The Year In Music

    icon Dec 26, 2008
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Let me tell you about the coolest events in the world of music circa 2008 (as a clue to the puzzle, the American Music Awards isn't included in this game) because between Kanye wanting to be Elvis and the New Kids on the Block limp-dick slickness, I became physically ill and emotionally unraveled this past year.

 I'm more than OUTRAGED. I wanna kill someone – the producer of this monstrosity and all of its sponsors…was Disney a sponsor? Had to be – Disney is THE evil empire, at least an equal to McDonald's Restaurants and the American Girl Franchise. They need to die a thousand horrible deaths for unleashing the Jonas Brothers on our children.

Instead of Hannah Montana or the Naked Brothers turn to Nick Jr. and dig the vibe of Yo Gabba Gabba. They are bringing great music to kids and adults everywhere. Recently Yo Gabba Gabba won the International category of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (the Gong Award). Thanks heavens for MC Bat Commander of the Aqua Bats and Devo's Biz Markie who keeps the beat of the day along with such lively musical guests as Jack Black, The Roots, MGMT, and the Ting Tings.

Get with it grownups!

Back to the American Music Awards - it was a spectacular mess, a wall of sound with big production, costumes, backdrops and props. The artists seemed to bask in the glow of a strategically marketed sales appeal and, perhaps, even believing in their own wonderfulness.

I got this sick feeling that I was witnessing a rabid industry eating its young. In particular I felt bad for Christine Aguilera – a great singer reduced to showing off her underwear at the expense of her golden pipes - her greatest hits becoming a Busby Berkeley bump & grind straight out of the Prince of Pop's book of hip gyrations and moon walking. STOP IT…YEEECCH.

Then there's the 2008 release of Crosby Stills, Nash & Young's Déjà vu Live CD consisting of 16 tracks culled from their 2006 tour. Now. Let me tell you. Those old bastards don't have the gris gris anymore, but they sure did sing their asses off on this slab of reconstituted plastic. This is a truly historic document that captured Crosby's accapella to most of Neil Young's Living With War material as well as such old chestnuts as For What It's Worth and Find The Cost of Freedom. It was a great listen!

Then I peaked inside the CD cover.

I got a good look at these superstar CSN&Y hippie-dinosaurs and I thought, "Hey dudes, you look like hell." Stills' mole-like eyes looked like he was pepper sprayed for chrissakes and Young – and I mean this in only the kindest way – looked just like one of them flesh-eating zombies in the original grainy black and white film Night of the Living Dead… spooky, man – and pretty far out at the same time.

 I decided I wouldn't waste my time or yours by listing all the rip-off, only-in-it-for-the-money, tours and CD releases by young Turks and bloated has-beens that love yer money but think of you as dumb stoopids unworthy of their greatness, so I won't mention the Eagles' 2-disc 21 song ode to their own self love, AC/DC selling out at Walmart or such a blatant money-making scheme as the Police Reunion tour – only $250 a ticket; got to get with it, brother.

OK, for every rip-off, there is something real and substantive…there's still plenty of creativity out there.

REM – bless them – turned up their guitars and packed more wallop than a heavyweight contender on Accelerate, one of the best CDs of 2008.

Snoop Dogg's superb performance at the Roxbury Festival was an unexpected treasure – he stole the show, surpassing the efforts by such notable stars as Dave Matthews, 311, John Mayer and Widespread Panic.

Thom Yorke is a great singer and songwriter and we are lucky to have Radiohead around to give us some direction. The Decemberists combined art of ancient storytelling with a hybrid of folk-rock to emerge as one of America's greatest new bands. And Axl Rose has some pretty big cajones to release Chinese Democracy after 15 years of firing everyone in Guns & Roses and caterwauling like a girl and then calling his ex-new band of rotating imposters Guns & Roses.

Can't help it but I love John Lennon and believe he will forever be relevant. Even the Vatican media seems to think so. On November 23rd, in honor of the 40th anniversary of the White Album, the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano praised the Beatles' "unique and strange alchemy of sounds and words." You may recall that in 1966 Lennon made some remarks about the Beatles being "more popular than Jesus now". The result was a firestorm of protest in America and across the globe that included death threats and burnings of Beatles records. The article's author says Lennon's comments sound only like "a boast by a young man facing unexpected success".

I trust Lennon is much relieved.

But enough is enough. I will not stand – nor will I sit - for another descent into the flotsam of Paul McCartney's musical past (or present) or another posthumous Beatles release - though I actively salivate at the possible release of the 1967 Pepper's era Carnival of Light.

If you really want the Beatles that badly, dig 'em up and have your way with them. But please, for your own good, never – and I mean never – attend a concert by a Beatles' tribute band. It will kill your soul and transform you into a flesh-eating zombie that feeds on the rotting carcass of your own false memories. And before you know it, your descent will be complete, and like Sisyphus pushing the boulder you will forever sleep-walk through the ponderous treacle of Oldies Palooza shows and worry about your annuities.

