Sinéad O’Connor

Saw her in concert once. It was fabulous. Opening act was The Pursuit of Happiness. She seemed to see a lot of stuff before any of us knew it was coming. She warned us about the systemic cover up of child abuse in the church a decade before it broke for the rest of us. She wrote “Black Boys on Mopeds” in the early ’90s for FS, and we’ve been seeing that scenario play out via phone cameras now in recent years. What a genuine artist who only cared for the art and the truth. Four vocal ranges and the truth. That was Sinéad O’Connor.

I don’t think I’ve had an artist’s death stab as much as this since 2016. For gravity’s sake give me a second. I also hate that she was only 56. And that she never got a well-deserved apology from us (because she was absolutely right) and that she never got a comeback or an appreciation tour. She deserved better.

I am stretched on your grave, lady. I’ll be playing your stuff more and more now.

De La Soul Is From The Soul

I had a conversation with my Dad recently where he was lamenting the fact that he doesn’t grok rap. I mean, he’s generally really savvy on music; he’s where I generally learned many of my own music cues, from Beatles, to Rolling Stones, to DC5, to Sam & Dave, to Joe Cocker, I mean, the musical heritage he’s handed his first-born goes to the planet’s core. But when it comes to hip-hop, the closest he can claim is a fandom I’ve always thought odd of a little song called “No Diggity.”

Not like I am the biggest rap fan in the world. I’m usually five years late to the hip-hop party, only recently having a grudging appreciation for The Chronic. And I don’t ever think I’ll come around on acts like Migos. But open up a can of Sage Francis or Cadence Weapon and I’m in. I have my proclivities in rap. My DOD, he just doesn’t.

One can’t fault a guy of his generation if he’s never turned on to Earl Sweatshirt or Casey Veggies. My class had the advantage of MTV and Run DMC, whose “Walk This Way” with Aerosmith cut the meat up for us white kids when it came to hip-hop. Then I got ahold of It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back from the Kent Free Library and wore it out. But the truth is, the thing that really sealed my appreciation for hip-hop was a little recording called 3 Feet High and Rising.

It doesn’t hurt that the first tune samples Schoolhouse Rock. It may be that this familiarity, this. nostalgia for my then erstwhile Saturday morning cartoon habit is what fishes me in.

Then comes “Change in Speak.” Who thinks to sample the Mad Lads circa 1969? De La. That’s who. And to fantastic effect.

There was a time when the driving aesthetic in hip-hop wasn’t bravado or spectacle, but cleverness, a certain poetry, even, and/or a moral consciousness. De La Soul with 3 Feet High just plain invents their own world, then winks at you and lets you in on the joke. Oh. I get it. DAISY is an acronym. Trugoy is Plug Two, and his name is “yogurt” spelled backward. I get it.

There is a quirkiness, a nerdiness to this combo that makes me want to sit down with them and have a MGD. The imagery of a song like “Potholes in my Lawn,” they playfulness of “Tread Water,” the hit “Me Myself and I,” it’s just a fact: 3 Feet High and Rising is a masterpiece.

Village Voice called it the “Sgt. Pepper of hip-hop.” It was Rolling Stone’s fifth top album of the year; #10 for Melody Maker. Billboard had it at #1 on the R&B/Hip hop chart and #24 in the Top 200. In 2020, it was #103 on Rolling Stone’s 500 greatest albums of all time. Macy Gray called De La Soul the “Beatles of hip-hop.”


Which is not to say that De La’s genius ended there. The fellas reacted to their hot success with 3 Feet High in its second rap classic, De La Soul is Dead. They spat on Gorillaz’ “Feel Good Inc.”, which netted them their only Grammy.

And, do not get me started on their majestic collaboration with spoken word artist Gina Loring, “Royalty Capes,” which makes one feel as if he must bow his head in deference. That, their last album, 2016’s And The Anonymous Nobody…, was nominated for a Grammy in the Best Rap Album category.

I’ve had De La on the brain a lot these days as the fellas are experiencing a bit of a rebirth. Legal issues have long kept much of their catalog inaccessible on streaming platforms, but we’re soon to be knee-deep in De La as of March 3. In fact, they were the act I mentioned to my Dear Old Dad in that conversation. Mentioned that I was looking forward to them existing on Spotify. Mentioned 3 Feet High. Mentioned how sublime they were.

