Monday, February 27, 2006

Knotts of freedom

Some referred to him as Don Knotts. But truly he was The Knotts.

I like to think of Don Knotts as one of those very American things that baffle foreigners. Tired blue-collar guys in Lagos kick back with a cold one to watch reruns and what do they see but this rubbery creature, genderless and possibly hairless, running around with an unloaded gun, a caricature of overstuffed authority simultaneously burdened with delusions of grandeur and pants that won't stay up.

"What the hell is this?" asks one worker.
"American police show," says his friend.

When it comes to sitcom icons, few surpass The Knotts' performance as Barney Fife. Let me add that I make this statement as not much of an Andy Griffith Show fan. To me that show was to sitcoms what Mr. Rogers Neighborhood was to kids' programming: wholesome but horribly boring, more likely to elicit feelings of antsy "When does the show start?" anxiety than the comforts-of-home vibe cultivated by its creators.

But Barney Fife rocked Mayberry's house. He was akin to (among a thousand others) the John Cleese character on Fawlty Towers: authoritarian and helpless, incapable of learning from his mistakes, exasperated that those around him give him nothing but pain and disrespect as he tries to lead them to the Promised Land of Order. Of course, Barney was nicer, and basically honest, so the comparison only goes so far.

The Knotts' Barney was a giant in the long line of sitcom Nortons. These are the colorful go-to supporting cast members entrusted with getting laughs and being wacky. On bad shows the Nortons overwhelm everything—soon they're on t-shirts, and the audience applauds when they appear in an episode and, worst of all, they have a catch phrase. Scientists call this the Fonzerelli Effect.

On good shows, though, Nortons are part of the fabric. As in the case of, well, Ed Norton, or his grandchild Cosmo Kramer. (Think about it. They even walk in the door the same way.) One of the genius aspects shared by The Honeymooners and Seinfeld is that the entire cast can, when necessary, rise to the level of The Norton. Frankly, I think Costanza was even more hilarious, more out of control than Kramer.

Your Johnny Fever, your Sue Ann Nivens, your Latka, your Kelso and your Dale (of King of the Hill) and your Jackie (of Roseanne)—here we have Nortons doled out in just the right amounts. So it was with Barney, a man kept in check by laid-back Andy and put in his place by life's circumstances. You don't just write a character like this. You need a talented person to fill them up. I like to think later sitcom writers at least took a nod from the judicious use of The Knotts and crossed out that extra rib-wrecking howler for their own Nortons.

Let us all hail The Knotts. So much a part of things I didn't even feel it necessary to include a picture. Barney or Mr. Furley, he's there for you mentally. RIP.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Chills, sweats, cheese, and lumberjacks

Yet more oddities and trivia found while writing about malaria. More here.

In the 1800s, Wisconsin lumberjacks came to believe that a case of gonorrhea protected a man from malaria. 'Jacks would make sure they caught a dose before heading south for the winter to log in Louisiana's malarial swamps.

Here's a surprise: the German army tried to use malaria as an agent in biological warfare. When Allied soldiers landed at Anzio, south of Rome, in WWII, German forces stopped the pumps used to drain the nearby marshes and released larvae of the malaria-carrying Anopheles labranchiae. Though pinned down in what was now a heavily malarial area, Allied forces foiled an epidemic through disciplined use of anti-malarial drugs. But Italian civilians living nearby, lacking medicines, suffered a great deal.

Pioneers and immigrants unlucky enough to catch malaria sometimes turned to Dr. Sappington’s Fever Pills. Before the Civil War, the pills could be bought for a dollar a box (for twenty-four pills). Sappington wisely mixed in licorice to cover up the bitter taste of quinine, the active ingredient. In its heyday the company turned out half-a-million boxes per year, until the Civil War drastically reduced quinine supplies in the U.S.

Twenty percent of the people in Staten Island, New York had malaria in 1900.

Explorer Richard Burton used a quinine-opium-sloes medicine to fight malaria in Africa. It was, alas, inadequate, and he kept catching fever.

