A quick Google search confirmed the terrible news that The Doors keyboardist had passed away on May 20 in Germany while seeking treatment for bile duct cancer.
By virtue of my mid-'50s birth, I am an actual child of the '60s and the parade of my musical heroes joining the choir invisible has seemed to pick up the pace here in the new millennium. So many have fallen, it's difficult to keep track.
My dear friend Rob, a high school bud from my Michigan hometown, has for years sent out emails with the name of a recently deceased musician in the subject line, which has led those of us in our immediate circle to refer to him as The Reaper. A few years back, he sent us an update about a new Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers album and from his simple subject notation I came to the horrifying conclusion that Tom and the boys had gone down like Lynyrd Skynyrd.Fortunately, that was not the case.
Rob was in the midst of trying to send us all a message from his phone about Ray's passing when he got my email. He hates it when I scoop him, but this was not a scoop that I could lord over The Reaper. This was as devastating as a death in the family.
I teared up a few weeks ago when my comedy hero Jonathan Winters died and it was the same when Ray's death became a verifiable fact. Ray Manzarek wasn't simply one of the thousands of musicians who I greatly admire. He was the guy who made me listen to music.
My earliest exposure to Rock came, oddly enough, via The Ed Sullivan Show. For you youngsters, Sullivan was a well-connected entertainment reporter who wound up hosting radio shows in the late '20s and emceeing theater revues in the '30s and '40s which led to one of the first television variety shows, Toast of the Town, in 1948. Eventually renamed after its stiff but brilliantly intuitive host and talent booker, The Ed Sullivan Show occupied the Sunday-at-8 p.m. slot for 23 years.
Sullivan didn't care for Rock & Roll, but he knew teenagers were viewers and would attract advertisers, so he began booking the artists that would become the foundation of Rock in the '60s. I saw The Beatles on the Sullivan show in 1964, when I was 7 years old — I liked the music but I distinctly remember thinking, "I wish those girls would stop screaming so I can hear it." By the following year, The Beatles became a cartoon series and largely stopped being real people in my comic-book-obsessed head.
Sgt. Pepper changed that in 1967. So much changed in 1967.
The catalyst for all that change was The Doors' appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in September of that magic year. I didn't know anything about the band beyond its interesting name. I always watched Sullivan for the bands (although I was just as intrigued by the plate spinners, magicians and comics; George Carlin was an early favorite), so I looked forward to it as much as any of the others who had displayed their wares for Sullivan's audience.
Until The Doors' hypnotic vibe came pouring out of the tinny speaker in my grandparents' old black-and-white Zenith, music had been little more than an accessory in my life. I didn't follow music or collect it or pay much attention to it beyond checking it out on the occasional TV program (Sullivan, Hullabaloo, Shindig, sometimes American Bandstand on a rainy Saturday). The bands were fun and interesting to watch — by then I'd seen The Rolling Stones, The Animals, The Dave Clark 5 (whose big beat, roiling Farfisa organ and frenetic guitar hooked me more than most) and many more — but I had not yet been infected with the Rock virus.
That September evening, I camped out in front of the TV to see what Sullivan had in store before The Doors played the final segment. There were the standard array of variety acts that made Sullivan a star in his own right and there was a sweaty, bug-eyed comic who was pretty funny (it turned out to be Rodney Dangerfield, making his TV debut).
At commercial, I ran into the kitchen, probably for a chocolate chip cookie stack, and when I got back to the living room, there was Ed, arms folded across his chest, ramrod straight as if a stagehand had shoved a mop handle up his ass all the way to the base of his skull.
"Now, The Doors...here they are with their newest hit record, 'People Are Strange.' "
The insistent lope of the first single from The Doors' sophomore album, Strange Days (which was still a week away from being released), emanated from the television and I stood staring at the set, afraid to sit down for fear of missing something. In two brief minutes, I was galvanized, pulverized and mesmerized, between Robbie Krieger's three note guitar intro, Ray Manzarek's circus organ, John Densmore's shuffling beat and Jim Morrison's trance-like presence. The best was yet to come.
