The Music Blog: Kurt

Sometimes fate steps in. Sounds like a fantasy story right? Well it’s true. I have never been a what if kind of person. What if John had never met Yoko? What if Brian Jones hadn’t been a drug addict? What if Morrison had not gone to Paris? What if what if what if. There are hundreds maybe even thousands of them but sometimes things happen that make no sense and the void they create resonates through time until someone fills it up, Maybe that’s a little too Eastern for you. All I know is that throughout history the right person seems to come along when you least expect them and at just the right most opportune moment.

He seemed like an unlikely figure to become the voice of a generation. In fact, if someone had come upon him and offered him the opportunity to go to art school and that it was fully paid for he would have jumped at the opportunity. He didn’t even spend a lot of time in Seattle, spending most of his time in Olympia. He came from a broken home and had trouble connecting to either of his parents and he got into trouble with the law more than once. At times, he was homeless, and even slept in the car of one of his friends. He shopped thrift stores looking for old board games so that he could paint on them because he could not afford canvas. He lacked confidence and direction. Somehow, through some strange twist of fate, this unlikely hero became a musical genius, a voice of a generation and one of the most troubled human beings to ever walk the planet. He can’t be understood by any book, or any recollection, cannot be defined by the lyrics or songs he wrote. He was more than that. Even looking at all those things combined he remains enigmatic. He is judged, constantly judged, even today people think that because of his actions they know him, they think that because he wrote a beloved song or even a dozen that they have the right. They believe they know everything there is to know about his wife and that its really her to blame for everything and so they do, They call her vile names, a horrible mother a horrible wife a horrible human being who only wanted him for his money, The world is full of sick people who think they have the right to judge others.

Musically he had a few lessons on the guitar, but they were difficult lessons as he was left handed and like many left handed guitarists before him he had to figure out many things on his own. He had a tendency in shows as the band developed to smash his guitar, his only guitar and so he would put it back together only to do it all over again. He loved punk music, the music of the Melvins, and the U-Men and later in his life would still go and see live punk acts when he could, when he had the time. He loved the Gits and after Mia Zapata’s death would play a benefit concert so that a private investigator could be hired to work the investigation that had grown cold. He was generous to his friends, not so much with money but with himself and valued people who could love him for who he was not who he was portrayed to be. He suffered with horrible pain wracking stomach ailments which no doctor could find a source and so they all dubbed him a hypochondriac. Who knows? He was unlikely in every single sense of the word.

I truly believe that Andrew Wood’s death caused a ripple through time. Mother Love Bone would have been and even should have been the first big band out of Seattle since Heart. After Wood’s death someone needed to pick up that torch. Chris Cornell had everything, great looks, a great voice and Soundgarden had been together since 1985. They were poised and ready but I don’t believe they had the kind of music that was going to change the world. For that matter Mother Love Bone’s music harkened back to the days of arena rock. Neither band was ready to represent an entire movement, an entire generation. The same could be said for Alice in Chains who were not quite ready anyway and Pearl Jam had barely formed. Nirvana hardly seemed to be the answer. They had been signed by SubPop and had already put out the album Bleach on that label. They had traveled the world with the band Tad but they didn’t seem a likely candidate to be the next big thing. There was also considerable conflict over their record deal. SubPop had signed them to a three record deal and now Nirvana wanted out of that deal and so negotiations were ongoing for their next album. They had also changed drummers because Kurt hated drummers and their previous drummer was too rock and roll and not enough punk. It had nothing to do with skill.  Kurt was surly and most of the time seemed disinterested in a music career, in any career. He really just wanted to paint.

Nevermind might have gone the way of Bleach a good album without airplay, but the music world was tired, the same old hairbands the same old music and more and more bands were merely duplicating what they had done before to sell records. AC/DC sang it’s a long way to the top if you want to rock and roll but it’s really tough to stay there. Smells Like Teen Spirit had so many things that people were looking for. The song is not sung so much as it is growled. It’s an attack on the mundane rock bands, here we are now entertainers but it was also typical Kurt I feel stupid and contagious. It is played with the honest hard hitting intensity of a punk song, with the melody of a rock song and it was like nothing ever heard before. That can be said for the entire album Nevermind.  It was an entire album that spoke to a generation about all of their frustration and it changed music forever. It also helped that the band put out well done videos that got massive airplay which only helped to generate and sustain energy for the album.

