Let’s Put It This Way…Fuck 2016

For anyone who has been around a good length of time, there are years that are remembered more fondly than others. For myself, there’s 2006, when I met my lovely wife; 2008, when we were married, and 20xx when we had our son. Then there are those years that are better left unsaid (mine was 1988 and let’s not get into why except to say that I came out of it a better person). With all of this said, there’s only one way to put the latest ‘trip around the sun’ and that is…fuck 2016.

There were two main areas that were ravaged over the past 365 days (and we’ve yet to actually reach New Year’s Eve, for fuck’s sake). One was the entertainment industry and, in particular, the music industry. When the year kicked off with the death of David Bowie (January 10) from liver cancer, it caught everyone by surprise simply because the very private Bowie had not informed the world he was in failing health.

A little more than a week later, another stunning death occurred. The Eagles’ Glenn Frey would pass away on January 18 following intestinal surgery and, by the end of the month, a band’s history was decimated by the death of two former members. Oddly enough on the same day – January 28 – Signe Toly Anderson, the original vocalist for Jefferson Airplane, and the former lead guitarist for the band, Paul Kantner, both passed away at the age of 74.

Arguably the most surprising death of the calendar year was the passing of Prince in April. “The Purple One” was found unresponsive in the elevator of his Paisley Park home on April 21, ending a charade that had been going on apparently for years. Bedeviled by pain from his strenuous and acrobatic performances over the last 30-plus years, Prince was found to have been using the painkiller fentanyl and overdosed on the powerful drug.

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The sheer number of deaths of legendary figures of the music world continued to mount throughout the entire year. Maurice White of Earth, Wind and Fire (February 4); Merle Haggard (April 6); Leonard Cohen (November 7); Sharon Jones, a fiery soul singer often called the “female James Brown” (November 18); two members of one band in Keith Emerson (March 11) and Greg Lake (December 7)…the legends that left had many music aficionados stunned into silence. To administer the coup de grace for the year, former Wham! front man and solo sensation George Michael passed on Christmas Day.

Add these in with the deaths of such acting icons as Alan Rickman (January 14), Abe Vigoda (January 26), Garry Shandling (March 24), Patty Duke (March 29), Gene Wilder (August 28), Florence Henderson (November 24) and Alan Thicke (December 13), sports legends like Muhammad Ali (June 3), Gordie Howe (June 10), Arnold Palmer (September 25) and former Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt (June 28) and political figures such as Nancy Reagan (March 6), Elie Wiesel (July 2), Fidel Castro (November 25) and John Glenn (December 8), and even the hardest of souls would have to say that this has been a pretty devastating year (and we’ve barely scratched the surface of those who passed in 2016 – the awards shows this spring are going to be pretty somber affairs when it comes to the “In Memoriam” segment).

It is often asked why people get emotional over the death of entertainment figures, sports heroes or even politicians. It is because it is usually a link to our youth that has been snatched away from us by the talons of the Grim Reaper. Along with that past link, there is also the wealth of work that we will never hear or see those people perform again. In some cases, yes, the person has lived a full life…it still doesn’t make it easier on those who consider themselves fans of the person or their achievements in life to recognize the passing of the body but not the soul.

The other area that was particularly screwed up in 2016 was the world of politics (sorry if you were looking for something else). At the start of the year, it seemed that there were legitimate candidates on both sides of the aisle that would provide for a good choice for the citizens of the States of America. Then a narcissistic, xenophobic racist fascist stepped to the fore.

The man who would eventually become the GOP nominee was not challenged by his own party, partly because they thought he was a joke (and he is) but also because they thought that he had no chance to win. They also didn’t want to offend the “base” that flocked to him like lemmings off a cliff because that “base” was something they had taken a long time to create through their actions of the past 16 years. By pushing them away too hard, they would threaten their own chances when the GOP nominee fell out of favor.

The only problem with that was he never did. Instead of falling from favor, more members of the Ignorati came along for the ride. And because they could not coalesce behind an alternative member – one wasn’t conservative enough, another was too conservative, another’s family had been there before, another was too young, etc. – they allowed a travesty to take over their party. In fact, many of those stayed on the sidelines EVEN WHEN THEY NOMINATED HIM and thought that the Democratic nominee for President, Hillary Clinton, would be the one to take him down.

Through the mechanizations of many parts, Election Day instead resembled “The Purge” as the Ignorati worked such an unlikelihood that no one considered it possible. To win, the GOP nominee had to sweep at least four states – some combination of Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida – to be able to win the presidency. The GOP nominee took six of the seven, with Virginia the only holdout. The margin of victory in those states amounted to around 100,000 votes and the GOP nominee would actually lose the popular vote to Clinton.

