The Music Blog: Regret

I have long stated and I truly believe that one of the most influential bands of all time are the Sex Pistols. They had a short life span, less than three years, recorded only one album and never played to a crowd more that 500 or so. They were vilified, made out to be an enemy and inspired hundreds of youth worldwide to pick up instruments and play their heart out. They are often overlooked when talking about the great rock and roll bands, quite honestly the Clash is seen as a much more influential band yet few recognize that without the Sex Pistols the Clash doesn’t exist. They too were influenced and inspired by the Pistols.

So too was the band Warsaw. Wait, what? I heard every one of you do a discount double take. Who the hell is Warsaw?

In 1976 3 friends from Salford, England saw the Sex Pistols in Manchester England. Stephen Morris, Peter Hook and Bernard Sumner decided that they would form a band and so they began without even knowing how to play an instrument but that’s what the Sex Pistols were about. The three decided they needed a front man and asked a local youth they all knew. It took some convincing but soon Ian Curtis became their lead singer and lyricist. They were soon playing a few gigs in the area and even made an early recording. Their name and early artwork using Nazi symbolism used on a single convinced the band to change their name and they were soon Joy Division. Over the next few years they began building a solid base of fans mostly in the Manchester area and released several singles and the album Unknown Pleasures. They began touring more and more in England and the wider Europe and Curtis was stricken with an adult onset of Epilepsy. He was also married, with a child on the way and carrying on an intense friendship and possible sexual affair with another woman. It all depends on which version of the story you believe. The band set to working on their next album Closer and their schedule only grew more intense. Curtis began having more and more seizures some of which occurred on stage and began sliding into a deep depression related to the personal battles he was fighting. He seemed to be looking forward to the upcoming American tour but he and his wife had split. Ian Curtis hung himself on May 18, 1980 ending his promising life and the dreams of a band. Long before the four bandmates had made a decision to never carry on as Joy Division if someone left the band.

Fast forward please. That’s what we used to do in the old cassette days. In 1993 my world was pretty good. I was having fun, still young but old enough to have learned some lessons. I was dating a girl that by every standard should have been perfect for me.  She was cute, could be attentive, very attentive, had a really easy going nature that made everything seem so easy going and nice. She never got too disappointed, appreciated small things as well as big things and for whatever reason we just could not connect. We did okay, there just was something missing and as usual I was pretty sure that what was missing was somewhere inside of me. One night we had been out and we had been having a good time when a song came on the radio and I said “There, there, that’s the song I am looking for. Who is that band?” She didn’t know and she said we were close to Sound Warehouse and they were open so off we went to find out. We got there about 10 minutes to closing. There were still a few customers in the store and I started asking one of the sales guys about this song. He shook his head and said you’re going to have to sing it. Now as I have said I am kind of shy but if I am going to make a fool out of myself I am going to go big, I am going to make it memorable. It’s why I don’t sing Karaoke or anything that requires me to do something in public. Once I know I have humiliated myself I will just go for it. So I start singing and while I am singing I start dancing. The sales guy is laughing, the girl is laughing hysterically and I am singing so everyone in that store can hear:

I would like to find a place I can call my own

Have a conversation on my telephone

Wake up every day, that would be a start

I would not complain ‘bout my wounded heart

Now at this point I play air guitar dud da duh da and the sales guy had all he could stand and said, “New Order, New Order,” pointing to a rack of cds. And that’s how I bought my first New Order cd. It seems weird that it took me that long to discover them. They had been around for several years, but of course I live in Texas and there just were not radio stations that played that kind of music. Regret is actually my second favorite song from the band but it will always have a special place in my heart. Regardless from that point on New Order became one of my very favorite bands and have remained so to this day.

