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The Rock Hall course corrects

After decades of snubbing female artists and increasingly ignoring artists of color, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame made an impressive course correction yesterday. Of 16 nominated acts announced, seven (43.75 percent) are solo female artists or all-female acts. If you count the number of individual performers nominated – ie, the five members of the Go-Go’s plus Mary J. Blige, Kate Bush, Chaka Khan, Dionne Warwick, Tina Turner and Carole King – women account for almost a quarter (24.44%) of all nominees. Admittedly, that’s still not parity, but it’s a great deal better than the 7.63% of total individuals inducted since the hall was founded in 1986, or the 3.45% of the class of 2020 that was female: Her name was Whitney Houston. Turner and King, if inducted, would become the second and third women to be inducted into the hall twice (they were previously inducted with their former male romantic and artistic partners). It’s about time.

Tina Turner

The hall has also reversed its slide away from being an institution that began with almost half non-white artists to one that, in the class of 2020, had less than 15 percent people of color. Almost a third (31.11%) of this year’s individuals nominated are non-white; if you count by act rather than individual, more than two-thirds (68.75%) of the acts include POC.

Even if it’s not the all-female ballot I suggested in 2019, this is still probably the highest percentage of female acts ever nominated to the hall. There were a few years when the hall inducted a slate that was around a quarter female: 28.57% in 1999, 25.93% in 1996, 24% in 1995. Interestingly, the ‘90s were a time of high visibility and activism for female musicians; possibly the hall’s choices reflected that feminist consciousness. And that era’s sheroes – Missy Elliott, Lauryn Hill, TLC, Bikini Kill, PJ Harvey, Alanis Morissette, Hole, L7 –are becoming eligible for nomination themselves. Queen Latifah is past due. There are no female rappers in the Rock Hall.

Numbers tell an important story, and the extremity of the figures that I have been crunching for the last decade, in articles for Salon, Goodreads, and Billboard, got people’s attention. Even the hosts of The View were spouting my statistics last nomination round, and an amazing army of podcasters, bloggers, and social media activists took the fight to a level of erudition and specificity that left me in the dust.

But this year’s nominees are not just a relief quantitatively; qualitatively, it’s a pretty damn good list. The diversity of styles – hip-hop, punk, metal, pop, new wave, hard rock, soft rock, medium rock – show that the committee has taken to heart Ice Cube’s induction speech of 2016, in which he said rock’n’roll is not a style, “it’s a spirit.” Beyond the stellar female choices, the committee finally acknowledged rock’s global role by nominating the late Nigerian Afrobeat artivist Fela Kuti. (Though sadly, they left Kraftwerk – arguably the hall’s biggest repeated snub – out this year.) After years of controversy over whether hip-hop acts should be included, they nominated Jay-Z, LL Cool J, Rage Against the Machine, and Blige. (Kiss this, Gene Simmons.) And they played to us old punks with the New York Dolls, thank you. Yes, there are still too many dudes-with-guitar acts – five. Those groups’ multiple members throw off the individual nominee count, skewing it white and male. But I understand they appeal to their own demographics, so let the metal fans have their Iron Maiden. Or their Rage. But not both.

It took 15 years of being eligible for the Go-Go’s to be nominated to the Rock Hall. The Foo Fighters were nominated the first year they were eligible.

After all, what’s good about this ballot is its expansive embrace of popular musical culture. To me, that’s what rock’n’roll was, at its best. I know the music – like most American culture — harbors a hideous history of racial and gender appropriation. Elvis was King but Big Mama Thornton has still never been nominated to the rock hall. But I also know there was an integration that happened at the Moondog dance parties, at studios such as Stax, on regional radio and even on the charts that offered an aural vision of a different kind of united states. One we need more than ever today. In Eric Lott’s words, there is love and theft. So for once, the nomination announcement made me not want to give up on rock and its Cleveland institution. Now let’s finish the job: As Janet Jackson said in 2019, “Induct more women.”