Kurt was flawed and he had problems. Courtney Love had to manage those more than any other person. She has been vilified by media and by fans and mostly by Dave Grohl. She had a different vision for Kurt’s legacy than Grohl which she had every right to have as his surviving widow. Media and fans claim that she abandoned Kurt when he most needed her. She had tried to intervene, taking his access to money and credit cards away and forcing him into rehab. She knew about the recent suicide attempt In March of 1994 and she wanted Kurt to get help. Krist Novoselic, Nirvana bandmate and one of his best friends said that Kurt had stopped connecting to anyone and was distant. Kurt walked out of rehab on April 1, 1994 after calling Courtney and leaving her a message that he loved her no matter what and made his way to Seattle without money or resources. He had a friend buy a shotgun for him so as not to alert the police. On April 5, 1994 Kurt committed suicide using the shotgun in the greenhouse of the home he shared with his wife and child. Courtney was in rehab herself at the time. She had hired a private investigator to find Kurt after sightings put him in Seattle after April 1.

I worked on a psychiatric unit in a hospital and it was there that I first heard the news. My office was outside the locked unit door in a hallway and throughout the day nearly everyone who passed my door and knew that I loved music stopped to ask how I was. I was numb and a little in shock honestly not knowing how I felt because all the signs were there and I had been worried that something like this would happen. A psychiatrist who used to talk to me about music every time he saw me stopped and closed the door and was the first to say that he knew how hard it was and to let me know that he was around if I needed someone to talk to, Over the next few years the blame game took a toll on me with Dave Grohl writing his songs about Courtney and Courtney not having anything nice to say about the band. They were all hurting. Mostly the social worker that I was, worried about a child with a famous father who would grow up without him. I still get angry when people bash Courtney, because there is no greater testimony to who she is than how her daughter has grown up. She is a pretty damn good human being and that’s Courtney’s doing, not the music of Nirvana, not Krist Novaselic and certainly not Dave Grohl.

Stop blaming Courtney, stop blaming anyone including Kurt. He’s gone and Courtney has raised a pretty amazing daughter who has had to grow up in strange circumstances.  While he was alive I would often get frustrated with Kurt for throwing so much away. With everything to live for, why be so unhappy? Happiness though is not wrapped up in success and money. Mostly now I am thankful for the short time Kurt graced the world with his music. The rest is like looking at tea leaves to somehow divine the future. Think on that if you will.

My favorite performance from Kurt was the 1992 Saturday Night Live performance of Nirvana. Up until the moment he walked on stage no one in the cast or the band knew that he was going to be able to perform and there was some scramble as to how they were going to fill the time. Kurt was miserable in his dressing room horribly dope sick. He was also complaining of the botched hair dye attempt he had made to change his hair color to purple. Instead it came out as some sick shade of red not even covering all of his hair. Everyone was nervous and then he walked out of his dressing room, terribly frail and pale and prepared to walk on stage. Nirvana delivered a live blasting of Smells Like Teen Spirit. I like to think of him that way. I like to hear the live MTV Unplugged concert where he shows so much dry humor between songs. I wish the world had been kinder to him.  I wish the world would be kinder to him today and I hope he is at peace. That’s all I can do, all anyone can do. As time as gone by I do something I somehow couldn’t at the time of his death, I cry. So maybe for today or whenever you read this, try and think about a kind thought to him, a kind thought to any that were close to him and try not to judge anyone. There is a void when a musical genius leaves us, as much for those that knew him best as those who knew him through a few songs. Peaceful rest Kurt.

Mike out

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.

motherlovebone4701203245832888469.jpg

 

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

 

andrew-woods564903060863855274.jpg

 

Mike out

The Music Blog: Melsie

fb_img_15879960470714258744768688497953.jpg

Sometime around 2005 I came home early from work and found that my wife and son were gone, moved in a single morning leaving me with little furniture and having to pick up the pieces. It’s an ugly tale which I have long since processed. My ex and I are actually pretty good friends now and this is certainly not a bashing blog because I simply don’t feel that way nor do I understand why people remain bitter and angry years after divorce unless of course there is abuse in the past. Again this is not about any of that. After dealing with the initial shock I was determined to get back on the horse. Now despite those of you who think you know me, I am terribly shy with the opposite sex, sometimes wickedly scared. Again I don’t need to go into detail. When I tell people this they instantly start to dispute it, tell me how wrong I am. I know who I am. I wanted to explore online dating thinking it might be a better way to meet people so I joined a dating site that was both a dating site and not a dating site. It was more of a single parents support group than it was anything. Sure there was dating but mostly it was something bigger. Many of my friends who I value today come from this group and this time frame.  Oh and it was way too much fun. We all had these catchy user names. I was Samurai because I love samurai movies. Melsie was Down_2_Earth.

