On this day in 1943, chemist Albert Hofmann embarked on the first LSD "trip." As a Swiss chemist working in the lab of Sandoz pharmaceutical company in Switzerland five years earlier, Hofmann was the first to create the psychedelic drug. But the psychedelic aspect of wasn't discovered until April 19, 1943.
On that day 69 years ago, Hofmann took .25 milligrams of lysergic acid diethylamide and not long after asked a coworker to take him home. He did, on a bike, and Hofmann kind of freaked out before he was able to reel in the anxiety and enjoy the "colors and plays of shapes that persisted … Kaleidoscopic, fantastic images surged in on me," as he later wrote.
Today is known as "Bicycle Day" because of the historic trip. Fans of psychoactive drugs have celebrated today by indulging in the chemical. (I sprinkled eight microdots into my morning coffee today, for example.) Tomorrow, of course, is 4/20, the pot-smokers celebration of … an established excuse to smoke pot all day. Saturday (April 21) is Record Store Day. That's quite a three-day holiday for the counterculture!
LSD has inspired a lot of music. It famously influenced The Beatles' mid-’60s musical expansion; their song "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" is widely considered an acid tribute, though John Lennon said it wasn't, the "L," "S" and "D" in the title merely a coincidence. The songs "She Said She Said" and "Tomorrow Never Knows" from Revolver were confirmed to be about the drug, though. The Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit" was another huge LSD song, and bands like Pink Floyd and The Grateful Dead became forever associated with the drug thanks to their trippy sounds.
There are, of course, as many songs about doing acid as their our Country tunes about lovin' America and drinking beer. More than anyone could ever listen to, in fact — from Syd Barrett's entire solo discography to some of today's top Dance music makers.
WHOA! Does everyone else see that? Please tell me everyone else sees that.
Here's a short film documenting (allegedly) Syd Barrett's first acid experience (NSFW, I suppose, but only for druggy silliness).
Happy birthday, tripping balls!
Today in 1996, one of the greatest, most influential bassists ever, Bernard Edwards of Disco/Funk group Chic, passed away after contracting pneumonia while on tour in Japan.
My personal favorite bass line is Sly Stone's lick on "If You Want Me to Stay," but it's hard to deny the power of Chic's "Good Times," a Disco-era hit that helped lay the groundwork for Hip Hop. Edwards' bass line from the song is considered one of the most sampled pieces of music ever and it has been mimicked almost as often. Songs that wouldn't exist with Edwards' riff include Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust," Hip Hop trailblazers Sugarhill Gang's breakthrough "Rapper's Delight," Blondie's "Rapture," Daft Punk's "Around the World" and Wham!'s "Wham Rap! (Enjoy What You Do)" (hey, they can't all be winners).
R.I.P Bernard Edwards. And thanks for the groove.
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On this day in 1960, Rockabilly idol and Rock & Roll trailblazer Eddie Cochran died while on tour in the U.K. at the age of 21. On the night of April 16, Cochran was in a taxi when it blew a tire and crashed into a lamppost. Cochran was reportedly thrown from the vehicle when he dove on his girlfriend, songwriter Sharon Sheeley, to shield her and went out the car door that had been flung open. He died in the hospital the next afternoon. Also in the car was fellow rocker Gene Vincent, who survived the crash but suffered serious injuries.
It's hard to overstate how influential Cochran was in the development and increasing popularity of Rock & Roll. A member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Rockabilly Hall of Fame, Cochran is responsible for such indispensable Rock staples as "Summertime Blues" and "C'mon Everybody," and influenced and/or was covered by artists like The Who, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Bruce Springsteen, T. Rex, Hendrix, Rush, The Sex Pistols … pretty much the entire first decade of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees. Legend has it that Paul McCartney elbowed his way into John Lennon's The Quarrymen because his future bandmates were dazzled that he knew the chords and lyrics to Cochran's"Twenty Flight Rock."
It's rather stunning that someone who didn't live to see 22 could have such a profound effect on music. Here's a bit of Cochran featured in the 1956 film The Girl Can't Help It.
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On this day in 1973, Paul McCartney and Wings had their very own network TV special, James Paul McCartney. The variety/musical show was a bit cheeky and a bit sappy — in other words, pretty funny to watch now. Paul and Co. do a bunch a Beatles tunes and a bunch of Wings stuff, including the just released "Live and Let Die." Worth watching (or at least skipping through) if you were a fan of Sir Paul's kick-ass mullet, always wanted to hear a drunk Paul sing drinking songs in a crowded pub or wondered how "The Cute One" looks in a pink tuxedo and mustache.
