Tina Turner was the acid queen of rock and soul. As I wrote when Private Dancer was added to the national registry by the Library of Congress, “She strode onto MTV with her big hair, tiny skirts, and long legs and became a hero to another generation. The small screen beamed the throbbing gristle of her great voice, her been-there-done-that stare, her transcendent wigs, and her ability to do it all backward in heels into millions of living rooms, and everyone from housewives to their preteen children loved her like she had never been loved before.” Thank goddess Tina was finally inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as her own artist before she left us for the thunderdome. Illustration by Anne Muntges from Women Who Rock.
RIP Tina Turner
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“An appreciative portrait of an iconic author”
Kirkus Reviews is the sort of bible of book publishing. The publication, along with Publishers Weekly, sets the tone for reception of new works, guiding book buyers, book sellers, book reviewers, and book readers. A Kirkus review is not guaranteed an author, and a good Kirkus review is like manna from heaven. So I’m immensely relieved that The World According to Joan Didion just got its first review, from Kirkus, and it’s a good one. It’s not long, so I’ll quote the whole thing here.
A biography of a significant American writer.
Most of us have a Joan Didion origin story: the article, or book, or photograph, or quote that first made us want to know more about this quiet oracle,” writes journalist McDonnell, author of Mamarama and Women Who Rock. When the author was in college, she read Didion’s essay “Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream,” which asked what happened to the American dream, “the theme of much of [her] work.” Thus was born a lifelong appreciation for one of America’s most noteworthy stylists. McDonnell covers all the relevant biographical details: Didion’s Sacramento childhood; her early years writing for New York magazines; and her family life, which included the tragedy of adopted daughter Quintana Roo, who died at age 39 in 2005 (the subject of Didion’s Blue Nights). The author also offers personal reflections on Didion’s importance to her life and career as well as interviews with people who knew her, including Calvin Trillin and Gay Talese and nephew Griffin Dunne. Admirably, McDonnell notes that Didion was a more complicated figure than many of her fans acknowledge. She grew up in “deep American conservatism,” “never lost her distrust of big government,” and voted for Barry Goldwater in 1964. She had a habit of “glamorizing consumption,” which her early stint at Vogue underscored. Also, “when it comes to being an icon for women, Joan Didion can be deeply problematic,” starting with her “mean-spirited attack on second-wave feminism,” which “revealed her blindered privilege”—although she would moderate these opinions in later works. Overall, McDonnell offers a thoughtful assessment of Didion’s importance but doesn’t shy away from Didion’s flaws—e.g., that she struggled with motherhood. During her childhood, Quintana Roo “made a list of her mother’s favorite sayings: ‘Brush your teeth, brush your hair, shush I’m working.’ ”
An appreciative portrait of an iconic author.Kirkus Reviews
Filed under Joan Didion, Recommended reading
John Hamilton McDonnell
I posted the below on my social media accounts on April 26 but never posted it here in my blog.
At the pond behind my father’s house this morning the birds were trading calls, red-winged blackbirds and chickadees and Canadian geese and crows singing a song of John Hamilton McDonnell, whose spirit left this earth last night. Dad loved Lake Nymphaea, on the former Wisconsin farmland on which his wife Judy was raised. He taught me to love nature, among other lessons. He was a man deeply outraged about the inequities of American society and passionate about the role of education in bringing justice and peace. The Beloit College education professor’s bookshelves are full of works by Kozol, Baldwin, Skinner, Malcolm X, Galbraith, Steinbeck. His lineage includes the many students he trained to pass on lessons of civic engagement to their students, and so on.
Dad passed peacefully after eight years of the ravages of Alzheimer’s. I’m so grateful my brothers Brett and Paul and I were able to be here before he transitioned.
You can read his obituary here.
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Happy Mother’s Day
When my dad was first diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2016, he was lucky to have this woman by his side. Judy took care of him as long as she could, until the professionals told her it was time to let them take over. She still came to see him, bringing his beloved poodle and ice cream to his nursing home, until the pandemic shut her out. When she finally got back in to see her husband of 30 years, she fed him like a baby. When he got upset, she would kiss him on his balding head and whisper in his ear, “Hi John it’s me, Judy, your wife.” Dad would calm down. In his last moments in this sphere, this woman was by his side.
