Letters to the editor

Grand Funk Railroad killed rock 'n' roll?! Plus: Sun Microsystems scientist's doomsaying isn't convincing; white New Yorkers need to protest police brutality.

By Salon Staff
Published April 13, 2000 4:00PM (EDT)

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury ...



The thesis that Grand Funk Railroad killed rock has to be one of the dumbest, most shortsighted things I've ever heard. Music, especially popular music, is cyclical, just like any other human endeavor. It begins with the laboring artist with a vision, the popularization of that vision and concludes with the grinding of that vision into dust by the popular marketing machinery (assuming the vision has sufficient cachet to make it out of step one, that is).

If GFR hadn't come along, 50 other bands would have, none of which would have delivered the kill shot to a genre that was already running on empty artistically. Art, by nature, must be built up, torn down and restarted. Saying GFR killed rock is equivalent to saying that The Beatles invented it.

-- Eric Wooten

Damn, I feel terrible. I recently bought their greatest hits CD. And I liked it.

-- John Verrier

At their worst GFR were pedestrian, sweaty hard rock with little more to offer than a soundtrack to regurgitate cheap beer and Quaaludes to for their groin-smacking, bong-sucking audience. I would suggest that if Robbins had looked a little harder at the fingerprints on the many knives in the back of rock 'n' roll, the more likely offenders would turn out to be the legions of deeply pretentious art rockers that plodded right alongside GFR (including in their ranks critical faves like Fripp and Eno). At least Mark Farner -- unlike his far more Hestonian homeboy Ted Nugent -- didn't find his politics until far past the peak of his fame.

-- Larry Grogan

It's easy to dump on Grand Funk Railroad, hell, we all did back then. But in the interim some of us figured out that the vaunted idealism and artistic pretense of '60s rock was a sham, a durable sham, but a sham no less.

It is almost excruciating, in the year 2000, to still hear the bleating of writers like Robbins about their holy 1960s. Gimme a break. I was there, and there wasn't a rat's butt worth of difference between the calculation of a Mark Farner and the sophomoric pretense and narcissism of a Jim Morrison. You even have conveniently forgotten how much the late-'70s punks you venerate hated the '60s peace-love-dope nonsense, and with good reason.

What still matters? Great pop tunes. Great singers like Otis Redding. Great songwriters like Buddy Holly and Lennon & McCartney (before they did all the dope), John Fogerty, Springsteen, and blues and jazz, from whence most of the best stuff came.

-- Don Cicchetti

Thanks to Ira Robbins for a witty and accurate view of the '70s rock scene. Let's not forget that the same decade brought us such bands as Foreigner, Boston, Styx and REO Speedwagon, all promising bands that chose to stay with the formula that worked the first time rather than try anything creative.

It is refreshing in today's VH1 "Behind the Music" nostalgia to see some honest criticism of the era.

-- Dale Howard Swinehart

I read your Grand Funk piece with a big smile. They were a big, dumb band, first of the dinosaurs. As a teenager in the early '70s, I loved them.
I haven't replaced my long-lost vinyl albums with CDs and I probably won't, but if "Heartbreaker" came on the radio tomorrow, I'd crank it and laugh. Sure beats Lenny Kravitz.

Of course, Homer Simpson explained it best to Maggie a couple of years back: "You don't remember Grand Funk? The bonging bass of Mel Schacher?
The barechested guitar of Mark Farner? The competent drumming of Don Brewer?"

-- Jeff Calvin



Wow! At first I was amazed to find out that the co-founder of Sun Microsystems is such a technophobe.

And then I remembered: This is the company that still can't figure out why anybody would want a personal computer. Wouldn't everyone be better off doing their computing on a central server, under the supervision of a sysadmin?

Individual experimentation is the driving force behind all intellectual progress. If Sun doesn't realize this, I have to wonder how they reached the semi-dominant position they have.

-- Matthew Moran

Has any else noticed that Bill Joy is making a very familiar argument? Whenever an elite is losing its monopoly on power, it starts shrieking about the end of the world. Ownership of property, literacy and the right to vote have all been viewed as powers too dangerous to give to the unwashed rabble.

Joy's proposed solutions are revealing: Rather than trust his fellow human beings, he'd prefer to keep the information in the hands of unaccountable corporations. Just who is it that is performing lethal gene therapy experiments and desperately lobbying to stop government agencies from requiring labels on genetically modified foods? My neighbor or Corporate America?

-- Andy MacTavish

The vision of the anointed is alive and well in Silicon Valley. My (rhetorical) question for Joy is: Are people too stupid to play with something as dangerous as fire? Yes, we stand on the brink of worldwide cataclysm, and we have been at that precipice for half a century now. My (real) question for him: Who's going to determine who gets what and when and where with these technologies, and what makes him think that any one person or conglomeration has sufficient knowledge to make that decision?

-- Dale Fitzgerald

Bill Joy's fears aren't very convincing. Dolly the sheep a "complete surprise"? People had only been expecting it for 20 or 30 years. Most of his worries about, for example, nanotechnology, have been discussed by people working in the area for over a decade, something to which Joy gives little credit. That's probably why Silicon Valley's reaction to his essay has been so ho-hum.

The most interesting response to Joy's fears, however, comes from the techno band Mobius Dick in its song "Embrace the Machine." The choice, we are told, is to embrace or be replaced. Joy doesn't seem to have much of an answer to that.

-- Glenn H. Reynolds

Do white New Yorkers care about police brutality?


The opening anecdote that Jill Nelson uses in her piece seems fictional: A white woman who works out in Harlem unaware of police brutality? But, as a white male resident of this city, I can believe it.

As diverse as this city is, there are so many pockets of racial isolation that one can live and work here and the only black faces a white person will come across are on the subway.This is why whites are not as attuned to the dangers of being a black resident in New York -- because many of them don't have personal relationships with any blacks. Most whites don't know anyone affected by this murderous rampage.

Perhaps our mayor is the best hope for breaking through these barriers. The insane screeching that emanated from his throat over the last shooting actually penetrated the thick white heads around me -- and they are beginning to see the crisis.

-- Dan Klotz

Jill Nelson is surely right that the time is long overdue for white New Yorkers to take a stand against police brutality. Unfortunately no one is handing out buttons in my neighborhood. The only calls to join in protest I ever hear about are associated with Al Sharpton, whose recent excesses are too odious to overlook.

One more thing. Nelson has this thing about "white privilege." This construction misses the point and is divisive. The problem is black "imprivilege." Everyone should enjoy the freedom to go about their business without worrying about race.

-- Ellis Simberloff

Are we not divas?

Yes, only women can be divas, but please -- not every moderately successful, mostly self-centered female singer. Aren't divas supposed to have difficult personalities? Why some these young singers are just the sweetest things. Next they'll be calling famous young female athletes divas, for chrissake (oops, they already have: Mia Hamm).

-- Jerry Wright

I'll do my best to fight the concept of male divas just as soon as you get actresses to quit calling themselves actors.

Are the Academy Awards going to just have best actor categories or are we going to be subjected to best male actor and best female actor categories?

-- John Davies

Salon Staff

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