Paul's most recent adventures in visual entertainment contains a bit more star power:
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On this day in 2004, Frank Black, Kim Deal, Joey Santiago and David Lovering put their differences aside to honor their legacy and make a shit-ton of cash, reuniting for a Pixies reunion tour that recently completed its seventh year. The first show back was at Minneapolis' Fine Line Cafe, where they opened with "Bone Machine," the first song on the group's first full-length, Surfer Rosa. The band has mixed things up on their global tour by performing albums in full and, uh, mixing up the setlist (maybe?), but one thing they haven't done is record more than a smidgen of new music. On the other hand, it seems only fair that the group members reap some rewards from their influential work. It would just be interesting to hear what the four of them could come up with if they attempted a new album.
Here's "Bone Machine" performed live on a TV show in the Netherlands, "back in the day." Scrappy!
On this day in 1975, pioneering singer/actress/dancer/civil rights activist/spy Josephine Baker passed away at the age of 68. She died just a few days after a retrospective performance at the Bobino in Paris celebrating her 50 years in show biz. Jackie O, Princess Grace and Prince Rainier funded the show and opening night featured a celebrity-studded audience that included everyone from Mick Jagger to Sophia Loren. Baker's body was discovered four days later, reportedly surrounded by newspapers featuring glowing reviews of her performance.
At her funeral, she became the first American woman to garner full French military honors, one of many "firsts" involving Baker. She was the first black woman to star in a major film, the first to demand (and get) integrated audiences at her concerts and the first to become a global superstar. She fought for civil rights in America (offered a chance to lead it after MLK's assassination, she declined for fear of also being killed) and, before that, helped France (her adopted homeland) in World War II, for which she received numerous honors. Baker was also reportedly a bi-sexual who had serious relationships with both men and women in her lifetime, adding some spicy mystique to her life story.
She got her start as a vaudeville dancer at 15 and eventually became one of the highest paid chorus girls on the planet. In the mid ’20s she did burlesque shows in Paris and around Europe, well-known for her trademark banana-skirt and, later, her pet cheetah Chiquita, who would join her on stage (and, reportedly, terrorize the orchestra). Baker was considered a "muse" for artists from Pablo Picasso and Christian Dior to F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, who once said she was "the most sensational woman anyone ever saw."
Baker's life has been the source of several films, musicals, plays and books. On screen and stage, she's been portrayed by the likes of Lynn Whitfield, Diana Ross, Keri Hilson and Beyonce, who sported Baker's banana costume during a 2006 performance (see below) and, in her "Naughty Girl" video, she again paid tribute by dancing in a giant champagne glass.
Baker released several albums in the early ’50s for Columbia and Mercury. Here she is performing her biggest hit (in France), "J'ai Deux Amours."
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Thirty five years ago today, the original Apple Computer — now called Apple I — was introduced. This week it was revealed that Apple's market value hit $600 billion. Only one other company — Microsoft — has ever reached that value level (it's now back down to a paltry $255 billion, according to the Associated Press).
Not even its creator could have known that the little box designed and hand-built by Steve Wozniak (with entrepreneurial spiritual guidance by Steve Jobs) would lead to multiple revolutions, including in the worlds of technology, telecommunications, media, music and likely hundreds of other fields.
Who knows where those fields would be today were it not for Apple. One thing that certainly would not exist today is the following song tribute to Jobs by New York City-based progressive House DJ/producer AzR featuring only sounds and tones from an Apple computer (aside from some Jobs quotes). Every time I hear that "chirp," I think my iPod connector cable is going haywire.
Born This Day: Musical movers and shakers sharing an April 11 birthday include early Jazz musician Nick LaRocca (1889); Pop and Jazz music's first African-American personal manager (and also a noted Jazz bassist) John Levy (1912); composer of Rock classic "Louie Louie," Richard Berry (1935); original member of The Specials (and singer in Special Beat with The English Beat's Ranking Roger) Neville Staple (1955); late singer/guitarist for one hit wonders Big Country ("In a Big Country") Stuart Adamson (1958); co-founder of Gin Blossoms (who later committed suicide after leaving the band) Doug Hopkins (1961); British Soul/Pop vocalist Joss Stone (1987); and singular actor/musician Vincent Gallo (1962).
Gallo is best known as an indie film actor with a public persona so over the top, many find him obnoxious. Though he's never had a mainstream breakthrough (in part thanks to his refusal to go the Nic Cage route and make shitty, big-budget craptaculars just for the paycheck), he remains one of America's great underrated actors. And his stellar feature Buffalo ’66 (in which he starred and directed and wrote) is one of the best twisted RomComs of all time, second perhaps only to Billy Wilder's The Apartment. Hopefully he'll make another masterpiece at some point. But his experimental streak seems pretty domineering.
Gallo has been as adventurous in his musical work as he has in celluloid. When Gallo moved to NYC in the ’70s, he played in a band with art legend Jean Michel Basquiat and later performed in other groups and as a solo artist. He continued to write music for his films (notably Brown Bunny and Buffalo) and has put out a few releases on U.K. electronic/experimental label, Warp Records.
