RIP: Dennis Hopper

Actor/director and one of the key members of the late '60s and '70s so-called "new Hollywood", Dennis Hopper died on May 29th at his home in Los Angeles. He announced, via publicist, being diagnosed with prostate cancer in October of last year.

Hopper's vast list of screen credits include Rebel Without A Cause [1955], Easy Rider [1969](which he also co-wrote and directed), Blue Velvet [1986], and Speed [1994], as well as directing the Sean Penn-Robert Duvall vehicle Colors [1988], but on a personal level his most memorable roles were in Apocalypse Now [1979], Rumble Fish [1983] (both directed by Francis Ford Coppola) and Hoosiers [1986], which earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

Also of note was his directorial turn in The Hot Spot [1990], a small, interesting film starring Don Johnson, Virginia Madsen, and a young Jennifer Connolly, which also features music by Miles Davis and John Lee Hooker. Critic Roger Ebert called the update of old school B-movie yarns, "a superior work in an old tradition".

Earlier this year, a frail-looking Hopper made his final public appearance when he was honored with a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame in recognition of his lengthy carreer. He was 74 years old.


DoJ Looking into Apple's iTunes Possible Antitrust Violations

When you control almost 70% of the online music market and, allegedly, are not above strong-arm tactics against your competitors, you know the US Dept. of Justice is gonna knock on your door eventually.


SAN FRANCISCO — The Justice Department is examining Apple’s tactics in the market for digital music, and its staff members have talked to major music labels and Internet music companies, according to several people briefed on the conversations.

The antitrust inquiry is in the early stages, these people say, and the conversations have revolved broadly around the dynamics of selling music online.

But people briefed on the inquiries also said investigators had asked in particular about recent allegations that Apple used its dominant market position to persuade music labels to refuse to give the online retailer Amazon.com exclusive access to music about to be released.

All these people spoke on condition of anonymity, citing the delicacy of the matter. Representatives from Apple and Amazon declined to comment. Gina Talamona, a deputy director at the Justice Department, also declined to comment.


Happy Birthday

The Modfather, aka Paul Weller of The Jam, Style Council and a solo artist for almost twenty years now, turns 52 today, May 25th.

We're quite partial to Weller's first couple of albums; here's a smattering:

"Uh Huh, Oh Yeh" from the Paul Weller album [London-1992];

"Sunflower" from Wild Wood [Go!/London-1993];

And of a more recent vintage, "He's the Keeper" from Heliopolis [Island-2000]


Mer de Noms Turns 10

A Perfect Circle is one of those bands that nobody realized was needed until it happened. A grand claim, perhaps, but there's little question that the addicting combination of Maynard James Keenan's aching voice and Billy Howerdel's accomplished songs and production skills made for one of 2000's best splashes in whatever was left of "modern rock."

- Ned Raggett, All Music Guide


Exactly 10 years ago today the band released their debut album Mer de Noms [Interscope], the de facto answer to the musical question What if The Cure went metal? (Truth be told, Deftones may have gone to that well first.)

A platinum seller and one of the bright lights of the otherwise boy band/nü-metal landscape of the late '90s/early 2000s, Mer de Noms is full of anthemic, haunting, yet bone-crunching tunes that greatly reward with repeated listening. It had been a couple of years since we'd heard it and decided to revisit the album for this post. Surprise, surprise: the power and majesty that drew us in a decade ago has not faded one bit. Maynard, Billy, Paz Lechantin, Josh Freese: you did well. Thanks.

Two favorites of ours: first single "Judith" (we could not embed its trés cool video clip, but do check it out); and "Orestes".


Nick Drake and Volkswagen: A Bittersweet Anniversary

A current AT&T ad has been on our minds lately. It's the one featuring iconic British singer/songwriter Nick Drake's "From the Morning", the closing track from his much beloved and final album Pink Moon [Island-1972]. Two years after that album's release, at the age of 26, Drake died either accidentally or on purpose of an overdose of antidepressants. And while he was no pop star during his lifetime, he'd been largely forgotten in the years immediately following his demise.

From the mid '80s and throughout the '90s, the likes of R.E.M. and Robert Smith of The Cure--as well as the efforts of legendary producer Joe Boyd--brought Drake's name back into the fold, along with a series of reissues and documentaries. But it was ten years ago that his music was finally exposed to the millions of people Drake had wanted, in his own way, to reach.

