10:45am. “Amy Winehouse died,” someone’s posted on Facebook. What? Well, have to check it out anyway. Quick Google: Daily Mail is saying so. Really? Really? Within a matter of seconds, Guardian and Telegraph and BBC have it up too. Fuck. Fuck. Really? This can’t be true. Give it ten minutes. But the news keeps coming in. “London police have confirmed the death of a 27-year-old female…”
11:15am. A stomach knot and all I can think is that the media killed Amy Winehouse. With its salivating predatory need for photos, the more grotesque the better, and stories fabricated or not, who cares, post it up now and get those clicks! That concert in Belgrade—even I clicked on the link, and after about ten seconds of the video I couldn’t watch anymore. But I clicked on the link. Another click means another vote that tells the media AMY WINEHOUSE DISASTER = SITE TRAFFIC VICTORY, and I cast it, and you cast it, and we all cast it. The result is more posts about Amy Winehouse, the ugly, wandering, makeupless falling down trainwreck, to satiate the public hunger and boost the Alexa rating and the advertising rate card. See? The media killed Amy Winehouse. Or if it didn’t, it certainly obliterated any chances she may have had at getting better. This, I know: When the media places your life in a certain frame, over and over, you cannot grow out of that frame. Here is the narrative since 2008: “Amy Winehouse: Hopeless Addict.” Over and over. How could she be anything but? Jesus, we all killed Amy Winehouse.
12:30pm. Someone calls and tells me they saw the thing in the paper about my mom, and I tell them I’m actually kind of more beat up about Amy Winehouse. And: I never saw her perform. She only played San Francisco once, at Popscene right after the record came out. It was completely sold out, and I’d've tried to buy a scalped ticked, but she’d already canceled a bunch of shows already and I didn’t want to take chances. Later, she canceled two shows at the Warfield. Man.
1:10pm. Denial. Was Back to Black really even anything special? The soul revival had been on full blast since 1999, with Brainfreeze and Alice Russell and Tru Thoughts and Dap-Tone and Sharon Jones and Sister Funk and Keb Darge, and all Amy Winehouse did was come along and do the same thing but be skinny, and white, and pretty, and have a bloggable hairdo. Hers was a double steal: she wasn’t just hijacking the Shirelles, she was plundering a rich underground club scene. Remembering a pitch to an editor about the Dap-Kings, and how they deserved more credit for making Amy Winehouse who she was. A friend tweets: “Not to downplay the loss of another human life but can we admit that Ronson was the brains behind the operation?” Yeah, like what did Amy Winehouse even do anyway, but what people told her to do?
2:13pm. That’s crazy. I know I really liked Back to Black, played the hell out of it. Didn’t I write something about it when it came out? Oh, look, here it is:
…Winehouse has got a goddamn voice to shake the T-cells out of your bloodstream, replace them with a revamping toxin of shudder and sway and exit your system, laughing, while you walk in perfect rhythm for the next two weeks. By any estimation, it comes from a place deeper and larger than her lanky frame could possibly contain, and it evokes both Dusty Springfield and Gil Scott-Heron, with one part come-hither and two parts gettda-fuck-outta-here. On her sophomore album, Back to Black, she’s backed by a stellar band (aided themselves by the welcome trend of retro-soul recording techniques), sounding thoroughly fresher than the processed sugar fix of most U.K. buzz-girls. The songs are all from Winehouse’s own pen, and they read like a series of esoteric MySpace comments: “What kind of fuckery is this? / You made me miss the Slick Rick gig.”
Yes, it seems, I liked it. (Ha ha, MySpace.) I remember now that it made me feel like a teenager in love, in Detroit, in 1968. And all the songs were written by Amy herself? Okay. I have to listen to this record again. I know death makes music sound different; I’m going into this with my guard up.
2:45pm. My guard is down. Jesus, how does she do it? Those elongated vowels that turn into two, that husk, that phrasing. That phrasing, most of all! No one else on Earth would sing these songs the same way. You know those girls who get up and sing the National Anthem at baseball games, and warble all over the notes in an attempt to be pyrotechnic but just wind up shitting all over the song? You know those girls on American Idol? You know Christina Aguilera? This is nothing like that pyrotechnic warble. This is pure inspiration. And did she really write the songs? Insert sleeve credit check: yes. And those lyrics! “Nowadays you don’t mean dick to me.” Ha! Adele would never sing shit like that. God, I hate Adele.
