One thing the year 2016 taught me without question is that the musicians I looked up to when I was young are getting old. Not only are these people getting old, but they’re not going to be around forever. In a year that had a musical body count that would make Jason Vorhees jealous, I salute some of my favorite musicians who are no longer with us.
Before Henry Rollins decided to dedicate his time entirely to non musical pursuits he did two records with LA hard rock band Mother Superior. Records that featured Jason Mckenroth on drums and saxophone. I love these two records because they were heavily influenced by three of my favorite bands: The Stooges, The MC5 and Thin Lizzy (they even covered Lizzy’s are you ready?). On those records Rollins (slightly) tone down his hardcore motivational speaker shtick in order to HAVE SOME FUN. Apart from his work with the Rollins band Mckenmorth also worked with Meatloaf, The Blue Man Group and his own project Mac the Band (which featured former Slaughter drummer Blas Elias on drums). He died in January 3rd 2016 from prostate cancer.
The first time I saw the Blackstar video my intial reaction was: Bowie is starting to look pretty old. But I figured the guy WAS pushing 70 so this sort of thing is to be expected. What I did not expect was for Bowie to die three days after seeing the video. Or that he was quietly fighting cancer in his final years. I’m still holding out hope that one of these days Bowie will pop out and say: JUUUST KIDDING! I’m still alive bitches!! He death seems unreal to me. Then again, his LIFE was unreal.
The Eagles are alright. I love the song “Hotel California” and they had a few other songs I dig such as “One of these Nights” and “Witchy Woman.” But when I think of Glenn Frey I immediately think of “Smugler’s Blues,” the Miami Vice episode Glenn Frey acted and the song. “Smuggler’s Blues” is the THE JAM.
The late Bill Hicks used to say that Jimi Hendrix was an Alien who was brough to Earth to school people on the electric guitar. That instead of dying he merely returned to his planet of origin. The same can be said about Prince; that man was unreal. In his prime, Prince could have kicked anyone’s ass on ANY musical instrument while running around and doing splits in high heels. I assumed that Prince had at least 40 more years left to live and 50 more records to make but maybe the Aliens had other plans. They could have gone to Prince and said: “Dude you need to come home NOW. You’re making these people look bad. If you leave now it will still still take like 20 years for them to catch up with the shit you left behind. Even Bowie would take a break every now and then.” Prince was a musician’s musician who wrote numerous hits for himself and other artists. He started in one really good (and two o.k.) major motion picture. He wrote and recorded new music until the very end and no matter what style of music he did it always sounded like Prince. The man is his own music genre.
Nick Menza was the drummer during Megadeth’s most successful era. From the Rust in Peace album up to Cryptic Writings. I don’t know much about drum technique but what I liked about Menza was that he could play just as fast as any thrash drummer but hit hard and FUCKING GROOVE like a solid rock drummer. Menza had a fatal heart attack while performing with his current band OHM. If that sentence didn’t sound Spinal Tap enough Menza had replaced a drummer who also died of heart problems. What a drag it is getting old…
Alan Vega was not a household name but if you like any form of dark, noisy, experimental music then Alan Vega and his band Suicide were a big influence in some if not all your favorite bands. My introduction to Suicide was through Rollins Band’s cover of “Ghost Rider” and it took me like FIFTEEN YEARS to realize it was a cover. Suicide was part of the original New York Punk scene and were one of the first bands to use the term punk to describe/promote their music. They recorded minimalist, scary sounding electronic music that paved the way for what is now known as goth, new wave, industrial and any other form of dark weird music you can think of. Alan Vega also worked as a visual artist and did his share of solo recordings.
Sandy Pearlman was best remembered for the work he did with Blue Oyster Cult. He helped form the band, managed it, cowrote and produced some of Blue Oyster Cult’s best known material. Pearlman also produced the Clash’s second album “Give Em Enough Rope” and worked with the Dictators. One of the unsung heroes of the original New York punk scene. Apart from his production work, Pearlman was also the founding vice president of eMusic.com and a professor at McGill University in Montreal. He died at age 72 from pneumonia due to stroke related complications.
I first became aware of Leonard Cohen through the movies Pump Up The Volume and Natural Bork Killers. I loved the deep voice reciting some twisted lyrics over cheesy easy listening music on “Everybody Knows” and “Waiting For a Miracle.” Being that I was a teenage Metalhead when I heard these songs, it took a while for Cohen’s music to sink in. But once it did it became one of my favorite things in the world. I even got the HONOR to see Cohen do his thing in concert a few years back. Like Bowie, Cohen was also quietly fighting cancer yet remained creatively active until the end of his life. His last album “You Want it Darker” seems even ‘Darker’ within the context of his passing but Mr. Cohen wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
Sharon Jones started her solo career later in life. Made her first solo recording at the age of 40. And it ended abruptly due to cancer. But Ms. Jones made the most out of her little window of time. Making Soul music with a strong emphasis on the word SOUL. Because you can pull all the vocal acrobatics you want but it don’t mean shit if you ain’t feeling it. I got to see her live the last time she came through town and it was a REVELATION. I’m sure if there is a God and a heaven that there is spot on the choir with her name on it.
I never hated George Michael’s music but I did take it for granted. Which is easy to do when something is familiar. It took many years before I was able to listen to his music without prejudice (yeah I went there). Say all you want about him shaking his ass on that video but “Faith” is a pretty genius song. He was able to effortlessly combine 50’s rock with 80’s pop in the space of three minutes and forty three seconds. Thus creating a song that was very much of its era yet timeless. Homeboy also wrote one of his biggest hits (careless whisper) AT THE AGE OF SEVENTEEN. I remember trying to write songs at that age AND THOSE SONGS SUCKED. Georgieboy on the other hand wrote a break up song that became an international hit.