Without a break, The Doors — with dozens of actual doors forming a backdrop — segued straight into their real hit, "Light My Fire," which had come out just after the first of the year. When I heard Ray's masterful intro, I remembered having heard a bit of it on the car radio before my father changed the station, presumably to get away from it.
For the first time in my life, I got music.
"Light My Fire" seeped into my DNA and I went through what seemed like an alchemical transformation, touched by the philosopher's stone of The Doors' cryptic groove. It felt like every molecule in my body had changed places with every other molecule in my body. Outwardly, I looked no different. Inwardly, I was not and would never be the same.
Morrison was clearly a compelling figure onstage as he writhed without seeming to move to any great degree — and the emphasis when the word "fire" erupted from his throat was hair-raising — but it was Ray Manzarek who commanded my attention. I kept wanting the camera to get back to Ray so I could watch his hands and see how they corresponded to that transdimensional sound he was creating. Morrison's smoldering role in The Doors' passion play was clearly evident, but Ray's position was so much more subversive and fascinating to me.
By the time the Doors completed the two-and-a-half minute single version of "Light My Fire," I was paralyzed (the first time I heard the long version, probably a few months after the Sullivan show, my head nearly exploded). It was the first time I can remember thinking, "Play something else. Play that thing over. Play someone else's song. Just do that to me again."
From that moment on, I pursued music. I found the cool radio stations that played Rock and Pop and began paying strict attention. Motown had already been in full swing for a few years and that sound got its hooks into me as well. I kept an eye out for a repeat Sullivan performance by The Doors but it never happened; little did I know at the time that Ed and CBS executives had told the band to change the "girl, we couldn't get much higher" lyric in "Light My Fire" because of its possible drug connotation, which Morrison agreed to do and then either defiantly or nervously forgot. Sullivan was furious and reportedly shouted at the band after the show, "You'll never do the Sullivan show again," to which Morrison allegedly replied, "Hey, we just did the Sullivan show."
Over the next four years, my reverence for The Doors grew exponentially and I continued to be captivated by everything they attempted. I was not deterred by what some critics deemed inferior songs on Waiting for the Sun and The Soft Parade, and the epic tales of Morrison's booze-and-drug consumption merely added to his mythic status. Only his conviction for public indecency was worrisome, from the standpoint that a jail term could have stopped them from recording and touring.
I was not even dissuaded when I realized that Ray was only four years younger than my father.
After its April 1971 release, L.A. Woman became the soundtrack for the end of my sophomore year in high school and the beginning of my 14th summer. On July 3, 1971, my stepbrother Rick and I were listening to WVIC in Lansing when we heard the news of Morrison's death from a supposed heart attack in Paris, where he had decamped just after the release of L.A. Woman.
I was devastated, but I thought, "At least it wasn't Ray."
After Rick and I discussed what we thought were the band's possible options for a while, I sat down with pen and paper and wrote a letter to the surviving Doors, imploring them not to quit in the wake of their terrible tragedy. I told them, "You can't quit. It's not what Jim would have wanted, it's not what we want and, if you're honest with yourselves, it's not what you want."
I found a Doors fan address in one of my Rock mags and mailed the letter off a few days later. (I would send an eerily similar letter to the Allman Brothers four months later, just after the death of Duane Allman; those are the only two fan letters I have ever sent).
A few weeks later, I received a hand-signed form letter from Danny Sugerman, who was The Doors' second manager, which stated that the band appreciated their fans' concern and best wishes and they were definitely staying together and working on a new album that would be released in the fall.
Other Voices was an amazing album, although critics generally hated it. I looked at as if it were a Ray Manzarek solo album; from that perspective it was great. The following year, they pushed even further into Jazz territory on Full Circle and then decided to officially end The Doors. Ray began his real solo career with The Golden Scarab in 1973, followed by 1974's The Whole Thing Started With Rock and Roll, Now It's Out of Control.
Scarab was magnificent (particularly the unhinged instrumental, "The Moorish Idol," the first song I heard from the album on a college radio station), as it offered up serious musical chops but also something that Morrison found difficult to achieve; whimsy and humor. Out of Control was aptly named as it was slightly chaotic, but it was Ray so I found plenty of ways to love it. I still do.
