afternoon!”

Blazonczyk & The Versatones were “as avant-garde, subversive and punk rock as anything I’ve ever seen at SummerStage,” Bragin adds. “And [Blazonczyk crowd favorite] ‘The Happy Tappy’ has been in regular rotation in my personal musical collection ever since.”

Blazonczyk was also a music publisher and producer, radio broadcaster and record label owner—and role model for other artists.

“Eddie was such a great inspiration and mentor and friend for me,” says grownup Ryan Ogrodny, who now goes by the easier-to-spell Ryan Joseph in his new role as Alan Jackson’s fiddler. “About a year ago I spent a day in Chicago with Eddie. It was wonderful and something I will always cherish.”

For Grammy-winning polka/rock band Brave Combo, Blazoncyzk’s acceptance “meant everything to us—as far as the polka world is concerned,” says bandleader Carl Finch.

“I remember playing on stage in Chicago at Fitzgerald’s night club in the early 1980s and seeing a group of large men take over all the stools at the bar,” says Finch. “One of them was obviously Eddie and the more we played, the more he smiled and clapped. This was like hitting a grand slam: The polka king of Chicago was giving his approval!”

Blazonczyk invited the band to his store/recording studio/record company headquarters.

“That was one of many visits over the years,” says Finch. “One particular event stands out, though. He booked us to play his annual polka Fourth of July blow-out, Polka Fireworks, at the Seven Springs Resort in the mountains of Western Pennsylvania. Just before we took the stage to perform for a curious packed house–which was 90 percent Polish polka purist–Eddie introduced us, defending our style and asking the audience to welcome us and, basically, open their ears. And that’s just what they did.”

It was a very important moment for the band in being “accepted into the polka fold,” says Finch, “where we’ve been allowed to remain. But beyond all of my personal memories of Eddie Blazonczyk, his contributions to polka music are indisputable: great songs, great arrangements, great production and, of course, his perfect, one-of-a-kind voice. Above all, I am just happy to have had the opportunity to hear Eddie B. do his thing. And, man, it was a powerful thing.”

Indeed, Eddie Blazonczyk (pronounced Blah-ZON-chick) was every inch the “Polka Hero” of one of his most famous songs.

“I always say that he ‘evolutionized’ the music,” Blazonczyk Jr. said, noting how his father had taken polka beyond its traditional style of older-generation songs like “Roll Out The Barrel.” “Before him, polka music carried such a stigma.”

Also in The Tribune’s obit, Sturr likewise observed how people who don’t know about polka music—or know only the stereotypes—look down on it.

“Eddie tried to break that barrier,” Sturr said. “And he did break that barrier, because a lot of people followed that band.”

Perhaps Blazonczyk put it best, himself, via the lyrics of “If I Could Be Like You.”

“It seems to me you got a real good start,” he sang to the young Ryan Ogrodny. “’Cause pleasing people comes right from your heart.”

Singing from the heart–Eddie Blazonczyk’s big heart–is exactly what he did.

[The Examiner wrote liner notes on Cleveland International’s Polkatime: 20 Of The Best from Eddie Blazoncyk & The Versatones CD, and was a judge at the polka dance contest held during The Versatones’ Central Park SummerStage show.]

12/29/2011 Eddie Blazonczyk’s Versatones: An appreciation

Polka music’s venerable band Eddie Blazonczyk’s Versatones chose to go out in good company.

“Oprah…retiring. Regis Philbin…retiring,” Chicago’s long-reigning top polka band noted amusingly in announcing its own retirement on its Web site earlier this year. And after Saturday night’s New Year’s Eve show at the Glendora House ballroom in Chicago Ridge, one of America’s most celebrated and beloved polka bands, who certainly deserve to be included alongside the admittedly better-known Winfrey and Philbin, will be no more.

Eddie Blazonczyk’s Versatones recorded their first album, Polka Parade, in 1963 on the Bel-Aire record label. They were led by Eddie Blazonczyk, Sr., the son of immigrants from the rural Tatra Mountain region of southern Poland, whose parents performed gorale mountaineer music and dance.