In the first days after Dad’s death, Judy and I went out for fish fry and pie. Driving through Wisconsin farm land, we talked about Dad. The seven year anniversary of Mom’s death was approaching. I was now an orphan, a parentless child, I said. “You have me,” this woman said.
I have Judy. And I have Bettie, my husband’s mom. Happy Mother’s Day to Judy and Bettie, and to all the mothers out there, by birth and by choice.
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Today is the seven-year anniversary of Mom’s death, and 12 days since we lost Dad. I still can’t believe they both died at the end of a spring semester, as I was about to embark on a sabbatical when I could spend more time with them. As teachers themselves, I’m sure they would have hung on if they could have. I love the way these photos capture our annual treks around America in a trailer, complete with dog (and usually a cat) — looking at maps, planning itineraries. This was the blessing of having teachers as parents: summers free to travel and really learn the world. It’s interesting that we worked best as a family when we were packed together in the smallest space and disconnected from our usual work and school lives. I vividly remember a couple pulling next to us on a highway somewhere, as we pulled our camper in a brown station wagon with a canoe tied to the top. “You’re beautiful! The American dream,” the woman hollered to us. These photos capture that; they look almost like ads, the color is so brilliant, our faces so happy and intent.
Even then I knew all was not as idyllic as it seemed, but I still loved those summers. My parents’ marriage didn’t last, but they gave my brother and me this incredible experience of discovering in person the 48 contiguous states. I wish more Americans traveled in their own country now as they did back then; that was actually one of the perks of the pandemic, many people did discover their own backyard. But now the rich fly to foreign lands, the poor can’t afford the cost of gas, and the middle class is an endangered species.
Mostly I miss my parents, and families that saw the country together through car windows, instead of performing for their screens.
Filed under Going Mobile
Keep running up that hill: Rock Hall 2023
When I edit students’ papers, I always try to give them positive notes first. Then I hit them with what they did wrong. In that spirit, let’s talk about the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Class of 2023, announced today.
First and foremost, standing ovation for the induction of Missy Elliott! Misdemeanor is truly one of the GOAT. Her mix of Southern hip-hop and electronic dance beats emerged fully formed on Supa Dupa Fly in 1997, at once inimitably Missy and widely imitated. She was a rare woman behind the boards and the scenes, writing and producing songs for other artists, including Aaliyah. And of course her videos blew the game up for female fashion standards. The omission of women rappers from the Rock Hall up until this point was one of the institution’s most grievous failures. I love that the woman who showed how to rock a garbage bag broke that glass ceiling at the pyramid in Cleveland.
I’ve critiqued the hall’s nominating committee plenty in the past, but I am thrilled that they selected Chaka Khan for one of this year’s Musical Excellence prizes. To their credit, the committee has nominated her multiple times but the voters have never supported her. This was the right, honorable way to get her past the goon squad.
Overall, the list of inductees is good. I’m super stoked about Kate Bush, even if it took a TV show to get the voters’ attention. Sheryl Crow, George Michael, Willie Nelson, the Spinners: These are all worthy talents. And while I’m not 100 percent sure that Rage Against the Machine are more worthy than other chronic Rock Hall snubs (Queen Latifah) or peers (Bjork), I personally love them. Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me.
That said … the Rock Hall ain’t nothing but a bunch of hound dogs. Since its first inductions in 1986, the Cleveland institution has year after year ignored Willie Mae Thornton, original singer of “Hound Dog,” among other accomplishments. The hall will induct Link Wray and DJ Kool Herc in the Musical Influence category. Why not Big Mama?
You know why not: SEXISM. It has been the hall’s tragic flaw since year one, when not a single woman was inducted. Including this year’s class, only 8.63 percent of total inductees are women. That percentage has changed little since I first began calculations in 2019. The good news: 20 percent of this year’s inductees are female. That’s not close to parity, but it’s better than the zero women inducted in 2016.
The induction of all-male groups and solo female artists is part of the continuing problem. For every Sheryl Crow that gets in (yay!), there are five Spinners (also yay!). All those bros on the nom comm seem scared of sister acts, of girls together outrageously. Sorry Salt N Pepa, Bikini Kill, Labelle, Shangri-Las.
But the biggest problem is in full evidence this year, despite the Rock Hall’s repeated recent vows to be less hegemonically white male: The circle jerk of the additional categories. The Musical Excellence, Musical Influence, and Non-Performer (named after legendary prick Ahmet Ertegun) nominees are not on the performers ballot that is sent to the voters. Instead they are chosen in a secret ritual held in a treehouse filled with cigar smoke on Jann Wenner’s Montauk estate, with a hand-lettered sign on the door: NO GIRLS ALLOWED.
