Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Bonus Post!

So I'm sitting here on the eve of my vacation, the eve of a national holiday, the eve of the 25th day of the 12th month of the 2008th year of our calendar, the eve of well... It's Christmas Eve, OK, and I'm sitting here at the office just watching the time tick by, wishing someone had some sort of catastrophe I could help them with. Good or bad, it seems nothing is going wrong on this fine Christmas Eve, so I'm left to wallow in the slow-movingness of time spent at work.

For this reason, I have decided to churn out another useless and random blog post that isn't likely to entertain anyone other than me, but should at least be good to kill a little time. As far as subject matter goes, I'm all Holiday'd out, and I'm feeling a little claustrophobed by the whole state deal (but I promise I'll finish them up in 2009). So I think I'll do a quick accounting of some of the albums I have been listening to whist out and about on holiday shopping excursions.

Keep in mind, aside from the destinations reached, nothing about these albums has nothing to do with the holidays, which is one of the reasons I chose to listen to them. The other reason is that they are good.

That's right, sometimes I chose to listen to GOOD music... It's not ALL El DeBarge, Phish, and Tone Loc all the time churning through the OCKerouac speakers...

Actually, it's rarely, if ever any of the above, and if it is, it's because I'm tuned to the wrong XM station... It is good to see however that Senor DeBarge did team up with Master Loc... Perhaps they were not able to answer the musical question "Who's Johnny", but were able to determine that whomever he may be, he's infected with the Funky Cold Medina...

I have nothing humorous to say about Phish. I just wish they would go away.

Anyhoo, on to the music I HAVE been listening to. Normally, I stick with the random shuffle on my iPod, and allow it to decide if it's time for Opera, Industrial, Southern Rock, Classical, Vocal Standards, New Wave, Indie Rock, etc. There's just something about coupling Night on Bald Mountain with Soft Cell that leaves my heart all warm and convulsing... The thing about shopping is you keep going to one place, and then stopping, and then going to another place, and stopping, and each time you may or may not want to put your iPod in your pocket or lock it in the glove box instead of leaving it out and yada, yada, yada, so instead I was just surfing the sounds of XM/Sirius satellite radio, but I hit three stations in a row playing Coldplay and instead of veering off the road and speeding into the nearest tree I decided I'd be less likely to ruin anyone else's holiday if I just popped in one of my 'emergency stash' CD's I had stowed in the center divider.

Viola, REM's newest, Accelerate

Now if you've read my Georgia post, you already know my opinion of REM, and their most recent release. What I didn't mention at the time of that writing, and honestly didn't think about until just the other day as I was giving the album what must have been the 12th or 13th listen since buying it, is that the reason this whole disc works as opposed to just a few tracks isn't because it's got that over-arching-story feel of a classic prog-rock album, it's because the boys decided why make a song four minutes long when two and a half will do the trick?

I have absolutely nothing against epically long songs. As a matter of fact, two tracks that would likely crack my top-100 songs of all time are Genesis' twenty-two minute tome Supper's Ready and Jethro Tull's Thick as a Brick which in it's entirety took two sides of an LP to get through (about 47 minutes all-told). However, I also appreciate the beauty and grace that it takes to leave your audience wanting more. Admittedly, on REM's last few pre-Accelerate releases I recall thinking. 'OK, when is this thing finally going to END', never a good sign when listening to an album, but this one gets the 'Wow, it's over already?' seal of approval.

For fans of past REM masterworks Green and Automatic for the People, if you've been afraid to chance the new one after getting burned by New Adventures in Hi-Fi, Reveal, Up, and Around the Sun, I urge you to go against your better judgement and give the buys for Athens another shot. They've finally gotten it right again.

I offer as proof, the album's third single and IMO catchiest tune, Man Sized Wreath

As good as this one is, man does not live by REM alone. So after making my way through the disc two times I had to move on. I tried to kick it back to XM, but they gave me Evanescence, and despite being the best Arkansas has to offer, they're not good enough to actually LISTEN to... I could have tried a different station, but I felt punishment needed to be doled upon my satellite radio, and what better way to punish an inanimate object than by not using it? Again, I suppose I could have wrapped my SUV around a power pole... That TOTALLY would have given the finger to my radio dial, but at what cost? at WHAT COST??

Instead, I decided to enjoy the fruits of some Internet research labor, and popped in the pre-Crows Adam Duritz offering with The Himalayans, She Likes The Weather.

Now it's no secret here at The Dance that I, your humble blog host with the humble blog most feels that the decade of the nineties is the absolute coolest. I love the fact that people felt the city of Seattle was relevant for a small fraction of time, that the Internet made a funky squealing sound after you heard it dialing a phone, and lest we forget, the 90's is the decade that made it acceptable to drink HUGE cups of coffee at all hours of the day or night without looking like you were jonesing for an AA meeting.

Why do I mention this? Because from the opening garage-twang guitar of Jaded, there's nothing so comforting to a 90's music fan as reliving what it meant to be and indie rocker in the pre-dawn years before MySpace music profiles. This CD is the musical equivalent of slipping on a pair of jean-shorts and wrapping myself in a flannel. It's also nice to look back with the benefit of hindsight and deconstruct why this group of gentlemen were able to through slight personnel alteration, develop into a marginally-successful, highly entertaining rock outfit while so many of their contemporaries are now slinging oversized cups of joe at the Gloria Jean's Starbucks Bean in malls across the country.

Honestly, if you take these tracks and subtract the ready-to-crack fragility of Duritz's vocals you're left with every club band you sat through on open mic night at the indie coffee house that's since been transformed into the 10,000th Gloria Jean's Starbucks Bean... Hey, at least the dude playing the acoustic guitar at those sets will know how to get to his new job... He used to play guitar there on Wednesday nights right before the poetry reading...

I don't have a YouTube link for this one, but I have something even better. I've attached the link to purchase this time capsule for yourself straight from the indie record label that initially pressed and distributed it, Tyrannosaurus Records. What could make you feel better about filching music off the Internet than using the same tool to throw some much-appreciated green backs at REAL people trying to bring great music into the lives of the rest of us.

As an added bonus, the radio interview spots between tracks will make you long for the days of campus radio. So few things in our modern lives remind us about what we have lost in just the recent past, one of those things is the extended college radio in-studio interview. I'm sure they're still going on, but as I touched upon earlier, that's not just how the new bands are getting their names out there. Why bother busing your equipment from town to town to talk to a local DJ who reached a few hundred listeners when you can put your MySpace link on UBL and reach the vast online empire?

We're all friends here, and as such I don't mind revealing that all the 90's nostalgia this album dredged up had put me in a Cherry Coloured Funk not even the Cocteau Twins could pull me out of. Sure, the holidays are all about remembering days of yore and all that, but memories can lead to regrets, and regrets can lead the therapy, and therapy costs money, money I'd prefer to spend on gifts... Ultimately, that lead me to find another way to sooth my aching nostalgia-gland, so I decided to pine instead for something ELSE I miss that unlike the 90's will return to me with the spring thaw, baseball.