After that, Ray took a zig-zag approach to his solo career. An Electronic Rock version of Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana," a collaboration with Phillip Glass, was extremely cool, but his work after that was sporadic at best. He did a couple of cool albums in the late '70s with his new band, Nite City, and he produced the first three X albums in the early '80s (their version of "Soul Kitchen" is harrowing).
As an artist, Ray tended to stick to collaborative situations (although he did release a true solo album in 2006, an instrumental set of originals titled Love Her Madly, presumably the soundtrack to a B-movie he wrote, directed and starred in). In recent years, he had done a couple of albums with slide guitarist Roy Rogers, including the blazingly excellent Translucent Blues in 2011. And of course, he and Krieger famously pissed off John Densmore when they relaunched The Doors, first as Riders on the Storm, then as the 21st Century Doors and then, due to legal acquiescence, as Manzarek/Krieger.
The fact is, with Doors record sales topping 100 million worldwide, Ray could do whatever he wanted to do, for as long as he wanted to do it and he did just that. But it could be equally argued that Ray did exactly what he wanted in The Doors as well, because that gothic Rock sound didn't exist before The Doors' debut album in 1967. While many tried to replicate it in the aftermath of their staggering success, no one could quite master the formula of Morrison's shamanic poetry slam, Densmore's fluid pulse and Krieger's combination of Rock swagger and Jazz swing.
Most importantly, they could not fathom the incredible musical ability and intuition of Raymond Daniel Manzarek, and without that, there would be no Doors.
I would have come to Rock in some form or fashion; weeks after seeing The Doors on Sullivan, I heard Jimi Hendrix's "Foxey Lady" and "Purple Haze," yet another subatomic moment, and weeks after that was my first mindbending spin through Sgt. Pepper.
But it was all teed up because of The Doors and their singular keyboardist, the man who revealed the universe of music to a 10-year-old boy in Michigan and sent him on a pilgrimage to find more of the same, a journey that continues to this day with the same passion and dedication that marked its initial steps over half a century ago.
I would guess that my marching orders from Ray right now would be similar to those I offered to him and his grieving bandmates in 1971: Keep going, because it's what I want, it's what we want and, if you're honest with yourself, it's what you want.
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 2006, Taylor Hicks won that year's American Idol karaoke contest, laying waste to runner-up Katharine McPhee. Soul Patrol!!!
McPhee would bounce back and is currently starring in the hit network TV show Smash. Hicks, of course, went on to superstardom, scoring major hits with songs like … oh, wait. What ever did happen to that guy? Best guess: manager of a suburban Applebee's somewhere?
Post-Idol, Hicks did score a role in the traveling production of Grease and his self-titled album went platinum, but Hicks was dropped from his label in 2008 and hasn't been heard from much since.
Last night, a fella named Phillip Phillips (no lie! that's his name!) won this year's American Idol, beating a lady named Jessica Sanchez. I must confess I've not watch one second of American Idol this year (or the year before, or the year before, etc.), but reading The New York Times story on him from today, it appears Phillips actually can play guitar pretty well and covered songs by Damien Rice and The Box Tops when he was allowed to chose his own material to perform.
Will Philly Phillips be a star, post-Idol? These things are hard to predict (ask Taylor Hicks), but it seems — from my admittedly peripheral view — that Phillips is more David Gray or Dave Matthews than Clay Aiken or Adam Lambert.
Born This Day: Musical movers and shakers sharing a May 24 birthday include creative Jazz saxman Archie Shepp (1937); American music icon Robert Allen Zimmerman, better known as Bob Dylan (1941); big-voiced and bigger-haired R&B diva Ms. Patti LaBelle (1944); producer and guitarist (with Stevie Nicks, Linda Ronstadt, Warren Zevon and others) Waddy Wachtel (1947); singer/songwriter and eldest daughter of Johnny Cash's, Rosanne Cash (1955); frontman for Soul/Funk group Cameo ("Word Up"), Larry Blackmon (1956); former keyboardist for Beastie Boys pals Luscious Jackson, Vivian Trimble (1963); bassist for Redd Kross and current member of old-school Punk supergroup OFF!, Steve McDonald (1967); guitarist for rockers The Black Crowes, Rich Robinson (1969); and singer/songwriter and Country artist Mike Reid (1947).
Born in Altoona, Penn., Reid attended Penn State, where he excelled on the football field. The tackle finished fifth in Heisman Trophy voting his senior year (1969) and earned a Bachelor's degree in music.
In the 1970 NFL draft, Reid was the Cincinnati Bengals' top first-round selection (seventh overall). Known for his pass-rushing, Reid was a dominant defensive player selected All-Pro at his position in 1972 and 1973 (both years he made the Pro Bowl, as well). In ’74, an injured Reid posted lower numbers and retired at the end of the season as the Bengals all-time leader in sacks with 49. (Remember, the Bengals had only been a team since 1968.)
During the off-season, Reid played piano with orchestras in Utah and Dallas, as well as the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. With some help from Larry Gatlin, he was ready to go into music full-time after retiring from professional football. Focused on songwriter, Reid won his first Grammy in 1984 for writing Ronnie Milsap's "Stranger in My House." We would go on to write several songs that hit No. 1 on the Country charts, including "Walk On Faith," the only No. 1 he also performed.
Reid's songs were recorded by the likes of Etta James, Conway Twitty, Willie Nelson, Alabama, George Jones, Wynonna, Lee Greenwood, Kenny Rogers, Shelby Lynne, Shania Twain, Oak Ridge Boys, Collin Raye, Alabama and Tim McGraw over the years. But his "time capsule" tune has to be his 1992 hit with Bonnie Raitt, "I Can't Make You Love Me," his biggest Pop chart success.
Reid is a member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. In honor of his 65th birthday, here's Reid's biggest song sung by himself, followed by a pretty chilling more recent version by Justin Vernon of Bon Iver.
On this day in 2000, brilliant Icelandic musician/singer/composer Björk won the Best Actress prize at the Cannes Film Festival for her starring role in Lars von Trier's gloomy "musical" Dancer in the Dark. The film also won the festival's highest honor, the Palme d'Or.
The movie is amazing but also difficult to watch because of its emotional weight. Björk played an impoverished Czech immigrant who moves to the U.S. with her son and gets a job at a factory. Her character, Selma, is going blind and she's sure her son will also inherit the disease that caused it, so she saves all her money to pay for an operation for him. Through a series of unfortunate events, she gets the money, but at a high price — she ends up being sentenced to death.
The genius of the film is in Björk's character's daydreams, where she imagines her life is like the Hollywood musicals she so adores. The singer wrote and recorded the soundtrack, which was released as Selmasongs: Music from the Motion Picture Soundtrack Dancer in the Dark. Reportedly drained from her physically and emotionally demanding performance, Björk announced that she'd always wanted to do a musical and that was the one — she said she was retiring from acting forever. So far, she's kept the promise.
Here is a clip of the film featuring the song "I've Seen It All." On the album, Thom Yorke of Radiohead sings the male lead. Here it's sung by co-star Peter Stormare.
Born This Day: Musical movers and shakers sharing a May 21 birthday include pioneering Jazz/Blues pianist Fats Waller (1904); Jazz tuba player (who appeared on Miles Davis classics Birth of Cool and Sketches of Spain) Bill Barber (1920); Jump Blues singer (and huge influence on Little Richard) Billy Wright (1932); influential British Folk singer and guitarist Martin Carthy (1941); Cincinnati native and hugely influential singer and songwriter with The Isley Brothers (and beyond), Ronald Isley (1941); successful ’70s Pop singer/songwriter ("You Make Me Feel Like Dancing," "When I Need You") Leo Sayer (1948); dynamic guitar wizard Marc Ribot (1954); singer/guitarist for noisy, influential Shoegaze outfit My Bloody Valentine, Kevin Shields (1963); singer and guitarist for cult faves Jawbreaker and Jets to Brazil, Blake Schwarzenbach (1967); half of Hip Hop twosome Mobb Deep, Havoc (1974); current hitmaker ("Somebody That I Used to Know") and satirist target Wally De Backer, better known as Gotye (1980); and slain Rap superstar Christopher Wallace, aka The Notorious B.I.G. (1972).