Gallo has directed music videos (including John Frusciante's "Going Inside") and appeared in several clips as well, the most famous being Jay-Z's "99 Problems."
In 2005, Gallo curated a weekend of show at the All Tomorrow's Parties festival in the U.K., booking Yoko Ono, Frusciante (Gallo, coincidentally, toured in 2001 with a band that included Frusciante's Chili Peppers replacement, Josh Klinghoffer) and Yoko Ono (Gallo and Ono's son Sean Lennon also made an album around that time that has yet to be released).
Here's the first song on his 2001 solo album When, "I Wrote This Song For the Girl Paris Hilton" (for no clear reason).
On this day in 1956, innovative guitar builder Leo Fender was awarded the patent for a "Tremolo Device for Stringed Instruments," commonly known as the "whammy bar." The device was misnamed — it's more accurately a vibrato bar (tremolo is a "wavering effect in a musical tone, produced by rapid reiteration of a note, by rapid repeated variation in the pitch of a note," according to the dictionary) — but that didn't stop musicians from using it in a variety of ways to create new sounds and techniques. The bar was introduced with Fender's Stratocaster, which was invented a couple of years earlier.
The Greater Cincinnati area has given the world two "twang bar kings" (or maybe "twang bar Picassos" is more appropriate) —pals and bandmates in The Bears, Adrian Belew and Rob Fetters.
On this date in 1962, a pre-performance speech by legendary conductor Leonard Bernstein, seen by some as an attack on guest pianist — the almost equally as legendary Glenn Gould — caused quite a stir in the Classical music world. The concert was to feature Gould performing Brahms' "First Piano Concerto," but apparently the pianist and music director (Bernstein) disagreed on how it was to be performed. The New York Philharmonic concert came towards the end of the orchestra's final season at Carnegie Hall.
The disagreement was largely over tempo — Gould felt the composition should be played very slowly. Before the intermission, the orchestra played selections by Carl Nielsen. Fearful that Gould would not even show up (he was notorious for last-minute cancellations), Bernstein had the Philharmonic prepared to play Brahms' First Symphony just in case. Gould showed, but to prepare the audience for the unorthodox performance, Bernstein took to the podium and delivered the controversial introduction/disclaimer/diss. (Bernstein delivered the same speech at a preview performance the night before.)
Don't be frightened. Mr. Gould is here. He will appear in a moment. I'm not, um, as you know, in the habit of speaking on any concert except the Thursday night previews, but a curious situation has arisen, which merits, I think, a word or two. You are about to hear a rather, shall we say, unorthodox performance of the Brahms D Minor Concerto, a performance distinctly different from any I've ever heard, or even dreamt of for that matter, in its remarkably broad tempi and its frequent departures from Brahms' dynamic indications. I cannot say I am in total agreement with Mr. Gould's conception and this raises the interesting question: "What am I doing conducting it?" I'm conducting it because Mr. Gould is so valid and serious an artist that I must take seriously anything he conceives in good faith and his conception is interesting enough so that I feel you should hear it, too.
But the age old question still remains: "In a concerto, who is the boss; the soloist or the conductor?" The answer is, of course, sometimes one, sometimes the other, depending on the people involved. But almost always, the two manage to get together by persuasion or charm or even threats to achieve a unified performance. I have only once before in my life had to submit to a soloist's wholly new and incompatible concept and that was the last time I accompanied Mr. Gould. But, but this time the discrepancies between our views are so great that I feel I must make this small disclaimer. Then why, to repeat the question, am I conducting it? Why do I not make a minor scandal — get a substitute soloist, or let an assistant conduct? Because I am fascinated, glad to have the chance for a new look at this much-played work; Because, what's more, there are moments in Mr. Gould's performance that emerge with astonishing freshness and conviction. Thirdly, because we can all learn something from this extraordinary artist, who is a thinking performer, and finally because there is in music what Dimitri Mitropoulos used to call "the sportive element", that factor of curiosity, adventure, experiment, and I can assure you that it has been an adventure this week collaborating with Mr. Gould on this Brahms concerto and it's in this spirit of adventure that we now present it to you
Many critics wrote about the intro and viewed it as the conductor's way of saying, "If this sucks, it's his fault." And many took Gould to task for his interpretation of the music (though some musicologists later said Gould's version was a correct reading of the material). Gould, for his part, said he enjoyed the performance and liked that it caused some in the audience to boo. Columbia had planned to release a recording of the performance but backed off given the controversy. Bootlegs spread like wildfire and Sony Classical, years later (in 1998), released the recording with Bernstein's remarks in tact. In the liner notes, Gould is quoted as saying, "Soloists and conductors disagree all the time. Why should this be hidden from the public, especially if both parties still give their all?" Bernstein also didn't seem too bothered by the controversy and he never stopped praising Gould's unique talent.
Here's a clip of Bernstein and Gould getting along just fine in 1960, performing Bach's "Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor."
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