Grant Wahl’s firing and the slow, painful death of journalism

I’m very sorry to hear Grant Wahl has been let go by Sports Illustrated. I can only imagine what it’s like to devote more than two decades to something and have it end in an instant. Grant was covering soccer when covering soccer wasn’t cool, and he has been an important voice in the sport.

Between Grant and SI, though, I’d bet on Grant having the better future, by a long way.

Ian Thomas, an excellent sports business reporter, passed along a memo from one of the vultures at Maven, the company that owns SI.

My thoughts upon seeing that:

  1. Even by modern corporate standards, that’s crass.
  2. While I’m sure SI paid well, there’s no way Grant was making $350,000 a year.

And Grant indeed tossed icy water on that:

I think Grant will land on his feet. For one thing, he and Caitlin Murray seem to be the only people who have figured out how to write soccer books that sell. (Since Long-Range Goals, I’ve posted a loss on the books I’ve written. Seriously — I haven’t made enough to cover expenses.) He could always set up shop as a soccer-specific John Feinstein. Or he could go to one of the places offering six-figure salaries for journalists, like …

Well, there aren’t many.

The speculation on social media is that The Athletic should hire him. It wouldn’t be fair to Grant for me to speculate about his next move, and this post isn’t going to be about Grant. It’s going to be about the state of journalism. Buckle up.

Jobs like Grant’s, with good pay for a handful of in-depth features a year, have always been rare. Today, they’re all but extinct.

A decade ago, we had actual bidding wars. A 2007 New York Times story said ESPN was poaching newspaper writers “double and triple what they were earning — $150,000 to $350,000 a year for several writers, and far more for a select handful.” (The “select handful” would be celebrities like Bill Simmons.) Washington Post managing editor for sports Emilio Garcia-Ruiz had a great quote: “My counteroffer usually comes down to asking them what kind of cake they want at their goodbye party.” (I don’t remember what cake I had at USA TODAY, but it was a very nice farewell.)

Since then, ESPN’s business model of raking in cash from cable subscription fees has taken a serious hit, and they’ve had some significant layoffs. They’ve also shut down their magazine.

So now The Athletic is the organization poaching journalists from various news organizations. But as Deadspin reported, their efforts fell flat in D.C. because the salaries at the Post — the same paper that could only wave farewell to reporters leaving for ESPN a decade earlier — were too good. Praise Bezos.

And even though The Athletic is still throwing around startup money, which tends to disappear with time, what it has done to some good journalists isn’t much better than how SI treated Grant. Some of those journalists live paycheck to paycheck.

Who else is out there? ESPN will be OK but has to watch its budget. SI is doomed — the magazine is less frequent and thinner, and the desperate layering of ads on the site renders it unreadable. Vice slashed its sports “vertical.” Fox Sports got rid of all its writers. (Along with FourFourTwo cutting off its U.S. operations, that’s two freelance gigs of mine that disappeared.)

So The Athletic is the biggest ballgame at town, at least as long as the venture capital lasts. And still, it’s not like everyone there is making six figures. Aaron Gordon took a detailed look at The Athletic and the business in general, informed in part by his own layoff from Vice, and found some people can make a ton but it’s more typically $70,000. (Hey, still more than I ever made at USA TODAY, even adjusting for inflation.) A Washington Post piece pegged entry-level pay at $50,000 — you’d think an organization with the ambition of The Athletic wouldn’t have “entry-level” employees, but they do. For the same money, you can go to SB Nation and spend every waking hour tethered to an unrelenting content calendar.

Local newspapers? Good luck. Any opening will attract dozens, if not hundreds, of resumes, and they weren’t known for paying well even when they had steady income from department store advertising and classified advertising.

Want to go freelance? That’s a great gig for the independently wealthy. I cleared $30,000 one year, then had a steady gig yanked out from under me when a news organization shuffled editors.

So you end up with this question: Is The Athletic going to offer a lot of six-figure salaries when they’re not bidding against anyone?

The failure is on the business side. We’re 25 years into the Internet era, and media organizations haven’t figured out a way to deliver ads that are noticeable but not obtrusive. The very biggest newspapers can offer subscriptions, and in some cases like the Post and the Times (or less traditional organizations like ProPublica), they’re worth subscriptions or donations because they provide a valuable public service in the fight against misinformation (cough, TV). I’ve written stories I consider to be important — investigations on U.S. Soccer finances with an eye toward fixing youth soccer, pieces on sexual abuse in Olympic sports, etc. — but I’ve never felt subscribing to sports content was saving democracy.

Some publications/sites are vital reading in a small niche. That’s why I don’t feel guilty about plugging Soccer America, now entering its 50th year as the most vital source of news and analysis in soccer. The Equalizer is also the news org of record in its niche — women’s soccer. The Athletic has the occasional piece I want to read, but so do The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Los Angeles Times, The Oregonian, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, etc. The Athletic would have to hire a lot of people to get my money.

I’ve said it before — news organizations should band together for a universal subscription. I won’t pay $10/month to one newspaper just to read one more story beyond the three or five that I get for free, but I might pay for a subscription that offers me access to many news sites. I’d also be interested in paying a la carte, which is probably easier if you have some sort of universal sign-in.

