24 December 2009

Merry Christmas!

Happy Christmas! Merry New Year! Feliz Navidad! Prospero Ano Nuevo! Happy Kwanzaa! I hope you had a wonderful Chanukah! And, for the rest of us, happy belated Festivus!

I'm about to do my Christmas break. I actually meant to do another long post this month, but since the subjects have been deceased for many years, I think it can wait until January without doing any real damage. But until then...

Let's do some Christmas tunes!

"God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles
This is my favorite traditional Christmas song and my favorite version of it. I used to listen to it on my dad's copy of A Motown Christmas (I have my own copy now that I'm grown) and I always dug how jazzy it is.

This is another lovely one from Smokey Robinson and the Miracles.

When I lived down south, I used to hear this song at Christmas a lot. It's Robert Earl Keene's "Merry Christmas From the Family." Some would say this is a "white trash version" of Christmas, but to me, it just seems like a down-to-earth version of the holiday in America. Especially with the mention of "AA." Heh.

"Santa and His Old Lady" by Cheech and Chong
I am not ashamed to say that this has been my favorite Christmas song since I was a teenager.
And now, because of this tune, I know that Santa and his reindeer get around the world in one night due to "magic dust." *holds back a snicker*

If you really like irreverence, you can't go wrong with South Park's Christmas selections. I love Cartman's version of "O Holy Night," especially when he proclaims Christmas to be "the night when I get presents." Heh. And there is this version of the same song but with a cattle prod. And then, of course, there's "The Most Offensive Song Ever," sung by Kenny and Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo; if you never heard it, there is a definite and rather accurate warning in that title. There is an uncensored version sung solely by Mr. Hankey, but if you're trying to get into heaven, I wouldn't recommend listening to it. However, if you figure you're already going straight to hell, click away right here!

Merry Christmas everybody!
I wish you peace, love, safety, and good music!

EDIT: Holy crap! I forgot to post these other classics!

It's Christmas time in Hollis, Queens; Mom's cookin' chicken and collard greens!

This song provides the sample for Run DMC's holiday rap classic. And if you think the title "Backdoor Santa" is suggestive, Clarence Carter had a hit years later with a tune called "Strokin'." Now that song is filthy. Just imagine your grandfather singing about how much he loves sex. Yikes. Then again, an older man bragging about how great his, ahem, "stroke game," ahem, is before Viagra existed may qualify as a Christmas miracle to certain segments of the population. Ahem.

Bruce Springsteen does a pretty good version of this, but Big O's rendition is the one that I grew up with. My favorite part: "Santa came down the chimney, half past three y'aaaaalll!"

I don't remember Kurtis Blow before he got his Jheri Curl but here he is rockin' his Teenie Weenie Afro and looking like Al Green performing "Christmas Rapping."

We lost James Brown on Christmas Day 2006, so I think it is appropriate that he close out this post.

Have a great holiday!

15 December 2009

"The ice age is coming, the sun's zoomin' in..."

Today is the birthday of a fellow named Paul Gustave Simonon (click on "menu" and then "about" to read about Paul Simonon and his bandmates, using the grey button on the inner right side to scroll down). The band that he used to play bass and sing for, the Clash, released their seminal album London Calling in the UK thirty years ago yesterday, the day before Paul's 24th birthday. And it is Paul who graces the album's cover, caught by the lens of Pennie Smith as he threw his bass guitar at the stage floor during a performance at NYC's Palladium, next to lettering that recalls Elvis Presley's debut album (though it was the Clash's third, after their eponymous debut in 1977 and 1978's Give 'Em Enough Rope).

These days, Paul concentrates on his painting but there's no doubt that due to his time with the Clash, his musical legacy is solidly secure.

This is the first song Paul wrote and sang on, "The Guns of Brixton," which is featured on London Calling. He grew up in Brixton, a rough section of London with a sizable Jamaican population. He studied reggae music in order to help himself learn to play the bass guitar. (Props for littlewonder80 for posting this. I love this clip!)

The official video for the title track. Note Paul's style of playing, as though he is a gunslinger!

A live video of Mick Jones singing "Train in Vain." The song is not listed in the track sequence on the original album as it was added at the last minute.

"Lovers Rock" was also on London Calling, but it is not as well known. I have heard several interpretations of this song's meaning: a reference to oral sex; the need to take sexual relationships seriously instead of just resorting to one night stands; and the notion that men need to take as much responsibility for birth control (i.e. wearing condoms) as women. Take a listen and decide for yourself. You may come up (no pun intended) with something completely different.

"Crooked Beat" was not on London Calling; it was part of the next album Sandinista! It's another one of Paul's that he wrote and sang on, showcasing his love of reggae and dub. Check it out!

If you want to read more about the Clash, here is a blog that is updated quite frequently and is about all things Clash.

07 December 2009

The Feast of the Immaculate Conception

Those of you who are Roman Catholic know that the Feast of the Immaculate Conception is celebrated every year on the 8th of December, a date which improbably ties together two musical figures: John Lennon and Sinead O'Connor. It's the date that Lennon was murdered in New York City in 1980 and, in 1966, O'Connor chose the same date to enter the world via Dublin, Ireland.

It seems more logical to me to start with the birth.

Sinead Marie-Bernadette O'Connor is famous for a few things: her cover of "Nothing Compares 2 U", her shaved head, and ripping up that picture of Pope John Paul II during her second appearance on Saturday Night Live.

I'm actually surprised that the song is available on YouTube since its author, Prince, is notoriously against any of his work showing up on any websites other than his own. But you can click the link and watch the video. I remember Sinead's Behind the Music special on VH1 from around the year 2000 (some of those episodes used to run so much, I ended up memorizing parts of quite a few of them). I can recall her saying that when shooting the video, her tears started on the line,"All the flowers that you planted, Mama, in the backyard..." because her own mother, whom O'Connor said abused her and her siblings, died in a car accident a few years before.

That abuse that she spoke of indirectly led to the Papal photo incident, as she was trying to make a statement about the Vatican's reluctance to punish any Roman Catholic priests when they were accused of sexual assault on the underage portion of their congregations. (In recent years it has become public knowledge that the Catholic Church would just shuffle an accused priest to a different diocese in order to quiet those types of allegations.) NBC and Lorne Michael will not allow the footage of that particular SNL moment to be shown again; when the episode is replayed, the tape of O'Connor's dress rehearsal is shown instead. I actually watched it live (Tim Robbins was the host). I remember the deathly silence in the audience after O'Connor tore up that picture and then walked offstage. I also remember thinking,"Ooooooh boy. That's gonna be in the paper tomorrow!" And then at the end of the show when everyone stood on stage to say goodnight, there was a definite bubble of space around Sinead, as if standing near her would demonstrate support for what she did. And, on a more personal note, I remember my devoutly Roman Catholic mother stabbing her finger at Sinead's picture in that Monday's paper and asking me,"Did you watch this?!?!" and me replying with a simple,"Yep," and Mom shaking her head in disbelief that such a thing could happen on television. (Full disclosure: I became Catholic at age five which, in my case, was not early enough for the religion to take hold so I was not personally offended by O'Connor's gesture but I understood that a lot of folks were gonna be pissed.)

And finally, regarding the hair, I don't think she really needs it. I mean look at that face; I think she's a beautiful lady.

Here's Sinead with a little help from MC Lyte

I saw a performance of this song on television (it might have been the other song Sinead sang on that imfamous SNL episode but I'm fuzzy on that) and thought it was gorgeous. It's from her collection of torch songs that she listened to growing up called Am I Not Your Girl?

Sinead during one of her "hairy" phases singing out against child abuse

Now for the death.

Paul McCartney wrote a tribute to his old friend called "Here Today," the video of which is below. The tall, lanky gentleman with the greying hair is George Martin (now entitled Sir), the man who produced all of the Beatles' albums.