In 2000, a quarter century after Drake's passing, Volkswagen licensed the title track from Pink Moon for a US television ad campaign. Sales of his catalog rose dramatically after this exposure, with Pink Moon in particular selling more copies in the days following the airing of the ad than it had while Drake was alive. He's since been rediscovered by a whole new generation of listeners, thanks in no small part to this particular ad and the subsequent inclusion of his songs in numerous films, among them, Serendipity, The Royal Tennenbaums, and Garden State.

Nick Drake's wonderful, ethereal folk rock warrants every bit of recent exposure it's gotten and more. The fact that it all began with a car commercial just makes it a tad bittersweet. But we'll take it.


Lady GaGa and the Time 100: Magazine Needs a Dictionary

How did Lady GaGa make the Time 100 list? Sure, currently she may be one of the world's most popular artists, but influential? How exactly was that measured? Are there scores of artists copying her incredibly derivative music? Have we missed a rash of artists wearing birdcages on their heads? Maybe the folks that have been mesmerized by this amalgam of Carmen Miranda, early Madonna and Dale Bozzio, are so caught up in her bad performance art and empty tunes that they can't think straight. But Time magazine? Really?


Law & Order Getting Some Company: CBS Cancels Various Series

It looks like CBS is doing some hardcore spring cleaning: Cold Case, Ghost Whisperer, Numb3rs, The New Adventures of Old Christine, Gary Unmarried, Miami Medical and Accidentally on Purpose are being canceled to make room for the upcoming fall lineup. We're kinda surprised the first four mentioned above are on the chopping block, since we were under the impression they were quite popular. Of course, dreck like Gary Unmarried and Accidentally on Purpose didn't deserve to be on television in the first place, so there's that.

Meanwhile, TJ Hooker and Magnum will be on the CBS schedule next fall. Actually, it'll be the debut of William Shatner's first-ever sitcom--supposedly based on the Facebook group and subsequent book, Shit My Dad Says--but Tom Selleck will be starring in some sort of police drama, so...


RIP: Ronnie James Dio (1942-2010)

Best known as an original member of hard rockers Rainbow, and for his stint in Black Sabbath and Heaven and Hell, as well as fronting his own band since the '80s, vocalist Ronnie James Dio passed away on May 16th, after a tough battle with stomach cancer.

A powerful and distinctive vocalist, Dio's music career spanned half a century. But it wasn't until the mid-1970s when he joined forces with former Deep Purple guitarist Richie Blackmore in Rainbow that he reached an international audience. In 1980 he replaced Ozzy Osbourne in Black Sabbath and recorded two albums with the band: Heaven and Hell [Warner Bros-1980] and Mob Rules [Warner Bros-1981]. Last year the band Heaven and Hell--in actuality the early '80s Dio-fronted version of Black Sabbath, so named to avoid confusion with the Ozzy Osbourne-led version of Sabbath--released the critically acclaimed album The Devil You Know [Rhino] and toured successfully behind it. Dates for the summer of 2010, alongside Iron Maiden, were recently canceled due to the severity of Dio's illness.

After a bit of confusion and misinformation regarding his passing, Dio's wife and manager Wendy made the official announcement via Dio's website and Facebook page. He was 67 years old.

Our favorite Dio moments were during his stint with Black Sabbath, particularly from The Mob Rules: "Voodoo" and the title track.

Jay-Z and Eminem Hit the Road Together

This past week, on the YES network, during a Yankees-Tigers game in Detroit, it was announced that Jigga and Mr. Mathers would perform together, at Detroit's Comerica Park on Sept 2nd and Yankee Stadium on Sept 13th. Each would headline the show in his respective hometown.

We are not fans of either MC—Eminem is a whiner who’s too full of himself; and as Brooklyn residents who greatly resent the Atlantic Yards-Barclays Center fiasco, Hova (a Nets part owner) is on our shit list—but we admit it’s fitting to see two of the biggest rappers of all-time perform at the greatest venue the birthplace of hip-hop has to offer. However, watching video of these two in the YES booth making the announcement and being interviewed, all we can say is we don’t ever recall a less eloquent pair of purported wordsmiths. Really.


Law and Order and the Real New York

Sadly, producer Dick Wolf's pride and joy was canceled on Friday. There have been quite a few obits for Law & Order since then, but one particular aspect of the show--which was so ingrained into the fabric of the show, we may have been taking it for granted all these years--was highlighted in this AP piece:

For two decades, until it was canceled Friday, NBC's "Law & Order" did something different. It showed the world not just one New York but hundreds.

