Letters

March 16, 2000

Bully-ish on Music

When I was about 10 years old, some buddies and I were hanging around a canal ditch, having fun, looking for crawdads. Some older neighborhood kids came around on their bikes and started circling us and teasing us. I chose to ignore them and was bent over the ditch, trying to mind my own business, when one of them came up behind me and kicked me in. As I came up sputtering, cold, wet and surprised, I had just one question in my head: "Why?"

These kids were classic bullies. I'm not really sure why bullies do what they do. I think they are afraid of something and express this with power over those they feel are weaker. I learned from this experience that you don't turn your back on them.

Recently, the music editor of your paper wrote a scathing review of Dichromatic, a CD by the Surf Ballistics, a band on my record label, Hayden's Ferry Records ("Suffer Safari," Bob Mehr, March 2). He followed up with a column about nasty responses he got to the "Suffer Safari" piece ("Going Ballistic," March 9).

Bad reviews go with the territory in this business and don't bother me particularly. As Jerry Lee Lewis once said, "I don't care what they say about me as long as they say something." But in the case of this article, the writer took a nasty, almost personal turn and bluntly attacked the band and me. I was reminded of my experience with the bullies of my youth and was determined not to turn my back. Ironically, the writer, Bob Mehr, posed my question of the bullies back to me, asking why I signed the band, "Why?"

The main thrust of the writer's criticism seems to come from the fact that he essentially didn't like the style and genre of the band and therefore thought they and bands like them were worthy of this kind of attack. To me, this is a bit like the adolescent cry of "My crew is cooler than your crew, dude!" or "Aerosmith just totally blows away Quiet Riot!" Yes, Hayden's Ferry has been successful in the national arena with roots and Americana/alt-country releases. But my tastes have always been varied and open when it comes to music. Fortunately for me, the public's tastes are varied, too. It's nice to know Mr. Mehr liked the Sleepwalker record, but I would be committed to putting out their second CD even if he didn't.

The short answer to Bob's question about why I signed and have released two records by Surf Ballistics is because I like them. When their now engineer/producer Bruce Livolsi and I first saw them in my recording studio six years ago, the youngest in the group was 15 years old. All four of them were extremely talented and have continued to grow in talent and confidence ever since.

Hayden's Ferry doesn't dictate musical tastes to the band. Unlike the larger corporate labels, it is within this independent label's core philosophy to encourage the bands to follow their artistic vision. The fact that Surf Ballistics has a large and passionate fan base that extends outside Arizona is testimony to the fact that others like what they are doing. In addition, Surf Ballistics' first CD was one of our top sellers. We have supported the band from the beginning, partly because part of our charter is to support local music; just as important, this band has supported and is loyal to us. We work together to accomplish greater things. I do this with all the bands on the label.

The bully-like and baseless negativity of this and other New Times reviews is largely what I think has plagued the Arizona music scene for a long time. The New Times music editor stations himself on the landscape of Arizona music, wielding his keyboard/pen as a shotgun, taking aim at any critter that tries to lift its head up to the world. It is as if New Times alone determines what is good and what is not. As a town, we eat our young.

Perhaps New Times can take a lesson from Bob Mehr's remarks on Surf Ballistics' music, "if only they would use their talent for good instead of inducing migraines." Maybe we could develop a thriving music culture in this town instead of making it so hard for the bands to survive.

I take some comfort in one fact -- a fact that most writers at New Times find hard to accept and the corporation that owns them knows; most people don't pick up New Times to read the articles anymore, they pick it up for its advertisements of strip clubs, nightclubs, personal ads, and breast enlargement surgery.

In this business, we live by a couple of sayings. "Tomorrow is another day" is one. Next month's music editor may like Surf Ballistics. "What goes around comes around" is another saying I like. My older brother went out the next day and kicked the crap out of those bullies who kicked me in the ditch.

As for the follow-up column, I got a few (more) phone calls. I had to force my bony ass out to Circle K to pick up a copy of NT to see what was up, and I got a kick out of it. I think we can agree that the amount of press this situation has generated is more than a normal bad review deserves.

