Sunday, April 15, 2012

Rolling Stone Disappoints. A Repost

I haven't actually bought a copy of Rolling Stone magazine for quite sometime.  In fact I can't remember the last time.  I still have the Jerry Garcia special issue from 1995...  because, you know, I'm a huge Grateful Dead nerd.

My buddy has a tumblr account and sometimes posts interesting things.  He posted an open letter of sorts recently regarding Rolling Stone's "25 Best Things in Rock Right Now", and highlights the magazine's out of touch ineptitude.

The link is below.  Enjoy.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Phoney Baloney

There are plenty of fictional bands, or rock stars that don't actually exist out there.  There are bands that were created for cartoons, like The Archies, Josie and the Pussycats, Jem and the Holograms, bands created for comics like Billy and the Boingers, Sex bob-omb, and Dazzler, and bands created for sitcoms and movies like Marie deSalle, and Hedwig and the Angry Inch.  

Actual musicians also like to make up fictional bands, some to sing about, and some to use as an alias, or a character to play.  Bennie and the Jets and Uncle John's Band are good examples.  There are also a few used for entire albums.  Probably the most famous example is Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, but Ziggy Stardust ought to be mentioned too, and Garth Brooks' alter ego Chris Gaines.  Here are two more.

Fictional band: Eddie and the Cruisers.
Real band: John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band
Eddie and the Cruisers soundtrack
1983. Scottie Brothers. 
produced by Kenny Vance

  • On the Dark Side
  • Tender Years
The Beaver Brown Band lent its sound to the already existing fictional band created by PF Kluge in the novel of the same name.  I found two versions of this album, the one I have has a few tracks not included on the rerelease in 1984.  The idea was to have the band sound like Bruce Springsteen meets the Doors and Dion and the Belmonts.  John Cafferty nails it.  The film is still played sometimes on movie channels, and the single On the Dark Side is still sometimes played on classic rock stations.  Not bad for a band that never existed.  I loved this movie as a kid, and it's based on a book, which I haven't been able to find, although I hear it's nothing like the movie.

Blues Brothers.  
Briefcase Full of Blues
1978.  Atlantic.  
produced by Bob Tischler

  • Rubber Biscuit
  • Soul Man

Unlike Eddie and the Cruisers, who never did anything under that name studio or live after that one soundtrack release, The Blues Brothers toured as a real band, in character, and released a few albums.  According to Aykroyd, John Belushi really wanted this project to work and used it as creative outlet outside of acting.  So, to be fair, this isn't really a fake band.  They perform all covers, digging deep into the blues catalog.  When I was little, after seeing the movie, I thought all blues was like the big band sound of the Blues Brothers and Cab Calloway.  It took me a little while to realize that the blues can be very different.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Music Legends, or Just Passing Tragedy?

Sometimes I listen to the radio as I drive around town, trying to get someplace on time, or running errands.  The other day was April 5, the anniversary of both Kurt Cobain's suicide (1994), and Layne Staley's overdose (2002).  On the radio, there was a spirited debate on whether or not both Cobain and Staley should be considered and elevated to legendary game changing musician status, or if they were both just embarrassing rock and roll tragedies.

I want to make it very clear before I continue, I like both of these bands and respect their contributions to music.  Many artists now list Nirvana and Alice and Chains as influences, therefore, they must be considered legends.  However, the question is about individuals.  Let me break down the arguments for referring to these men as legends with a little bit about each, and the way both died.

Layne Staley fronted Alice and Chains, a band with such a new, distinct sound that birthed an entire genre of despair and darkness never before marketable in pop music.

Layne Staley was found several days after his death by the police in his apartment.  Staley's cause of death was determined to be a speedball (cocaine and heroine injected together).  Drug addiction and abuse is a well documented phenomenon in the music industry.  Actually, it is a pretty well known thing in most entertainment circles where wealth and fame comes and goes quickly.

Staley shares the death by speedball fate with many other well-known celebrities.  Chris Farley, John Belushi, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Brent Mydland (Grateful Dead), River Phoenix, Eric Snow (MLB pitcher), and even King George V (euthanized in 1936).  My point is, speedballs were notorious in 2002 as something that kills people.  Mitch Hedberg didn't get the message either.  I think we can chalk Staley's death up to stupid drug addict behavior...  an accident basically.

No one likes to see talent extinguished early.  Drug overdose, I think, is more forgivable than suicide for most people.  There are plenty of rock stars who have died prematurely from overdose, and also plenty who have not died, despite years of reckless drug use.  David Crosby, Ozzy, the  Toxic Twins, and Keith Richards all come to mind.  One thing to remember about Layne Staley is this...  even though he could have lived longer, it had seemed that he had already decided to slip into irrelevance.  Alice in Chains as a band could have been a working, touring, recording band between 1996 and 2002, but Layne Staley decided to hide and fall deeper into drug use.  He had gifts and chose to not use them, which could be less forgivable than suicide.  Although Staley did not kill himself in 1996, it seems as though he just decided to give up.

Kurt Cobain fronted Nirvana, a band that destroyed hair glam metal and ushered in the grunge alternative scene in the early '90s.  Vernon Reid of Living Colour states that Nirvana "changed the course of where music went".  The music was described as coming from many different places, good song writing when "no one was writing good songs anymore", according to producer Jack Endino.