We saw wealthy criminals who could afford to get away with their felonies. We saw immigrant communities, middle-class families and people of all stripes struggling, sometimes stumbling through their day. We saw Manhattan and the far boroughs. We saw New Yorkers who didn't care enough to report crimes and people who risked their lives to save strangers. Made in New York by people who lived there, "Law & Order" never trafficked in Gotham cliches.



The Show Must Go On: Roger Waters to Build 'The Wall' Anew

A few weeks ago, former Pink Floyd vocalist/bassist Roger Waters announced he was touring behind his former band's 1979 blockbuster album The Wall [Columbia] as a statement on modern-day human interaction and personal alienation. (He also stands to make an impressive amount of loot from this endeavor.) We've already seen the ads for the tour on VH1 Classic, so obviously preparations are in full-swing.

Having first heard The Wall during our impressionable teenage years, we found it to be a masterpiece; more so than the legendary Dark Side of the Moon [Harvest-1973]. And the film version [1982, dir. by Alan Parker] was an eye-opener, mostly because it was an album come to life, as opposed to The Wall being mere soundtrack music. We were floored by it and--in a total state of sobriety, mind you--saw it repeatedly on the big screen.

Many years later, we enjoy the album somewhat but feel our initial assertion vis-a-vis Dark Side of the Moon was spectacularly wrong,
to say the least: the dour heavy handedness of The Wall--which was even more prevalent on Waters' subsequent albums--has not aged very well; Dark Side of the Moon remains timeless. (As for the movie, we still feel it is The Wall come to life on the screen but are much less forgiving in our appraisal of it as we were then.)

Hmm...Waters' motives for hauling out the big, white styrofoam bricks one last time may be quite pretentious but he certainly doesn't need the money. (Not like that's stopped anyone before.) And in his recent statements regarding this new go-round, he makes some interesting points, albeit non-original ones, about humans interacting and communicating and technology's role in that deal. Maybe the idea is to look at the concept behind The Wall with a fresh perspective. Unfortunately, the blunt and sometimes clumsy manner in which Waters chose to make his points on this famous album--particularly towards the end of it--doesn't help matters much.

Regardless, the most regrettable thing, in so far as the message is concerned, is that these shows will draw an older crowd and this generation of texters and tweeters will probably not get to experience The Wall in this manner and draw their own conclusions, as it relates to their own forms of technology-based interaction or otherwise. Too bad.

33 or 45: Albums or Singles?

Glorious Noise's Jake Brown pores over a blog post by Rhapsody VP Tim Quirk, in which the former Too Much Joy frontman offers up some interesting file-sharing info, particularly the average number of songs by a specific artist one possesses digitally. According to this data, that number is 3.27. One can infer from this, that people are really not into albums these days.

The truth is, most music consumers have never preferred the album. Let's go back to the music biz's golden era, in terms of revenue: the '90s. For every music fan who owned 100, 250, 500, 1000 or more CDs then--or if you want to go back to the pre-CD era, vinyl albums--we would venture there were thousands of music consumers who owned less than 10, 15 albums; 25 tops. We don't have the numbers but we have a hunch people who used to buy music on a regular basis still do, if on a much lower scale. It's the casual 10-15 album buying music consumer that the industry has lost.

Speaking of the '90s, you guys know how much we love that era 'round here, but from a music biz standpoint, two of that decade's trends we singularly detested were:

- The more than 12 track album (17 tracks, really? Is it a concept album? No? Are the songs included mostly in the two-minute range? No? Then WTF?!);


- The filler-laden album whose singles were purposely not released to retail, in an effort to sell the equally crappy artist's album. (Smashmouth, anyone?)

But we still believe in the album format and found it to be a wonderful development when it was transformed from a simple, half-assed compilation of current singles and b-sides, to an actual statement and/or moment in time for the artist. Maybe we're just grouchy old farts, but we don't feel it bodes well for music if artists return to thinking in terms of individual songs and not albums. Then again, we're probably already there.

Personally, we only buy individual songs by artists whose catalog we otherwise don't care about. Or if we need a tune for a last-minute DJing gig. If neither of these apply, we're getting the album, with one catch: before digital downloading even existed our main criteria for purchasing an album was liking at least 3 of its songs. Even in these days of readily available single downloads we still try to adhere to that basic premise, so we're obviously 33s and not 45s. How 'bout you?


Law and Order Cancelled...Not Yet!