More specifically this new CD I purchased, The Baseball Project Volume 1: Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails. tBP is a supergroup formed of REM'ers Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey, former Dream Syndicate front man Steve Wynn, who has also released some above-average solo recordings, and a solid beat-keeper on drums by the name of Linda Pitmon. Unfortunately, I know very little about Linda, but the fact she's involved in this venture makes her aces in my book.

So the band's goal is to use music to express their love of our nation's fading past time. I appreciate their efforts and applaud those who admit to loving the sport even if they are not musically talented, and it's certainly worth mentioning that this group DOES harbor their fair share of talent when it comes to expressing themselves through song. After all, they've crated the masterpiece Ted Fucking Williams...

This album ranged from idiosyncratic, to historical, to rocking, to down-right fun in a recipe that calls for just the right amount of every ingredient. For baseball fans as well as former-fans who have maybe soured on the game in the wake of PED scandals there is catharsis here amongst the ball yard memories, and some great stories of days gone by. If you get an opportunity to pick up this disc, which you TOTALLY should do, pay close attention to track 12, The Yankee Flipper, a great autobiographical tale about boozing it up at a New York bar with former MLB pitcher Black Jack McDowell. Don't take it from me though, this one has also garnered a spot on Allmusic's top albums of 2008 list...Click here to see the list

Now I'd never steer you wrong in an effort to pimp my favorite sport by trying to get you to buy an album by Bernie Williams or Scott Spezio, but this one is totally worth the price of admission, and there's no way that when it's over you'll be pissed that your team lost... Pick up a copy, you'll feel better amount yourself, and better about the fact that spring training is still two long months away. Clicken zie herein to purchase...

Looking at the old clock it seems that I've managed to kill off a chunk of time sharing these musical gems with you all, and I hope you will further explore and enjoy them as much as I have. After all, if you're trapped in your car this holiday season forced to chose between Christmas Wrapping and (Simply Having) A Wonderful Christmas Time, owning copies of these CD's may just save your life...

Again, thanks for dropping by, and have an amazing holiday and New Year celebration... I'll be back in 2009.

Happy Blogidays!: A Bakers Dozen of Winter Tunes

If you are like me, and I know I am, than you likely find yourself, not that you'd lost yourself mind you, but from a figure of speech point of view you likely find yourself preferring the cold and wet winter months to their sunny, over-heated summer opposites save for two notable factors.

1. There is no baseball.

2. Christmas Carols.

Don't get me wrong, I respect the existence and importance of celebrating the importance of the holidays through music, but typically by December 3rd or so I've heard enough hall-decking, tree-trimming, birth-celebrating tunes of joy and happiness to make make Santa sick of the Christmas season. I also recognize the cherished place these songs have in the hearts of many, many people in this world, and as such, I cannot simply choose to drown out music for 1/12th of the year any more than I can choose to ignore the existence of the holidays the songs represent. It is for this reason that I have devised a plan.

Namely, if you can't beat them, join them.

With this in mind I unveil thirteen holiday/winter tunes that will allow the carol'ed out among us to continue to share in the merriment of the winter holiday season without subjecting ourselves to countless renditions of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas ad-nauseum.

The only qualifications for the list are that all the tunes feature winter, or winter holiday themes throughout, and that they transcend prototypical shopping-mall-overhead-speaker-classics to achieve some deeper or at least more captivating message than say, Jingle Bells.

Before I commence with the listin', I would like to note that both Christmas Wrapping by The Waitresses and Paul McCartney's (Simply Having) A Wonderful Christmas Time have intentionally been excised from this volume. If the opportunity arose in which I could control the whole of the universe, one of the very first things I would do is place a moratorium on these two songs until now earlier than the year 2030. If possible, I'd like to find a way to access the Phantom Zone from Superman II so I could send these tracks hurtling through space until an atomic explosion on the sun creates another super-being to challenge my... Oh... I just jumped from Superman II to Superman IV...

Anyhoo, I totally don't ever want to hear either of those songs again. It's not that they weren't good the first time, or even the first fifty times, but once you hear a song about three thousand times you're going to get sick of it, and I think I'm at about the five thousand times mark on these two. I blame my Christmas season mall employment during the late 1990's...

No matter the reason, just know full well that I did not 'forget' either of those songs. I fear I could never forget them no matter how much time or alcohol I put between myself and my last listen...

So without further adieu, or further noted exception, here's The List:

13. Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer- Gene Autry

This is the only actual 'Christmas Classic' to make the list, and it has very little to do with the song itself. The tune was popularized by The Singing Cowboy, Gene Autry who purportedly used the money he made from the song to purchase The Los Angeles Angels. Countless years of grief and a few short moments of elation and entered into my life thanks to this song and the baseball team in purchased. Sometimes, I wish Mr. Autry had instead just chosen to purchase and disband the Boston Red Sox instead. It likely would have been more satisfying.

12. Wintersong- Sarah McLachlan

From the winter release of the same name, this is McLachlan's only original tune on the CD, the rest being standards or covers of other holiday themed tracks by contemporary artists. Two of them are further down on this list in their original forms. The reason I went with this selection is partially because it's a good song, and partially because if you're going to put out a holiday CD, at least put an original cut on it. That's what Sarah did, and she thereby earns a spot on the list.

11. 6:00- Dream Theater

This is not really a holiday song. It is certainly not a folk holiday classic, and it's not found on an album full of holiday tracks, but it's a short (for Dream Theater) rocking progressive track that's well worth a listen. It qualified for the list because the opening line is '6:00 on a Christmas morning'. That's good enough for me, especially when you throw in a John Petrucci guitar shredding solo...

10. Deck the Stills- Barenaked Ladies

I've oft assumed that if I was randomly blessed with some sort of musical talent, and I used that talent to start a band, that band would likely end up sounding a lot like Canada's Barenaked Ladies. I consider their take on the holiday classic Deck the Halls, in which all the words are replaced by the names of the members of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, as a perfect example. This is exactly the kind of silly irreverent holiday song I would make up while standing in line at the Best Buy, or stuck in traffic on the way home from work. Before you start thinking that this sounds pull-your-hair-out-annoying, it's only a forty second long track...

9. Happy X-Mas (War is Over)- John Lennon

I imagine a number of [people feel about this one the way I do about The Waitresses and Paul McCartney tunes noted above, and I agree, it does get a whole heck of a lot of airplay. Combine that with the presence of Yoko and there's every reason to never want to hear this tune again. It makes my list however based solo on the song's intro. The clean and crisp acoustic chord followed by Lennon's raw and un-amplified vocal "...So this is Christmas, and what have you done? Another year over, and a new one's just begun..." For that simple and poignant expression of what The Holiday's mean to me, this song will always remain on my listenable list. Even if I skip past it after the first 15 seconds...

