Rest in Peace, Andy Hummel of Big Star

July 19, 2010

Right on the heels of Alex Chilton, Big Star bassist Andy Hummel has died at 59.

Hummel didn’t write a lot for Big Star, but he did contribute one of their best–the glorious “Way Out West.”

Rest in peace, Andy. I hope you are enjoying the reunion with Alex and Chris and working on some material I can check out when my time comes.

Big Star – “Way Out West”

Rest in Peace, the Mighty Ronnie James Dio

May 16, 2010

Today my heart is broken, Ronnie passed away at 7:45am 16th May. Many, many friends and family were able to say their private good-byes before he peacefully passed away. Ronnie knew how much he was loved by all. We so appreciate the love and support that you have all given us. Please give us a few days of privacy to deal with this terrible loss. Please know he loved you all and his music will live on forever.

- Wendy Dio

Well, that sucks.

Dio was responsible for Rainbow’s great “Man on the Silver Mountain” before doing something almost no one has ever done–successfully joining a popular existing band that had lost a charismatic frontman. Heaven and Hell is acknowledged by metal-lovers as standing proudly side-by-side with the classic early Black Sabbath albums with Ozzy Osbourne.

His solo career produced at least three classics: “Holy Diver,” “Rainbow in the Dark,” and my favorite metal song of all time, “The Last in Line.”

In my imagination, I picture the Mighty Dio going to hell with his broadsword and slaying numerous devils and demons before his final confrontation with Satan himself. Slay, Dio, slay. Rock, Dio, rock.

Rainbow — “Man on the Silver Mountain”

Black Sabbath – “Neon Knights”

Dio – “The Last in Line”

Oh my goodness, do I love this song.

And I suppose this obituary wouldn’t be proper without acknowledging the greatest video in the history of videos.

Dio – “Holy Diver”

Did you know that Dio is largely responsible for popularizing the “devil horns” hand of rock? Is there anything awesome Dio didn’t do?

Rest in Peace, Malcolm McLaren

April 10, 2010

One of rock’s oddest and greatest characters left us April 8, and his passing should be noted. His impact was more than deep on the punk and New Wave music that he encouraged and that has influenced, well, hell, just about everyone. He even made a legitimate splash in the then-embryonic world of hip-hop.

I’m saddened and pleased to present examples of all three genres. Rest in peace, Malcolm!

Sex Pistols – “Holiday in the Sun”

Bow Wow Wow – “C-30, C-60, C-90, Go!”

Malcolm McLaren and the World’s Famous Supreme Team – “Buffalo Gals”

A Celebration of Alex Chilton

March 22, 2010

If you’re reading this, it’s likely I don’t have to tell you who Alex Chilton was and why his death on March 17, 2010 is being mourned by lovers of music everywhere. So I’ll just jot down a few thoughts.

I have no idea how I first heard of Big Star. I think I just sort of absorbed the knowledge that there was this hugely influential band in the 1970s that didn’t sell all that many records. This was just the sort of thing that music lovers, particularly fans of what used to be called college rock, knew, like they knew about the Velvet Underground.

I picked up Big Star’s three albums when they were reissued on CD in 1992. I remember the awe they put me in, particularly their astonishing third album, alternately known as Third and Sister Lovers.

Sister Lovers is a stunning musical achievement. I don’t think another album exists that is so majestic and yet so heartbreakingly human. From the rousing opening, “Kizza Me,” to the depths of despair of “Holocaust,” to the joy of “O, Dana” and “Stroke it, Noel,” to the delicate closing admonition to “Take Care,” Sister Lovers takes its listeners through the panoply of human emotion. It is an exhausting but hugely rewarding experience. It is also at the absolute pinnacle of rock and roll music, standing right up there next to works as towering as Exile on Main St. and London Calling.

My singling out of Sister Lovers should not be read in any way as denigrating Big Star’s first two albums, #1 Record and Radio City, which are classics as well (how did “September Gurls” not set the world on fire?). Big Star put out an amazing body of work, and it’s Hall of Fame worthy.

I made a decision not to seek out Chilton’s subsequent solo work. The reviews were, at best, mixed and I didn’t want to tarnish Chilton’s legacy in my mind. It must be said that seeing Chilton live sometime in the 1993-1994 area did not increase my desire to explore further. Now that he’s gone, I think I’ll dig around a bit in his solo stuff and the Big Star revival partially staffed by members of Big Star disciples the Posies. I’m sure there are some gems buried in there, and now I want to find them.