Consider what restaurants and retailers have done in the COVID-19 crisis. They’re changed their business models on the fly. One of my favorite local restaurants is now offering takeout that I can order through a service I’d never heard of before I started looking for a good way to get fish for Good Friday. We’re also seeing a boom time for delivery services that serve many different restaurants — you can get your food from a local Thai place without that place having to hire its own delivery drivers.

Newspapers? Magazines? Again — 25 years. And they still haven’t figured it out. I started out making $10/hour in 1991, and that job doesn’t even exist any more. Today, a lot of freelance gigs are below minimum wage.

That’s why jobs like Grant’s are going extinct. And that’s why journalism won’t have people like Grant in the future.

And that stinks.

Would you recognize satire or fake news if it bit you in the backside?

There’s a great moment in Aziz Ansari’s Netflix special in which he asks people about a story in which the pepperoni on a pizza may have looked like swastika. What did you think of the story? Was it a swastika?

A few people answer with applause for the options he throws out. Did you read it in the Post or the Times? Someone answers.

Can you guess the punchline?

I thought of that when reading an obvious but necessary bit of research showing people a mix of real, fake and satirical news and asking what they believed. The numbers who got it wrong were a little alarming. I’m sure you guessed that, too.

https://theconversation.com/too-many-people-think-satirical-news-is-real-121666

My college courses, if I could do it all over

Duke was a great experience for me … apart from the classes.

Perhaps that’s a bit harsh. I had some great teachers, but I had a lot of lousy ones. The academic advising wasn’t great except within the music department, from which I think I could have had many recommendations for grad school had I gone in that direction.

And it’s unfair to look back with regret in comparison to what Duke offers today. Duke now has minors or certificates that I don’t believe they offered in the past.

So the modern-day Duke experience is surely better for all. I hope the teachers are better. I know the course selection is better.

Let’s break down what I took …

WHAT I TOOK

Philosophy major

One note here: I only took two of the required eight classes by the end of sophomore year, when you’re supposed to declare. At the time, everything seemed fine. The classes were fine, and I had couple of solid B-pluses that I figured I’d pull up to As down the road. If I’d taken a third (not counting logic), maybe I would’ve realized this wasn’t for me.

  • Intro to Philosophy: required, and I had a good grad-student teacher
  • History of Ancient Philosophy: required, another good teacher (Michael Ferejohn)
  • Logic – required, easy A, took it in the summer with the late, great Rick Roderick, called “the Bill Hicks of philosophy”
  • History of Modern Philosophy – required, difficult. I made a C. Again, if I’d taken it sophomore year, maybe I wouldn’t have majored in this
  • History of Law – I fancied myself pre-law. This class, with a pipe-smoking drone teaching, may have talked me out of it. Had a solid B before I screwed up the final because I was desperately studying for the final in …
  • Symbolic Logic – This was a ****ing math class. A bunch of math majors were taking it to meet their humanities requirement. I sat there on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, not comprehending in the least what was being written on the board and not able to ask afterwards because I had a Chronicle budget meeting. Frankly, that was a better priority. No one in journalism cares that I made a C-plus in this class and probably should’ve done worse.
  • Philosophy of Music – Very cool class with another late, great professor in Ben Ward, whom I had met in my freshman dorm, where he lived as an Artist in Residence and frequently played his grand piano. I did a terrific final project on cassette, using audio clips to illustrate my points. One of two classes I took in my last semester while I was pulling about 50 hours a week at The Chronicle.
  • Plato – a 200-level class was required, and this was hard-core. I’d registered for a class on Hegel with Rick Roderick, but he had to change the time and day of the class, and I couldn’t make it. I quickly scrambled over to Dr. Ferejohn’s office. He said he remembered me from History of Ancient Philosophy (he probably didn’t) and would gladly sign off on my switch to this class. I’ll always be proud of the fact that I got an A-minus in a class that required serious scholarship in a seminar with a bunch of grad students.

Music major

  • Fundamentals of Music Theory: I hadn’t planned to be a music major, but I took this on a whim in my first semester and didn’t flinch when I discovered it had a lab component and didn’t give credit for it, unlike those wimps in science classes who get an extra credit for being lab. Rodney Wynkoop and my classmates encouraged me to keep going. I was hooked.
  • Tonal Harmony: Basically the second semester of theory, another class with Rodney, another solid A.
  • Modal Counterpoint: Considered the organic chemistry of the music major, with complex math involved. Started to sour on things here.
  • Tonal Counterpoint: Still difficult, but I liked this better and did better.
  • Composition: Took concurrently with Tonal Counterpoint. A two-person class — me and Joe Zellnik. Joe is a brilliant composer to this day. I’m not. Enjoyed it and learned a lot, but I realized my limitations.
  • Percussion (three semesters): Music majors have to study an instrument, and I enjoyed this quite a bit. Still playing drums to this day. Can’t store a tympani set at home, unfortunately.
  • Chamber Music (percussion ensemble): Thanks to the people who formed a percussion ensemble with me. This was fun.
  • Four freaking semesters of Music History: You don’t even get to Bach for a few months. Oddly enough, my lowest grade (B+) was in Music History III, which covered my favorite era of classical music. I think. I never listen to classical any more, and no, Music History IV didn’t cover the Beatles. 

