Thursday, December 4, 2008

Illinois: Land of Burl Ives

Illinois, thank you for Smoking Popes

We are a nation of feast or famine. After a string of states in which any band who'd released one song I had so much as HEARD of managed to make the list or at least garner serious consideration, I'm back to the gut wrenching task of exclusion. From the city of Chicago, to it's suburbs and beyond into Champaign, Aledo, Pocahontas, Hunt, Rockford, Dowers Grove, Libertyville, Naperville, the list goes on and on. Illinois is so much more than just Chicago, and is so much more than just one type of music as well.

We'll get to state facts in a moment, but before that, it's important to note the diversity of genres that have seen significant contributions from Illinois. Why is it important? Well, because I find it interesting, and my opinion is honestly the only one that matters... Ummm... Not good enough? OK, then just accept that the information below could some day SAVE YOUR LIFE. Equally important and potentially life saving is the general lack of inclusion of one common urban genre.

There was virtually no Chicago-area, or Illinois by and large punk movement in the late 70's. Not a single mohawk wearing, safety pin gouging, black leather jacket studding, combat boot having hooligan made any serious impact on the punk world of the 70's out of the Second City.

LA had Black Flag and The Vandals, New York had The Ramones and countless others, DC had Bad Brains, Minor Threat and whoever Henry Rollins was playing with at the time, Detroit pioneered American punk with Iggy Pop and the MC5, but Chicago? Nothing. Those profiled on Wikipedia include Naked Raygun, Big Black, Strike Under and, The Effigies. I've got to tell you, I've never heard of any of these bands. Maybe I'm just woefully under informed, but I'm not seeing any Stooges or Misfits or even Dead Milkmen in this group. This is a Chicagoland epic Punk fail.

As I mentioned above however, I do find it notable that despite the lack of contribution to punk rock, Illinois has produced nationally recognized artists in a slew of other genres including country, American traditional folk, blues, jazz, pop-rock, arena rock, house, alternative, hip hop, and emo. Illinois has also produced standout movements in two musical subgenres that I greatly enjoy, electronic/industrial and the short lived 60's genre of Sunshine Pop.
From the electronic/industrial side, I'm forced to drop one of two personal favorites from my best-of-the-state list. Based more on my lack of exposure than their lack of contribution, I'm going to have to remove, but heavily praise Ministry. From the early days of synth-pop flavored Goth through the classic Psalm 69 album to their most recent covers collection which is well worth the price of admission, Ministry continues to alter themselves and their sound to remain cutting edge in the hardcore electronic genre. As I dig deeper through the Ministry catalog, I may wish to revise my 'best of' choices, but for now, they simply missed the cut to a band featured below.

sub-genre of Sunshine Pop did not produce enough lasting acts to warrant a selection in the best-of list, but is notable for offering a 'just right' alternative, splitting the difference between bubble-gum acts like 1910 Fruitgum Company, The Ohio Express, The Archies, The Lemon Pipers and The Partridge Family, and their contemporaries building the acid rock genre like The 13th Floor Elevators, Jefferson Airplane, The Doors, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and the later recordings of The Beatles. While none of the acts associated with 'Sunshine' became household names, there were a few artists like Ides of March and The Buckinghams who managed to chart hit records. Honestly, where would high school marching bands be without IoM's Vehicle? Better question, where would seminal area rock band Chicago be without the horn-heavy style of Sunshine Pop?

Anyhoo, before this turns into a novel, how about some fun facts from the state of Illinois:

- Illinois is oft viewed as a microcosm of the United States, and as such was determined by an associated press poll to be the most average state in the nation.

- WOO HOO!!! PARRR-TAAAYY. Ain't no party like an... average... party... ummm... 'cause an average party ends promptly at 11:00 pm.

- Nearly 66% of the population of Illinois lives in the northeastern corner of the state.

- Large weighted mooring blocks have been erected in Carbondale and Chester to keep the state from tipping and falling into Lake Michigan.

- Illinois borders 5 US states, and Lake Michigan. Impressive, but no Idaho...

