A Comic Strip That Will Live in Infamy

So I'm reading the comic strip "Frazz" today, and a teacher at the school where Frazz works is asking for the difference between famous and infamous. Right away, this seems a little odd, because the words aren't similar. It's like asking for the difference between heinous and popular. Frazz says he can demonstrate using a quote from George Carlin, and the teacher recoils, thinking, I guess, that the quote will use some salty language or something like that. Frazz says that's the point; the teacher knows who George Carlin is because Carlin is famous, but is worried about the quote, because Carlin is infamous.

Let's just set the record straight right here: George Carlin is not infamous, not by a country mile. Carlin was a comedian who sometimes created controversy with his act. That's all.

Other things that are not infamous:

  • the "wardrobe malfunction" at the Super Bowl with Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake
  • the Neil Young album Trans
  • George Lucas's decision to edit Star Wars so that Greedo shoots first

Infamy, properly used, is a very heavy label. To gain some perspective, remember the words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor: "this is a day which will live in infamy." That's the standard. Infamy is not merely being famous in a controversial way. It's not properly applied to an act merely because it is famous for stupidity, silliness, bad taste, or offensiveness.

Of course, words like infamous are misused all the time in the haste of ordinary speech, and no great harm is caused. But is it too much to ask that Frazz take a little more care when directly asked for a definition?

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Glam-Rock Bass Players Who Are Clearly High

Bass players get no respect. This is been an understood rule of rock bands for as long as there have been rock bands. The best possible exception to the rule comes when the bass player is also the front man, like Paul McCartney, Geddy Lee, or that guy from Night Ranger who was also that guy in that other band. Those guys got respect because they were the face of the band. And of course, Suzy Quattro, who was not only the singer, but she was also a hot chick in leather. She probably could have played a tuba and looked cool. But most bass players know that they are forgotten men. Sonically, they are the foundation of the music, but to the audience, they can be all but invisible.

It's no wonder, then, that so many of them have fallen into the smoky embrace of marijuana, presumably as a means of coping with their sad anonymity. This proclivity was most pronounced during the glam-rock era, as my research as uncovered.

Exhibit A.

Steve Priest, Sweet, "Blockbuster"

Steve Priest is clearly high. First, he's dressed like a Nazi (in an alternate take he's sporting a drawn-on Hitler mustache), in England, within living memory of World War II, while the band sings a song called "Blockbuster." Although the name is a pun here, a "blockbuster" was a Wehrmacht bomb big enough to destroy an entire London block. You'd have to be pretty high to think this was acceptable behavior.

Secondly, he makes a "toke" sign to the audience, and more than once, too.

I personally oppose drug use of any kind, but one has to feel for Mr. Priest. When does the camera focus on him during the song? Only when it's time for him to deliver a line sounding like a fey Count Chocula. This is the same voice he is required to use in "Ballroom Blitz." Such humiliation is the regular pattern for bassists. When there's a goofy voice or other musically embarrassing job to be performed, it's always the bassist who gets roped in.

Exhibit B.

Charlie Tumahai, Be-Bop Deluxe, "Fair Exchange"

If you're not sure you agree with me that Charlie is high during the song, wait around until 1:20 or so.

Be-Bop Deluxe was a great band, not very well known in America, and this is a great track. But Charlie is clearly high. Why is he so upset? I think he's just overshadowed, even though he is a very talented musician. Bill Nelson is a fantastic guitarist, and Simon Fox on the drums is no slouch, either. So the camera's rarely going to be checking out poor Charlie. Heck, at one point (around 2:00) the camera lingers for several seconds on the keyboardist, when he's not even playing anything. The bassist would never get that kind of attention.

Exhibit C.

George Ford, Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel, "Make Me Smile"

Okay, George is so high in this video that I'm getting a contact buzz just watching him. The best evidence is right at the end of the first chorus, around 1:10. Taste the rainbow, man.

George, like all bassists, gets no respect, but he is clearly beyond caring. Really, the whole band is beyond caring, as you can see during the song's break, when the keyboardist makes absolutely no attempt to pretend that he playing what we are hearing. You see, the band was originally simply called Cockney Rebel, but Steve Harley cheesed off the band enough times that all the other guys quit, then he hired these replacements, and expanded the name so that everybody would be clear about who was in charge.

There's probably lots more evidence out there, but I think I've made my point. Pot-smoking glam rock bass players, I salute you. May you one day get the respect you deserve.

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