Requirements

  • University Writing Course: Salem Witchcraft: I will one day sarcastically dedicate a book to the grad student who gave me inconsistent instructions and gave me a C-minus. I didn’t choose the topic, but I found it interesting. I also apparently contradicted the grad student’s thesis. I like to think I was right. 
  • History of Civilization: Intro to Art History: a backup choice in my first semester, and it couldn’t have gone worse. I took this after a PE class, so I raced from the PE buildings to the West Campus bus stop and immediately went into a dark room to look at slides. Along with the UWC above, I had really bad grades in my first semester and spent the rest of my time at Duke climbing into the middle of my class.
  • Empirical Natural Science: Astronomy – not bad, not exactly Neil deGrasse Tyson.
  • Foreign language requirement: Met with my achievement test in French, even though I couldn’t speak it to save my life.
  • LiteratureAP credit FTW, which is good, because I might have lost my mind in a Duke English class.

“Division II”

Not really sure what the “divisions” entailed, but we had to pick one in which we took four classes, one of them at the 100 level (at the time, slightly advanced — 200-level classes were for a mix of seniors and grad students). All I know is that I took a lot of history.

  • Two semesters of American history: AP credit FTW
  • Germany: 30 Years’ War-1871: Great professor in Claudia Koonz, who’s actually kind of controversial (I didn’t know Historikerinnenstreit was a word). The subject matter was kind of dull, but I learned how to do longer papers, which helped down the road.
  • Socialism and Communism: Blow-off summer class with Warren Lerner, who literally wrote the book on the subject. Not bad, and I don’t know why I only got a B-plus.

“Division III” 

I guess I needed two classes in another area of concentration, so I chose math and science-ish?

  • Calculus I: AP credit FTW
  • Calculus II: Grad student who struggled with English and didn’t get through all the material. This is on Duke. They should’ve done better. I actually didn’t need to take this. And I shouldn’t have. There’s no need to take second-semester calculus unless you’re going into engineering or something similar. See below.
  • Fundamentals of Computer Science: I didn’t think it was supposed to be an easy course, but when I saw a bunch of football and basketball players, I figured it might be pretty simple. It was indeed very easy, though we AGAIN didn’t get extra credit for the lab, but I learned quite a bit.

Electives

  • Three semesters of PE – Badminton/Racquetball/Squash, Endurance Swimming, Racquetball: Two of these were for fun. The third was gaming the system. You can’t apply more than two PE classes to your total number of credits for graduation, but I was way ahead on credits, anyway. The problem was that I wasn’t allowed to take an underload, and percussion was only a half-credit. So I took the third semester to give myself a full load, even though it didn’t count toward graduation. Loved the racquet sports. Hated swimming in a freezing pool.
  • Comedy: Theory & Performance – One of the freshman seminars offered second semester, and I was lucky to get my first choice. I ditched what the writing instructor had tried to teach me and went back to my old writing style. A LOT of reading dating back to Aristophanes, but I didn’t mind at all. The A-minus restored my faith in my writing ability. 
  • Advanced Intermediate French: I did OK, but I STILL can’t speak French.
  • Chemistry and Society: People joke about this, ranking it alongside “Physics for Poets.” Yeah, it was easy. So what? I learned more from this than I would’ve learned in a lab, suckers.
  • American Political System: Figured I needed another pre-law-ish class. Lecturer was pretty good, as was the TA who taught my breakout group. 
  • Introductory Psychology: Awesome, and not just because it was an easy A. Wonderful class to take in a breezy summer term.
  • Organismal/Environmental Biology: My dad was a biochemist, so maybe YOU were wrong on that test, grad students. 

So what did I like or find worthwhile?

  • Philosophy: Intro, Logic, 200-level
  • Music: Theory (2 semesters), Percussion, Composition
  • Science-ish: Computer Science, Psychology, Chemistry and Society
  • Humanities: Comedy

That’s it? Roughly 11 classes, adding together a couple of half-classes of percussion?

Yikes. Let’s try again …


WHAT I WOULD TAKE TODAY

I wouldn’t major in philosophy. I wouldn’t major in music, but the music minor (not available in those days, and yes, I love the fact that music has major and minor) appeals to me. I almost completed what you’d call a history minor today, but I don’t think I’d do that, either. (I loved my grad-school history classes, though.)

There’s no journalism major, nor would I take one. I could get a journalism certificate, which means I’d have a major, a minor (music) and a certificate. A major has at least 10 courses (12 plus an internship in Public Policy), a minor has at least five, and the journalism certificate has six. Yikes.

But it would make more sense for me to major in public policy, which offers a “policy journalism” concentration. (Or, as the Public Policy department calls it because they just have to be different, a pathway.) That would give me the flexibility to take journalism as far as I could and then bail into something useful like law. Besides, the certificate would require me to take “News as a Moral Battleground,” which doesn’t seem fun.

