Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Fall of King George, Part 17

I totally stole this post from the blog Modest Cake, which was channeling a recent Pew Research Center survey:

"Please tell me what one word best describes your impression of George W. Bush."

Top five descriptions. Look for patterns . . .

FEB 2004: 1. Honest 2. Fair 3. Leader 4. Liar 5. Arrogant
MAY 2004: 1. Honest 2. Good 3. Liar 4. Leader 5. Arrogant
FEB 2005: 1. Honest 2. Good 3. Integrity 4. Arrogant 5. Incompetent
JUL 2005: 1. Honest 2. Incompetent 3. Arrogant 4. Good 5. Integrity
MAR 2006: 1. Incompetent 2. Good 3. Idiot 4. Liar 5. Christian
FEB 2007: 1. Incompetent 2. Arrogant 3. Honest 4. Good 5. Idiot*

Homeland Arrogance and Incompetence Alert: ELEVATED


*If combined, Idiot/Stupid/Ignorant would actually rank #1 in FEB 2007.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

David Halberstam

David Halberstam, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author, was killed in an automobile accident yesterday in Menlo Park, CA. He was 73. Halberstam started out with the New York Times and shared a Pulitzer in 1964 for his reporting on the Vietnam War. In the early 1970s, he published his most famous work, The Best and the Brightest, a masterful account of the Kennedy administration and how it got us into Vietnam, and how the same people continued the war under Lyndon Johnson.

Halberstam in Vietnam.

In addition to his numerous books on politics, the media, war, and other serious themes, he wrote several classics on sports. Yesterday, in fact, he was killed in route to an interview with Hall of Fame quarterback of the New York Giants, Y.A. Tittle. (Halberstam could survive the hellish jungles of Vietnam, but not, evidently, the highways of California.)

I've only read The Best and the Brightest, but it left such an impression on me that I felt the loss this morning when I read the news about his death. It may be the best book I've ever read on how Power really works in our country. And how it can make major mistakes. The Bush administration's current fiasco in Iraq isn't exactly new. The same incredible arrogance, the same disconnect from reality on the ground, the same refusal to listen to those who disagree, all of these traits were equally present among the elites of the Kennedy administration. As well as incompetence - Bay of Pigs, anyone? But Halberstam did an excellent job of painting portraits of the real human beings who were in the administration: Robert McNamara, McGeorge Bundy, George Rusk and many others. The "whiz kids." Grand disasters such as Vietnam, the Holocaust, Hiroshima, etc. often take on an abstract quality over time, and names lose their connection to flesh and blood human beings. Halberstam's book was a reminder that catastrophes and evil are brought about by real people, not abstractions. It was never just "Nazis," but a father of three in Berlin, a church-goer and good neighbor, who processed transport orders. It was never just some faceless Secretary of Defense, but a Boy Scout from San Francisco, a good kid, who ordered massive bombings and the use of chemical weapons (Napalm, vomiting gas) in Vietnam, where millions of people died and the land is still poisoned today. The road to Hell really can be paved with good intentions. I found The Best and the Brightest to be a humbling book - not just revealing the terrible hubris of the Kennedy adminstration, but making me realize that all of us, no matter our intelligence, courage, instincts, or desire to do good, can still screw things up to the point of disaster. The only difference is that my minor, daily disasters usually don't lead to the death of millions of people - one of the benefits of being powerless, I guess.

I also admired Halberstam for being able to move between such heavy topics as the Vietnam war and baseball or basketball. Life is of a whole, and it's nice to know that some writers can capture many of its aspects. It's something I've wanted to do on this blog, but it's not easy. I'll have to pick up one of his sports books and give it a read. I know I can learn something.

So, to one of those who tried to tell the truth in a time of catastrophe, go in grace, Mr. Halberstam.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Recent Screenings

"Movies are a world of Fragments."
Jean-Luc Godard

It's been a dull time for me cinema-wise. A lot of decent but not great films. Two of them were actually quite good most of the way through and then blew it with stunningly dumb endings. I don't have any recommendations this time, but most of these films are worth watching.