As a youngster, Blazonczyk (pronounced blah-ZON-chick) was exposed to some of the most influential polka musicians of the day, including Lil’ Wally, Steve Adamczyk, Eddie Zima, Marion Lush and America’s Polka King Frank Yankovic. Before embracing polka as a performer, he recorded rockabilly and rock ‘n’ roll as Eddy Bell with some regional success and toured with the likes of Buddy Holly and Brenda Lee–and performed his hit single “Hi-Yo Silver” on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand.

When he did go polka, though, he went all the way. He and his Versatones played some 160 dates at polka bastions in the U.S., Canada, France, Austria, Mexico and Poland. A purveyor of the intensely dance-rhythmic Polish “Chicago push” polka style, his classic six-piece band format (bass, drums, accordion, concertina, trumpet, clarinet) blended traditional polka music with rock ‘n’ roll, country-and-western, Cajun and Tex-Mex forms in modernizing polka. Its 55-plus albums included the 1986 Grammy-winning Another Polka Celebration.

Blazonczyk’s many other awards incuded a National Heritage Fellowship Award (presented by First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton in 1998), and his induction into the International Polka Association Polka Music Hall of Fame. In 1997, his son Eddie Blazonczyk, Jr. took over the operations of The Versatones, and in 2002, Eddie Blazonczyk, Sr. pretty much retired from the band due to health reasons, with his son carrying on until now.

“I spent countless hours with Eddie, Sr., in the recording studio and on the road,” recalls Lenny Gomulka, a longtime clarinet player with the Versatones before forming his own celebrated polka band, The Chicago Push.

“Eddie was a friend to many of us musicians,” Gomulka continues. “He captured the hearts of friends and fans and always stayed a gentleman. I have too many nice memories to mention and much too many funny stories to tell.”

But Gomulka does want to emphasize “my respect and admiration for Eddie, Sr., as a fellow musician and longtime musical and personal friend. We go back nearly 50 years. Eddie was a driving force on the polka scene, especially when polka music was much more widespread. Congratulations, Junior, for hanging on another 10 years after Senior’s retirement and for keeping the torch lit. Congratulations, God’s blessings and Sto lat [100 years] to the Blazonczyk family. I expect to see The Versatones back in a few years, good Lord willing.”

One of Eddie Blazonczyk’s Versatones’ most memorable performances had to be their 1998 appearance in New York at Central Park SummerStage. At the time, the late Steve Popovich was releasing Versatones albums on his Cleveland International label.

“He’s got a magical personality that comes through in his music and can attract anybody,” Popovich told Billboard before the event, which he supported with an on-site polka dance contest. Noted Blazonczyk, Jr., “We’re trying to get people past the ‘polka’ stigma, that it’s all just ‘She’s Too Fat For Me’ or ‘Beer Barrel Polka’ when it’s really happy, snappy music that gives you a better life. If we can only get people in the door we can convert them, so we’re very excited about playing Central Park!”

Sure enough, they made a major convert at the park.

“This is real rock ‘n’ roll!” declared the late Dave Nives, a music business veteran in sales, marketing and a&r, and like Popovich, one of the last of the great record men.

[The Examiner wrote liner notes on Cleveland International’s Polkatime: 20 Of The Best from Eddie Blazoncyk & The Versatones CD, and was a judge at the polka dance contest held during The Versatones’ Central Park SummerStage show.]

5/24/2012 Who stole the kishka? The confession of Eddie Blazonczyk

Now it can be told: Eddie Blazonczyk stole a pizza! And maybe the kishka, too.

Actually, “Who Stole The Kishka,” as all polka fans know, is the much-recorded polka standard having to do with the grievous theft of a kishka, or Polish sausage. Written by Blazonczyk’s fellow Polka Hall of Famer Walter Solek (who also had a hit, incidentally, with “Pierogi Polka”), the tune was memorably recorded by polka king Frankie Yankovic in 1963.