Tom Petty once said, "Rock can't die -- its design is flawless. All other pop music needs to be informed by it. It's based on a dream that can't die." NT answers with "it's just an opinion" and finds itself in the position of being the rock establishment that rock itself will change. Jon Landau slammed Jimi Hendrix in his first review in Rolling Stone; he didn't get it.

I still maintain the first review was mean-spirited. Hayden's Ferry has released more than 20 records, six of which have charted nationally. We have distribution in the U.S. and Europe and get radio airplay all over the world. We have been in the Valley for more than five years and have been passionate advocates for local music. So, when New Times finally decides to review a band's record and chooses the one it can slam hard, that taken in perspective with its years of silence is what feels negative and personal over here.

As one friend e-mailed me to say, "Same as it ever was..."

Just don't die now! After the m-f-ing death threats, if you do, they'll surely come looking to me as the kingpin. Somehow, Stuie the Bull just doesn't have that ring of terror.

Stu Baker, president
Hayden's Ferry Records

Thank you for your articles about the Surf Ballistics. In my opinion, there has never been enough negative press about the local music scene. I now live in Brooklyn, but I spent the past 12 years playing with bands in Tempe (two of the earliest tapes sent to New Times and received harsh reviews -- deservedly).

Ever since the demise of the Sun Club and the rapid sterilization of Mill Avenue, there's been a dearth of good local bands. I'm not saying the talent out there was ever spectacular, and I'm not denying my involvement in a little noise pollution, but let's face it, there's a problem when your magazine still has to write articles on Dead Hot Workshop, the Pistoleros, Satellite or the Beat Angels. Where are all the new, good bands? Even the brightest newer bands like Sonic Thrills, Vox Poppers and Sugar High are composed of aging Valley veterans.

So I felt a sense of vindication from your article. I've played on too many bills with the Surf Ballistics, and a hundred other crap factories like them. Whether it's a metal/rap hybrid or saccharine Hootie-inspired frat rock, I implore you to strap on a bulletproof vest and continue to batter some egos.

Jimmy Daggs
Brooklyn, New York

One of my major complaints with the now-defunct link magazine was that it was so dedicated to only saying good things about local bands. Because of this, its reviews meant jack shit to A&R reps and industry people. The magazine lost its credibility. Bands like the Surf Ballistics should appreciate it when people give honest feedback on their music. It should be viewed as constructive criticism! If my band's singer sucks, I want him to know it so that he'll work on it. I even go so far as to ask people to criticize our music -- but I phrase it like, "What do we need to focus on while we're practicing?" so they don't feel like total assholes. (Maybe the Surf Ballistics egos had been inflated by friends who didn't have the balls to be honest.)

So thank you for your honesty. I know that when you're doing a review of our band down the line, it will be sincere -- not sugar-coated.

By the way, Surf Ballistics deserve every word of criticism that you gave them.

Name withheld by request

Enjoyed Bob Mehr's humor about dishing out criticism. I used to live in Tempe until a year ago and I was involved in the local music scene as a fan as well as a band manager and booking agent. Mehr is a funny man! Reading his remarks about Robin Wilson, Steve Larson, Stephen Ashbrook and Roger Clyne gave me a good chuckle because I know all of them and I have to say the remarks were right on. Very witty. One of the few things I do miss about Tempe is the local music scene and all its characters. And, yes, Steve Larson can be scary!

His message to the Surf Ballistics was also right on, and more local bands need to be told that. Keep it up.

Cerise Wilson
via Internet

Parent Trap

This mom has always known that Buck Ellis is the best time-keep in the city ("Shout It Out," Brian Smith, March 2). His racket-hatchet big noise started at age 13 -- probably as a response to too much James Taylor in the home. Thanks to Brian Smith for spotlighting our local musicians who practice and perform based solely on their passion for the music.