8. Jacob Marley's Chain- Aimee Mann

Another one like the Dream Theater track above that is really not a holiday song. Aimee also put out a holiday album that is very good, but I couldn't decide on a specific tune to take from it and my mind kept coming back to this one. Besides, what better way to ring in the season of good cheer than the line "Now there is no story left to tell so I think I'd rather just go on to Hell where there's a snowball's chance that the personnel might help to carry Jacob Marley's chain." Aside from being a brilliant songwriter, an excellent singer, and a great guitar player, Aimee is also married to another brilliant musician Michael Penn. They have no children together, which may actually be a good thing, as those children would likely be SO much more talented then any other children on the planet that they'd be destined to go mad under the weight of their own geniuses... Kind of like Prince...

If I haven't convinced you yet, Aimee also played the German nihilist who sacrificed her toe in The Big Lebowski... THAT'S star-cred...

7. Do They Know It's Christmas?- Band Aid

Due in part from the incredible selflessness of Bob Geldof and Midge Ure, and in part because it was the British Isles, and therefore much cooler, version of We Are The World, Do They Know It's Christmas? is another track that no matter how often it's repeated from November 15th to January 1st it still resonates with me. Keep in mind, this group was formed before We Are The World became a world-wide phenomena, so convincing all these artists to take time from their recording and touring schedules to do something to shed light, and much needed money on the conditions in Africa was somewhere between painstaking and miraculous. Many people have forgotten the music of Geldof's Boomtown Rats and Ure's Ultravox in the ensuing decades, but their contributions to pop music are etched in stone for at least one month a year.

If you are not familiar with the video for this super group classic, do yourself a favor and play spot-the-80's-icon...

6. Winter- Tori Amos

I could not make a list of Holiday/Winter songs without including Ms. Amos' nod to the coldest of the seasons. Her definitively idiosyncratic song style, signature piano, and memorable lyrics lead to some level of familiarity for the listener, even if you happened to grow up in sunny southern California only ever having to put on gloves to play baseball. We've all lived through the anxiety of growing out of our family, and the holidays are a perfect time to reestablish those connections, even if it means accepting that no matter how much you've grown, or how much you accomplish, you were once a child, and once shaped by the hands of your parents, grandparents, and siblings.

5. The Hanukkah Song- Adam Sandler

Not only a great holiday tune, but rivals Red Hooded Sweatshirt and Dancin' and Pantsin' for the best Adam Sandler tune of all time... OK, Lunch Lady Land is pretty good too... Damn, that Sandler is one talented comedy-song writing dude... Props to him as well for reminding us all that the holiday season is about more than just Christmas. After all, there's so many Jews in the show biz, Tom Cruise isn't, but I hear his agent is...

Here's the video...

4. River- Joni Mitchell

Kind of like Tori's 'Winter', this is not exactly a 'feel good' holiday season tune. I wouldn't call it depressing either, but it's definitely more reflective than celebratory. I guess that's a common theme among a lot of these tunes. I tend to think of the holidays as a chance to not only look back on the year that has passed, but also to remember many of the years that have passed, and many of the years that are to come. I guess it's understandable that when you take the time to consider your life at this specific moment when compared to all those moments that came before, and will come since, that it could be comforting to have a river to sail away on...

3. Father Christmas- The Kinks

OK, this one tends to fall more on the side of 'riotous' than 'reflective'. The Kink's ode to Christmas commercialism, and a warning tune to all the spoiled boys and girls who scream and cry when they don't get just the right toy. I think what stands out for me about this tune is that it's not a sob-story, but rather a rallying cry for the have-nots. Father Christmas, give us some money... Save your toys for the little rich boys...

Here's a poor-quality video, but the audio's not bad, and that's all that matters...

2. Merry Christmas (I Don't Want to Fight Tonight)- The Ramones

A refreshingly realistic take on the toll the holidays play on our closest relationships. Fights over money, fights over presents, fights over which house you're going to eat dinner at, fights over whether to turn on the heat or open the window when going to bed... The stresses of the holidays put us all on edge, and we all tend to blow up irrationally at least once per holiday season. The Ramones remind us that whatever you're mad about, it'll probably pass when all the presents are opened, the tree is taken down, and January returns life back to normal.

I needn't say more, the video does all the talking for me...

1. 2000 Miles- The Pretenders

Every single time I find myself listening to a Pretenders tune, I end up liking them more and more. Perhaps it's the mix of classic rock & roll combined with the ahead-of-their-time vocals of Chrissie Hynde that would have been just as at home on a New York club stage in the early 2000's as they were on the streets of London in 1978. As deep and rocking as so much of their catalog is, this track has that open and reflective quality that is common in so many of these wintertime favorites.

It also helps that it's another tune that's not immediately thought of as a 'holiday song'.

Enjoy the #1 Winter track by The Pretenders...

Have a wonderful end-of-the-year and I'll see you... well... digitally... in 2009!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Michigan: America's Mitten


Home to Motor-City, Motown, D-Town, Hockeytown, Rock City, the originators of Devil's Night, the murder capital of the US, Detroit.

Remember folks, you can't spell Detroit without 'riot'.

However, for all the icky scariness of Detroit, auto bailouts, shuttered factories, and a view of Canada, the state of Michigan has contributed as much to the history of Rock & Roll as any other state in the union.

Seriously. Michigan is on par with New York, California, Illinois, and Massachusetts for pure number of musicians, and arguably outpaces them all when it comes to wholly American musical expression. As much as I have publicly sworn my aversion to Motown Records, even those of us who never EVER need to hear a Supremes song again can appreciate the fact that the R&B sound that came out of Motown in the late 1950's and through the 1960's is the quintessential definition of 'American' music.

Sure, America has been in the forefront of countless pop music phenomena. We're credited with Jazz, Country & Western, R&B, and arguably Rock & Roll, though my personal opinion is that the Brits do that last one better... The thing is, R&B, unlike any of those other forms of music that can be credited as American inventions was NOT just an AMERICAN invention, it was specifically the product of just one city. The city of Detroit. Consider our current musical landscape where Rap and R&B recordings, like it or not, sell at levels equal to or better the sales of rock & roll. As much as New York and Los Angeles influenced the rise of Rap, neither of these forms of music would have existed were it not for the giants of Motown.

That being said, not a single one of them are making my list. Ultimately, this is about what *I* listen to, and *my* impressions of the best music a state has to offer. Michigan, like Massachusetts before it is filled to the brim with talented artists. Luckily for me I won't lose any sleep over dismissing Motown from my personal favorites list, regardless how much I credit their achievements for the current diversity and power of American music.

