‘Weekly Standard’ Fails in Pitting Yes Against the Replacements

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Yes Replacements Ike Brannon

On April 14, 2018 a new crop of artists will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The Moody Blues’ belated recognition will be as close to progressive rock as it’s going to get this year. Hopefully the Moodies won’t have to endure the likes of a phony controversy that Yes faced when they were inducted in 2017.

Yes’ inclusion was a done deal when the venerable progressive rock band’s own long-awaited honor was announced in December 2016. One particularly outlandish claim, however, was that Yes could thank the intervention of the United States government, which fell victim to a group of dangerously despicable lobbyists and, in the process, prevented those artists who were more deserving, and of the people – I said, “of the people,” mind you! – from being fairly considered.

The topic of fake news has been such a pervasive subject that it’s hard to escape it. For the most part, that moniker has been limited to politics, of and in itself. Beyond politics, there was a piece in the April 5, 2017 online edition of the Weekly Standard, a conservative opinion journal that’s been described as the “neocon bible.” It was about how a “precedent” was set for inducting Yes in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and, while the essay in question technically isn’t news, it fudges some facts while outright ignoring others.

What came across is that Weekly Standard writer Ike Brannon pitted inductee Yes against the Replacements, a losing nominee. Brannon is sure that Yes was chosen over his own pick (one for which he doesn’t hide his fanboy dedication one iota) due to “corporatism represented by the [Rock] Hall,” and that Yes being chosen “ratifies” that. According to the author, this was supposedly fueled by government-backed actors who apparently were phenomenally successful in their efforts to insidiously propel Yes into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The inference is that federal overreaching and meddling is responsible for steamrolling over the downtrodden and, in this case, is the major reason Yes were chosen over the band that Brannon deems as the more deserving. In this revisionist scenario, the motives for Yes being inducted don’t include their earning it in any way: It was the sinister work of a controlling government and its forces to ensure this honor would be predestined. In the eyes of some voters, if any facet of government is involved, then it’s clearly not, now or ever, in “the people’s” best interests — even if it’s a totally fake assertion, as it is here.

Such is the folly of being one-sided. It’s easy to forget that back in the early 1970s bands like Yes were the predecessors to the punk movement; in prog’s case those musicians took what was perceived as a simple (and sometimes simplistic) musical art form and created something that was a reaction to what came before it, while attempting to do something that was truly original and exciting. Rush’s Geddy Lee, in his induction comments at the 2017 ceremony, articulated it succinctly: “Through Yes, I was tuning into a wider world of possibilities.”

How dare the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame choose Yes, when author Ike Brannon’s heroes wrote what he purports to be one of the greatest songs since the heyday of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. (Um, what was the title of that tune? There is a link but it’s not called out by name; after all, everyone knows what it is … right?) He takes an entire paragraph painting the history of the Replacements alone as a defense by presenting conjecture as foregone conclusions — like how their “obsessiveness” resulted in their becoming stronger as musicians. While that might be an accurate observation about the band at large, it adds little to why one group is more deserving than another.

When those “facts” are compared to those for Yes’ induction – well, Brannon presents absolutely no specifics for Yes whatsoever, as it didn’t fit into his agenda. The author clearly didn’t care, and by that token neither should anyone else. This lack of objectivity is front and center as he summarily dismisses any attempt to truly examine — or even attempt to understand — the reasons Yes deserved to be inducted: Their longevity, integrity, resiliency, album/ticket sales, and even their having influenced others (see: Rush) to break down musical walls. Yes successfully pulled off the extending and melding of different musical idioms, taking risks that might have failed spectacularly but instead were embraced by audiences worldwide.

But let’s get back to Brannon’s assertion on how the U.S. government shockingly screwed the Replacements in favor of Yes. The basis for what Ike Brannon smugly presents as evidence is badly out of date. The promotion from 2013 and 2015 launched by some “DC insiders” was spearheaded by John Brabender of Brabender/Cox, which is described on its website as a “full-service advertising agency specializing in adversarial marketing.” The promotion was predicated on the idea that Yes’ induction was something which both political parties could actually come together and agree upon, even during a time when Democratic and Republican politicians were at an ideological divide.

Ike Brannon’s “woe is me” bluster centers on what could be characterized as a publicity endeavor from a few years ago — and that’s unmistakably exposed by the piece’s linking to an article from back in 2013. While Brabender/Cox attempted to again help push Yes for their second nomination in 2015, the firm did not participate for Yes’ win in 2016.

Rather than take Brannon’s approach of creating “alternative facts,” I turned to the supposed source of Yes’ triumph: John Brabender of Brabender/Cox. Brabender was behind his firm’s efforts to help promote the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame fan vote — titled Voices for Yes – via Rolling Stone. In addressing the article in question, Brabender immediately called out the ridiculousness of what Brannon was asserting.