The Prestige
(2006) - Written and directed by Christopher Nolan. Starring Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Michael Caine, David Bowie and Scarlett Johansson.

Magic, mystery, Memento, Tesla, Batman, Bowie, Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale. . . . I was looking forward to this new offering from Christopher Nolan. It's beautifully photographed, with some stunning visuals by cinematographer Wally Pfister. The cast is quite good, though Scarlett Johansson seems a bit lost, due perhaps to her undeveloped character. Bowie does a fine turn as Nikola Tesla, with Gollum - I mean, Andy Serkis - as his assistant. I enjoyed the first two thirds of the film - the Pledge, and the Turn, to use the film's terminology. A magic trick gone wrong leads to someone's death, which, in turn, leads to a rivalry between two magicians that ultimately turns to an escalating battle of revenge. Unfortunately, the last act - the Prestige, as it were - starts to fall apart. The revenge scenario grows dull instead of building up to anything interesting, and the lame, overly neat ending left me in disbelief. "You've got to be kidding."

In the battle of 2006's "19th century magic movies," I have to side with The Illusionist. I like a film about mystery and magic to be founded in reality. Even the "ghost" sequences in The Illusionist can be tied to a craze in the 1860s for producing spectral images on stage using mirrors and shadows. The climactic part of The Prestige, on the other hand, which holds out so much potential with the introduction of Tesla's experiments in electricity, simply winds up being silly. The Illusionist also wins in terms of writing, with a well-structured plot that develops its characters better and does a more interesting job of touching on politics and class. And despite Pfister's stunning images, I think The Illusionist was ultimately a more poetic film.

I really enjoyed Memento, but Batman Begins and The Prestige make me wonder if Nolan isn't an illusionist himself as a director. He's great at visuals and creating mood, but dark hues, intense stories, and brooding actors don't necessarily add up to profound thought. Stephanie Zacharek, who writes for Salon, and who I've come to increasingly admire as a film critic, says it better in her review of The Prestige: "For Christopher Nolan, darkness seems to equal depth -- when, really, sometimes darkness is just a big hole." Read her entire review.

Intrus, L'
[The Intruder] (2004) - Written and directed by Claire Denis. Cinematography by Agnes Godard. Starring Michael Subor.

In some circles, Claire Denis is one of the most important directors working today, and her film Beau Travail (1999) one of the greatest films of the last decade. I can't say I personally connect with her work, but I do give her credit for trying something different. She has taken to heart Godard's quote about fragments and developed a body of work that truly reflects this. I'd love to tell you the plot of L'Intrus, for example, but La Reina and I, despite our graduate degrees, literary backgrounds, and having seen over a thousand films, couldn't figure out what in the hell was going on. Which is the point, I guess. Denis' films aren't really meant to be watched like other narrative films. She's not telling a linear "story" as much as she's imparting bits and pieces of a world, or of peoples' lives. And she's not using the ordinary language of cinema - traditional screenwriting, a certain film structure, common acting techniques, etc, - to impart this world. Her cinema is highly visual, with very little spoken dialogue, and a restless, provocative use of sound and music. The problem, however, is that she teases the viewer with the sense that there IS some kind of a narrative - you just don't know what it is. It's a different experience, say, from some of Jean-Luc Godard's more non-linear works. If you can't figure out a narrative in Week End, that's okay, because you know the narrative's not important. In theory, I like what Denis is trying to do, but in the end, I find her films more annoying than liberating.

But, again, at least she's trying to do something interesting.

