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.
National Suicide Prevention Hotline
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.
This is not what I expected to be doing this morning.
I’m going in for my annual mammogram this afternoon. I’ve got to run a couple errands today. Maybe a load of laundry. I checked the news on my phone to see if there were any interesting developments in the Russia investigation. I did not expect to see that Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell had passed into the next plane last night in what Rolling Stone’s website is reporting as a “possible suicide.” Fuck.
Cornell’s voice was a force of nature, which was exactly what a band like Soundgarden needed to become a Rock powerhouse. He could wail and groan like a hurricane, then drift down to a whisper of a breeze. He was as relentless and undeniable as the wind. And I cannot believe he is silenced. He was only four years older than me.
I was never a Soundgarden superfan, although I always enjoyed listening to them. My favorite Cornell song is actually “Hunger Strike” from the Temple of the Dog one-off, which was itself a tribute to late Mother Love Bone singer Andrew Wood. Cornell teamed with the surviving members of that band and some new kid named Eddie to play and sing for a life cut short. Cornell’s voice meshes perfectly with Eddie Vedder’s. And the chorus seems like an aptly fitting description of the musical landscape the last couple of years: “I’m going hungry.”
I’ve got two or three other posts I’m working on right now, one of them a much more personal remembrance, but this news today has to come first. Dammit.
The passing of Chuck Berry at age 90 isn’t really a surprise; his health had been slowly failing for years. But it is sad to see one of the original Rock & Roll greats leave us. Even though I now concede Elvis Presley’s undeniable talent and status as the King, for many years I argued that Berry was the true King of Rock & Roll. He did so much to create and shape the sound so many of us love so much. He made some of the greatest music I’ve ever heard, and I never get tired of hearing it. His guitar style was iconic. His performances were magnetic and charismatic. Yeah, he was kind of a jerk as a human being (and more than a little problematic for this feminist), but he was a legend. The world is a slightly poorer place without him.
You might only remember Al Jarreau if you are a person of a certain age or if you were a huge Moonlighting fan. A consummate singer and performer, Jarreau had pretty much dropped out of the spotlight in the last couple of decades. In fact, I think the last pop culture hit he had was the theme to Moonlighting. At 76, Mr. Jarreau has moved on to the next plane of existence.
Take a minute to familiarize yourself with Mr. Jarreau if you don’t already know his work. He was originally a Jazz singer, but he crossed into so many genres that he was impossible to pigeonhole. And wow, was he smooth. No. Not just smooth. Al Jarreau was smooooooooooth. His voice was silky and pure and clean. There were no missed notes, no extraneous flourishes, no gratuitous posturing. There was just music, and it was good.
Now all the smooth leaves no room for rough edges, which means Jarreau was never quite to my taste. But this, singing his 1981 hit “We’re in This Love Together” is how I will always remember him. Another great voice is just a memory, but it’s a pretty fine one.
Real life has been a little hectic, and I neglected to note the passing of Asia frontman John Wetton last week.
Asia was always one of those reliably catchy bands that I listened to on the radio, but never really thought too much about. I’ve got a few of their songs on the iPod, and I’ll sing along when I hear them. I guess my relationship with this band can be described as casual, an acquaintance I’m generally happy to bump into but not someone I seek out for anything special. But they were responsible for one of those songs that is inexplicably special to me: The 3 AM Song.
So thanks for that, John Wetton. I’m so glad you shared that little bit of musical serendipity with me. Considering the state of my life right now, I can use the inspirational boost I get every time I hear “Days Like These” more than ever.
“What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger. And today I am strong enough, and anyway I love the rain.”
Not that long ago, I posted the theme from The Mary Tyler Moore Show as interpreted by Minneapolis Punk band Husker Du. Now I’m posting it because Mary Tyler Moore has left this plane of existence. (I hate saying “died.” Yes, her physical body has died, but her spirit and energy will always be a part of the Universe.)
I like this clip because it includes just a bit from the final episode. You can here the rest of the WJM gang singing “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” as Mary takes one last loving look at the newsroom before turning out the lights and closing the door. It was a great good-bye then, and it’s a great one now. So long, Mary. I’ll be sure to laugh as hard for you as your TV namesake did for Chuckles the Clown. (And please, jukebox listeners, for your own sakes track down the episode “Chuckles Bites the Dust” if you haven’t seen it. You will never be sorry.)
I don’t really have any words for this. Losing Carrie Fisher was hard on her fans, but I knew it was a million times harder for her family. And a little part of me knew that losing her would kill Debbie. I really fucking hate being right. They were so devoted to each other. When Eddie Fisher left her, Debbie Reynolds really made her life about Carrie and Todd. Yeah, she got married a couple more times (to real asshats), and she spent a great deal of their childhoods working away from them. But they were a complete little universe those three. I’m just so sad and sorry right now. I can’t imagine the grief Todd Fisher must be feeling, or Billie Lourd. (Gary the dog will be living with his human sister now, so I think he’ll be okay. After a while. Animals mourn, too, after all.)
So here’s a little bit of Debbie and Carrie singing and loving. The next plane of existence is a far more witty and sparkling place today.