Tuesday, October 3, 2017

RIP Tom Petty

He hailed from the deepest of the deep south, but that's not where his music came from.

I mean yes, sure it did, at least part of it. Some of what made Tom Petty the musical titan he was came from that Gainesville, Florida upbringing, where the swampy blues clearly took hold of him at an early age. But his music seemed to come from so many other places. From London and Liverpool and from Greenwich Village too. From breezy Southern California to sultry, loping New Orleans and to the earliest cradle of rock-n-roll, Memphis. Tom Petty reached it all.

And today he's gone, way too early at age 66. So let's take a moment to remember just how great, and I am talking GREAT with a capital G-R-E-A-T, this man really was.

He grew up influenced by the biggest of the big, as many American baby boomers were, people like Bob Dylan and Roger McGuinn and Roy Orbison. And by the middle of his career he was having his own influence on them. You saw it when he toured with Bob Dylan in the mid-80s, when he played with Dylan and Orbison for one amazing shining moment with the Traveling Wilburys, and every time a smiling and appreciative McGuinn took the stage with him. Because when you're a talent like Tom Pettysongwriter, bandleader, guitar player and oh my God YES, singerit has a tendency to touch everyone. Even your heroes.

But for a man with such an identifiable soundthe nasally tenor, the Byrdsy jangle, the ability to go from sweet to raunchy in the blink of an eye (think of the dramatic vocal and musical turns he made so often, like on "Refugee" and "Here Comes My Girl," something literally no one did as often or as well)it really was hard to pin him down into one category or musical style. It was a byproduct of the stunning confidence he always seemed to carryat least with his music, anywayand a true sense of devil-may-care fearlessness.

It's why a proto-punk-pop ripper like "Don't Do Me Like That" appears alongside an anthem like "Refugee" or a bopping melody like "Century City" on Damn the Torpedoes. It's why maybe his greatest song, the pure crystalline McGuinn splendor of "The Waiting," can appear literally side by side with the near-metal of "A Woman in Love" on Hard Promises. Or why his greatest Roy Orbison-inspired ballad, the ethereal, irony-drenched "Free Fallin'," is right there alongside the Stonesy romp of "Runnin' Down a Dream" on Full Moon Fever. And nearly 20 years after his recording career began, on the remarkable Wildflowers album, he was able to blend gorgeous balladry (the title track), with the kind of barroom raver that would have made Bob Seger proud ("You Wreck Me") and still have time for the bluesy shuffle of "You Don't Know How It Feels."

On the first great song of a career that had just so damn many of them, 1976's pop splendor of "American Girl," Petty wrote and sang this fairly simple lyric:

"After all it was a great big world
With lots of places to run to."

It never struck me until today just how much that easy, seemingly throwaway defined who Tom Petty was. Musically speaking he had just so much to say, and so many different ways to say it. He surrounded himself with a truly great band in the Heartbreakers (it's hard to imagine a more instinctive or talented backing band than Mike Campbell, Benmont Tench, Howie Epstein and Stan Lynch)where he, like Bruce Springsteen with the E Street Band, was the clear Alpha Dog. Yet he seemed just as it ease playing alongside his idols in the Wilburys or onstage at Bob Dylan's 30th anniversary concert surrounded by the likes of not only Dylan and McGuinn and George Harrison, but Neil Young and Eric Clapton as well. Wherever he was, Tom Petty was in control. Greatness has a way of doing that to you.

In fact Tom Petty made it look so freaking easy at times, such simple and sweet melodies abounding with such (on the surface) simple and sweet lyrics that it was sometimes easy to miss what was lurking beneath. Let's take one magnificent song as an example.

People have laughed affectionately at lines like the ones in "Free Fallin'," where it almost seems like he's making it up as he goes. ("She's a good girl. Crazy 'bout Elvis. Loves horses. And her boyfriend too.") But TP, as always, knew what he was doing, and no songwriter of his generation or others was a good at playing possum as he was. Because it's all a set up for the one of the greatest lyrical turns in rock-in-roll history. And one that took just five words.