If you ask me, the real strength of these films has less to do with Denis and much more to do with cinematographer Agnes Godard. [No relation to Jean-Luc.] I have to say, her work on Beau Travail and L'Intrus ranks as some of the greatest film photography of the last twenty years. There are some lingering shots of clouds and water in L'Intrus that you want to go on forever. You want to inhabit that space. If you could live there, it would feel like heaven. I'd be very curious to know what these films would be like without Godard's cinematography. Not nearly as interesting, I would guess. Both films hang almost entirely on her tremendous visual sensibility. I look forward to seeing more of Agnes Godard's work in the future.

The Reckoning (2003) - Terribly directed by Paul McGuigan. Starring Paul Bettany, Willem Dafoe, Matthew Macfadyen, Vincent Cassel, and Gina McKee.

No. This didn't work. The Albino Monk from Da Vinci Code plays a medieval priest who does some really bad things and runs away. He encounters a traveling company of actors, led by Willem Dafoe. They wind up in a village where a young boy has been killed, and a woman - an organic farmer or something - is accused of being a witch and a murderer. The formerly albino monk now renegade priest decides to solve the mystery and bring about justice. Oh, and he falls in love - surprise - with one of the actresses. (In the medieval touring company, not on the film set.) A king is involved somehow, and he sends one of his own investigators, played by that dude from Pride and Prejudice (not Colin Firth, but the long-haired guy in the version with Keira Knightley.) Vincent Cassel plays a really bad French guy - no, wait, Cassel is French, but the Duke or whatever he plays is English. I think he's English. He's a pedophile. Cassel's character, I mean, not Cassell himself. Maybe they are French, I forget. But the movie was shot in Spain. I remember that. The actors put on a morality play in order to solve the murder. The Duke guy gets upset. Somebody dies. The fake-looking medieval people have incredibly fake looking snow that keeps landing on their noses and not melting. And you want to yell at them, "Hey, brush off that fake snow! It doesn't look real sitting there on your nose!" You get some flashbacks. Willem Dafoe does his best to keep cool and not break out laughing at the bad script. The albino monk dude does pretty good, though not as good as he did in that movie with Russell Crowe - when they're on the big ship, fighting the French and playing violins together. But there's something wrong with this film. It feels like it was made for late-night cable TV or something. A low budget and terrible directing cancel out the good actors. You see a film like this and wonder how the director was allowed to make OTHER films. Too bad. Medieval, lust-filled, renegade priests solving mysteries and fighting pedophiles sounded like a cool idea.

Blow Dry (2001) - Directed by Paddy Breathnach. Starring Alan Rickman, Natasha Richardson, Bill Nighy and a bunch of young actors I think I'm supposed to know but don't

If this didn't have such a great cast, I fear it would've been a truly sucky film. But, hey, it's got Alan Rickman and Bill Nighy, so you know it can't be all bad. They play rival hairdressers. Nighy wants to become three-time hair-dressing champion of England. Rickman has retired but gets coaxed back into competitive hair-dressing. The national championship, as it turns out, is taking place in his tiny English village. Imagine that. There are some lesbians, one of whom used to be Rickman's wife. He has a teenage son who falls in love with the cute teenage daughter of his rival, Nighy. You see why this could've really been bad. Josh Hartnett, whom La Reina thought was kind of hot, plays Rickman's son. Hartnett's an American actor, and his attempt at a Yorkshire accent left the Brits on IMDB screaming bloody murder. They really ripped him to shreds, saying he ruined the film. Which was interesting, because I couldn't tell there was a problem. So, if you're not English, and you don't know that Hartnett is American, you may not have a problem with that.

Oh, one of the lesbians has cancer. That's kind of a heavy aspect of the film. Somehow you're supposed to feel torn up about that, while, at the same time, you laugh at typical homosexual hairdresser jokes. Kind of a weird mix. But Natasha Richardson does well with the cancer thing. The screenplay is by the guy who wrote Full Monty. The DVD tells you that, because they want you to buy this movie because you loved the other one. But it's not nearly as good as Full Monty (if you even thought that was good.) But then you knew this already, because you had never heard of Blow Dry, had you?

Nighy and Rickman are great. Yeah. Without them . . . well, as I said. As it stands, Blow Dry won't "blow" you away. Ha!

By the way, in Germany, this film was called Über kurz oder lang, which I find endlessly amusing for no good reason. But it sounds better to me. Like it could be a Wim Wenders film or something.

Calendar Girls (2003) - Directed by Nigel Cole. Starring Helen Mirren, Julie Walters, Ciarán Hinds, and a bunch of older women

This was La Reina's pick. It's got Helen Mirren. Hey, I'll watch it. It's also got the woman who plays Mrs. Weasley in the Harry Potter movies. She's very good in this. Instead of cancer, someone in this film has leukemia. And he isn't a lesbian. I'm trying to figure out if there's some kind of trend going on that I didn't know about: rural British comedies featuring teminal illness. Their equivalent, perhaps, to Hollywood's obsession with gore films? What does this signify? Is it some kind of post 9/11 thing?

Helen and Julie live in a lovely English village, but they're bored with their very traditional women's group, so they decide to put together a calendar of older women who appear topless. It's in order to raise money for a wing of the hospital dedicated to the person who had leukemia. The film is based on a true story. It's funny, well-written for the most part, and it has Helen Mirren in it. It could have had Alan Rickman and Bill Nighy in it as well, I'm sure. But they didn't do this one. The calendar is a big success and the women go to Hollywood. The film bogs down at that point and becomes kind of predictable. But everything works out in the end. Except, of course, for the guy who had leukemia. But even that is portrayed in a touching or hopeful way. Or at least with grace. La Reina gave it a thumbs up. I gave it a non-committal shrug.

The Contender (2001) - Directed by Rod Lurie. Starring Joan Allen, Jeff Bridges, Gary Oldman, Christian Slater, Sam Elliott, and some other people.

This was an interesting political thriller for the first two hours, then it totally choked at the end, blowing a ten-point lead in the last six minutes, when it was unable to score a single basket. What happened? So many good actors and such a smart script. Then, evidently, the screenwriter drank "Stupid-Hollywood-Potion," which damaged his brain and turned this intelligent film into a dumb, feel-good flick, with a totally unbelievable plot resolution. "She did WHAT on purpose? You've gotta be kidding me. Nobody would do that! Hey, get the damn fake snow off you nose, it's really irritating!" As with The Prestige, my anger at the stupid ending left me with mixed feelings about the rest of the film.

Joan Allen does well as the woman set to become our first female Vice President. She has to go through an intense vetting process, and it turns out there may have been some sexual scandal in her past. What's she's hiding? Are the Republicans just out to get her? The film was made in 2000 and, evidently, at that time, there may have been some bad feelings in the air over Republicans scouring the personal lives of Liberal political figures. So this turns out to be a revenge-fantasy film, where the Democrats actually stop the bad guys from being so mean to them. Jeff Bridges is funny as a Clinton(Bill)-esque President, but he seems kind of like Jeff Bridges in other films. In my opinion, Gary Oldman steals the show as the mean Republican out to get the poor, mistreated Liberal woman. His character could have easily been a stereotype, but he makes him much more interesting to watch. Sam Elliott is very good. Slater's okay. Mariel Hemingway shows up for a moment - I'm not sure why. Rickman and Nighy don't do much with their non-appearances, but just knowing they could have been in the film makes me feel better about the world.

As I said, the first 120 minutes are pretty good. A solid look at the political process. Then, well, you get the feel-good ending and the ridiculous plot device to save the day. Deus ex machina and all that. Nobody, however, has a terminal illness in this one. That was kind of a relief.


Kurt Vonnegut died this week. Though I hadn't read one of his novels in about 25 years, I felt a pang of sadness and nostalgia when I heard he passed away. Along with many other adolescents in the late 1970s, his funny, thoughtful and imaginative books meant a lot to me at a crucial time in my life. Reading Vonnegut was kind of a transition from the world of childhood into another more complex, "grown-up" world. I can still remember the subversive thrill of reading Breakfast of Champions in the 8th grade. He was one of the voices that told me it was okay to be different, to be creative, and to be a rebel if necessary, especially for the good of humankind.

My favorite Vonnegut moment didn't take place in any of his books, though, but out on the streets. I was probably a senior in high school, and I was driving one morning to my job at a supermarket. Near the interstate, off by itself on a plot of land, a brand new, soulless glass office building had been constructed. For some reason it sat empty for what seemed like months. That morning, however, there was a change. During the night, someone, somehow, had left an enormous message across the top of the building, each letter the size of a large window:


Kilgore Trout was one of Vonnegut's recurring and most popular characters. For a young, bewildered, rebellious teenager, who felt like society was as cold and empty as that glass office building, those giant letters seemed like a great blow for the sake of humanity. I laughed and laughed and laughed. The best part was that the message stayed up there for a long time. And it brought a smile to my face every time I drove by. Just as it brings a smile to me all these years down the road.

Go in peace, Mr. Vonnegut. Thanks to you, Kilgore Trout still lives.

The Guardian has a nice obiturary for Vonnegut.

From another Guardian article: "Vonnegut's own heroes had been Jesus, Abraham Lincoln and Eugene Debs, the labour leader who stood several times for US president as candidate of the Socialist Party of America."

The last thing I probably read by Vonnegut was his humorous and helpful essay on writing: How To Write with Style. It's short and worth reading.

Friday, April 06, 2007

The Greatest Guitarists of All Time

You'd think at this point in my life, I wouldn't be such a sucker for yet another bloody list of the "Greatest [BLANK] of All Time." But while age has increased the size of my belly, it doesn't seem to have brought me a commensurate amount of wisdom. I always look at the lists. And I almost always come away angry and frustrated. Yeah, the Internet has been a great development in the history of humankind, but it has also led to a serious social problem that doesn't get enough coverage - the toxic proliferation of bad list-making. So when Crystal - who's usually such a nice, un-opinionated girl (cough) - recently decided to start some trouble by claiming that Eric Clapton was an "overall better guitarist" than Jimi Hendrix, she linked to a list of the "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time." And I, like the fool I am, fell for the bait. I had to know who they were.

The Great Creator Spirit of the Guitar. And, in my mind, an underrated vocalist as well. Just before he died, Jimi was in discussions with Miles Davis to do a jazz album. Oh, what might have been!

To her credit, Crystal linked to the list even though it had Jimi #1 and Eric #4. (Duane Allman was #2 and B.B. King #3.) The list was done by a major corporate magazine that used to cover music a long, long time ago but switched over to Men's Fashions sometime in the 1980s. For some reason [an extensive marketing budget], they still have a reputation for being an authority on music, and their list even has its own entry in Wikipedia. But I'm not linking to them. I simply refuse to empower such an intellectually lazy, artistically unethical, and ultimately disrespectful effort.

Imagine for a moment that someone decides to list "The Greatest Writers of All Time." You think, "Hmm, will Shakespeare be higher than Cervantes? What about Tolstoy vs. Dostoyevsky? Homer? Baudelaire? Toni Morrison? Where will they fall?" Yes, it's a bar game. But it can be an interesting bar game that sparks good discussion and may even teach us something when we come across names we don't know. But when you look at the list, you see that Cervantes, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Homer and Baudelaire aren't even there! What the hell?!?!

That was my reaction, more or less, to Unnamed Corporate Magazine's "Greatest Guitarists of All Time." For one thing, I truly wanted to know how Jimi Hendrix matched up against the likes of Andrés Segovia or Django Reinhardt. Those three have always formed a kind of holy trinity of guitar-playing in my mind. How interesting to debate their various unique styles and abilities. And what about Eric Calpton vs. Paco de Lucía? Or Jimmy Page vs. Wes Montgomery?

