The Best American Band: ZZ Top

ZZ Top

ZZ Top

Well, we started the discussion of the best American rock ‘n’ roll band with Aerosmith, and therefore it only seems appropriate to end with a discussion of ZZ Top. A bit predictable, perhaps . . . but ZZ Top, a power trio from Texas, has recorded some of the best blues/boogie rock ever. It also was ahead of its time in “branding” itself. Two of the band members, Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill, are instantly recognizable to even non-fans through their long beards and cheap sunglasses. .

We shouldn’t let the iconic nature of the ZZ Top brand detract from an appreciation of the band’s music. I bought my first ZZ Top album, Tres Hombres, when I was in high school. The 35 years later, the music still is great. La Grange, with its quiet, ticking, mumbled intro abruptly turning into a power rock anthem, is a classic. That song was unique in that era for consisting almost entirely of taut guitar solos and drum fills, with almost no vocals. Jesus Just Left Chicago, on the other hand, shows the band’s capabilities on blues-flavored rock — also powered almost entirely by instrumental solos. By the early 1980s, when ZZ Top and its flying red 1930s coupe were staples on MTV, the band still produced great music. Legs and Gimme All Your Lovin’ are classic rock ‘n’ roll songs, and after Kish and I moved back to Columbus I was glad to find that one of the local rock stations, Q-FM 96, often played Sharp Dressed Man at 7 a.m. on the dot, as I was driving to work. There are few better ways to get a suit-clad young lawyer moving at the beginning of a long day!

ZZ Top doesn’t have the same breadth of styles as other groups on our list, but the timeless quality of their music should command respect. The Ipod features many ZZ Top tunes, including Waitin’ For the Bus, Blue Jean Blues, La Grange, Jesus Just Left Chicago, Move on Down the Line, What Would You Do, Tush, Tube Snake Boogie, Rough Boy, and I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide.

Edited to add: Time to Vote for your choice for the Best American Band!

World Atwitter

There’s lots of interesting stuff on the web about what is happening in Iran — and what might happen.  The Commentary blog has lots of information, thoughtful analysis and links, and the Raye Man Kojast (“Where is my vote”) blog has lots of photos and articles (although some are in other languages).  We must all hold our breath and hope that what the Iranian protestors are doing doesn’t end in some horrible bloodbath.

I am particularly interested in the role technology is playing in helping to let the outside world know what is happening in Iran, despite the government’s best efforts to clamp down on news coverage of the protests.  I’m not exactly sure what “Twitter” is or how it works, but it apparently permits broad dissemination of brief messages.  Cell phones, of course, allow people to readily take photos and video and then transmit them far and wide.  Blackberrys, laptops, and e-mail are other portable, relatively inexpensive means of easily storing and transmitting information.  It thus is not surprising that, despite the Iranian government’s best efforts, these new communications forms and devices are becoming increasingly indispensable methods of spreading the news and letting people inside Iran, and out, see the nature, scope and extent of the protests and the government responses to those protests.

In the past, a repressive regime could quash dissent and anti-government speech by executing the rebel firebrand, breaking up printing presses, violently dispersing demonstrators, and closing the borders to keep things under wraps.  With each new communications advance, however, truly suppressing dissenting speech becomes more and more difficult.  The methods of large-scale communication keep changing and becoming more balkanized and therefore more difficult to fully control.  In this sense, at least, technology is a bulwark against repression.  It cannot prevent regimes from bloody slaughter of protesting citizens, but it can ensure that such slaughters are no longer done in secret.

California, Dreaming

Legislative activity in California is hot and heavy as the state tries to close what is now a $24 billion budget gap. This story reports on some of the choices that have been presented and are being debated. Should the gap be closed purely with spending reductions, or should fees and additional taxes be imposed because some government services are just too important to cut? It seems to me that what is happening in California is precisely how representative government should work — the voters have rejected certain approaches, and now legislators and the Governor must make hard choices. Then, when the next election occurs, those elected officials can be held accountable for their choices.

Two other things about the linked article are of interest. First, it’s worth noting that one of the revenue-raising initiatives is to tax each barrel of oil produced in California. I’ve noted in the past that the current federal, state, and local budget shortfalls are likely to make lawmakers, in California and elsewhere, at least consider revenue-raising options that would have been anathema previously. I imagine a number of California legislators now silently wish that they had previously loosened restrictions on oil drilling in the state and immediately offshore, so that there would be more barrels of California-produced oil to tax. Second, note in the last paragraph how the state is going to close a $6 billion gap by, among other things, “transferring funds between accounts and fiscal years, and accelerating personal and corporate income tax withholdings.”  If only it were so easy to come up with $6 billion!  Such pipe-dream “solutions” sound like stop-gap approaches that are just going to defer impending budget problems until a later day of reckoning.