Today, April 21, legendary songwriter, singer, guitarist and music icon Prince died at his home in Minnesota. The Purple One was only 57. Millions of fans worldwide are in mourning, stunned by the latest loss in a 2016 that has seen too many entertainers go too soon.
In a year that began with the death of David Bowie, a year that has also taken monumental musicians like Lemmy, Merle Haggard and A Tribe Called Quest’s Phife Dawg as well as stars of stage and screen like Alan Rickman and Garry Shandling, Prince’s untimely passing confirms what I already believed to be true. 2016 is the Rapture.
We’ve long been led to believe that the Rapture, the biblical end-times event where good souls depart for the Heavens while the wicked remain behind, would be an instantaneous one. Yet, evidence is starting to pile up that it’s a gradual ascension, and now the forces of good can include Prince in their swirling legions.
Of course, that’s not an actual or literal theory of mine, it’s just that this year has simply seen too many great and inspiring figures leave us forever. Truly, this is what it sounds like when doves cry.
The 2016 avalanche of legendary musicians passing on from this mortal coil now includes Bay Area figure and Mill Valley resident Dan Hicks, leader of the long time laidback roots and western swing band Dan Hicks & the Hot Licks, who died on Saturday, Feb 6, at his home. He was 74.
The cause of death is reported as liver cancer, according to Hicks’ widow Clare. Though he had been battling the disease for some time, Hicks and his outfit still regularly toured around the North Bay and beyond, performing in Napa last December and scheduled to perform at Throckmorton Theatre next month.
Born in Little rock, Ark. and raised in Santa Rosa, Hicks was a contemporary of classic rock icons like Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead. And though he may not have sold millions of records, his toe-tapping revivalist roots country rock was a popular staple of North Bay music lovers for over 40 years. He will be missed.
David Bowie, the Starman whose musical career spanned six decades and touched countless fans, died yesterday, Jan 10, peacefully surrounded by family after an 18-month battle with cancer. He was 69 years old.
As the world reacts in shock and dismay after losing the one-of-a-kind pop star and musical auteur, words don’t seem enough to convey the utter void left in his loss. So, I’m spending the day instead being immersed in the rock and roll bliss he left behind for the world. Here are five essential David Bowie songs to get lost in.
I don’t know why, but when I read the news this morning, the first thing that came into my head was Bowie’s whispering at the beginning of “Queen Bitch,” the first Bowie song I can remember hearing and remember playing endlessly. It’s been stuck in my brain ever since.
I could have made a list of just the spacey songs Bowie recorded in the 70s and as Ziggy Stardust, from “Life on Mars” to “Starman.” I’m listening to them all today, but for some reason “Space Oddity” is the one that is making me cry. Truly, the stars look very different today.
“Let’s Dance” is a classic. This song and Bowie’s “Modern Love” always make think of being a child listening to the radio in the 1980s. Hearing it now takes me back to that feeling of innocence and wonder. Brilliant.
Born out of a jam session between Bowie and rock legends Queen, “Under Pressure” is officially one of Queen’s most popular songs, though Queen guitarist Brian May told Mojo magazine in 2008 that, “David took over the song lyrically. It’s a significant song because of David and its lyrical content.” I couldn’t agree more.
Bowie’s final album, Blackstar, came out just two days before his passing. It’s been confirmed by producers to be Bowie’s farewell opus, as the songwriter apparently knew his end was near. That makes the lyrics and content of his final video, “Lazarus,” all the more potent. The autobiographical dirge opens with the line “Look up here, I’m in Heaven” and ends with a chorus of “Oh I’ll be free, ain’t that just like me?”
Rest in Peace, David Bowie.
News of Motörhead frontman and rock and roll legend Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister’s death last week was a blow to metal fans everywhere, who loved Lemmy for his voracious musical chops and irreplaceable personality.
Though there can be little comfort after losing such a titan of rock, fans will be able to give their respects and celebrate Lemmy’s life tomorrow, as Motörhead recently announced his funeral will be streamed live on Youtube Saturday, Jan 9, at 2:30pm PST.
“We want you ALL to be a part of this memorial service… So wherever you are, PLEASE get together and watch with fellow Motörheadbangers and friends. GO to your favorite bar, or your favorite club, make sure they have access to an internet connection and toast along with us. Or simply invite your pals around and celebrate Lemm’s life at home.”