Enough with the talking-about-music for now. There will be a time and a place when my choices will be revealed and likely disagreed with on a grand scale, but for now, there's wikiness to explore, because enquiring minds want to know:

- The Lower Peninsula, to which the name Michigan was originally applied, is sometimes dubbed "the mitten," owing to its shape. Heh... I didn't know that Michiganders actually used that term... I thought it was just used by the rest of us to mock them...

- The Upper Peninsula (often referred to as The U.P.) is separated from the Lower Peninsula by the Straits of Mackinac, a five-mile (8 km)-wide channel that joins Lake Huron to Lake Michigan.

- I always thought that was just called 'South Canada'...

- The Upper and Lower Peninsulas are connected by the five-mile (8 km)-long Mackinac Bridge, which is the third longest suspension bridge between anchorages in the world.[7] The bridge has given rise to the nickname of "trolls" for residents of the Lower Peninsula, because they live "under" (south of) the bridge.

- That's just awesome. I have a new found respect for all things Michigan. These folks know how to self-deprecate...

- The '20th century to the present' section on Michigan history on Wikipedia says 'See also: History of Ford Motor Company' That pretty much says it all.

- Michigan is the only state to be comprised entirely of two peninsulas, and subsequently is the state with the longest length of freshwater coastline in the nation. You know, all those lakes surrounding the state pretty great...

- See, that's because they're The Great Lakes... You with me? We all caught up now? OK...

- The state has numerous large islands, the principal ones being the Manitou, Beaver, and Fox groups in Lake Michigan; Isle Royale and Grande Isle in Lake Superior; Marquette, Bois Blanc, and Mackinac islands in Lake Huron; and Neebish, Sugar, and Drummond islands in St. Mary's River. Michigan has about 150 lighthouses, the most of any U.S. state. The first lighthouses in Michigan were built between 1818 and 1822. They were built to project light at night and to serve as a landmark during the day to safely guide the passenger ships and freighters traveling the Great Lakes.

- Oh... Is THAT what lighthouses are?? I though we just wanted to make sure the light had someplace to sleep when it wasn't in use...

- OK, that was rude. I apologize Wiki. You are providing helpful an entertaining facts and I appreciate your efforts...

- Located north of Windsor, Ontario, Detroit, Michigan is the only major US city that looks south to Canada.

- Though a certain Governor would be happy to remind ya that they can't keep an eye on Russia from there...

- Detroit was founded in 1701 by Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac. I bet he drove a nice car...

- 'Detroit' is a metonymy for the American automobile industry.

- A Metonymy is a rhetorical figure of speech in which a thing or concept is not referred to by it's own name, but rather by something intimately associated with that thing or concept.

- For example, instead of referring to all cheesy 70's emotion-rock as 'cheesy 70's emotion-rock' one could instead simply use the metonymy Bread.

- Bread is not from Michigan, they are from Los Angeles, and likely weep at the sight of sunsets.

- In summer, the state of Michigan can be pleasantly warm with temperatures reaching the 80 degree mark on average during July and August.

- In winter, there are no words or numbers to accurately describe just how cold it can get in Michigan, so I'm going to make one up.

- Winters in Michigan can best be described as frozoosish. You may think you can wrap your mind around just how cold 'frozoosish' is, but trust me, you are wrong.

- The next fact is here specifically for some of my better educated, earth-rock loving readers.

- The geological formation of the state is greatly varied. Primary boulders are found over the entire surface of the Upper Peninsula (being principally of primitive origin), while Secondary deposits cover the entire Lower Peninsula. The Upper Peninsula exhibits Lower Silurian sandstones, limestones, copper and iron bearing rocks, corresponding to the Huronian system of Canada. The central portion of the Lower Peninsula contains coal measures and rocks of the Permo-Carboniferous period. Devonian and sub-Carboniferous deposits are scattered over the entire state.

- Even if you understand and are intrigued by the geologic makeup of Michigan, you still don't know how cold frozoosish is.

- Certain counties within Michigan are primarily Dutch in origin.

- The other counties ain't much...

Good lord. Do I EVER stop yammering? Why don't I just get on with the music selections already. Seesh...

Solo: Iggy Pop

I should probably wax all Lester Bangs here and talk about the exploding cacophony of pure diesel truck force found in Iggy's exalted yalp just before projectile vomiting waves upon waves of pure psycho-punk plasma all through the sonic chambers of my cerebral brain bucket, but I'm just not that colorful a writer.

Instead I shall say Iggy my fine man, you hath bestowed upon us a new and complicated definition for the simple term 'stooge'. Whether it me birthing the stage-dive, spinning on broken glass, yacking all over the front row, or flashing your piece to a packed house at CBGB you are now as you always have been, Iggy Pop. Do us a favor and never apologize for it.

Born James Newell Osterberg Jr. in Muskegon Michigan, the one-day-Pop was raised in a trailer park outside of Ann Arbor in the town of Ypsilanti. Raised on a combination of early rock & roll and the machinations of the near by auto plants Iggy's sound could be born only of Michigan. He became a champion of the garage-rock genre before being outed as the grand-daddy of punk by the above mentioned Lester Bangs. If there is a performed who needs to cred-polishing for a spot on this list, that performer is Iggy Pop. Every single punk and metal band that has come since owes Iggy for their sound, style, and on-stage masterwork. Those who claim they do not are flat-out lying.

Here's Iggy performing with a Georgia honoree, the B-52's Kate Pierson. I've always felt this sounded more like a Lou Reed tune than an Iggy Pop one, but pair this with Lust for Life or I Wanna Be Your Dog and you have what amounts to a rather well rounded stooge... The track is called Candy.

Band: Tommy James & The Shondells

Sometimes life just makes you think way too hard. Be it a challenge at work, a personal problem, or even really crappy freeway traffic that seems unavoidable no matter which of a thousand routes you try and take home. It's times like these that I turn to simple, clean, and crisp rock and roll tunes. Seriously, the last thing you need when trapped on a freeway for forty five minutes when normally you can get home in ten is Motorhead screaming in your ear, or Iggy Pop doing... other things... to it...

In comes Tommy James and his Shondells to get your head on straight. Motorhead's Lemmey was once quoted as saying "If Motörhead moved in next to you, your lawn would die." I'm saying if Tommy James moved in next to you, your lawn would remain green and lush, but your wife might leave you for Tommy's dreamy vocals...

I guess what I'm trying to say is you're better off not living next to a rock star. What I'm ALSO saying is that there's nothing to be ashamed about liking TJ & tS.

James started his rock career at the ripe old age of twelve, forming his first band Tom and the Tornadoes in 1959. By 1963 he had renamed the band The Shondells, and recorded his first rock tune Hanky Panky. He was just sixteen years old.

The track didn't sell well outside the greater Michigan area, so Tommy broke up his Shondells content with living the pedestrian life of a Michigan teen, but a few years later a Pittsburgh radio station uncovered the tune and began playing it on the air as an 'exclusive'. The song generated so much heat amongst the listeners in Pittsburgh that a different local DJ, "Mad Mike" Metro called Tommy and asked him to come perform the song live in studio. At this point the rest of Tommy's original Shondells had moved past their dreams of rock star glory, so Tommy made the trip solo.

