Fatal Flaws of Socialism

  • By Gitabushi

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you probably reject Socialism.  You know it doesn’t work, you know it has never worked everywhere it’s been tried, and you know that as soon as it fails, it is deemed “Not *real* Socialism” so the True Believers can retain their dreams of a successful implementation, someday, somewhere.

But because we know Socialism doesn’t work, we often take it as an axiom, and we don’t look deeper.  However, in the marketplace of ideas, we must constantly hone and refine our ideas. We must put these ideas out there for the unconvinced and unpersuaded to see and evaluate.  If we never argue against Socialism, we increase the chance that a younger generation will fall sway to its siren call.

construction destruction power steel
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Here, then, are some of the arguments I’ve seen for Socialism, and my debunking response.

Selfishness:

Under quasi-Free Market Capitalism (or the Current System, to whatever degree of Free Market Capitalism we have), the rich are encouraged and allowed to be selfish, rather than sharing their wealth with the poor.

Response:

Accepting for the sake of argument that rich people are motivated by selfishness to use their skills to exploit others, adopting a Socialist system doesn’t change human nature. Selfish people with ability will figure out what it takes to be promoted to positions of power within the Socialist government structure and use their position to ensure they get the best food, best clothes, best living spaces, etc.

This plays out a number of different ways.

  1. Socialist leaders must be compensated better than average, or else they might be susceptible to bribery.
  2. When everyone is equal, the Socialist leaders would be swamped with petitions unless there is some method of gatekeeping, which often takes the form of “gifts”, i.e., bribes
  3. Playing games with “equal”. If everyone gets a pound of meat, the Socialist leaders get the pound of filet mignon, the peasants get a pound of Spam.  If everyone gets 2000 sq ft of living space, the Socialist leaders will get the Manhattan penthouse, the peasants will get an unheated hovel in Alaska, or an un-cooled tenement in Houston, Texas

Democratic Socialism:

The argument is that Socialism has always failed because it was authoritarian socialism, imposed by force.  Democratic Socialism will come into being via Democracy, and being voluntary, will actually work.

Response:

Has there ever been anything in the history of the US that has had 100% agreement?  One representative (from Montana, alas) voted against declaring war for the US entry into WWII.

Some people are always contrary. Some people will choose to go against the tide *because* it is against the tide.

Socialism is based on the principle, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”  There are no exceptions allowed.  Socialism requires *everyone* to be on board to work.

And universality really is a foundational concept for Socialism.  If people could opt out of the supplying part, well, what stops people from giving according to their ability now?  Is there some magic spell that makes people more generous if the society adopts formal Socialism?  So why would you even need to vote it into place?  If Socialism is a great idea, convince people ot give up their wealth now, voluntarily, in a charity system.  Make virtual Socialism.

If you can’t, then you can’t make it work in a government, either, without force.

Nepotism:

Socialists complain that the wealth gets locked up in a rich class, where the parents pass on wealth to their children, who use that wealth to maintain their position, locking out the poor. They own the houses that the poor must rent, they own the businesses and factories where the poor work, and they can skim off the top without working.

Response:

Again, human nature doesn’t change.  One of the main motivations for people to work is to give their children advantages. In a Socialist system, there may not be wealth to pass on to children, but the children of the Socialist leaders will go to the best schools, where the best teachers are assigned. The children of the Socialist leaders will have the best opportunities to excel in competitions and events. The competitions and contests may even be adjudicated in favor of the children of Socialist leaders (to curry favor). But as sure as the sun rises, there will be a class system where the children of Socialist leaders do not have to work in factories or in the fields, but the children of factory and field workers will have no chance to enter the Socialist leadership.  It will be systematic nepotism, rather than the conditional nepotism of our quasi-Free Market Capitalism system. There is some economic mobility in our current system.  Less than a few decades ago, but the Elite Coastal Democrat class has gotten itself more entrenched since the boom of the 50s and 60s has faded.

Equality/Fairness:

Under Socialism, everyone will be equal, and everything will be fair.  We’ll get Socialism when we achieve a post-scarcity society, like when almost all occupations are filled by robots and AI software.

Response:

Humans will never be equal, and things will never be fair to satisfy everyone. Human nature is such that we always overestimate our own contributions, underestimate the efforts and contributions of others, and underestimate how much trouble we cause other people.

Aside from that, responsibility varies from individual to individual.

The basic concept of Socialism is to ensure that no one starves, no one goes without housing, no one goes without clothes and other basic necessities.

Consider an analogy: Assume that by law, every child deserves a stuffed animal or an action figure.

Child One wants stuffed animals. That child cares for the stuffed animal, sleeps with it, protects it from harm.

Child Two wants action figures.  But the action figure is put through the wringer, its arms ripped off, its accessories chewed on, and it is ruined within a month. So you provide another one. Rapidly ruined. You provide another one. This goes on and on.

Child Three doesn’t want a stuffed animal *or* an action figure, but rather a fire truck.  Too bad.

This is all neither fair, nor equal. You put a dozen times the resources into Child Two. Is that fair? Child Three doesn’t get its preferred toy. Is that equal?

This is the same argument against providing a Universal Basic Income sufficient to house and feed everyone.  What if individuals use the money for something else besides food and housing? Well, then you have to give them additional money for food and housing.  What if they *still* don’t use the additional money for food and housing?

So you don’t provide UBI, you provide food and housing.  We’ve seen this with food stamps: an economy develops where people sell their food stamps for pennies on the dollar to buy other things.  Then they still starve and activists hold them up as examples of our unfair society.  Or the amount given via food stamps gets to the point that the people on welfare eat better than the lower levels of working classes.

The problem is that once you *guarantee* a certain benefit, or a certain amount of money, you run up against the perversity, selfishness, and exploitive nature of human beings.

The weakness of Socialism is that it is a system, and humans will always exploit any system to extinction.

 

These are some of the fatal flaws of Socialism.  Add more in the comments section.

 

 

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Some Thoughts on Music, No Conclusions

  • by Gitabushi

Every once in a while, I encounter someone talking about “the Great Voices of Rock” or ‘the great singers of rock”, and my usual reaction is a mild puzzlement.

I don’t like many of the iconic voices of rock music. I don’t like Tom Petty, I don’t like Robert Plant, I don’t like Rod Stewart, I don’t like Bob Dylan, I don’t like Bono.

But even the bands I *do* like, I’m not sure I can say I really love the singers. I love Styx, but I can’t say I love Dennis DeYoung’s, Tommy Shaw’s, or James Young’s singing.  I can find flaws or aspects I don’t like much in any of them.  Same with Heart, Night Ranger, Loudness, Kansas, Foreigner, Queen (yes, I’m not a huge fan of Freddie Mercury), Survivor, Alice in Chains, etc., etc., etc.

But I realized the other day there *is* one singer I like:

Brian Howe, most famous for his stint with Bad Company.  I actively like his voice.  It isn’t just his vocal quality, but the expression he puts into it.

I’m not going to include a picture, because I don’t think he’s famous enough for anyone to recognize him by his photo.  His “most famous” time was with Bad Company, but I don’t think he’s even close to actually being famous.

If I said, “Brian Howe”, everyone except for a fairly hard core Bad Company or Ted Nugent fan wuold say “Who?”

I really like his voice.  But have I looked up his solo albums? I have not. I do not even listen to two of his albums with Bad Company. I love his voice on “Dangerous Age“, and that’s it.

I think that highlights my relationship with music: I like a song if I like the guitar, and possibly the drums.  If I like those, I will learn to enjoy the bass, the voices, and the lyrics.  But I won’t like a song for the voice.

As in all things, however, there is a probable exception:

Becker_&_Fagen_of_Steely_Dan_at_Pori_Jazz_2007
“Becker and Fagan at the Pori Jazz Festival,” by Kotivalo – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34957543

I’m digging into Steely Dan’s catalog right now.  Unlike Blue Oyster Cult and Jethro Tull, it is resulting in increased respect and affection for the band.  Although Donald Fagen is not an objectively good singer, his voice is perfect for the songs.  I feel so strongly about this, I simply don’t like the songs he doesn’t sing on.  I hate “Dirty Work,” for example.  But Fagen’s singing voice is, if I can believe what I’m saying next, both cynical and introspective. It is so expressive, and it adds the sardonic note necessary to make the lyrics work; which, in turn, add depth to the music.

Steely Dan has good music, but this is the one band that I listen to for the lyrics.

Of course, I wouldn’t be listening to them for the lyrics if they didn’t *first* grab me with good guitar and drum work on the hits that made it to the radio.

And Donald Fagen highlights *another* aspect of my relationship with music: a good voice is immaterial; what I want is a voice that adds emotion. I think no one would say that Stevie Ray Vaughn is a good singer. But his voice has the emotion necessary to sell his songs.

So that’s true for the bands listed above. I don’t necessarily love Dennis DeYoung’s voice, but it has the emotional impact necessarily to sell the song.

Still, aside from that, there are two more singers I like:

Dann Huff of Giant.  “I’ll See You In My Dreams” was not the sort of song that should make me interested in a band.  But the raw emotion of his singing did. I ended up loving the guitar and compositions of the band enough that they are one of my favorite bands, and I think “Last of the Runaways” should be considered one of the most important albums in guitar rock pedagogy (but it’s not; it’s not even on the radar.  smdh).

I’d put his voice on par with Brian Howe’s for just plain my favorite rock voice.

Using the Donald Fagen metric of “fitting the style of music” would seem to open up lots of names to be listed as favorite, but I won’t. Robert Plant may be perfect for Led Zeppelin; Freddie Mercury may be perfect for Queen; Steve Perry may be perfect for Journey; I don’t care.  There is only one other voice I would list as iconic, and good enough to *make* the band the way Fagen makes Steely Dan work:

David Lee Roth, with Van Halen.

I know some people prefer Van Hagar. I don’t deny that lineup had some good songs.  But there is no band, no singer, no experience quite like early Van Halen. David Lee Roth made that band what it was.

So those are my Mount Rushmore of Rock Singers:

Brian Howe
Dann Huff
Donald Fagen
David Lee Roth

One other final point that may interest only me:

I listen to a bunch of Chinese rock music. I have the same pattern there: I like a song if I like the guitar part, and in some cases, the drums. In fact, it was my analysis of my Chinese music preferences that allowed me to separate my tastes from what was spoon-fed to me by the corporate music machine (the radio & MTV). It confirms that:

If I like enough of the songs, I like the singer. Some of my favorite Chinese singers are objectively not good singers, but add the perfect emotional flavor to the song itself, bridging any gaps between composition and lyrics, and adding depth to both.

But also

 

 

Misbeliefs as Story Momentum

  • by Gitabushi

I’m still struggling with the implications of “Story Genius”, as detailed here, here, and here.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

For instance, blog proprietor PC Bushi responded to the last post with:

You had me until you said entertainment should not be the goal of a story. Strikes me that this is like saying enjoyment should not be the goal of a meal. Different meals and types of food aim at fulfilling different goals, just as different stories and types of writing do.

I wasn’t trying to say a story should not be entertaining, or even that a good story cannot just be nothing more than entertaining. My point was that if you are going to go to all the trouble to write an entertaining story, why not *also* make it compelling by adding in emotiona and character development?  If you are going to read a story, won’t you be more entertained if you are more deeply invested in the protagonist’s struggles?  Story Genius shows you how to get that.

The only thing is, the more I consider the book, the less certain I am that this is the only way to make a story more compelling.

I mean, I’m fully converted to the idea. It works. I can tell that it works by analyzing a bunch of successful movies, books, and television shows.  I have also discovered there are a bunch of other successful movies, books, and television shows that are not centered on the crisis of a protagonist’s misbeliefs.

For instance, Star Wars is undeniably a great story. Luke *does* start out with a misbelief that adventure is a grand, fun thing, and preferable to boredom on a backwater planet.

This is a misbelief. In short order, he is nearly killed by Tusken Raiders, his adopted parents are brutally murdered, and his new mentor that promised to teach him a whole new set of skills, is cut down while he watches.

But that misbelief doesn’t come to a crisis. He isn’t forced to abandon his misbelief or face destruction.  He just grows through it.

However, his emotional state *is* important to us throughout.

I think Die Hard is a great movie because as McClane is working things out with the terrorists, he’s also sort of working things out with his wife.  Maybe his misbelief is that his wife no longer loves him.  Or perhaps the misbelief that drives the story is his wife’s, in that she mistakenly believes he loves his job more than her.  But it doesn’t drive the story to a crisis, the bad guys do.  And the resolution of their relationship is more that he goes through all sorts of pain and danger to save her life, and that has a profound impact on both of them…but they don’t exactly work through it together.

However, their emotional state *is* important to us throughout.

All this being said, as I type this out, I don’t remember the author of “Story Genius” saying this is what you *must* use to write a compelling story.  I don’t remember her saying this is the way every story should be written.

And now that I think of it in those terms, I can still fully recommend the book. In fact, I urge you to buy it. I think it still is the best $10 an aspiring-but-struggling writer can spend.

