Monday, February 22, 2010

Jim Morrison's Grave (the Steve Taylor song) and Kurt Cobain

I was still a kid when the Doors received national attention, and I was still a kid when Jim Morrison died. But death didn't end the Doors' career. As Rolling Stone put it,

Ironically, the group’s best years began in 1980, nine years after Morrison’s death. With the release of the Danny Sugerman–Jerry Hopkins biography of Morrison, No One Here Gets Out Alive, sales of the Doors’ music and the already large Jim Morrison cult — spurred by his many admirers and imitators in new-wave bands — grew even more. Record sales for 1980 alone topped all previous figures; as one ROLLING STONE magazine cover line put it: “He’s Hot, He’s Sexy, He’s Dead.” And that was just the beginning.

Musician Steve Taylor went to Paris a few years after the Rolling Stone cover - Paris, the city where Jim Morrison died, and where he was buried. And he began thinking:

I went to Paris and visited Jim Morrison's grave. The experience made me think a lot about who Jim Morrison was and what he stood for. I was into The Doors' music and read a biography of Morrison called, No One Here Gets Out Alive. As I read the book, a picture emerged of Jim Morrison as someone who embraced the Rock-n-Roll myth, "It's better to burn out than to fade away."

We'll return to that myth later. But for now, let's return to Taylor:

I guess he thought of himself as somewhat of a "tortured artist" who not only believe that genius justifies cruelty but that genius and selfishness are inseparable. And that's really how he lived his life. He was very cruel to the people who were close to him, even the people who loved him. So this song is just my thought about going to the grave, almost a stream-of-consciousness lyric.

"Jim Morrison's Grave" asks the age-old question: Does artistry justify being a weasel? The last line of the song is, "The music covers like an evening mist/Like a watch still ticking on a dead man's wrist." Morrison left the world some intriguing music. As far as I'm concerned, that's not enough.

Taylor released the album I Predict 1990 (the same album that included "I Blew Up the Clinic Real Good"; see my previous post) and included the song "Jim Morrison's Grave." The video can be found on YouTube:

The scenes in the video depict the Morrison mania that gripped the world in the 1980s. And Taylor's word wasn't the last word on the subject. Rolling Stone on Jim Morrison's grave after the predicted 1990 had arrived:

The Morrison cult continues to grow, particularly among the young. In 1990 his graffiti-covered headstone was stolen; in 1993, on what would have been his 50th birthday, hundreds of mourners — many not even born before he died — traveled from around the world to pay tribute. Because of the destruction these visitors often wreak on the cemetery during their pilgrimages, many Parisians petitioned to move Morrison’s grave when its 30-year lease expired in 2001; French officials, however, opted to leave Morrison’s remains in their resting place.

But remember the line that Taylor quoted above, "It's better to burn out than to fade away"? The line, which appeared in a Neil Young song (actually two Neil Young songs), was subsequently quoted by Kurt Cobain in his suicide note. In 1996, Taylor compared Cobain and Morrison:

[S]peaking of Kurt Cobain--who was, I think, far more honest and far less cruel--when anyone takes an unblinking look into the well, if they don't find living water, they'll find nothing but a black hole. I assume Kurt Cobain could only see the latter.

Friday, February 12, 2010

So, what IS progressive music?

This has been on my mind for the last few hours, since it was only this afternoon that I opened my CD copy of Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon."

On the surface, the album sounds like everything a self-respecting British punk would hate - odd time signatures ("Money"), extended synthesizer bits ("On the Run"), strange sound effects (pretty much the whole album), and self-referential lyrics ("Brain Damage").

But then again, while you can hang the "progressive" tag on Pink Floyd, Yes, and ELP (Palmer or Powell, take your pick), the term can apply to artists as widely varied as Brian Eno (whose work certainly moved in different directions later) and Elton John (yes, he's a pop star, but take a listen to some of the album tracks on "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" and some of his other albums some time).

And it's not surprising to note that the editors of Wikipedia can't agree on who is prog-rock either. The section of the article entitled "Peak in popularity and decline" includes this note:

The neutrality of this article is disputed. Please see the discussion on the talk page. Please do not remove this message until the dispute is resolved.

So forget about the article; let's go right to the fight, which gets into stuff like this:

Progressive Rock should have the following Sub-Genre pages:

* Canterbury
* Crossover Progressive
* Eclectic Progressive
* Jazz Fusion
* Krautrock
* Neo-Progressive
* New Prog ("nu-prog" would redirect to this page)
* Progressivo Italiano
* Proto-Progressive (or "Progressive Influences")
* Psychedelic/Space Rock
* RIO/Avant Progressive
* Symphonic Progressive ("Art Rock" would redirect to this page)
* Zeuhl

I would like to start with the cleanup of the Symphonic rock page (see the discussion on that page). I would like to re-name it Symphonic Progressive. If I can get exclusive use of the page, I would appreciate it. That way I won't be fighting other editors that want to tout their favorite bands -- most of them on the page are not truly Symphonic Progressive bands! Thanks.