- The region outside of the Chicago metropolitan area is often described as 'downstate Illinois'

- Except by the people from 'downstate Illinois', who prefer to refer to the Chicago metropolitan area as 'A-Hole Illinois'.

- Illinois is said to be a derivative of the Algonquian word ilenweewa meaning 'he/she speaks normally'

- Average, normal speakers. Watch out now, Illinois is WILD and CRAZY!!!

- Illinois has numerous museums stuffed to the brim with historical and artistic artifacts chronicling the average and normal speaking.

- Illinois has produced two American presidents, neither of whom were actually born in the state, but both served in the state legislature. One of them will be inaugurated early next year.

- I'm pleased by this greatly.

- The nation's tallest building, The Sears Tower is in Chicago Illinois, and towers some 500 feet higher than the state's highest natural point, Charles Mound.

- Charles Mound is said to tower some 500 feet above it's natural rival, Willliam Almond Joy.

- Someone is currently working on the Wikipedia page for the state of Illinois, rendering it unavailable for use. As a result, the remaining facts will be less facts, and more totally made up.

- Illinois has a magnetic core and as such will erase the data on all your credit cards as soon as you step into the state

- Illinois is having an affair with Indiana. Don't tell Wisconsin, they're already going through a rough patch.

- The south side of Chicago has not been able to produce a world championship baseball team for over one hundred years. OK, that one is entirely true.

- Everyone in Illinois is musically talented. OK, that one's false again, but the below Illinoisans are!

The Selections:

Solo Artist: Miles Davis

I'm trying my damnedest to not go with the 'safe' choices and instead follow my own personal musical tastes, and trust me, I do with the band and honorable mention choices, but honestly, there's not a whole lot of solo artists from Illinois, it's a land of bands. This left me with the modern hip-hop option of Kanye West, or a man who has inspired more rock-based pop music than arguably any other musician of the jazz era, Miles Davis.

Sorry Kanye, I'm just not a big enough fan, and I'm sure there's plenty of other blog sites that will be happy to heap praise upon you.

Without Miles Davis, there would be no Herbie Hancock, no John Coltrane, no hard-bop, no cool jazz, no modal, no jazz-funk, no jazz-fusion, and very likely no rock and roll. At least, not as we know it.

In 1955, David formed the Miles Davis Quintet introducing the world to tenor saxophonist John Coltrane. Remember the name, you're likely to hear it again round about North Carolina... The 'First Great Quintet' recorded together to the next few years before splitting up for solo projects, but their formation lead to Davis' first critically acclaimed jazz album Kind of Blue which featured the quintet's members on assorted tracks.

The impact of Kind of Blue reached well beyond the walls of jazz music, and has been cited as an influence by The Allman Brothers Band, and Pink Floyd directly leading to the chord progressions found on the band's Breathe from their seminal work Dark Side of the Moon.

This level of influence and greatness alone would have given Davis the chops to lay claim to the top solo spot from the state of Illinois, but instead he chose to continue recording groundbreaking jazz and jazz-fusion albums for the next thirty years including an acid jazz fusion period that would heavily influence a young guitarist named Jimi Hendrix. Another name worth remembering, hold on to it until we hit Washington.

If you don't like jazz, or at least think you don't like jazz, do yourself a favor and listen to Davis' Kind of Blue, John Coltrane's A Love Supreme, Dave Brubek's Time Out and Thelonius Monk's Thelonius Monk with John Coltrane . One, or all of them are destined to change your opinion of jazz forever.

The time for public service has passed. From here on in Illinois is an unabashed personal opinion post. Sure, Styx, Chicago, REO Speedwagon, Cheap Trick, Smashing Pumpkins and Urge Overkill ALL hailed from the great state of Illinois, but for my money, none of them hold a candle to the raw electronic power, anger and thrash-dance exhilaration found in Thrill Kill Kult.

TKK front man Groovie Mann, aka Frankie Nardiello began his foray into industrial dance music in a band called Special Affect with soon-to-be Ministry front man Alain Jourgensen. One of Special Affect's songs was entitled Thrill Kill Kult, leading to the band's name when Nardiello formed it with friend and indie art film collaborator Marston Daley, heretofore known as Buzz McCoy. Initially Nardiello and Daley worked together on an arthouse flick entitled Hammerhead Housewife and the Thrill Kill Kult, but the film never got off the ground.

