I can almost sense you staring at the title of this and wondering if you know who the person is. I am guessing most of you won’t and that’s okay. I have a friend who seems to think it’s her life mission to know every band member of every band and she throws the names around like she knows them personally. I have a few bands that I deeply love some still active some gone and most of these bands I know at least most of the members. Some of that comes from when I was a kid. A good example is the band KISS. They were an important band to me in my youth for a while but while I can name the classic line up of Gene, Paul, Peter and Ace I cannot name any member who has been in the band other than them. Ace was still the best.
So it doesn’t surprise me that you would know Jim Ellison. It also would not surprise me at all if you didn’t know his band Material Issue. We think of bands who made it and those who don’t and some of you even throw a few other categories in there, tragic bands, one hit wonders but the truth is not all bands are created equal. I have some bands I genuinely love who made it big, think Pearl Jam. There are other bands I love a lot and some I think might have even been better bands, like Urge Overkill or Screaming Trees but it would be ridiculous to suggest that those bands are equal even though they play roughly the same kind of music.
Artists paint, or sculpt, or write stories or songs because they have an urge a drive to do so. I have no doubt that there are likely some brilliant songwriters out there who will die without being discovered without making it, or maybe they sell a song and it makes it to someone’s album and that album never does well or the song is never a single. All artists have dreams, maybe that’s what separates us from everyone else; the kinds of dreams we have. Everyone wants to be paid for the work they do. Think about your job, do you love it. I hope so, but if you don’t get paid for it you will find another. It’s why social workers do what they do, they love it and they do get paid but not their worth. Some of that you can live with. I have always missed the sincere thank you’s I got from people or knowing I made a difference even if it was only for a day or even a brief moment. Now as a writer I am going to write. I have dreams though. I would love to write a best-selling novel, have it be made into a movie have people talk about it and yes receive a lot of money for the work. Of course I would. It’s always a part of that drive, but I write anyway knowing it’s unlikely I am going to be published. I would love to have a successful blog something that more than two people read and have those people be people I don’t know that leave me comments about how much they enjoyed it, how meaningful it was how it made them happy or sad or cry or want more because it was that good. Hopefully that makes sense to you. One thing that drives me nuts is when people tell me to write for me. Of course I write for me, I write because that drives tell me to. I don’t have to share it at all but I do. It’s that sharing, that sending something to a publisher or magazine like stepping on to a ledge and leaping. You hope someone reads it, you hope they catch you. When they don’t it’s a horrible feeling, like being hit in the gut. I don’t write just for me. I write for you. I want you to smile and this blog is about striking a chord, pulling an old memory off a dusty shelf and seeing it still resonates with you, still matters.
Jim Ellison was the ringleader, guitarist, lead vocalist and songwriter of a pop rock trio out of the Chicago area. They had a little punk to them for sure as well. They wrote quirky 3 to 4 minute rock songs and began making a name for themselves in the Midwest. Like many bands they released an EP and then were lucky enough to get their big break and were signed to a major label where they released International Pop Overthrow and scored a hit with the song Valerie Loves Me. Now there is a pretty decent chance if you were into the post grunge alternative scene and listened to a lot of radio at that time that you heard that song and probably a couple of other of their songs. They had a few hits. Critics loved them, their fans loved them only there just never seemed to be enough of their fans for them to sell enough records to stay with a label. So they were dropped and another label signed them. In 1992 they released Destination Universe which was better than the first album but had poorer sales. It did have the song What Girls Want, which I probably need to listen more carefully to and take notes but that’s for a different blog. Again they were dropped and signed by still another label. In 1994 they released what is absolutely their best album Freak City Soundtrack and the song Kim the Waitress was a fairly big hit. There isn’t a bad song on that album. Personally I love the song Goin’ Thru Your Purse which is about a man who goes through his girlfriend’s purse and he is apologizing while he is doing it. Regardless the band was dropped again.
In 1996 Jim Ellison had a break up of a long term relationship. That coupled with the lack of success despite critics loving the band is suspected to have been too much and he committed suicide. While he left a suicide note the contents of that note were never released by police and family which I believe is a good thing. Sometimes fans or even just nosey people believe they have the right to know everything, even the most intimate time in a person’s life; their death. I always get a little upset when I see that suicide letters have been released because it’s not our business whether that’s your neighbor or Kurt Cobain or even Jim Ellison. They deserve our compassion and their families deserve peace, whatever peace they can manage.
When Material Issue comes around on my playlist I am always a little happy and a little sad. I miss that band. I miss a lot of bands and a lot of artists. I believe Jim Ellison and Material Issue deserved better but we don’t always get what we deserve. The nice thing about music is that it’s never too late to fall in love with a band. Material Issue released an album after Jim’s death Telecommando, songs they were recording and working on. You can still find their albums. Honestly, if you like power bands like the Ramones, or the Smithereens or Urge Overkill there is a very good chance you would like Material Issue. I would like to think Jim would appreciate a few fans or even just to be remembered. As I have written before sometimes I feel like it’s one of the reasons why I am here; to remember and to share the music that I love so much in the hopes that you might love it too, I relate to Jim pretty well. No matter how hard I work on this blog or wish that people would read it they don’t and so it’s not too hard to believe that you just don’t matter and that what you do does not matter. I know it does but it never hurts to have someone say I really loved that.
So here’s to Jim Ellison gone way too soon and way too long.
Jim Ellison 1964-1996