"And I'm free.
Free fallin'."

In the first line we have the very definition of rock-n-roll rebellion, right? Following lyrics on such familiar Southern California banalities like horses and shopping malls, we get the rally cry of "I'm free." And we picture Chuck Berry and Bruce Springsteen and Johnny Cash proudly strutting their true, unabashed American birthright of breaking away on their own terms. And for a moment we're lost in it.

But then comes the kicker.

"Free fallin!" 

Everything changes with those two words. He's done running away on his own terms. Now instead, he's plummeting to earth without a bit of control. He's lost, taken by the gravity of everything around him and with the only looming certainty being the surface of the earth getting closer and closer as he falls, an ending as un-romantic as any he could have imagined just a few approaching seconds away. While the lyric begins in the absolute spirit of rock-n-roll freedom, it ends with what we can only imagine will be a literal thud, a million miles from anything that could be described as the rock-n-roll idealogy, And Petty does it all, and says it allspanning a world from unlimited possibility to sheer hopelessnessin just five words.

Awesome.

I saw Tom Petty just once in concert, in the late summer of 1989 on his Full Moon Fever tour, and to be very honest, while I've always been a big fan of his, my primary reason for going that night was my beloved Replacements were the opening act. There were actually more than a few people who were there just to see the Mats that night, many of whom left after their 45-minute ramshackle set (which is chronicled on the Shit, Shower & Shave bootleg.) 

I stayed; damn right I did. And I thought they were nuts for leaving. Because even though you couldn't find two bands at more opposite ends of the spectrumthe cool, polished, eminently tight and professional Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers belied in every way the loose, sloppy and wholly undisciplined nihilism of the Replacementshow could I not? He was just too damn good!

He didn't disappoint. It was a roughly two-hour set that showcased everything great about Tom Petty. From his love of covers (he opened with "So You Wanna Be a Rock-n-Roll Star" and had a very pleasing go at the Gram Parsons-era Byrds' "You Ain't Going Nowhere") to the estimable material from the then-new album ("Running Down a Dream," which closed the show, was a particular live cooker, and the solo acoustic "Yer So Bad" was a delight) to all of those amazing standards (the anthemic "Rebels" towards the end and "American Girl" at the beginning, plus sprawling versions of "Breakdown" and "Don't Come Around Here No More," to name just a few), it was one of the most enjoyable of the many, many concerts I have seen in my life. Today I am especially glad I got to see him live, even if just once.

But the best part of the show, at least to me, came relatively early on, maybe 7-8 songs in, when he did "The Waiting." First of all, doing what could objectively be called possibly his greatest song ever so close to the beginning of a full-length show was a ballsy move. And one you don't see many megastars making.

But it was the way he did it. It's a perfect pop song, period. A perfect recording, a jingly and jangly love opus that starts high and ends higher and just gets better and better each time you hear it. But on this night, as well as many other nights on and around this tour, he did it acoustically. With very little help from the Mike, Benmont, Howie or Stan. It was just him out there, doing an earnest and threadbare version of something everyone came to hear, yet maybe didn't expect it like this. And it was, well, amazing.

(Here he is doing it about a year earlier).


The voice. The confidence. The musicianship. The self-assurance that what he was doing was maybe not what the audience expected to hear, but what he knew they wanted to hear. He had it all that night. Because Tom Petty always had it all.

I'll close with some of his own words, from another one of his later-career gems and one of my favorites, "Walls." Which say what I think all Tom Petty fans are thinking about the man and his music today, as simply, sweetly and appropo as ever:

"Some things are over
Some things go on
Part of me you'll carry
Part of me is gone"

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Nevermind

It was one of the most memorable music-related experiences of my life. I don't remember the first time I heard, say, Revolver or Who's Next or London Calling. But I surely recall the first time I heard Nirvana. A co-worker had the "hello hello hello how low" section of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" as his outgoing voicemail message, and even over the obviously extremely low-fi telephone system, it was absolutely mesmerizing. I called back until I got him in person.

