I’ve always been a Bob Mould kind of girl, and he’ll always be my favorite from Husker Du. But hearing of Grant Hart’s passing today was heartbreaking. He was Mould’s perfect foil and partner in art. He was also the kind of drummer I like best: clean and economical, even within the ramshackle chaos that marked much of Husker Du’s oeuvre. I really should say more, but I don’t know how (Rob Sheffield sure as hell does, though). This loss makes me so damn sad. Like the song says, it’s not funny anymore.
It’s been a bad day for Country music, losing both a latter-day star and one of the old timers from the 70s. While the death of Troy Gentry is more tragic, my own heart is a little heavier over the passing of Don Williams. My mother wore out the grooves on her copy of his Greatest Hits. So needless to say, Williams’ beautiful baritone is a fond and familiar one from my childhood.
At least Williams got the chance to live a long-ish and full life. Gentry’s death at 50 in a helicopter crash seems so much more unfair. As I get older myself, other people all seem to get younger, and 50 is too damn young. Traveling is as much of a hazard to musicians as too much drugs and alcohol; they spend so much of their lives on the road it makes a sad sense that that same road claims so many of them. My brain tells me this is just how it is, but my heart protests. At least their music will survive for all who loved them.
Steely Dan was always just Donald Fagen and Walter Becker. Sure, they started out as a real band, but that eventually dissolved and the Fagen/Becker duo performed as Steely Dan with some of the best studio musicians ever. They were also pretty much a studio band, a record band. Yeah, they performed live and toured pretty regularly, especially after they reunited and found out how much money they could make touring the nostalgia circuit. But they were at heart a duo that was best when they were recording.
The duo has now become a solo act with today’s passing of Walter Becker. He co-wrote most of Steely Dan’s best work with Fagen, played bass and guitar, and was generally just a musical badass. I am surprisingly saddened by losing Becker, and I’m not sure why. I’m definitely a fan; they did some of coolest, funkiest, swinging-est, jazziest, most literary rock music ever. Come to think of it, Steely Dan was pretty much a genre of one; no other musical act as been like them. Which maybe is what makes Becker’s death so devastating. No one else was like this act, and no one is ever going to replace him. Donald Fagen has announced that he will keep Steely Dan’s music alive as long as can after losing his partner and friend, but it will never be the same again. Half the heart of Steely Dan is gone.
He did better songs. Some of them were truly beautiful and brought tears to my eyes. But to me, Glen Campbell will always be the Rhinestone Cowboy.
While he will always be best remembered (and rightly so) for his own, numerous hits, I think it’s important to note here that Glen Campbell was also once in the Wrecking Crew. L.A.’s answer to the Swampers at Muscle Shoals, the Wrecking Crew were a set of crack studio sidemen that played on just about every hit recorded out here in the 1960s. He was a consummate, versatile musician and singer. Upon being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease a few years ago, Campbell embarked on a touring and recording spree to get as much of his extensive musical memory and talent down before he was robbed of it forever. Alzheimer’s robbed Campbell of himself, and it finally claimed his life today at 81.
Richard Manuel. Michael Hutchence. Chris Cornell. Robin Williams. And now, Linkin Park lead singer Chester Bennington. They all have one horrible thing in common: They committed suicide by hanging themselves.
I have to start here by saying I don’t really understand suicide. I have never been in the depths of a depression so deep and dark that the only way out was to die. I have never struggled with mental illness so powerful and damaging that I finally listened to the disease. I have never fought addiction. But knowing what I know about how you die when you hang yourself, I do know that a person has to be truly desperate to harm themselves in that way. It is an awful way to die. I’m glad that it is not still an option for the death penalty (which ought to be abolished completely anyway, but that’s a different rant). All of these men battled their various illnesses and addictions; all of them lost. It makes me despair a little at the waste of beautiful life.
Not being a fan of Linkin Park, I don’t really have anything to say about their music. But I know so many people do love this band. And Chester Bennington’s family and friends loved him. And I ache for all of these people. Knowing his pain is over doesn’t end the pain for everyone else. Most of all, I hate that he felt like he had to die to end his pain. I don’t want anyone to feel like that, but I know I can’t stop it. So here’s a link that might be able to help at least one person out there choose something different.
When I saw the news that TV’s favorite Batman Adam West had passed today, I was sadder than I thought I would be. The 1960s television version of Batman is often ridiculed for its cartoonish action, ham-handed moralizing, and general silliness. People of my generation grew up on this version, but we were indoctrinated into the Dark Knight school of Batman characterization in the 80s and 90s; our then-teenaged psyches found more to love in the troubled, vengeful version that is so ubiquitous today than we did in the brightly-colored uprightness of our childhoods. But Adam West’s portrayal of Batman as a decent man who fought crime because it was the right thing to do became a pop culture touchstone, and made West an icon.
Adam West did a lot of other acting besides Batman, but that character is what he will be most remembered for. One of the things I loved is how he embraced it and how he in turn used it as a base for much of his recent work. West did voice acting for a number of cartoons, and he used the same cadences and phrasings he did as Batman. It made him easily recognizable and, I think, brought a lot of warm feelings to those who remembered that voice from Saturdays in front of the TV.
So I bid a fond farewell to West with the Batman theme, a tune almost as iconic as his portrayal of the Caped Crusader. Composed by jazzman Neal Hefti, the catchy “na na na na na na na na” riff runs throughout and is really what makes it such an effective ear worm. (Seriously. Try to get it out of your head. I dare you.) Because this version of Batman relied so heavily on the comic book version of the character that was popular at the time, this is exactly the kind of music you’d expect to hear if a comic book could play music when you opened it. With its jazzy and surf undertones, it was perfect.
So long, Mr. West. Thank you for bringing so much happiness to so many people.
In yet another blow to Rock & Roll, Gregg Allman has passed from this plane at 69. He had a long career but he was at his best as the singer and organist for the Allman Brothers Band. They were blues and rock and psychedelia rolled into one rollicking package. While it can be argued that Duane Allman’s mythic guitar had a more lasting impact on music, you can’t say that Gregg didn’t help shape the Allman Brothers’ sound in equally crucial ways.
You also can’t say that Gregg Allman didn’t live the Rock Star persona to the hilt. He was as hard-living as the characters he sang about, and he paid that price in more ways than one. Losing Duane and ABB bassist Berry Oakley in eerily similar motorcycle accidents within a year of each other were not only a huge personal losses but ones that changed the sound of the Allman Brothers Band. His tumultuous marriage to Cher and years of substance abuse made Gregg tabloid fodder. And those years of drugs and alcohol led directly to the health problems that plagued him in his final years. He spent much of the last few years playing as often as his body would allow him to. His voice had grown ragged, but I’m sure the music gave him some measure of peace.