The complete list of 2021 nominees:

  • Mary J. Blige
  • Kate Bush
  • Devo
  • Foo Fighters
  • The Go-Go’s
  • Iron Maiden
  • JAY-Z
  • Chaka Khan
  • Carole King
  • Fela Kuti
  • LL Cool J
  • New York Dolls
  • Rage Against the Machine
  • Todd Rundgren
  • Tina Turner
  • Dionne Warwick

Research assistance provided by Schuyler Vanderveen and Yemayá Williams.

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We need the middle

A poem.


Bruce said it

Of course

Even though it’s a Jeep ad

Whose map of America leaves out the UP

Again

We need the middle

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To the Lighthouse

Angels Gate Lighthouse. Photo by Heidi Tinsman

I like to experience the sea from multiple planes. Diving in, I visit a hidden world, where humans are guests and the life forms more fantastic the deeper one plunges. Swimming on the surface, my view is the point where water meets air, which I share with paddling birds, frolicking dolphins and the occasional curious pinniped. Standing on a paddleboard, I can gaze down into the ocean and watch those same creatures as they dive underneath me, or I can look far to the horizon to where the cerulean earth bends out of sight. Sitting in a kayak, I’m on the water but not in it, at sea level but dry. By kayak, I can cover more miles more quickly than by other routes. Saturday, I paddled to the lighthouse.

As my friend Heidi and I pulled our boats into San Pedro Bay at the Cabrillo Beach boat ramp, an osprey wheeled overhead. I took it as an auspicious sign, pun intended. These brown and white hunters are my favorite birds primarily because, like me, they love the water. There’s one, and sometimes two, that hang out near the ramp, perhaps hoping for catch dropped by fishermen. They also like to patrol the inner curve of the outer beach, right outside my windows. I love to watch them hover in place, their wings cupping the air, meaty legs aimed toward potential prey – treading air like we tread water. Their dive is quick and sudden; its force can take them all the way below the surface. Sometimes I see them fly by with fish dangling from their talons, bringing home the bacon, so to speak. This is another thing I like about osprey; they are pescatarians. They basically just eat fish, sometimes a frog or eel that maybe they mistook for a trout. So even though this osprey is circling over a flock of coots and scooters, unlike an eagle, it’s not hunting other birds; it wants what they want – fish.

There’s a slight chop on the water, so we’re unsure how far we should go. We head toward the Lane Victory, the merchant marine vessel docked at the entrance to the main channel into the port. Just off the pilings, a sea lion is repeatedly jumping in circles through the water, like a cat chasing its tail.

There’s no wind or current and the waves are harmless, so we decide to cross the bay to the harbor entrance. “To the lighthouse!” we two feminist professors exclaim, and giggle at our literary joke.

Angels Gate Light has marked the entrance to the City of Angels for 113 years. Perched on the end of the rock jetty that protects Los Angeles Harbor, it’s an elegant black and white building that was refurbished several years ago. On this day, after the rains have rinsed the air, it seems to positively gleam against the blue sky and water. Also known as the Los Angeles Harbor Lighthouse, its light and horn keep the giant cargo ships from running into the jetty. For them, it marks the entrance to the port; for Heidi and me, it’s the exit to the open sea.

We paddle past the lighthouse into the Pacific, just for a look. The waves are still big out here. To our left the ocean is a parking lot of cargo ships waiting for a port berth. COVID infections and restrictions have slowed the unloading process on the docks, and record numbers of ships have been left waiting. A couple weeks ago 55 of these giant container ships had to navigate 17-foot waves. Please politicians, give essential workers their vaccines.

Staring straight south it’s nothing but blue on blue. There’s something about looking out on the ocean from the edge of land that opens a person up – especially after months of limited mobility, of sheltering in place, of lockdown. The options are endless here; it’s the “sea of possibilities,” as Patti Smith sang on the song called “Land.”

Then a fishing boat comes racing in from the ocean, passing too close and too fast. Behind us, a majestic wooden ship, the Zapata II, has all its sails flying and is coming up remarkably quick. I paddle back to the lighthouse to get out of the way, but the wakes from the two vessels merge around me and suddenly I’m pitching up and down, waves breaking over my bow, feeling like a very small vessel in a very busy urban port.