The synthetic dye for the color mauve was accidentally discovered while a college student searched for synthetic quinine. Mauve made the student very rich and he retired at age 37.

The word "abracadabra" was part of an anti-malaria magic spell in ancient Rome.

Lord Byron had malaria. So did George Washington. It is possible Lincoln suffered from it, too, though his fever may've been typhoid. Incidentally, Lincoln's family was almost wiped out by something called the "milk sick." I have no idea what that was.

A major malaria epidemic once took place at Archangel, a Russian city at a latitude
comparable to Fairbanks, Alaska.

Mussolini's marsh-draining projects are still credited with driving mosquitoes from the swamps south of Rome. While this created new farmland, it also led to the demise of local water buffaloes that contributed milk to a much-loved flavor of Mozzarella.

Bonus disease coverage: Strange new Chikungunya fever loose on French island

Sunday, February 19, 2006

How many verses must a man sing before he can refill his glass?

Through whatever combination of factors, I have often found myself at parties where someone busts out a guitar. It took awhile, but I slowly realized that every time this happened, regardless of setting or the kind of party, the guitarist played "The Boxer."

Over the weekend, I attended a birthday party. The guest of honor was turning eighty and her son the rabbi came in from out of town to celebrate. Very nice. That a guitar found its way into the proceedings did not surprise me, as the son, we'll call him Rabbi J., has a significant profile in the Jewish community as an entertainer. Concerts, CDs, the whole megillah, if I may throw down a little Yiddish.

Taken up as I was with conversation and much sampling of wine, I wasn't aware of the guitar until I heard Rabbi J.'s voice singing in the now-crowded living room. Maybe he had been playing awhile. But I didn't really pay attention until he started playing "The Boxer."

The more religious songs came later.

What elevated "The Boxer" to this status as a party-and/or-campfire perennial? I can understand that people got sick of "Blowin' in the Wind" or "Norwegian Wood," particularly the latter, which was forced on me constantly when I attended sitar camp.

Frankly, I have no answers.

Friday, February 17, 2006

You give me fever

Oddities and trivia found while writing about malaria.

From the time Jamestown was founded in 1607 until 1624, five out of every six colonists died, most within the first year after arrival. Malaria was a major cause of death. I feel compelled to mention, parenthetically, that starvation killed the most people and reduced Jamestowners to cannibalism in 1608-1609.

One of the malaria parasites can live in the human liver for up to five years.

In the late Middle Ages it was believed touching a corpse healed illness. Mothers with sick children crowded around a gallows waiting for hanged criminals to die.

The Ingalls family catches malaria in the book Little House on the Prairie.

Samuel Baker was one of the less-remembered British explorers of Africa. Not only did he set off to discover the source of the Nile, he did so in the company of his wife. Along the way he encountered tribal civil war, malaria, near-starvation, and at one point an African chieftain who made it clear to Baker that he would have to swap Mrs. Baker for a "good-looking" virgin if he wanted the explorations to continue. (Mrs. Baker’s long blond hair made quite an impression.) In time the Bakers were stranded by local wars and ran out of quinine. Ever indefatigable, and needing some relief, Baker jury-rigged a still to get alcohol from potatoes.

Albert King—a physician best known for treating Lincoln at Ford’s Theater—was one of the first American doctors to claim (correctly) that mosquitoes transmitted malaria. Colleagues, however, considered the mosquito theory preposterous. King challenged the malarial city of Washington, D.C. to hang a wire screen around the entire capital to a height equal to that of the Washington Monument.

World War II soldiers first refused to take Atabrine, a synthetic antimalarial drug. One of the main reasons was the (false) rumor that it causes impotence.

The city of Ithaca, New York wasn’t malaria-free until 1905. It took Staten Island until 1908. In 1933, 65% of the people in the Tennessee River valley carried malaria parasites—a rate equal to heavily malarial areas of Africa today.

In 1485, a never-before-seen disease called the "English sweat" hit Britain. Some considered it worse than plague because of the high death rate and the fact it could kill within twenty-four hours of onset. It struck four more times over the next century. The disease’s identity remains unknown.

