Monday, December 17, 2007

A Sad Year in Review

We lost a lot of fine folks in 2007 - great musicians, not-so-great musicians, individuals that changed the industry for the better, and some other fearless folks not involved in music that did everything they could to shore up the crumbling wall of American and Western popular culture. As these great people pass, I find fewer and fewer rising to replace them. Even with those that don't impact popular culture with quite the same resonance as others we have still lost a unique entertainer that many, many people took enjoyment from.

I have been accused of being behind the times. That great authors, painters, poets, etc. exist on line - that in my relative ignorance regarding new technologies I'm missing the new generation of artistic geniuses. I admit that this very well may be true. I am not, however, convinced that one can experience such things as the chill radiating from a Mark Rothko original while standing a few feet from it, or the joy de vivre emanating from a Matisse, in an electronic medium.

I've also been accused of being American/Euro-centric in my views, which is certainly true. I don't feel like I need to rail against the death of culture in The Thirld World because it seems to be thriving in most of these places, at least the ones where artistic expression is allowed at all. I would dearly like to see particularly the U.S. reach a point where our society is culturally on a level with the rest of the world.

I believe rock 'n' roll, among other emotion based forms of music, bucks the trend of this cultural slide. That gives me hope. End of sermon.

Anyway, here's an incomprehensive list of those 2007 took from us:

Tony Wilson - Founder of Factory Records and operator of The Hacienda, the center of musical culture in Manchester in the late 70's/early 80's. He was central to the rise to prominence of Joy Division, New Order, The Happy Mondays, The Stone Roses, and Oasis, among others. If Western music had a hundred more like him there would be a lot less shitty music out there.

Hilly Kristal - What needs be said about Hilly? He opened a little shithole dive in The Bowery called CBGB in 1973, intending to cater to Country and Blues acts. Instead, he accidentally became the big daddy of American punk rock and, by extension, British punk. If he wouldn't have given Tom Verlaine and Richard Hell a shot that day in 1974 who knows what rock 'n' roll would look like today. I venture to say it wouldn't be pretty.

Linda Stein - Co-manager of The Ramones with Danny Fields. She is widely attributed with arranging The Ramones gig at The Roundhouse in London on July 4th, 1976 - a show largely considered to be the cohesive launching point for British punk.

Lee Hazelwood - Wrote "These Boots are Made for Walking" for Nancy Sinatra in 1966 - talk about your women's lib, especially from a guy known for country music. He worked with Duane Eddy and produced Gram Parsons after Merle Haggard turned Parsons down. Haggard fucked up.

Brent Liles - Original bass player for Social Distortion - his playing can be heard on "Mommy's Little Monster". He kept working his whole life, and ended his days as the bassist for Agent Orange.

Brad Delp - Lead singer of Boston. I hated Boston, at least after the 7th grade when I knew better. Still, his howling wail and asinine lyrics made tens of millions of generally stoned people very happy. Plus, he got to share the stage with Tom Scholtz - a man considered "the best guitarist in the world" for about five minutes in 1982 0r '83.

Ike Turner - I wrote extensively on Ike in my last blog. Gigantic son of a bitch. Still, "Rocket 88". Man, that song.

Porter Wagoner - Again, what needs to be said? The man was a giant. Highlights - He launched Dolly Parton's career (I don't care how you describe yourself - punk, metal head, goth, emo, OG, raver, redneck, whatever - if you don't respect Dolly in spite of the mountains of cheesiness surrounding her, you need to do some research), wrote "Green, Green Grass of Home" among a string of other hits, and opened for The White Stripes in the summer of 2007, receiving an overwhelmingly positive response at the end of his performance. Pretty cool for an old guy who expected to get booed off the stage.

Kevin DuBrow - Who cares if Quiet Riot never wrote any of their hits? DuBrow got to be a second rate David Lee Roth, live a massive 80's hair metal rock star life, and get more ass than a toilet seat for five or so years in the early 80's. His band may have sucked but, again, he made millions of mostly stoned people very happy. Well done.

Joe Zawinul - played keyboards for Miles Davis on "Bitches Brew" and, along with Davis, helped create Jazz Fusion. He went on to play with Weather Report. Jazz isn't my thing, but even not knowing much about him I'll be the first to say this guy kicked mucho ass.