Elton John collaborated with Lennon for "Whatever Gets You Thru the Night" for Lennon's Walls and Bridges. Elton John bet Lennon that the song would reach number one. Since "Whatever" hit the top spot on the Billboard chart on 16 November 1974, Elton collected on the bet twelve nights later at his Thanksgiving performance at New York City's Madison Square Garden when he brought Lennon out to play and sing. Lennon would never make another major concert performance. (I've heard there is no live footage of this appearance, hence the picture with the audio attached.)

Elton John is reportedly the godfather of Lennon's second son, Sean. After the 1980 murder, Elton and his long-time lyricist Bernie Taupin wrote a song for the fallen friend called "Empty Garden (Hey Hey Johnny)," a reference to Madison Square Garden.

As I was about to post this, I found out that 8 December is Gregg Allman's birthday as well. So let's throw a little love Gregg's way and spread some of that Allman joy! (The Allman Joys was the name of the first band that Gregory Lenoir and his older brother Howard Duane formed. Catchy huh?) Below is the Allman Brothers performing my favorite of theirs, "Whipping Post," in two parts on 23 September 1970. Gregg, all of 22, is singing and playing the organ. You can spot long-time, and now former, Allman Bros. guitarist Dickey Betts looking like Errol Flynn in Robin Hood with his chin length hair and mustache. The shaggy blonde axeman in the tie-dye T-shirt is Duane. He would die in a motorcycle accident thirteen months later.

30 November 2009

"Billy Is Idle" and America's Oldest Teenager

William Michael Albert Broad was born in Stanmore, Middlesex, England on this day in 1955. He lived in New York for a few years as a child but was mostly brought up in England. Young William was a good student but he was bored, which led a teacher to write in the margin of his homework,"Billy is idle". When young William grew up and became a musician, he remembered that instructor's comment and renamed himself Billy Idol. (Or so the story goes.)

I used to watch him on MTV when I was small. I was totally hot for him when I was 6 (I liked the sneer, the body, and the accent). Still hot for him, in fact. And why not? He's still got the sneer and the body and the accent!

Two of my favorites of Billy's. The first is "Eyes Without a Face". The background singers are saying "Les yeux sans visage" which is "eyes without a face" in French (hopefully I spelled it right because I took Spanish instead of French). Random fact that has nothing to do with Billy Idol but everything to do with backing vocals in other languages: In the Clash's "Should I Stay or Should I Go?", the background vocals on the second verse are just a repeat of the original lines but in Spanish and the Beatles sang "Frere Jacques" over and over as the backing vocal for "Paperback Writer."

The second is "Flesh For Fantasy".

"Do you like good music? Do you like to dance?"


And hey, look what I dug up? Billy Idol played Dick Clark's Rockin' Eve show back in 2005. And, coincidentally, today, Dick Clark (AKA "America's Oldest Teenager" partly because of his long stint hosting the music show for and with adolescents "American Bandstand" and partly because the man didn't age until he was, like, sixty) celebrates his birthday as well. He turns 80!

If you never saw "American Bandstand" you sure missed out on seeing some up-and-comers. Prince was on the show early in his career and refused to talk. And I don't mean he walked away from the interview. I mean whenever Dick Clark asked him a question, he answered with a frickin' hand gesture! And it was the first show that displayed the egomania that is Madonna. He asked what she wanted for her career and she replied," To rule the world!"

With red strings on her wrists and young Brazilian men by her side?

Nah. Kidding. She didn't add that part.

Anyway, do you see what I mean about Billy Idol still having the body? Have mercy!!!!

27 November 2009

The Cast of Jimi Hendrix

It's my favorite celebrity birthday: Jimi Hendrix!

Here's his birth chart, if you're interested in that sort of thing.
What was the story I promised you all for his birthday?

Ah, yes!

The following comes courtesy of Charles Cross and his Hendrix biography, Room Full of Mirrors. (Warning: Because of the subject matter, if you are prudish in any way, you should probably stop reading here.)

Once upon a time, in the land known as Chicago, a twenty-year-old named Cynthia Albritton wanted to get closer to the rock'n'roll/ groupie scene but she knew she needed a novel approach. She decided that making plaster casts of rock stars' genitalia would be her gimmick, and she recruited two female friends to assist and then printed up a bunch of T-shirts. Even though groupies from as far away as Los Angeles knew what she was up to, after awhile, Cynthia had yet to make even one mold.

All that changed on 25 February 1968 when the Jimi Hendrix Experience arrived in Chicago for two sold out shows (3 pm and 7 pm) at the Civic Opera House. As Jimi, bassist Noel Redding, and drummer Mitch Mitchell rode in the limo to their hotel after the matinee performance, a car pulled up next to them and a young woman leaned out the window and pointed to her briefcase, which read, "Plaster Casters of Chicago." Jimi motioned the car to follow.

The Experience had no bodyguards so when the two vehicles arrived at the Chicago Hilton, three young women were able to run up to the band as they stood on the sidewalk.

"We are the Plaster Casters from Chicago and we want to plaster-cast your Hampton Wick!" (Cynthia wanted to make her Chicago accent seem more worldly so she decided on using the Cockney phrase "Hampton Wick.") Jimi, having heard of the crew from those aforementioned groupies in LA, invited them up to the room. Jimi agreed to go first and Noel said he'd be second while, as Cross put it," Mitch, in a rare moment of clarity, politely declined."

The following is the verbatim account from Charles Cross:

The women followed Jimi to his room. Cynthia retreated to the bathroom to begin the delicate process of mixing the dental plaster used in the castings while the other two women began working on Jimi. One woman took notes on a clipboard like a scientist, although never having seen a penis before, she could barely contain her surprise at the proportions of Jimi's member. "We were not prepared for the size of it," Cynthia wrote in her notes later. As Cynthia mixed the plaster, another girl began to orally stimulate Jimi. Once he was aroused, they stuck a vase filled with plaster around his penis, and he was told to stay still- and turned on- for one full minute while the plaster dried. Cynthia's notes read: "He has got just about the biggest rig I've ever seen! We needed to plunge him through the entire depth of the vase." The whole process, as Noel Redding would later say of his own casting, was "more clinical than erotic." The room was silent during the molding. "It wasn't very sexy, really," Cynthia recalled. "Jimi was one of the first molds we ever did, and we didn't lubricate his pubs [pubes] enough. A lot of his pubs [pubes] got stuck in the plaster, and there was only one way to remove them, which was pull them individually." To remove the hair took the better part of ten minutes. Jimi, no longer a cooperative model, began to use the now-hardened mold for self-stimulation. "He was bumping and grinding the mold, fucking it really, because being a mold it was the perfect size for him," said Cynthia. As Jimi ground against the mold, in a move that looked much like the way he handled his guitar onstage, tour manager Gerry Stickells opened the door to the room. It said much about the riotous nature of an Experience tour- and Jimi's lifestyle- that witnessing Jimi humping a vase filled with dental mold as a young woman with a clipboard took notes didn't even raise Stickell's eyebrows. "Just, uh, let me know when you're ready" was all the tour manager said before leaving.

The Casters next journeyed to Noel's room, though his casting didn't go as well. Noel wrote in his memoir," My offering was unusual- a corkscrewed rendition." Noel blamed the inferior cast on bad plaster and on Stickell's opening his door at the wrong moment. At one point Jimi inquired as to what Cynthia intended to do with the casts. "I told him I wanted to put them on display, and he was cool with that," she said. When she later exhibited the casts at an art gallery, one newspaper called the Hendrix cast "the Penis De Milo."

