The Music Blog: That Material Girl

Some things wear you down, and some things wear you out. This is in music as it is in anything else, maybe more so. One of the things I really love about music is how it transforms the world around it. Take my favorite genre for example, Grunge. It was something to walk into a department store in Texas in late August with temperatures in the 100’s and see back to school sales that included flannel outfits just like all those Seattle rockers. It’s more than genres though, what I really love is how some artists reach iconic status. Elvis, Hendrix, Michael, Prince, The Beatles, The Stones have all reached a status that no other artist can be compared to them. It’s fascinating to watch, to experience.

MTV changed the music world. It ended careers because music became a visual art as much as a musical one. If you were not photogenic enough, if you were overweight, unattractive then your career never got off the ground. It made careers too, a great video could significantly enhance album sales or get a career started and in some cases it could help make you an icon.

I, like anyone my age, in the early to mid 80’s when I was home would have MTV on instead of the radio. It was the best place to hear new music. Like radio video hits were played every hour so. If you had a favorite video there was a good chance you would see it and not have to wait long. Remember how this opened some things wear you out and some things wear you down. The first time I saw her and her video I thought it was a train wreck and laughed. I wondered if she were trying to be funny. She dressed strangely, not weird strange, just different, all those bracelets, the way she wore her hair. Every day it played every hour and every time I watched, and it wasn’t long before I wasn’t laughing. She was cute, and she did have something even if at the time I might have been unwilling to share that with my basketball buddies.

The song was Lucky Star and the artist Madonna.

It didn’t take her long. Pretty soon you could see girls on campus who dressed just like her or some version of how she dressed. Girls wore more bracelets for sure. Madonna had other songs that followed and all of them were hits. She took the 80’s by storm, grabbed hold and never relinquished it. You might not like her, either personally or musically but you can’t ignore her and she deserves respect. There has been no one ever to come close to her and what she did, what she continues to do almost 40 years later. That alone commands respect. Not many last that long and still stay relevant. In 2019 she released the album Madame X.

I have never thought she was gorgeous but she has always been able to give me those funny feelings. I thought I was a bit beyond feeling that way and then the movie Die Another Day came out. It’s a James Bond film and Madonna not only sang the theme but also had a small role. When she turns around in that movie my heart skips a beat and it doesn’t matter how many times I have seen it. Don’t think the director didn’t know what she could do and would do. It was calculated. She has always been one of those wow girls to me. When I was in college I wanted a girl who had that look. I had a friend who I attended social work classes with and she made me a party tape, just a 90 minute cassette with 2 songs from different artists and Madonna was on that cassette. She laughed at me when I made a face but later when we were over her house listening to records I told her I loved Madonna. She just had something about her, that material girl.

Long ago I stopped worrying about whether people loved the music I did. I used to call these guilty pleasures and even recently used that term and then realized I am not guilty about loving any of the music I have. I bought it all for a reason, to listen to. There are some that I discovered were not as good as I originally thought, some I just got tired of but feeling guilty about liking them I just don’t. I bought Swing Out Sister because I found myself singing the song Breakout all the time. I bought Madonna because I loved the song Papa Don’t Preach and once I did that well it opened the door to buying a little more. Then I just decided I wanted all of it. Now I don’t love every song. I don’t have to. I don’t love every Beatle song. I mean seriously Revolution #9? There are bunches of Rolling Stones songs I just don’t like but they are still the greatest rock and roll band to ever walk the planet. I love Elvis. There are many who don’t. That does not make him less of an icon. I am shocked when I run across people who don’t like, in fact don’t love the Beatles but they are still iconic. Your like or dislike, your love or hatred of an artist doesn’t make them less iconic. If you read my blog all two of you then you just had an a-ha moment. Yea Mike what about Clapton? I like several of his songs, even like a few of his albums but I don’t like him as a person or even think he is that great. It doesn’t make him less of an icon. So however you feel about Madonna doesn’t actually matter much in the big scheme of things. Madonna is an icon.