I will say it was not an easy group to get to know. Sometimes it was like high school, childish games, sexual jokes and innuendos I had not heard since junior high. It was very cliquish and I almost quit. There were a few really nice people though who showed me the ropes. A woman named Shawna helped me out a lot and at least encouraged me to get involved with the message boards or the chat rooms. The message boards became my playground. Even then it was not easy and sometimes downright abusive. There were some nasty individuals there which is sometimes what you get when you have anonymity through the internet.  You can make yourself out to be anyone you want. This was definitely a problem. Partly this was because of a member who had angered a lot of people and since there were a few fake profiles it was thought that I was this guy Good Companion. I wasn’t. One thing, he was still lurking around although not for long when I joined. Mel knew everyone, and she seemed at the center of everything so I started to give her a hard time on the message boards and she responded by giving me a hard time. We exchanged emails and she helped me navigate this site and make some friends. I have a million stories. But again this blog isn’t to share a bunch of stories. This is a music blog.

Now me and Melsie seem at odds a lot. In fact we don’t seem to have a lot in common. We still bash each other and probably way too much so lately I have not been trying to bash her as much. I am on a spiritual journey and I want to share that with her and have told her this. I told her I would call but I am scared even though she is the least likely person in the world to make light of this. I have not told a lot of people. I am still working through it and spend every day studying and learning.

So as not to make this 25 pages long which I could easily do let’s get to the heart of this matter. There are a thousand things I love about Melsie, things that make me laugh sometimes hysterically. First of all she is about 6’9”, really she is a giant. She could kick Wonder Woman’s ass if she wanted to. We joke with her because she always wears something that looks very close to combat boots and she is not afraid to use them. I am more than a little askeared of her. I told you we seem to have little in common. I have this theory, of course I do. I have a 100 theories all of them bad but this one is that there really are only 2 kinds of people. There are music people and there are lyric people. Now some people are going to say they are both. Nah these people are either too wishy washy or if they sit down and think they realize that I am right. Now this doesn’t mean that a person who is a music person can’t love some songs because of the lyrics and vice versa but mostly they are going to stick to one or the other. I am definitely a music person. People want to say to me all the time, don’t you love the lyrics to that song. Yea no I don’t even know the lyrics to a lot of songs. I know some but my mind just doesn’t go that way. I love guitar riffs and melodies how songs and the parts of songs fir together. It’s why I love classical music. It’s why I can listen to opera and get it. I am not listening to the words anyway. Melsie is definitely a lyric person. I cannot tell you how this makes me laugh, how it amuses me because she is constantly talking about lyrics and how so and so got right to the heart of it and it speaks to her soul it was written about her and it has so much meaning. Another time I will tell you all why lyrics don’t much matter to me. Coupled with this insane love of lyrics which I find endearing is that Melsie is excellent with names and she knows everyone. She also knows the name of every band member of every band that ever existed including probably bands that never made it. You could say to her man I heard those kids playing in the garage down the street and Melsie would chime in Marcus is a brilliant songwriter, he writes songs that mean so much to me but that band will never work because Kevin is going out with Joe’s girlfriend who’s  really a cross dresser named Hortense. You think I exaggerate? Okay maybe a little. Melsie drops names like she has these people on speed dial. I just chuckle. It’s passion. If you know me then you know that’s the way I feel about music too just different expressions.

Now listen my friend isn’t really that bad I exaggerate for sure. She is a lyric person and she does know band members. I feel good I know who the fab four are. John, Joe, Paul and Rusty right? Wait I think Ace was in the Beatles too. Aren’t they from Cincinnati?  Or is that Dayton, Ohio? For the record, there is nothing bad about being a lyric person or a music person. One is not any better than another it’s just how they express things. In fact, I am willing to bet there are more lyric people than music people. If anyone is an oddball it’s me.