A personal favorite. In the early decades of the 20th Century, a treatment was developed to help syphilis patients (usually in an advanced stage of the disease) get better—or at least quit getting worse. Doctors injected syphilitics with the common and (usually) non-fatal form of malaria caused by the parasite Plasmodium vivax. The idea was to allow malaria to raise the patient’s body temperature—malaria takes a person up to 105-degrees F.—and "burn out" the syphilis. Once this was done, the doctors administered a cure for malaria. Clinics for such treatment were opened around the world.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Eat to the beat

A postscript to the Peter Benchley post. Terrific stuff:
Jaws is a pulp collage—a how-to guide to writing airport literature. Start with heavy-handed symbolism: The seaside town the shark will terrorize is called Amity. Next add ungainly metaphor: "The past—like a bird long locked in a cage and suddenly released—was flying at her, swirling around her head, showering her with longing." Finally, throw in a charmingly awkward lovemaking scene: A couple "thrashed with urgent ardor on the cold sand." The novel opens with that ardor, and after its climax, the still-naked woman slips into the ocean, becoming an opening course for the shark circling below. At first, the shark takes a rather leisurely approach to its meal. It moves slowly beneath her, as if surveying a chandelier. Then its jaws close on her right foot, snapping it off at the bone. The woman screams once, then is pulled below. Game on.

Monday, February 13, 2006

That's a twenty-footer

Jaws author Peter Benchley has died.

Congdon loved the idea, but said Benchley was reluctant to start the book because he couldn't afford time away from his journalistic work. So Congdon got him $1,000 as a down payment, in return for an initial submission of 100 pages.

"Ninety-five percent of it was jokey stuff, because he thought that was the way you do it," said Congdon, who dismissed a longtime publishing legend that the book was heavily edited and as much his triumph as Benchley's.

"But the first five pages were wonderful. There were no jokes. I wrote heavily in the margin: `NO JOKES.'"

Though Jaws may not be the worst novel I've read, I cannot think of one I'd rank below it. Ever since fighting through it about ten years ago—after finding an old edition at a library sale—I've subscribed to a theory that, when it comes to contemporary novels, average-to-mediocre books make the best movies. In fact Jaws really shares the credit for that trend with two rough contemporaries, The Exorcist and The Godfather. One crucial difference is that The Exorcist and The Godfather are compulsive guilty pleasures, almost un-put-downable, The Exorcist because of suspense, The Godfather because it is at once a grand tale and a hokey piece of Don-worshipping melodrama intercut with salacious subplots like the too-large vagina of Sonny's mistress.

Whereas mainly Jaws strikes me as a so-so story that seems in the end to do little more except say Matt Hooper deserves to be eaten because he sleeps with Brody's wife. Or wants to. I can't remember.

For film fans, the most interesting aspect about reading any of those books is to see what the moviemakers changed and, in particular, what they left out. Valid criticisms of Spielberg aside, and there are many, he knew that Jaws was a clunker of a story and very wisely kept little more than the names and the shark. Sure, the filmmakers created the dumbass ending to end all dumbass endings. But since I can't even remember how Benchley finished the novel, I won't criticize for lack of comparison.

Benchley went on to noble works. He was active in conservation. Of barely secondary importance was The Deep, another seafarin' tale that unleashed a moist Jacqueline Bissett onto movie screens.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Wife finally completes decades-long project of reducing dead husband to triteness and irrelevance

Green jeans

Of late I have browsed The Physics of Superheroes. Having read comics in my youth (and for an embarrassingly long time thereafter), I had some questions. Alas, the book does not include much about one of my favorites, the Incredible Hulk. But in the last section the author reprints some popular questions from his students and one of these, thank God, is, "What's up with the Hulk's pants?"

The author mostly admits the Hulk's pants stay on because the Comics Code mandates they must.

I, too, have pondered this mystery. Not necessarily that the Hulk's pants stay on. But that Bruce Banner always seems to Hulk out while wearing purple pants.