"What is that?" I needed to know.

"It's Nirvana," he said, his tone of voice ever so slightly duh.

I wasn't listening to music at that point—not only was my stereo (and CDs and LPs) several hundred miles south of me, I didn't even have a boombox or Walkman, so for the first time since well before my teenage years, I was entirely out of the loop, when it came to new music. "Who...wha..." I said, charmingly.

He took pity on me, and dropped off the cassette a short while later. My officemate, who had very good but very snooty taste in music, was highly skeptical, as always, but popped it in his office boombox anyway, and cranked the volume knob.

That opening captivated me instantaneously...although I was a bit confused. They were opening with a cover of "Louie Louie"? That's weird.



And then those drums. My god those drums. Sounding bigger than Everest, deeper than the Mariana Trench, louder and faster and punchier—if such a thing were possible—than even the mighty Bonzo himself.

And then the distorted guitars and then the dramatic drop in volume and that bassline and those two chiming notes, mysterious and commanding and incisive...and that voice. A voice that sounded brand new and older than a giant sequoia. Words which were largely understandable and yet collectively incomprehensible and yet somehow ultimately all the sense in the world.

And that chorus. Even the first time, it was instantly familiar while being utterly fresh.

I remember looking over at my officemate at one point, and his eyes were wide in a "yeah, I'm hearing this too—holy shit, am I really hearing this? You're hearing this, right?" kinda expression.

Most watershed moments are only clear in retrospect. But it's not rose-colored glasses when people say they remember how Nirvana changed everything, and it was so obvious and immediate and most of us knew it was happening in real time. It was that powerful and undeniable. And (good god) 26 years down the line, the thing that kicked it all off has lost none of its power. The greatest works of art rarely do.


Monday, September 11, 2017

16 years later

New York. First and foremost in our hearts. For now and for always.

Can't believe it's been 16 years.

We will never forget.

And we will never stop loving you.

"Dream of life..."


Saturday, September 2, 2017

Here Comes the Flood

Peter Gabriel has made no secret of the fact that he didn't care for Bob Ezrin's production of "Here Comes the Flood" on PG's first solo LP. I always thought Gabriel was way, way off-base with that assessment. Does it get ever so bombastic and over the top towards the end? Sure. But Dick Wagner's guitar is magnificent and Allan Schwartzberg's drums sound like the apocalypse itself, and I mean that in the best possible way. Hell, I wish the apocalypse would be half that badass...and yet somehow tasteful at the same time. (I mean, is there anything worse than a gauche apocalypse?)


Now, it's a magnificent song, irrespective of its arrangment. So the Robert Fripp-produced recording they did later? Wonderful. The solo version he did on Kate Bush's 1979 Christmas special? Wonderful.

This version?


I have never had any issue with my rock and roll going big—I'm not sure I could love Elvis, Dylan, the Beatles, The Who or Springsteen as much as I do if I did, never mind my various prog guilty pleasures—and if it sometimes misses the mark, well, hey, that's the risk you run by swinging for the fences, right?

But it's hard to listen to that intimate reading by the older Gabriel and deny that it's got a power every bit the equal of the debut version, albeit in a far more restrained but no less effective for that manner. (The fact that his voice sounds better than ever there doesn't hurt, of course.)