Jimi may have been the Penis De Milo, but he was also a very tired man in the middle of a long tour. At the after-concert party, most of the band and crew hooked up with groupies- Noel and Cynthia went off together- but the Penis De Milo lusted for nothing more than rest, and sat in the corner by himself. As the other members of the band partied away, Jimi fell asleep in a chair, his hat resting peacefully over his face.

Would that we all could have our genitalia celebrated after our deaths and have their dimensions be deemed pieces of art! Heh.

Happy birthday Jimi!

Jimi performing "Foxey Lady" (after the Experience broke up) at Rainbow Bridge in Maui in 1970. The clip showcases his signature guitar moves, as mentioned above.

And lastly, Cynthia Plaster Caster has her own website! At the site, you can hire her to teach you and your lover how to take plaster casts of each other, order the famous "Plaster Casters of Chicago" T-shirts (Noel Redding wore one on The Lulu Show on the BBC; the second link in this post has the video of that), view a list of her casting conquests, and check out her "Upcumming Events." Heh heh.

26 November 2009

Street Survivors

In my last post, I mentioned the connection between Neil Young and Lynyrd Skynyrd, in life and in death. The death part occurred on 20 October 1977.

Original members Ronnie Van Zant, Allen Collins, and Gary Rossington formed the first incarnation of the band, then known as The Noble Five, as teenagers in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1964. They later wanted a more distinctive moniker so they named the group after their old high school nemesis, Leonard Skinner, a phys-ed teacher who enforced the school's strict policy against long hair by sending the boys to the assistant principal's office when their locks reached their back collars. By the time "Lynyrd Skynyrd" was being used, the fellas had dropped out of high school and had started toiling away on the Southern bar circuit. Skynyrd's hard work, constant practice, and fine musicianship led to opportunities such as opening for the Strawberry Alarm Clock and recording demos at the legendary Alabama music studio in Muscle Shoals (it earned a mention in the song "Sweet Home Alabama"). Skynyrd finally caught their big break in 1973 when they were discovered by musician and songwriter Al Kooper during a week-long gig in Atlanta. Not only did he sign the band to his MCA label offshoot, Sounds of the South, but he also produced their first three albums. Their debut, titled "pronounced leh-nerd skin-nerd", served up choice tunes like "Tuesday's Gone", "Gimme Three Steps", "Simple Man", and the now-legendary "Freebird".

After awhile, constant touring and alcohol and drug abuse began to take a toll on the band (see their songs "The Needle and the Spoon" and "That Smell"). In 1976, after considering leaving the band due to his flagging health and the birth of his daughter, lead singer Ronnie Van Zant instead made changes in management and studio production; added a third lead guitarist, Steve Gaines, and a three-member female back-up vocal group known as The Honkettes which included JoJo Billingsley, Leslie Hawkins and Steve's older sister Cassie; and insisted he and the rest of the band cut back on the partying and drugs. Zan Vant wrote "Gimme Back My Bullets" to celebrate the new positive direction.

Unfortunately, that new direction did not last. Skynyrd released the album Street Survivors on 17 October 1977. Included on the album was "That Smell", a tune Van Zant wrote as a warning to at least two of his bandmates about the dangers of drugs. Both Allen Collins and Gary Rossington had been in serious car accidents over the Labor Day weekend of 1976 and the band was forced to cancel some tour dates as well as slow down the album's recording. According to Wikipedia (and this bio), "Rossington has admitted repeatedly that he's the 'Prince Charming' of the song who crashed his car into an oak tree while drunk and stoned on Quaaludes. "

Three days after their new album's release, Lynyrd Skynyrd was in a chartered airplane en route from Greenville, South Carolina, to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, for a gig at LSU when, at 1842, the plane's pilot radioed that the aircraft was low on fuel. Less than ten minutes later, after attempting an emergency landing on a small airstrip, the Convair 240 crashed in a wooded swamp in Gillsburg, Mississippi. Pilot Walter McCreary, co-pilot William Gray, assistant road manager Dean Kilpatrick, as well as Steve Gaines, Cassie Gaines, and Ronnie Van Zant perished in the crash while the other band and crew members suffered serious injuries. I remember watching the Lynyrd Skynyrd episode of VH1's Behind the Music repeatedly and I can recall that, according to that episode, Van Zant was ejected upon impact and his head hit a tree. Though Van Zant died from massive head trauma, one of the surviving members (maybe Gary Rossington, I don't remember exactly now) of the band said, "Ronnie didn't have a scratch on him!"

Because of the crash, the cover art for Street Survivors had to be adjusted. The original cover showed the band, Steve Gaines in particular, engulfed in flames. Out of respect for those who didn't survive the crash, as well as at the insistence of Steve's widow Teresa, MCA began releasing the album with a similar band photograph but with an all black background instead of the fire. The original artwork was restored, however, when the 30th anniversary version of the album was released.

The Official Lynyrd Skynyrd History website (see the link about the plane crash) says that Ronnie Van Zant was buried with his famous black hat and his favorite fishing pole (it gives no mention of the legend of him wearing his Neil Young T-shirt).

The surviving members of Lynyrd Skynyrd decided to disband permanently and performed in various other music groups over the years. But in 1987, Lynyrd Skynyrd, using the writing and singing talents of Van Zant's younger brother Johnny (another brother Donnie leads the band .38 Special), began to tour again and released an album of all new material in 1991. Johnny still tours and records with Skynyrd to this day (I grew up in the South and when Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers swing through, it's an annual summer event). The band's latest effort, God & Guns, was released on 29 September 2009 and debuted on the Billboard 200 chart at number 18, the band's highest chart position since Street Survivors.

Lynyrd Skynyrd in its latest incarnation, performing on Craig Ferguson's show in October 2009

22 November 2009

Happy Belated Birthday, Eh?

Fellow Canadians and musicians Neil Young and Joni Mitchell both celebrated birthdays this month. Neil Percival Young was born on 12 November 1945 in Toronto while Roberta Joan Anderson (Mitchell was the surname of her first husband Chuck) entered the world two years earlier on 7 November in Fort Macleod, Alberta. The two met and became friends in their early days of playing small clubs in Winnipeg; besides sharing country and music, Young and Mitchell both contracted polio as children. The two intersected in at least two other ways: Young and his sometime bandmates David Crosby (whom Joni dated at one time), Stephen Stills, and Graham Nash (whom Joni was dating at the time of Woodstock) had a huge hit with their cover of Mitchell's tune "Woodstock", which she wrote after watching news reports and hearing Nash's firsthand descriptions of the 1969 music festival (while Mitchell was not in attendance, CSN was there playing "a medley of our hit," as they put it, "Suite: Judy Blues"); and Joni and Neil both played at "The Last Waltz" on Thanksgiving 1976, which was the last hurrah of The Band.

Some trivia:
Both of Neil Young's sons have cerebral palsy while Young himself is an epileptic. In fact, one of his working pseudonyms is Bernard Shakey.

Joni Mitchell had a daughter that she gave up for adoption. Even though it was not public knowledge throughout most of her career, she often made passing references to her daughter in her songs (in fact the tune "Little Green" is all about her daughter). Mitchell's daughter found her once she grew up and they still enjoy a relationship.

Martin Scorsese directed the concert film The Last Waltz. It is rumored that the footage had to be altered in order to remove white powder around Young's nose (I have a feeling that he wasn't grinding up his epilepsy meds and snorting them, but hey that's probably just me).

Mitchell's song "Free Man in Paris" from the album Court and Spark is about music mogul/producer David Geffen.

Young played in a Toronto-based band in the mid-60s called The Mynah Birds. They signed with Motown Records in 1966 and started recording an album that was never released because one of the group members was arrested for going AWOL from the US Navy. That musician's name? Rick James, bitch!

