Bad week for rock

Ike Turner dead, Hall of Fame lamer

by Ben Wener

The Orange County Register (MCT)

18 December 2007


There must be other names that fit into Ike Turner’s odd corner of rock `n’ roll importance.

Jerry Lee Lewis? Yeah, but his reputation got rehabilitated ages ago.

Phil Spector? Sure, his rep has gone even further to pot than before - but weirdness always did figure into his genius, so adding murderous (should a jury ever declare such a trait) isn’t such a stretch of the imagination that I think people stop appreciating the sheer joy and marvel of his pop productions, just because he may really be that cracked.

Rick James? You crazy.

OK, the rep is flat-out atrocrious, fraught with poor choices and outright lying about his seemingly ceaseless drug use. I spent a half-hour on the phone with the guy in the late `90s, when he was just out of jail and swearing up and down he was as sober as could be. The sound of his voice alone told me how coked up he was. And then I heard eyewitness stories about half-naked, bloody-nosed, backstage shenanigans when he played the Galaxy in Santa Ana, Calif.

Given all the other facts (forget rumors) about his wild life, you just know that guy was up to much worse than has been learned. (And it sure makes me wonder what’s really up with Scott Weiland, now that he got busted for a DUI after what appeared to be a long stretch of sobriety ... or was it?) All of that has made Rick James a curiously romanticized character for those who don’t quite get the punchline of Dave Chappelle’s sketches. But none of it has ever convinced me that he’s a major talent.

Ike Turner, on the other hand, was a straight-up, bona fide major talent - a key figure in the development of rhythm `n’ blues as it became rock and soul and funk in the `60s and `70s. Someone who deserves continued mention in the company of Sly Stone, Curtis Mayfield and the architects of Motown and Stax. (Ray Charles and James Brown - that’s a whole `nother level.)

Yes, by all believable accounts, he treated Tina abominably - like no woman (no human) should ever be treated. And Phil Spector may or may not have shot some former B-movie actress dead.

Sometimes - though it can be extremely difficult, I agree - it’s still worth setting the achievement apart from the individual.

So why is it bad for rock that he’s dead? The achievement, after all, can live on long after the troubled man who created it is gone.

All the same, the timing is a shame. To what extent he had faced his past or continued to live in denial of it, I dunno, but artistically speaking, Ike was in a strong turnaround this decade, reclaiming his roots with an authority few other original peers could muster. His Grammy earlier this year (best traditional blues album, for “Risin’ with the Blues”) was deserved, not just sentimental. (Could it really even have been sentimental? For Ike Turner?)

Thus, strange to say but true, we’ve lost one of rock `n’ roll’s few remaining greats too soon. At a time when Amy Winehouse and Mark Ronson have captured the world’s fun zone with music that owes a debt to Ike’s life’s work, it’s too bad the real thing couldn’t eke out one late-in-the-game, widespread-for-a-moment hurrah before exiting for good. And though I, too, laughed out loud when I saw the New York Post’s headline - Ike `Beats’ Tina to Death - I find it unexpectedly sad that that’s how he’s widely being thought of right now.

It was also a bad week for rock because the institution (that dirty word) that honored Ike in 1991, as a member of the sixth class inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, has further cheapened the honor by installing undeserving candidates. In this case, the Dave Clark Five and the Ventures - two good, even moderately influential outfits of diminishing lasting popularity, whose importance to the development of popular music pales in comparison with two nominated titans of dance music, Chic and Donna Summer.

This is one of those appallingly stupid instances in which the Hall’s narrow-mindedness and narrower induction guidelines (only five a time!) has created a senseless break in the natural chronology of this increasingly dubious honor. As with hip-hop and heavy rock, the Hall can no longer refuse the deep influx of slicker dance varieties into pop music as the `70s became the `80s. Yet it embraces it only so much, so far, routinely selecting safe or irrefusable tokens, rather than also paying tribute to chief architects along the way.

So Madonna, of course, gets in during her first year of eligibility - as she should, if you ask me. But Madonna would never have become MADONNA without the mighty Chic and Donna Summer to lead the way. Madonna is a force of nature; it was inevitable that she’d take the world by storm. But how much longer would it have taken if she hadn’t learned all about club jams and how to sell `em - her first mode of pop stardom - from Summer and Chic’s groove masters Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards?

I’m happy, by the way, that the Beastie Boys didn’t get in just yet. Their career doesn’t take flight until 1987, and in Hall of Fame years we’re only at `82. They deserve to - and will - get in. But to put them in ahead of Afrika Bambaataa, no matter how many more millions of records they’ve sold or how much more pervasively they may have influenced culture, still doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Leonard Cohen’s induction thrills me - it offers hope that Patti Smith and Joni Mitchell won’t be the only offbeat singer-songwriters who’ll get in during my lifetime, and that Tom Waits won’t actually be forgotten. John Mellencamp’s spot is well-earned - but so is Steve Miller’s and Jimmy Buffett’s, and neither guy has even been a finalist.

Waits, Miller, Buffett - Roxy Music, Yes, the Cure, Genesis, Linda Ronstadt, Hall & Oates, can I get a Spinners for crying out loud ... I could go on all day naming overlooked names, and the list piles higher every year. But there they are - the Dave Clark Five, so honored for (as best I can figure) selling a lot of records of limited originality in the thick of the British Invasion, and the Ventures, a one-dimensional token of surf music to place next to the Beach Boys in an exhibit room. Brilliant. Just brilliant.

Ike Turner’s ghost should start haunting the place.

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