You can only apply two AP courses toward the 34 needed to graduate, though AP courses can knock out specific requirements. That’s four per semester, but I may do some extra stuff to give myself a chance to take an underload junior year to be Chronicle editor. Or managing editor — Matt probably would’ve been editor, as he was in real life.

Miscellaneous requirements: There’s overlap between the “Areas of Knowledge” (must meet five) and the “Modes of Inquiry” (six) — the same class can count for both. I’ll list the Areas and note which Modes are met along the way. I’d also need one seminar class freshman year (no problem), two more “small group learning experiences.”

The “Modes” are: Cross-Cultural Inquiry, Ethical Inquiry, Science/Technology/Society, Foreign Language, Research, Writing. All require two classes except Foreign Language (see below) and Writing (two in addition to the dreaded UWC).

I’m assuming classes for the major and minor count toward the Areas and Modes. If not, I basically wouldn’t have any electives outside the requirements.

Finally, two things I’d really want to do — take a stats course (required in public policy) and do an internship (also required in PPS).

Public policy major, basic requirements (9)

  • Introduction to Policy Analysis
  • Political Analysis for Public Policy: OK, maybe this is getting dull. (Writing mode)
  • Policy Choice as Value Conflict: I can sub in Global Health Ethics but probably wouldn’t (Ethical Inquiry mode)
  • Microeconomic Policy Tools: OR Intermediate Microeconomics I
  • Economics of the Public Sector: Typically taken senior year. Great.
  • Data Analysis and Statistical Inference: OR Probability and Statistical Inference. (Research and STS modes)
  • History: I’d have to choose from the list linked here. I’d lean toward the sports history class.
  • Internship: Apparently, Duke can now pretty much place people in journalism internships. Wasn’t so easy in my day. You have to take all “core” courses (the first five above) before doing this, so this would likely be between junior and senior year.
  • Independent studyAll sorts of possibilities here. In real life, I did a history of objectivity in American journalism in grad school.

Public policy electives / Policy Journalism pathway (4)

Four electives required for the major, all above 160 level, one at 400 level or higher. The pathway requirements aren’t really clear. I think this list is just suggestions. Hope so, because I’d really want to take the first three listed here, and none is 400 level. Bear in mind that my independent study would probably be journalism-related.

Some of my other electives farther below (Oral History, Data Visualization) would be journalism-related.

  • News Writing & Reporting: I’ve never considered myself a good reporter. Writer, yes. Gleaning info from data, yes. Reporter, no. This would help. I hope. (Research and Writing modes)
  • Journalism in the Age of Data: Gotta learn data. (STS mode)
  • The Art of the Interview: Cross-listed with Documentary Studies. 
  • Environmental Politics: Meets the 400+ requirement.

Music minor (6, including one from a set of electives and two above 213-level)

  • Theory and Practice of Tonal Music I: Required; basically my freshman theory course.
  • Music History III (Beethoven through WWI): Yes! Only ONE of these is required! (CCI and Research mode!)
  • Percussion (two semesters, each 0.5 credits): Fills performance requirement.
  • History of Rock: My choice from the set of electives. 
  • Writing about Music: Everything is journalism. Above 213-level. (Writing mode)
  • Theory and Practice of Tonal Music II: Sure, why not. Above 213-level
  • Could also take Wind Symphony and/or Marching Band for credit just to nickel-and-dime my way to a full class load.

General requirements (3)

  • University Writing Course: As long as I have permission to change teachers
  • Intermediate French Language and Culture: My achievement test (SAT II) score and AP score put me here. To meet the Foreign Language mode, you have to take three classes OR a 300-level course. (Duke has renumbered everything so that 100-levels are intros.) This is 200-level, so …
  • French for Current Affairs: Also meets seminar requirement and CCI mode.

That’s already 22 classes. For the Areas below, the number of parentheses is the number of credits I’ll get outside my major and minor. For example, I knock out Area 1 with my music minor, but I’ll also have an AP credit.

Area of Knowledge 1: Arts, Literature and Performance (1 non-major class)

  • English literature: AP all the way
  • (Music): Yeah, it’s covered.

Area of Knowledge 2: Civilizations (2)

  • American history: I could theoretically use both AP credits to take care of this. But I’d like to take another history, anyway.
  • Introduction to Oral History: Loved my oral history class in grad school. Would also meet my freshman seminar requirement IF I got into it first semester because it’s fall-only. (Research mode, seminar)

Area of Knowledge 3: Natural Sciences (2)

  • Chemistry, Technology and Society: It still exists! (STS mode)
  • Intro to Psychology: I can meet the Natural Sciences requirement with this? Oh, hell yeah! (STS mode)

Area of Knowledge 4: Quantitative Studies (2)

  • Foundations of Data Science: Computer Science class (STS mode)
  • Data Visualization: Found it on the journalism list.

Area of Knowledge 5: Social Sciences (2)

  • (Most of the Public Policy courses could meet this requirement)
  • Fantasy, Mass Media, and Popular Culture: Cultural Anthropology, cross-listed elsewhere, not always offered. Could also meet Civilization requirement, but I’ve got that covered (CCI mode)
  • Gateway Seminar – How to Do History: History department. (Ethical Inquiry and Research mode, seminar)

That’s 31 courses. I could only apply two of the three AP credits (calculus, English, American history) toward that total, so make it 30.

Four more …

Electives: 

  • Everything Data: 200-level computer science course; might be tough without a 200-level math. Could meet Qualitative requirement
  • Ethics and Philosophy of Sport: 300-level! (Ethical Inquiry and Writing modes)
  • Introduction to Philosophy: Could meet Civilizations requirement. (Writing mode)
  • PE: Can count two classes, each a half-credit. I’m thinking Tai Chi and tennis. They don’t do racquetball any more! 

So not much problem covering the Areas. Music and Public Policy knock out two of them, most history classes would take care of Civilizations, my two Natural Science classes are two that I actually took and enjoyed, and I’d take a couple of data-related courses to take care of Qualitative. I wouldn’t mind taking one more Arts course if they won’t let me count my music classes there.

Let’s make sure I’ve taken care of the Modes:

  • Cross-Cultural Inquiry: Music History III, French for Current Affairs, Fantasy/Mass Media/Pop Culture. Wow, little margin for error.
  • Ethical Inquiry: How to Do History, Ethics/Philosophy of Sports. Only two? Good think I’m taking the sports one!
  • Science/Technology/Society: All data and Natural Science classes. Easy.
  • Foreign Language: See above.
  • Research: I count five.
  • Writing: Too many to count.

So I’d consider that an improvement, though I’m a little iffy on some of those Public Policy classes.

 

 

 

 

 

We’ve listened to you. Please listen to us. (Part 1)

Let’s say at the outset — “we” and “us” are general terms. And no matter what the media (yeah, I’m part of it) try to shove down your throats, we’re not “polarized.” Things are much more complicated than that.

♦♦ We have evangelicals who are concerned about climate change, no matter how many evangelical preachers tell their congregations Trump is the savior and the Democrats are devils.

♦♦ We have a growing group that thinks Obama and the Clintons are too conservative, all tied to closely to Wall Street.

♦♦ Along those lines, a recent op-ed on curbing immigration was written by … Hillary Clinton.

“Left” and “right” doesn’t make much sense any more. Republicans have long ago tossed Reagan’s ideology out the window. It won’t be long before they burn down one of the two most prominent Washington-area things named after him — the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center. (For more, see what Reagan’s daughter, Patti Davis, wrote last year.) On the other alleged pole, calling Obama and either Clinton “socialist” is a good way to make Europeans — and many educated and/or younger Americans — laugh or cry.

Cry? Let’s hang on to that for a minute.

One driving force — not the sole driving force by any means, but substantial — behind current political trends is the desire to afflict “elites.” These would be “liberals” who don’t care about or listen to anyone else’s needs.

And there’s a bit of truth to that. Have “liberals” been tuned in to people outside urban areas? Probably not.

So — point taken. “Elites” have been getting the message that they need to listen. Well, some of them. Some are clinging to stereotypes of their own, thinking Middle America is all racist and ignorant. But the 2016 election caused considerable fretting and hand-wringing that Democrats have been taking people for granted.

And in general, these “elites” you gripe about have empathy. And we’re concerned that empathy is declining.

The other thing we’re worried about is a lack of respect for facts.

That’s where we’ll start. The “elites” are listening. If you don’t mind, could we please have a turn speaking?

“Elites” aren’t who you think they are

Let’s look at the earnings in various professions. We’ll use Salary.com as much as possible for the sake of consistency. In some cases, I’ve included the “I” and “III” levels for a position to get a range of experience:

  • Chief Communications Officer: $212,300
  • Drilling Foreman: $108,100
  • Clergy: $95,800
  • Accountant IV: $91,344
  • Engineer III: $92,651
  • Engineer I: $66,655
  • Machinist III: $60,856
  • Aircraft and Power Plant Mechanic, Senior (high school education): $62,730
  • Assistant Professor – English: $58,861
  • Automotive Mechanic III: $56,700
  • Public School Teacher: $56,376
  • Plumber: $55,587
  • Carpenter: $54,423
  • Accountant I: $53,136
  • Staff Writer/Reporter III: $52,283
  • Entry Field Operator (mining, HS education): $47,700
  • Entry Geologist (mining, BA): $45,500
  • Academic Advisor: $46,102
  • Machinist I: $42,627
  • Staff Writer/Reporter I: $35,523

You may argue these professions are selective. But they should be enough to show there are plenty of “working man” jobs that are paid more than jobs that require college degrees. (And, therefore, college debt.) You can’t just assume college grads — in some cases, people with doctorates — are taking all the money you should be making.

mike

The people making money, of course, work in finance. Or they’re CEOs who make 4 zillion times more than you do.

And you don’t want to raise taxes on those CEOs? They’re the ones who are robbing you. Not college professors. Not journalists. 

What motivates college professors and journalists (and a lot of government workers who chose the public sector over private jobs that pay waaaaay more)?

Public service.

Empathy.

We’ll pick up from here …

 

Reviewing the “Every Rush song ranked” article

I thought I took on a massive task when I reviewed every Rush album through 2008 (see most of the “rush” category here). I didn’t realize until today that I’d forgotten to review Clockwork Angels, so I’ll do so here: It’s good. Really good. A couple of dud songs, but overall, their best album since the Permanent Waves through Signals heyday.

Then Ultimate Classic Rock’s Ryan Reed, who is not one of the UCR staffers I know from Popdose, took it upon himself to rank every Rush song.

So let’s put off work a little longer and take a look. I won’t replicate the whole list (take a look), but I’ll highlight a few worth emphasizing or disputing.

Starting with the bottom …

167 (last) – In the Mood. A little harsh. Their debut album was basically three teenagers distilling Led Zeppelin and other influences into a blues-rock album from which the only real standouts were the blazing Finding My Way and the rock-radio anthem Working Man. Yeah, In the Mood is a little immature, and its inclusion in latter-day setlists was probably ironic, with the happily married Geddy Lee singing about picking up the hot woman at the party. It’s all quite silly, but it doesn’t pretend to be anything else, and the guitar riff is pretty good.

(No argument with the next two)

164 – Roll the Bones. Some people hate the rap segment here with the heat of a bunch of prog-rock fans being forced to listen to Taylor Swift and Vanilla Ice. But again, Rush owned the silliness here, and this was always a crowd-pleaser in concerts.

162 – Peaceable Kingdom. Wow, really? This was one of my favorites on Vapor Trails, though like much of that album, it wasn’t recorded particularly well. Even the remixed version of that album, which removed much of the sludge that made the album a difficult listen, didn’t do this song many favors. But I love Neil Peart’s lyrics here, and Geddy Lee weaves some wonderful melodic bass lines throughout.

159 – Lock and Key. The keyboards are a bit overboard here — it’s late-80s Rush, after all — but this doesn’t seem worth dumping at the bottom here along with the remainders from their immature debut or the synth-rockers from Roll the Bones that didn’t age well.

154 – Mission. Love it. Sure, it might be worth a remake without quite so many layers of keyboards, but the tribute to heroes is inspiring.

152 – Resist. Come on, man. Gotta love the hammer dulcimer.

148 – Time and Motion. Yeah, Test for Echo doesn’t fare well on this list, and I can’t disagree with that. Peart’s lyrics were dealing with abstract stuff in no real meaningful way, and the performances were getting a little repetitive. And this album could easily have been their swan song after Peart’s family tragedies. I don’t know what inspired Peart to come back to make two more half-decent albums and one great one, along with several terrific tours that allowed the band to revel in their surprising late-career popularity, but I’m grateful.

144 – Tai Shan. Kind of funny that it’s ranked higher than many others from Hold Your Fire (including a couple that I personally loved) when even Geddy Lee doesn’t like it. I never hated it, but it doesn’t make me race back to listen again.

139 – BU2B. I liked the original single better than the album version. Lyrically, it’s fascinating — it fits well with the Clockwork Angels narrative but also as a critique of those theological strains in which God is micromanaging things.

137 – Emotion Detector. Yeah, it’s not a highlight of Power Windows. It has glimmers of being a good one, but at some point, we have to accept that Peart simply wasn’t, to cite Sara Bareilles, going to write you a love song.

129 – Before and After. I have absolutely no memory of this track from the debut, which means it probably deserves ranking below some of the synth-driven songs the author have already mentioned.

125 – Nobody’s Hero. The best-written critique so far: “It’s easy to root for this poignant power ballad” about tolerance and untimely deaths, but it just doesn’t follow through.

124 – Dreamline. This is weird. He says it’s easily the best song on Roll the Bones, but he ranks it one step below Bravado. I liked both of those and Cut to the Chase (#122), in which Peart pokes fun at his own tendency to get lost in the philosophical weeds.

120 – You Can’t Fight It. I didn’t know this song existed. Wow.

117 – Countdown. This tribute to a space shuttle launch is a highlight of Signals for me, and I know I’m not alone.

113 – Workin’ Them Angels. Why is this one so high?

112 – Territories. This is my biggest complaint so far. I quote this song all the time. Imagine if someone tried to refer to the flag as “a colorful rag” today in a popular song. The right-wing media would slaughter them. And Peart’s electro-African drums are a nice touch, as are Alex Lifeson’s quirky guitar riffs.

110 – The Weapon. Again — maybe people have major issues with Rush’s synth phase, but this song speaks to me.

105 – Available Light. This one inspired me at a particular point in my life. It was the middle of college for me, after all. I still think at times that I’d love to freeze the world in place and run around to take a look, like Fry and Leela in that Futurama episode. I’m not sure if should be any higher than this, but we’re getting into stiff competition, no longer just sifting through the experiments that didn’t quite work.

104 – Tears. Nowhere near this high.

101 – Halo Effect. Another clunky look at romance. Shouldn’t be this high.

98 – Something for Nothing. I didn’t care much for Side 2 of 2112, but this was a fun one to play on guitar.

95 – One Little Victory. It’s hard to judge this one out of context. We thought for a couple of years we might never hear from Rush again, and when they came back, we had no idea what kind of shape Peart would be in. He answered that question with authority, opening up their comeback album with a blazing double-bass drum extravaganza underpinning some exuberant lyrics and some soaring Lee/Lifeson riffs. As with much of Vapor Trails, the production could’ve been much better. But this needs to be much higher.

94 – The Body Electric. Good eye for some standout bass work.

92 – Ceiling Unlimited. I’ll sound like a broken record on the Vapor Trails material because Vapor Trails is indeed a broken record. The production muddied some nice melodic hooks and lyrics throughout the album, and this is another example.

90 – Not Fade Away. Another single I hadn’t heard before. It’s a cover of a tune Buddy Holly made famous, and it barely sounds like Rush. Will this list also include the recordings from the Feedback album of covers they tossed out late in their career?

89 – The Anarchist. Their concert opener in some of their last shows, and with good reason — it’s a propulsive start, with drums, guitar and bass joining the mix in that order, all building to a powerful sequence and a promising verse. It fizzles a bit in the chorus, though, and the lyrics are more or less exposition to the Clockwork Angels narrative.

88 – The Main Monkey Business. The band had three instrumentals on Snakes and Arrows, and they were really the most memorable songs. The drums in this are more restrained than the typical Peart performance but creative and compelling.

87 – Driven. Take a powerful riff and develop it. Sounds obvious, but it was too rare on Test for Echo. This was a nice exception.

82 – Malignant Narcissism. Another Snakes and Arrows instrumental, and another good one. I wish they’d played it more live. One of the shortest songs in the Rush discography, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

81 – The Fountain of Lamneth. We’re finally getting to the stuff from Rush’s worst album, Caress of Steel? There’s no way this is better than the singles from the synth era.

79 – Afterimage. We get it, man, you don’t like the synth-driven Rush. But this was a powerful tribute to a friend who had passed away, and it did indeed take on new meaning when Peart lost his family.

76 – Animate. The opener on the underrated Counterparts could be a little higher.

75 – Red Lenses. Probably about right. I initially hated it but grew to appreciate it.

73 – Red Sector A. The analysis here is right, too. This is basically a sequencer-driven song with Lifeson and Peart adding some fills while Lee sings a heartfelt paean to prisoners — it sounds futuristic but was inspired in part by Lee’s mother’s memories of surviving a Holocaust concentration camp.

72 – 2112. “An adorably campy baby step” is about right. The overture and “The Temples of Syrinx” are terrific, and the menacing “We have assumed control” closer is unforgettable. The 10 minutes or so in between are quite forgettable.

70 – The Necromancer. It’s 13 minutes of stoner crap not worth a repeat listen, and it should be in the bottom 10.

68 – We Hold On. One of the best non-instrumentals on Snakes and Arrows. 

65 – Clockwork Angels. I’d nudge the title track of their startlingly excellent final album a bit higher.

64 – The Trees. I’m glad Peart outgrew his Ayn Rand phase, but this parable of the forest is still a clever allegory against Communist “we’ll make you equal by crushing everyone” philosophy. (Granted, we’ve overcorrected really far in the other direction these days.)

62 – Earthshine. A good one that actually fits the “wall of sludge” production on Vapor Trails, which makes me wonder why it ranks behind a couple of lesser tracks from that album and Snakes and Arrows. 

57 – Between Sun and Moon. Good spotlight for a highlight from Counterparts.

54 – Madrigal. Never performed live? Interesting. An easily forgotten one from A Farewell to Kings but certainly a pleasant listen.

49 – Hope. The last of the Snakes and Arrows instrumentals and the only Rush song I can think of that featured only one member — Alex Lifeson on a 12-string acoustic. It’s a short, lovely piece that makes me want to hear more solo acoustic work from the oft-overlooked guitarist.

48 – Headlong Flight. Have I mentioned how great an album Clockwork Angels is? This is indeed one of the high points of a masterpiece, with the band chugging along through a couple of verses from the defiant protagonist and an entertaining extended bridge that builds up and then releases into the final verse. No idea why it’s ranked behind the forgettable The Wreckers from the same album.

46 – Mystic Rhythms. Good call here. One of the best mixes of Peart’s electronic drums, Lee’s synths and Lifeson’s creative arpeggiated riffs.

44 – Anthem. The Peart era (which would end up as roughly 95% of their recorded output) kicks off here with an Ayn Rand tribute whose lyrics haven’t aged well. But it’s tough to deny the power of those riffs and Peart’s full-bore polyrhythmic drum attack.

41 – The Garden. Certainly an atypical song to wrap up the Rush catalog — I remember being surprised to see Lifeson playing keyboards when they did this live — but it’s beautiful and heartwarming. It’s especially appropriate for these troubled times. We can’t save the world, but we can tend our gardens and revel in our families’ love. (Not literally on the former. My yard is a disaster area.)

38 – Far Cry. I wasn’t happy at first with the math-rock “hey, look how many weird time signatures we can toss in” opener here, but a great song and killer chorus emerge.