Because my final judgment is:

Writing a short story can be hard. It is too easy to start with enthusiasm and excitement, and still hit a snag that blocks you. It is too easy to paint yourself into a corner.  It is too easy to struggle with developing the plot and not being sure your protagonist’s actions make sense.

Writing a novel is even more difficult. You have all the same problems as above, plus you have to layer in subplots.  You have to escalate the stakes to maintain interest. You have to develop deeper characters than in a short story. You have to handle more characters, and make them all realistic.  All this is too complicated: I can’t hold a novel in my mind. With this book, you don’t have to.  It teaches you how to add compelling aspects to your story that grab the reader from the beginning and never lets go, how to develop and mine the protagonists’ backstory for realistic developments, how to layer in complex and interesting subplots, and how to make the reader see through the protagonists’ eyes instead of through the writer’s eyes.

It all works, even if you don’t want to write a story based on misbelief.

But if you want to get a story written and have it be compelling, it’s a great place start.

The implication (mentioned indirectly at least once) of the book is that this process will become second nature as you grow more familiar with it. You could adapt it to other types of stories, but this book intends to tell you about the easiest way to craft an entertaining, compeling, memorable novel.  I think it does that.

For example, while Luke *does* have a misbelief about adventure, it doesn’t drive the story. If anything, the story of Star Wars says that Luke’s misbelief was only partial: it *was* fun, exciting, and enjoyable to fight his way off of the most secure enemy station in the history of the galaxy, join with other advanced pilots and, without any training, save the rebels from complete destruction.  He is rewarded with fame and gratitude, and might even earn the love of a beautiful princess.  Sure, his Aunt & Uncle and Old Ben had to die as part of the process, but they were going to die, eventualy, anyway, right?

The point is, Luke isn’t confronting the conflict his misbelief has created in what he wants and who he thinks he is.  It just ends up not being quite so carefree as he hoped.

But we still care about Luke’s emotional reactions to what happens, and *that* drives the story.  So what we learn in “Story Genius” still applies. It’s just writing a story in which an apparent misbelief actually turns out to be true.

There are plenty of other exceptions.  But these can be your advanced attempts, after you have a few novels under your belt.

Why am I pushing this so hard? Well, I think better when I talk or write. But more importantly, if y’all write more enjoyable, gripping novels, I have better stuff to read.  Buy the book, and write great novels!

What is a Story?

  • by Gitabushi

I’ve been pushing this book lately, and not just on this blog.   It has the unwieldy title of “Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel (Before You Waste Three Years Writing 327 Pages That Go Nowhere)” so from now on, I will just call the book “Story Genius.”

I love the book so much. It forced a paradigm shift on writing that excites me and convinces me I will be a successful writer. It also concisely explained much of the dysfunction we see in society, because so many people are laboring under misbeliefs.

For instance, Socialists are laboring under the misbelief that if they can win total political control of all major government and social institutions, they can transform and perfect society so that everyone is equal (at best) or that no one suffers from need (at worst).  There are so many misbeliefs in that assumption.  I think homosexual activists have a misbelief that their unhappiness comes from social rejection, so if they can just force society to celebrate their identity in more and more aspects, they will finally be happy.  The Right has the misbelief that if they just calmly and clearly explain their views and preferred policies, the Right will win elections, enact conservative legislation, and restore the US’ liberty and exceptionalism.  I could go on for days about these misbeliefs, but it is evidence that the book is correct that everyone has misbeliefs.

That’s how it improved my life.

I’ve been mulling on its application to writing for a month now, however.  *MUST* every story be a character development story?  *MUST* every story start with a misbelief that gets resolved?

I’ve really been considering this question. I’ve re-thought this question in light of “13 Hours: the Secret Soldiers of Benghazi” and “A Princess of Mars” and “Coming to America” and “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, Jack Reacher novels and even “Game of Thrones”.

My answer is that no, not every story must have a misbelief that causes the main character problems and gets resolved over the course of the story.

But the follow-up questions to that are: Do you want people to enjoy and recommend your story?  Do you want to sell your story?  Do you want to write *great* stories, or merely write stories?

Heroic action stories can be enjoyable.  I don’t think the Jack Reacher stories ever have Jack Reacher holding a major misbelief or learning anything in the course of the story.  He’s pretty much unchangeable (except that the author gives him mental abilities needed for the plot that mysteriously don’t exist in other stories where they might have been useful, but the author hadn’t thought them up yet weren’t needed for the plot).  The interest in and success of those stories is the author starts with a perplexing situation, so you want to read to find out what is actually happening.