Not many men wear purple pants on a daily basis. I live in one of Chicago's gayest neighborhoods, and even here not that many men wear purple pants, period. Furthermore, Banner doesn't strike me as a particularly flashy dresser. Maybe he was a flamboyant Richard Feynman funky scientist-type in some alternate Marvel universe. But even then, purple pants every day? That suggests an unstable mind more than unstable molecules, unless Bruce is doing some pimpin' to supplement his scientists' pay--and speaking of supporting yourself, does the Hulk eat, and if so, what's his caloric intake in a day?

This is, by the way, one more bit of proof the TV Hulk lived in a slightly more rational universe. Lou Ferrigno always wore torn jeans. I wear jeans pretty much every day, so I can understand how a drifter like Bill "David Banner" Bixby kept himself clothed. The utilatarian People's Fabric is fairly cheap to replace and fairly easy to find. If only Banner had known about cycling pants.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

45s sidebar: Talk normal, continued

Pop music's normalcy period, discussed in detail. Introduction here.

The Captain and Tennille
The look: In her heyday Toni Tennille had a becoming foxy suburban mom vibe. A suburban mom possibly amped on amphetamines? Well, yes. But a lot of them are. As for the Captain, he was pleasant-enough looking, I suppose, suburban in a way as well, maybe that guy who tinkers with electronics equipment in his garage all the time. Alas, using a captain’s hat as your look inevitably invites comparison to (1) Old Spice commercials and (2) the improbably obese man stranded on Gilligan’s Island. Good thing someone as laid-back as the Captain—a man marooned behind a piano—had that firecracker to put out front. Though she should’ve asked for top billing.

Really, only three songs from the C&T ouvre require attention. The first, "Love Will Keep Us Together," was—put away all sharp objects—the bestselling song of 1975. Tennille had a solid enough belter’s voice, but here it’s undercut by a very annoying backup group. At the other end of the career was "Do That To Me One More Time," a ballad in the Melissa Manchester area of our musical culture, and not in a good way, if that’s even possible.

But if you have a song like "Muskrat Love" on your resume, anything sounds genius by comparison. Remember, this song featured rodent noises. Not the Alvin, Simon, and Theodore kind, either. Here at 45s and Under we do not throw around phrases like "One of the worst hits of the 1970s" willy-nilly, because the day will come when it’s time to write a post called "Worst Hits of the 1970s," and I want that to have authority.

"Muskrat Love" was one of the worst hits of the 1970s.

Rupert Holmes
The look: Here’s the high school music teacher your mom is dating. Sweater? Check. Sunglasses that get shadier in sunlight? Oh, you know it. Our advice? Break up the relationship before it gets serious and you end up as a guinea pig listening to his Wagnerian stage play cycle.

In the 1980s Holmes won a bundle of Tony Awards for The Mystery of Edwin Drood, a musical of a famously unfinished Charles Dickens novel. I believe this was the play where the audience voted for the killer. The important thing is, Broadway success kept Holmes from building much of a pop career on "Escape (The Pina Colada Song)," a song that never fails to garner votes during barroom discussions of bad pop tunes. No argument. Points given, however, for using the phrase "my old lady."

Neil Sedaka (Comeback Version)
The look: Shockingly sexless and ageless.

During one of those "available on TV only" CD commercials, the viewer sees a hilarious image of Sedaka performing five seconds of his big Seventies hit "Bad Blood." Stubby and seemingly without gender, wearing a tight sweater that looks like it came from a boutique called "Knitted by Nearsighted Grandma," Sedaka busts out a kind of ur-Travolta move—one leg out, opposite index finger pointed in the air. This so lacks basic rhythm it recalls the way it looks when I, a very white man, attempt to do the George Jefferson Walk.

Still, in that clip he could pass for thirty or sixty or any age in between. He just comes across as… rubbery. Unfinished. One of the intermediate forms William Hurt assumes in Altered States. And yet normal.