Andrés Segovia, moments before squirting lighter fluid all over his guitar and setting it on fire.

But no. This was really just a list of the "Greatest Rock and Blues Guitarists, According to Our Limited Knowledge, Narrow Mindset, and Necessary Marketing Strategies." So, screw the classical guitarists, the jazz guys, the flamenco guitarists, the country-folk guys, the Brazilians, etc. But a list of "Greatest Guitarists of All Time" that doesn't include Andrés Segovia and Django Rheinhardt is like a list of "Greatest Artists of All Time" that doesn't include Rembrandt and Picasso. What's the damn point?!?!

The simple solution would be to drop the "Greatest" tag and simply say "Our Favorite Guitarists." Or, heck, just say the "Greatest Rock and Blues Guitarists of All Time." If you can't make an effort to produce a reasonable list of the greatest artists in a field, then why pretend you did? But then people like me wouldn't bother looking at it, would they? So, I help foster this disease by being unable to refrain from clicking on the link.

Perhaps the editors of such lists are afraid their readers won't know enough names if they put together a real "Greatest" list. Rather than try and expand an audience's knowledge of the world by introducing them to various important but lesser known figures, they prefer to keep their readers in a smaller, thinner, marketing-driven universe.

And what of my own compulsion to look at these lists? What do I long for so desperately that keeps me going back to them, even though I'm constantly disappointed and infuriated? Order in a chaotic world, perhaps? "Please, help me! There's war and famine and poverty and cancer! Tell me if Jimi or Django is #1!!! Help me sort out the confusion between Julian Bream, Mick Ronson and Chet Atkins!" If I can't figure out what I'm doing on this planet, I at least want to know that my gut instincts are right and that Charlie Christian was a more significant guitarist than the dude from Foreigner.

Django Reinhardt. As a teenager, he was injured in a fire in his gypsy caravan, leaving him with only two functioning fingers on his fret hand. He could still outplay everybody else.

Also, maybe I'm seeking approval, wanting to belong to the tribe. Is that why I get angry when I see that THE PUBLISHED LIST is so different from my own inner list? I might act intellectually smug and superior and call the list-makers idiots, but wasn't I a little shaky and upset when I read that viewers of the UK's Channel 4 had chosen Grease as "The Greatest Musical of All Time"? Was there something wrong with me? I hadn't even considered Grease a possibility! Maybe my values were skewed because I thought Singin' in the Rain or The Band Wagon were infinitely better. Oh my G-d, what if I'm a freak? At least tell me my own choices are somewhere on the list! What happens if all my favorites don't make the grade?! [Luckily, American Film Institute did choose Singin' in the Rain as the Greatest Musical, restoring - for the moment, at least - my shattered sense of belonging.]

Maybe that's why Unnamed Corporate Magazine doesn't even bother mentioning someone like Andrés Segovia. They know the power these lists hold over people like me. Why send some poor, suffering rock-and-roller to an early grave by listing Jimi Hendrix #2 behind a Spanish classical guitarist?

Finally, there's the whole question of why we feel the need to set up false competitions between different musicians, films, writers, etc. What is it in our culture that causes us to name one entity #1 and another, "lesser" entity, #2? Is this a Western trait? Global? It's all a bit odd, isn't it? Which doesn't stop me, of course, from reading one stupid list after another.

Chet Atkins. Married (and later divorced) One Day at a Time star Valerie Bertinelli, fought constantly with bandmate David Lee Roth, and recently entered rehab.

Actually, some people do make an effort. I found another list of "Greatest Guitarists of All Time" that was much more knowledgeable, holistic and respectful. That is to say, it fit my own concept of what a list of Greatest Guitarists should look like. The list-maker(s) even explained how they came up with their rankings:

They were picked for their importance in the guitar world including innovation, respect from other guitarists, influence on both other players as well as on styles of playing, impact, legendary status, and overall importance on shaping the guitar world. Plus for the playing abilities including technique, creativity, versatility, musical depth & expression both in composing & performing, live energy and improv skills, and originality.

So, here's Digital DreamDoor's Top 10 All Time Greatest Guitarists:

1. Andrés Segovia
2. Django Reinhardt
3. Jimi Hendrix
4. Chet Atkins
5. Wes Montgomery
6. T-Bone Walker
7. Charlie Christian
8. B.B. King
9. Robert Johnson
10. Joe Pass

I can quibble with the rankings (Chet Atkins at #4 and Joe Pass at #10 both seem too high to me), but that's part of the fun. At least they got the right names!

Segovia's role in developing the guitar as a serious instrument in the 20th century has to be taken into consideration. Without him, there wouldn't even BE a list of "100 Greatest Guitarists."

I might put Jimi #2, above Django, but it's hard to say. Hendrix always has an advantage over most other guitarists, because he died so young. We never had to hear his bad 1980s albums with electronic drums, or grimace through his Michelob ads, or watch him perform, fat and bald, on his PBS concert with the Boston Pops. He's forever trapped in amber as the sexy, brilliant, guitar god.

I thought it was interesting that Robert Johnson made the top 10 on both lists (#5 and #9). I've always known he was one of the key figures in the history of Blues, but I didn't realize he had such a reputation as a guitarist. That was a discovery for me. guess I'll haveto go back and listen to his recordings again.

Another discovery was Sabicas, listed at #16. I'm ashamed to say that despite living in Spain for 5 years, I had never heard of him. Now I find out he's one of the most important figures in Flamenco. I'm going to go home tonight and drink some vino tinto and bury my head in shame. Que verguenza. But that's one of the great parts of life - sudden and unexpected discoveries.

BTW, if you're a sicko list-lover, Digital DreamDoor has many, many lists of "Greatest" This-and-That in Music.

So, here's the World's Greatest Guitar Hero Andrés Segovia in action.

[Despite rumors, Segovia did NOT record George Harrison's solo on "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," nor was he a member (at least officially) of The Spiders from Mars.]

Alas, Crystal, Eric only came in at #25, behind Paco de Lucía, who was at #21. The only other rock guitarist ahead of Clapton (besides Hendrix) was Jeff Beck at #17. Jimmy Page came in at #29. Hendrix, Beck, Clapton, Page. Yawn. The Rock Guitar Pantheon hasn't changed in almost 40 years!!! I have a hard time believing that nobody's improved upon these old farts. Where are the young turks?!

Paco de Lucía's legendary collaboration with flamenco great Camarón de la Isla helped catapult the guitarist to fame.

To my surprise, Tomatito didn't make the list. He was the son of "Tomate" [really!] and played with Camarón de la Isla after Paco split to go on his own. He continues today both in flamenco and nuevo flamenco settings, as well as doing some work in rock and jazz. Guess the "Little Tomato" isn't that good. You decide. Here Tomatito blazes through some flamenco action.

Wes Montgomery shows some of his stuff in "Jingles." Notice that he isn't using a pick. He always played with his thumb.

This film of Django Reinhardt doesn't really show what he could do, but it's a lot of fun anyway.

Tolstoy &
Chekhov's Rock and Roll Circus.

The two Russian axe masters gave the original Crosby, Stills and Nash recordings a much heavier, Black Sabbath sound. But creative differences with David Crosby and Stephen Stills led to major tension within the group. Finally, one night, in a coke-induced stupor, Crosby began waving his pistol around at Leo and Anton and screaming that they were just a couple of "commie pinko faggots." Jealous of Leo's attentions towards Joni Mitchell, the drug-addled Crosby then erased the two Russians' guitar licks from the tracks the group had already recorded. The two were later removed ignominously from the album cover.

The following summer, the Russian duo jammed with Clapton, Dostoyevsky and Ginger Baker, but plans for a super group never materialized.