Thus, how sad it was to learn that David Jolicoeur, Trugoy the Dove, recently stopped refusing to die. Three was the magic number. Losing just one of these three fellas is a real shame, especially as their music was about to become available to a whole new audience.

To Sir, With Love

First of all, how about them Buffalo Bills, as of today AFC East champions for the second straight season! Let’s see who’s up Saturday… hmmmmm…Patriots? Chargers?

UPDATE: Patriots.

Second, I was shocked to read about the passing of the world champion of telling the “the Aristocrats” joke, Bob Saget. I really hate it when the funny ones die.

Third, To Sir, With Love.

Propelled by the recent death of Sidney Poitier, after the Big Sunday Dinner, we landed on this for a movie. And, I mean, it’s all right. Dated. Kind of weird. Kind of after-school special. Lulu as that generation’s Adele. Contrived situations that kind of make no sense. An extended dance scene betwixt teacher and student without even the benefit of John Travolta’s choreography. It’s kind of a squeaker. Better than Birdman, I reckon.

But without it, is there a Dead Poet’s Society?

Yeah, probably. Maybe we should have gone with Lilies in the Field.

Tom Petty

When Tom Petty started being heard, it seemed clear that the old guard was behind us and the new kids had taken over.

Clapton, Beatles, Stones, all the old guys, it seemed, they stayed behind, fueled by their own gravitas and maintained their own club. Prince, Madonna, MJ, those guys, they maintained their own sphere. It was a reasonable doctrine, two hemispheres easily discerned. And the doors were closed.

Tom Petty somehow began later but dug his feet in with those old guys and eventually grabbed a big fistful of that gravitas for himself and became just as ubiquitous and therefore sometimes regrettably forgettable as a Keith Richards guitar riff. I don’t know if it’s because he was a Wilbury or because he was Tom Fucking Petty. But he wasn’t one of these new kids. Tom Petty was always right at home with the classics even though he was an MTV fixture. More a contemporary to Stevie Nicks than to Tiffany. More a generous talent than most who ever performed.

We got lucky when Tom Petty found us. What a voice, what a story teller, what a time.

Driving for Democrats

If you have to canvass for your local political entity of your choice, always have a driver.

It makes the work much more light. If you’re driving yourself, you have to drive, navigate, and plot the next course all at the same time. If you have a driver, you are free as navigator alone. It makes for a more effective campaign overall.

I know this because I am the driver.

My Dad is active in his local Democratic Party. You may recall I was tapped by him to march recently in their parade, touting Mendon Town Board candidates Erin Kehaley-Corr and Terry Daniele. During that parade, one of them told me how highly she thinks of my DOD for the work he does and for the man he is. I wholeheartedly agreed.

My Dad has always understood the importance of this work; something he learned from his Dad. I mean, it’s just 20 signatures for town board today, you might think. But this is the important work. This is where rubber meets road. And I’m glad to be chauffer for it.

Especially these days. Did you hear him?

“He’s new to government. So he probably wasn’t steeped in the long-running protocols that establish the relationships between DOJ, FBI, and White Houses. He’s just new to this,” said Paul Ryan.

Sorry, pal. Your man does not get a pass on that, not when he went around the country screaming bloody murder over President Clinton’s tarmac summit with then Attorney General Loretta Lynch. I mean, if it’s true that the Preznit is such a screw-up because he’s “new to this,” sit him down next weekend to binge-watch season one of “The West Wing.”

He’ll learn everything he needs to know.

I find it interesting how many people echo a reflection I’ve had regarding the passing this week of Adam West at age 88.

That Adam West was “my Batman.”

I think when I first saw the “Batman” show of the late sixties, it was at my friend Jason’s house. I was probably five or six years old. It was the coolest thing I had ever seen. I mean they opened up the bust like it’s a Pez dispenser and push a button, then they run back to the poles and slide down them and, somehow, by the time they reach the bottom, they’ve CHANGED CLOTHES?

Now I was always a Superman guy. Until I saw West and Burt Ward on the TV, I didn’t have much use for The Batman. It was these guys, and probably Eartha Kitt’s Catwoman and definitely Yvonne Craig’s Barbara Gordon/Batgirl, cha-cha-cha, that got me into the Bat.

Here’s to Adam West, the greatest to ever don the cowl.