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Rockaway Beach

As my brother Jeff continues to make more and more progress every day recovering from a stroke, here's something bound to make him smile. One of his favorite bands (The Ramones) doing one of their best songs in pretty much the most Ramone-y way possible. Little is said, little is changed, just nonstop energy and sneers to go along with the irresistible beat. Rock-n-roll, baby. #TapperStrong

 

And boy howdy, as a dancer, Joey sure was...one hell of a good lead singer.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Don't Think Twice (It's All Right)

So a good pal sent me this earlier today


and how delightful was that? Sure, Anne Murray's not exactly a heavy-hitter, artistically, but as a pop-loving child of the 70s, I've always had a serious soft spot for her, especially after reading about her learning the hardest of ways why you never want to try to follow Bruce Springsteen on stage, especially not in New York City.

(This was during the brief period after Vini "Mad Dog" Lopez had left the band, when the fantastic Ernest "Boom" Carter was on drums. Springsteen was on fire, of course, and a quarter of the audience left as soon as his set was done; not only was Murray booed when she started her set, by the time her set was over, only a quarter of the crowd was left. Not coincidentally, that was the last time any artist ever even considered letting Bruce Springsteen open for him/her.)

Was that extra little walkdown filigree added to title line really necessary? I don't think so, but hey, quibbles. A more serious annoyance is the fact that they reverse the order of the first two lines, but then, absolutely everybody (except Dylan himself) does that, probably because that's how the lyrics were officially registered. Still, have none of them ever paid attention to (almost) any of Dylan's own recordings? Vexing.

[Yes, I know, in the very early days he would sometimes since it in the printed order, which is undoubtedly why the lyrics were printed in that order. I do not accept this excuse. Rejected!]

I found it an interesting choice for Dylan cover. 'cuz, sure, it's one of Dylan's very greatest songs—and when you consider the rest of us oeuvre, that's a mouthful, and especially staggering considering he was about 21 when he wrote it—but it was never a single for him, much less a hit. Nor was it a big hit for anyone else, unlike so many of his other songs, which were commercial and artistic successes, of course, for the likes of the Byrds and Jimi Hendrix and so on.

Only it turns out it was a successful single, first for Peter, Paul & Mary (who I try to avoid like the plague, hence my semi-deliberate ignorance), going to #9 in 1963. And then even more amazingly, going to #12 two years later and selling over a million copies. Oddly, that later cover seems little more than a footnote now.

Or maybe not so odd, once you hear the damn thing.


As a pop-loving child of the 70s, I have a soft spot for Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons. But this...this is not good. Abomination is probably too strong a word. Probably. But maybe not. Yes, it was apparently recorded as a joke. It's not a good one.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

RIP Glen Campbell

There's going to be a lot written about how Glen Campbell was one of the greatest guitarists ever, and that's true. There'll be a lot written about his studio work, his time with the Beach Boys, his huge success in the late 60s and 70s, his television shows, and the terrible sadness of his final years.

And there's going to be a lot written about the Jimmy Webb songs he recorded, as well there should be. A lot of people have called "Witchita Lineman" the greatest pop song ever. I'm not sure I can go along with that...and yet it's pretty hard to disagree. The late Sir William Joel of Long Islandington once described it as "a simple song about an ordinary man thinking extraordinary thoughts" and that's pretty spot damn on. It came about because Campbell had already had a hit with Webb's "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" and, like Chuck Berry had the previous decade, he clearly saw the commercial value in using a specific location as a hook, so much so that he asked Webb for "another town song." "Do me another song that makes me long for home," Campbell told the songwriter and damn if Webb didn't do exactly that in spades.


If there's a more romantic couplet than

And I need you more than want you
And I want you for all time

Well, I've yet to discover it.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

This Land Is Your Land

“My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.”


In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people
By the relief office I seen my people
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking 
Is this land made for you and me? 

Nobody living can ever stop me
As I go walking that freedom highway
Nobody living can ever make me turn back 
This land was made for you and me

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Some Guys Have All the Luck

So previously I had declared this here perhaps The Most 80s Video Ever. Then a very unkind pal sent me this Rod Stewart video and I may have to reassess.