Mike out

The Music Blog: Evan Dando

I have said it before, Grunge and the British Invasion did more for music than anything else. Both introduced us to bands we otherwise would never have heard and kept them from being relegated to local club obscurity or they would have remained underground struggling to exist in the mercenary world of big labels and 80’s hair bands. For goodness sake people we could still be listening to Warrant and liking it.

Bands and artists began popping up everywhere in the early 90’s and many had been around putting out albums for a few years. Some would have a single moment of glory, one great song and others would have a great album with a few. Others would put out multiple albums and their fame would last, at least for a while. Some are still popular today. There would be horrific deaths from suicide and drug addiction which would damage rock and roll and actually make labels fear signing bands from Seattle. No one wanted to sign the next tragedy.

At first glance or even a second look the Lemonheads might not be a big band to you. I came across them the way I have come across a lot of bands I love; completely by accident. I bought It’s a Shame About Ray shortly after it was released. I had no idea what they sounded like, who they were. They had yet to have a big hit on the radio. In fact the first song of I heard on the radio was Confetti which is on that album but they had a bigger hit song, a cover of Mrs. Robinson which was not on the original release but added to the album after it became a hit. It’s a Shame About Ray was not the band’s first album. This band from Boston had struggled mostly being heard on college radio and then Grunge happened and opened the door to any band anywhere alternative.

In the beginning the band was about three guys but it quickly centered around only one, Evan Dando. Dando was the principal song writer, the singer. Dando has a quirky, free spirited, fun loving personality which you can hear in his songs, in the interviews with him. He was always smiling. The songs are quirky, Confetti, Rudderless, Alison’s Starting to Happen and the title track. It’s a Shame About Ray brought Dando instant rock stardom and he seemed perfect for the roll, still does. Rock and roll has always had characters and Dando fit that mold. He freely admitted to liking drugs but denied having any problem. Eventually he would. There was also the quirky relationship with Julianna Hatfield. Were they a couple or were they not? Both denied it, saying they were just friends, collaborators. Turns out, that’s exactly what they were, friends and remain so to this day.

The Lemonheads followed up on the success of It’s a Shame About Ray with the album Come On Feel and it paid immediate dividends with the song Into Your Arms and follow up singles Big Gay Heart and the Great Big No. Both albums are the very height of their popularity. Dando had it all, great personality, free spirit, good looks and one hell of a great singing voice. He has the perfect range that rock singers dream about.

In 1997 the Lemonheads, aka Evan Dando went on hiatus. There had been declining album sales and the toll of the road, drugs and everything that came with rock stardom just reached a breaking point. In 2006 Dando came back and has put out a few more Lemonheads records. He is a wonderful performer whether you see the band or just him in an acoustic setting.

There are a lot of reasons why I post and share the music I listen to. There are a lot of reasons why I blog on a select group of them. Believe it or not, selecting topics for me to write about is something I think about a great deal. I really enjoy reminding you about bands you may have forgotten about, or introducing you to bands you may have never heard. To me, that’s one of the real joys of music and collecting it and why I don’t just stick the things I have in a closet. I play everything I own. Some I hate (Zappa) some I love like the Lemonheads. They were an important band to me and I can remember driving around with my mom and listening to it with her because she always listened to the music I was listening to. Listening to It’s a Shame About Ray makes me feel good every time it comes around. I have nothing but fun, fond memories of that time and of that band.

So if you have never heard of them before or if you are not sure or can’t remember, buckle up. If you don’t like them, oh well at least I don’t have 10 albums of their music you will have to slog through.

I give you The Lemonheads

Mike out

The Music Blog: Zeppelin

I guess it was inevitable. Sometime in the last ten years or so I began to forgive. I didn’t forget. I just forgave. I had enough musical grudges and it just wasn’t worth carrying around another. Led Zeppelin simply had too many songs from my junior high and high school years to make it practical and while it was a similar grudge to the one I have with the douchebag it lacked the depth of anger and disgust. Technically they had not done anything wrong, or had they?

Since I graduated high school in 1981 it’s not a reach for you to see that the music of Led Zeppelin colored my Junior High and High School years, my formative years when it comes to much of the music I love, how open I am to new groups and new genres. All of this originated from those years. The underground stuff I got from college but my well-formed attitudes towards what was good rock and roll and what was bad rock and roll developed in those years. While my tastes have matured and there are many more bands that have importance to me, many of my favorite bands are 70’s bands.

I never loved Led Zeppelin, certainly not the way many people did. I didn’t hate them either. I didn’t have every record but I did have a couple. Listening to the rock stations of the day you could not avoid Led Zeppelin, but generally speaking they were not a band I changed the channel on. I did not wail, threaten to cut my wrists or refuse to go to school out of grief when John Bonham died. Led Zeppelin was not that important to me. The bands and artists who I would grieve over were still well beyond the horizon. Zeppelin had quite a few songs which received regular airplay and quite a few songs that I loved. It was and still is impossible to hate the song Kashmir. My son still sings the song Whole Lotta Love just the way I do because he heard me sing it that way, which is complete with sound effects. The first Led Zeppelin song I fell in love with was not Stairway to Heaven, it was Over the Hills and Far Away. So the first album I bought from Led Zeppelin was not IV, or even the debut but Houses of the Holy. I now have all Zeppelin on either vinyl or cd but back in the day the only other album I had was Presence because of the song Nobody’s Fault But Mine, which later would prove ironic.

As I said they were never my favorite band. I liked a few songs. I recognized the greatness of Bonham but I have never liked Robert Plant’s vocals. I am just not that crazy about him and his solo work has reinforced that opinion. I always thought based on nothing at all that Jimmy Page was terribly overrated but I couldn’t tell you why I felt that way. What I can say is that I don’t think or believe that any longer. I see him now as an innovator but that doesn’t really change my opinion of the band.

It was after I graduated college with a pesky bachelor’s degree that I began to be exposed to more and more music. The Blues, that’s what I dove into. I bought everything blues. If it had blues in the description I bought it and then I started realizing over a long slow time period the weight of what I was seeing and more importantly what I was hearing. I won’t go into great detail again about my beliefs of what blues music is and is not. What I saw were a whole lot of white artists many of them not even American calling themselves blues men or being described as bluesmen many with the word great thrown in there for good measure. Blues is uniquely American and while many will say the blues ain’t nothing but a good man feeling bad that isn’t true. It was born in terror, born in defiance, born in a hopelessness that no white man could possibly understand, especially a damn Englishman. They can play the notes but they just can’t go THERE.

In this discovery of the blues I came across a song on a compilation by Blind Willie Johnson. I didn’t see the title I heard the song and then I looked at the title. It’s Nobody’s Fault But mine. I pulled the album Presence out Side 2 first song Nobody’s Fault But Mine (Page-Plant). It’s not the same exact song, but then it is, that chorus. Now the song is a Public Domain song but my question then just like my question now is why not give that credit, why not have it in your liner notes why not tell the world where you got it. Nope. Page-Plant wrote that song its right there on the album. Do you really think they wrote the line a big legged woman ain’t got no soul? That’s a line in another song that they stole. They stole liberally from an African American culture that they neither care about or understood. So I stopped listening to Led Zeppelin. They were not the only ones. White Englishmen still do this. White Americans do this so why do I punish one band? I don’t. Whether I listen or don’t listen to Led Zeppelin affects them not at all. Bonham is gone. Led Zeppelin will never perform again.

Their music is different than that of Clapton, aka the douchebag. I like some Clapton songs too. I don’t like Clapton the person. I don’t need to rehash it here. Some of my forgiveness of Led Zeppelin came about because of social media. Jimmy Page just seems like a good guy. He seems so humble and I have never really heard him say a harsh thing. I don’t like Robert Plant’s voice all that much but he is human, oh is he human. Whatever they did or didn’t do I can’t find it in me to be angry and maybe that has as much to do with me as it does them. If Led Zeppelin had a stronger place in my heart then maybe I would feel differently. They didn’t and I don’t. It’s hard to stay angry and it requires a lot of energy and I have a musical grudge that I won’t let go of. Heck I even have a couple or three or five. I am not passionate enough about this one. So put your earplugs in. It’s time to go back to the 70’s and crank some Zeppelin.