The legendary Chicago Polish “push” polka star Blazonczyk, who died Monday, was the chief person of interest in an incident that took place in the 1990s at one of his annual Fourth of July Polka Fireworks weekends at Seven Springs Resort in Champion, Pa.

Wanted posters mounted throughout the hotel ballrooms and hallways asked, “Who stole the kishka?”, with the drawing of a shady suspect that did in fact resemble Blazonczyk, a.k.a. Eddie B., printed beneath the question. There was also an investigative reporter, with a camera crew, interviewing people at the crime scene of what has now long been a cold case.

One of them was Kathy Blazonczyk, Eddie’s daughter, known to polka fans everywhere by her alias, Kathy B.

“Did your father ever steal anything before?” the relentless reporter asked. Clearly buckling under the withering interrogation, Kathy B. softly conceded, “He once stole a pizza.”

Years later, confronted with his own daughter’s incriminating testimony, Eddie B. confessed. Fittingly, it was at a Pulaski Day black-tie dinner at New York’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel ballroom, where Eddie Blazonczyk’s Versatones were about to play a short set of Polish songs.

Let the record show that Blazonczyk made no attempt to deny his dark secret; indeed, if not relieved to finally make peace with himself, he most certainly was more than amused, as he broke into a hearty belly laugh—and as all Eddie B. fans know, he did have a belly.

They were at a hotel one night, he recounted, and there was an unexpected knock on the door. It was a pizza delivery man with a pizza for another guest.

It remains unknown to this day, but one only hopes that the guest who had ordered the infamous pizza did not go hungry that night.

Presumably, the statute of limitations for the misdeed at the time of Blazonczyk’s confession had long since expired.

[The Examiner wrote liner notes on Cleveland International’s Polkatime: 20 Of The Best from Eddie Blazoncyk & The Versatones CD, and was a judge at the polka dance contest held during The Versatones’ Central Park SummerStage show.]

Scrubby Seweryniak: An appreciation

One of the greatest bands in my purview, Brave Combo, also has one of the most accurate names. Brave because they’re a Texas (Denton) rock band that focuses primarily on polka, and is so good at it that it won a Grammy—when there was a Grammy polka category—and it’s leader Carl Finch was just inducted into the International Polka Association Hall of Fame.

I contacted Carl after finally opening my Les Blank: Always for Pleasure five-DVD box set of the late Les’s great music and culture documentaries, which was released by Criterion Collection in 2014 and includes his wonderful award-winning 51-minute 1984 docu In Heaven There is No Beer?, an examination of the high-spirited polka subculture featuring polka greats including Jimmy Sturr, Eddie Blazonczyk and Walt Solek. Watching it inevitably set me off on watching YouTube vids of my late pal Eddie B, then discovering, to my dismay, that Dave “Scrubby” Seweryniak of legendary Dynatones polka band fame had died on July 22 at 68.

“Yeah, Scrubby’s gone,” said Carl—one of the few people I can talk polka with. “If I had to boil down Brave Combo’s major influences to, say, five or six musicians or bands, Scrubby would be on that list, right there with the likes of [conjunto accordion great] Esteban “Steve” Jordan. We learned so much from him and his Buffalo-based polka upstarts, The Dynatones. He and his band made the polka funkier and gave it a new edge. The Dynatones amazing rhythm section combined with Scrubby’s voice and charisma created a polka shock wave in the 1970s and ’80s. That special sound is beautifully demonstrated by their recording of the Polish classic, ‘Zosia,’ from their Live Wire album. The first time I saw The Dynatones perform live, at Polkabration in New London, Conn., was as good as the first time I saw Led Zeppelin.”

Kinda reminds me of the time I gave up backstage passes at the Dane County Coliseum in Madison for Bruce Springsteen in 1980, I think it was, and drove to Milwaukee to see Slim Whitman. The power move.

“I often bugged Scrubby about doing some recording with us,” Carl continued. “So sorry we never got around to it. He was a very cool, gracious guy. I always thought his story would make a good movie, if the power of the music could actually be captured. Maybe it would be too esoteric for the average person, but there’s got to be a great story there.”