The animated effects, the deliberately herky-jerky framerate, the neon juxtaposed against the Patrick Nagel-like black and white, the drum machine, the chiming synths, the cheesy humor at the very beginning, the Miami Vice outfits...and of course, Rod the Mod at his Jaggerian pranciest. And if there's an artist in the world who has less standing to sing this nice guy anthem, I don't know who.


Needless to say, I love every second of this.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

After the Fire

DT and I were talking a while back about post-Keith Moon Who LPs, as well as subsequent solo albums from various Who members. And I recalled that the Pete Townshend-written Roger Daltrey track "After the Fire" was really good.

But what I didn't recall was that the video itself gives Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart" a serious run for its money when it comes to Most 80s Video Ever.


Sure, that's some earnest damn emoting at the beginning there, but then, Roger's always been a heart-on-the-sleeve singer. (And, if biographies are to be believe, guy.) And, yeah, you might think that one dramatic whiparound was enough, never mind seven. That's right, seven; I slowed the video down to half-speed, just to make sure my tally was right—although, admittedly, on the last one, he does a 270, rather than a 180, so I'm not positive if it counts. But what makes the opening work for me is how much drama he gets out of...lighting a match. Yeah, he later uses that match to spark a genuine conflagration, but that's in the future. At the moment the match is lit, it's just a surprise Spanish Inquisition-like appearance of...a match. And not even one of them really big mamajamas, neither; it's just a simple bog standard match, like used to be on the counter for the taking in restaurants and hotels and convenience stores. And yet the gravitas, the drama—it is simply glorious.

And I remembered right: pretty sweet tune.

Monday, June 12, 2017

You Upset Me Baby

Some givens: yes, B.B. King sings great. Of course he does—he's B.B. damn King. And, yes, he plays magnificently. Of course he does—as mentioned, he's B.B. damn King.

But the thing that about this gem that makes me laugh every damn time is how the vocals convey just how much he takes it in stride.


Like getting hit by a falling tree? He sounds about as put out as if an errant leaf blown on a breeze stuck to his leg.




Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Angel Eyes — For My Wife, 25 Years Later

It all began with a small smile. And the bluest eyes I'd ever seen.

It's a cliche, of course, to talk about love at first sight, to say you knew from the moment you saw your  husband/wife that he/she was the one for you. And in my case it wouldn't necessarily be accurate. I can't confess to reading my fortune with such letter perfect precision the moment I saw her 27 years ago. But I can say this: the blonde hair, that little smile in my direction, those eyes. They made me not want to look away. Maybe I couldn't see the future, but I could see that smile, those eyes.

Today, 25 years to the day we were married, I still can't read the future, but I can say this much; the present still looks mighty fine with her in my life. And if the future brings us as far as tomorrow, that looks pretty fine too.

"So tonight I'll ask the stars above,
How did I ever win your love?"

That's from John Hiatt's "Angel Eyes," also made popular-ish in 1990 by Jeff Healey with his aching and passionate rendition. Funny thing about songs that become "your song" with the one you love, you don't exactly know it's "your song" the first time you ever hear it. Or even the 20th. Well, maybe if you're extremely lucky, or if you're Marty McFly's parents, you know the very moment you hear a song it was meant to be the song that connected two hearts together inseparably for all time. It just doesn't usually work that way.

In the summer of 1990 I was 21 years old and a very recent college graduate. I was barely shaving every other day, let alone every day like I sadly must do now. I was clean-shaven and skinny, barely 160 pounds on my 6'1 frame. I had just been hired at my first ever real bona fide job as a reporter at a mid-sized daily newspaper outside of Hartford, CT. I was making a little money (not much, but a little) and was living with friends in a crowded but adequate little apartment. And I was single, unhitched. I thought at the time I had everything I needed; a job, a place of my own, a few bucks in my pocket and no attachments.

