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.