“What they’re trying to make is the suggestion that the band [Yes] wasn’t deserving and somehow through a unique public relations campaign – or hypnotism, I don’t know which – they think we got people who vote on this to vote for Yes. Instead, if there’s anything we did, it was to make sure people took a hard look at the body of work that Yes has [amassed] over the years,” John Brabender said. “Nobody has earned it more, and the only reason that they are in there [the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame] is because it became clear that it was an outrage that they weren’t in there. … It’s still a disappointment that they weren’t in earlier, but with that said, progressive rock fans and music fans everywhere are certainly celebrating their induction. … I would find it hard pressed for anyone to make a legitimate argument shouldn’t be there, and shouldn’t have been there for years.”

When Ike Brannon makes ludicrous statements like, “I find it distressing that their black arts worked in a cause so tangential to public policy,” one would be forgiven for thinking that his article was satire. Instead, the author is dead serious in his inference that there was something sinister about John Brabender’s firm promoting Yes.

Brabender clarified the actual intent of his firm’s efforts: “Our message was clear. In Washington and in politics, we don’t ever agree on anything. But the one thing we all did agree on was that Yes should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. That was the only message that we had: That it was so universal that Yes should be there, so logical, that no matter what side of the political spectrum you were on, we could show that this is one area we can agree on, and therefore it must be right. Because how often to Democrats and Republicans these days agree on anything?

“It wasn’t like we ran a negative campaign against the Moody Blues [for example, at the time],” Brabender added. “It wasn’t like we were out there with paid advertising or a super-PAC or anything like that. It was merely to draw attention to the fact that this was an oversight and this band should be paid more attention to, and I think that ultimately the people who do vote took a hard look at it and said, ‘yeah, the band needs to be in there,’ and that’s why they were voted in.”

Brabender went on to address Brannon’s hypocrisy in wanting to have his cake and eat it, too. “What I felt was unfortunate is the author of this story criticized people wanting Yes in there who willing to put their names behind it, and spent the rest of their article making the argument of why he wanted his favorite band in there. There seems to be at the very least a little bit of irony in this.”

In his article, Ike Brannon makes the following assertion, demonstrating that either he hadn’t done his homework, or purposely ignored the facts if he had: “Unlike certain Yes aficionados, we Replacements fans are perfectly fine with our band remaining on the outside of the Hall.” That statement would be equally true if one were to switch the names of the two bands. While Brannon can only speculate that each and every Replacements fan agrees with his stance (which is highly unlikely), there are many Yes fans who haven’t forgiven Rolling Stone and Jann Wenner — the latter being the driving force behind the Hall of Fame – for the magazine’s disdain for Yes and prog for much too long. Those Yes fans would have even preferred that Yes not accept the honor, and would have been “perfectly fine” with it as well.

Would the members of the Replacements agree with Brannon? While it wouldn’t be fair to ask them outright – depending on their answer, they might be perceived as either modest or conceited – one only needs to turn to Trouble Boys: The True Story of the Replacements by Bob Mehr. That book reveals that as a youngster co-founder Bob Stinson was heavily influenced by Yes’ album Fragile – to the point where Stinson would deconstruct Steve Howe’s intricate guitar work.

Mehr’s book chronicles a difficult childhood where Stinson had been abused, later turning to drugs and alcohol in an attempt to chase away his demons. According to Mehr, Bob Stinson had undergone counseling where the therapists saw music as a “distraction,” while “for Bob … Yes licks were an essential self therapy.” In that light, Yes in a sense was a kind of salvation for Stinson, going well beyond being a musical influence.

Stinson remained a big fan of Yes – and of Steve Howe – well into his tenure with the Replacements. Stinson was reportedly “giddy” when his band’s manager Peter Jesperson arranged for the Replacements member to meet Howe backstage at an Asia concert in Minneapolis in the early 1980s. While the Replacements were eons away from progressive rock, Stinson as a musician wasn’t trapped by punk, as he “would continue to cop Howe’s lovely, lilting neoclassical riffs and put a jet engine on them,” Bob Mehr wrote.

Bob Stinson died from organ failure in 1995, and obituaries like the one in Twin Cities Press specifically referenced Steve Howe as one of Stinson’s major inspirations. If Ike Brannon was as knowledgeable about the Replacements as he purported to be, then he probably already knew Bob Stinson was a big Yes/Howe fan. If that was the case, then Brannon probably just discounted this, as it didn’t fit his agenda. (And this detail isn’t a stretch: A search for bios about Bob Stinson on the Internet will yield numerous pages mentioning Yes as an influence.)

Fans will always be passionate about their favorite artists. In Ike Brannon’s case, his passion displaced any semblance of journalistic objectivity, to the point of irrationally lashing out at another band like a sulking fan needing to assign blame. This Weekly Standard piece does a disservice to both Yes and the Replacements, suggesting the former underhandedly “won” while unfairly putting the latter on a pedestal – and by concocting a nonsensical yarn to suggest the major reason that Yes was inducted was because the U.S. government made it happen over the will of “the people.”

I’d like to wish you better luck with your fake news next time, Ike. But honestly, I really, really don’t.

Thanks to Brick and Mortar Books in Redmond, WA.

©2018 Mike Tiano. All Rights Reserved.

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