In “Game of Thrones”, the misbelief is actually on the part of the reader: George R. R. Martin set out to upend several major expectations of the reader, such as Plot Armor and Deaths Mean Something.  I think he’s struggling to finish and the books are kind of fizzling out because you can only deny the expected tropes for so long. If he wants to finish, he’ll have to resolve the story, and it’s going to be trope-y as all get out.

So from that perspective, even if you aren’t dealing with a character’s misbelief, you are still using misbelief to make the story more interesting.

That admission aside, I think that while it isn’t *MANDATORY* to use the techniques in “Story Genius” to load your main character down with one or more misbeliefs that are resolved in the course of the story, it still is a good idea to do it.

Because the book has convinced me that the point of stories is to learn from other people’s mistakes.  You can be entertained by the story, but entertainment is the bonus, and should not be the goal.  We are hardwired to enjoy stories from childhood, but that doesn’t mean we should focus solely on the entertainment aspect.  If we only care about entertaining, we might succeed, and the story might sell, but I don’t think it will have much staying power.  Sure, it might catch on and become famous, and it might be read for generations, like Edgar Rice Burroughs “A Princess of Mars”.  But that’s not the way to bet.  That’s not a good model to base your own writing career on.  When ERB wrote that book and invented those characters, there was no TV, there were no comic books, there were no smartphones, and even movies had no sound or color.  Many people don’t read at all, and we don’t have a unified culture that allows an iconic character like John Carter or Dejah Thoris to capture the imagination of millions.  Put another way: there is so much mindless entertainment already out there, it is advisable to do your best to find ways to stand out.

I think “Story Genius” gives you what you need to stand out.

“Story Genius” requires more prep-work, but in the end, it saves you time.  It’s right there in the title “(before you waste three years writing 378 pages that go nowhere)”.  It keeps you from getting stuck.  It demands you consider every development in terms of the character’s misbelief, which provides a motive force for the story, and only then write the scenes…which keeps you from wasting as much time writing unnecessary filler that you’ll cut anyway.

The book helps you to add layers to your story via subplots.  If everything ties back to both the misbelief driving the story *and* the visible plot developments, your story will have depth.  I thought I might not be able to succeed as a writer because I couldn’t hold an entire novel’s plot in my head.  With this book, I don’t have to.

I have a dozen stories that have foundered on the rocks of painting myself into a corner, plot-wise, or not knowing what to do next.  Thinking about them in terms of misbeliefs resurrects their viability, because it gives me new ideas of how to make them compelling.

“Story Genius” tells you that the misbelief has reached a crisis in the character’s life.  The character has kept the misbelief up until that point because it worked more or less. The misbelief perhaps kept the main character from enjoying life more, or from fulfilling some aspect of life, but it also kept the main character from disaster.  But now the misbelief’s impact on the character’s life has come to a head.  If the character retains the misbelief, their life will be destroyed.  But if they accept life’s lessons and give up the misbelief, their self-image will be destroyed. Everyone thinks they are correct.  Giving up a misbelief is not only admitting you were wrong (very hard for anyone to do), it also is admitting that you damaged your own life for years by not realizing it sooner.

People double down on mistakes. That’s how we hold onto misbeliefs.  That’s why we hold onto misbeliefs.  Only if everything you hold dear is threatened by the misbelief are we forced to actually confront the fact that what we beleived, what we thought kept us safe, was wrong.

Doesn’t that, as a writer, excite you?  Wouldn’t you love to be able to write a story with that sort of impact, that level of import?  “Story Genius” will show you how, and walk you through it.

If the main reason we like stories is because it allows us to safely learn from other people’s mistakes, then yes: underneath and on top of whatever else your story is, you should include a character development aspect. You should make your main character’s misbelief the driving force behind the story.  It will make the story better, and will attract readers.

The only possible downside I can see from this is that it makes it harder to develop a character and setting and write an infinite number of stories in your “franchise”.

Frankly, I don’t see that as a downside.  With the possible exception of Lois McMasters-Bujold’s Miles Vorkosigan series, and the actual exception of the Jack Reacher and Matt Helm series, I don’t want or enjoy series focused on one main character.  There can only be so many self-image-threatening misbeliefs in one character.  Most authors don’t use the same character over and over.  They invent new characters, and new settings.

My favorite author, CJ Cherryh, is my favorite writer because she was good at this.  She had her universe, but she made new main characters for new stories to reveal different aspects of her universe, and it made it better.