Okay, they’re chosen by small committees in the back room of a restaurant in Little Italy where oaths of omerta are sealed with blood.
All right all right, they’re chosen by small committees about which little is known – but I’m guessing are testosterone-heavy.
The use of these categories has increased in recent years, which one might think would be part of that effort to diversify. Indeed they have been used to induct hip-hop artists, such as Kool Herc, who otherwise are ignored by the rockist, racist followers of Gene Simmons. But with the exception of Chaka Khan, the opportunities afforded by the supplementary categories have not been used to rectify the cock hall’s gender problem. Only four of the 62 managers, songwriters, DJs, journalists, etc., who have been inducted in the non-performer category are women. This year, there’s one inductee – Don Cornelius. The Soul Train creator is an important figure, but like so many men associated with the rock hall, he has also been accused of sexual misconduct.
I have to admit I’ve grown weary of carrying the torch on this issue. I’m extremely grateful for all the music lovers out there who have taken up this cause, including the folx at Future Rock Legends and Who Cares about the Rock Hall?, Twitter agitator Nick Bambach, the members of the nom comm who are trying to create change from within, and most recently, the formidable Courtney Love. Ms. Love, please keep using your platform to shame the boys club. In Janet Jackson’s legendary words, #InductMoreWomen.
Research assistance provided by Tyler Roland.
Filed under Rock Hall, Women Who Rock
Rock & Roll Hall of Lame?
CORRECTION NOTE: We missed one woman in our original count; this blog has been updated accordingly. The correction did not change the overall projections. I worry that my readers are tired of hearing me complain about a certain Cleveland institution. I know I am wearied by complaining. So this year, I thought that I would pass the mic to my research assistant, Tyler Roland. My LMU student assistants help me crunch the numbers every year. This time Tyler–a guitar player, music lover, and writer himself–also throws down some words. According to our calculations, women–including Kate Bush, Sheryl Crow, and Cyndi Lauper–make up a paltry, not-even-token 14.63 percent of this year’s nominated individuals. People of color account for 34.15 percent. The only thing that I would add to Tyler’s argument is that I am thrilled and relieved that Missy Elliott is on the list (and also personally excited about Joy Division/New Order.) If Elliott doesn’t get inducted, well, then you will all be getting quite the earful from me in a few months.
The Rock & Roll Hall of
Lame Fame has once again proven their inept handling of the rock and roll genre with their announcement of nominees for this year. Just a quick glance at the list (and inductees from years past – take just a year ago, for instance) reveals just how seismic the shift is needed in annual inductions for there to be even a meaningful number of POC and, especially, women, in their ranks. Women that are POC? Forget it – this year, out of the 41 nominations, one is a black woman – Missy Elliott. That’s 2.44%. Please.
Further stats make for further depressive reading. Iron Maiden’s a great group, but do we really need all nine of its white guys in the hall? I suppose there’s some BS technicality that lets that happen, but they alone make up 21.95% of the potential class.
I hear you begging for the best-case scenarios. What if only the women got in, and no acts with any male presence got the nod? Well…
The hall overall would turn 8.93% feminine. As it stands, the hall is 8.56% female. Again – a seismic, Richter-level shift is needed to get the hall into some more respectable territory. An RRHOF with 20 or 25% women just ain’t happening.
The situation is a little better with POC, but that is saying little. We’ll play the what-if game with only acts featuring POC. The Rock Hall is currently 31.79% nonwhite. The same logic we used earlier would mean the hall would turn a whopping 32.76% nonwhite. Still shameful.
The above scenario would also mean that the Rock Hall would remain mostly women-free, with the 2023 class making it 8.57% women. If only feminine acts got in this year, the hall would be 32.03% POC.
So, the Schlock and Bull Hall of…okay, you get it. Though some decent acts could be getting the shout-out they deserve in 2023 (see: Kate Bush, A Tribe Called Quest), the whole establishment, like the GRAMMYs, is still far from representing quality music, and the artists that produce it, as a whole. Crank up those acts that deserve more respect from a tired, old, pale-as-a-sheet corporation in Cleveland…that means more than this place ever will. — Tyler Roland
Filed under Rock Hall, Uncategorized