Flashback to 1980 please. Oh crap you went too far, okay a little forward, bam there you go. Remember those three friends reeling in the aftermath of their friend and bandmate Ian Curtis’ death? Well they reformed and started rehearsing and playing music and while it felt awkward playing Joy Division songs and working on new material with rotating vocals to see who could do the job they stumbled forward and eventually changed their name to New Order. They would add a keyboardist Gillian Gilbert who later married Stephen Morris.  They began building a new repertoire of music slowly rebuilding their new band name and recording. They hit it big in 1983 with the song Blue Monday.  By then they had clearly settled that Bernard Sumner would be their vocalist. Their history was defined by poor management, poor financial decisions and horrible infighting mostly between Peter Hook and Bernard Sumner. They would have large gaps between albums and claim they were done, yet be dragged back by financial demands to record just one more album. Eventually they restructured, and relieved themselves of horrible debt, their longtime manager died but the damage they did to themselves was harder to repair.

They are the epitome of English bands from the Manchester area that recorded singles and albums separately. Most American and even English bands record albums and release singles from those albums. It makes buying some albums a joy as there may end up being four of five hit songs on one album. The singles that were hits for New Order weren’t on an album until the greatest hits album was released. It ended up being a monster album for New Order to have all the singles on one album.

I have always thought that New Order was a better band than Joy Division because I think Sumner is a better vocalist although he is not nearly as dynamic as the often bizarre Ian Curtis. Sumner’s problem is that he is just too arrogant to see any other way other than his own. New Order fans now fall into two camps the Sumner camp or the Hook camp. I might be a rarity but I think they are better together than they are apart although I side with Hook. Sumner fired Hook in 2007 and for years there were legal battles between Hook and the band that were for the most part amicable. Most of these are all over but maybe one day the two will sit and talk things out and pave a way for Hook to return. Me, I will just keep listening to the band I love, and loving the old songs and exploring the new ones as long as they keep putting albums out I will keep buying them although I doubt I will ever dance and sing in front of a sales guy again and we should all be thankful for that.

One last thing, Regret remains one of my all-time favorite songs but only my second favorite New Order song. Crystal is my favorite. It’s a crank up the volume song but we’ll get there when we start exploring the music.

Mike out

The Music Blog: Cuttin’ Heads

Imagine if you will. Hmm, sounds like the Twilight Zone. Seriously imagine if you will that you are a blues man working in the delta or maybe Memphis or even Chicago. It’s the 1940’s or maybe early 50’s. You have worked hard, like every blues man before you from Charley Patton to Robert Johnson to Big Bill Broonzy. You have played every dive juke joint on every back road imaginable. You have seen knife fights, even been in a couple. You have laid people low with broken bottles and you have the scars to prove it. Now you have left those smaller joints behind and are playing to bigger audiences. You have a good band, people like to dance to your music and they spend their money. You may or may not have had a couple of small recordings, regional things that made you less than a hundred dollars. Tonight you expect a big payday. It’s a big crowd and there has already been a band out to warm things up for you. You are just about ready to go on when the owner taps you on the shoulder and tells you the bad news. You have been bumped. You are mad and getting ready to pull a blade out when you see the band that is there now. You know the singer, his guitar is out and you get it. You just got you head cut. Cuttin’ heads it’s what you could do to make money when you had a name for yourself. It’s how blues men survived when times were hard. It was part of the business and everyone did it on some scale or another unless you were on the bottom of the heap.

Some while back I had two blog entries fairly close together where I explained who my top bluesmen were. I have three that seem to rotate at the very top so I call them 1a 1b and 1c. Previously I covered Howlin’ Wolf and John Lee Hooker. For a long time though my third guy held the position of number one, and sometimes as I do with the others I think that he might deserve to be at the top by himself. They are all that good. They have all had a turn. When I hear his voice, that incredible distinctive voice it’s difficult to think that anyone ever could be as good.

He was mostly raised by his grandmother after his mother died. His famous nickname or at least part of it came from her as she tagged him at a young age because he was always playing in the muddiest stream possible. So she nicknamed him Muddy and years later he added Waters because it seemed right.