Biggie would have been 40 today had he not been murdered in 1997 when he was just 24. Here's a rare live clip recently discovered featuring B.I.G. and Jay-Z performing together.
And here's an interview with the Rap legend discovered last month.
What's your favorite Biggie jam? Pop Crush is running a poll; vote for your fave here. And here's a short interview with the late MC's mother reflecting on her son's legacy (from The Source).
On this date in 1967, Floridian Psychedelic Folk band Pearls Before Swine (a precursor to contemporary so-called "Freak Folk") began the three-day sessions for its debut album, One Nation Underground. The album would become a moderate success, selling nearly a quarter of a million copies.
One of the album's tracks, "(Oh Dear) Miss Morse," was the source of some controversy. The subversive chorus of the weird little song (essentially a banjo riff with some organ blips) consists of vocalist/songwriter Tom Rapp (and that organ) "singing" in Morse code the letters "F," "U," "C" and "K" (Dit Dit Dah Dit/Dit Dit Dah/Dah Dit Dah Dit/Dah Dit Dah).
And they would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren't for some meddling kids! Famous New York DJ Murray the K was busted after playing the song on the air when a few smarty-pants Boy Scouts reportedly recognized the code and called in to complain about the veiled obscenity (or maybe brag that they figured it out).
It's not the only song to feature secret Morse code messaging. Mike Oldfield's album Amarok (featuring, essentially, one hour-long track) came towards the end of his contract with Virgin Records in 1990. Oldfield sent a little note to his boss on the album; towards the end, there's a Morse code message that spells out "Fuck Off RB," referring to Virgin label chief Richard Branson.
The Rush song "YYZ" from the 1981 album Moving Pictures also features Morse coding, in a pretty ingenious manner. Drummer Neil Pert's rhythm on the song is based on Morse for "YYZ." The letters weren't especially controversial, though — they were simply the code for Toronto's airport (Rush is from the area).
Other instances of Morse code in popular music: Roger Waters' album Radio KAOS features several Morse messages; Kraftwerk used it throughout their 1975 track "Radioactivity" (it simply spells out the title); and The Clash's "London Calling" has choppy guitar feedback at the end of the song that spells out "S.O.S."
Here's the Pearls Before Swing tune. NSFW (if you work for a former Boy Scout or telegraph expert).
Born This Day: Musical movers and shakers sharing a May 7 birthday include late drummer for influential Rock bands New York Dolls and Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers, Jerry Nolan (1946); Disco diva ("Don't Leave Me This Way"), singer/songwriter and actress Thelma Houston (1946); masterful German Boogie Woogie pianist Axel Zwingenberger (1955); Motorhead guitarist Phil Campbell (1961); Swedish one-hit-wonder, son of Jazz legend Don Cherry and half-brother to Neneh Cherry, Eagle-Eye Cherry (1971); drummer for British Pop/Rock stars Arctic Monkeys, Matt Helders (1986); and British singer Martina Topley-Bird (1975).
Topley-Bird is probably best known as a crucial part of Trip Hop pioneer Tricky's early (and biggest) success as vocalist on his classic album, 1995's Maxinquaye. The album made Tricky a Pop star, something that he admittedly was not prepared for and which drove him a little nuts. He recently told U.K.'s The Guardian that, going into the album's release, "I thought I'd be an underground artist. I had no idea it was going to do that and I was not ready for it." He says he spent much of the rest of his career trying to become more of a cult artist than a superstar. And he succeeded.
Topley-Bird parted ways with Tricky in 1998 and has made a trio of solo album (and worked with Gorillaz and Massive Attack). But late last month, she rejoined Tricky in England to perform Maxinquaye in its entirety. Well, that was the plan, anyway. Tricky reportedly disappeared during parts of the performances, which didn't exactly live up the "play the full album" billing. In a review of the performance in Manchester, ClashMusic.com wrote that the Tricky concert ultimately became "the Martina Topley-Bird show, with the singer providing the only reliable musical seam throughout, in contrast to an erratic and seemingly disengaged Tricky."