Upon arriving in Pittsburgh, he made his way to a local rock club and ran into a band of musicians he thought were pretty talented. He asked them if they'd like to become The Shondells, and the rest is two-number-one-singles-and-five-other-top-ten-hits history.

In more recent years the memory of TJ & tS lives on not just through James' sporadic solo work, but in the form of rock covers of classic Tommy James tunes. Joan Jett & The Blackhearts' scored a hit with their version of "Crimson And Clover" (1982), Tiffany's took a spin around the mall with "I Think We're Alone Now," and Billy Idol's cashed in with "Mony Mony" (both 1987). Surprisingly, Idol's version of "Mony Mony" replaced Tiffany's "I Think We're Alone Now" at the #1 position on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart toward the end of 1987.

Here's Tommy James & The Shondells with a track that could cost you your wife if you're not careful, Crystal Blue Persuasion.

Honorable Mention: The White Stripes

OK I've paid homage to the purveyor of Punk and Metal, and stepped back to the quintessential sound of the golden age of rock and roll. Let me know have a moment to break the cardinal rule of list making and select a modern band with just a handful of albums and boatloads of praise thrown at them. Admittedly, The White Stripes don' need me to tell you that they are good. EVERYONE will tell you that they are good, but unlike everybody else, I won't qualify that statement with:

...for a NEW band...

or ...but not as good as (fill in the blank)...

I, like most people outside of the greater Michigan area, was first exposed to the White Stripes upon the release of their third album White Blood Cells and can still vividly recall my initial reaction to hearing Fell In Love With A Girl for the first time, and the best way I can describe it is that it was kind of like falling out of a tree. You don;t quite expect it before it happens, you can't stop it once it's started, the fall itself seems to take longer than it actually does in real time, and when it's all said and done you'll probably find yourself out of breath.

Fast, staccato, strong back beat, intense, brilliant, and at the same time a simple sub two-minute rock number. Just a few years later The Killers would perfect this rock-revival art form with the 2003 album Hot Fuss, but by then The White Stripe had blazed new trails adding a level of DIY-electronics to their production that did nothing but make the fall from the tree seem a little bit higher.

Here's a track from what I consider White Stripes 2.0, the 2003 Elephant album. As good as this tune is, IMO it doesn't hold a candle to The Denial Twist off of 2005's Get Behind Me Satan. This one is Seven Nation Army.

...and since we're all friends here, and I really do did The Stripes, here's The Denial Twist.

A thousand thank yous for your support on my first half-year of blogging. Hopefully I can get through 2009 without any two and a half month hiatuses. Next time we'll take a break from the 50 state strategy and unveil my extra special holiday song countdown to get you through the end of the year. After that, I'll see you in 2009 and we'll complete this bugger of a blog list...

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Massachusetts: As Many Bands as Kennedys

So I've discovered as I approach the half-way point of this project, with Massachusetts being entry 22 out of a total of 51 posts, that all the states fall pretty much into one of three categories, and we have seen all three represented in these last three posts.

First, you have states like Maine that require a little massaging of the rules in order to make the list fit. This is like doing a jigsaw puzzle with a carving knife. Once you're done the picture may not look like it was intended, but by God those pieces fit together...

Next, you have states like Maryland that by some cosmic convergence have managed to produce just the right number of players to make for a perfectly simple post that does not leave the author up at night wonder who they dissed by not including them. This is like doing a jigsaw puzzle with just the right number of pieces, all of which are numbered on the back. There is no challenge, there is just the act of lining everything up in the proper order.

Finally, we come to Massachusetts, and states like it. Typically these are states with large urban cores that produce a countless number of artists all of whom could easily find a home on the lists of Maine, Colorado, of may nave even saved Alaska from being annexed. Unfortunately, all are rooted inexorably to their home state, meaning very qualified applicants will get left out in the proverbial cold. This is like attempting to complete one jigsaw puzzle when you have the pieces for about fifteen scattered around you. Even if you know specifically what the picture is supposed to look like, there's much confusion, anger, and wringing of hands before you complete the task of assembly.

With that in mind, I shall undertake the task of ranking and writing up the top Massachusetts performers, but odds are I will not sleep tonight as I debate the merits of those left behind in my head. Much like California before it, and New York after, Massachusetts would benefit from a limitless post about it's many musical merits. Perhaps sometime in the next century when I have finally completed this task I have set myself upon, I'll have an opportunity to do just that.

In the mean time, we'll have plenty of opportunities to discuss music. For now, there's wikiness to be mangled into humorous faux factoids:

- For starters, I despise the Boston Red Sox. There is nothing in the least bit humorous about this. It started in 1986, dulled a bit in 2002, but reignited in 2004. If you are not aware as to the importance of these years, I can assume you are not an Angels fan.

- I'm glad I got a chance to get that out of the way. I now feel purged and we can get on with enjoying the state of Massachusetts and the city of Boston without further incident. I bear no ill will to any of the states other professional sports franchises, but admittedly, I do think Tom Brady is a tool.

- While the state of Massachusetts is ranked 44th out of 50 in land mass, it is ranked 14th in population, making it the 3rd most densely populated state in the nation behind just New Jersey (1st) and Rhode Island (2nd). Of course, they're all vast and empty wastelands compared to the population density of Washington DC. which is almost 10X as densely packed as New Jersey.

- So unless you live in Washington DC, stop complaining about traffic.

- Massachusetts borders 5 other US states. Rhode Island and Connecticut to the south, New York to the West, and Vermont and New Hampshire to the North.

- Throughout our nation's history, Massachusetts has been the cornerstone of democracy. Massachusetts was the locale for our founding fathers who started the American Revolution, it was the first state in the union to abolish slavery, and is the home state for the American political dynasties the Adams family, and the Kennedy family.

- Massachusetts was also the first state to legalize same sex marriage, back in 2004. Perhaps since they've been right about everything else, the rest of our country should give them the benefit of the doubt...

- In my defense, is there a better state to use as a political soapbox than Massachusetts? I mean, they're the ones who dumped tea in the harbor...

- The name Massachusetts translates in the language of it's indigenous residents to mean roughly 'Of the little big hill'.

- The 'little big hill' refers to Great Blue Hill. There is yet to be an official determination as to whether the hill is actually big or little...

- The city of Boston loosely translates to 'Home of chowder, micro brews, and myopic baseball fans'.

- Sorry, I said I'd stop... Just know, Boston, that Nomar Garciaparra never liked you... and he's Hispanic, not Italian...

- All sorts of history occurred in Massachusetts. Don't believe me? Well than read about it, smart guy...

- Crane Paper Company, the organization tasked with creating the paper used to print American money is in Massachusetts.

- Taking stock from Crane Paper and drawing $1,000,000,000,000,000 on it does NOT make it legal tender.

- Besides, where would you get change for a quadrillion dollar bill? Even if you bought 799 trillion 7-11 hot dogs at $1.25 each you'd still get $2,250,000,000 in change... besides, they usually don't take bills over a $20...

- I have not done the calculation, but I do believe there is not enough mustard or onion on this planet to properly dress 799 trillion 7-11 hot dogs. So aside from devising a plan to make a bill that cannot be broken, and that cannot be spent, you have also single handedly used up the entire world's stock of mustard and onion. I hope you are proud of yourself.

- No. You cannot have relish.

- Logan International Airport is the state's major airport, and I am told it is NOT in fact named after the X-Men's Wolverine. I do not believe it, and will continue to research until I find a source that tells me it is.

- The now politically liberal-leaning city of Boston was at the turn of the 20th century the central hub for the war on free speech led by Methodist Minister J. Frank Ward's New England Watch and Ward Society.

- If this trend repeats itself, Utah should be the next great center of liberal thought and freedom of expression.

That should be just about enough of this foolishness. It's time to unveil the best of the best that Massachusetts has to offer. I do however need to provide one caveat to these selections. Much like California, I was forced to make the selections based on my OWN personal preference, not based on notoriety, influence, or album sales. Even considering that, I am not convinced I have made the right choices. I had a plan for Massachusetts right for the beginning, and I have changed it about five times since first starting this project.

Suffice it to say, there is about 15 great bands and solo artists from the state of Massachusetts, any of whom I would be honored to write up, but the list does not allow for would haves, could haves, or should haves. It solely allows for three choices. Here they are, take them or leave them.

Solo Artist: Charles Michael Kittridge Thompson IV AKA: Black Francis, AKA: Frank Black

You may have noticed in the write up of Maryland that in all fairness, all three selections were solo artists, and I massaged Frank Zappa into the 'band' selection through use of The Mothers of Invention. Massachusetts is the polar opposite. While Frank Black has put out some good solo tunes, and continues to make music now with his new outfit, Frank Black & The Catholics, it is his work as Black Francis, lead singer of Pixies that earns Charles Black Frank Thompson IV a spot on Massachusetts very exclusive best of the best list.

If you are not familiar with Pixies, and consider yourself a fan of modern rock and alternative music, than you are by all intents and purposes, reading a book with a handful of early chapters removed. With The Velvet Underground, The Ramones, and in some circles Sonic Youth, Pixies are required listening for anyone who wants to know where their favorite rock acts of today came from. Unlike much of The Velvets and IMO all but very little Sonic Youth, Pixies managed to not only influence those bands that formed in their wake, but like The Ramones even put out enjoyable music.

From the early days of Vamos and Caribou through the critically acclaimed heyday of Gigantic, Where is My Mind, Monkey Gone to Heaven, and Here Comes Your Man to the virtually Kim Deal-less final albums featuring Dig for Fire, Planet of Sound and a great cover of The Jesus and Mary Chain's Head On the short career of Pixies begat some of alternative rock's most influential and enjoyable pieces of music, and indirectly led to a slew of mid 90's hits. Let us take a moment to examine the Pixies Family Tree:

Black Francis begat a solo career as Frank Black and formed another band called Frank black & The Catholics who featured members of Miracle Legion.

Kim Deal begat The Breeders with her sister Kelley Deal and Tanya Donnelly, and The Amps with breeders drummer Jim Macpherson who went on to join Guided by Voices. Tanya Donnelly was the lead singer of Pixies contemporaries and touring mates Throwing Muses, and went on not only to The Breeders with Deal, but then formed one of my absolute favorite 1990's alternative bands Belly, one of the many Boston area bands who was unfortunately left off this list. Donnelly however is a native of Rhode Island, so it looks like Belly will have a chance to be immortalized at a later date...

Pixies co-founder and Black's former college roommate Joey Santiago went on to collaborate with his wife and form The Martinis, releasing an EP in 2004 and still listed as active. you can visit their home on the web here.

All this sprang from just one EP and four albums. Here is some classic Pixies, Debaser.

Band: The Cars

This was an extremely difficult decision, and one I finally decided to pull the trigger on just before beginning this post. My initial plan was to give this spot to the Honorable Mention we will discuss momentarily, and give that spot to the up and coming Dresden Dolls, who's first two albums and three EP's are all well worth the investment, and if you do not already own all of the, and listen to them consistently rectify that immediately. That being said, they have not yet achieved the depth and breadth or influence of some of the other passed over artists on this list.

My next thought was to give this spot to rock and roll icons Aerosmith, and I am still not convinced that I made the right call. Alas, Steven Tyler and the boys lost out due mostly to the fact they did not disband after the Pump album. I may have even stuck with them had Cryin', Crazy, and Amazin' been reduced to just one song instead of three different versions of the same one, but it was really the de-volution into soft-rock fodder with I Don't Want to Miss a Thing from the soundtrack to Armageddon that vaulted Ocasek and company into the lead spot.

Not that The Cars should be considered default winners based on Aerosmith's recent failures, they are here based on their own merits just as much as on the miscues of others. After all, in spite of the fact they only won 83 games during the regular season, the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals still won the World Series and were crowned champions...

This spot also could have gone to The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Dropkick Murphys, Dinosaur Jr., Mission of Burma, or Godsmack, but ultimately I thought the 1970's contingent of Massachusetts band greatness should be represented. If that wasn't going to be Aerosmith, my options were Boston, or The Cars. No offense to Boston, but one great album does not a 'best band in Massachusetts' make...

So now that I have taken four paragraphs to try and talk myself out of selecting The Cars, let me try and explain why I did. When The Cars first gained notoriety in 1977, it was the exact wrong time for a band with their sound. Had the same band formed in 1964, or 1983, their success would have been as instantaneous as it would have been world-stopping. Instead, they were caught smack dab in the rift formed between punk and new wave. This band did not truly fit either of those rock sub-genres, but were pigeon-holed into the latter in order to sell records.

The amazing part is that somehow it worked.

Whether it be due to Ric Ocasek's unorthodox looks, the less-than-typical vocal swapping of Ocasek and Benjamin Orr, or simply the fact they came out of Boston in 1977, straight up rock tracks like Just What I Needed and Good Times Roll were being accepted as first-wave hits along side the much more experimental work of fellow Bostonians Mission of Burma, Delaware's Television, and overseas acts like Elvis Costello and The Boomtown Rats.

Aside from setting themselves apart by choosing to NOT get 10-kinds-of-experimental, The Cars did use enough modern day tricks of the trade to keep their tunes interesting, which is likely what kept them out of the one-album-wonder category like the above mentioned Boston. Cars mod-tunes included Moving in Stereo off the debut album, and Hello Again and Magic off of their wildly successful Heartbeat City album. With those rare exceptions however, most of The Cars catalog is definitive early 60's inspired rock and roll. A brand of music that was at the same time familiar and unique when set against the landscape of late 1970's new wave and synth-pop.