He was born in either 1913 or 1915 in either Rolling Fork, Mississippi or Jug’s Corner, Mississippi. His given name was McKinley Morganfield. He learned to sing in his unique style from church and bought his first guitar for $2.50. His early influences were Son House and Robert Johnson. He developed a style that was more up tempo after moving to Chicago to look for a break. That break came when two brothers, Leonard and Phil Chess put everything they had in a record label and studio and so Chess records was born. Muddy Waters would record some of his biggest hits with them including Hoochie Coochie Man, I Just Wanna Make Love to You, and I’m Ready. To most blues aficionados he is considered the Father of the Chicago Blues.

Waters saw a real resurgence to blues music and his in particular with the British Invasion. All they could do was rave on the American Blues they had all fallen in love with. For the first time this seemed to give blues music an audience that was wider but it also caused problems. It was confusing to be loved by a white audience but hated in their hometowns by many of the same people. In the 70s this continued in a twisted way with blues stars sometimes dependent on a white artist to recognize them and give them an audience. On the one hand it brought them a bigger piece of the financial pie but it cost them part of their soul. It happened to Muddy a lot and many times he found himself having to introduce white stars because they were just more important than the artists that created the music.

I discovered Muddy Waters early in my blues journey as you might expect. I have always found his delivery of his songs magnificent and stunning. Mannish Boy will hit you right in the gut with just its raw power.  He died on my birthday in 1983from complications from the cancer he had been fighting. What a life though, from his early days opening for Big Bill Broonzy to cutting heads with his band before he made it big, to his work with Chess Muddy Waters became a legend his name only drawing instant recognition. So he is at the top of my personal blues list along with John Lee and his friend Howlin’ Wolf. I can’t think of a better 3 to be at the top of any list.

If you don’t know his music well then it’s a good time to check him out. He is well worth your time. Open some good bourbon and bring a long a friend and give it enough volume to make it special.

Mike out

The Music Blog: Shout at the Devil

In cognitive theory you learn that each person has their own filing system, unique to themselves. This filing system dictates how a person will respond to certain events or actions in their life. It tells us how memories are formed and what might trigger memories. Many of my memories are centered around music which really should not surprise anyone.

A few weeks ago I heard a song on a compilation cd that triggered a memory, a powerful memory and one I had not thought of since the early 80s. It was a bit surprising as I had heard the song a hundred times and never once had that particular memory. What is really strange is that a few weeks from now I will gather with friends for our next vinyl party and I have a sub-theme to my selected songs maybe because of this memory or maybe as a result of just looking for songs. Some of you might believe that life is a series of choices all leading to becoming something, a search for some mystical thing. I don’t mean to dive into the deep end here but a lot of my upcoming theme centers around becoming. We become a man, become a social worker, become a father or mother and the list goes on.

I cannot remember the when, although I know the approximate time frame. I had just bought a 1984 Trans Am. So it could have been late 1983 or early 1984. That’s probably the least important thing about the memory. I had a small group of friends from high school. When we graduated we all went separate directions. I went to school. Another of my friends faced his sexuality and explored that. My best friend got married shortly after graduation to his high school sweetheart. They are still married. He worked and went to school part time. I went over to my friend’s house, chatted with him showed him my new car. I wanted to go run around and I was wanting to buy an album (actually a cassette.) It was pretty cool when my other friend also showed up and we went out together. We ended up at Target and I bought this cassette. There was a little bit of the old horseplay but not much which was understandable. We piled back in my car and I put my new music in and cranked it. Less than one song later they wanted to turn the music down and wanted to go home. They had other things going on. I said my goodbyes a little later and realized how far we had drifted. Where once we had all been on a path together now we were on different paths and I realized that my path wasn’t better or more special than theirs just different.

It might seem strange that a song like Motley Crue’s Shout at the Devil would engender so much in me. It isn’t the music or the lyrics though that reminded me of my friends. Life happens. It moves whether we are sitting still or moving rapidly towards a goal. Life happens whether you are rich or you are poor, faithful or skeptic. As I said I had never had that memory before with any song now it seems unlikely I will be able to hear it and not think of it. That’s both the power of music and the power of memories.