As a people we've become as slick and boring as our music whether it's John Legend tinkling the ivories for Alicia Keys or the latest techno-dance party release by Britney Spears or Beyonce (Sasha Pierce). But then again, each of the aforementioned artists have paid dues and matured.

And Spears' comeback is nothing less than miraculous. So…there's still hope for us?

Here's some pretty good advice…

Ignore the wimp rock of the Plain White T's and listen to Conor Oberst.

Give me Bran Vander Ark or Give me Death Cab For Cutie! Both have spectacular new releases that deserve your attention. Resurrect Patti Smith – we need to hear her passion and truth…let's stop this corporate musical stasis and breathe some fresh air into today's music by supporting our local scene.

Memphis musician/philosopher Jim Dickinson once said that popular music co-opts, pre-empts and recycles the ideas of the original artists and that the music industry is "founded by the concepts of exploitation and greed."

So what can we do? Insist on live original music, reject cover bands and karaoke. We are blessed with an abundance of talented singers, songwriters, musicians and poets with incredible vision and no small amount of chutzpah. For example…

Ryan Fitzgerald formerly of Barbarossa joined Frank Bang's Secret Stash, moved to Chicago and inspired Bang through his dedication to learning and perfecting his craft. Bang credits Fitzgerald for reigniting his passion for music! No small feat, indeed, as Bang has performed with many of the masters during his incubation with mentor Buddy Guy. Rocks elite clamored to get close to Guy - Santana, Clapton and Beck to name a few and Bang had jammed with all of them. And, yet - he gives his most heartfelt praise to Ryan Fitzgerald. Incredible!

Sprout released the magnificent Before the Fall and brought the musical community together in an incredible performance of the Band's Last Waltz. At the time of its release, in 1978, it was hailed as the greatest rock documentary ever filmed. By and large, it received rave reviews from rock critics as well as film critics. Closer to the truth, it was an indulgence that evoked dissenting points of view. Bill Graham, the show's host said it was, "the worst goddamn piece of s#4t I've ever seen in my life." The Band's Drummer/vocalist Levon Helm panned the event and disagreed with Scorese's worshipful indulgence of Robbie Robertson (to the exclusion of the other members of the Band). Neil Young gave an inept performance of Helpless with a huge rock of cocaine dangling from his nose – "like a white M&M". Though Scorsese and Robertson wanted to leave the shot untouched – "it's rock & roll, it's the real thing" - it was eventually rotoscoped away at a cost of thousands of dollars…"most expensive cocaine I ever bought", mused Robertson. Ultimately the Last Waltz transcended the expectations of its own hype and became something of the Holy Grail of rock & roll films. Bless you Sprout.

The emergence of several notable artists on the local scene was no less than a godsend, like a fresh shave after a three day growth, a firm breast in an empty hand, a…well, you get the picture.

John Vasquez and the Bearinger Boys brought folk music back to the table with energy, offbeat originality and more than a little nerve. The Tosspints created its own genre – Traditional Irish and Celtic Punk Rock & Roll – and wrote songs with a Celtic feel and a punk beat that sent a message that spoke of freedom and injustice – an incredibly impassioned dialectic that works at several levels…can you dance and protest at the same time?

Michigan Monsoon stormed upon the seen in the fall of 2008. Led by guitarist extraordinaire Drew Pentkowski and multi-instrumentalist Matt Burgie, the Monsoon boys perform an eclectic mix of blues, jazz, and progressive rock. It is a truly scrumptious sonic feast that deserves a wider audience. Great Band!

Banana Convention ascended to the near top of the heap, releasing a rocking new CD. Singer Shar Molina found her true voice to become one of the premier vocalists in the tri-cities and Ray Torres is a one-of-a-kind fluid, melodic yet monster guitarist.

Matt Besey released his long awaited cd to uniformly rave reviews. Besey is simply the best guitar slinger around and with former Barbarossa keyboardist Loren Kranz on board, Matt and his band may be on the road to a well-deserved national spotlight

I Became The Sky is in a league all its own. Combining craft with passion, these communal progressive rockers have the ability to score big and leave a lasting mark on the local scene

Andy Reed continues to astound me with his beautiful noise. His songs are underground poems with elusive meaning yet are completely accessible. Andy is a local genius, a diamond in the rough just looking for the lucky break.

Same could be said for Maybe August – great singers and world-class songs. Maybe August should have national prominence. By and far the best band in mid-Michigan and beyond.

Brett Mitchell is making a big splash in a small pond but he's reaching much farther with profile gigs at the Ark in Ann Arbor and Intersection in Grand Rapids. This cat deserves the big break and just may get it. His manager/agent Jan Hecht is unstoppable.

Then there is a long list of nameless, below the radar bands performing at American Legion Halls, VFW's and Falcon Clubs – what else can you do at a Fish Fry or on Hamburger night? Listen to bad covers of bad songs and LOVING IT. Drink some more beer and shake shake shake your booty. Go ahead, have a good time, go home and get a little. You all deserve it.

  The tri-cities have something for everybody don't settle for anything less.

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