3:15pm. Even the non-hits are good, like all of Side Two, after “Tears Dry On Their Own.” Listen to it again. How could this have happened? I guess I’ll watch her last performance ever, with her goddaughter or whoever this person is. Some kinda iTunes promotion. They’re singing “Mama Said” together but… wait, they don’t have a microphone for Amy Winehouse?! What? Amy makes the best of it and dances along while looking repeatedly in the wings for a microphone. This translates into “looking confused and out of it” by media reports. Goddamn it all to hell. The media killed Amy Winehouse.
3:36pm. Just sad, for hours and hours.
Noting the passing of a celebrity is like celebrating a pennant win in the bottom of the seventh; there will be two more, according to the self-fulfilling maxim. So when Solomon Burke died at the Amsterdam airport two weeks ago, I held my breath, hoping the next one would be more prepared to go. Someone like Eddie Fisher or Tony Curtis. I didn’t get my wish. Eyedea and Ari Up were gone within two weeks.
Most people online will see photos of Ari Up, née Arianna Forster, read a few lines and assume she was just another screamer in a punk band—especially if they see the cover photo for the Slits’ album, Cut, which shows Forster and her bandmates topless and covered in mud. But the Slits couldn’t have been further from the bedraggled screams of punk, or of X-Ray Spex, who they were often compared to. Juxtapose the roughshod reggae-disco of Cut against records by the Rapture and M.I.A. and it’s clear Forster was really, really ahead of her time.
Eyedea, from the Minneapolis hip-hop duo Eyedea & Abilities, was just 28 when he was found dead last week. I did the math, discovering he was still a teenager when his massive statement of purpose, First Born, was released. The triple-album is essentially Exhibit A in the case for the personal/political torch of punk being rekindled in indie hip-hop. Naturally compared to Atmosphere due to geography and pigment, Eyedea expressed a pensive examination of the world and the individual’s place therein with humor, cleverness and heart.
And then Solomon. I was among a few hundred people who once waited over an hour while Solomon Burke was stuck in San Francisco traffic. It was 2005, a free show at Amoeba, and his fans were adhering to the title of his recent record, Don’t Give Up On Me. Patience was rewarded when Burke was led to his red velvet throne and began singing—the huge store was silent while he commanded the afternoon. At one point, a front-row fan shouted a request for Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come,” and in a lightning-fast move, Burke pointed in their direction and immediately went in: “I was boooooorn…”
If there’s any good to come of all this, it’s that you now have three masterpiece records to check out: The Slits’ Cut, Eyedea & Abilities’ First Born, and Solomon Burke’s Don’t Give Up On Me. It’s rainy season. Enjoy.
You hear about heavy metal singers dying even before they’re dead. Jazz musicians, it usually takes a couple days. Hank Jones died on Sunday at age 91. I really loved his playing.
The NYT has a somewhat voyeuristic look into the 12′ x 12′ room where he holed himself up in his final months, practicing incessantly. It’s a surprising vision of where even the greats like Hank Jones end up.
Dickie Peterson, the bassist and singer of Blue Cheer who spent a lifetime oversaturating amplifiers in underrated glory, has died at age 61. There is no way to go back in time and listen to Blue Cheer devoid of their subsequent context—Black Sabbath, prominently; Sleep, the Melvins and Sunn 0))), less prominently—but it doesn’t take much imagination to recognize that Peterson and his trio were on some heavy shit way before the world was on some heavy shit.
Of course, Blue Cheer played extensively in the Bay Area, including the Santa Rosa Fairgrounds in the 1960s right after Vincebus Eruptum came out, but had even more recent ties to this area. I met Peterson a few years ago when he was living in West Sonoma County, of all places, and playing the occasional blues show at the Forestville Club. He looked exactly like an unsung pioneer of heavy metal, with long hair, a denim jacket and imposing heft. I guess he didn’t stay here long—he died this morning in Germany, presumably of cancer. May he be remembered.
