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1. Frank Sinatra Has a Grievance
The situation was not helped by the attitude of the American Federation of Musicians, the US equivalent of the MU [Musicians Union], who sought to block any application for a foreign band to tour the US. It was a tactic that proved remarkably successful. In the 1920s, over fifty American bands toured the UK, yet not a single British band worked in America during the same period.
I saw a documentary on Frank Sinatra and there was something about how his first show in London was delayed because of objections from the Musicians Union. I remember thinking “Well, that’s the British and their unions for you.” But I just read the above in Billy Bragg’s Roots, Radicals and Rockers, and now apparently must revise my history.
2. Stupefied Stupefied Stupefied
One of the unexpected events of this summer was Black Grape releasing, after two decades, their third album. I haven’t listened to it yet, probably because I’m still in shock. Let’s just say, it had been some time since I’d wondered what they were up to. I did see them in 1995. Kermit was absent, so it was a bit like seeing Hall instead of Hall and Oates, but it was still pretty good.
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3. Keep, Ancient Lands, Your Storied Pop
A foreign artist seeking authorization to perform in the United States must navigate a system that involves a pair of government departments. Homeland Security, created in 2003, evaluates the initial application and then, if approval is granted, the State Department, assuming it is satisfied with the results of an in-person interview with the performer, issues a visa at an embassy abroad.
“U.S. Visa Rules Deprive Stages of Performers,” The New York Times, April 11, 2012
Kermit did not make it stateside at all, if I recall correctly, for he was denied a visa due to his criminal record. Regrettable, yes, but understandable, given America’s pride in the scrupulous behavior of its musicians.
Getting a visa is indeed no joke. I was unaware of the travails of UK musicians who look to our fair shores. (Apparently solo artists have to prove that they are “extraordinarily talented,” whereas groups just have to be “exceptionally talented.”)
As someone who’s seen a lot of British bands in America, I have new respect for their dedication (and expense) in making it here. So I won’t name any names. But – at risk of ingratuity – I must record that not each seemed distinguished by exceptional talent. The fault, dear Britain, is not in our fifty stars…