Back in the bay and, literally, even keeled, we take one last look around before retracing our, er, steps. The view from the kayak is like being in the bottom of a landscape painting. To the east, the mountains are dressed in a thick layer of snow. The white triangular arches of the new Gerald Desmond Bridge that connects Los Angeles to Long Beach are architectural echoes of Big Bear. Below them the red and white cranes of the loading docks also reach to the sky. We’re sitting in the ocean, looking up at snow-covered mountains and the engineering marvels of one of the world’s busiest ports.

I love LA.

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Welcome to the Pandemic Road Trip

Note: My husband, grandson, and I took a cross-country road trip June 25 to June 29, 2020. I’m belatedly publishing my journal entries.

June 25: I know, we’re crazy: We are driving cross country during the worst pandemic of the century. (“Worst pandemic of the century so far,” Homer Simpson whispers in my ear.) It’s our annual road trip, from our home in Los Angeles to our cabin in Michigan, where my husband was born and I have summered for 50 years (!).  In the past half-century, you can count on one hand the number of years we have not spent time in the Upper Peninsula. It’s our individual and combined Ground Zero, our happy place, our Walden, our home. Nonetheless, we seriously considered not going this year, for what I thought was an obvious reason: that five-letter and two-digit word, Covid-19.

But there were compelling reasons: Number one, my mother-in-law’s failing health. Heart attack, heart surgery, stroke, carotid artery surgery, kidney stones, etc.: She has suffered a litany of ailments in the past few years, and my sister-in-laws have shouldered the burden of care. Also, Bud’s daughter is there, his siblings, his friends. And I am hoping against hope that I might get to see — at least through a window — my father in his nursing home in Wisconsin. Usually, summer is the time my immediate family and my extended “Lake family” of friends convene here in Michigan. This year, I don’t know if I will see any of them.

At least I have my grandson. The novel coronavirus has caused all sorts of novel plot twists in people’s lives, and for my husband and I, it has meant taking care of Shine, 9, only child of my stepdaughter Kenda, this summer. After four months of home school and care, his parents, in Miami, must get back to work. So unexpectedly I’ve gotten something I have wished for but never thought would happen: I’m co-director of Camp Gramps. Shine has only been to visit his Michigan family once, when he was an infant. It is time he meets them. So not only are we driving through nine states and half the breadth and depth of the country during a pandemic; we have a grade schooler with us.

Road dogs

Road dogs Shine Hoover and Alexander Hamilton

We are not completely insane. While it is not why we are going, the thought of leaving  a county that is constantly in the news as a Covid hotspot, for one that has yet to have a single recorded case of the virus, is certainly appealing. (Update: The first case was confirmed over the July 4 weekend.)

The 2,000 miles in between are admittedly a deterrent. Yet in general, the route has so far been  refreshingly virus free, especially compared to LA. Sure, on the infection maps, there are a few orange and red hotspots, but they can easily be driven through — don’t even gas up. We are driving, not flying, and we have planned a trip with as few interactions with people and surfaces as possible. We have a picnic basket and cooler full of food. We are carrying a special purple coronarivus backpack, full of masks, sanitizer, gloves, wipes, etc. We love to experience the American West every summer. But this year, we will enjoy it primarily through the truck windows.

Provisions

Still, if there is one lesson I would want to convey at the end of our journey’s first day, it’s this: Don’t go to Utah.

We stopped just across the border in St. George, one of our usual haunts, perched as it is amid the beautiful red and black rocks of canyon country. But I was shocked when I entered the gas station/Burger King. The usual Mormon broods of seemingly endless blond children always freak me out, but this year they were like pandemic panic horror show poster children, as they filled the tiny bathroom — no social distancing, nary a mask in sight. At the food-ordering line, I had to ask them to back up. Maybe Utahns have so many children they consider them expendable, but I value my only grandson.

Basically, no one in Utah wears masks. Not the desk clerk at the La Quinta Hotel in North Orem, nor the guests, nor the gas station attendants.

No wonder the infection and death rates in Utah are rising — as of June 25, 164 per 100,000 and 5 per 100,000 respectively. The test positivity rate is even more alarming, currently 13.2% and rising.

111 in the desert

Don’t go to Utah.

We loved the scenery as usual, though found the highway surprisingly full. But we sprinted to our hotel room and will slink out in the morning. Here’s hoping the people of Wyoming are a little smarter.

 

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Solidarity on the streets of San Pedro

BLMLA protest San Pedro

People protest peacefully in front of San Pedro police station June 2, 2020.

There were silver Priuses and white SUVs. A fire truck, two garbage trucks, public works trucks, an ice cream truck, a city bus, and several semis honked their horns as they drove by. One rig’s blast sounded like a train whistle, long and loud — that got our adrenaline going. Lots of men in pickup trucks honked or raised their fists, even the one in a big white four-door with an American flag flying from the tailgate and a Trump sticker in the window. “He must be driving his dad’s car,” my friend Sue said. Even some police cars honked. A majority of the traffic passing the San Pedro police station Tuesday afternoon between 3 and 5 showed their solidarity with protesters waving “Black Lives Matter” and “End Systemic Racism” flags. They signaled support either with their horns or with their fists, thumbs, or fingers in peace signs. Many drivers admittedly were handicapped by their efforts to keep one hand on the wheel and one on their cell phones filming. There were only three voices of dissent, from a thumb down to a disturbing “Fuck Floyd.” Some protesters misheard one shout as “Fuck you!” but in fact it was “Fuck yeah!” I could see the joy on the driver’s face.

San Pedro BLM protester

No justice, no peace.

We were a small crowd — about 50 — but given that this was the first protest in often conservative San Pedro since the murder of George Floyd, our presence was significant. And with every passing honk, shout and fist pump of support, we provoked a loud and clear message to the police standing outside watching us, or sitting at their desks inside the station: People have had enough. The horrific video of Floyd’s death has galvanized a worldwide protest movement against police brutality and white supremacy. President Trump’s warning on Monday that he would send the troops to clear the streets was the straw that broke the back for those of us still paralyzed by pandemic fear. He pushed folks like me off the fence/couch and out to the streets to show these protests aren’t about violent extremism: They’re about making long overdue change in our country.

San Pedro steps up

San Pedro steps up. Photo by Sue Maralit

The demonstration was peaceful. Police officers waved hello as my friends and I walked up to join the line of protesters and I flashed them a peace sign. There were people I knew there — all local San Pedrans — and mostly, people I didn’t. We were a notably diverse lot, trending young and female, but my friends and I are all in our 50s. Next to me was Paul, a retired longshoreman; Erin, mother of children in San Pedro High and Dana Middle schools; and Catherine, a young woman with long purple braids. We were black, brown, and white; first-nation, European, African, and Mexican — a “broad coalition,” as President Obama says. The only infiltrators I saw were not from the far right or left but a few Jesus freaks offering the typical crazy — but admittedly timely — apocalyptic rhetoric. There were the usual socialist worker party folks hawking their wares (ironically). After all, Pedro is a union town, land of Harry Bridges and Joe Hill. Artists and activists handed out signs from the punk Pedro printers Calimucho: “Together we are stronger” over two fists clenched together, designed by Ruth Mora.

San Pedro BLM protester

Solidarity in a union town

It felt surreal and thrilling to be out with people again, after months of sheltering in place. Almost everyone wore masks, though social distancing was imperfectly practiced. We came in peace and we left in peace, as curfew neared — and the feet and knees of us olds started to ache. The officers waved goodbye and we waved back.

