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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Get in the Ring!

While watching the 2012 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony on HBO, seeing the bulk of the original Guns N' Roses lineup (minus Axl Rose) accept and perform I was reminded of Van Halen's induction because ironically it was the members who were no longer in the band on both occasions who were present to accept the honor and perform.  However, I have far more disdain for Axl's absence than Eddie and Alex Van Halen, or David Lee Roth, for theirs.

Guns N' Roses were inducted by Green Day, and during singer Billie Joe's speech, after commenting on each band member's contributions, he came to Axl and the audience knew it and made their disapproval well-known.  Billie quickly quieted the crowd, "No, shut the f**k up, shut up, shut up! This man’s a bad ass f**king singer. He’s one of the best frontmen to ever touch a microphone. Your lyrics are heartfelt, passionate, angry and you tell the truth, no matter what the cost."  Later, bassist Duff McKagan further commented on Axl's absence by saying that it wasn't about who was there that night but that it was about the music that band made, and their fans.

I was 11 years old when Guns N' Roses arrived with 'Appetite For Destruction' or, as Billie Joe calls it,  "the best debut album in the history of rock and roll".  I disagree but that's not to say it doesn't belong among the very best.  At that age, I was just getting familiar with Rock music since most of my collection up to that point was more like what you'd hear at an 80's-themed party.  I had the LP of Van Halen's '1984' and Def Leppard's 'Pyromania', and the cassette of Van Halen's '5150', and I remember taking blank cassettes to my uncle Paul's house to raid his massive collection; a trip to his house was like a music lover's shopping spree.  I got the cassette of 'Appetite', and loved the drum intro to "Paradise City" and the opening riff and solo on "Sweet Child O' Mine", and loved "Welcome to the Jungle".  I was constantly trying to imitate the "sha-na-na-na-na-na, knees" line from Axl.  When 'G N' R Lies' came out, I was a bit confused as the first video for the album was "Patience", an acoustic ballad featuring a very subdued Axl, minus the screech heard on 'Appetite'.  I really enjoyed the change in his vocal style, although I knew better than to assume it was permanent.  A few years went by and other releases stole my attention, mainly Aerosmith's 'Pump' which is among my top 5 favorite Rock albums of all time.  However, my ears perked up when the video for a new song from the Terminator 2 film arrived on MTV.  The song was "You Could Be Mine", written by Elton John, with a ridiculously Punk bass line from Duff and some soaring opening riffs from Slash.  It instantly became my favorite G N' R song, until they released not one but two new albums, titled 'Use Your Illusion I' and 'Use Your Illusion II'.  MTV was flooded with videos from both albums, but the one song from both albums that became my favorite piece of music from the entire G N' R catalog is "Civil War" from 'Illusion II'.  It was the last song that original drummer Steven Adler performed on before being replaced by Matt Sorum from The Cult, and brought back Axl's 'Patience' voice.

As with many bands at the peak of their popularity, and the peak of my interest, things began to fall apart.  They released an album of covers called 'The Spaghetti Incident?', and later recorded a cover of "Sympathy for the Devil' by the Rolling Stones for the soundtrack to "The Vampire Diaries".  It was the last recording to feature Slash, McKagan and Sorum, as Slash and McKagan left and Sorum was fired.  Rhythm guitarist Gilby Clarke, who replaced original member Izzy Stradlin, had been fired by Axl at the end of the 'Illusion' tour, with Axl calling him "a hired hand" while Slash credits him for saving the band when he came on.  Axl moved on with an 8-piece touring band that carries the G N' R name, which has only released one album, 15 years after the 'Spaghetti' album, the once mythical "Chinese Democracy".  Not much has changed though, as Axl continues to have issues with tardiness, which comedian Chris Rock touched on during his induction speech for the Red Hot Chili Peppers by saying “A lot of people are disappointed that Axl Rose isn’t here, but let’s face it, even if he was going to be here, he still wouldn’t be here yet.”  While Axl is out capitalizing on past success with his self-tribute act, Slash, Duff and Matt have released two albums with their band Velvet Revolver, with STP frontman Scott Weiland, and Slash is soon to release his second solo album, this one exclusively featuring vocals by Myles Kennedy from Alter Bridge (Creed's off-spin).

Axl has been very vocal over the years regarding his dislike for Slash, going as far as calling him a "Cancer", which proved to be a poor choice of words as Slash's mother died from Cancer just a few months later.  Axl released an open letter to his fans explaining his position on not attending the Hall of Fame induction with the other members, to which he said he received an overwhelmingly positive response.  Apparently, those were not the fans in the crowd booing the mention of his name during Billie Joe's speech.  After seeing Slash, Duff, Gilby and Steven Adler play "Sweet Child O' Mine" and "Paradise City" at the induction with singer Myles Kennedy, it's obvious they could go out and perform as Guns N' Roses and do a far better job with the music than Axl's act.  I'd feel much better spending my money to see the band that played at the Induction who showed up and who care about their fans and honor the music they made, despite any problems that came up later, over Axl who constantly disrespects his fans.  As the post title says, taken from the song of the same name from the 'Illusion II' album, GET IN THE RING!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Farewell, youth

As Dean Stanforth so profoundly laments in the latest installment of the Indiana Jones franchise, "We seem to have reached the age where life stops giving us things and starts taking them away".