As I write this, TMZ is reporting that Michael Jackson has died.
While I, like the rest of the world, keep refreshing the New York Times and CNN for a more reputable confirmation, I share a piece of my discussion with Kate, the Bohemian calendar editor.
“What if,” I posited, “he wasn’t actually dead? I think that’d be crazier than him actually dying—if TMZ jumped the gun and got it wrong.”
“Yeah, right,” Kate replied. “Like, wouldn’t it be awesome for Michael Jackson if he actually wasn’t dead?”
She paused. “I mean, other than he’d get to be alive?”
(Update: He’s Gone.)
Yeah, sure, the first time I saw I Am Trying to Break Your Heart I thought, “Ha, ha! What an annoying guy! How brave they are to kick him out of the band!”
Then I went back to the theater a few days later and watched it again, and I realized that I had been 100% wrong, and that what I was watching was a completely one-sided story, and that basically, I Am Trying To Break Your Heart is a propaganda film for Jeff Tweedy.
The only good Wilco albums are the ones Jay Bennett played on. I always thought he got a shitty deal from Wilco, and was actually glad when he filed suit against Tweedy last month. They may not have gotten along, but his influence made that band magical and unpretentious.
So long, Jay Bennett, you died in your sleep last night. I stood up for you. No doubt history will conveniently rewrite itself and give you the credit you so desperately deserved while you were here. You died too soon.
Earlier this year I saw Freddie Hubbard, one of the world’s greatest trumpet players, at Yoshi’s in San Francisco. It was a living, breathing disaster. If you’d like, you can read about the show here, but if you ever listened to this man and felt the transport in his trumpet playing, I warn you—it will only make you sad.
In his prime, Freddie Hubbard’s solos were the very definition of speaking through playing. His notes were words, his runs long sentences. He was sad, funny, and fearless, all without opening his mouth. I have spent cumulative hours with my eyes shut listening to his solos, being taken on beautiful journeys no oral storyteller could match.
There are so many amazing albums that Freddie Hubbard played on I don’t know where to start. I also keep discovering them in my own collection. The hallmarks: Oliver Nelson’s The Blues and the Abstract Truth, Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage, Eric Dolphy’s Out to Lunch. The standards: John Coltrane’s Olé, Art Blakey’s Mosaic, Tina Brooks’ True Blue, Wayne Shorter’s Speak No Evil. The big-band avant-garde: Ornette Coleman’s Free Jazz, John Coltrane’s Ascension. His own: Open Sesame, Hub-Tones, The Artistry of Freddie Hubbard and yes, Red Clay. All of them superb.
Freddie Hubbard died today at age 70, a month after suffering a heart attack. He had a really terrible curtain call in life, and it was torture to watch someone whose playing I loved so much struggling so viciously. It was worse that he was so cantankerous and volatile—just truly heartbreaking. Here’s hoping he found some peace. He’s still my pick over Miles Davis any day, hands down.
A memorial tribute for Freddie Hubbard is planned next month in New York City. In the meantime, here he is with Art Blakey, Wayne Shorter, Curtis Fuller, Reggie Workman, and Cedar Walton, in 1962. He always blasted hilarious grand entrances in his solos when he was able, and this one’s no exception.
She died over the weekend in Los Angeles. A recluse. Fixated on the 1950s.
There’s plenty of great Yma Sumac records to remember her by—Voice of the Xtbay and Legend of the Sun Virgin are her more famous—but to hear Yma Sumac’s 1971 hard rock album Miracles is to know the true melting pot of America: a Peruvian-born singer with a five octave range singing for a heavy metal band arranged by Les Baxter. It’s one of those once-in-a-lifetime albums; there’s nothing else like it, and in a way, Sumac’s piercing wails amount to what Rob Halford and so many other heavy metal singers tried to achieve afterwards.
There’s a pretty good representation of what Yma Sumac was all about in this video. Unfortunately, no videos of the Miracles era seem to exist online, so I dug out my copy of the LP for your listening, uh, “pleasure.” Here’s the first song, “Remember”: