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