Here’s a mind-blowing fact for you: Was visiting adopted grandparents today. Harry had switched to The Drew Carey Show. The episode centered on Drew’s girlfriend Nikki’s concerns that she was getting fat. I kept looking at her face and going, I know that face. I know that actress. I’ve seen that face emote some pretty heavy things. Who is she? Who is she? Who is she?

That was Kate Walsh.

Also known as Dr. Addison Montgomery (Shepherd) on Grey’s Anatomy.

Mind blown.

Uncle Mike

I think Uncle Mike would have resorted to his favorite scammonism: “There’s people dying today who never died before.” Then he’d laugh and laugh and laugh and laugh. I don’t even think he’d know, you know that it applied to him for once. He’d just laugh that big beautiful laugh, and you would laugh with him because you couldn’t help it. Because you had to. His laughter was gravity, undeniable and a universal force. A raconteur’s raconteur and a fierce social justice warrior who put his time where his mouth was and his mouth where his mouth was (via various radio ventures). There is a banality to the scammonisn that was one of his favorite jokes. But today it carries more weight. Today, it’s true. There are people dying today who have never died before. And today, that guy who died in our realm leaves a lot more room for charisma and gravitas because he was hogging a bunch of it. Now some of that goes back and you can have it too. Just remember Michael Pryor. And how he laughed. And how he told stories. And how literate he was. And how passionate he was. And do half of that in your life. A third if that’s all you can do. Be a third of what my Uncle Mike was and you will be amazing.

Everything Is Healing Nicely

The best Frank Zappa story of all time was offered up by his wife Gail, on the little booklet that comes with the CD release Everything Is Healing Nicely, companion piece to his final pre-humous work, The Yellow Shark. The story encapsulates what the overall meaning this final work held, especially if you’ve ever read a word about Zappa’s previous disastrous attempts to have orchestras play his music. She wrote:

Part of Frank’s overall plan was to compose on the Synclavier for the Ensemble Modern so the first order of business was to see how well this plan would work. On the night before the first day of rehearsals, he asked me reorchestrate his Synclavier composition entitled “Igor” and arrange it for the Ensemble Modern, preparing printed parts and a conductor’s score. Frank replace the title with “This Is A Test” right before printing out the parts for the next morning, just so that the musicians would know the purpose of this short piece. As so often happens, the title stuck.

This recording is a first take performance by musicians who were sight-reading music just handed to them. It illustrates not only the technical skill of this orchestra but the fact that they managed to be expressive and impart a style into what they played, even while struggling to accurately render something they had never seen before.

It’s interesting to note that one of these tests was “G-Spot Tornado.” After about an hour of rehearsing, Frank deemed it a failed experiment and put it aside. The members of the ensemble however were determined to master it and continued to practice it on their own. By the time that the Yellow Shark concerts took place, “G-Spot Tornado” served as the finale and the encore.

I love that story; that story sometimes brings me to tears. Frank Zappa had spent maybe millions of dollars and countless fruitless months and years trying to hear an orchestra make sense of those funny little dots on paper, and now, finally, nearly moments before he was to discorporate permanently, the band of musicians plucky enough, dedicated enough, and good enough to play Frank Zappa’s music came together and played it. That is the meaning of this project, and it is the story Gail tells you with her decision to let us all hear how Yellow Shark came to pass.

Gail Zappa got a lot of flak from fans for allegedly being over-litigious, for clamping down hard on the music, and for maybe not treating the original band so well, but I can tell you, friends, once I got my hot little hands on EIHN, I was a Gail fan for life. In it, she gave us one of the best information sources available for those interested in grokking the life and music of the man. I adore her for letting me have it, and I always will.

Gail Zappa today stopped refusing to die. She was 70. We will probably be talking about her a great deal during Zappadan.

High Time We Went

When I hear a competitor on one of these TV talent shows perform “A Little Help From My Friends,” I always get a little snobby.

You know, there was another band who did this before called The Beatles, I says. Why not perform it straight like Ringo?

But. C’mon. Who am I kidding?

The lilting pipes, the majestic 6/8 time, the big, big Jimmy Page guitar up above, and let’s not forget Madeline Bell, Rosetta Hightower, Sunny Wheetman, and Patrice Holloway lending power and cred*; of COURSE you’re going to do the Joe Cocker version. Of course you are.

You kind of have to.

If you do, you’d better bring it. I call this the “Bill Withers Test,” but it could just as easily be attributed to Joe Cocker, who died today at 70. If you’re going to cover the Grease Band’s version of “Friends,” friends, you had better bring it.

And they rarely do.

Because this song arrangement makes the attack of the song’s first note vital. It is utterly exposed and in a specific place within that quiet pocket of music. Due to that, I think that this arrangement of this song may be one of the most difficult things to do as a singer.

Usher did it okay I guess. But even these seasoned professionals missed their marks.

But this kid just blows it. He floats up to find the pitch. (Not that the judges you know, notice this.)

You need to nail it. Right on the pin. Like John Robert Cocker did.

When I was a kid, my Dad gave me a cassette tape, Joe Cocker’s Greatest Hits. Like many things passed down generationally, I was too young at the time to understand its import. I did eventually listen to it, and my life changed. The best thing on it, the one that sticks with me hardest, is Randy Newman’s “I Think It’s Going To Rain.” The erstwhile Claudine Longet standard gets a badly-needed injection of soul here. It’s brilliant and stands as one of my favorite tracks ever. And I can’t imagine how blessed an experience it would have been to be present in the room when they performed the barn-burner “Cry Me A River.”

One hears the phrase “musician’s musician” from time to time. I suspect that Joe Cocker headed that list. He picked good music and the players with the best chops. He was fabulous, and I adore his music.

* None of these singers were even referenced in the film 20 Feet from Stardom, a highly praised documentary that I found to be a bit lazy, case in point…

P.S. It would be wrong to mention Joe Cocker and not mention Bobby Keys, who also appeared in Mad Dogs and died earlier this month.

Bye For Now

If you’re not a listener of The Howard Stern Show, then I’m really sorry about this. I don’t know how to explain Eric S. Lynch to you.

Suffice it to say that 12 years ago Friday, a young man called Howard Stern to stick up for an American Idol contestant of whom the KOAM had said needed to drop some weight in order to be a star.

Howard was more interested in the caller than his subject. “What’s wrong with you? There’s something wrong, right?”

“I’m a disabled person,” he replied.

I think you can hear the love in Howard’s voice immediately.

I think Howard knew right off the bat that in the jungle of Wack-Packery (forgive me, Eric did not like that term being applied to him), he had found a superstar. And Eric never failed to disappoint.

Any time I passed a radio and Eric was on the air, I would have to stop whatever it is that I’m doing and listen. I’d just have to. He was that compelling. Even when he was boring. Even when he was angry. Even when he was weirdly demanding. I’d just stop. And listen. Because I just had to know what was up with this ridiculously serious, horribly stricken little man.

And I sure ain’t the only one. Probably his most well-known fan was Jimmy Kimmel.

One of the greatest running gags regarding Eric was the Stern Show’s constant harassment of him to try to get him to “fly with balloons.” Howard today said he always saw the effort as a gag, and that he would never actually go through with it.

Not Jimmy. “There was no price I was unwilling to pay to make that happen,” he said on the show this morning. And, as they recounted on today’s show, the great joy in the gag was Eric’s refusal to relent. There was no amount of money, there was no promise of any kind of favors that could cause him to succumb to that indignity.

Of Eric, columnist Rob Eshman writes today, “Nothing was funny to him. In the Marx Brother-ian world that Howard created, he was a 3-foot tall, wheelchair-bound, severely disabled Margaret Dumont.

Well. I never.

The other miracle of Eric S. Lynch was how much he managed to parlay from being a regular Stern caller. He got a wide fan base out of the deal. He got TV parts out of the deal. Heck, he got laid out of the deal.

But the biggest miracle of all regarding Eric S. Lynch is that we had him around as long as we did. He told Howard early on his doctors did not expect him to live to 20. He was 39 when, on Saturday, his small body finally gave out.

When I saw the initial reports I didn’t believe it. Another popular thing to do was to start rumors on the Internet that Eric was dead. This time, though, the reports were from people inside Eric’s direct circle. Soon the story was picked up by TMZ, The Atlantic, and Variety.

Dig it. I said Variety.

I just wish Eric could read everything, all the tweets, all the serious news coverage, all the wishes. He spent a lot of his time feeling embattled by the Show. I wonder if he knew the swing of his gravitas, how far he reached and how powerful. I always called him my “favorite comedian.”

Quite a career you had there, pal. Bye for now.