Mike out

The Music Blog: Oh Yeah, You and What Army?

I have never really been a joiner ever in my life. In high school the only club I was involved with was Spanish Club. I played football, wasn’t very good but I was determined to stick it out and letter and I did, about the only meaningful thing I did. I always kept my grades at a certain level, not ever wanting to be in the National Honor Society which probably took more energy than actually being in the National Honor Society constantly trying to figure out what grade I needed in each class so that I could stay out. I attended a few Fellowship of Christian Athletes meetings, but always felt like I didn’t belong because I wasn’t really a believer or a church attendee and because it was the same group of guys who spent their time picking on people like me and generally being assholes. I could only put up with so much hypocrisy.

Some time in my 8th grade year Pete moved into my neighborhood. It was a local move and I knew him. With the move though came new friends. Pete had two step sisters that were gorgeous so going to his house just so you might say hello to one of them was a good thing to do. I never said hello, too shy and they were way over my skis. Pete lived in a hastily built room in the garage with no insulation. It was freezing in the winter time and burning up in the summer time. It always seemed to me as if he wasn’t really welcome in his own house but you could always hang out in Pete’s room coming through the side door. It was around this time that the group I hung out with started to drink on weekends, usually splitting a six pack of tall boys which usually was Schlitz. Yea yea I know but it was cheap and we were not rolling in the dough. Pete always got sick even if he drank just one beer.

Pete and his friends loved Kiss. I wasn’t into them at all until I started hanging out with them, then it sort of became something you had to do. I really got into them and strangely enough Pete started to be into other music. So one day while sitting around he asked me if I wanted his Kiss records. Naturally I said I did but if he changed his mind I would give them back. So I acquired two albums Kiss Alive, and Love Gun. I still have those albums. I listened to them all of the time and acquired a few more on my own.

For a short time Kiss was one of my bands. I loved them. For awhile as the intro to their concerts said, they were indeed the hottest band in the land. It was the show too more than the albums; that incredible stage show. They were masters of the four minute rock song churning them out. They were not sophisticated, not deep just rock and roll played hard and fast. They didn’t have the greatest musicians but in their heyday there was always the question of who the best was, Gene, Paul, Ace or Peter. I was always an Ace fan, and once he was gone I stopped listening but truthfully I was already moving on. Perhaps they were a rite of passage band or maybe just one of those trendy things we had to love.

In the early 80’s with the makeup off they released one of my all-time favorite songs and certainly my favorite Kiss song Lick it Up. Truthfully I still like much of their music; Love Gun, I Wanna Rock and Roll All Night, Black Diamond, Shout it Out Loud, Detroit Rock City and a host of others. Kiss has their place in rock and roll history. Are they the greatest band ever? Of course not. The Rolling Stones will always be the greatest rock band ever but music needed a band like Kiss, still does, We always need bands that play to the masses who play music you can take in easily and even get buddies together to play it in your garage.

Kiss will never again be my favorite band but they will always have a place in my heart. For a brief moment in time they were the greatest band ever. Whenever they come around on the playlist I drift back in time 40 years or so to Pete and other friends, to two step sisters that I wished had noticed me or maybe if I had just had enough nerve they could have really abused my ego by the cold shoulder of rejection. The arguments rattling around my head, Gene is the best, no Paul and no again it’s got to be Ace. It was deep philosophical questions under the influence of Schlitz beer “Do you think Gene really breathes fire?” No, you’re a moron for thinking that. “Yea but that blood is real right?” Sigh. “Do you think they walk around in that make-up?” Yea dude they do, all day every day it never comes off.

That’s the beauty of music. We will always make heroes of our rock stars, give them supernatural powers and believe the world begins and ends with them. Music is powerful, takes us back not always to good times but mostly. Regardless, if you are like me, one whose memories all revolve and are catalogued musically then music of all sorts is no doubt special to you and always will be, even the hottest band in the land.

For the record I never joined the Kiss Army either. Did you really have to ask?

But Ace was the coolest.

Mike out