The music industry has received one dismal blow after another following the deaths of Ronnie Montrose, Levon Helm and Dick Clark, only to be shaken further with the untimely passing of Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys, just weeks after their induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.  Celebrities, fans and fellow musicians flooded Twitter with well wishes for the families of these beloved figures.  Considering the indelible mark they've left over several decades it's hard to escape the feeling that a piece of our youth has died with them.

Ronnie Montrose, the legendary guitarist whose band Montrose was the launching pad for a very young Sammy Hagar, spawning two of Rock's most highly regarded albums, passed away before what would have been a full reunion of the original Montrose lineup.  That original lineup, including Ronnie, Bill Church, Denny Carmassi, and Sammy have not performed publicy together since 2005.  Following news of his death, Sammy put together an all-star tribute show in San Francisco recently, including the remaining members along with special guests Joe Satriani and members of Journey, Tesla, Mr. Big, Styx and Kiss.  Ronnie had successfully battled Prostate Cancer in 2009, but it returned.  Ronnie battled depression all his life, and January's back to back losses of his beloved dog and an uncle took its toll.  With a BAC of .31, Ronnie ended his pain with a single gunshot following a haunting text to his wife proclaiming his love, and his exit.

Dick Clark was responsible for launching many careers and introducing many new acts and genres to mainstream audiences, erasing color lines through music.  Dick Clark's Rockin' New Year's Eve was the most watched show of that evening for decades.  Throughout his career, he received several accolades for his contributions including 4 Emmy awards and inductions into the Hall of Fame for Rock and Roll, Broadcasting, and National Radio, to name a few.  Many 80's icons, such as Madonna, got their start on American Bandstand, hosted by Dick Clark.  It was on that show that Clark asked what she hoped to achieve for the remainder of her career.  Madonna quietly responded, “To rule the world.”

Just two weeks after their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Beastie Boys lost founding member Adam "MCA" Yauch, just 47 years old.  Adam was unable to attend but fellow Beastie Boy Mike D. read a letter from Adam thanking fans and family, most notably his wife and daughter.  Adam had fought Cancer for years, which kept him from performing  hindered his involvement in the group, mostly during the recording and release of their final album "Hot Sauce Committee, Pt.2".  The Rock Hall induction ceremony was aired on HBO the day after Adam passed, and the show was dedicated to him.  The Beastie Boys' impact, not only on Hip Hop but music in general, has been celebrated more in the past week than ever before.  Fellow 2012 inductees the Red Hot Chili Peppers paid tribute by performing a few Beastie classics on the first show following news of his death, with singer Anthony Kiedis wearing a green shirt adorned with handwritten label "MCA".

Many Hip Hop legends have been very vocal about owing a great deal of their success to the Beastie Boys, including an admittedly "teary-eyed" Chuck D, and LL Cool J who revealed that it was the Beastie Boys who got him his first record deal by playing his demo for producer Rick Rubin.  LL mentioned that they weren't just the first white rappers, but that they helped other artists get into the business.  I feel like they helped to break down racial barriers, being the only white rappers, which no longer Adam has been heavily lauded for his supportive nature as well as his humor and overall personality and willingness to help others.  I watched a video recently of the Beastie Boys performing at the 2006 VH1 Hip Hop Honors, and it was amazing to see these 3 Jewish white guys rocking the stage and seeing some of Hip Hop's biggest names, including rappers like Ice Cube, a hardcore gangsta rapper, and Def Jam mogul Russell Simmons, among others, nodding their heads in rhythm.  To see the look of admiration and respect for these unlikely Hip Hop heroes was a beaming example of the power Music has to shatter racial barriers and unite people.  Eminem has spoken out about Adam's death, saying that their impact on his career is obvious as Eminem, like the Beastie Boys, is one of the most respected artists in the Hip Hop community.  Aside from Em and the Beastie Boys, there really aren't any white rappers out there who are even marginally relevant, which makes them an elite crowd.  I'll be rocking "Sabotage" and many others in Adam's honor....NO SLEEP TILL BROOKLYN!!

Music is a very important part of my life, even though it's not my career and I'm not involved in it beyond being a huge fan of many genres and artists.  To lose artists such as Adam or Ronnie, or Levon, and iconic figures like Dick Clark who have such an impact on other artists and fans, whether you followed their music or not, is tragic and can make people feel like a part of their life is over because music is the soundtrack of our lives.
At the same time, it can be a reminder of their impact on the world thanks to the outpouring of love and respect from fans.  It's unfortunate that many artists' contributions aren't celebrated until their passing, and I hope the loss of Adam and Ronnie leads to more and more of their fans passing on their music to future generations.  May the Bad Motor Scooter ride on, and may everyone continue to "Fight For Your Right (To Party!)".