Lindsay Ellis
Phoenix

Lock and Load

Read your well-written piece on the concealed-carry weapons course ("Hollow Points," David Holthouse, March 2). As an instructor, it is very rare that I find someone who cannot handle a gun well. The usual cause for it is that they have chosen the wrong defensive tool for the job. If that is the case, I take the student to the range and have them rent guns until they find the right one.

No one gets out of my class without a good background in the laws on the use of force. If they don't ask me a lot of questions, I start asking them. Not only do I lean heavily on the legal portion of the class, but I give them scenarios and ask them what laws were violated. At the end of my class, I give each student a type of "Miranda Card" for their wallet with statements and approach speeches to cops and airline ticket agents.

I stress that the best tool for defense is the mind, not the launcher. If you're ever in Tucson, I invite you to audit my class and compare it to Caswell's. It might be an eye-opener.

The Arizona CCW class is not a lawsuit waiting to happen. The advisory board to the state on it was very careful in its crafting of the training requirements. To date, very few of the 67,000-plus permits have been revoked for misbehavior. As a rule, CCW permittees behave much better than the average non-criminal citizen.

Charles Heller
Tucson

I want to congratulate David Holthouse on a well-written firearms column. It certainly was an eye-opener. Most articles on firearms are either slanted toward either the left-wing "Take the guns away from everybody" point of view, or the right-wing "The government is out to get us, and they're starting by disarming everyone" point of view. Holthouse's seems to be right at the center of objectivity. I am a former Air Force security policeman, and am now a correctional officer for the State of Arizona. Even though I am authorized to carry a concealed weapon, I rarely ever do.

I must say that I am in agreement with his instructors on many aspects they presented in the course, yet sorely disappointed in many others. They just "blew through" the care and cleaning of the weapons? Every firearms course I've ever been in requires a working knowledge of this in order to pass it. What about storage of weapons and ammunition? One surely does not want their children to take an ill-secured weapon to school and end up shooting one of his classmates such as what recently happened in Michigan.

The fact is, there are many training films available on all these subjects that are made by experienced law enforcement professionals with many years of firearms experience. The fact that many persons are granted CCW permits who "couldn't hit the broadside of a barn" with their weapons concerns me, as it should any citizen. I agree that this could be a legal nightmare in the making for the state. Did the instructor recommend that the little old lady with the .45 or the palsy-stricken gentleman with the long-barreled .357 find weapons that would be a bit easier for them to handle? That is, if they must handle them at all.

In summary, it sounded as though your instructors were very well-qualified and knowledgeable people. The course they are teaching should be intensely reviewed and standardized. In other words, let's not "blow through" anything, lest the wrong people at the wrong place and time get "blown away."

Bill Summers
Glendale

I am the director of the American Shooting Academy, and in that capacity I teach the CCW permit and renewal courses. I am reasonably well-educated with a BS, summa cum laude in criminal justice, an MS and am ABD-Ph.D. in Justice Studies from ASU. My master's thesis was on gun control and my doctoral dissertation is on CCW permit holders. As a former law enforcement officer and with nearly 10 years as a special-operations soldier with combat time, I have a somewhat different perspective on the issues raised in the column about David Holthouse's CCW experience. I have spent seven years as a professor of criminal justice and forensics at three major universities where my primary area of scholarship has focused on interpersonal violence.

I do agree with many parts of Holthouse's assessment. I think he took some journalistic license to make for a good read in his interpretations and representations of some of the material presented in the CCW course he took.

At the ASA, our program is very much different from that presented by Caswell's. I make no attempt to teach people to shoot. It is not possible in 16 hours to adequately train people to handle weapons in a lethal confrontation. We have very comprehensive and sophisticated weapons training programs to prepare people tactically. In our CCW program, I stress the legal rights and responsibilities of carrying and using weapons in self-defense. Our whole approach is dedicated to "A-R-e" AVOIDANCE -- RETREAT -- engage (as a very last resort).