This didn't stop Wax Trax! Records from signing the duo and releasing the film's soundtrack as an EP, under the fully formed moniker My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult.

From there the band recorded studio albums with numerous guest and short-time performers including Lydia Lunch, Shawn Christopher, Thomas Thorn, and current members Charles Levi, and Pepper Somerset.

TKK has yet to receive the same level of commercial success as fellow industrial bands and label mates like Ministry and KMFDM, having released just 10 singles from their 12 EP and full length releases only one of which ever hit even the alternative Billboard charts, 1991's Sex on Wheelz from the Sexplosion! album, however within the industrial subgenre, 1990's Confessions of a Knife album remains a top seller, and is my own personal favorite of the Thrill Kill Katalog.

Here's the hit, Sex on Wheelz, featured in the film Cool World

And a personal favorite, Kooler Than Jesus from Confessions of a Knife

Honorable Mention: Fall Out Boy

If ya'll weren't already swinging from the rafters and heaving your computers off the tops of local parking structures based on my LAST decision, you likely will be now... Suffice it to say, I'm no Emo fanboy weeping and cutting myself while certain that elsewhere people are calling me names. Seriously, I'm not, leave me alone man! I'm going to cry, and scream, and put on eyeliner... WHAAA!

My age tends to separate me from the drama and assorted teenaged-ness often associated with bands like Fall Out Boy. In MY day if you wore black and pouted a lot you weren't 'Emo', you were 'Goth', and much like Emo, Goth produced a whole hell of a lot of crappy music, with a few above-average exceptions. By this theorem, I posit the below hypothesis:

Echo & The Bunnymen : Goth as Fall Out Boy : Emo

Much like Echo and his roving band of Bunnymen, I expect Fall Out Boy to record just enough music to put out an above average greatest hits (E&tB released 5 studio albums that charted in the US before releasing Songs to Learn & Sing. FOB's 5th studio album is due out December 16th, or about a dozen days), disappear for roughly 20 years, and then show up with a critically acclaimed new album (E&tB's 2008 The Fountain is scheduled for release just in time for Christmas shopping. Their last US charting album was released in 1987).

Even if Fall Out Boy's soon to arrive Folie à Deux is a commercial flop, there's already more than enough goodness here for an Echo-sized greatest hits recording, and they're all about the snark imbued titles having very little to do with the songs themselves, which is a big plus in my snark-imbued mind... Take for instance:

Tell That Mick He Just Made My List of Things To Do Today

Homesick at Space Camp

Sending Postcards From a Plane Crash (Wish You Were Here)

Our Lawyer Made Us Change the Name of This Song So We Wouldn't Get Sued

I've Got a Dark Alley and a Bad Idea That Says You Should Shut Your Mouth (Summer Song)

Champagne for My Real Friends, Real Pain for My Sham Friends

I'm Like a Lawyer with the Way I'm Always Trying to Get You Off (Me & You)

Don't You Know Who I Think I Am?

I've Got All This Ringing in My Ears and None on My Fingers

There's musical genius in these young men, and there is nothing wrong with crying once in a while. It's OK, really, it doesn't make you Morrissey...

Not that there's anything wrong with Morrissey...

OK, so I like whiners... At least I despise Coldplay.

Next time, you'll be getting a much shorter post. I don't think I've got another one like this one in me... at least not for a few more states. Anyhow, we'll take one step to the east and visit Indiana, and I promise, I'm not just going to find a way to pick Michael Jackson for everything...


CRwM said...

You forgot Thrill Kill's other big soundtrack contribution: "Hit and Run Holiday" for, of all things, one of the live action Flintstones adaptations. Who looked that the data and thought to themselves, "Hey, we've got a huge Rosie O'Donnell/Thrill Kill Cult demographic overlap here."

OCKerouac said...

Oh good lord... You're right I DID forget that... Totally, completely forgot about it in a 'blocked from my conscious mind' sort of way, but now that you mention it, I totally remember wondering who came up with that creative marriage...

Here's to hoping they are now unemployed...