The Youtube link to Lemmy’s memorial service and celebration is here. There is also a Facebook page where fans can share their Lemmy-inspired stories and art.
Marin singer-songwriter Audrey Auld-Mezera died at her home in Stinson Beach after a battle with cancer on Sunday, August 9, surrounded by family and friends. She was 51. Auld was a beloved figure in the North Bay country music scene, a gifted lyricist and vocalist who was generous with her time and talents.
Born in Tasmania, Auld spent most of her music career living in Marin County, until she moved with her husband Mez Mezera to Nashville in 2007 to be a part of the music business there. Though she was never far from Marin, returning often to perform and visit with friends. Diagnosed with cancer last year, Auld returned to her “American home” as she called it to spend her final months in the North Bay.
In the wake of Auld’s passing, the community has praised her music and her character. On the KRSH’s weekly Monday night program ‘Evening Muse,’ host Robin Pressman spoke of Auld’s ” irrepressible and radiant” spirit; and she echoed those sentiments in an email to the Bohemian. “Audrey’s smile entered the room first, followed closely by her laughter, and then that sassy Aussie accent. And she used her joyous nature to help others,” said Pressman.
Auld built up an impressive resume of music over the course of 11 albums and three EP’s on her own Reckless Records label. Her last album, Hey Warden, especially highlights her authentic and generous personality. Released in November of 2014, the album was recorded with inmates at San Quentin Federal Prison, a passion project for the songwriter who had lead workshops and offered performances at the institution since 2006. Her ability to connect to others, no matter the circumstances, and to positively impact those around her will be remembered as fondly as her music.
Last week, it happened for the fourth time. The radio alarm went off, and a “Morning Edition” host announced the death of a Ramone. Groggy and dispirited, I brushed my teeth, made coffee, put on a Ramones t-shirt—cheesy, I know—and went out to face the world, which otherwise continued as normal.
And then the funniest thing happened. I felt great all day.
Tommy Ramones was 65. A lot of the headlines read something like this: “Tommy Ramone, last surviving member of seminal punk band The Ramones, dies.” Which is only semi-accurate, since three former but non-founding Ramones are still with us: Marky, who replaced Tommy on drums in 1978; Richie, drummer during the Marky-less period between 1982 and 1987, and C.J., who replaced bassist Dee Dee in 1989. Emphasizing this seems in keeping with Tommy Ramone’s unassuming public demeanor. He was okay with the spotlight, but preferred to be out of it.
Even so, there’s a sense of finality to our loss of Tommy. For most punk devotees, experiencing the densities of that universe happened primarily though records, magazines, and 30-minutes sets at run-down music clubs. Only four people ever knew what punk’s storied big bang was truly like from the inside, and they’re all gone now. The music of the Ramones may be immortal, but its members were not.
The t-shirt I picked out to observe the latest occurrence of the traditional Ramones mourning period is pretty threadbare. I have three Ramones t-shirts, and nowadays I parcel them out only for special occasions. Wearing one makes me feel liberated, invincible. To commemorate Tommy, the t-shirt with an image of the cover of their 1978 album “Road to Ruin” seemed the most appropriate. Tommy had left the band by then, but he did produce the album, putting his given name, “T. Erdelyi”, in the credits.
Of all the Ramones, founding or not, Tommy was the least Ramone-like. He didn’t even look like a Ramone; in the plentiful black-and-white photographs of the group’s formative period in the late 1970s, he’s a short, impassive, frizzy-haired presence in a band of tall and dark scowlers with long faces (even Dee Dee, whose face was as round as a full moon, packed a long face to put a pouty horse to shame). Without Tommy, there’d be no Ramones. A recording engineer who ran a rehearsal studio, he managed the fledgling band as a pet project and hopped in on drums when they couldn’t find anyone who could deliver the straightforward style he had in mind. Thus, their personas emerged: Joey, the lovable weirdo; Johnny, the asshole; Dee Dee, the cute lunatic; Tommy, the pragmatist. Which is probably why no one ever says, “Tommy’s my favorite Ramone.” In a group of strong personalities, he functioned as a low-key buffer.
Lou Reed died back in October, and I know I’m not the only one who took it hard. Lou Reed couldn’t just die—he was Lou Reed! For months, inspired by the nudge of Reed’s death, I played “Songs for Drella”, “Transformer”, and all of my Velvet Underground albums every day, steeping in the perfume of the works he created. It was as if I was just a young whipper-snapper branching away from traditional radio pop and dipping my toes into the deep, alluring waters of arty outsiders for the first time.