God bless you, Alex. Your music means the world to me and will so long as I live.

Congressman Steve Cohen (D-TN) eulogizes Alex Chilton on the floor of the House of Representatives

Big Star – “Nightime”

Big Star – “My Life is Right”

The Box Tops – “The Letter”

RIP, Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse

March 7, 2010

Mark Linkous, prolific recording artist and main force behind the band Sparklehorse, has died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound at the age of 47.  Details can be found here.

Here’s “Please Don’t Take My Sunshine Away” from Sparklehorse’s great 2006 album Dreamt For Light Years In The Belly Of A Mountain.

Sparklehorse – “Please Don’t Take My Sunshine Away”

RIP Jimmy Lee Lindsey Jr., aka Jay Reatard (May 1, 1980 – January 13, 2010)

January 13, 2010

News came down today that Jay Reatard has passed away at the tender age of 29.  Reatard was a controversial figure in rock, not just because of his name, but also his on and offstage antics, which involved picking fights with his audiences and firing his whole band at will, among others.  However, Jay was a truly prolific artist who released tons of material, whether as a solo artist or member of tons of other bands.  And it all just kept getting better and better.  The man was surely in the prime of his artistic life, releasing killer song after song (many later released as singles compilations) and two brilliant solo albums (2006′s Blood Visions and 2009′s Watch Me Fall).  It’s a shame to lose such a promising talent so young, and many rock fans will be left to wonder what greatness they have missed out on with his passing.

I only dedicated one short blog post to Jay Reatard back in 2008, but I aim to correct that soon.  Watch this space for posthumous reviews of each of his solo albums as well as his singles compilations.  RIP, Jay.  To quote one of your song titles, “Oh, it’s such a shame.”

Jay Reatard – “Always Wanting More”

Rest in Peace, Vic Chesnutt (“Isadora Duncan” by Jolene)

December 26, 2009

I was saddened to learn that Vic Chesnutt died yesterday. He had been in a coma for a week after an apparently intentional overdose of muscle relaxants.

I’m no expert on Vic Chesnutt, but I’ll write about my limited experiences.

I saw Vic when I was an undergrad in either late 1992 or early 1993. He was the first opener for Soul Asylum, at the peak of their popularity during the Grave Dancers Union tour. (Second on the bill was the Goo Goo Dolls, back when they were a pretty good rock band and not making shit-tons of money writing made-for-prom ballads.)

Vic was an odd choice for the bill. On a night of rock, out rolls this crippled dude in a wheelchair, accompanied by a female singer (I think his wife) and another musician, and they play some acoustic folky singer-songwriter stuff. I know the crowd thought it was strange, and I don’t think they liked it much. I, on the other hand, was intrigued.

A semester or two later, I received a promo of his album West of Rome. I was taken by its wry lyrics, and bon mots like “someday I will transcend / Just like Jane’s Addiction.” (Somehow he made it rhyme.)

Somewhere along the way, I lost my copy of West of Rome. I always meant to replace it, and further explore Vic Chesnutt’s catalog, but I never quite got around to it. I suppose that now that he’s gone, I’ll do the usual thing and gruesomely dig in. Better when Vic is late than never.

My favorite Vic Chesnutt song isn’t performed by Vic Chesnutt. It’s a cover by the obscure alt-country band Jolene, from their gem of a debut, Hell’s Half Acre (which I really ought to get around to reviewing). Without further ado, here’s “Isadora Duncan.”

Jolene – “Isadora Duncan”

Rest in peace.

RIP , Mary Travers, Jim Carroll, and Patrick Swayze

September 17, 2009

The summer of 2009 has seen an unusual amount of high-profile celebrity deaths.

Mary Travers of Peter, Paul, and Mary passed away yesterday at 72 after a long battle with leukemia. 

Peter, Paul, and Mary – “Blowin’ in the Wind”

Jim Carroll, poet, musician, and author of The Basketball Diaries, passed away last Friday of a heart attack.  He was 59.

Jim Carroll Band – “People Who Died”

Actor, dancer, heartthrob, and occasional singer Patrick Swayze succumbed to pancreatic cancer at the age of 57.