Here's Martina Topley-Bird's "Anything" from her acclaimed debut solo album, Quixotic.
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!
On this day in 1964, The Beatles had the top five singles on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. It's been said that it's an unrivaled feat that will likely never be duplicated but those sorts of records always seem to eventually be broken (especially in the the ever-evolving music biz). The kids on Glee will probably occupy the entire Top 20 this year sometime or Vanilla Ice will die and spark a massive revival, smashing any and all previous chart records.
Until then, here are those Beatles singles in their chart positions the week of April 4, 1964:
1) "Can't Buy Me Love"
2) "Twist and Shout"
3) "She Loves You"
4) "I Want to Hold Your Hand"
5) "Please Please Me"
The group had a remarkable 12 songs on the chart that week. The other songs in the Top 100 were "I Saw Her Standing There" (No. 31), "From Me To You" (No. 41), "Do You Want to Know a Secret" (No. 46), "All My Loving" (No. 58), "You Can't Do That" (No. 65), "Roll Over Beethoven" (No. 68) and "Thank You Girl" (No. 79).
The chart even contained two Beatles-inspired novelty ditties — "A Letter to The Beatles" by The Four Preps (No. 85) and The Carefrees' "We Love You Beatles" (No. 42).
Curren$y and Jill Scott.
On this date in 2004, modern "jam band" kings Phish announced on their website that they would be breaking up after a short summer tour. The group's "final" tour included a seven-song set on the Ed Sullivan Theater marquee for a swarm of fans on the street and a final show in Coventry, Ver., that attracted around 65,000 fans. That final show would have drawn more but the deluge of rain had organizers concerned that the stage would sink and cars were cut off from entering the site at one point, causing thousands of fans to leave their vehicles on the side of the road and walk to the grounds, Woodstock style.
Maybe God sent the rain because he's a huge Phish fan? What was he going to hippie dance to in heaven?!
In 2006, guitarist Trey Anastasio was pulled over and arrested for suspicion of drug possession (including hydrocodone, Percocet and Xanax), driving on a suspended license and driving under the influence. Though he had continued to be active musically, perhaps that was a "devil makes work for idle hands" kind of thing.
In 2009, the four band members decided that it was time to bring Phish back from the dead. Anastasio told The New York Times that it was because of the recession. Not that the members needed money — they wanted to provide an escape for fans hurting from the tough economic climate.
"For people in hard times, we can play long shows of pure physical pleasure,” he said. “They come to dance and forget their troubles. It’s like a service commitment.”
Alas, all concerts since the comeback have not been free.
This summer, Phish plays Riverbend on June 22. They're also a headlining act at Bonnaroo, coming up June 7-10. CityBeat is helping Phish fans who want to escape their money woes AND not spend lots of money doing it. Click here to sign up for a chance to win tickets to Phish's Riverbend show and here for a chance to score Bonnaroo tickets.
Here's the band performing "Maze" almost a year ago in New Jersey.
Born This Day: Musical movers and shakers sharing a May 25 birthday include Country music singer/songwriter Tom T. Hall (1936); American singer and songwriter; Country singer Jessi Colter (1943), frontman for German Metal giants The Scorpions, Klaus Meine (1948); Jamaican Reggae singer Sugar Minott (1956); still rocking former frontman for The Jam and Style Council, Paul Weller (1958); too-quiet-these-days Soul/Hip Hop genius Lauryn Hill (1975); guitarist for Pop/Rock band The Fray, Joe King (1980); and legendary lyricist Hal David (1921).
The best concert venue in Washington, D.C., may well be the White House. Hal David was recently honored there as part of a tribute concert to him and songwriting partner Burt Bacharach.
The pair was the latest recipient of the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. (David could not attend because he's recovering from a stroke; his wife gracefully and graciously accepted on his behalf.) The first winner of the prize — honoring great Americans' contributions to the world songbook — was Paul Simon in 2007. Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney have also received it. And received tribute concerts at the Prez's pad.
Obama's White House has also feted Motown, Country, Blues, Broadway and music from the Civil Rights movement; each celebratory concert was filmed and aired on PBS as part of its In Performance at the White House series.