In addition to somehow straddling the line of both 'bucking the trend' and being included IN that trend, The Cars of the 1980's were responsible for one of the songs and videos I recall seeing repeatedly while growing up as a member of the MTV generation. Once again, they managed to effectively be an MTV hitmaker, with pre-MTV stylized rock tunes. Truly an amazing achievement.

The song and video to which I refer is of course the 1984 classic You Might Think.

Fun fact! Contrary to popular belief, the model featured in the You Might Think video is NOT future Mrs. Ric Ocasek Paulina Porizkova, although she was the model featured in the video for Drive from the same album. Ironically, Ocasek is not the lead vocalist on this track, Benjamin Orr is.

Fun Fact PART TWO!!!- The Rentals song 'Friends of P' is in reference to Paulina Porizkova, who introduced front man Matt Sharp to her husband Ric Ocasek whilst Sharp was still the bassist for the band Weezer. Upon meeting, Ocasek purportedly told Sharp 'Well if you're friends of P, then you're friends with me...' Which went to to become the song's refrain, and The Rentals highest charting hit to date.

Honorable Mention: Morphine

I tend to be pretty understanding about the coming and going to rock bands in my life. It's something every rock fan has to take the time to come to grips with at some point in their listening history, unless of course your favorite band is The Rolling Stones, those guys are never going to go away... For the rest of us however, it's a fact of life. Even recognizing that, the end of bass-heavy power rock outfit Morphine is one I still have trouble accepting. Perhaps it is due to the tragic end of the band centered around the sudden death of front man Mark Sandman.

Upon completion of what would become their final album The Night, the band embarked on a Eurpoean tour. On July 3rd, 1999 while performing at the Nel Nome del Rock festival in Italy, Sandman collapsed on stage. He was soon pronounced dead of a heart attack. Morphine's final album was released posthumously in 2000.

Band members Dana Colley and Billy Conway have since been using the music of Morphine to further the momory of Sandman by creating Orchestra Morphine, a collection of Sandman's friends and collegues who toured to raise money for the Mark Sandman Music Education Fund. More recently, they have hooked up with former Face to Face vocalist Laurie Sargent to form Twinemen, however nothing will ever compare to the haunting vocal complexity of Mark Sandman.

The band is yet to find a wide ranging audience, yet is the type of unique sound that I expect to see a few years down the line with people questioning why they did not know more about these guys when Mark was still alive. Here is the first Morphine song I was ever exposed to, while watching a cable access college rock video show. I can vividly recall seeing both this video, and the video for Bad Religion's American Jesus. Within a week I owned copies of Morphine's Cure for Pain and Bad Religion's Recipe for Hate... The song is Buena.

As I mentioned on one of my initial posts, for those who have exhausted the Morphine catalog and need a little more Sandman-esque tunes in their life, may I suggest Earlwine, an New York based artist who was recommended to me by fellow blogger Tristan at rebeljuke. Click for a listen yonder... The album is called Low Frequency Hum.

I hope you enjoyed our trip through Massachusetts as much as I enjoyed writing about it. Next time we visit Michigan, home of the Motor City, where I can prove my distaste for Motown by not selecting The Supremes!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Maryland: Land of Myra Ellen


It's small. Only Delaware, Connecticut and Rhode Island are smaller. It's dominated by our nation's capital to the south and Pennsylvania to the north, yet somehow Maryland holds it's own identity in the formation of our nation, and certainly in the history of our nation's popular music. As a matter of fact, the level of talent is so high in Maryland, that I have actually written the artist profiles before the state summary for this particular blog entry, and let me tell you, I had a lot to say, so we will likely cut the state wiki-facts a little short for this one, since there's plenty of you know, MUSIC content to get to...

It's only fair that we give Maryland the place a moment in the spotlight before moving on to Maryland the home of recording artists various and sundry... After all, this is the state in which sits the District that governs our whole big and grand nation. It was also the home and final resting place of Edgar Allan Poe... Spoooky... There is also rumour that Baltimore, Maryland was once the home of a Major League Baseball team. Now they just have the rookie league Baltimore Orioles.

The Orioles are still in the Majors? No wonder no one watches baseball anymore...

Comic drubbing aside, onto the wikiness:

- The state of Maryland passed a law requiring all residents to name any children born in the state Mary, regardless of sex... See, 'cause it's MARYland... Nevermind...

- According to the US Census Bureau, Maryland has the highest per capita income of any state in the union. As a result, Maryland is currently in the process of erecting a state-sized pedestal upon which they can look down on the rest of us.

- Maryland was one of the thirteen original colonies, the seventh to ratify our nation's Constitution.

- The state flag of Maryland looks like it should be pinned to be sport coat of a Madness fan.

- Apparently the flag is actually based on the coat of arms of George Calvert, the first Baron of Baltimore, not on the two-tone ska movement of the early 80's. This does however make it the only state flag based on British heraldry.

- It likely would also have been the only state flag based on a defunct record label and subsequent short lived fashion movement as well... Alas...

- Maryland's musical roots even extend into the Governor's mansion. Current Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley was the vocalist, guitar player and songwriter for a Celtic rock band called "O'Malley's March". I KNOW I never thought someone named Martin O'Malley would be involved in something of CELTIC origin...

- I don't know about you, but I can't say Martin O'Malley without a thick Irish brogue...

- Aye, cead mile failte to ya Martin O'Malley. May the road rise to meet ye...

- Sorry... Blogger does not offer Irish Gaelic sineadh fata accent marks... That's pronounced KAY-ed MEE-luh FOIL-cha... meaning 'a hundred thousand welcomes'

- The highest ranking political figure to come from Maryland was disgraced Nixon VP Spiro Agnew. Yeesh... No wonder modern Maryland votes overwhelmingly Democrat...

- The official state sport of Maryland since 1962 is jousting. Maybe I'm missing it being out here on the Left coast, but is there really a big call for jousting? Has there been at any point since it was declared the state sport in 1962? I could understand if it was the state sport of say, Ulster... in say, 1062... But 1962 Maryland? I mean, I KNOW your baseball team has been virtually useless for twenty five years of so, but c'mon... Jousting?

- As a result, I suggest the state sport of California be Ulama, a Sinaloa, Mexico version of the ancient Mesoamerican ballgame adapted by the Aztec culture.

- The game had important ritual aspects, and major formal ballgames were held as ritual events, often featuring human sacrifice. The sport was also played casually for recreation by children and perhaps even women.

- OK, maybe not so much with the human sacrifice... How about we change that to the losing team has to buy the beer at the local pizza joint afterwards mmkay?

Alright, enough is how-they-say enough... Onwards to the musical selections...