Patrick Swayze – “She’s Like the Wind”

A Few Words on Les Paul

August 25, 2009

If it’s true that the most important thing a man leaves behind is his name, then Les Paul left behind a legacy that will be around for a very long time.

August 13th, 2009 marked the end of one of the most inspiring lives in the history of American music.  Les Paul, father of the modern electric guitar and inventor of much of the equipment and methods of modern recording, passed away at the age of 94.  He died of complications from pneumonia, but up until his final weeks, still mantained a weekly gig near his home in White Plains, NY.

Born Lester William Polsfuss, on June 9, 1915 in Waukesha, Wisconsin, Les was already a semi-professional guitar player at the age of 13.  He played and toured with music legends like Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby.  In the early 1940′s, Les built his first prototype solid-body electric guitar, which he called “the log”.  Gibson Guitars first declined his design, but came back to Paul after some refinement and after the competition, Leo Fender, released the first mass produced solid-body electric guitar, the Fender Broadcaster.

In 1948, Paul began experimenting with recording techniques.  Using two disc machines, he created the first multi-tracked recording, paving the way for modern studios.   The same year, however, Les Paul nearly lost one of his most important assests.  After suffering a near-fatal car crash, Paul nearly lots his right arm.  Accoring to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Paul “shattered his right arm and elbow, and he also broke his back, ribs, nose and collarbone.”  Rumor has it that the doctor wanted to amputate his arm, but Les told him to do his best to set in a position that he could still play guitar and leave it.  After a year and a half of recovery, he was able to play again.

In 1952, in the midst of his comeback, he  created the first 8-track tape recorder, the Gibson Les Paul Standard, and the Gibson Les Paul gold-top.  Pretty good year, I would have to say.  Of all his inventions, Paul had this to say in a New York Times interview: ““Honestly, I never strove to be an Edison.   The only reason I invented these things was because I didn’t have them and neither did anyone else. I had no choice, really.”

In 1978, Les Paul was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, and in 1988, the Rock  and Roll Hall of Fame.  Toward the end of his life, Paul suffered arthritis and several other health complications, including a quintuple-bypass heart operation.  Through all of this, Les Paul continued creating music and new inventions.

Rest in Peace, John Hughes

August 6, 2009

I’m going to have to go with the original version here, not the re-recorded movie version.

Isn’t she?

When the Fun Stops: An In-person Report from the Michael Jackson Memorial

July 8, 2009

Guest post by Former Housemate Mike.

Austin, TX 7/7/09

Austin, TX 7/7/09 (Photo by Gordon Winslow)

I consider myself quite the lucky guy. And what a roller coaster it was.

On Saturday, July 4th, I became aware of the Michael Jackson Memorial to be held at Staples center here in Los Angeles and subsequently of the free ticket lottery to said service. Like many people I know, I registered. I told my roommate Laura, a huge MJ fan, about and she registered as well. I received an e-mail saying I would be notified by 6 P.M. Sunday.

The next day at 6 P.M. I was working and received a call from my girlfriend saying our roommate had won tickets. I was amazed. She also said that the e-mail stated that the tickets had to be claimed by 9 P.M. I gave her my pass code and she checked my e-mail, as I would not have been able to do so in time.

Against all odds like Phil Collins, I had been selected as well. The next morning the three of us drove to Dodger Stadium to pick up the tickets. I was amazed at how painless the process was. We didn’t even have to get out of the car and there were our four tickets to what would prove to be possibly the most incredible experience of my life.

All day Monday we heard nothing but doom and gloom about how much of a pain the next day would be. No parking, scary crowds, you name it. My roommate almost decided not to go. But in the end, the three of us woke up at 6 A.M. Tuesday, and hopped in my car, ready for the worst.

Knowing the roads pretty well, we avoided the highways and amazingly made it downtown with virtually no traffic. It took about 15 minutes. Once downtown, we were hit by the street barricades we had heard about, but still found relatively cheap parking (for downtown LA for such an event) in minutes. It was about 7:45 at this point. We walked straight to Staples in about five minutes and realized the hassle was almost non-existent. The only real hassle was all the exploitative street vendors selling boot-egged, sweat-shop Michael Jackson shirts and buttons every ten feet. But that’s another story.

Credit for the ease should go to the LAPD. They were so organized, so well staffed and set up. And actually very polite and helpful. Kudos.

A large sector around Staples was blocked off as to where only press and people with tickets could walk in. We entered this area with ease and still had time for breakfast before going inside. We actually entered Staples about 8:45 A.M.

The energy inside was electric. Chants and shout outs to Michael came in regular succession. The crowd was also pleasantly diverse. Many different races, economic sects, and ages were represented. And almost everyone there felt like a sincere fan. Many red, zippered jackets. Many one-glove wearers. Even an Elvis impersonator.

The wait until the beginning of the ceremony was made pleasant by a wide scope of Michael Jackson songs being played, from Jackson 5 to Off The Wall to Thriller to Triumph. There was even MJ’s recording of “Smile,” foreshadowing beautiful moments from Brooke Shields and Jermaine Jackson.

The crowd looked oddly empty for a long time, but filled greatly just before the ceremony’s start. The general quiet, respectful anticipation in the crowd was only broken by the occasional eruption when a celebrity was seen entering. Jesse Jackson received some cheers, but Kobe Bryant by far got the loudest reception.

The event began with the announcement of Smokey Robinson coming to the stage. He read two quotes from friends unable to attend. The first was from a friend who wanted her mourning to be private, and ended with “Diana Ross”. The second was quite powerful, with South Africa references hinting at the sender. It ended with, “Nelson Mandela”.

Smokey then left the stage and a very long break followed. I’m not sure what of this was shown on TV. I expected a lot more unrest and shout outs from the crowd at this point, but again there was a patient, respectful, and quiet feel to the crowd.

The Jackson family entered to a huge response. They were followed by Michael Jackson’s casket. This led to a great deal of response and talk in the crowd, as us Angelinos were made to believe that his body was to be buried before this service. Possible a very smart redirect.

Most of the rest was seen entirely on TV, I assume, so I will focus on crowd response the rest of the way. The choir that opened set an amazing spiritual feel to the event. Queen Latifah’s reading of Maya Angelou began the emotional surge that was in the crowd throughout.

Mariah Carey and Trey Lorenz rehashing their infamous MTV Unplugged duet was expected, but very well taken and performed. I don’t know how it sounded on TV, but Trey Lorenz was particularly impressive.

Stevie Wonder had the first big emotional moment felt throughout the crowd with his statement of “I prayed I would not live to see this day.”

Lionel Richie was tremendous, showing particularly impressive restraint during “We Are The World,” the song he co-wrote with Jackson.

The crowd broke into clap-along mode almost immediately during Jennifer Hudson’s awesome “Will You Be There?” You could tell they were waiting to set that moment up later, but the crowd beat them to it.

John Mayer was a real surprise. Very nice touch on the song, and excellent choice on not singing. I heard this muttered by several people around me also.

Usher seemed genuinely moved. I was kind of afraid he was going to embrace the casket at one point, he seemed so in the moment. They was a very audible “aww” in the crowd when he began to break up at the the final line of his song, and a very respectful wait for him to finish embracing the Jackson family.

Jermaine Jackson’s rendition of, as Brooke Shields stated, MJ’s “favorite song”, really hit an emotional note. He sounded amazingly good live though he looked like he was having emotional and equipment difficulty the whole time. Hope it sounded as good on TV.

The speakers today had a great thing in common. They made you feel that you not just at the memorial of an icon, but also one of of a real person that meant a lot to many people on a personal level. He was their brother or buddy.

Brooke Shields was the favorite of many as she seemed very real and genuine, and really epitomized the whole “Michael was a real person and a great one” theme. Her Liz Taylor wedding story drew great response. Magic Johnson’s KFC story filled a similar role, and made up for the pointless waste of an appearance and chance to speak by Kobe Bryant. Barry Gordy and Smokey Robinson’s shared story of a ten year old MJ out-doing Robinson on his own song also brought great response. What an anecdote.

Gordy also shared biggest crowd response/fastest standing ovation with congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee from Texas and the Rev. Al Sharpton. Gordy’s entry was his reference to the title of King of Pop not being “big enough” for Michael Jackson, and he should be called “the greatest entertainer who ever lived”. Not to be outdone, Sharpton caused an insanse eruption with his line directed to MJ’s children of there being “nothing strange about your daddy.” Sheila Jackson Lee answered with saying that she and her fellow congress members know the law, and “a man is innocent until proven guilty.” Fantastic.