Now she’s written an endless “Foreigner” series and I lost interest after book 6.  No one learns anything. The main character is always right. I mean, maybe that’s not completely true, but it’s true enough around book 5 or 6 that I lost interest.

Same with Steven Brust’s Jhereg series.  Same with the Miles Vorkosigan series, but only after book 10 or so, and that was because McMasters-Bujold used different viewpoint characters, allowing her to play off of the new characters’ misbeliefs.

Your fans may want an infinite number books with the same main character. I say, don’t give that to them.  Make new, fresh characters.  Wow them with your ability to create new compelling viewpoint characters, and stun them with your insight into human nature. “Story Genius” shows you how.

Two final thoughts:

No one enjoys message fiction, i.e., “Now I’m going to teach you something I think is true.”  I think “Story Genius” helps you avoid that, by letting you put a misbelief into the main character.  If I wanted to write something against Socialism (and I will), I would make my main character believe that humans are perfectible if they just have the right rules to follow and the right people in charge.  And then I’d show that character how that misbelief will threaten everything they hold dear.  Result: a great story that doesn’t seem preachy.

I haven’t finished my short story, and I haven’t started my novel (waiting to finish the short story).  So maybe I’m wrong about all this.  I don’t think I am. I’m stuck on some mechanical aspects of the short story (what traps or threats can I put into the underground crypt that will drive and highlight the main character’s viewpoint changes?), so I might just drop it for now and start another short story from scratch using this process.  If so, I’ll let you see the results and let you judge if it results in a compelling story.

Some Thoughts on Autograph, Bad Company, Def Leppard, and “Heavy Metal”

  • by Gitabushi

I was the youngest of six kids, so I grew up listening to what my older siblings listened to.

Older sister #3 was a particularly strong influence on my musical tastes: her college roommate already had an 8-track player, so she left hers at home, and would bring me a different 8-track to swap out each time. That’s where I got my love for Styx and Queen “Jazz”. And also Foreigner, REO Speedwagon, and other late 70s/early 80s bands.

I loved (and still love) that mix of guitars and synthesizers, but with the focus on guitar riffs and guitar solos. That’s led to my enjoyment of late 90s Taiwan pop, which is exactly in the same vein.

However, as a PK (Pastor’s Kid), I felt some aversion to Heavy Metal. It wasn’t *quite* a belief that Satan was in the music, and if you listened to it, you were going to be dragged to Hell.  But even as late as 1982 or so, I thought Def Leppard and AC/DC were probably influenced by Satan.  Or, at least, I didn’t like the imagery of insanity, violence, etc., in Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, Ozzy Osbourne, and other Heavy Metal acts of the early 80s.

The one weird exception was I had sort of inherited Kiss Destroyer from my older brother. They were certainly Satanic looking in their makeup, and from an early age I had heard that KISS stood for “Kings in Satan’s Service”, and Destroyer had some fairly evil-sounding tracks in God of Thunder and King of the Night-Time world.  That didn’t stop me from listening to it. Recognizing that most of the songs were not Satanic at all, and even the two “bad” songs didn’t cause me to do become evil didn’t really open my mind to the other Heavy Metal groups.  Then again, I had no desire to explore any other Kiss albums.  Part of that may have been that before 1982, at the age of 13 or so, all my music was received, and I wasn’t going out to seek any other albums or music I didn’t have already.

At the same time, however, I found myself drawn to the heavier songs of Queen (Let Me Entertain You, Dead on Time) and Styx (Miss America, Suite Madame Blue, Snowblind, Queen of Spades, etc.).  The heavier the guitar, the more I liked it.  But I still rejected the heavy metal bands.

Something had to give. And it did.

One guy in our lunch group had a boom box. And another guy brought Night Ranger’s “Midnight Madness”. Lots of hard rock and heavy metal guitar, no Satanic lyrics, and I liked it.

Then Def Leppard’s Foolin’ hit Friday Night videos, and was on there every week. Familiarity bred appreciation, and before too long, I obtained a copy of Pyromania and listened to the whole album a bunch of times. I somewhat reluctantly decided Def Leppard was okay.