For his comeback, Sedaka wisely threw in with Elton John, the pop monster of the moment. Always in sync with normalcy trends, Sedaka wrote the aforementioned "Love Will Keep Us Together," making his 1975 a very good year indeed. Perhaps Elton didn’t give out costume suggestions, though, for when it came to performance, Sedaka fared best at the piano, wearing whatever Jersey mafioso hat he pulled from the closet that day and smiling at the camera.

I’ve heard that Sedaka could be an unpleasant guy in real life, that he basically screwed or upstaged the Carpenters at every opportunity during their tour together. But he always looked like such a nice boy! And I mean that in my nearsighted grandmother voice.

Bonus Sedaka trivia: As Sedaka is kind of a pop Kevin Bacon, a few highlights must suffice here. He had a hand in forming The Tokens, later legendary for "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." Before alienating the Carpenters he wrote "Solitaire" for them. Members of 10CC produced his comeback album. Finally, and perhaps most notably, Sedaka is one of only two people to have big hits with two radically different versions of the same song—in his case "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do." The other? Use these clues: Duane Allman, heroin addiction, Patti Boyd Harrison, you don’t want to hear it again.


Alan O’Day
The look: Difficult to get a handle on, but after looking at that picture, I bet it includes a Hawaiian shirt.

Alan O’Day has a lot to answer for. Not "Undercover Angel," though. While it is pretty middle-of-the-road stuff, it had the sense to riff off Charlie’s Angels—we admire bald commercialism here—and it also shares an odd synchronicity with Gary Wright’s "Dream Weaver," a real solid pop song, overdone "dreamy" sound effects notwithstanding. Whatever your opinion on "Undercover Angel," it is by any standard a hundred times better than the songs discussed in the next paragraph. Canny of O’Day to save the best for himself.

O’Day’s rap sheet goes back to the earlier Seventies, when he penned the remarkably aggravating "Rock and Roll Heaven"—a song that combined the worst aspects of maudlin nostalgia mining with the kind of grocery list referencing Don McLean should’ve made obsolete once and for all. Switching gears, O’Day started exploring the realm of the un- or possibly semi-conscious with Helen Reddy’s "Angie Baby." Peeping Toms, insanity, hints of bondage—Helen, when you’re singing a song Cher would pass up, your career has problems.

[Addendum: A little Net trawling turns up that Cher really did take a pass on it. Whoa. Again truth trumps mockery.]

Robert John
The look: Phil Collins’ younger brother working as a saloon keeper in a Seventies "revisionist" Western.

Work on that image for a moment.

I’m not going to make too much fun of John. The man was working manual labor when an old producer rang him up and suggested one more go at a music career. It was an era of falsetto, what with Barry Gibb having sang or written or produced every hit of the previous twelve months. "Sad Eyes" is one of those songs I always imagine turn up at karaoke bars, as drunk Koreans do not fear the utterly unsingable.

Grammy Davis, Jr.

One of the problems with posting on pop music is you feel obligated to say something about the Grammy Awards. And in order to say something with even a shred of integrity, you feel obligated to watch the Grammy Awards.

Well, I don't have that kind of commitment, or that kind of stomach. I am tempted to wriggle out of my responsibility by pointing out that I concentrate on older music, that the Grammys exist outside my bloggy purview. Ah, if only. Last night's program featured—my sawces tell me—Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney, the inevitable Springsteen, the equally inevitable U2, James Taylor, and the Sly Stone appearance that every no-talent morning DJ in America spent forty-five minutes giggling about today. So much for my excuse.

Turning to Sly Stone. First, the funniest thing I read about the appearance this morning, courtesy of Troy Patterson at Slate:

The most hyped moment regarded the possible emergence of funk pioneer Sly Stone from wherever it is that he dwells. At the climax of a cluttered medley sung by a subpar supergroup, Stone showed up looking the very model of a postmodern major genius/recluse—a blond mohawk like a vast coxcomb, a silvery jacket like a 24th-century lab coat, sparkly belt, wraparound shades. This is how Gravity's Rainbow cultists want Thomas Pynchon to look.

If you think this post can top that paragraph, save your time and quit reading.

While I agree it is unusual for a 61 year-old men to sport a towering blond Mohawk, I would also propose that more of them should do so.