Argh. Now I see why people stuck safety pins in their noses.

But I will say one thing, now that I formally own "Dark Side" - its fame is justified. So many great albums, even ones by the Beatles and Led Zeppelin, are often just collections of very good songs. But "Dark Side" truly holds together as an album, with musical themes repeated throughout the tracks. Truly deserving of its oft-cited record of 741 weeks on Billboard's Top 200 chart, it is truly one of the great albums of all time.

So here are my promo links for your buying pleasure:

Thursday, February 11, 2010

What's the combo pack called? The 33 1/3?

You KNOW HP did this intentionally.

Target, Montclair, California.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Dan Aykroyd and Pat Boone - heroes, or demons?

I was listening to Sam & Dave's "Soul Man" and had a heretical thought - namely, thet the Blues Brothers' cover version had something that the original version didn't have.

Namely, the backing vocals of Dan Aykroyd on the choruses.

You know..."SOUL man."

I've thought of Dan Aykroyd's musical resume a lot lately, and the remake of "We Are The World" reminded me that Aykroyd was one of those present at the original "We Are The World." In a sense it was an odd choice, because in that one recording studio you had the singer of "Thriller," the singer of "All Night Long," the singers of a number of classic hits...and the singer of "Rubber Biscuit."

Two sources state that Aykroyd was invited to the session to represent the film industry, but his contributions to the music industry are as significant as those of some of the others that were invited to the session that evening.

Of course, it's technically incorrect to say that Dan Aykroyd sang on the Blues Brothers albums...because Elwood Blues was actually the singer. To say that Dan Aykroyd was a member of the Blues Brothers is like saying that Bob Dylan was a member of the Traveling Wilburys.

Well, whoever it is that's singing, judge for yourself:

Needless to say, "Rubber Biscuit" was not a Blues Brothers original. The song was originally performed by the Chips, and apparently was their only recording.

And there were a lot of songs that the Blues Brothers played and helped popularize. Which is great, or it's not great, depending upon your point of view. You see, the Blues Brothers share something in common with Pat Boone - a controversial history:

How do you solve a problem like The Blues Brothers? They’re the goofy novelty duo whose enduring popularity says a great deal about our country’s thorny racial history and the commercial cooption of great American art form. To people around the world the Blues Brothers have become the face of blues: the pale, pasty, Caucasian, half-Canadian face of a deep strain of black music. The Blues Brothers leave behind a deep and complicated legacy.

They helped popularize blues and gave crucial career boosts to an army of blues, soul and R&B legends by covering their songs and featuring them in The Blues Brothers and to a much lesser extent, The Blues Brothers 2000 yet it seems both sad and inevitable that millions of Blues Brothers fans would rather hear standards performed by a pair of enthusiastic white amateur chuckle-merchants than grizzled old black professionals.

The Blues Brothers have been lionized as heroes and icons and demonized as cultural parasites.

For historical perspective, go here to see someone who demonizes Pat Boone. For a more balanced view, see Gary North:

Pat Boone's career is one of those fork-in-the-road stories. He launched his national career as a cover artist, serving as a kind of Pied Piper for America's middle-class white teenagers, gilding rock and roll's lily. Little Richard said that kids in 1956 had Pat Boone's records in the top drawer, where parents might find them, and his versions in the bottom drawer. I suspect that the truth is different. They bought one of Boone's versions, then bought Richard's, and put Boone's in the closet.


Rock and roll's parallel cultures did not last long. Teenagers found out about the artists and the original songs that were being covered.

Well, some did - and some didn't. Perhaps some people explored the history behind certain recordings by the Blues Brothers...and by Pat Boone...and by the Beatles...but there are probably many others who think "Money" is a Lennon-McCartney original.

But can the artists themselves be blamed for that?

Monday, February 1, 2010

(empo-tymshft) (empo-tuulwey) When terms lose their meaning

I was listening to Rage Against the Machine's "Revolver" when I began musing on the Beatles album of the same title. And it suddenly occurred to me that someone who was just introduced to the Beatles album today might not realize the humor behind the title.

Yes, CDs (and cassettes) revolve just like old vinyl LPs did, but CDs revolve inside a closed case, so you don't necessarily notice the revolving. With an LP, it was very obvious that the record was revolving.

And, of course, when you're talking about digital downloads, the concept of revolving does not apply.