I spent that summer carefree and pretty much carelessly blissful, or so I thought. My last "girlfriend" had come months earlier at the end of my senior year and I told myself it was my time to have some adult fun. I thought myself funny, charming and somewhat (I guess) attractive. So I spent those summer months playing the proverbial field, dating and goofing around. My time, and everything else, was my own, and for a short while it felt like I had all I needed.

Only yeah, no. I learned something pretty stark after those few months. I wanted more than this. I was young and a little naive and idealistic. I wanted to be a writer and a poet and to cash in on my romantic's heart. No, I wasn't dreaming of falling in love, but I was smitten with the idea of being hit by that thunderbolt and having someone else with me who was hit by it just as hard. Look, I was 21 and had no clue what I wanted, truth be told. But I knew I wanted something and I wanted it to be amazing.

I would frequently go out with friends that summer to bars and to parties, even the occasional road trip, and "Angel Eyes," that song, was without a question part of the soundtrack of that summer. I loved the song, and what's more, I noticed when it was on. I listened intently to the longing and the beauty of that underdog's tale of found love. I heard something of myself in it for whatever reason. And I couldn't get it out of my head.

Now I'm the guy who never learned to dance
Who never even got one second glance
Across the crowded room was close enough
I could look but I could never touch

So tonight I'll ask the stars above
How did I ever win your love?
What did I do? What did I say?
To turn your angel eyes my way?

When I met Doreen it was in the heart of that summer, late July to be exact. It was in the newsroom. She was one of the first people I met that day and she was given the (unenviable) task of showing me around that day, giving me the five-cent tour and, it seems, making sure I didn't break anything. That's when I first saw that smile, those blue eyes. I thought she was exactly what she was, beautiful and funny and warm. I had no idea what was to come.

She was a little older than I was but we hit it off right away, the same sense of humor and a lot in common. Not only could I count on her counsel and advice now and again as I was getting my start, but I found we shared common interests. Funny, one of the first things I recall was we both loved legendary northeast band NRBQ and talked lightly of going to see them sometime. But it was a work friendship and not much more. Or so I thought.

And then suddenly it wasn't that anymore. I was thinking about Doreen all the time, her face and hair and those eyes and the way she seemed to make me feel a little better when she talked to me. When I heard "Angel Eyes" play on the radio I began to think about her (y'see, kids, back in the day we actually listened to music on the broadcast radio, but I guess that's another story for another time).

One night I got drunk with one of my closest friends and told him about her. He told me to make my move, so to speak. To go for it, the way friends do. But that wasn't my style, at least not right away. Instead I stumbled home that night, stone drunk, and wrote a poem about her. A lot of it was gibberish, but the final line was pretty clear, "I am ready."

Our first date happened largely by accident on of all things a Monday night. October 29, 1990 to be exact. Three days past my 22nd birthday. Neither one of us planned it; we just happened to be working late and decided to go out for a drink. Over drinks we talked about getting a bite to eat and she invited me to her apartment for a quick-fix pasta dinner. Perfect; I had to go out later that night to cover a story anyway, so a nice quick meal and some great conversation with a friend was ideal. Yes, at this time I knew how interested I was in her, but despite the recent drunken poetic declarations I'd put to paper, I was nowhere near ready to tell her that, I didn't think.

And then there we were, sitting and talking and suddenly her hand was in mine. I remarked at how small her hands were and we had a laugh about that; it was honestly something I hadn't noticed before. It probably took us a good few seconds to realize we were holding hands, but then at once we both seemed acutely aware of it.

That's when I threw all caution to hell, swallowed up every ounce of courage I had, leaned over and kissed her. And she kissed me back. It likely lasted five seconds but seemed to last for hours. Probably because I wanted it to.

That's when we looked at each other, that warm smile of hers suddenly warmer than anything I'd ever seen or known, and I had to think of something to say. "You're a writer, jackass," my mind told me as it sprinted 10 miles ahead of my body. "Say something a writer would say!"

But all I could come up with was this:

"God, I've been wanting to do that for a long time."