Janet Jackson sampled Mitchell's song "Big Yellow Taxi" for the tune "Got 'Til It's Gone" on the Velvet Rope album. Jackson's song also featured Q-Tip and I can recall that Mitchell participated in an MTV commercial (back when the channel played music videos and didn't suck) about older musicians listening to younger musicians, such as Isaac Hayes declaring that he liked Maxwell, and Mitchell enthusiastically praised Jackson's song and how the sample was used.

Joni Mitchell performing "Free Man in Paris"

CSN&Y doing Young's tune "Down By The River"

If you liked "Down By The River" here is the cover by Buddy Miles, former drummer for Jimi Hendrix's post-Experience band, The Band of Gypsys.

Janet Jackson's "Got 'Til It's Gone"

Lynyrd Skynyrd's hit "Sweet Home Alabama" was written in response to Young's scathing songs "Southern Man" and "Alabama". Skynyrd's lead singer Ronnie Van Zant remained a fan and a friend of Young's though, wearing a Neil Young T-shirt on the cover of Street Survivors, the album released three days before the 20 October 1977 plane crash that killed Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, backup singer and Steve's sister Cassie Gaines, the assistant road manager, and the pilot and co-pilot. And legend has it that Van Zant was buried in a Neil Young T-shirt.

08 November 2009

John Lennon

Something else I missed in October: John Lennon's birthday on 9 October. And of course the birthday of his "beautiful boy" Sean. To commemorate the occasion, I'm posting one of my favorite Beatles videos that I first saw on the Beatles Anthology. They are lip-synching a performance of "We Can Work It Out" and Paul is warily eyeing John because he knows John is trying to make him laugh. Which is exactly what happens by the end.

Here's the Happy Birthday message Janis Joplin recorded for Lennon's 30th birthday in 1970. It would turn out to be one of her last recordings. Lennon received it after Janis' death on 4 October. He mentions that on the Dick Cavett Show during a conversation about drugs in the second clip.

He Hit Me and It Felt Like a Kiss

So I watched Rihanna's interview this past Friday. Wow. She certainly went into detail and didn't seem to hold back. It was definitely a compelling interview. I admit that I started laughing when she watched for the first time Chris Brown's apology video that he had posted to YouTube and when Diane Sawyer asked for her assessment, Rihanna said it looked like he was reading from a teleprompter.

In other words, the apology did not seem to come from his heart, he was just reading some words (and he may not even be the one wrote those words). I'm glad I wasn't the only who thought so but, of course, it's a criticism that means much, much more coming from her since she'd been with him for so long.

Anyway, this situation reminds me of one of the most crazy-ass songs I've ever heard.

The first time I heard it was on Hole’s edition of MTV Unplugged. Courtney Love mentioned that the tune was written by Carole King and then began to wail,” He hit me and it felt like a kiss…” I remember thinking, ”Huh? Carole King wrote this? ‘I Feel the Earth Move’ Carole King? What the hell?!”

King and her co-writer, her then-husband Gerry Goffin, were inspired by their babysitter, Little Eva of “The Locomotion” fame. Relating how her boyfriend had been smacking her around, Eva claimed,” That must mean he really loves me.”

Guess who else was involved with this little sonic gem?

Phil Spector! (Yeah, I know. The perfect person, right?) He produced the song for the girl group The Crystals in 1962 on his Manhattan-based independent label Philles Records. Instead of infusing “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss)” with any kind of irony or sarcasm, Spector chose to arrange the background chorus to sound like a choir of angels, as though showering the abusive relationship with heavenly hosannas as opposed to condemning it. According to Mark Ribowsky’s book He’s A Rebel, Spector’s label partner, producer and publisher Lester Sills, declared it a “terrible f***ing song” while years after writing it, Goffin admitted that “He Hit Me” was “a little radical for those times.”

So was “He Hit Me” a hit?


Due to complaints and protest letters in some of the major markets, Spector and Sills pulled the single (the B-side was another Goffin/King tune called “No One Ever Tells You”) before the song could crack the Billboard Top 100 and could bring more negative publicity to Philles Records.

This is the original tune here. It's been covered by not only Hole, but also The Motels and the alt-rock group Grizzly Bear.

I don't have a clip of the song but I did find the lyrics for "No One Ever Tells You" as well as the words to another song that Goffin and King wrote around the same time as "He Hit Me" called, disturbingly enough, "Please Hurt Me."

You can visit the National Domestic Violence website by clicking here. For more immediate assistance you can call the 24-hour hotline: 1 800 799 SAFE(7233) TTY 1 800 787 3224.

PS It turns out that National Domestic Violence Awareness Month was in October. But the lives of famous women such as Rihanna and Tina Turner (whose birthday is coming on 26 November) and of course not-so-famous women show that this is a year-long problem. Years ago, when he was with the Beatles, even John Lennon made a comment on it. In the song "Getting Better" he wrote,"I used to be cruel to my woman, I'd beat her and kept her apart from the things that she loved." He reportedly admitted years later in an interview that he was referring to an early part of his relationship with Yoko Ono before he straightened himself out.

03 November 2009

Long Time No See!

Or, more accurately, long time no post. October was car-aaa-zay! So I missed a bunch of stuff from October. But I'll post about it later to make up for it.

In the meantime, I have something just for today.

It's Lulu's birthday!!!!

Lulu for those of you who don't know is a singer and actress who entered the world as Marie McLachlan McDonald Lawrie in Scotland in 1948. Her biggest claim to fame was acting in the 1967 flick To Sir, With Love with Sidney Poitier and scoring a massive worldwide hit with the film's eponymous theme song (great movie, great song, in my opinion). She was also married to Bee Gee Maurice Gibb from 1969-73. The Bee Gees were already famous because of their pre-disco songs so this was a wedding of two very young celebrities; Lulu was 20 while Maurice had just turned 19 (probably already had all that chest hair though, love it!) . Today that would be kinda like Taylor Swift marrying Nick Jonas, except with one of the older Jonas Brothers disapproving because he thinks the couple is too young (as Barry Gibb did) and with Nick having a drinking problem (which is reportedly why the marriage ended). Later she married the famous hairstylist John Frieda and had a son with him before their divorce.

Lulu also sang a James Bond theme song for The Man With the Golden Gun.

And here she is covering David Bowie's "The Man Who Sold the World". Bowie produced the track and played the sax.

Lulu used to have a TV show in the UK and probably her most famous guest was Jimi Hendrix, who appeared on 4 January 1969. Years later, Jimi Hendrix Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell recalled that Lulu wanted to duet with Jimi on "Hey Joe." (I saw him tell this story on an MTV Rockumentary of Hendrix years ago; I still have it on tape!) When she came 'round before the taping to rehearse, Jimi begged off, saying," I think we should just keep it fresh." Mitchell said that later, as the band played the song, they could see Lulu waiting in the wings about to join the group, so Jimi stopped the song. He then made a dedication to the individual members of Cream, as they had just broken up, and launched into the now-defunct group's classic "Sunshine of Your Love." Jimi enfuriated the show's producers when he kept playing even though the director was signaling him to stop. Instead of leaving time to let Lulu give her "proper goodbye" Jimi laughed and announced," We're being put off the air!" Mitchell remembered that after the taping the show's brass screeched that the Jimi Hendrix Experience would "'never play on the BBC again!' And I don't think we ever did, either. Heh heh heh!"

Yeah, Jimi really didn't want to do that duet!

Did you hear when Jimi said," Plug your ears! Plug your ears!" I love that. He gave a similar warning to the audience at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. And did you check out bassist Noel Redding's T-shirt? It looked like it said,"The Plaster Casters of Chicago." If so, that's a story for another time. Boy is that a story! Maybe I'll post it for Jimi's birthday.