Many of the reports of Sly's performance, particularly his leaving before it was over, mention "bizarre" behavior, hint that perhaps Sly was not living up to the hype.

Look. I saw Joe Namath hobbling out during the Super Bowl festivities last weekend. Joe Willie looked pretty good in that pickled, pleasingly sleazy way of his. But I didn't expect the man to suit up and lead the Jets down the field. For God's sake, Sly Stone didn't emerge from retirement, he emerged from a fog of obscurity so thick it has defeated our nostalgia-obsessed celebrity culture for decades. The clip I saw suggests a man who has no heart for performing anymore. Maybe that is why he got out of the business, why he devoured whole pharmacies in the first place, way back when. Does he not deserve a break? Let's compliment him for refusing to play rock star at an age when it is never BUT NEVER becoming. He showed up. That's a fucking miracle.

At least Jim DeRogatis had the sense to note it was sad. It reminded me of seeing Waylon Jennings near the end of his road: he was carried onstage, couldn't convincingly fake playing guitar, and the band had to use up half his allotted time with an instrumental jam of "Baker Street."

Compare Sly to, say, Steven Tyler and Joe Perry. Jesus Christ, is there anything these two decrepit old frauds wouldn't do, including a revival of Grease or fronting the orchestra at Auschwitz or opening a boat show? I suppose it is some justice that they've reached the point where they are no longer worthy of comment by the media.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

45s sidebar: Talk normal

As we know, anyone could score a hit in the 1970s. Think the runners-up on American Idol are marginal talents? Circa 1972 those guys/women sold a million copies. It got worse as the decade progressed. Via some evolutionary mechanism still little-understood by science, people who looked normal—shockingly, paunch-sucked-inedly normal—swarmed the radio.

What explains this phenomenon, this defiance of the laws of nature? Was it a reaction to multichromatic Sixties freakdom? To the spacesuit costumes and gold lamé of soul and funk? Maybe it was all KISS’s fault?

Let me pause to state that "normal," while shocking in a celebrity context, is not used here as a prejorative. Rock/pop is, once and forever, the People’s Music—a label befitting a form of cultural expression influenced by marginal demographic groups like blind black men, musical hoboes, ex- truck drivers, and gay Manhattan songsmiths.

Indeed, the man credited with kicking off the rock era was not only normal looking but overweight. Cop, salesman, Today show weatherman, Pullman conductor—Bill Haley could pass for any of them. And he ushered in the greatest threat to America since Communism and fluoridated water! Yet his flashy but basically non-threatening persona—compare to Little Richard for imagined impact on Middle America—paved the way for his music. And ours.

The 1970s normalcy invasion, while born of obscure origins, undoubtedly influenced an important evolutionary adaptation: the music video. No more would America tolerate the rotundity of a Barry White. Visual attractiveness—or in absence of same calculated flamboyance that became momentarily hip—suddenly surpassed musical considerations in importance. Hell, it surpassed musical aptitude, and that’s never been a prerequisite for Top Forty success in the first place.

As the Darwinists tell us, adjustment requires crisis. If normal looking pop singers caused such an evolutionary leap, we must surmise that the much-derided disco "threat" was minor by comparison.

We study pop’s greatest squares tomorrow. One sentence: Neil Sedaka tries to dance. Tune in.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Thoughts about the Rolling Stones' performance at the Super Bowl

Why is Charlie Watts in the Popemobile? Wait, I guess he's only protected on two sides. From the looks of those plastic dividers they've turned back a fair amount of gunfire already.

Jagger's hamstrings. While it is a slam-dunk to make fun of the Stones, I bet we could count on one hand--and I'm talking world population here--the number of almost-63 year-old men able to move around like that. My dad just turned 61, and he couldn't move that well unless we ran live current through him. Bravo. Were Jagger and Richards put on earth to prove once and for all that (relatively) clean living out-survives Keef's inaccurately-labeled "lifestyle"? If so, it may take a while to learn the answer, as neither of them will die for at least thirty years.