Solo Artist: Tori Amos

Myra Ellen Amos was actually born in North Carolina while her family was on vacation from their home in Georgetown DC. By the time she was 2 years old her family had relocated a few blocks down the road to Baltimore, Maryland. It was in Baltimore that Myra Ellen would become Tori, although it took a trip across country to LA before she would make her mark in the music industry.

From her first record, Baltimore, written with her brother Mike at just 18 years old, Tori's ability to both carry a tune and tell a story were never in doubt. Over time and difficult passage into the wide open, Tori honed her skills at song writing, hardened herself to a world that would beat her down as much as it would lift her up, and has emerged from the other side with a body of work that transcends indie rock, singer songwriter introspection, pop catchiness, and the occasional killer rock guitar or piano solo that is so much more than the sum of it's parts.

I have a tough time coming up with a specific example of a Tori tune that really sums up everything that this DC Native by way of North Carolina who grew up in Maryland has to offer, but the closest I can come is Yes, Anastasia off of the Under the Pink album. It's nine minutes long and wasn't released as a single, so I will not subject you to a 'user submitted' youtube clip here.

Upon her initial arrival in Los Angeles, Tori attempted to break into acting through doing commercials, and was singing at any paying gigs she could find. One night after playing at an LA area bar, she was sexually assaulted by a regular patron who she had given a ride home. This even has played heavily on Tori's music and activism since the event. She recounts the tale in the idiosyncratic Me and a Gun from her solo debut album Little Earthquakes and co-founded RAINN, a non-profit organization helping victims of sexual assault.

Aside from a very extensive and highly entertaining recording catalog, Tori has also been immortalized in graphic novel form, with pieces of her songs, and their conversations inserted in the works of Neil Gaiman's Sandman series. Tori's influence can be found in the characters Delirium and Death. Tori also penned an introduction for Gaiman's graphic novel Death: The High Cost of Living.

Here's Tori, decidedly more alive, and less drawn, in her video for Caught a Lite Sneeze from the album Boys for Pele

Band: Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention

As if the life and times of Baltimore, Maryland native Frank Vincent Zappa aren't enough to earn a spot on this list, there is history amongst the OTHER Mothers as well. In doing so, I'm kind of breaking a cardinal rule of my list, as The Mothers of Invention were actually formed in California, and Zappa was not even the original leader of the band, but in fairness, when you think Mothers of Invention, you think Frank Zappa, you don't think Ray Collins.

Considering he's the Marylander, we'll start with Frank. Much of the oddities in Zappa's music can be traced back to his unorthodox upbringing. The eldest of four children, Zappa was born into the family of a chemist and mathematician father who held multiple jobs for the state department of the US government, including an arsenal in which chemical warfare was tested. Zappa was also exposed to large amounts of radium at an early age as an area doctor inserted radium pellets into his nostrils to treat his recurring sinus problems.

It almost makes sense why he named his children Moon Unit, Dweezil, Ahmet Emuukha Rodan and Diva Thin Muffin Pigeen.

Musically, it took a move to Lancaster, CA, for Zappa to find his stride. While at Antelope Valley High School he met a lifelong friend Don Captain Beefheart Vliet, and the two would subsequently influence one another's recordings for the remainder of Zappa's life. Zappa is listed as the producer of Beefheart's critically beloved Trout Mask Replica.

As a side note, I totally don't get Captain Beefheart. I listen to some pretty wacky stuff, and there's a whole lot of Zappa tunes I enjoy, but I just cannot get down with the Beefheart. I know, I now officially have to turn in my rock snob membership card... BUT YOU CAN'T TAKE MY BLOG AWAY!!!

Anyhoo, after hopping around bands in the LA music scene, Zappa found The Soul Giants, joined the band to play guitar, eventually took over singing duties, and the band changed their name to The Mothers on Mothers Day 1964. The rest is avant-garde rock history.

Zappa and The Mothers released fifteen albums between 1966 and 1975 when Zappa left the group to pursue solo work. All told Zappa released fifty seven albums during his lifetime, and another twenty two have been released posthumously. There is simply too much music here to cite examples.

Mothers guitarist and sometime singer Lowell George left the band to form Little Feat. A more traditional, but still under-the-radar rock band from the 70's LA scene. George died in 1979 of a heart attack likely brought on from years of a rock & roll lifestyle.

After Zappa's official departure and foray into purely solo recordings, the other Mothers continued on recording as The Grandmothers and The Grande Mothers Re: Invented. Just last month, original Mothers drummer Jimmy Carl Black died in Germany at the age of seventy. He outlasted Frank Zappa who passed in 1993 and would have been sixty eight four days after I am writing this. Another rock pioneer and member of The Hall taken from us too soon.

Here's Frank & The Mothers in 1968 performing In The Sky.

Honorable Mention: Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday had packed a lifetime of tragedy into her first eighteen years of life before every singing a single recorded note. The daughter of an unwed thirteen year old girl, Billie was reportedly raped twice as a small child, once at ten, and once her mother intervened while the assailant was still in the middle of the act. She then entered a life of prostitution in order to have enough money to survive, leading to a short stint in prison for solicitation. Finally in 1933 at just eighteen years old, Billie was spotted by talent scout John Hammond singing in a Harlem jazz club called Monette's.

From there, Billie began singing with era jazz bands, signing deals with multiple record labels over the course of her career, but fame and notoriety would not bring peace and happiness to Lady Day. By the early 1940's Holiday was using hard drugs, which led to another stint in Prison, this time for eight months. Upon release Holiday was no longer allowed to work in the lounges of New York City, her New York City Cabaret Card having been revoked.

In 1952 Holiday married a mob enforcer named Louis McKay, just another in a long line of abusive men who would take advantage of her, although he did purportedly attempt to help her get off drugs. Ultimately however his attempts were not fruitful, and Holiday was admitted to New York's Metropolitan Hospital in 1959 with cirrhosis of the liver. She was placed under arrest for drug possession while in the hospital, but she never emerged to be sentenced. Billie Holiday died with just $0.70 in the bank, and $750 on her person from a recent tabloid fee she had collected. She had been bilked out of all her other earnings through her own drug habit and the unscrupulous men in her life. She was just 44 years old.

From such a sad story however emerges some of the most compelling and heartfelt vocals ever captured by recorded sound. Her vocalizations forever changing not just her specific genre of jazz and blues vocals, but influencing women in popular music for generations to come, her story also serving as a cautionary tale to those who followed in her footsteps. While others have fallen victim to the recording industry since, Billie Holiday can be credited with saving a countless number of men and women who could have lost so much to the art they gave their lives to, just as she ultimately did. He sacrifice was not in vain.

And we are left with classic memories of her struggles and triumphs. Here is Billie singing one of her few original compositions that has hence become a jazz staple, God Bless the Child.

Next up is a land of gut wrenching decisions... So many good musical choices, so oddly shaped... That's Massachusetts... See you on the cape...