By the time the Jackson family got on stage, hardly a dry eye was to be found around me. And Marlon took out the rest. “I hurt”. So real, it was overwhelming. He appeared to say that Janet wanted to say something. You may have not heard this on TV, but at that point a few guys in the crowd started yelling “I love you, Janet” and were immediately greeting with shushes and boos. Inappropriate. Then Paris came on stage.

If any eyes were dry after Marlon, an end was put to that. It was so unexpected. I literally saw gaping jaws and covered mouths all around me. I realized that inadvertently, I had covered my heart with my hand. To my knowledge none of his children has ever spoken in public or on record. What a brave girl, and what a statement to all those who doubted MJ as a parent.

And then it was done. The casket carried away, and the tears began to dry. Once again, the event was so well organized that exiting was also a breeze. Which was a good thing, because we were all no doubt spent.

As I said before I am quite the lucky guy. I am lucky to have been blessed with the chance to be at this once in a hundred lifetimes event.

But more than anything, I am blessed and lucky to have been alive in an era where a man like Michael exists. Though it is sad and tragic that he left us so soon, not many in the history of man have had the honor of having a heart and talent like him at all. But, in the words expressed this morning by Maya Angelou, “We had him.” And that is all the luck and blessing we should ever expect to have.

Jermaine Jackson – “Smile”

Michael Jackson – “Billie Jean” (Motown 25th Anniversary)

Editor’s note: A hearty thank-you to Former Housemate Mike for covering this important event. A hearty thank-you to Michael Jackson for the music.

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Skyward: Sky Saxon of the Seeds, RIP

June 27, 2009

A second highly-influential musician left us on June 25th, 2009. That musician was Sky Saxon, frontman of the legendary ’60s garage band, the Seeds.

Three chords and the truth? Hell, Sky and the Seeds didn’t even need that many, as they demonstrated on their best-known song, the almighty “Pushin’ Too Hard.” Keyboards? “[Keyboardist Daryl Hooper's] idea of a creative solo was to play the same riff over and over at varying octaves.”* That was also the general concept behind many of the lead guitar lines.

I own a lot of Nuggets and Pebbles type stuff (for those not familiar, those are compilations of ’60s garage-rock songs). It’s happened several times to me where I hear a song that’s just awesome, and spend some money, sometimes a lot, to find more of the band’s work. Almost inevitably, I just wasted my money, because everything else the band did was completely horrible.

Not so with the Seeds. I don’t own everything they did, and I won’t, but they put out five albums (one under the moniker “The Sky Saxon Blues Band”) and I have their first two. There is a lot of bad stuff on them, but loads of good stuff too.

Probably the best way to go is a compilation. There are several out there, and I can’t tell you which is the best, but the one I have is called Evil Hoodoo and it’s well worth your time and your money. It contains such classics as:

  • “The March of the Flower Children” (“Somewhere, the children are out there playing, so happy, in their own flower garden.”)
  • “Mr. Farmer” (“Mr. Farmer, let me watch your crops. Mr. Farmer, let me water your crops. Mr. Farmer, let me harvest your crops.”)
  • “Rollin’ Machine” (“Everybody, do you hear me out there? Wanna take you ridin’ on my rollin’ machine.”)
  • “Can’t Seem to Make You Mine” (“You fly around like a bee, hurtin’ everything you see.”)

Shit, maybe I do need the rest of their albums.

My sad postscript to this piece: Sky Saxon played a gig at Red’s Scoot Inn here in Austin just a few weeks ago. I wanted to go but for one reason or another I didn’t end up making it. See the artists you love when you can, because you never know.

Rest in peace, Sky Saxon.

The Seeds – “Pushin’ Too Hard”

The Seeds – “Can’t Seem to Make You Mine” (Sound quality is not the best, but I couldn’t resist this great American Bandstand archival footage, and sound quality isn’t so important with garage rock anyway. You can hear the studio version here.)

The Seeds – “The March of the Flower Children”

*The New Rolling Stone Record Guide, which also notes that “Sky Saxon’s world view was limited to two subjects–sex and drugs.” Based on his music, that’s only a slight exaggeration.

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