No shit.

“Larry Trojak, The Dynatones drummer, was a left-wing vegetarian, like me. With Scrubby being openly gay, that’s an odd pair for an American-Polish Catholic outfit. Also, do you remember the time we played Midsummer Night’s Swing and we had a Polish accordionist join us? That was Al Piatkowski, who was The Dynatone’s accordionist. That band was full of big-ass talent!”

Big-ass talent, indeed! And yes, Carl, of course I remember! How could anyone forget?

A warm Rock and Roll Hall of Fame salute to Steve Miller and Paul Stanley

New inductee Steve Miller did us all a big service Friday night at The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame when he criticized the organization for neglecting female rockers during his acceptance speech, revealed its mistreatment of inductees during his press conference, then lambasted the publicist for trying to cut him off.

As for his first complaint, I always like thinking I was kicked off the Hall of Fame Nominating Committee years ago because I always spoke out in favor of Lesley Gore, Nancy Sinatra, Joan Jett and the Shangri-Las—not to mention males like The Turtles and The Hollies (Jett and The Hollies have since gone in), even though the form letter giving me the boot (along with a number of others) claimed that they wanted people who were more knowledgeable about 1970s rock—no matter that I’d written the first book on The Ramones.

So good on you there, Steve. Then again, as I’m from Madison, Wisconsin, I know how you inspired my homegirl Tracy Nelson’s signature song “Down So Low”–even if you did break her heart.

As for the RockHall’s treatment of inductees, he slagged the entire induction process backstage, in press accounts accusing the organization of disrespecting “the artists they say they’re honoring, which they don’t.” Here he specified licensing agreements between the show and inductees, and how they only gave him tickets for him and his wife while making his band and their wives fork over $10,000 per.

What I loved most, though, was how when the event’s publicist tried to stifle him, he stood his ground-—and then some: “No, we’re not going to wrap this up–I’m going to wrap you up,” he said. “You go sit down over there and learn something.”

What I’ve always hated about these award shows, or for that matter any major media extravaganza, is the way that media is herded and controlled (see Donald Trump media pens) like sheep—even if most of the time we are. Of course he wasn’t so much sticking up for the press and against big-event publicists as he was for himself and fellow RockHall inductees, but even an indirect slap at media manipulation, even among the most manipulatable, is to be applauded.

“This is how close this whole show came to not happening because of the way the artists are being treated,” he said, holding up two fingers very close together. And then he did wrap it up and walk off.

The RockHall tried to act diplomatic afterwards via a statement: “Rock ‘n’ roll can ignite many opinions,” it said. “It’s what makes it so great.”

Now there’s one big crock of shit statement! It’s the music that makes it so great, and it’s the many opinions that makes the The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame so despised! In fact, it’s those opinions—a good many if not most of them stupid—that makes defining rock ‘n’ roll apparently impossible! Another new inductee, N.W.A.’s Ice Cube, makes my point.

“The question is, ‘Are we rock ‘n’ roll?'” Cube said in an acceptance speech in which he proclaimed that N.W.A. and hip-hop belong there next to the Beatles, Elvis and Chuck Berry, “and I say–you goddamn right we rock ‘n’ roll.” His explanation? “Rock ‘n’ roll is not an instrument. It’s not even a style of music. It’s a spirit that’s been going on since the blues, jazz, bebop, soul, rock ‘n’ roll, R&B, heavy metal, punk rock, and yes, hip-hop.”

You may have noted, as I most certainly did, that he left out country. Not many country stars are in the RockHall, with Johnny Cash the only one coming quickly to mind outside of Bill Monroe and Jimmie Rodgers—both inducted as “Early Influences.” Seymour Stein always argued for Conway Twitty, whose career began in the 1950s with the rock ‘n’ roll chart success of hits like “It’s Only Make Believe.” I’ll always remember my late, great friend Dave Nives, who held various marketing and a&r indie label gigs and correctly ascertained, after I brought him a CD by polka legend Eddie Blazonczyk, “This is real rock ‘n’ roll.”