I first heard the album Shout at the Devil in the small town I worked in during the summer, weekend and holidays. A young guy I sometimes rode around with was in love with the song Knock em Dead Kid, which admittedly is a great song. He would drive around for hours listening to that one song which is probably why people were not riding around with him. Just a thought.

Motley Crue just seemed to appeal to my metal loving half, the music driving and Mick’s guitar which I have always thought is incredibly underrated. He is the drive for that band, the wall of sound that emanates. It wasn’t the make up either or the spandex and leather or even the big hair. It was just this band and like other bands no matter whether they like each other or hate each other together there is something mgical about them. This isn’t a comparison but they remind me of the Rolling Stones. Mick Jagger isn’t the greatest singer, and until recently Keith Richards was rarely viewed as some great guitarist. Charlie Watts has one of the smallest drum kits ever for a drummer in a rock and roll band. Whoever the second guitarist has been when you put all their pieces together its special. Motley Crue is the same way to me.

I have all sorts of musical heroes and I have several just plain old heroes. Nikki Sixx is the only one I have in both categories. No he isn’t Ulysses Grant but he is heroic. His story is compelling, a heroin addict who found recovery and somehow through that process became this completely different person, a better musician, a better husband and a better father, but mostly a better human. You might focus  solely on his flaws but I recognize that we are all flawed. It’s how we handle that. I would say that Nikki Sixx has handled his flaws better than most. If you don’t know his story then go find out as it’s really easy.

I could go through the songs and the albums but you get the point right. The real story is not my love of Motley Crue, or Nikki Sixx. No it’s the memory of so long ago and the realization that my life was changing and my friends’ lives were changing and where once we were on the same path now we had drifted.  I didn’t go back or if I did it was only briefly. I lost touch went out with new friends and found new passions including a profession. Theirs did too. It is that part that makes me sad, the process of what was once so valuable to me becoming changed. I didn’t consciously go through all of this when it was happening that is the point of retrospection to gain an understanding of some past event. It is always the little things that eat at us.

Meanwhile, I am still becoming.

Mike out

The Music Blog: Andy

Sometime in the late 80’s or maybe early in the year 1990, I had a friend who I occasionally played basketball with and would run into from time to time. I was working a lot and the amount of ball I was playing was less and less but I still liked to run some games now and again. It’s hard even to call this guy a friend because quite honestly I don’t remember his name. He was a squirrely thin guy who could really play and was always quiet and never talked trash. In fact he didn’t talk much at all. He loved music though and he had decided that it was some sacred duty to show me the changing world of rock music since at the time about 90% of what I listened to was R&B. So almost every time I would run into him he would hand me a cassette tape of music almost all of it underground. This is how I discovered bands like the Pixies, Sonic Youth, the Descendants and a host of other bands some good many of them strange.

So a few times we went together to Deep Ellum in Dallas where there was a rebirth of music and clubs. We saw a lot of live bands and I am sure I may have even seen some of the early grunge bands that toured as Seattle was just about to explode. It’s in one of these clubs that I heard that Andrew Wood had died. I thought he was some local kid or maybe a friend they all knew and didn’t think much of it. Over the course of the next year Andrew’s name kept surfacing. Nirvana hit it big. My friend Eric had to play it for me and from that point on I bought few R&B albums. Pearl Jam followed Nirvana as did Soundgarden who I had already heard. Other bands followed like Smashing Pumpkins, Concrete Blonde, Cowboy Junkies, the Pixies all now had willing ears to listen to their music.  Suddenly music was amazing.

Then in 1991 a song hit the airwaves that had been released almost a year earlier. The video was so cool because it featured members from both Soundgarden and Pearl Jam. The band was Temple of the Dog and the song of course was Hunger Strike. I wondered why these two bands would join forces for an album and then learned it was a tribute album; a tribute to Andrew Wood. I really wanted to know who Andrew Wood was and why he was so important.