She responded in kind, "I've been wanting to do that for a long time too."

That was our love story. So much followed and continues to follow, amazing days and nights together, our engagement seven months later, our wedding 13 months after that, our life together. Sickness and health, great times and hard times, the birth of an amazing son, changing careers and traversing all of those paths life puts before you. All of it followed that first kiss, and it all has meant so much 25 years and beyond, moving down the road together.

But our love story was told in that kiss, in that moment. It shone like moonlight through her smile and danced through my soul as it reflected in those beautiful blue eyes of hers. It was our first moment and remains the window to every moment that has followed.

So tonight I'll ask the stars above
How did I ever win your love?
What did I do? What did I say?
To turn your angel eyes my way?

It wasn't too long after that first moment, maybe a few weeks, that we were together and "Angel Eyes" came on the stereo. My song, the song that sounded exactly like the thing I was looking for even though I had no idea what that thing was. Before I could point out how much I loved this song she spoke.

"Oh my God! I love this song!" she exclaimed.

Yes, it was meant to be. We danced to it for our first dance at our wedding on June 6, 1992. That's 25 years ago today. We don't need any song to remind us what we mean to each other, how happy we are, but whenever we hear it we both are transported back to those early days together. And we are both so grateful for what we found in each other.

We've been together 27 years, married for 25, and are both signed on for at least twice of that to come. At least. And it all started with a smile that has never left me, and those eyes that remain as blue and perfect as the day I met her.

Happy anniversary to the love of my life. As the man sang, "What did I do? What did I say? To turn your angel eyes my way?"

The original version, throaty and raw and wondrous.



And the version we both first fell in love with, in all its ethereal beauty.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

RIP Chris Cornell

What a voice.

Soundgarden. Audioslave. And one very very memorable session with fellow bandmates and friends called Temple of the Dog, which did two things: 1) Delivered "Hunger Strike," one of the best and most iconic songs of the 1990s, and 2) Kinda resulted in the formation of a band known as Pearl Jam.

The man did a lot and indeed left a mark. And damn could he sing.

Some people just look like rock-n-roll, in addition to sounding like it.

Chris Cornell was no doubt one of those people. He so very, very was.

RIP Chris. You'll be missed.

And for the record, this was one of the scariest and most unforgettable videos ever made. It still is.


Friday, April 28, 2017

Favorite Song Friday: People Who Died

One of the great things about punk, past all of the anger and the pathos and the defiance and so much else, is that so many of the standard bearer punk rock songs, when you cut to the core, are just so melodic. Think Patti Smith at her best. Or the Stooges with "Search and Destroy," among others. Or basically the entire Ramones catalogue. The list goes on, from "London Calling" to "American Idiot" and everything else in between. All of these young (and not so young) punks had something loud and urgent to say, but dammit if you couldn't sing along with it while they did. Or even, in some cases, dance to it.

That's what I love about today's entry in our occasional "Favorite Song Friday" series.

Favorite Song Friday: People Who Died — The Jim Carroll Band

This is punk rock. I mean this is punk rock with a capitol damn P. Jim Carroll was many things and was really really good at all of them. He was a neo-beat poet who grew up worshiping the likes of Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs. He was a best-selling author whose The Basketball Diaries remains as visceral a depiction of the urban nightmare of despair and addiction as anyone has ever written. He hung with and had the respect of the the proto-punk New York crowd, the likes of Patti Smith and Lou Reed and Robert Maplethorpe. He was a young basketball star who lived through addiction and survived addiction, with the scars to prove it. And in his spare time he fronted a punk/new wave band, The Jim Carroll Band, that while they weren't quite The Clash or The Ramones or Black Flag, for a brief while in the early 80s they were pretty damn good and a pretty damn clear representation of what New York City punk rock was really all about. Carroll's poet's soul, his storyteller's mind and, yes, his punk rocker's heart resulted in at least one truly great piece of punk artistry, "People Who Died."