Look before you think this is a bashing thing. It’s not. These qualities are endearing to me. I wouldn’t want her to change one single bit. Don’t think for a second she doesn’t have the goods on me. Don’t for a second think I am not going to pay for this. I miss my friend. I have not seen her in a while. Do you want to know what kind of friend she is? I don’t have a lot of friends. I never have. The friends I have had though and have now are special. They would do anything for me and I would do anything for them. Melsie is one of the few people I would bleed for. I would sacrifice everything in a single toss of the dice to help her. If I had a dollar to my name and she asked to borrow a dollar I would give it to her. I love her as much as I love a family member and that’s the truth. In my darkest times I know I can pick up the phone at 3 am and tell her I need her and she would stay up all night with an 8am meeting to look forward to and not blink at all. She would probably threaten me, maybe call me a name or two but she would do that if I didn’t need anything. That’s how we are, I would do the same. I can’t name more than five people right now I could depend on more than her.

So other than the music and lyrics thing you are probably still wondering what the hell this has to do with the music blog which follows my music collection.  Hmmm, so in 2006 I got a phone call from Mel and she asked if I would make her an 80’s cd. I said sure but there was a lot of music in the 80’s. There were hair bands, speed metal, new wave, electronic, the early stages of what would become grunge and on and on. She said yea all of that. I like all of that.  On one cd. Hmmm I said. Could you maybe send me a list of some songs, doesn’t have to be everything just some songs that you want. So she did and her list had songs from the 70’s, from the 90’s and from the 80’s. I asked if I could make her one for each decade and she said sure that would be wonderful. So here is something to know about me. Don’t ask me to make you a cd. I can’t do it. I know too many songs and every time I think of one song it makes me think of 15 others. I started working on it focusing just on the 70’s. I forget how many I ended up with. I let Mel know and she laughed. I started to work on the 80’s yea same thing. Now the 90’s especially the early 90’s that’s my thing right there so I told Mel I was going to have one 90’s to current. I also told her I was likely going to have over a 100 cd’s. She thought this was hysterical but she said if you make 100 cd’s I will drive personally and get them. So we had a deal. I ended up with 105 cd’s, 80 minutes long. I moved to Atlanta in December of 2006 which is actually closer to Mel. She came out to spend New Years Eve because I didn’t know a soul. That entire trip is worth its own story. Melsie sweet Melsie never once asked about her 105 cd’s, never once asked for them and so they remain in my collection and now of course they are mine. They are also next on the playlist so yes I have 105 cd’s to listen to titled Mel’s 70’s collection volume whatever and Mel’s 80’s collection and so on.  Every time I tell the story and we dispute ownership and a few people who just don’t get it will tell me to get over it without really understanding what those cd’s mean to me.

I can hear Melsie from here reading this saying even shouting, “I am not” and “I do not do that” and I am pretty sure even a few “I am going to kill him.” What I hope she gets from this is the value I have for her, the absolute unconditional love I feel for her the times  I didn’t think I could take another step only to see her post something about the deep secret meanings of lyrics and name dropping the song writer like they talk to each other discussing the mysteries of the world. She is not 6”9”. She is only 6’7”. She is one of the most important people in my life even though we go months and maybe even years without really talking. All that doesn’t matter because we all have those kinds of friends where you can talk to someone after a long time and it’s like you talk every day. I am glad she is my friend. So thanks Melsie.

Mike out

The Music Blog: The Great American Songwriter

I know. I really do. You see this title and then you read the blog and the first thing that is going to run through your head is that you disagree and you will come up with more than a few other American songwriters who you think are better. You won’t be wrong either. In fact whoever you are thinking about I may have already blogged about or am going to but just haven’t gotten there yet.

John Mellencamp, as the great American songwriter is going to rub you wrong. So maybe you don’t like his politics but I am not writing a political blog. Oh by the way I get really frustrated when I see people complaining that certain stars should keep their mouths shut about politics that no one wants to hear it and they should stick with acting or singing or whatever. This frustrates me because they live here too, and some of them were born in other countries and now make this country their home. They have a right to share their political opinions and if they use their own popularity so what. You would do the same. Both sides do it. I am a big fan of Tim Allen. I have loved him since his stand up days, since Home Improvement and I love his current show Last Man Standing. I don’t like his politics and I believe he is wrong but I love how he presents those arguments on his show and he has other characters who have the opposite position and they cover things with humor which says a lot about Tim Allen the person.

See what you did? You got me off on a political rant. It’s your fault. This is about John Cougar or John Cougar Mellencamp or John Mellencmp or whatever name he goes by next. Mellencamp has always written songs about small town life, about growing up in this country of ours, about Midwest values, the heart of the country. He has shared through his music the ugly truth of the plight of the small or mid-size farmer in this country. He tells a good story. He sings songs about his wife and about his kids about himself. He performs all over the world but he is singing songs to me and you.

My interest in Mellencamp and my eventual love for him wasn’t always there. In fact the first song I remember is Jack and Diane and I would say that is one of my least favorite songs ever from any artist. I don’t like it Sam I am, I don’t like Jack and Diane. Needless to say I didn’t jump on the John Cougar train. Another of his songs rubs me equally wrong, ROCK In the USA. It makes me want to gag, spew vomit. So I struggled with him and it took me a while to warm up. Then I heard Jackie Brown and just fell in love with the song. I heard Paper and Fire and loved the song. I heard Rain on the Scarecrow and fell in love. Like I always do I started to explore and what I found I loved minus Jack and Diane and ROCK in the USA. Key West Intermezzo became one of mine and my wife’s favorite songs. I love that song and when my son wanted to make his first cd and we were putting songs together it pulled on my heart strings when he sang the song because he didn’t know the title. Like many artists I have blogged about I now have the vast majority of Mellencamp’s studio albums. I started with a few, bought a few more and then ultimately I decided that I wanted the rest. He is an artist that matters to me whether he matters to you or not I don’t know. I find him a lot like Tom Petty. I don’t mean the music they play although I believe both try and sing to that everyman, to those values that make up most of us. My point is that you don’t realize how many songs Mellencamp has that were hits, that are songs that you love until you sit down and hear a really good collection of greatest hits. In that way Petty and Mellencamp are very similar. You could probably say the same about Springsteen or Neil Young. If they didn’t appeal to a lot of people they wouldn’t have 50 year careers. That I can get behind, well except for Jack and Diane.

Mike out

The Music Blog: Hello Its Me Again

You have to say this in your best Sean Penn stoner surfer valley voice.

“It’s better than death man, you now they’re mega. Megadeth brah.”

Dave Mustaine and his band Megadeth.

I am sure you know the story. Dave Mustaine was the original guitarist for Metallica but his drinking and drug use got too much for them so one night they tossed him and his gear out of the van. He was angry and certainly felt his behavior wasn’t any worse than any of those other guys. So he made a vow, sort of a vow of revenge do it better faster harder than Metallica and he named his band Megadeth to send that message. Some say that feud is long over some say it isn’t. He wasn’t invited to Metallica’s Rock Hall of Fame presentation and felt slighted. I have always wondered why Metallica made the hall of fame anyway. It’s ridiculous to say they are some sort of legendary band. They aren’t. They are sellouts, every last one of them and it aggravates me a little that Dave Mustaine, who I love so much, would want to be affiliated with them anyway.

Sellouts? Really Samurai Mike? That seems harsh. Are you drunk? Excuse me have you seen the title of my page.

First if all this isn’t a blog about Metallica which by the way in my home is pronounced Metal-Licka. I am not a fan of theirs. Don’t for a second think I resent them or call them sell outs because of their black album which was clearly a successful attempt to give them access to a wider audience and make a little money. Bands are entitled to make money anyway they want and anyway they can. Believe me if I felt or thought for a second I could make money writing plays I would do so even though I don’t particularly like plays. I would do it just so that it might give me a little inroad into getting something I do love published. So I don’t fault Metallica for changing their music a bit. Dave Mustaine actually followed their lead and did the same. Metallica doesn’t quite reach my hate category because of some of those more commercially successful songs several of which I love. I still think their Whiskey in the Jar cover is drop dead amazing. My issue with Metallica is their position on Napster.

Now before you go all nutsy on me I will explain. When the big downloading craze hit many people jumped in enthusiastically. I know I did. Then one day this realization hit that what I was doing was stealing. Even if I were downloading an Aerosmith album and those guys are gazillionaires it was wrong. I know how hard it is to get something published and I know what those repeated rejection letters do. It’s why I don’t like the term one hit wonder. People say that in some mocking way not realizing how much work how many rejections went into that one hit song. Those artists should be enormously proud. I feel about the same when people tell me to keep putting myself out there or chastising me because I complain because no one is reading my blog as I do when people minimize my vision impairment. Just get out there its easy just do it. They aren’t the ones who have to deal with the falls the running into things with getting lost 2 miles from your house and not being sure how to get home, the fear I have of crowded places, the fear of getting on a plane. Just like that they don’t have to deal with the heartbreaking rejection that eats away at your confidence and at your heart and your soul. Being told how long it took Stephen King to get published or JK Rowling doesn’t help it just adds pressure and they don’t have to deal with that either.

I don’t blame Metal-Licka for wanting to be paid for their music, for their work because they are entitled to get paid for their work. I am angry with them for being the face of the stance against Napster. Metallica had to work their ass off almost double what other bands had to because when they started it was all spandex and hairspray and that’s what clubs wanted. No one wanted speed metal. Venues were few and far between and because of that Metallica built their fan base brick by brick, fan by fan through the underground, which meant young people who loved that style of music handing bootleg tapes to their buddies and saying, “listen to this.” It made them look petty, clueless and unappreciative to their fans to be bashing Napster. They should have left that to another band or bands, other artists. They were right but they should have realized better who their fans were and they didn’t.

Of course this isn’t a blog about Metal-licka. Oops! My bad!

For the record I am not a big fan of speed metal. If you know me then you know that for the most part speed metal violates one of my rules that music should be easy to digest, meaning it has a melody and speed metal just doesn’t meet this requirement. I have some too, beyond Megadeth and Metal-licka. I became interested in Metal-licka because of a seminar I went on about the evils and dangers of rock music and part of that seminar dealt with album covers, Master of Puppets a Metal-licka album was one of those covers. So naturally since the entire seminar was comical I had to have the album. I have other albums by metal-licka because of the very human story of Cliff Burton. Megadeth was not a band I was interested in until the Cryptic Writings album which was really Mustaine’s response to Metal-licka’s black album. On that album there is the song Almost Honest and I fell in love with the guitar riff. Because of that song and album which I bought I wanted more and so I bought more. I bought everything up to that time and discovered something unique about Mustaine. Sure he has some music I just don’t care for, but he also is incredibly intelligent and witty which comes out in his lyrics. He really had a lot to say a lot more than what I ever expected. He had some genius songs and I think he is a brilliant guitarist. Countdown to Extinction, Peace Sells But Who’s Buying and Symphony of Destruction are amazing songs. Hangar 18 is a speed metal masterpiece. My favorite though is Sweating Bullets for the absolute absurdity of the song, the brilliant conversation with himself. There is a tremendous depth to Mustaine as a songwriter.  Mustaine has fought demons including a serious drug addiction. He has fought through injuries related to a serious accident where he was told he wouldn’t be able to play again. He found God, lost his sister to cancer and then had to fight his own cancer. I have followed him on Twitter and I find him honestly a lot like Marilyn Manson, witty, sometimes charming, sometimes humble and sometimes snarky as he can be. He is not almost honest, he is incredibly honest something you don’t get from a lot of other stars. I have enormous respect for him. Megadeth isn’t for everyone. You can say that about any band. The Beatles aren’t for everyone. Beethoven isn’t for everyone. Zappa isn’t for anyone, seriously, Zappa isn’t even music. I am certainly not going to suggest that you run out and buy all of his music or even spend time listening to the music I will share on facebook over the next couple of days. I expect that most of you know what you like and what you won’t like. Me? I will listen to anything once and most things twice except for, oh we don’t need to go there again.

If you think though that Megadeth is just heavy speed metal then you will be right and a little wrong. There are many songs that are just good old fashioned rock and roll songs. Mustaine has clever riffs and hooks can really play and has a really rare ability at tongue in cheek lyrics that will at times leave you chuckling. I always love an artist that doesn’t take himself too seriously. I think Dave Mustaine is one of those guys.

Mike out

The Music Blog: McCartney

McCartney

Even if you don’t love the Beatles, you probably have your favorite. Maybe it’s John, the anomaly or at least to me. He is a man who sang of peace and love yet was cold hearted mean, passive aggressive, a horrible bandmate, a horrible husband and worse father. He was abusive. Maybe it’s quiet George you love, he of the impish grin and a quiet spirituality that vied with the burning rage he sometimes felt. Maybe it’s loveable Ringo, comic relief not as cute as the others and a bit of a goof who provided the band with the steady hand of rhythm they needed. He too had his demons.