Lulu on Wikipedia
Lulu's astrological birthchart
Lulu's website

04 October 2009


Janis Joplin was found dead on this date in 1970. Jimi Hendrix, who just like Janis had found fame as a result of his performance at the Monterey Pop Festival in June 1967 and was also not yet 28 years old, predeceased her by two and a half weeks. Legend has it that when Jim Morrison of the Doors heard the news about Janis' passing, he raised the glass he was drinking from and told his companion,"You're drinking with number three." Morrison would in fact be the third prominent musician to die at the age of 27 in a one year period. A heart attack reportedly killed him in Paris on 3 July 1971; since no autopsy was performed, conspiracy theories about his death abound. (As an aside, Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones died at age 27 also, two years nearly to the day before Morrison and there are those who believed that he was murdered, purposely drowned, instead of dying of "misadventure" as his death certificate states).

Back to Janis. You can read more about her life here.

Here she talks to Dick Cavett a few months before her death, announcing her intention to go to her tenth anniversary high school reunion. Cavett asks her if she had many friends in HS and she says under her breath,"No, that's why I'm goin'."

This is "Little Girl Blue" from the I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues Again Mama! album. According to Ellis Amburn, the author of Janis' biography Pearl, the song was "Janis' own personal favorite of all her recordings...The Rodgers and Hart ballad was first introduced in the Broadway circus musical Jumbo in 1935, and in the 1962 movie version, Doris Day sang it." It's one of my favorites, too; I used to sing it to myself when I was growing up.

Since it's football season and I live in the NYC area, I thought I'd mention this little tidbit from Amburn's book. Janis apparently had a huge crush on NY Jets quarterback Joe Namath. She was finally able to track him down and have sex with him on an expensive white area rug. After the encounter, she asked to keep the rug as a keepsake. As the rug cost a lot of money, Namath was hesitant to give it up but in the end, he let her take it. When she left for the evening, she gave the rug to her limo driver; she had just wanted to see if "Broadway Joe" would actually give it to her (the rug, I mean).

Not bad for a woman voted "Ugliest Man on Campus" at UT-Austin in the early '60s, huh?

26 September 2009

If This Was 1970...

...We'd be at a certain macabre midpoint. On the morning of 18 September, Jimi Hendrix died of asphyxiation in London and in eight more days, on 4 October, Janis Joplin will be found dead in her hotel room of a heroin overdose.

...Marc Bolan would be about to celebrate his 23rd birthday on the 30th. The following July, he and his band T-Rex would release their most famous song, "Get It On (Bangagong)." Sadly, Bolan will never live to see age 30. He'll die two weeks before that milestone on 16 Septemeber 1977 in a car accident.

...John Bonham would have exactly 10 more years to live. His passing will be similar to Hendrix's, but instead of wine and sleeping pills, the main culprit is the equivalent of 40 shots of vodka.

14 September 2009

And the point of the VMAs is...?

OK, wow...

I didn't watch the MTV Video Music Awards last night because I don't have cable but I sure as hell heard about them this morning. I've read a lot of stuff on the internet about the Kanye/Taylor incident and a lot of folks think it was staged by Kanye (he wanted attention, per usual) and/or MTV ('cause MTV sucks) and/or Beyonce (resoundingly good PR move and the positive press that goes with it) and/or NBC (Jay Leno's show debuts tonight and the musical guests are Jay-Z, Rihanna, and Kanye). And virtually no one thinks that Taylor Swift was in on it. In fact, the sentiment I read more than once in comments posted on various websites was that if she knew about it, then young Ms. Swift is in the wrong profession because she deserves an Oscar. This is a backstage/audience pit account of last night's Video Music Awards. It says, among other things (look for the Lisa Marie Presley tidbit), that Taylor Swift started to cry and some of the MTV execs came out and escorted her offstage.

Clearly not in on it.

And People.com is reporting that Beyonce's dad helped comfort Swift backstage and arranged for Beyonce to step aside later in the evening to let the young winner finish her speech. I guess that explains why the girl was told to standby backstage but no one would tell her why. Of course, others would say that's further evidence of a setup so I guess the staged/spontaneous asshole moment debate is still ongoing...

As for some people who are taking it as a racial thing, I don't think it's a black/white issue at all. For me, it's more about a 32-year-old drunk-ass baby humiliating a heretofore scandal-free 19-year-old girl on live television in front of millions of people. Or as Katy Perry put it when she dissed West on her blog," IT'S LIKE U STEPPED ON A KITTEN." Kudos to Taylor for pulling herself together and singing soon after the incident, to Pink for wanting to beat the shit out of 'Ye, and to the security for throwing dude's drunk ass out the building.

PS I'm watching Jay's show right now. One of his first jokes was that Obama is organizing a root beer summit between Kanye and Taylor Swift. Heh. And to that end, someone has pieced together this:

UPDATE: If you didn't see Jay's show, Leno briefly interviewed Kanye before he performed. Jay said something to the effect of,"I had the good fortune to meet your mom. What do you think she'd say if she were here?" And there was a really, really long pause and 'Ye rubbed his face like he was trying to keep from crying. Jay touched his kneecap and prompted, speaking more softly," Do you think she'd be disappointed?" The answer was affirmative. West also said that he was sorry that his pain caused someone else pain as he never took any time off after his mother's death; he said he'll take that time off soon and that he'd like to apologize to Taylor Swift in person. As for when he realized he was in the wrong at the VMAs, he replied,"When I gave the mic back to her and she didn't keep talking."

And hey! This is off topic but I think I can answer my own question,"And the point of the VMAs is...?" Apparently it's to bring Jennifer Lopez together with her various men. Check it out: she was there with husband Marc Anthony, former lover Sean Combs was a presenter, and one of her previous spouses, Cris Judd, danced with Janet Jackson. Can you imagine the four of them backstage together? Now that's a collision I would love to have seen!

08 September 2009

The Beatles are coming, the Beatles are coming!

Holy chocolate Jesus on a whole wheat cracker! Tomorrow is gonna be HUGE! Not only are the Beatles releasing a box set of the remastered stereo versions of all of their albums (as well as a smaller set of redone mono versions) but their edition of the Rock Band video game comes out tomorrow as well. Even though I can't afford to buy the box sets right now (I could buy each CD individually but...ehhh), I'm still pretty excited. I've been a fan of the Fab Four for nearly twenty years. One of my friends in middle school, Brooke, turned me on to them. At the time, I only knew "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" and "Love Me Do" so I had written them off as some super-cheesy boy band. She gave me copies of both Past Masters collections as well as The White Album and some solo John Lennon. And I was hooked. To return the favor, I got her to listen to Hendrix (she thought all he did was play loudly until I played "May This Be Love" for her). I still consider it to be an even trade.

Here's a post of "Revolution 9" from the album The Beatles (more commonly known as The White Album). Honestly, this is not one of my favorites; I haven't listened to it in years, in fact. But one could definitely describe it as different. And it helps explain the significance of everything being released on 09/09/09 tomorrow. Plus, if you check out the related video of "Revolution 9" played backwards, you can hear Lennon repeatedly saying, "Turn me on, dead man," which was considered a major "clue" in the the whole "Paul is dead conspiracy."

And here is an extraordinarily in depth article about the Rock band video game that was published in the NY Times magazine last month. I have to admit, since my favorite Beatle is Ringo, my favorite part of the article is the writer's assertion that because of this game, more people will better appreciate the drummer's often complex percussive contributions. Finally! Some respect for Richie!

Here are two reviews of the remastered box sets, one from Dave McCoy of MSN music and this one from NPR, which has more of a Beatles-nerd vibe that I completely related to.