Chad Butler (AKA Pimp C) - I don't really know anything about Hip-Hop or Gangsta Rap, and I think "Urban Culture" is the biggest corporate marketing sham since the hoola hoop, but I'll give this to Chad - he's the first rapper I'm aware of that didn't die from gun violence or drug abuse. He's to be commended for that.

George Osmond - Father of those annoying Osmond siblings, not to mention their manager and the person responsible for propelling them to fame. I'll leave it at that.

Bill Pinkney - Last surviving member of the original line-up of The Drifters. Yeah, there's still a band called The Drifters, but it ain't The Drifters. Man, what a voice.

Max Roach - Jazz drummer who played with the likes of Dizzie Gillespie and Coleman Hawkins. Again, don't know much about him, but what a badass.

Don Ho - No more "Tiny Bubbles" for Hawaii. It'll never be the same.

Michael Brecker - Played sax for James Taylor, Herbie Hancock, Joni Mitchell, and plenty of others. Never liked their stuff and never paid attention to the sax. I guess he must've been a pretty good side man, though.

Frankie Laine - Old Leather Lungs. A jazz singer that performed non-stop from 1930 to 2005. He was one of the most vocal white jazz performers in favor of civil rights. It didn't make him any friends. At least not any white ones. I'm not a jazz fan. Still, what a badass.

Dan Fogelberg - Looks like he'll have the distinction of being the last famous performer to die in 2007. The undisputed king of "soft rock", he's best known for the song he wrote for his father, a big band leader, on his death - "Leader of the Band". Not my thing, but he sure knew what he was doing. Even my grandmother likes him.

Donda West - Mother of Kanye West, the famous R&B performer. I'm no fan of contemporary R&B (love the old stuff, though), but that doesn't mean I don't mourn Kanye's loss and wish him my best. Not to sound mercenary, but pain like he's experiencing can often lead to some brilliant fucking music. I'll check out his next record.

Mikey Donaldson (AKA Mikey Offender) - bassist for seminal Austin/Houston/San Francisco hardcore/thrash/crossover band The Offenders. If I'm not mistaken he sat in with the Dirty Rotten Imbeciles on an occasion or two. I don't think you could find a a faster bass player who could still hit all the notes.

Byron Scott - Amazing Austin guitarist also known for his pork-pie hat, enormous smile, and ubiquitous amiability. He was also a friend of mine. Byron was in about a hundred bands, the most influential (I guess) being The Trouble Boys who got to open for The Specials, The Stray Cats, and The Clash. Rumor has it he was hanging out with Jukebox the afternoon Jukebox conceived The Hickoids, although I'm sure there are other members of The Hickoids that would vehemently dispute that.

Tennyson LeMaster - Occasional drummer for both The Hickoids and The Gay Sportscasters. An unbelievable drummer, a super nice guy, and one dapper dresser.

Hank Thompson - In 1946 Hank started a band called The Brazos Valley Boys, and in so doing introduced the world to something called Western Swing. Indeed, he would become known as "The King of Western Swing". Bob Wills, Spade Cooley, whoever else mined this genre, owed their career to Hank. He wrote "The Wild Side of Life" and "A Six Pack To Go". He was also the first performer to record a live album - "Live at the Golden Nugget" - in 1960. This is a short list of the man's accomplishments. Here's to you, Hank.

That's it for musicians, at least those I know about. Here's a shorter list of non-musicians who still made some pretty serious (most of them positive) impacts on our dying culture:

Yvonne De Carlos - Who? She was Lily Munster.

Evel Kneivel - Speaks for himself.

Calin De Forest (AKA Larry "Bud" Melman) - What can I tell you that you don't already know? Or should already know?

Kurt Vonnegut - One of the last great American literary authors.

Norman Mailer - Another one of the last great American literary authors.

Marcel Marceau - Make fun of mimes all you want. This guy did more for stage and screen acting than you ever will. A lot more.

Molly Ivins - Humorist and political commentator. This woman had balls of brass. She stood up to Dubya and told the nation what a psychopathic monster he is (with a deft turn of humorous phrase) when every other journalist and commentator was scrambling to save their jobs by calling him a hero. I think she's a big enough soul to spit on him from Heaven just to give him a little relief as he roasts in hell.

Well, there it is. Certainly not an uplifting subject, especially when the list is so long. We need to start keeping our eyes out for the next generation of good ones. Not to say that there aren't any out there now, but we seem to be losing them faster than we're getting them.

That's a pretty lame ending to this, but I really don't know what to say.

Back to music reviews next time.

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