Music. Ehh, "Start Me Up," and Mick didn't finish the line "You make a dead man come." Ehh, one off the new album. Ehh, "Satisfaction."

[UPDATE: According to the news wires, ABC censors were responsible for the edit on "Start Me Up." Probably they could have left it in. The people in the habit of protesting such things have never heard of orgasms and would've missed the reference.]

Question. Is it just me, or does Ron Wood actually look better than he did twenty years ago?

Observation. Nice gimmick pulling back the tongue to reveal the crowd.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Avoiding Brian Jones Syndrome

Long-time readers know this blog takes no stand on religion except one: Bono is the Messiah. Tonight Sixty Minutes replayed the Ed Bradley interview with him as part of its surrender to the Super Bowl. As I watched, a thought occurred to me. It is amazing indeed that a band can put together a 25-year stretch in the music business. Mind you, a stretch where they’ve maintained some relevance the entire time.

More amazing? Twenty-five years with no breakups and no replacement members. The same four guys on the first album are the same four guys touring today.

Is this unprecedented in the history of rock?

Virtually no band (as opposed to individual) from the early era of rock and rock-influenced pop lasted long enough on the charts to contend. Look at the British invasion bands. A relatively early breakup ended the Beatles, premature deaths that took the Stones and the Who (later on) out of the running. We'll get to the Kinks below. Motown’s vocal groups—and let me say I’m not sure they even count—usually averaged less than a decade before members left to for solo careers, the Great Beyond, or missions to become the black Barbra Streisand.

Psychedelia? The unkillable Dead shed Pigpen McKernan, the first of their drummers, in 1973; and the Jefferson Airplane, having burned through an entire roster before success, only survived in its original "White Rabbit" lineup until around 1970. The death-touch of Stephen Stills requires no elaboration.

Few Seventies bands survived into the Eighties. Hell, few from 1970 survived until 1975, and few from 1975 until 1980. As for the celebrated rock upheaval of the decade, well, most punk bands couldn't string together a tour without a death, let alone a calendar year. As for the decade's most derided trend, few if any disco bands outlasted the genre's crash or the televised drawing-and-quartering of Maxine Nightengale in 1980.

Cock rock fares no better. Eagles? Several personnel changes. Floyd? Legendary crash of original band mastermind, though the transformation of the band from psychedelic popsters into arena rock monsters changed them so much one is tempted to allow that the band deserves a new origin date after Syd Barrett’s departure. (We call this the Fleetwood Mac Excemption.) But then they recorded an album about Barrett, destroying the impression they had moved on. Excemption denied.

This brings the timeline to the 1980s. Incredibly, the Kinks appear to be with us. Let us here pause to admit their potential admittance to the longevity fraternity requires dismissal of certain disqualifying factors on technical—albeit valid—grounds.

First, members of the band trying to kill each other does not count unless someone actually dies, nor do injuries or criminal charges related to such incidents. Second, if a band member is injured via act of God, unforeseen medical condition, or vehicular misadventure, and then temporarily replaced, there is no penalty. Third, adding members is okay—we do not penalize for ambition. Finally, temporary resignations due to burnout or because the band’s leader is a controlling asshole—while much harder to overlook—WILL BE ALLOWED, because I myself have a hard time putting up with controlling assholes unless said asshole is me.

Of course, the bassist quit in 1969. That can't be overlooked. You're out, Ray.

The anarchy of the early 1980s produced many fine bands, particularly away from the Top Forty. But, again, few survived—the early years of a decade do take a toll. In time, however, two emerged as strong contenders for the longevity title: REM (credited with a 1981 debut dating to their release of "Radio Free Europe" as an indie single) and U2 (1980’s release of Boy).

The contest went neck-and-neck for a long time. In 1995, a strange tour evidently mounted on a series of Indian burial grounds threatened REM’s place. Three of the four band members suffered health problems serious enough to require surgery. But it wasn’t until 1997—after a solid sixteen year run—that Bill Berry’s retirement put the band out of contention.

At a twenty-five years, then, U2 rules the rock roost. No resurrection necessary.