At the same time I was sliding into heavy metal appreciation, the musical world was going synth pop.  The big acts were Pet Shop Boys, Flock of Seagulls, Howard Jones, Madonna, lots of other pop bands that guitar didn’t figure prominently in, or sometimes even appear. As popular music got more synth-y, I went more heavy. I got into Van Halen, Ratt, Night Ranger, Autograph. A friend had Ozzy’s “Bark at the Moon” and listened to it constantly, and I decided I liked that. I liked Quiet Riot’s “Metal Health” album. Heard Dokken in the school parking lot in 1985 and thought “That’s what metal should sound like!” Pretty quick after that, Dokken’s “Under Lock and Key” came out and “In My Dreams” was a top video, with a solo that captivated me.  I heard Akira Takasaki was as good as Eddie Van Halen, so I got into Loudness.  Early Stryper got into the mix. The next Ozzy album (The Ultimate Sin).

The final barrier was Metallica. They were either Satanic or a modern version of Spinal Tap using tremolo  picking or something to try and sound fast. I mean, EVH, Akira, George Lynch, the Night Ranger guys, Jake E. Lee, Warren di Martini and the other Hair Metal flashy guitarists…there were just so many good guitarists to go around, and if Metallica’s guitarist was any good, he’d have been in a Hair Metal band, right?

But the guys I hung around with my senior year liked Metallica, so their cassette was always on in the car when we went cruising. I grew to enjoy the riffs. I became a Metallica fan.

Still never got into Motley Crue, WASP, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, etc. I think I didn’t like their guitar tone/style much.

Is there a point to all this?  No.  No, there isn’t.

However, even though I listen to Chinese pop/rock 90%+ of the time, I have dug into my old American music trove to listen to some of the groups I haven’t paid much attention to lately, getting deeper into their catalogs.  This has been sporadic…I have a *crapton* of old US music .mp3s.

Most recently, that meant Autograph. I liked “Turn up the Radio”, and so I got that album. I also got “That’s the Stuff.” I liked them okay, but wasn’t overly excited about them, wasn’t waiting eagerly for their next album, and originally missed “Loud & Clear”. Decades later, I notice I have all 3 of their albums in .mp3. I remember “Turn Up the Radio” and “Deep End” has a guitar riff I like. I made a commute playlist that included all three albums. I read up on their Wikipedia. Why weren’t they more popular?  Their drummer was good friends with David Lee Roth, which was how they got their break. They had a huge hit, top 100 all time by most countdowns. They were playing live all over the US, opening for the biggest bands. They had an innovative lead guitarist (Steve Lynch). The lead singer was a prolific song-writer, wrote a bunch of songs for other people, and his songs have literally been in hundreds of TV shows. But, as a band, after their big debut, they were disappointed with slumping sales on their second album. What happened?

I listened, and found out.

Steve Plunkett, the lead singer, might be a prolific songwriter, but he’s not a very good one. For a heavy metal or Hair Metal band, the songs had almost no memorable riffs. The aforementioned “Deep End” has one, but that’s about it for the first album. Think about “Turn up the Radio”. It builds tension and excitement with driving 8th notes in a drone in the bass, guitar, and bass drums. Then it has a simple 8th note walking pattern on the turnaround. That’s it.

The rest of the album is the same way. The next album is the same way.  There’s very little memorable about any of them.  It’s light pop. There’s nothing an aspiring guitarist would want to learn to play. If he learned to play it and played it for his friends, they would have no idea what song it was (except for Turn Up the Radio and maybe Deep End). The sung melody is never very distinctive. Despite Plunkett being a guitarist, they never take advantage of having two guitarists in the band. Despite Steve Lynch a “guitar hero”, he never contributed any cool guitar riffs. The songs are formulaic, and show no character. There is rarely a guitar fill or guitar lick outside of the solo. The drummer seems incapable of playing an fill with anything faster than 8th notes. His favorite technique seems to be hitting the snare and the high-hat at the same time.  There’s never a bass solo or a bass fill. It’s like, “Here’s the intro, maybe with a driving 8th note bass/guitar/bass drum motif. Here’s the first verse, second verse, chorus, solo, chorus, done.” None of their songs take chances. None break new ground. There’s little variation.

There’s more character in *one* Bad Company song than all three Autograph albums. That’s true of pretty much any of their songs, but I’m thinking especially of “One Night”, where the drummer hits the kick/bass drum in a double 32nd note. That alone has more surprising character than anything Autograph ever did.

Autograph isn’t bad.  They’re just not good.

Bad Company, on the other hand, is pretty good. Paul Rodgers is one of the greats, and he writes some great songs. It is interesting that among their 10 From 6 songs (which was pretty much their greatest hits), there is cowboy imagery in several songs, and several other songs are about the life of a touring musician. But unlike the 80s groups that complain about how tough it is to be on the road all the time, Bad Company’s songs are about how great it is.  Refreshing, in retrospect.

Also, Bad Company pretty much became a totally different band just by changing lead singers to Brian Howe. After an initial keyboards-laden disappointment I don’t think I ever heard of, “Dangerous Age” was (and still is) one of my favorite albums of all time. I had heard “One Night” on the radio a few times, but I could never hear the ann

ouncer say what band it was. I loved the vocals, I loved the guitar parts. It was (and still is) one of my Top 5 favorite songs, all time.  Lots of research and a friend’s input later, I found out it was Bad Company. I initially rejected that, because it sounded nothing like Bad Company. Not just the lead singer, but the drums and guitar styles.

I found out later that this was likely due to being produced by Terry Thomas. He wrote most of the songs, even played some rhythm guitar.

I know that their next album “Holy Water” was bigger, but I couldn’t get into it as much. It seemed like they just re-did “Dangerous Age” again, and it felt like it was done by rote.

Incidentally, Terry Thomas also produced and co-wrote a bunch of songs for Tommy Shaw’s “Ambitious”, which is also one of my favorite albums.

HOLY CRAP. Doing a search on Terry Thomas, I just found out he produced Giant’s “Last of the Runaways”, which is *also* one of my Top 10 all-time favorite albums.  Maybe Top 5.

Terry Thomas was the lead guitarist for the English band Charlie, which I had never heard of before I searched his name on Wikipedia. It looks like I need to get their entire catalog. I bet I’ll like it.

He also produced some Foreigner and Tesla. But none of those left much of an impression on me.

Finally: Def Leppard.

They, too, have more character in any one song than Autograph has in all three first albums put together.

Reading about their history on Wikipedia, I’m struck by how Pete Willis was fired from the band due to his drinking, but long-time guitarist Steve Clark died from being unable to conquer his drinking.  They fired Willis for his drinking getting in the way of his recording on Pyromania, but were much more tolerant of the same thing for Clark on “Adrenalize”. I wonder if it is because they hadn’t hit it big yet on Pyromania so they felt more was at stake, or if Willis’ drinking brought other issues other than just guitar performance, or if the band was just more mature about dealing with Clark’s problem. But you’d think Clark would have learned something from seeing Willis brought down by alcohol.

I also wonder how much of what I liked about Def Leppard was Willis.  I liked Hysteria enough to buy it and listen to it quite a bit, but it also seemed to kill off my interest in further Def Leppard songs/albums. I was vaguely aware of Adrenalize and a few other pop hits, but never made any attempt to acquire any.  I do still think Pyromania was their peak, and Willis contributed quite a number of songs to that album.

Reading through Def Leppard’s history, it is said they influenced Metallica. I would have scoffed at that idea if I’d been told it earlier, but re-listening to High ‘N’ Dry and Pyromania a few times recently, it doesn’t seem so far-fetched anymore.  Def Leppard had some pretty good basic riffs, and would combine different riffs into one song, changing the feel of a song slightly as it went on.  Metallica was known for doing the same thing, often having as many as 7 or 8 riffs in a single song.  I guess it reached its peak on “And Justice for All”, which I don’t like much, so they toned it down and sometimes had just one riff in a song starting with their Black Album. And while I liked that album at the time, I don’t see much reason to listen to it anymore. For me, Metallica will always be their first three albums.

Okay, retrospective over. Return to your lives, citizens.

 

 

Hey, Nick Sandmann

  • by Gitabushi

To the tune of “Mr. Sandman” by the Chordettes.

The original:

And the Karaoke version:

dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb

dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb

(dumb)

dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb

dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb

Hey, Nick Sandmann, You’re gonna get reamed
The Left’s as rabid as I’ve ever seen (dumb dumb dumb)
You didn’t give in to a Leftist takeover,
So blue checks swarmin’ and your life is over!

Nick Sandmann, you’re not alone
The Left destroys any thing it can’t own
So please keep on your MAGA hat.
And keep smiling, they don’t like that!

Hey Nick Sandmann, you did just fine:
The Left is scrambling, and starting to whine.
You were calm and you kept your composure,
The Left is freaked, risking overexposure!

Nick Sandmann, you’re not alone
The Left destroys any thing it can’t own
So Please keep on your MAGA hat.
And keep smiling like that,
with your red hat
Ignore them, they don’t like that!