For ages we've been fans of the show--the 12 years the late Jerry Orbach played Det. Lennie Briscoe, in particular--but have not been watching much since his last partner, Jesse L. Martin (Det. Ed Greene), left the show in 2008. Regardless, we'd hate to see this one leave the airwaves so close to breaking the record for longest-running TV drama. [Fingers crossed.]

AP via Yahoo:

NEW YORK – Will the criminal justice system be alive on "Law & Order" next fall? It's down to the wire whether the venerable cop drama will be nabbing more bad guys in a history-making run.

With the official announcement of NBC's 2010-11 schedule due Sunday, the network on Thursday still wasn't handing down a verdict on the show.

NBC refused to confirm multiple reports that the show was being canceled after 20 seasons on the air, one year short of an all-time record.

Meanwhile, a person close to the production said talks are still going on. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because that person was not authorized to speak publicly about the negotiations.

If It Ain't Got That Swing: Ken Burns Strikes Again

Filmmaker Ken Burns has been much lauded for his epic documentary miniseries, The Civil War [1990], and Baseball [1994]. Jazz [2001], not so much. The announcement of "The Tenth Inning",
a new chapter of Baseball to be aired on PBS at the end of Major League Baseball's current season, has brought back memories of the hailstorm of criticism Burns received for his treatment of post-1960 jazz, relegating subgenres--and its practitioners--such as fusion, avant garde, and free jazz, to mere footnotes. And its contributions questionable at best. Good grief!

Jazz critic David Adler, a former music biz colleague of ours, had this to say at the time regarding the oversight by Burns and his collaborators--mainly jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and journalist Stanley Crouch--in his review of the miniseries:

Having acknowledged Miles Davis’s birthing of what came to be known as fusion, the film stops with a stunningly vague comment about how more fusion bands soon emerged to follow Miles’s example. None are named. Thus is the music of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Headhunters, Weather Report, and Return to Forever written out of the history of jazz. In fact, the 1970s as a whole basically never happened in Burns’s view. It is left for Branford Marsalis, who knows better, to declare that "jazz just went away for a while."

During the course of the Miles discussion, Wynton Marsalis all but dismisses the electric guitar as a non-jazz instrument, closing off the possibility that Pat Metheny and John Scofield — both of whom drew considerable crowds while jazz was supposedly dead — made meaningful contributions to the music. The film, giving similar treatment to the electric bass (referred to ineptly in the script as "electronic" bass), also dispenses with the towering influence of Jaco Pastorius.

As we've stated elsewhere, it's a damn shame Ken Burns did not show the same level of respect for jazz as he did with the subject of his other two series. His overlooking of the last 40+ years of the music was the equivalent of going into loving detail about baseball up until the '75 World Series and then doing a "This was followed by 2 players strikes--the latter causing the cancellation of that year's World Series--and the so-called steroid era. The End." Unforgivable.

Hopefully, with "The Tenth Inning" baseball will fare much better.


What We're Listening To

BIG STAR Radio City [Ardent]
The Shepherd's Song [Sub Pop]
self-titled EP [Monopoli]
El Sonido Nuevo [Verve]
LOS TRES Fome [Sony US Latin]

What are YOU listening to?


RIP: Will Owsley (1965-2010)

Singer/songwriter/guitarist/producer Will Owsley, a respected solo artist and sideman for numerous artists, died of an apparent suicide on April 30th in Franklin, TN.

In the early '90s Owsley, alongside bassist Millard Powers and eventual Who/Oasis drummer Zak Starkey—and, briefly, Ben Folds—were in The Semantics, a great power pop band whose only album, Powerbill, was supposed to have been released by Geffen Records in 1993. Shortly before the release date the label shelved the album; the band broke up and that, at the time, was that. Three years later, with the Ben Folds Five’s profile on the rise internationally, the album was released exclusively in Japan where it sold about 20,000 copies without any significant promotion.

In the aftermath of The Semantics’ break up Owsley, an accomplished guitarist, found himself touring as a sideman for the likes of Amy Grant and Shania Twain, saving enough money to meticulously record a solo album on his own, a la Boston’s Tom Scholz. That self-titled disc [Giant/Warner Bros-1999] (above) garnered much critical acclaim and a Grammy nomination for Best Engineered Album.

On a personal note, Owsley's solo debut has not only brought us much pleasure and inspiration over the years, but our incessant raves about it eventually made many of those in our inner circle the proud owners of this gem; one that is both power and pop in equal measure, via its crunchy guitars and irresistible melodies.

Will Owsley was 44 years old.

[Concert photo courtesy of Amy Grant via Facebook]