Kurt Cobain went from a homeless heroin addict to rock god almost overnight when Nevermind hit the market on September 24, 1991.  Cobain had issues dealing with his new found fame, the public, media, addiction and depression.  He chose to end his life on April 5, 1994 by a self inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

This was no accident, as a suicide note found at the scene denotes premeditation.  This followed a month after an overdose in Munich, an intervention regarding his drug use, and a few instances of perceived suicidal behavior.  Based on this, I think we can conclude that Cobain also just gave up, in a more permenant fashion.  Cutting one's own life short by choice, is pretty unforgivable.  What frustrates most fans is the rumours of what Cobain may have had planned for future projects.  The follow up album to In Utero may have had a more blues/acoustic feel to it, there may have been a project with Michael Stipe from REM, how would Pat Smear's involvement as a second guitar player change the sound?

I believe the legacy of both of these men, and their bands, are tied to the Seattle grunge sound.  Did Nirvana truly change the pop music landscape on their own?  Was Alice in Chains as influential as the industry and fan base suggest?

The influence is undeniable.  However, what about the survivors?  There were plenty of other influential grunge scene musicians that did not die, or fall into drug induced irrelevance.  What about Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam?  They're the last Seattle based grunge band still playing, still producing records, and still touring.  Strong since their inception, Pearl Jam hasn't broken up, replaced key members, or even taken "hiatus" whatever that means.  What about Calvin Johnson, his unique punk fueled sound arguably influenced the entire Seattle scene at the time.  Mark Lanegan of the Screaming Trees, and Chris Cornell from Soundgarden have done a variety of different projects.  Also, it would be disrespectful, I think, to not mention the other band members.  Dave Grohl would go on to be a huge success with Foo Fighters, taking Pat Smear with him, and the rest of Alice in Chains proved that Layne Staley wasn't as necessary to the band as perceived.   These musicians have all been working in the industry successfully for years, and aren't hopelessly depressed, or addicts.

should have stayed with Tobi Vail?
In conclusion, based on how Kurt Cobain lived and how much he brought to the table musically and creatively, despite his self destructive behavior and nature of his death, I've decided that he is a tragic legend.
Battling depression and drug addiction sometimes is too much, and I think Cobain embodied much of what normal people suffering from similar things go through.  But, he didn't lock himself away for 6 years, he attempted to continue to live and make music until he decided it was impossible.

Layne Staley, however, even though his voice was remarkable, is not.  Alice and Chains, especially Jerry Cantrell, proved that Staley was not necessary for the band to reform with a new singer and continue.  In fact, one could argue that Staley held the band back from doing anything for 6 years while he rotted away in isolation.

Monday, April 2, 2012

They Call Me Mr. Tibbs!

I watched ESPN Sportscenter this morning, basically for highlights from the Celtics/Heat game from last night.  I saw the game, but sometimes I like to watch reactions to good games from commentators, and see which highlights they show.  Anyway, I realized, as I watched, that more often than not, superstars were referred to by shortened versions of their names or initials, instead of their last names (normal) or clever nicknames (cool).  This made me wonder what happened to modern sports writing.  Can no one coin a good nickname anymore?

KD goes around CP3...  sounds lame
What happened to clever nicknames for sports icons?  This isn't just basketball stars being shortchanged cool monikers.  Robert Griffin III, the newest Heisman winner, is referred to as RG3.  No one could come up with something clever for the Baylor athlete famous for the socks he wears?  RG3 is uninspired.

The NBA is notorious lately for branding their superstars by their initials and shortened versions of their actual name.  KG, KD, DWade, JKidd, CP3, AI, TMac, VC are all good examples.  The only player that has been nicknamed with his initials that is in anyway clever is Andre Kirilenko.  He is Russian an wears number 47.  So calling him AK47 is awesome.  Other than that...  come up with something better.  Even Jordan, one of the top 3 best players in the game's history, is often referred to as MJ, even when Air Jordan and His Airness have been used before.  

One may argue that Jeremy Lin started some clever branding.  But Linsanity sounds an awful lot like Vinsanity...  Vince Carter was a sensation in the '90s.  Once again, modern broadcasting can't be original.

Chocolate Thunder and Dr J Have a Word...  now THATS a caption!
What happened to the days of broadcasting nicknames like Chocolate Thunder, the Hick from French Lick, The Houdini of the Hardwood, Black Magic?  I like that Walt Frazier's nickname was Clyde.  I like that Wilt Chamberlain was called the Big Dipper, because he had to duck to get through doors.  I like that Magic Johnson is still referred to as Magic Johnson, long after he has retired and become an analyst.  No one calls him Ervin.  No one talks about Julius Erving either, but everyone knows Dr. J.

Currently there are a few NBA stars that have clever, well coined nicknames.  Like Kobe Bryant is the Black Mamba, and Paul Pierce is the Truth.  I think a first step would be for players to embrace the clever nicknames.  Maybe not as enthusiastically as the Shaqtus/Big Aristotle/Big Diesel/Superman/Big Shamrock, who gave himself most of those nicknames.

There is a similar post and project here on Both Teams Played Hard.  It has a list of current and former nicknames for players, all better than the cheap initials used primarily for players that have slightly less well known tags.
Pierce wears his nickname with pride