Musings On Music History: In Which There Is Some Craziness, A Fandangled Music Machine, And A Band Called The Band

11.19: 2002 saw one of the most bizarre megastar behaviors in the recorded history of megastar behaviors when Michael Jackson, a parody of both his former self and a human, dangled his baby boy, Michael Prince II, over the balcony, to the horror of onlookers and paparazzi alike, of his Berlin hotel room on this day. Your guess is as good as ours as to what, exactly, rambled through Mr. Jackson’s brain at that very moment. Some people say drugs. Some say his mind never evolved beyond his childhood. Some think he was just crazy. Whatever. Jacko never disappointed, that’s for sure. In our minds, Off The Wall and Thriller represent two of the best albums, in any genre, of all time. Michael, your insanity and problems could never take those albums from us. We still shake our collective heads and wonder what happened, as we listen to the awesomeness that is “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” and “Wanna Be Startin’ Something.”

11.20: On this day in 1965, Mike D’s mom rocked the sure shot when the rapper was born. One of the beastliest of the Beastie Boys (actually, they’re all fairly beastly), Mike D started making music in ’79 as part of a punk outfit called The Young Aborigines, opening for hardcore and punk legends such as Bad Brains, Misfits, and The Dead Kennedys. Eventually changing their name to The Beastie Boys, shedding two of the founding members, adding Adam Yauch (MCA) and Adam Horowitz (Ad-Rock) , and jumping into the emerging world of hip-hop, the group became one of the most well-known in the world, transcending their early party rap personas to become full-fledged and well-deserved hip-hop superstars. Still rockin’ and rappin’ to this day, Mike D’s mom must be proud. Happy, happy, joy, joy! [more]

11.21: On this day in 1965, Bjork brought her chillingly original vocal stylings, complete and utter beat-up-a-reporter-at-the-airport-insanity, knack for fowl fashion, and sheer musical talent into the world. From the Sugarcubes to the solo stuff, Bjork exudes originality and musicality, never afraid to try something new or do just what no one expects. She’s one of a kind, for sure.

11.22: INXS, the Aussie megagroup, lost its lead singer, Michael Hutchence, on this day in 1997. Found dead his hotel room in Sydney, on the eve of launching the homecoming leg of their world tour, the coroner ruled his death a suicide, but many around him believe otherwise. Found nude with a belt lying nearby, some claim that he died during a botched sex act, as a suicide note never surfaced and he’d previously given no indication of being suicidal. However, alcohol, cocaine, Prozac and other prescription drugs were found in his bloodstream during his autopsy. This, coupled with a bitter custody battle, a history of depression, and an album, Elegantly Wasted, that went nowhere, may have been enough to push him over the edge. We’ll never know. We just know that we love “New Sensation” and “Devil Inside” like they were our own children. Viva la 1987!

11.22: On this day in 1978, Karen O was born. Karen who, you ask? Karen O, lead singer and songwriter extraordinaire for one of the best new rock bands of the early 21st century, Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Coming on the heels of the garage rock revival of the late 1990s, Yeah Yeah Yeahs took that genre, mixed it up with art rock punk, ala Talking Heads, and threw in a nice dash of ’80s alternative rock, the likes of which hadn’t been seen since the heyday of U2, R.E.M., and The Pixies. Okay, maybe we go a little to far with that description, but that just goes to show how much we absolutely dig Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Karen O’s participation in each and every one of their endeavors. Happy birthday, Ms. O! [more]

11.23: How’s this item for ya? The first jukebox saw the light of day (well, actually, the light of the Palais Royale Saloon in San Francisco) and the ears of many people on this day in 18-friggin-89. Whoa. Let’s all say that together. 1889. Long, long ago, by any standard, even wars of the stars. Called the “nickel-in-the-slot” player, it consisted of a phonograph housed in a wood cabinet, with four “stethoscope-like” tubes attached to it. Insert a nickel (over a $1 at today’s prices) and you and three of your closest, or not-so-closest, friends could listen to whatever record sat on the phonograph. We’re not really sure (we guess we could look it up, but we’re feeling lazy right now) what type of music influenced the youth of that day to rebel and dance and get footloose, but the first jukebox swept the country, taking over the market carved by the player piano. What a crazy world it must have been.

11.24: On this day in 1991, the music world lost the greatest frontman in the history of rock. Freddie Mercury, lead singer of Queen, passed away after his battle with the AIDS. Fueled by his gaunt appearance the years previous, media outlets (UK gossip rags, mostly) persisted in hounding the singer about his positive/negative status, throwing rumors about as they are prone to do. On Nov. 23, 1991, one day before his death, Mercury released a statement to the press stating that he was, indeed, as they’d conjectured for years, HIV positive, but he had not released this information, until then, in order to protect those around him from the unrelenting media attention that would’ve ensued. Bad enough that the paparazzi hounded him without knowing his status, but had they known, the scrutiny would’ve been tenfold. As the chief songwriter, along with Brian May, for Queen, Mercury penned the stadium anthem “We Are The Champions,” the rockabilly goodness that is “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” and probably the best singalong ditty ever conceived, “Bohemian Rhapsody.” This guy had it. He defined it. He was it. A consummate showman, four octave singer, and all-around awesome guy, Mercury’s death left a black hole in the rock universe.

11.25: On this day in 1984, a supergroup of mostly U.K. musicians got together for a monumental 24-hour recording session to benefit famine relief in Ethiopia. The superdupergroup, known as Band Aid, led by founder and organizer Bob Geldof (him who doesn’t like Mondays and him who played the fictional rocker “Pink” in the filmed version of The Wall), busted out a singular single titled “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” Not only did they not know that it is Christmas, but they couldn’t have cared less because, ya know, the people most affected by the famines had other things on their minds besides crass commercialism and Atari 2600s. So, no, they didn’t know it was Christmas, but we’re sure they probably appreciated the outpouring of help and funds resulting from the single, even if they didn’t know from whence or why it came. Band Aid, of course, directly or indirectly led to raising much-needed awareness to the famine in Ethiopia, Live Aid, “We Are The World”, “That’s What Friends Are For”, and celebrities stating their opinions on world matters from the comfort of their celebrity. Yes, we’re a little flummoxed by the duality of the self-righteousness involved with and the awareness raised by the project, but we’ll take what we can get with this kind of thing. For all the egregiousness against our ears and music sensibilities, we’re still very appreciative that this project happened, that it led to other worthwhile projects, and that we live in a country that allows us to change the channel, so that we’ll never have to actually listen to the song ever again.

11.25: The Band performed their final concert on this day in 1976, at Winterland in San Francisco. One of the best unheralded bands to emerge intact from the ’60s, The Band (yes, kids, it’s a band called The Band) gained their chops when they backed Bob Dylan on his first electric tour. This may not seem like a big deal today. So what? Dylan changed styles. Big deal, right? Wrong. His fans hated it and hated him for doing it, for putting down his acoustic and amping up his sound. They booed and cursed him, and the guys in The Band learned how to play on that tour, learned what it took to capture an audience and hold them, even a hostile audience. This carried over into the rest of their career. The Band went on to successful tours of their own and to record such classics as “The Weight,” “Up On Cripple Creek,” and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” Filmed by an up-and-coming young filmmaker named Martin Scorsese, that last performance saw release in movie theaters two years later as The Last Waltz. Featuring a grand performance by The Band, The Last Waltz also included a slew of world-class guest musicians, such as Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Eric Clapton, Neil Diamond, Muddy Waters, Joni Mitchell, and Ringo Starr. Arguably one of the best, if not the best, rock film ever made, we cherish every moment of The Last Waltz, and so should you. It’s bittersweet to watch this performance knowing full well the last bow is coming, yet it’s also invigorating to watch this performance, realizing the full musicality of every single member of The Band. Seek it out.

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