I feel a selfish jab of darkness every time I see a breaking-news tribute to a lost public figure or beloved entertainer. If perennial fixtures such as Dick Clark and Casey Kasem can die, then so can my parents. So can the entire way of life I grew up with. So can I.
But after the initial shock sets in, a Ramone dying doesn’t bum me out. Leaving this planet is the final gift an artist or entertainer—these people whose music and words and images we are so intimately familiar with—gives to us. I rarely listen to The Ramones anymore, so sublimated is their essence into my existence. My heart beats a cadence of “Hey, ho, let’s go!” without me even thinking about it. But I played Ramones records, cassettes, and CDs all weekend long, and I reconnected anew with the things I like to think I strive for. Directness. Dynamism. And yes, pragmatism. Even just seeing the band’s name in its trademark blocky font furnishes a mainline rush to that heady time when I relied on a scrappy group of ersatz musicians to keep me going. And going, and going. We die, Ramones die. Inspiration endures.
I “hated” him. Then I loved him. His post on books is essential. His script for ‘Beyond the Valley of the Dolls‘ taught me camp. But his reviews—they’re going to be read and re-read for the next week, to everyone’s benefit. A valiant battle to the end, but moreso a hugely influential presence hovering over all reviewers, whether they like it or not (many do not). He never grew bitter like so many cranky writers, and he navigated the changing media landscape with aplomb. For every small grain of disagreement that grew in me while reading his reviews when I was younger, he earned back boulders of respect and support for longevity, insight and… that other elusive thing, that movies are our lives, that the human element is paramount, and that making sure it remained untainted was the job of a good reviewer. Anyway, I’m kinda crushed. Back to work.
The great Patti Page died today at age 85. She was a singer I loved, whose albums on Mercury are mainstays in my easy listening, and whose song “Let Me Go, Lover” changed my life one night on 960-KABL AM while driving back from San Francisco at 1:45 in the morning.
So it warmed my heart tonight, while searching YouTube for later-era live performances, to find this footage of Patti Page singing “Tennessee Waltz” for a group of seniors in 2010. (It appears to be her latest-uploaded live clip, just after this appearance on Eat Beluga, a television show from the Philippines.) Here she is, a legend who sold millions of records, who would have accepted a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award next month, who could easily rest on her laurels, and instead she’s bringing some sunshine to people who surely remember her in the twilight of their own lives.
According to his grandson’s Twitter, funk legend Jimmy Castor died today at 2:30pm. Nile Rodgers, founder of Chic, breaks the news as well: “I can’t stop crying. How do I explain how much his brilliant upbeat music touched my soul?”
There isn’t any easy way to explain how much influence Jimmy Castor has had on music, tangible or otherwise. But it’s important to frame Castor outside the novelty of “Bertha Butt Boogie.” Castor put the fun in funk, and pioneered a dense, full-throttle style. Below, watch breakdance anthem “It’s Just Begun,” live in 1973.
“The McGarrigle Sisters, they were stunningly gifted writers. They were really, truly writers in the very best sense of the word. I mean, that’s an incredible song, ‘Talk to Me of Mendocino.’ When you think about the kinds of risks they take—“out to where but the rocks remain”—I mean, who else in the world would sing, you know, ‘Never had the blues from whence I came, but in New York State I caught ‘em’? They have that strange, schoolmarmish, very old-fashioned approach to language, which is still in some parts of Canada, and they absolutely refuse to make any concessions to what trendy is, which I love about them. And then they have this really gifted way of just twisting a little phrase. It makes them just extraordinarily good, I think. Same with ‘Heart Like a Wheel,’ which is just an amazingly good song. Beautifully, beautifully written.”
– Linda Ronstadt, on the phone with me in 2006.
Kate McGarrigle died yesterday. They say you always learn something from obituaries, and the common eulogy that Kate wrote and performed something called “women’s music” was my lesson about the world and how it thinks. Or doesn’t, as the case may be. Scores of women have covered her songs. Who are the guys? Loudon, Rufus and Billy Bragg.
I have always wondered why the town of Mendocino hasn’t elected this as their theme song. It could play over loudspeakers hidden in redwoods on Highway 1 just after Albion, heralding one’s approach. Even just the cello intro would achieve the desired effect.