Ice Cube didn’t say “polka,” either. But he—and N.W.A. mate MC Ren—got into a tiff with 2014 inductee Gene Simmons over the very point at hand.

KISS’s Simmons had told Rolling Stone that he was “looking forward to the death of rap,” that rappers didn’t belong in the Hall of Fame because they didn’t play guitar or sing—much as Phil Spector once told me that “rap music” is actually an oxymoron. In The New York Times shortly before his induction, Cube said he respected Simmons, “but I think he’s wrong on this, because rock ’n’ roll is not an instrument and it’s not singing. Rock ’n’ roll is a spirit. N.W.A is probably more rock ’n’ roll than a lot of the people that he thinks belong there over hip-hop. We had the same spirit as punk rock, the same as the blues.”

Here he invoked the “spirit” characterization of rock ‘n’ roll, that once again, takes precedence over the music itself. He added in his induction remarks that “rock ‘n’ roll is not even a style of music,” with Ren answering Simmons directly: “Hip-Hop is here forever. Get used to it.”

Never the type to suffer in silence, Simmons tweeted Saturday: “Respectfully, let me know when Jimi Hendrix gets into the Hip-Hop Hall of Fame. Then you’ll have a point.” The next day Cube retorted, also via tweet, “Who stole the soul? Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Chubby Checker help invent rock & roll. We invent it. Y’all reprint it.”

Simmons’ final reply: “Cube, I stand by my words. [I] respect N.W.A, but when Led Zep gets into Rap Hall of Fame, I will agree with your point.”

Rolling Stone, covering the exchange Monday, quoted from a 2014 Simmons interview with Radio.com: “A few people decide what’s in and what’s not. And the masses just scratch their heads. You’ve got Grandmaster Flash in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Run-D.M.C. in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? You’re killing me. That doesn’t mean those aren’t good artists. But they don’t play guitar. They sample and they talk. Not even sing.”

But KISS and N.W.A. did have one thing in common, in addition to the capital letters. Neither band performed at their induction. As Cube told the Times (and echoed Miller), “we really didn’t feel like we were supported [by the RockHall] enough to do the best show we could put on.” In fact, the members of N.W.A. actually cut out early without taking questions.

KISS had long been shunned by the RockHal nomcomm, and by the time they finally were inducted, also chose not to perform, due to dissension among band members. This was hardly unusual: Paul McCartney didn’t even show when the Beatles were inducted in 1988, proclaiming that “after 20 years, the Beatles still have some business differences, which I had hoped would have been settled by now. Unfortunately, they haven’t been, so I would feel like a complete hypocrite waving and smiling with them at a fake reunion.” And none of the Sex Pistols were present in 2006 when they were inducted, Johny Rotten, contending in a handwritten letter that the RockHall was “a piss stain” and noting that the band would have to pay $25,000 to sit at a main table. And even at last week’s ceremony, inductee Chicago’s Peter Cetera didn’t show, and Cheap Trick’s Bun E. Carlos, who did attend and perform, complained on Facebook after how the other three originals had forced him out of the band.

“The spirit of rock ‘n’ roll means you follow your own path regardless of the critics and your peers,” Paul Stanley had said in his KISS acceptance speech, ironically presaging Cube’s speech Friday night: “Rock ’n’ roll is not conforming to the people who came before you, but creating your own path in music and in life. That is rock ’n’ roll, and that is us.”

Stanley also observed that KISS had stuck to its path for 40 years.

“Here we are tonight basically being inducted for the same things that we were kept out for,” he noted, and nodded to the fans. “Let’s not forget that these people make it all possible. We just benefit from it.”

I was reminded how, many years ago, I interviewed Paul for a Billboard KISS special, and told him that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was irrelevant without KISS.

“You know, we have our own Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,” he said. “It’s in the record store bins.”

And really, what’s in the bins is what makes rock ‘n’ roll so great.