I do not agree with his assessment of "pending tragedy." The empirical data from both here and elsewhere in the U.S. on CCW holders does not begin to support that conclusion. In fact, some studies demonstrate that citizen CCW holders are less likely to become involved in criminal behavior or poor shooting situations than are police officers.

I would like to extend an offer to Holthouse to attend my CCW course in April as my guest and no obligations (financial or evaluative) to provide him with perhaps a different perspective. I would also be willing to discuss some of his reactions to or analysis of the CCW permit system.

James R. Jarrett, director
American Shooting Academy

In rebuttal to David Holthouse's column:

1) The first responsibility of the government is to protect the people, and when it fails to do so, the people must take on that duty.

2) "Hollow Points" is a misrepresentation of CCW. Scottsdale Community College offers a 32-hour course in much more detail. Two million times a year, the presence of a firearm is used to stop an act of crime or violence. In most instances, a round is never even fired.

3) Your liberal, elitist concept that most of us are not smart enough or can't shoot and do not react well under pressure is a bunch of sheep droppings.

4) Do us all a favor. Sell your gun and buy a cell phone. You don't have to carry a firearm if you don't want to, but do you really not want to? It's your right.

E. Gurka
via Internet

In "Hollow Points," it was readily apparent that David Holthouse enrolled in the CCW class for only one purpose. That purpose was to collect fodder for a heavily biased column that would make knowledgeable instructors and their students appear as idiots, use a lot of quotes taken out of context, and ridicule what has been a very successful program with a positive impact on violent crime.

CCW isn't for everyone; anyone contemplating taking the class should seriously consider their reasons, the ramifications and responsibilities that accompany it.

When I took the class, I did so to learn the legal implications of the CCW permit, and properly exercise my rights as a responsible law-abiding citizen.

David and I both got what we expected from the class.

Neal Matheson
Mesa

No-Holds Bard

After reading the review of ASU's production of Measure for Measure ("An Update Named Disaster," Robrt L. Pela, March 2), my partner and I wonder where Mr. Pela's head was while he was watching this play! We attended the Friday opening of the show, and really enjoyed this production (as did a majority of the audience).

Actually, this review does not really provide insight into the show, but speaks volumes about Mr. Pela himself. 1. He does not like the play. 2. He does not like updates of Shakespeare's work. 3. He does not like the way people from New Orleans speak. 4. He does not like nontraditional casting.

I believe that the roar of Mr. Pela's biases have made him blind and deaf to what was actually going on in this production. His review sounded like the tirade of someone deranged. After intermission, nearly all of the audience returned and gave the actors the wonderful applause they so richly deserved. The set was not monstrous, but we, and others, marveled at it as we came into the theater.

I am writing because I think that others should not be discouraged from seeing this production and making their own decisions. New York City has its John Simon. It seems that the Valley of the Sun has its John Simon, too, in Mr. Pela.

Edward Carroll
Corona, New York

Totally Growth

Regarding Michael Kiefer's story "Babbitt's Secret Growth-Control Plan" (March 2), clarification and correction is needed of some impressions and inaccuracies. Much of what Secretary Bruce Babbitt is proposing has merit and certainly can augment growth-management efforts, but it by itself is not a growth-management proposal. Also, if the Legislature had provided an adequate "conservation trust" as was proposed by the governor's Stewardship Trust Task Force, then it might not be necessary to trade away any federal lands to save state trust lands.

In the article, Kiefer refers to some concessions that were made by the Governor's Office and the legislators regarding growth management, concessions that Grant Woods says convinced him to support it. I challenge anyone to find those so-called concessions anywhere in the bills. For example, "allowing cities to charge development fees" is listed as a concession. Cities can already do that, and the Growing Smarter bills do not address this in any way. The Citizens' Growth Management Initiative, on the other hand, requires that development pay for the full cost of facility needs for the new development, including schools. The Growing Smarter bills stick with current "fair share" language which allows the developers to continue to promote their version of "fair." The bills do nothing to clarify whether cities can impose school impact fees -- the citizens' initiative makes it clear they can.

