Part of Me: Chris Cornell Calls It a Day, My Heart Breaks

It’s been two weeks since the death of Chris Cornell and still I’m not settled over getting my thoughts about it out. When John Lennon died, I was too young to grasp the…not importance, because I somehow knew it was a big deal that my favorite band ever (as a child and until now) was truly done, but the pain of those congregating outside the Dakota where the ex-Beatle lived and died was something I wasn’t mature enough to comprehend. I saw the tears in everyone’s eyes, but couldn’t join them in mourning.

Kurt Cobain was next, who retroactively got labeled the spokesman – and “John Lennon” – for my generation, but like the Dallas Cowboys being tagged “America’s Team,” that  wasn’t something which everyone agreed. I know I didn’t. Few people remember, in fact, that Nirvana’s then fresh release In Utero was polarizing at the time, and the band’s popularity was waning while Pearl Jam and Smashing Pumpkins were blowing up. Jump ahead past to the not-so-shocking deaths of Alice in Chains’ Layne Staley in 2002 and Scott Weiland in 2015, while also realizing Bowie had been sick and Prince was on another level of stardom, Chris Cornell hit differently. Harder. Like, this was my John Lennon if there had to be a simple, tied-in-a-bow descriptive.

Soundgarden, however, had been around longer than any of those acts, were signed to a major label before them, and bridged the gap between 70s and 90s hard rock for both incoming grunge fans and leftover lovers of cock-rock. Cornell was a shirtless, lion-maned rock God without coming across as cheesy, and the guys could drop metal riffs and Beatles-esque melodies with equal effortlessness. Lyrically, Cornell’s words resonated not just because of their authenticity, but because anyone who ever went through the doldrums could identify with them. Nothing was bright and sunny; hell, the most popular song of theirs is titled “Black Hole Sun.”

Continue reading “Part of Me: Chris Cornell Calls It a Day, My Heart Breaks”

Elegia: Haunted by New Order

I’ve long been into by New Order, mainly because they have two things I find attractive in a band; they make engrossing music which happens to span and combine wildly different genres (at the time of their release), and they have a fascinating backstory.

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The incredibly abbreviated history is: Three guys who were in a Manchester, UK band and poised to break in a major way had their singer die by suicide on the eve of their inaugural tour of North America. Left to their own devices, they decide to forge ahead under a new moniker with the guitarist ultimately taking on vocals, enlisting the drummer’s then-girlfriend for additional guitar parts as well as keyboards and then go on to single-handedly create a new form of music by melding aspects of rock, punk and electronic.

Continue reading “Elegia: Haunted by New Order”

History: Van Halen at Cafe Wha?

“I am with the whole team right now. We want to know who you are writing for and where we can follow up and find your stories at.
Are you on assignment or can you get assigned by one of your publications.
Please let me know asap.
Thanks”

I received that message from Van Halen’s publicist – Eddie Van Halen’s wife Janie – in the middle of the afternoon five years ago today. Immediately I responded with my editor’s contact information for the Boston Phoenix, who I would be covering the invite only show for by the band at the tiny basement club Cafe Wha? in Greenwich Village. The day before, I had been told that I was on the wait list. Now it was looking like I might actually have a shot at attending.

Eight minutes later, this message came through:

“Ok my friend, we will see this evening.
There are no plus ones at all so please come alone.
Thanks and look forward to seeing u tonight!”

Holy SHIT. This was really happening.

dlr
I took this fucking photo!!

Continue reading “History: Van Halen at Cafe Wha?”

Good As Hell: Songs of the Year

You’ve no doubt seen the glut of end-of-year lists in recent weeks, and here’s one more for to check out. Over at Vanyaland, we all threw our favorites of the year into a massive mixing bowl, drew them out one by one and voted on them and this is what we ended up with, whittling it down to the final 25.

A couple of mine made it into the Top 25, no small feat as there are some damn solid choices on there. My favorite – reaching number six overall – was from Lizzo, a single titled “Good As Hell,” and here’s the video, along with what I had to say about it:

“Blooming hip-hop artist Lizzo became a sensation in her hometown of Minneapolis in 2013 with the release of her solo debut Lizzobangers, which caught the attention of fellow Minnesotan Prince, who asked her enlisted her to guest on the funky rump shaker “Boy Trouble” from 2014’s Plectrumelectrum. And while there’s no doubt working with the late Purple One had to be a career highlight thus far, it’s the undeniably catchy “Good As Hell” from this year’s major-label debut EP Coconut Oil — and slotted prominently on the soundtrack to Barbershop: The Next Cut — that has everyone talking. Co-written and produced by Ricky Reed, it’s a song about post-relationship failure and female empowerment as much as it is an ode to friendship. “Boss up and change your life/You can have it all, no sacrifice/I know he did you wrong, we can make it right/So go and let it all hang out tonight,” goes one of the verses, which Lizzo delivers with an effortlessly smooth and confident flow. “Good As Hell” might be referencing moving on, but as her show at Brighton Music Hall earlier this month that brought the house down showed, it’s sure to be a launching pad for Lizzo to move up.”