There's not much more to this song that a churning 4/4 beat, a breakneck bassline, a couple of very tasty guitar solos and an eight-stanza glimpse into Jim Carroll's personal definition of hell. "People Who Died" is a literal list of what the title says; people in his life who died young and painfully, either from disease, ODing, war, murder or suicide. Every inch of the eight verses (three of which are repeated at the end) gives us a rapid-fire memorial of people in life whom he lost.

Carroll doesn't really bother trying to sing, he more raps and rasps his way through the hyperpaced list of the lost. And the words are so tragic and gripping you practically want him to stop, to say "No mas." But then comes the chorus and the song shifts from the frenetic poetic dirge to a fist-pumping rally cry to the lost. "Those are people who died, died!" he shouts/sings, "Those are people who died-died! They were all my friends! And they died!"

You shouldn't be able to dance to those words. Or sing along with passion to those words. Or allow those words to liberate you and make you rise from street-level where all the dead bodies lay to a place beyond death and despair where actual life can be celebrated. There's no way that should be possible in a song that is so riddled with death from opening to close. But you can. You can because Jim Carroll didn't just write down a list of people who died. He wrote a song to remember, mourn and, yes, celebrate them.

And read the lyrics. This is gutter poetry at its very finest, something only someone who had lived it and somehow emerged from it could possibly write:

Teddy sniffing glue, he was 12 years old
Fell from a roof on East 2-9.
Kathy was 11 when she pulled the plug
26 reds and a bottle of wine.
Bobby got leukemia, 14 years old
He looked 65 when he died, he was a friend of mine.

Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
They were all my friends! And they died!

G-burg and Georgie let their gimmicks go rotten
So they died of hepatitis in Upper Manhattan.
Sly in Vietnam took a bullet to the head
Bobby OD'd on Drano on the night he was wed.
They were two more friends of mine, two more friends that died!

Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
They were all my friends! And they died!

Mary took a dry dive from a hotel room
Bobby hung himself from his cell in the tombs.
Judy jumped in front of a subway train
Eddie got slit in his jugular vein.
Eddie, I miss you more than all the others - and I salute you brother!

Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
All of my friends, they died!

Herbie pushed Tony from a Boys' Club roof
Tony thought his rage was just some goof.
But Herbie sure gave Tony some, some bitchin' proof.
And Herbie said, "Tony, can you fly?"
But  Tony couldn't fly. Tony died!

Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
They were all my friends! And they died!

Brian got busted on a narco rap
He beat the rap by rattin' on some bikers.
He said, "Hey I know it's dangerous,
"But it sure beats Rikers."
But the next day he got offed, by the very same bikers!

Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
They were all my friends! And they died!

Teddy sniffing glue, he was 12 years old
Fell from a roof on East 2-9.
Kathy was 11 when she pulled the plug
26 reds and a bottle of wine.
Bobby got leukemia, 14 years old
He looked 65 when he died, he was a friend of mine.

Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
They were all my friends! And they died!

G-burg and Georgie let their gimmicks go rotten
So they died of hepatitis in Upper Manhattan.
Sly in Vietnam took a bullet to the head
Bobby OD'd on Drano on the night he was wed.
They were two more friends of mine, two more friends that died!

Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
They were all my friends! And they died!

Mary took a dry dive from a hotel room
Bobby hung himself from his cell in the tombs.
Judy jumped in front of a subway train
Eddie got slit in his jugular vein.
Eddie, I miss you more than all the others - this song is for you my brother!

Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
Those are people who died, died!
All of my friends, they died!

Jim Carroll died in 2009 at 60, far too young but, I suppose, way longer than he may have ever expected to live given his descent in his young life into heroin and hell. But he left behind a diverse and indelible canon of work that any writer would have been proud to call their own.

"People Who Died" was part of that canon. A big part. A song for the dead and dying. Written and delivered by someone who was and remains very much alive in a world he helped to shape.