Regarding "assurances that cities stick to their growth plans," what assurances and, frankly, what growth plans? Cities already have to draw up general plans, and it takes a two-thirds vote of a city council to approve a project that does not conform to the general plans (that was passed in 1998, by the way, so it could not be considered a concession in this current proposal). Regarding "setting designated growth areas," there is no actual requirement in the new law to do this, it simply allows service boundaries, something cities can do already. "Limiting annexation to what municipalities can realistically provide services for" is not accurate. The bill says that cities have to show in their plans that appropriate services will be provided for an annexed area, but there is no sanction if they do not provide the services. Cities could simply say future bonds or developers will pay for the services.

The Growing Smarter Plus bills do not represent a compromise, they represent business as usual for development in Arizona. This should come as no surprise, as a development attorney who represents the interests of Del Webb, Diamond Ventures and Suncor (to name a few) drafted most of the bills. They do little to change the status quo and even include some provisions that could set back community planning (see new process for takings claims).

The Citizens' Growth Management Initiative is a strong plan to protect Arizona's natural heritage and our neighborhoods and gives voters the ultimate say in how our communities plan growth. I urge all Arizonans to read the initiative, read the legislative bills, and then decide whether you think the Legislature has addressed the problems we have or if a more meaningful proposal like the citizens' initiative is what is needed come November.

Sandy Bahr
Steering Committee Member
Citizens for Growth Management

Bull Session

I've just finished reading David Holthouse's column on Sammy "The Bull" Gravano ("Shooting the Bull With Sammy the Bull," March 9), and while I don't necessarily agree with it, I do enjoy his writing.

In the first section of his column, he seemed to be mocking him, and toward the end defending him. If I'm not mistaken, Holthouse was one of the "admirers" who seem to have hung on his every word at the Gold Bar coffee house.

I work in law enforcement (Department of Corrections) and I have had the opportunity to speak with Gravano. I found him to be courteous and inquisitive. The last time he telephoned he spoke with my son and he talked about sports with him.

While I don't condone the way that Gravano lived his life in the past, I always admired him for the assistance that he gave to the government. Unfortunately, he had a second chance that most criminals can only dream of and he blew it. Totally. He made a fool out of a lot of people, and the most disappointing thing behind his arrest is that drugs were involved. That is the one thing that I never thought he would get involved in. I guess greed got the better of him.

Name withheld by request

Nice column. My friends and I have been wondering what kind of twilight zone world it is we're living in where Sammy the Bull is dealing E at raves. It's been the subject of much humor.

Richard Keppler
Seattle

Sick Transit Gloria

I loved Laura Laughlin's article exposing the true folly in the Valley, namely the detractors of Transit 2000 ("Traffic Thicket," March 9). As I am writing this letter before the election, I only hope that this might be an expression of congratulations to those of us who see the need for immediate mass transit action in Phoenix.

If the initiative fails, don't come crying to us when the EPA withdraws highway construction funds and won't give us further consideration for other transit projects. And please don't even say anything when the air becomes truly unbreathable and gridlock becomes an everyday occurrence. Don't blame us, we did what we could.

Scott Hume
Phoenix

Mass transit needs help, I agree, but there are better ways to spend our money. Transit 2000 will help out, but it will not be a cure. Most people are not going to leave their perfectly operating and clean cars in the garage in favor of riding public transportation, even if it was free. You couldn't pay most people to do that. Cars are not going away and we all have to face it and plan accordingly.

By the time a light rail system is built in Phoenix, there will be thousands of new, clean-burning and zero-emissions cars on the streets. The auto industry is re-creating itself from the inside out and by 2010 we will be driving cars that get 100 mpg. Mercedes and Chrysler are creating hydrogen fuel cell power plants that will see production by 2005. Cars may be a problem now, but in five to 10 years they will be stronger, lighter, cleaner and smarter.