37 – The Big Money. Certainly a Power Windows highlight. Yeah, Lifeson doesn’t have much to do while Lee is getting funky on bass and stepping on some synth pedals, but that’s a minor complaint. And the “eat the rich” theme is a bit removed from Ayn Rand, ain’t it?

35 – Beneath, Between and Behind. I’m not sure I ever heard them play this early highlight live, and I’m not sure why. Great riff, soaring melody … certainly one of the best from their pre-2112 days.

30 – Lakeside Park. Another stupid one from Caress of Steel, inexplicably included in the upper echelon along with some other dubious choices. (Rivendell??) 

26 – Show Don’t Tell. One of their most rhythmically interesting tunes, popping up just as they were starting to scale back the synthesizers.

25 – Time Stand Still. Aimee Mann FTW.

24 – The Pass. Probably the most moving song in the Rush catalog — a plea to bring a despondent friend back from the brink of suicide. It could be a sappy mess, but it’s brilliant.

23 – Digital Man. Awww, yeah. Bring in those reggae rhythms.

22 – YYZ. They have 21 songs better than this, probably the most memorable instrumental in the last 40 years of rock? Wow. I haven’t gotten to La Villa Strangiato yet, which I also love but shouldn’t be higher than this.

20 – The Analog Kid. I may be biased because I was in high school for this, and dreaming of the future was all I did. But it certainly stands up.

16 – A Passage to Bangkok. Look, if we’re going to dump all over the young Rush’s couple of songs about women, can we also dump on their most explicitly stoner-oriented song?

14 – Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres. I thought I was the only Rush fan who would rank this above the other side-length epic, 2112, but I guess not. It’s a little dull at times, but it’s a good story with some memorable moments. He ranks this just behind the original Cygnus X-1, which is indeed a pretty good one but not what I would call a top-20 Rush song, especially after Lee hits (sort of) that ridiculously high note at the end.

Also, it’s a wall calendar …

IMG_4071

12 – The Spirit of Radio. An obvious choice, and I’m furious that it’s mistakenly called “The Spirit of the Radio” here.

11 – Fly By Night. Another early one that strangely disappeared from their live shows despite a killer guitar hook and fine vocal melody.

10 – New World Man. A “hit,” strangely enough, and a pretty worthy one. Another one they didn’t play much in the shows I saw.

9 – Subdivisions. An ode to the outcast, and let’s speak up on Alex Lifeson’s behalf here. I remember reading a review that said he took a “creative nosedive” on Signals, and this song alone should prove otherwise. Listen to those pretty harmonics in the guitar solo, all swirled together with the whammy bar.

6 – Closer to the Heart. It’s a standard, yes, but I’ve grown a bit weary of it, and I think the band did, too. That raises a question of how to gauge a song that is good by any standard but simply played to death.

5 – Xanadu. I’d never really stopped to think which of Rush’s epics was the best, but yeah, this is probably it.

3 – Red Barchetta. A classic, any way you look at it. Funny how it’s set in a dystopian future but is so upbeat and energizing. I would’ve ranked it ahead of Limelight.

The top pick is obvious, with good reason.

 

 

 

 

 

Duke majors today

Looked up a few things on colleges today and found an interesting stat — the number of degrees Duke conferred in 2015-16 by major. I’m not sure how it accounts for double majors, but either way, it’s an interesting stat.

My two majors are in bold.

First, by category:

325 Biological/Biomedical Sciences
312 Social Sciences
271 Engineering (+2 in “Engineering Technology and Engineering-Related Fields”)
158 Public Policy, etc.
139 Health Professions (all nursing)
109 Psychology
94 Computer and Information Sciences
63 Physical Sciences
61 Mathematics and Statistics
  43 Visual and Performing Arts
43 Education
41 History
40 Natural Resources and Conservation
37 Foreign Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics
34 English Language and Literature
20 Philosophy and Religious Studies
18 Area, Ethnic, Gender, Cultural and Group Studies

Now, by major:

180 Economics
176 Biology
158 Public Policy
139 Nursing (I *think* this is a separate school)
109 Psychology (this surprises me)
99 Bioengineering/Biomedical Engineering
93 Computer Science (+1 in “Computer and Information Science, Other”)
89 Electrical and Electronics Engineering
87 Neuroscience
71 Mechanical Engineering
69 Political Science
55 Anatomy
43 International and Comparative Education
40 Environmental Studies
39 History (+2 in “History, Other”)
38 Math
36 Chemistry
34 English
33 Sociology
30 Anthropology
23 Statistics
23 “Visual and Performing Arts, Other” (??? +2 in “Visual and Performing Arts, General”)
20 Physics
  13 Philosophy
12 Civil Engineering
10 Area Studies
9 French
8 Foreign Languages, General
7 Biophysics
7 Geological and … look, we’re just saying “Geology”
7 Religion
6 Art History
6 Spanish
5 Drama (and other words)
5 Linguistics
5 Classics
    5 Music
5 Women’s Studies
3 African Studies
2 Environmental Engineering
2 Romance Languages
2 Russian
2 Dance

So my majors aren’t very popular. And my master’s degree isn’t that much more popular — 26, just two more than East Asian Studies.