It was a bit of a surprising choice to some, but you can’t choose what songs grab you – they just do. Trust me, there was plenty of expected fare in my orbit this year as well. I was all over songs by Sleaford Mods, the Cult, Seratones, the Kills, Deftones and Daughter; there was certainly no shortage of good stuff to spin. Here’s to a just as sonically bountiful 2017…cheers!

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Game

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is one of the more divisive institutions out there. Many are critical of its nominating committee, the artists who have been unfairly left out as the years have gone on, and, the opposite, acts getting in who don’t deserve to be there.

This year is no different, and with the announcement of who will be getting into the Hall as part of the Class of 2017 coming any day now, arguments will be loud over who got screwed over and who got the nod but shouldn’t be in the conversation in the first place.

I’ve done a series of piece on why certain acts should be in for Ultimate Classic Rock and Diffuser. Here are the links to five reasons each of the following nominees should be inducted:

Electric Light Orchestra

Jane’s Addiction

MC5

Pearl Jam

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AC/Donsie? Hope Not.

Following a whirlwind weekend where I flew out to Chicago for this year’s edition of Riot Fest to catch a reunion by the Misfits with Glenn Danzig, Social Distortion do their album White Light, White Heat, White Trash in full and a slew of other acts over a three-day period, I made a quick pit-stop in Philadelphia to visit with friends one night and witness what might very well be the final performance of AC/DC – ever – the following at the city’s Wells Fargo Center.

I had seen the band a few times before, but things have been pretty upside down in their world over the past year or so, culminating this past April when singer Brian Johnson had to abruptly leave the road or face total hearing loss. Dates were postponed on the lucrative Rock or Bust world tour, but the show went on with yet another singer, the incredibly unlikely choice of Axl Rose from Guns N’ Roses.

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This tour had the distinction of being the first time I had covered – and shot – both the opening date (for Vanyaland in August 2015) and the closing date, the latter for Ultimate Classic Rock magazine.

Honestly, as notoriously prickly as Rose can be – especially in a live setting – I’d never, ever dreamed I’d get to shoot him live. But, like I said, the unlikely has happened quite a bit lately surrounding him. Even his harshest critics have begrudgingly praised how he seamlessly stepped in and saved the AC/DC tour, and I for one hope they continue on in some form. Whether it’s taking a risk on new material or just touring every few years, there’s an undeniable chemistry between the singer and guitarist Angus Young.

Plus, not too many hardcore fans were complaining about long forgotten chestnuts like “Live Wire,” “Riff Raff” and – in Philadelphia – “Problem Child” getting pulled out of the treasure chest.

“I Was Spinning Free…”

This week marks the 15th anniversary of Jimmy Eat World’s breakthrough effort Bleed American.  To mark the occasion, I did a short piece on the record for Diffuser. But personally, the album remains one of those which represents a particular period in time; in this case the summer of 2001.

Having just graduated from college, there was a glaring sense of, “Alright, now what?” I shoulda traveled the world then, but have always been a bit behind when it comes to those sorts of things and would wait a few years for that part of my life to begin. What I did end up doing was heading out on a fairly destination-less cross country road trip with noted culture vulture the Ninja. It was a sense of lingering adventure to do something “big” before entering the so-called real world.

When I say there was no set plan, there was absolutely no set plan. It was for the most part a bit like an Abbott & Costello episode (those who still have both grandparents living can ask them to define that reference). We crashed in random dorms, shelters, hostels and on various couches. There was one concrete idea to attend the Green Party affiliated Campus Greens’ “Rally for Radical Change” held at Chicago’s Congress Theater on August 10.

An e-mail about the event was sent to college mailing lists which stated:

Confirmed speakers and performers include Ralph Nader, Winona LaDuke, Robert Miranda and Jello Biafra.

Invited speakers and performers include Cynthia McKinney, Howard Zinn, Michael Moore, Amy Goodman, Ani Difranco, Radiohead, Common, Chuck D, Zach de la Rocha, and many, many more!

“Holy shit!!” the Ninja and I collectively thought. “That ‘invited speakers and performers’ list is ridiculous.” Radiohead! Chuck D! Zach de la Rocha! Michael Moore! Howard Zinn! The “many, many more” could only make the whole thing even astronomical.

Off we went to take part in this thing and pick the brain of Chuck D.

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