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Now we enter a world that, with Twitler in charge, is a much darker place. He continues to threaten different agencies, looking for the names of those scientists who have done research on climate change or women who have worked to advance women’s rights in foreign countries. He continues to harp on developing a registry for Muslims, threatening to enrage a religion that is the second largest in the world with 1.6 BILLION devotees. He also threatens to take us back to the era where a simple error – lost contact with command and control, a “broken arrow” of a stolen or misplaced nuke or a simple regime change in a country – could bring us to the brink of thermonuclear disaster.

The only way to stop such a despot is to fight on every corner, for every fiber and inch of earth that is possible. It will be more difficult in 2017 as the GOP has complete command of the government, but they now also have no fucking excuses when (and it will be when) things go FUBAR. There may be those who say wait for a couple of years to change the narrative, but the time is now to stop any forward momentum that the GOP nominee may think he has (which he is highly mistaken – there is no “mandate” as many members of the Ignorati have been claiming).

These were just the two jewels of the crappy crown that topped the Year 2016. With hope, we can put this year behind us and find better things going on in the New Year. Let’s blow the horns, rev up the noisemakers and tip the bottle of champagne…fuck 2016! It’s done! And let’s hope that 2017 brings us better circumstances than the previous 365 days has.

When U R Gone, What 2 Do with Ur Legacy

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It’s taken me a few days to come to grips with the death of the legend that is known as Prince and, to be honest, there aren’t words that can express the depths of the impact of his death. Barely older than myself at 57, Prince Rogers Nelson stepped into his elevator on Thursday last week at his sprawling Paisley Park recording studios/home in Minneapolis and, with no one else around, passed away inside the car. In one moment, another icon of the music industry had been stolen from the world.

2016 has been a particularly difficult year for iconic musical legends. The one most applicable to Prince was David Bowie (who also had a seismic impact on myself) and the two, if not cut from the same cloth, at least were in the same skein of fabric. Both were innovators in the music they created; they followed the path of their own choosing and, upon their death, it was automatically known that there would be no one else like either of them. Add in other legends like B. B. King, Merle Haggard, Paul Kantner, Glenn Frey, Lemmy Kilmister and Maurice White (just to name a few) and, if there’s a Heaven, then the joint is rocking pretty hard lately.

Perhaps the Grim Reaper can leave musicians alone for a while…

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There are several other legendary performers that Prince has a great deal in common with, however. One of the big issues that has come out is that Prince was notoriously known to keep a humongous stash of his own recorded materials on the grounds of the Paisley Park studios. A past studio musician who worked with Prince in the 1990s stated that, at that time, there were at least 50 albums of unreleased material that were in basically a bank vault inside the home. Now that Prince has passed away, will there be similar comparisons to Jimi Hendrix, Tupac Shakur and Michael Jackson as to their posthumous activities?

Hendrix only released three albums of original material prior to his death in 1970 but, following his passing, it seems there were tracks just laying around that he had worked on. Between 1971 and just last year, 59 total albums have been released bearing Hendrix’s name (12 studio, 25 live and 22 compilations) and this isn’t even counting Extended Play (EPs), singles or “official bootlegs” of Hendrix performances. The same is true in the case of Shakur; he released four albums prior to his death in 1996 and seven albums after his demise. Hell, Shakur even came back as a hologram at Coachella in 2012 to “perform” for the crowd.

Jackson didn’t escape this type of action either. While he was a bit more prolific with his career prior to his death in 2009 (ten solo albums plus his work with his brothers as the Jackson 5 or the Jacksons), he – or, better yet, the Jackson estate – has released two albums of work posthumously, Michael and Xscape. There was also a documentary movie released, This Is It, that detailed out the preparations for the World Tour that Jackson was set to embark upon before his death.

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Estimates on Prince’s entire estate at the time of his passing have been put at $250 million (probably much better off than any of the men whom we’ve discussed previously when they left this mortal coil) and it is conservatively thought that, over the next five years through just what is in the marketplace currently, another $100 million could be earned by the Prince estate. The question becomes what do you do with that wealth of material that Prince put in the vault.

If there were 50 albums of material in the mid-90s, with someone like Prince there are probably a couple of hundred albums of FINISHED product there now, waiting for eager fans to hear. There’s probably another couple of hundred of albums consisting of bits and pieces that could be cobbled together into some form of functional music. The question becomes do you just keep it locked away? Or do you go ahead, realize the potential goldmine that you have and release it?

There are plenty of cases where a writer or musician will leave a piece unfinished because it just doesn’t feel right for a particular mood that they are working on at that moment. In other cases, they lose the momentum that drove them to write the piece in the first place or they simply forget that they were working on it in its entirety and move onto other things they feel are more challenging. These things really happen – you ought to see the number of things I start writing that either never reach fruition or fizzle out…if I revisit them today, they move forward hesitatingly again until that fateful moment that they get forgotten about.

Since I am in no manner as productive as Prince, as musically talented or as in demand as to my product (I’d like to think I can turn a phrase or two sometimes, however), the dilemma becomes whether he left explicit instructions for his family members following his passing. It is possible that he detailed out what to do with this vault of recordings down to the T and his family will follow them faithfully. It is possible that he dictated that those recordings never reach the ears of the civilized world, which would be a true tragedy. Then again, the family may go against any of Prince’s postmortem wishes (or a court might) and just release things as they need the money and it will seem as if Prince never left us.

The worst thing that could happen is that Prince’s family sells the rights to Prince’s legacy to either a record company or another artist. This is what happened in the 80s when Jackson bought the rights to The Beatles catalog (and destroyed the friendship he had with Sir Paul McCartney, who encouraged him to get into music rights ownership, over the issue). Simply the material that is in public today should be enough for Prince’s family to be able to not only live well but be able to erect some sort of appropriate way to memorialize their loved one who left far too soon. To sell off his legacy in such a manner would be heresy to his memory.

I personally hope that we do get some more QUALITY Prince material – in my opinion, there’s a reason that Prince put those recordings in a vault…he didn’t feel that they were of the standard that he wanted his audience to hear. But if his family were to deem those recordings should stay unheard by the public – or if Prince himself explicitly dictated that they weren’t to be released (the worst thing to hear would be that they would be destroyed – it would seem like another fire at the Library of Alexandria for music lovers), then those wishes would have to be respected. There is one thing that is clear – we’d love to not be thinking about this issue and instead wondering when Prince would either perform next or what would be the general groove of his next album.

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So Who SHOULD Be In The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame?

Last week, the nominations came out for the 2016 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and, at the very end of my thoughts, I posited the question, “Who should have been nominated?” Mind you, the list of nominees was outstanding overall: longtime overlooked acts such as Chicago, Deep Purple and Yes getting nominated again (and three bands that I believe are long overdue the honor), newcomers like Janet Jackson, The Cars and Cheap Trick (all no votes) and outside shots such as The J.B.’s (another vote in from me), Chic (no) and N.W.A. (yes). However, there were several other artists that should have been on this year’s ballot if not already inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is personal to me because of my long love affair with music. Despite the factor that I could never play an instrument with any high level of competence, I admire those that can create art out of music, words, melodies and thoughts. While it could be said that writing is something like that, the songwriter and/or musician is an artist that encompasses different aspects, pulling them into one cohesive idea. Thus, I’ve always been a huge fan of music overall and rock music in particular.

My first introduction to rock music dates back to someone who, unfortunately, I don’t know if they’re still alive. The year was 1971 and, riding around in a car with my half-brother Monty (his real name could have been Montague, don’t really remember) on a hot summer day, saw him pop a cassette into the tape deck. Suddenly the mystifying tones of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” came pounding out of the speakers and, as I listened to the words and music, I was transported (you have to remember, these were the heady days of NASA’s Apollo space program) to being “Major Tom” and traveling through space myself.

From there, it was a quick indoctrination into the world of music. My mother had the classics – Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Waylon and Willie and others – from the country music side, but she also had such gems as The Temptations, The Supremes and other R&B acts from the 60s in the record cabinet. My investigations in the rock music genre touched on Santana, The Who, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and James Taylor, then began to branch out into the harder edged rock of ZZ Top, KISS and Led Zeppelin, among others (on a personal note, was always more of a Rolling Stones guy than the Beatles).

As the mid-70s passed, punk rock became the next touchstone. The Sex Pistols, New York Dolls, The Ramones – these were the gates to pass through on the way to adulthood. As I reached high school, not only was it the disco era but it was almost time for the double shotgun-blast of the New Wave from England and MTV, opening the world even further (and we cannot go on without also recognizing the New Wave of British Heavy Metal). As I had to be a part of the music scene, I did the only logical thing a person with little to no musical talent could do – I became a DJ.

Through the 1980s and well into the 1990s, I plugged along as a DJ at pretty much every radio format that you could think of doing. Album-Oriented Rock (AOR), Top 40, easy listening, R&B, adult contemporary, news/talk – about the only thing I didn’t do was country (much like “country” music today, there’s a thin line between what was country music then and pop music). Along the way, there were some great times had in the conduct of my job and…well, let’s just save those stories for another time.

Hopefully you see that who gets in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is important, at least to me. It isn’t “live or die” important, mind you, but it is something that I want to show my son one day and say, “Yeah, I saw them, they were great.” Maybe we will sit down and listen to a CD or, pray tell, if we still have vinyl by then, an album, and talk about music and its history. He’s got a great musical ear, however, so he may be entertaining me with his music rather than our just listening to it.

OK, getting sappy here…

My criteria for putting someone in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame would be somewhat along the lines of what poker uses for its Hall of Fame. These are the criteria that I would use in putting someone in the Rock Hall:

1. Length of career with sustained critical or commercial excellence
2. Influence on a genre of music or on several artists
3. Respect from fellow musicians

Pretty simple, wouldn’t you say? Alas, there are some glaring errors in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. How about some of these artists, bands and contributors?

Warren Zevon – The singer-songwriter born in Chicago has been overlooked for far too long when it comes to the Rock Hall. Responsible for writing such songs as “Poor, Poor Pitiful Me” (covered by far too many artists to list but most notably by Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee Linda Ronstadt), Zevon was a part of the California scene in the mid-70s, working with such people as Jackson Browne, Neil Young, members of the Eagles and counting Bruce Springsteen amongst his admirers.

When it came to his own efforts, Zevon was beyond compare. Along with his iconic “Werewolves of London,” Zevon penned and performed such classics as “Lawyers, Guns and Money,” “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner,” “Accidently Like a Martyr,” and “Keep Me in Your Heart,” which was nominated for a Grammy after Zevon’s death in 2003. With a career that spanned more than 30 years, commercial and critical success and the respect of your fellow musicians, there’s no one more deserving than Zevon for induction into the Hall.

Jimmy Buffett – Another product of the singer-songwriter era of the early 70s, Buffett is notable for forging his own path in the music industry. When I say his own path, I mean he created a whole GENRE of music that didn’t exist before – let’s call it “tropical rock,” music with a Caribbean/calypso/reggae/country feel that didn’t fit neatly into any of the “categories” of music in the 1970s (and still doesn’t today, to be honest). Buffett himself has said about that period, “I wasn’t country enough to be played on those stations and I wasn’t rock enough to be played on AOR.”

The way to beat that? Write a song like “Margaritaville” that transcended any charts, genres or radio stations. Today that song has led Buffett into the world of literature, casino and hotel ownership and a “40-year summer job” that the man still enjoys to this day as he approaches 70. He’s influenced a host of country musicians (the Zac Brown Band is a prime example) and, as owner of a recording studio and a record company (Mailboat Records) is ensuring that the “tropical rock” he created will have outlets for the future.

The Runaways – While Joan Jett went in with The Blackhearts last year, she really should have gone in with The Runaways because, without them, there is no Joan Jett.

The Runaways were “created” by producer Kim Fowley who, having drummer Sandy West and guitarist Jett in the fold, was looking to create a “jailbait” band of teenaged girls who could rock out just as well as any group of guys. First found by the group was Micki Steele, who didn’t last long but went on to join The Bangles, before gold was struck with guitar virtuoso Lita Ford, vocalist Cherie Currie and bassist Jackie Fox to fill out the roster. With the group lineup set, The Runaways broke ground as one of the first female hard rock/metal acts to ever have any success in the recording industry.

From the seminal track “Cherry Bomb” to other tunes such as “Queens of Noise” and “I Love Playin’ with Fire” (covered by Jett during her Blackheart days), the band earned a great deal of attention and respect in the industry. The members of the group went on to arguably better success as solo artists or in other creative endeavors, but they were the ones who helped to get such groups as The Bangles, The Go-Gos, Vixen and rock “chicks” like Pat Benatar, Chrissie Hynde and Deborah Harry (among many others) in the door. It is arguable that, without The Runaways, some if not all of these women wouldn’t have gotten into the industry.

Judas Priest – This is one of those omissions by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame that is inexcusable. A band that has sold 45 million albums, generated rock anthems such as “Breaking the Law,” “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’,” “Heading Out To The Highway,” “Living After Midnight”…I could go on, but you get the point. So what has kept them out?

Over the years, the band has been targeted in various arenas outside of music. They were accused of using subliminal messages in their album British Steel that allegedly caused two men to try to kill themselves. They’ve been targeted by conservative Christian groups for their musical content and singer Rob Halford has taken some sabbaticals from the band over the decades. But when you have a list of bands that were influenced by you such as Metallica, Megadeth and Pantera (among others), you’ve done your job well.

There are a slew of other artists that could be held up for consideration – The Carpenters, Kate Bush, Slayer, Bon Jovi, Thin Lizzy, Motorhead – and maybe they are just waiting for their time. There are also those “pop” artists that I am overlooking, but this is the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, after all. If you’re waiting for a time that “works,” however, take it from someone who watches how these Halls of Fame work – if you don’t get in within your first couple of years of eligibility, your chances of getting in get worse as time goes by. All the artists listed here deserve to have their place in the pantheon of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame…now will anyone listen and induct them?