For me it’s always been Paul McCartney. Many still blame him for the breakup of the Beatles. They would be wrong and they would also be a little right. All of the fab four had a bit of responsibility. If you don’t know the story then I will summarize. The festering began with the recording of the White Album when John allowed an outsider, a disruptive horrible outsider, Yoko Ono into the recording studio. It was the first time and John passive aggressively allowed her to wreak havoc on the band offering criticism and suggestions because she called herself some sort of an artist. Meanwhile John wanted to quit but sat idly by when he did show up usually high on heroin. When the Beatles began recording the next album anger boiled over. Paul had said to George that on Hey Jude he didn’t want any of the ideas for fancy guitar riffs that George suggested and rehearsed, It was Paul’s song and he wanted it done his way. George got angry but he was angry anyway as he was sitting on a cache of songs that he couldn’t record because John and Paul wouldn’t let him.  So he drank. So did Ringo and the sessions disintegrated. Ultimately these sessions would be gone through by Phil Spector who somehow some way managed to create Let it Be out of the mess. Before that the Beatles found their way back together for one more album, the compromise album Abbey Road. Paul was thrilled and thought it was the solution to working their way out of the issues they had and so he suggested another album. There was no polite response from John, Ringo or George and the four Beatles went their separate ways without breaking up. Paul retreated to his country estate. He made numerous offers to return to the studio and get back to work. He had ideas and he had songs. No one was interested. Meanwhile Phil Spector began cleaning up the mess and creating Let it Be. Paul began recording on his own. He wanted to work, wanted to record. Since no one else was interested he recorded an album, what would become the Bowl of Cherries album, or the Cherries album, named for the cover. The actual title is simply Paul McCartney. He set a release day which unfortunately coincided with the release of Let it Be. Suddenly everyone was interested with what Paul was doing. They asked him to change his release date, to delay it. He said no. They offered to go back into the studio and record again. Paul said no. They sent Ringo to his house to plead the band’s case and Paul said no. Now it was Paul who was realizing that he could have a life outside of the band. I truly believe if John had gone to speak with Paul it would have changed things but John Lennon was not that kind of bandmate, not that kind of person. When the media asked Paul about the solo album and if the Beatles had broken up he said that he guessed they had.

I remember what a big deal it was. I remember driving around one night, the entire family stuffed into a Volkswagon and going from store to store looking for Let it Be but nowhere could that album be found. Ultimately we settled on a single of Let it Be. I wish I still had that.

I was born in 1963 so the Beatles were introduced, thrived, and ended without me being overly familiar with their music. I remember the song Hey Jude playing on the radio my mother ironing and that ending that never ends na na na na. It’s not my favorite song however it always brings that cherished memory with it, one of my earliest. I remember the breakup only because we went searching for the album. I remember Paul McCartney and Wings though. I loved Paul and for the longest time I wanted the album Band on the Run. I loved that song and I loved the song Jet. I make up songs for my dog Rosco and one of the songs I use to do that is Helen Wheels. I remember that so well especially considering that I didn’t own the album for a very long time. Paul wrote pop songs, songs that you could love and songs you didn’t have to do a lot of work with to figure out. They were simple and enjoyable and they make people happy. They make people sing along. It is the best kind of music.

In junior high I fell in love with the album London Town for that song but more for the hit song With a Little Luck. I still love that song. In college I discovered Venus and Mars and played it all the time loving the song Magneto and Titanium Man which still makes me smile. The title track and Rock Show make my heart skip a beat when I hear them. These are fond memories, songs and music that I love. Later in my life I grew to really love George Harrison and gained so much respect for him, his deep spirituality and the fact that he didn’t dwell on the past. He was always asked to play Beatle songs, songs that he wrote and performed with the fab four but he just didn’t and I loved that about him. Paul loves being a Beatle to this day and why shouldn’t he? A lot of the Beatles favorites are his songs. Certainly a lot of my favorite Beatle songs are Paul songs. You can tell which ones he wrote for the most part. John always disliked those simple songs and always had something to say but that’s the very reason why I have always loved Paul. His music has always matched his spirit, his smile and almost laughing personality never taking his self too seriously.

I am discovering that one of the worst things about being born in the 60’s is that so many of the great rock stars I grew up on and loved are slowing dying. No matter how much people joke, Keith Richards will die, and so will Mick and so one day will Ringo and Paul. While they will leave a huge legacy of music their deaths will be huge and the world will be a lesser place. For now we get to still enjoy them as they all remain active and touring. Others have not been that lucky. Until that day…

Mike out

The Music Blog: Jim Ellison

Jim Ellison

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

Mike out