Tag Archives: Prince

RIP Prince

Just when I thought the high-profile rock star deaths of 2016 were slowing down, Prince died. He was only 57 years old and apparently died due to complications relating to the flu. I’d heard that he’d taken ill following a recent concert and had been rushed to the hospital, but I never imagined that the Purple One would die. I only recently (the last 2 years or so) got into Prince. I can’t exactly recall what spurred my interest in him, but my wife and I really dug into his second-to-last album, the bizarre rock opera ART OFFICIAL AGE, which came out in 2014. Both of us falling in love with a record top-to-bottom is an extremely rare event in my household, which should tell you something about Prince and his appeal.

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Kids today probably don’t know very much about Prince, and I blame that on him. In recent years, Prince’s militancy regarding the online presence of music essentially resulted in wiping him from history for most young music fans. Hell, I grew up in the early 1980s and prior to 2014 I really only thought of him when watching re-runs of Chappelle Show. Scrubbing his music from the web resulted in him being half-remembered as a joke and as the guy who single-handedly ruined Tim Burton’s 1989 BATMAN film. I guess this strategy made him some money, because ART OFFICIAL AGE was the last album I purchased in an actual record store last year after Prince removed all of his music from Spotify.

I’m sad that Prince is gone and that his legacy is kinda screwed up, because Prince was simply amazing. Like a weird fusion of Hendrix and Michael Jackson, Prince was a genuine  guitar hero. I think that’s the biggest thing young people today don’t know about Prince: he was a legitimate shredder. There is an outstanding song on ART OFFICIAL AGE called “Clouds” where at the very end Prince does this amazing guitar solo. It’s a brief burst of virtuosity that’s probably the most sublime (yet tasteful) bit of music I’ve heard in the last ten years. There’s something really rad about a guy that talented being so restrained. If I could play guitar like Prince, I’d have a double-album of nothing but obnoxious solos.

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The best artists evolve and shift over time and boy did Prince do that…and then some. From his early days a downright dirty talking pop star to a quasi-religious (or not?) fanatic who shunned his early success. He spent much of his later years holed up in his house studio recording whole albums that he never bothered to release (that’s if filmmaker Kevin Smith is to be believed). If there’s anything positive to come from his untimely passing, I hope that it’s we get access to some of that music. I’ll bet that much of it is fucking amazing and all of it is super weird.

Rest In Power, dear sweet Prince.

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The Music Streaming Gods Giveth and Taketh Away…

Music streaming has been in the headlines this week in a big, big way. I’m sure you’re all aware that Apple threw their proverbial hat into the music streaming business this week with the launch of their new Apple Music service. Everything that I’ve heard about this service sounds a bit underwhelming. I’ve been with Spotify for so long now that Apple really needed something speculator to get my business. And despite what many pre-teens might think, Taylor Swift isn’t that spectacular thing. I get that Swift is the biggest thing in music right now (or whatever) and that she is one of the few acts still selling records, but her exclusivity on Apple’s Music service isn’t what I needed to sway me into changing.

I’m an Apple fan, but I don’t like how restrictive they are when it comes to the music  you buy from them. On top of that, I think the iTunes store is way overpriced, so I’m very reluctant to hop into bed with an Apple Music streaming service. I hope that Spotify can weather the storm and remain competitive. I’m glad that the music streaming field is widening, however I worry about splintering. The thought of many artists only being on one exclusive service is worrisome–how long will it be before fans will need several paid subscriptions just to have access to the bands they want?

I also worry about songs and/or bands vanishing overnight without notice. This has happened a few times with a couple of smaller bands that I like on Spotify, but this week there were two major cataclysms in the Spotify music library.  The Music Streaming Gods giveth and then taketh away! On Tuesday AC/DC showed up on Spotify! I love AC/DC and was luck enough to see them on their last tour a few years ago (when they were supporting BLACK ICE). Sadly, I’ve never really delved too far into their catalog–mostly because it was so hard to find electronically. I’ve been binge-listening to the older, Bon Scott-era albums that I’m not as familiar with as I should be (it’s all really great).

These minstrels will soothe my jangled nerves...

These minstrels will soothe my jangled nerves…

Of course, to maintain balance in the streaming universe, Prince decided to pull all of his music from every streaming service imaginable. This hit me much harder than you might expect. Last year, after he performed on Saturday Night Live, I fell head-over-heels in love with his latest album ART OFFICIAL AGE. Believe it or not, this was probably my most-played record from last year. It’s a big hit in my household, with even the musically fickle Mrs. Defending Axl Rose enjoying the hell out of the Purple One’s most recent album.

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I’d been toying with the idea of writing a review of ART OFFICIAL AGE for several months, but something always seemed to get in the way. I’ve purchased exactly one CD this year, The Darkness’ latest album THE LAST OF OUR KIND, but I‘m seriously considering heading down to my local record shop and picking up ART OFFICIAL AGE just because it bums me out that I no longer have access to it. Is that part of Prince’s plan? Tease us all with his music and then take it away so we all rush out to buy it? Maybe. Is he perhaps jealous of Taylor Swift, who’s decision to leave Spotify was (weirdly) a huge news-making event? I certainly hope he isn’t waiting for Apple to cut him a similar exclusive-deal. Prince has gone to war against the Internet in the past, last year he wiped all of his music from YouTube (a pretty impressive feat if you think about it). I hope these shenanigans are making Prince a shit-ton of money, because I think it may end up costing him most (all?) of his cultural relevance. By disappearing from the Internet, Prince could end up vanishing from history. Think about it, if kids today can’t watch his videos on YouTube or stream his music…does Prince exist for them? I don’t think he does.

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Hindu Love Gods: Warren Zevon & REM Cut a Record

I’ve made no secret about my love of Warren Zevon.  As a song-writer, Zevon remains unmatched in his ability to combine heartbreaking sincerity and with a vicious sense of humor.  Warren’s career, like the roots of a gnarled tree, is a rat’s nest of odd choices and strange left-turns.  One of the stranger oddities in Zevon’s catalogue is the HINDU LOVE GODS album.  The Hindu Love Gods was basically Warren and alt-rockers REM sans-Michael Stipe*. The band had “existed” for a couple of years before finally coalescing around Warren’s 1987 album SENTIMENTAL HYGIENE.

The story goes,  after playing a smattering of live gigs in the early 1980’s with Zevon (as The Hindu Love Gods) REM agreed to serve as his back-up band on the his latest record.  Zevon, a notorious party-animal/man with a serious substance problem, got soused with REM and in between recording the “official” record also wound up recording a collection of covers.  Eventually, this raw, unusual collection of mostly blues covers was released by Giant Records as HINDU LOVE GODS.

Hindu Love Gods: Peter Buck, Bill Berry, Mike Mills, and Mr. Warren Zevon.

The band recorded two two tracks by legendary bluesman Robert Johnson  (“Walkin’ Blues” and “Traveling Riverside Blues”), a song by Muddy Waters (“Mannis Boy”), and  a Woody Guthrie cover (“Vigilante Man”).  The songs are all really well done, and Zevon’s growly voice is perfectly suited to the blues.  The album’s country number, “I’m A One-Woman Man” is probably the album’s biggest joke (Zevon was a well-known womanizer), but it’s also a solid-cover.  All-in-all, HINDU LOVE GODS is a faithful blues record recorded by two unique musical entities.

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Except that’s not “the end.”  You see, in the middle of all these odd-but-logical blues numbers, Zevon & Co. also cover Prince and The Georgia Satellites(?).  Even if you’re not a fan of the blues (shame on you!) HINDU LOVE GODS is something you should check-out just for “Raspberry Beret” and “Battleship Chains.”  I‘m not a huge Prince fan, by any stretch, but The Hindu’s version of “Raspberry Beret” is pretty badass, taking the slower-groove of the original version and injecting what can only be described as “drunken urgency.”  There’s something to be said about the art of the cover song:  it’s one thing to do a song justice, it’s another thing to completely change the way the listener regards the original.  I also think that a truly great cover will renew or add to your appreciation of the original.  And that’s just what The Hindu’s cover of “Raspberry Beret” does.

The band’s cover of The Georgia Satellites’ “Battleship Chains” doesn’t re-invent the wheel nearly as much as the cover of “Raspberry Beret,” but has a charming bar-band intensity that the original southern-rock version lacks.  What on Earth made them choose Prince and The Georgia Satellites? There couldn’t be more diametrically opposed acts (at least in my mind).

These two songs lower the album’s seriousness and raise the screw-ball factor.  Instead of a reverent, back-to-our-roots blues tribute (á la late period Eric Clapton), these two songs clue the listener-in on just how wild and wooly these recording sessions were.  No doubt Zevon and REM have a reverence for classic blues, but HINDU LOVE GODS is really just a couple of dudes having tremendous fun in a recording studio.  What’s good for the goose is good for the gander: HINDU LOVE GODS is an entertaining curiosity.

*Stipe would appear briefly on SENTIMENTAL HYGIENE and did play with The Hindu Love Gods live.

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