If you are hesitant about giving more money to the Fab Four (and Michael Jackson's estate, incidentally) but you're still curious about the music, at least check out Geoff Emerick's book Here, There and Everywhere. Emerick was a recording engineer at EMI Records who worked with the group from 1962 on up through the last album they recorded, Abbey Road. He gives the lowdown about how the albums were recorded and includes insight on the four as individuals and as bandmates and just how much Yoko Ono's presence disrupted the chemistry and balance of the group (look in the index under Ono's name and go to the "digestive biscuit incident" for a particularly vivid account). Emerick also touches on working with Wings and Elvis Costello (who wrote the foreword) as well as on the deaths of John Lennon, Linda McCartney, Brian Epstein, and Beatles assistant Mal Evans. (If you've ever seen the movie Help!, Evans is the swimmer who keeps popping up throughout the film.) My first read-through took me less than 2 days and it's nearly 400 pages! If you're a Beatles fan or just an appreciative music fan, you definitely won't be disappointed; it's truly a fascinating read.

29 August 2009

Happy Birthday MJ

Today would have been Michael Jackson's 51st birthday. For those who have doubts about whether this man's musical legacy will live on, I would like to tell a personal story.

One of my first cousins has three young children: a boy of six, a 2.5 year old girl, and a son who turns 5 tomorrow. Before June 25 of this year, they had never heard of Michael Jackson. Since the kids were visiting her, my aunt (their great-aunt) decided to show them the DVD of MJ's videos that was released a few years ago. My aunt told me,"If we watched that DVD once, we watched it twenty times. They are obsessed with Michael Jackson now." So much so that they shunned their usual viewing choices: Popeye, Spiderman, and Spongebob cartoons.

My aunt was apparently fascinated by their fascination and reported their reactions to me. They had a clear understanding of "Beat It." ("Those guys were gonna fight each other but then Michael Jackson came in and stopped 'em and now they're all friends!"). And "Earth Song" particularly touched a chord in these church-going kids. The video showed the suffering of humans and animals because of an ongoing lack of concern for the environment. When a dead elephant came back to life, the middle cousin jumped up, pointed at the TV screen, and shouted,"That's God! That's God right there! God made that elephant come back to life and God made Michael Jackson!" Later, the oldest proclaimed,"I'm gonna tell my mama to buy us that DVD for our house!"

I was at the cousins' house a month ago when my aunt brought the kids their own copy of the DVD to keep. They of course wanted to sit down and watch it right away. I watched them bop around to "Billie Jean" and "Beat It" and I noticed that they were studying the dance moves from "Thriller." I have to say, this made me smile; it reminded me that I was their ages when those three videos came out. I can clearly recall doing the moonwalk across a tiled kitchen floor with my friends when I was in first grade (those friends were chewed out by their mother for leaving scuff marks with their church dress shoes on that same kitchen floor).

Admittedly, the kids' new preoccupation with MJ is not without some hiccups. I was holding the youngest, the not-yet-three-year-old girl, in my arms as she watched Jackson perform at a concert in Eastern Europe in the late '80s. As she lay her head on my shoulder, she whimpered,"I'm scay-werd."

"What are you scared of?"

"Michael Jackson."

As my cousin E, the children's uncle, pointed out,"Those kids aren't dumb." Indeed, the rest of us in this world got, what, about thirty years to observe Michael Jackson's physical transformation while my three young relatives witnessed the same confounding phenonemon in the space of ninety minutes. They asked,"Is Michael Jackson a man or a woman? Is he black or white?"

"It doesn't really matter," was my aunt's somewhat facetious reply.

Luckily, this is proving to be true. At last report, the little one who was "scay-werd" of MJ just a month ago, now thinks that MJ is "cwute." (Her favorite MJ tune and video? "You Are Not Alone.") The cycle of life and discovery rolls on and Michael Jackson, just like the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Elvis Presley, and other musicians whose talent and artistry attract new, young fans year after year, will live on. My little cousins are proof of that.

25 August 2009

4 Above & 2 Below (apologies to Hole)

Today marks the 8th anniversary of the plane crash that killed Aaliyah. I can't believe it's been eight years already. I went to see Teena Marie in concert at City Hall Park here in NYC exactly 3 years ago when it was the fifth anniversary and Lady T (whose daughter, incidentally, is named Alia Rose) dedicated her show to Aaliyah.

Sigh. I really miss her.I was watching some of her videos on YouTube over the weekend. This one is my favorite.

Last week, I neglected to commemorate the birthdays of three musicians but I've heard that people are very forgiving once they get to heaven, so I don't think they're too pissed.

Isaac Hayes was born on 20 August 1942 in TN. At the legendary Stax Records, he was a songwriter and session musician for such artists as Sam & Dave and Johnnie Taylor before he went solo. (Sam & Dave's hit song "Hold On, I'm Comin'" got its title when Hayes and the duo were in the studio and those words were the response when one of them was being summoned from the bathroom.) He won an Oscar for the Shaft theme song. And, of course, he originated the Chef character on South Park. There was more to his life, obviously, so click here to read more.

Here he is performing my favorite song from the Shaft soundtrack, "Soulsville." Check out his infamous chainlink "shirt."

Philip Parris Lynott was also born on 20 August, but in 1949, in West Bromwich, England. His parents, a white Irish teenager named Philomena Lynott and Cecil Parris, a black man reportedly from Brazil, met in England where Philomena had found work; they never married, although in an interview, Philomena said that Cecil had wanted to. Philomena shipped her young son to Ireland for her mother to raise when he was three or four. Philip's childhood friend and later bandmate, drummer Brian Downey, said that Phil was always the only black kid in school when they were growing up in Dublin. As a teenager Lynott formed the band that became Thin Lizzy (where Philip sang, wrote or cowrote nearly all the songs and played bass) with Downey and a guitarist from Belfast named Eric Bell. They signed to Decca Records and recorded three albums before Bell quit the band, but not before scoring their first UK hit, a version of the Irish drinking song "Whiskey in the Jar." With various other guitarists like Gary Moore, Brian Robertson, and Scott Gorham, Thin Lizzy used a double-lead guitar sound (if something happened to one lead there was still another one, Philip later explained) and recorded ten more albums. Their biggest hit, "The Boys Are Back in Town," Lynott's tune about soldiers returning from Vietnam, can be found on 1976's Jailbreak; the song is still used today in TV commercials and movie trailers. Lynott released two solo records, published a book of poetry and song lyrics that he dedicated to his father, and formed other bands, such as Grand Slam and The Greedies (aka The Greedy Bastards). After years of drug and alcohol abuse, he fell ill at Christmas of 1985. A friend drove him to a rehab clinic where the staff determined that his organs were failing. He was rushed to a hospital where he eventually died on 4 January 1986. He left behind a wife and two young daughters along with a devastated Philomena.

"The Boys Are Back in Town" live

This song "The Man's a Fool" comes from his second solo record, The Philip Lynott Album.

I wrote more about Philip because I think Thin Lizzy is a severely underrated band (they did get their own episode of Behind the Music though) and Philip is my favorite bass player of all time. Two pieces of trivia: a bronze statue of Philip stands on Henry St. (if I'm not mistaken) in Dublin (UPDATE: I was mistaken. It's Harry St.); and Philip was proclaimed "The Father of Irish Rock" by the priest officiating his funeral (which the group U2 attended), as Thin Lizzy was the first band from the Republic of Ireland to become a worldwide success. And before you say,"But what about..." I will remind you that Van Morrison is from Belfast which is in Northern Ireland, not the Republic of Ireland.

John Graham Mellor, the son of a British diplomat, was born in Ankara, Turkey, on 21 August 1952. He grew up in Egypt, Mexico, and Germany before his parents enrolled him and his older brother David in a British boarding school when John was nine. Rarely seeing his parents while at the school, John immersed himself in American rock and roll and folk music. He took on the name "Woody" because of his obsession with Woody Guthrie. His world changed when his brother committed suicide in 1970 and soon after, John started art school, at first wanting to be a cartoonist. He later dropped out and began playing the guitar on the street for money, an activity that led him to the name that he eventually found fame with, Joe Strummer. After playing in other bands, Strummer joined the Clash in 1976, the most famous line-up of which included Mick Jones on lead guitar, Paul Simonon as the bass player, and drummer "Topper" Headon. The band imploded during the early '80s. Simonon and Strummer continued the Clash despite kicking out Jones and Headon, for personality conflicts and heroin addiction, respectively; the Clash finally quit in 1986. Strummer acted in movies (including a film called Straight to Hell which also featured Elvis Costello and a young Courtney Love) and performed in other bands like the Pogues and the Mescaleros. Strummer passed away from a heart attack caused by an undetected congenital heart defect on 22 December 2002, three months before the Clash was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He was a young 50 years old.

Click here to see the Clash's video for "Bankrobber." Below is the Clash performing the group's foray into rap,"Magnificent Seven" on Tom Snyder's show in 1981.

Speaking of Elvis Costello, today is his 55th birthday. He, Dave Grohl, Bruce Springsteen, "Little Steven" Van Zant, and No Doubt's rhythym section, Tony Kanal and Adrian Young performed "London Calling" as a tribute to Strummer at the Grammys in 2003.

Below is Costello when he was young, angry, and performing pigeon-toed.

Today is also the birthday of a fellow born Chaim Witz in Israel in 1949. He moved to America as a young boy and grew up intent on becoming a rabbi. Instead, after becoming an English teacher, he changed his name to Gene Simmons and played bass for KISS. Yeah, I know, totally different path.

18 August 2009

Les Paul; Everlast; and sadly, 13 months later...

It was 40 years ago today that Jimi Hendrix woke up the few remaining revelers at Woodstock soon after dawn and played his version of "The Star-Spangled Banner." Exactly one year and one month later, to the day, Jimi would be dead.

Speaking of Woodstock, my rant against brainless and self-congratulatory hippies did not give me the space to pay my respects to Les Paul, who died last Thursday at the age of 94. It is safe to say that without him, the music at Woodstock would not have happened. There would not have been the solid body guitars to play and the multi-layered album versions of the songs would not have existed without Les Paul. Sure, you could say that if he hadn't done it, someone else would have. But the point is, he did do it. Those musicians who favor the Les Paul series Gibson guitars, like Slash, Jimmy Page, and Lenny Kravitz, already knew they owed a debt of gratitude to Mr. Paul well before his death; if you are a serious music fan, you should know that you owe him, too. After all, for example, the Beatles could not have recorded their masterwork Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band without Mr. Paul's innovations with multi-track recording.

Last, but not least, I want to wish a musician that I'm a huge fan of, my man Everlast, a happy, healthy birthday. He was born 40 years ago today in Hempstead, NY, about 130 miles from where Hendrix was playing that very same morning. Coincidentally, today is also the birthday of his Judgement Night co-star, Denis Leary. The former House of Pain frontman has been having a huge year. Last September, he released his latest solo record Love, War, and the Ghost of Whitey Ford. It's the first release on his own label Martyr Inc. If you haven't heard it, check it out! He does a decent cover of Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues" but my favorite is "Everyone." And if you're a fan of Holly Hunter's show "Saving Grace", Ev's Emmy-nominated theme song is included on the album. (I heard him say on Matt Pinfield's radio show some months ago that he lost the award to some TV show about pirates that neither he nor anyone he knows has ever heard of.) And he put out a CD with the rap collective that also features his former HoP mates DJ Lethal and Danny Boy, La Coka Nostra (Ev's often known in the group as Mr. White---reppin' Reservoir Dog-gie style, I guess, which would also be the original Taking of Pelham One Two Three style, but I digress). And he announced on his blog last week that he recently got married and he's about to become a dad for the first time. Like I said, huge year for Everlast! Congrats man!!!!

15 August 2009


Today is the 40th anniversary of the start of the Woodstock Music and Art Fair. I watched the movie A Walk on the Moon this afternoon to help commemorate the event (but then I watched a bunch of videos of The Clash on Youtube because I cannot tolerate hippies all damn day). Loads of ink, pro and con, are being devoted to the subject of Woodstock, which has been the case since August 1969. At times, the commentary of the happening only seems to be from a bunch of increasingly older people fighting through their arthritis to still manage to pat themselves on the back for being part of a huge rock concert. So I'm throwing in my perspective.

I wasn't around for the original event but I did witness the 20th anniversary. My dad had been telling me for years that I needed to listen to more than rap. "You need to know where this rap music is coming from," he'd tell a single-digit-aged me right before subjecting me to another round of James Brown's music. So in August 1989, my dad said to me," Hey, come and watch this movie with me," and we sat down for three-plus hours to view the documentary. He explained that he first saw the performances in the theatre when the film came out in 1970 as he was stationed in Korea with the US Air Force during the original event. I was blown away by the music and also by how young everyone looked! Carlos Santana looked like a teenager and he had all his hair. And at one point, I asked Dad who that skinny, dark-haired, muttonchopped fellow was who was singing the shit out of "With a Little Help From My Friends" while he spastically writhed onstage.

"That's Joe Cocker."

"Dad, no way! That is not Joe Cocker!" The Joe Cocker I knew was paunchy and bearded with a greyish-light brown cloud of hair and sang sappy ballads. But, as it turns out, that was really him.

But probably the biggest shock was listening to the kids from back then talk on camera. Those hippies spoke with the word "like" interspersing their sentences just like me and my middle school friends were at that time. Was this what our parents were like when they were young? Stoned, naive, and saying stupid shit like if everyone could just drop acid and love their brother, the world would be a really groovy place and that would be sooooo faaaaar ooouuuut?


After being forced to listen to the news about "the war on drugs" in America and being subjected to years of the D.A.R.E. program ("Just Say No to Drugs!") in school, I found it laughable and hypocritical to listen to these young folks in the Woodstock film and in other footage from the era espouse the virtues of psychedelic substances. Yes, drugs have changed the world, but not in the way those damn hippies were hoping.

But, I have to admit, the music was brilliant.

I was so entranced by Jimi Hendrix's performance of the American national anthem, I was almost breathless. I made my dad play for me all the Hendrix that he owned (which was quite a lot; my father had more than 2000 records and he was ecstatic that I was finally interested in more of them), as well as Sly and the Family Stone and Santana. Dad also threw in a bunch of Janis Joplin for good measure (she had perfomed at Woodstock but her set did not appear in the original cut of the documentary). Joplin's most famous song "Me and Bobby McGee" was in heavy rotation on Armed Forces Radio when he was working the flight line in Vietnam and he told me that the tune's mentions of cities in his home state of Louisiana made him less homesick. Then he told me that Hendrix was originally from Seattle, not too far from my birthplace at Fort Lewis. So I spent the rest of my summer vacation tuning in.

Actually, I never stopped. That next school year, I had to write a book report on a biography and while my classmates chose such tomes as The Diary of Anne Frank, I instead picked 'Scuse Me While I Kiss the Sky by David Henderson. (I got an A, by the way.) I started listening to classic rock and oldies stations on a regular basis for my own edification while still remaining devoted to my beloved Black Sheep and De La Soul. But when the music game changed in the early '90s and gangsta rap moved to the fore, I abandoned rap altogether and turned my energy toward all those 60s and 70s sounds I had already been hearing, as well as the newly popular genre called grunge. Having grown up on and around military bases and spending the first nearly five years of my life near Seattle, I found that rappers that spouted hardcore lyrics about the 'hood, selling crack, police brutality, and "bitches and ho's", sprang from a culture to which I could not relate while fellow Puget Sound natives like Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain spoke a language that I could understand. I could hear the rain and the heaviness of the consistently grey clouds of my hometown in their music and I realized that even after years of living in the sunny climes of Virginia Beach, I was still homesick for my birthplace. And, I have to admit, that I was secretly pleased that after nearly a decade of trying to explain to people in VA that I was in fact from Washington State and not Washington D.C., that folks in the Tidewater area could finally hear the names Seattle and Tacoma and not automatically furrow their brows in confusion.