Andrew Wood was born January 8, 1966 in Columbus, Mississippi. Later the family moved to Bainbridge Island, Washington near Seattle. He was the youngest of three boys. To say that he was raised in a dysfunctional family is a bit of an understatement. There were conflicts and rampant alcohol abuse and drug addiction. Andy began using drugs as early as age thirteen perhaps earlier. One of the many things you learn in a social work education is family systems theory. Andy became the entertainer of the family, the one who made everyone laugh and so he learned at an early age to always be on and his personality even at a young age was big. He would often sit in his room and have pretend concerts or pretend to interview himself as a big rock star.

In 1980 Andy formed the band Malfunkshun with his brother Kevin and friend Regan Hagar. They began playing shows in Seattle which had a lot of very small music clubs. Malfunkshun would become a major influence on the developing Seattle sound. Andrew would come on stage playing bass wearing white face paint and called himself Landrew the Love God. Their music was Love Rock. They often played without a setlist, were sometimes booed or turned people off yet they were part of a small group of musicians that played off of each other. Bands like Green River, Soundgarden, Skin Yard and a host of others watched each other’s shows and fed off of them. Audiences grew bigger, the music less raw. In 1985 Andy’s drug use which now included heavy use of heroin had reached the point where even he knew he needed help and he entered rehab later that year.  By all accounts rehab went quite well.

 

When he got out of rehab he drifted a bit and found an unlikely soul mate and friend in Chris Cornell who was looking for a roommate. Andy needed a friend who wasn’t using drugs Chris needed help with the rent. Their friendship was fast and furious and it was said that had either been a woman they would have been the perfect couple. Cornell would tell stories of how they would play music sometimes for hours and record them on cassettes, marveling at Andy’s ability to create sometimes masterpieces of music with no rehearsal and on the fly. Sadly none of that music survived.

 

In 1988 Green River disbanded. Mark Arm went on to form the band Mudhoney. Former Green River guitarist Stone Gossard began writing songs with Andrew Wood finding an easy going song writing relationship each helping the other with songs. With Regan Hagar and Jeff Ament they formed a brief one gig band called the Lords of the Wastelands. After this gig Stone, Jeff and Andy decided to carry on with a different version of this band adding drummer Greg Gilmore, and guitarist Bruce Fairweather and they began immediately playing the Seattle area clubs with tremendous buzz and success under their new name Mother Love Bone. They recorded an EP Shine in 1989 and began drawing attention from major recording labels. Other bands too from the burgeoning Seattle music scene were drawing interest. Nirvana had moderate success on the Sub Pop label with their album Bleach and were already looking for ways out of their deal with Sub Pop. Soundgarden too were signed around this time. Other bands like Alice in Chains were waiting in the wings. Mother Love Bone signed to Polydor and traveled to San Francisco to record Apple. Andy was struggling. There is now tons of speculation about how Andy was feeling. It was certainly possible that being in a band where he didn’t have to be in charge of all things creative both relieved him and minimized him. People look back at his lyrics and see a dark soul full of demons but outwardly he was larger than life in photo ops and in shows and in interviews. Nevertheless he was using heroin more and more. Many years later a friend of his who did drugs with him said Andy always wanted to get higher and of course with heroin it just takes you lower. He felt Andy never really understood that but maybe Andy understood it all too well.  Andy finally checked himself into rehab before the release of Apple to prepare himself for the tour to come. There was certainly hope. The band was only just learning how addicted he was despite being told by Andy’s girlfriend that he was in trouble.

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On March 16, 1990 Andy was found passed out by his girlfriend who had first thought he was only sleeping. When she could not wake him up an ambulance was called. He was initially pronounced dead. He improved and then suddenly turned after suffering an aneurysm. Andrew Wood was removed from life support on March 19, 1990 and died later that day. In one of the strangest twists to this story was the family contacted Chris Cornell who was out of state on tour so that he could be at Andy’s side when they removed the life support. In the documentary Malfunkshun Cornell spoke about how that was both cool and creepy. Regardless when Cornell spoke about Wood’s death there was a grief a mournfulness to him that I believe never went away. After Cornell died many on multiple Andrew Wood and Mother Love Bone sites claimed how the two were finally together again but that too has such a creepy component to it.