Smart cars are coming, and Phoenix should prepare for it now. Smart cars will use sensors and computers to aid the driver. In the near future, it will be possible to group cars onto freeways and turn the driving over to the computers. The vehicles will travel faster, closer together and will communicate to one another. Smart freeways will have the greatest impact on the Valley and its residents.

Jeff Case
Phoenix

That was quite a hit piece on Doug Malewicki, SkyTran's inventor, in "Traffic Thicket." Gloss over his two Guinness world records for vehicle fuel efficiency, and his other numerous successful inventions and aerodynamic expert project designs, and just belittle his many notable accomplishments into a put-down phrase -- "an inventor whose biggest accomplishments are a fire-breathing giant robot and a flying beverage can" -- what a cheap shot. Have you been taking lessons from Republic transit hack Mary Jo Pitzl?

How about looking more closely and critically at the transit stats that you were spoon-fed by City of Phoenix transit bureaucrats that indicate their current and projected ridership? You bought that grossly inflated "crapper" hook, line and sinker. If you are interested in the facts, try analyzing their figures. I did.

They say "the number of yearly transit trips is expected to more than double, from 28 million now to 70 million once the system is in place." They say that's 120,000 riders per day now. Consider that 25 percent of those are transfers. Then consider that the remaining 90,000 are each taking two trips, one to and one from work. That's only 45,000 actual "commuters" per day. Then consider that nearly 75 percent of bus riders don't even have a vehicle available, and their current net bus system impact on traffic congestion and air pollution is more like 12,000 vehicles removed from Phoenix streets each day.

Even if they can "more than double" this "accomplishment" with their $4.8 billion transit tax plan, the impact they will have over the next 20 years will be next to nil on traffic congestion and air pollution. If you dare to print this letter, it already will be too late for voters to have to know what's "real." Congratulations! Our "progressive" New Times has sold out and joined the City of Phoenix in taking taxpayers for another ride and another "trip."

Jerry Spellman
Mesa

Once upon a time, I read New Times for its fresh, incisive and hard-eyed look at the various goings-on in the regional political arena.

However, your article about the upcoming transit system proposal was a complete whitewash of a proposal that will have a 1 percent impact on air pollution and will move at the blistering speed of 16 miles per hour. In addition, our streets will be cluttered with rail tracks, overhead sight pollution of electrical wiring, and by the time the tax expires, be rendered obsolete by emerging technologies. All this, and the subsidy for mass transit will only be some $16 per rider.

Your article never addresses these issues, never has a clever thing to say about the lack of vision a bus and rail-based transit system demonstrates, and fails to take a hard look at the permanent public works project being foisted on the people of Phoenix. Isn't anyone tired of the endless construction on I-17 or Bell Road? Your article fails to discuss how nearly all of the goals of the transit system proposal can be met at less cost by simply eliminating the $1.6 billion (initial cost) light rail system. Your incisive editorial eye does not question the power the transit committee will wield, nor does it consider the ramifications of placing another quasi-governmental body with rule-making and revenue-generating power in the path of the unwitting voter.

It is sad that New Times has lost its voice, its roar replaced by a whisper, its eye now clouded with cataract. No more will I be able to lend credence to the biting criticism of the established press, because all the press in Phoenix attends the same tea party.

Steve Streit
Phoenix

Did it really take a feature article for Laura Laughlin to say "Cars are bad" and "More of us should drive less"? There were no insights in this piece.

When asked if they think mass transit is a good idea, the large majority say it is. But when asked if they will use it themselves, the large majority say no. In other words, people want mass transit so those other people will get off the road.

The real question to be asked is, "What would it take for you to drive your car less?" The answers to that question would tell us what to do to reduce congestion. How about a piece with that orientation instead of simply pointing out that which is already obvious?

Guy Finney
via Internet

Weighty Subject

Thanks for the informative and respectful article on Tim Isaac and the sport of powerlifting ("Comeback of the 800-Pound Gorilla," James Hibberd, March 2). The way a person is transformed outwardly and inwardly in the pursuit of size and strength made for an inspiring read.

Jeff Jacklin
Tempe

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