Graphic from Calimucho Screen Printing

Graphic by Ruth Mora, from Calimucho Screen Printing

The only scary moment of the whole afternoon was on the drive back down Pacific Avenue, past the Sixth Street business district. Stores were boarding up their buildings and a group of scary musclemen in San Pedro Fight Club T-shirts looked menacing and out for trouble. The idea that any of the peaceful protestors at the cop shop or down the street at the city hall building were going to bust some glass and steal, I don’t know, T-shirts was laughable. Remember, violence in this country historically and right now comes from the vested interests and the police who protect them. If nothing else, the protest forced locals to spray paint “BLM” on their makeshift window guards; even if they were just trying to keep vandals away, the message was there this morning, on building after building: “Black Lives Matter.”

Black Arts Matter

Marquee at Warner Grand Theater, downtown San Pedro

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Blue Wave

Blue wave

Photo by Sue Maralit

I have been on a wild goose chase. Literally. I worked for the Youth Conservation Corps in Wisconsin in the summer of 1984, and our job one day was to walk through the wetlands chasing Canadian geese. We started at one corner of a swamp, about a dozen feet apart – socially distancing decades before that was a thing. At the opposite corner was a net. It was molting season so the birds could not fly. As we trudged through the mud in rubber boots – sometimes up to our chests in muck – we moved closer together, pushing the flightless creatures further down the funnel until finally, they were trapped in the net. The hunt was for their own good: The captured geese were tagged for research and released. We hosed and showered ourselves off afterwards. We were teenagers. Being filthy was fun.

Now, I know how the geese feel. The country, state, county, and city have been driving us into tighter and tighter quarters. First they told us to stay indoors except for exercise. Then they closed every open space where we could exercise: the parks, the beaches, the marinas, etc. Instead of giving us ample places to social distance, they have driven us into crowded neighborhoods and streets. Unlike other cities, Los Angeles has not shut down roads to give pedestrians added walking areas. Where I live, San Pedro, I am surrounded by public spaces where we used to be able to walk for miles with minimal passers by. Now, to give myself and my dog the exercise and sunshine we all need if we are going to stay healthy and keep our immune systems up, I have to walk on hard sidewalks, ducking into the road to keep six feet from other walkers, on promenades filled with all the other people driven into this urban net, that the city keeps tightening.

The Los Angeles Times recently called on state and local governments to reconsider their stance on closing public spaces. Some counties, such as Ventura and Orange, were open this weekend in time for the first hot days of the year. Sadly, not the county and city of Los Angeles. Having made the mistake to shut the beaches to begin with, they have now created a dangerous bottleneck situation.

This is Southern California. We live here for the sun, the air, the oceans, the mountains, the desert. We need the outdoors like Las Vegas needs casinos and New Jersey needs golf courses. We are a people who swim, surf, run, ride bikes, paddleboard, kayak, skateboard, sail, and fish. Activity defines us. For many of us, to not be able to partake in these sports is an assault on our mental and physical health; this is not just emotion speaking, this is science. And believe me, there is enough room in and near the Pacific Ocean for us to keep six feet apart — if governments would just open all the beaches, instead of forcing us into a few. It’s not only science, it’s math.

As Dr. Shana Jordan, a family doctor on respiratory duty, neighbor, and avid surfer, recently wrote in a letter to Mayor Garcetti: “The ocean is not a contagion zone. No two surfers or swimmers or paddlers would ever be within six feet of each other. This is nonsense. The government is swiftly losing credibility among outdoors people, particularly surfers and runners. I understand that enforcement is made so much easier with blanket park/trail/beach closures. But without nuance it is barbaric and idiotic.”

Sure, some people are going to be stupid/reckless/forgetful and not socially distance. So control the crowds. Do what Hawaii is doing: Don’t let people hang out on the beach; let them access the beach and the ocean for exercise. Limit the numbers who can enter the sea by keeping parking lots closed or restricting access. If Home Depot can figure out how to socially distance shoppers, can’t Parks and Recreation do the same for recreators? Patrol the beach for people violating the rules. Don’t let a few bad apples spoil the bushel.