At the time of Andrew Wood’s death I had still not heard of him. In fact the first time I heard the words Mother Love Bone was in reference to Temple of the Dog being a tribute album to Andrew Wood former lead singer of Mother Love Bone who died tragically of a heroin overdose.  Around 1992 I saw the movie Singles and during the opening credits there was the graffiti wall that used to be in the area of a lot of clubs and right in the center Mother Love Bone in all its splendor. Just a few years ago Jeff Ament had that wall graffiti replaced on the outside wall of Easy Records as a tribute to his former band. Still I had not heard a single Mother Love Bone song until I bought the Singles Soundtrack which included the song Chloe/Crown of Thorns. In 1992 Stone Gossard with the surviving members of the band released Shine and Apple together under one album Mother Love Bone which I acquired somewhere around 1993.  Eventually I had both Shine and Apple on vinyl.

 

 

The more I listened to the music of Mother Love Bone the more I fell in love. It made me remember arena rock of the 70s but it was so fresh and new, unique and compelling. It was easy to see why a record label would want to record that music. Had Andrew not died Apple would have been the first Seattle album to hit it big. I am one hundred percent sure. The time was right, the songs are simply too good. It was a perfect convergence of the right personnel the right time for a change and a personality big enough to lead that change. Andy could have been all those things but really all we have are what ifs or should haves or could have beens and that is the sad story of a young man who once interviewed himself as a rock star in his room as a child.

Knowing Mother Love Bone, hearing Andrew Wood’s voice opened up something inside of me, something deep that struck at my love of music my love of a story and even the sadness in my own soul. Yet there was an additional discovery for me.  In 2005 Scott Barbour a director and producer released the documentary  Malfunkshun; The Andrew Wood Story. It was a tremendous documentary with friends, bandmates, family and Andy’s girlfriend all participating. There were hours of interviews done, footage from the Malfunkshun days, home movies and Mother Love Bone footage and interviews with Andy himself. It also included a cd of Malfunkshun’s music almost all of it previously unreleased. I didn’t discover this until 2012. I bought it new and stared at it for days. I needed it to be the right time to watch it because I knew it was going to probably devastate me. One day I put it in and there he was, larger than life speaking alive and well and on always on. Throughout the documentary the music plays and I sat there singing the songs watching mesmerized tears steadily rolling down my cheeks sometimes sobbing. It had seemed like such a long journey for me. In 2016 Stone Gossard released  an amazing boxed set. It’s well worth the cost.

There is this fine sometimes razor thin line between fandom and fanaticism. I love Andrew Wood love his soul love his music. He was just that kind of person, that kind of musical figure to me. He was flawed. We all are flawed and sometimes we judge those flaws in others way too harshly when it would be easier on our souls to just be kind. There are fan clubs to Andrew Wood and to Mother Love Bone. One of my friends from facebook is a site admin for one of these sites or was at one time. I am on both sites but rarely post. I can only read the same posts so many times before I shake my head and back away. Would Mother Love Bone be bigger than Pearl Jam? How huge a star would Andrew be? There are posts bashing Pearl Jam. Why oh why did Pearl Jam insult Andrew’s memory by not mentioning him at their Hall of Fame induction?  It all gets old.

I love Pearl Jam. Personally I think they will very likely be that band that carries on like Aerosmith and the Rolling Stones and please don’t take that as some comparison as it’s not. I just mean that they will have that kind of longevity. It was discovered when Andy was hospitalized that he was battling a lot of health issues he knew nothing about. I doubt Andrew stays with Mother Love Bone had he lived but all that is conjecture. Andrew’s life was short and maybe he gave us all he had because there certainly is not any more coming. It can be sad playing what if games. I understand them just refuse to be lured down that particular rabbit hole.

For me he will always be Landrew the Love God and his music will always be love rock. I still sometimes mourn him, feel sad that such a burning light is gone but I don’t dwell on those feelings long. I don’t think Andrew would appreciate it at all. I think he would be pleased that young people are still discovering his music and that is a very good thing.

Rest in peace you beautiful soul

 

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Mike out