Letters for the week of March 15-21, 2006 

A ten-point criteria for selecting a new favorite rock critic. Plus, Oakland teachers continue to set Chris Thompson straight.

"Looking for a New Love," Down in Front, 2/15

Do music critics have to be balding?
Enjoyed the post-Grandaddy checklist effluvia. In light of the recent leave-taking of Mr. GK [Garrett Kamps] over the bridge at the SF Weekly, we've been on a complementary search for New Official Favorite Rock Critic, to trumpet (or saxophone) boisterously (while drunk on root beer) between takes at Eli Crews' (ex-Beulah) New Improved Recordings or while dancing at Kitty's, etc. Oh, this is not an open call. A 35 percent match may flunk a test but it's still one hell of a batting average.

1. Balding. Do music critics have to be balding? I guess only if they put their pictures alongside of their columns, like sports columnists with dreams of starting a 24-hour music talk AM radio station to rival ESPN and FOX. Otherwise, the basic INVISIBILITY of the critic sneaping along at the back of the room during a show may be acceptable (as long as he doesn't get all Lester Bangs about it), especially if he comments on the beard of the lead guitarist.

2. Surprising twists of phrase, like reminding people about "Cellar Door" or "nature scenes hijacked by vacuum cleaners." These may be the linguistic equivalent of synth pop, but only if the hook is catchy and the melody hummable.

3. Critics that claim to appreciate a band based on their lyrics or dark scraggly beards, but then manage to mention clean-shaven blondies Beck and Tom Petty in quick succession, coz, well, even the losers, baby, get lucky, so why don't you kill me. Not to mention a love of Billy Joel's band Attila probably, then he started doing a dance/he said it was imported from France/the girls all started to prance/to see the California Flash move in his pants. (Not sure about the prance line.)

4. Regionalism? Critics who appreciate that Pennsylvania (even eastern Pennsylvania) may have a lot in common with the more fashionable Midwest or South.

5. 1994. Critics who may have "cut their teeth" around 1994, and therefore feel a little out of touch with 2006, well, just because you all get older, and suddenly the difference between 1994 and REM circa 1984 doesn't seem as big as it might have.

6. Critics who have very strong opinions about whether Roy Thomas Baker was a better producer for Queen or for the Cars, and what implications that might have for the current Radiohead, Keane vs. Holly Golightly debates that are certainly brewing at Muddy's as we speak.

7. Critics who think they know play is more serious than "seriousness."

8. Critics who really would be rather writing a book-length analysis like Greil Marcus, but still want to keep slinging it out in the trenches of "new releases" (for the "balanced attack" between running game and passing).

9. Critics who don't mind using football metaphors, like "Bob Pollard is a puppet, er, tight end."

10. Critics whose favorite video may still be the Replacements' "Bastards of Young," despite its lack of the bearded female bassist -- though that could go over well in this town of Muppet bands and freak folk, thus showing an amazing amount of failure to "buck to the commercial pressures of the industry" on the part of the critic with so much integrity he may even appreciate the two-way streets the Berkeley middle-aged mother society has not yet dammed (or damned).

Chris Stroffolino, Continuous Peasant, Oakland

"Schoolchildren Will Be the Losers," City of Warts, 2/15

Finding facts
As Chris Thompson sees it, it's mostly teachers who are provoking a strike in Oakland. Well, there was a neutral mediator appointed by the state. He's a rather conservative, retired bankruptcy judge, the kind that finds the hidden money corporations try to hide. He had a different view.

After an extensive survey of the books, he agreed with the teachers' union, finding Oakland's state-appointed administrator Randy Ward to be hiding available funds and provoking a strike. He noted that Oakland teachers haven't had a genuine salary increase in four years. Also, the fact-finder saw that Ward's proposed cuts in elementary teachers' prep time deprives kids in flatland schools of culturally rich art and music programs.

While completely ignoring the report of the neutral mediator and walking out on negotiations, Randy Ward has sought uncredentialed strike breakers and threatens to impose a contract that will continue to destabilize the schools, encouraging even more teachers to leave Oakland. We've been making copayments on health insurance for years. Randy Ward wants to cap our benefits, which would amount to a salary cut every year as HMO fees rise.

Randy Ward has violated the law and has directed very little of Oakland's Measure E funds to the classroom and says that the teachers can forget about cost of living increases as well. While downsizing at the classroom end, administration has mushroomed in size. The pet small schools project exacerbates that issue even more. So, if the money's there, what's this all about? Ward and a host of major anti-union backers want to effectively eliminate teacher unions as well as protections for the classroom right now. If they can get away with this in Oakland, you can bet that this horror will be coming to a school near you.
Vaughn Hovanessian, Oakland

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