The last weekend Cabrillo Beach was open, it was a gorgeous day, and after weeks of restricted movement and rain, lots of people did turn up. It was early in the shelter-in-place restrictions, the parking lot was open, and families with small children stuck at home were desperate to do something with their kids. Rangers cruised the sands in four-wheelers politely reminding people to social distance. They were nice; they complimented my dog. Not everyone listened to them, I’m sure, but most people did. The situation could have been improved with more planning, clearer rules. Instead, by the end of the week, all access to all beaches and parks was closed. Period. That’s not government, that’s dictatorship.

Fact time: coronavirus is deadly, it’s highly contagious, it’s scary. And we in the US were not prepared for a pandemic. From the national to the local level, American governments have had to rely on social control because they have not been able to provide the social services that are the number-one factor in controlling the deadly outbreak. Five months since Covid was first identified, Americans still do not have free and widespread testing for the virus and antibodies, personal protective equipment, contact tracing, etc. Support for hospitals, the unemployed, parents with children stuck at home, small businesses, schools, etc., has been slow in coming and too little too late.

Our leaders have instead relied on us to keep each other safe – and we have been pretty damn good, overall. The infection rate in California is 104 per 100,000, less than one tenth the per capita rate in densely populated New York. It’s higher in LA, but that is largely because of infections in nursing homes, tragically. Our curve is flattening, and it was never close to the dire numbers Governor Newsom predicted early on. So why, instead of loosening the reins, do they keep wanting to tighten them? Could it be they did this not for our protection but for their own hunger for power? Or that they are misdirecting us from their continued failure to provide adequate testing? I swear Mr. Perfect Hair Newsom gets a gleam in his eye when he warns us infection rates will go up if we don’t be good little children and stay glued to our screens.

LA County Public Health director Dr. Barbara Ferrer recently said, “We know it’s best right now for us Angelenos to stay home, or stay outside [in] your own yard or your own neighborhood.” First of all, that’s the definition of a paternalistic, or maternalistic, government attitude. Secondly, not all Angelenos have yards. One of the reasons Covid-19 is affecting impoverished and minority communities with more deadly power is because people there tend to be crowded into smaller spaces with less access to public land. Third, I would like to stay in my neighborhood, but my neighborhood is closed, so I keep having to go elsewhere, where it’s more crowded, to exercise. Open my neighborhood, and I’ll happily stay put.

Florida and Georgia have opened their beaches. Michigan is letting people fish again. When will Californians be freed?

People are starting to go nuts. Instead of bringing us together, the virus is driving us further apart – literally, of course, but we are not only socially distancing, we are philosophically, psychologically and emotionally distancing. The go-outsiders roam manically, ever further, looking for room to move, venturing into dangerous territories to get the nature they need. The stay at homers lurk on social media shaming their neighbors for, I don’t know, kissing their children. There’s a woman in our neighborhood who walks around calling people into the police, even though she herself is not sheltering in place. Yesterday, ironically, we had to call the police on her because she purposely coughed on my husband and harassed our food delivery person, after we told her to stop her snooping. Early in the restrictions, one of the many locals we used to see every day at the beach stood desolately in front of the yellow tape, surfboard under his arm. A former cop, he shook his head: “They’re going too far. You go too far, there will be social unrest.”

We’re seeing that around the world now. I worry that despite every horrible thing Trump has done wrong, Democrats – and I am one — are driving people straight into his arms by making ours the party of fear, the party of no fun, the party of no freedom. Instead of the party of empathy, of support, of leadership.

I jumped into the ocean the other day for the first time in months. In seconds, it was as if the heavy coat of tar and dust that has weighed me down was rinsed off, and all that day – and still now – I felt joy again. I knew I was hurting, but I didn’t know how bad.

Push free-ranging animals into tighter and tighter quarters for a month, then turn on the heat lamp, and see what happens. And remember, we are not molting so we can fly, straight into the sun if we have to.

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“Black & Blue” Revisited

Upon the reissue of the Rolling Stones’ album Black and Blue, Edward Helmore of The Guardian interviewed me about the controversial ad campaign for the album. As I told him, it was an ad that backfired at the time and hasn’t aged well. Oh bondage, up yours!

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