So that was Woodstock for me: bonding with my father, expanding my music vocabulary, and reclaiming my pride in my birthplace. And even those damn hippies could not destroy the experience for me.

13 August 2009

The Birth of Chef

On 13 August 1997, South Park debuted on Comedy Central and treated the world with the unforgettable visual of an animated character receiving an extraterrestrial anal probe. I remember watching the debut and leaving for college the next day, still laughing about it (I was also exasperated because I could only find one other person on campus who had also watched the cartoon and knew what I was talking about). We were also introduced to, along with four incredibly foul-mouthed little boys, one Jerome McElroy, also known as Chef. Isaac Hayes (who passed away on August tenth of last year, ten days before his 66th birthday) provided the vocals for the elementary school cook who would spontaneously break into song in order to educate Kyle, Stan, Kenny, and Cartman about sex, love, and relationships.

Hayes' voiceover work for the show ended bizarrely in 2005 when he, a longtime Scientologist, released a statement saying he would leave South Park because of the show's ridicule of his religion. This didn't seem to make sense to the program's creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone as they made sure to make fun of everyone over the years, but they publicly wished Hayes well and released him from his contract. Of course, they also crafted this episode where Chef returns to town, having been brainwashed into having an interest in pedophilia by the "Super Adventure Club" (ahem), and then dies a bloody and horrific death. It's worth noting, though, that there are some conspiracy theories that suggest that the Church of Scientology forced Hayes to quit the show and/or the Church was trying to conceal from the public that Hayes had suffered a debilitating stroke and thus wrote his resigning statement for him and released it on his behalf. The theories have yet to be proven but they still exist, especially since a stroke was Hayes' cause of death.

Here is a greatest hits compilation of sorts of Chef's songs. My faves...oh, hell, they all crack me up!

09 August 2009

Can Touring Kill You?

Apparently, the stage is a dangerous place. In the span of a week, two guys I like fell out onstage and required medical attention, Drake (further injuring his knee in which he had already torn three ligaments and speeding up his surgery date) and Aerosmith's Steven Tyler (well, he fell off the stage in South Dakota) and neither man can continue touring for the time being. I remember Jim James tumbling off last year when he was performing with My Morning Jacket, not to mention that incident with Bret Michaels at the Tonys earlier this summer.

At least everyone is okay.

Unlike, say, Paul McCartney. Well, that's according to all those conspiracy theorists in the '60s who insisted that Macca had died sometime after the Beatles had stopped touring in '66 and the group and their management were trying to cover up his untimely demise, but not without leaving a set of clues for the fans to follow.
Of course.
Because anyone would leave a set of clues behind deliberately when they are trying to keep something like that on the low.
Anyway, I bring this up because the cover photo for the album Abbey Road played a substantial part in the "Paul is Dead" thing and this weekend was the 40th anniversary of the cover shoot.

According to the urban legend, the Abbey Road cover proved that Paul was really dead because he's the only barefoot Beatle (just like a corpse would be) and the license plate on the car on the back cover is "28 IF," as in Paul would have been 28 that year if he had not perished. Macca himself has said that he merely took off his sandals that day because it was hot outside. But what does he know? He's been dead for over 40 years!

Here's a compilation of clues that fans have "discovered" over the years in order to prove the theory.

03 August 2009

When Music Got Down With a Cause

I know, I know. I could be blogging about this weekend's big music story, the rapper Drake bustin' his ass onstage after he'd already torn his ACL a month ago (good luck with the surgery, man!). Or I could talk extensively about how on 1 August 1981, Music Television made its debut on cable with the clip "Video Killed the Radio Star" by The Buggles (which just reminds me what MTV used to be and that MTV now sucks, as I've mentioned a few times before on this blog).

Instead, I wanted to commemorate 1 August 1971, The Concert For Bangla Desh (the original title). Ravi Shankar, the sitarist from India, was gravely concerned about the refugee situation in East Pakistan (as Bangladesh was originally known) and he called his buddy George Harrison for his help. Harrison decided to rally some of his friends and put on a concert to raise money for the cause. Shankar, Harrison, Ringo Starr, Leon Russell, Eric Clapton, Billy Preston, and Bob Dylan were among the musicians who performed at Madison Square Garden in New York City. It was the first gathering of its kind, a precursor of such benefits as Live Aid and Farm Aid. Also, it was a rousing success, raising millions of dollars for UNICEF, the United Nations' Children's Fund.

A few years ago, a friend of mine who hails from Bangladesh told me that his people are still grateful to George Harrison for calling attention to his country and its plight, especially since as a newer country, many folks around the world had never even heard of it.

By the way, you can still donate to George Harrison's UNICEF fund.

26 July 2009

Happy Birthday to Me (and some musicians)!

So...today is my birthday. And Mick Jagger's birthday. But everyone always talks about him because he's probably the most famous person, musician I should say, born on July 26. There are others who share the day and I want to acknowledge them:

Roger Taylor
The drummer from the UK band Queen is pretty famous, sure, but his birthday is not really mentioned if you're in America like I am. Mick runs roughshod right over him, even in Mick and Roger's native England.

Dobie Gray
His most famous song is "Drift Away" which was remade into a big hit by Uncle Kracker a few years ago. You can find a million different posts of the song on YouTube so I decided to link two other songs, "Out on the Floor" and "The In Crowd." If you click on "more info" under the poster's name for "Out..." you can read a little bio about Dobie. "Out", "In"...heh, heh, oh I love it.

Bobby Hebb
I honestly don't know much about this gentleman but his song "Sunny" has been one of my favorites since I was a kid. I do know that he has his own website and you can click on the little video on the homepage and hear the song "Sunny" with assorted pictures of Hebb. I suggest you also check out James Brown's exquisite cover of the song as performed in Paris in 1971, which I've embedded below.

Screamin' Jay Hawkins
Screaming' Jay's birthday was actually July 18, but I was on vacation all last week and didn't get to post for his day. If he hadn't died in February 2000, he would've been 80 years this year. Now who is Screamin' Jay Hawkins, you may be asking. He's the fella who did the song "I Put a Spell on You." Born Jalacy Hawkins in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1929, Screamin' Jay recorded the tune in 1956 and, in a move that predates the creepy stage antics of Alice Cooper, Ozzy Osbourne, and Marilyn Manson by at least 15-20 years, he would lay down the pseudo-voodoo vibe with a trowel and often perform the song after emerging from a coffin with a bone in his nose. Check out this video of Screamin' Jay on The Arsenio Hall Show back in the day, which features a moving disembodied hand atop his piano and his trusty smoking skull on a stick named Henry.

At the end of the clip, Arsenio mentions the song "Constipation Blues." Yes, it's just as gross as it sounds. Actually, let me rephrase that: it sounds gross because of Screamin' Jay's sound effects. Here he is performing the song with the French music legend Serge Gainsbourg. Can you imagine if Elton John and Billy Joel put their pianos together and covered this tune on tour? Yeeesh.

Here's Screamin' Jay's Wikipedia page and if you read this transcript of an interview he did in the UK in 1983, you'll find out how he got the nickname "Screamin' Jay."

...And is it just me or does Screamin' Jay look like yet another musician that the actor Leon could someday portray in a movie? They look like father and son, man!