"This is a pair that combined, like the Gershwins did, a very gifted lyricist (David) and a very gifted composer (Bacharach)," the librarian of Congress James H. Billington, told the Washington Post. "It's taken so long for a major national prize like this to be conferred on them, so we're very happy about it."
Bacharach & David's greatest hits include modern standards like "Do You Know The Way To San Jose," "What The World Needs Now Is Love," "Alfie," "I Just Don't Know What Do To With Myself," "I Say A Little Prayer," "Walk on By," "The Look Of Love" and "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head." The White House tribute — filmed in early May and aired this past Monday night on PBS — featured performances by Stevie Wonder, Sheryl Crow, Diana Krall, Lyle Lovett, Arturo Sandoval, Michael Feinstein and, um, comedian Mike Myers (he cast Bacharach in Austin Powers and, at the White House, did a funny version of "What's New Pussycat?").
Watch (or skim through) the whole broadcast below:
Watch Burt Bacharach and Hal David: The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize on PBS. See more from In Performance at The White House.
Though today he is known as one of the strangest characters on "celebreality" TV, Gary Busey was once thought to have the potential to be one of the greatest actors of his generation. On this date in 1978, The Buddy Holly Story — featuring Busey in the title role — premiered. The film covered Rock legend Buddy Holly's all-too-short life, up through when he died in a plane crash in 1959 at the age of 22. Busey was 34 when the film came out, but his portrayal was very strong. In fact, it earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.
Busey never quite had that kind of critical reception again, going on to appear in such films as D.C. Cab, Predator 2, Point Break and the upcoming Piranha 3DD. Busey is known to younger generations as the "out there" guy from Celebrity Rehab, Celebrity Fit Club and Celebrity Apprentice. Is there a Celebrity Mental Institution yet?
There is allegedly a "Buddy Holly Curse" that may explain Busey's jagged career path since starring as the singer. This site details some "proof" of the curse, including the deaths of many artists who had some connection with Holly (Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, Ronnie Smith, Cowboy Copas, David Box, Joe Meek and many others.)
Busey was involved in a serious, near-fatal motorcycle accident after he completed filming on the Buddy Holly movie. The film's screenwriter Robert Gittler committed suicide just prior to the movie's release. (The Who's Keith Moon made his last public appearance at a preview screening of The Buddy Holly Story; he was found dead the next day.)
Luckily, only Busey's career has suffered since the film and his close-call wreck. Here he is in his greatest role doing "Oh, Boy!" Busey was praised for singing his own parts instead of lip-syncing over Holly's originals. I have to agree with that praise. Maybe Gary needs to make a Rock & Roll album?
Born This Day: Musical movers and shakers sharing a May 18 birthday include one of the men most responsible for Rock & Roll ("Shake, Rattle and Roll"), Blues shouter Big Joe Turner (1911); founding guitarist with Art Punk greats Wire, Bruce Gilbert (1946); singer/songwriter/producer and pops of The Strokes' guitarist, Albert Hammond (1944); keyboard wizard for Prog kings Yes, Rick Wakeman (1949); cofounder of New Wave renegades Devo, Mark Mothersbaugh (1950); Country legend George Strait (1952); Power Pop/New Wave rocker "(I'd Go the) Whole Wide World") Wreckless Eric Goulden (1954); singer with Christian Rock band dc Talk, Michael Tait (1966); Hip Hop artist ("It Takes Two") Rob Base (1967); and two Easy Listening giants of two very different eras — Perry Como (1912) and Jack Johnson (1975).
Como and Johnson both had/have a very easy-going way about themselves, musically and personally. That opened them up for a pair of pretty funny parodies on television.
In 1981, the brilliant late-night sketch comedy show SCTV ran the skit "Perry Como: Still Alive," which presented the way laid-back host making a Disco comeback. Eugene Levy — known today as "the dad from American Pie" — does a brilliant borderline comatose Como.
Former surfer (because what else could he be?) and smooth Pop singer/songwriter Jack Johnson has gotten the business from another late-night NBC program. (Cargo shorts) Saturday Night Live's (soon to be gone?) Andy Samberg has played the super-mellow Johnson in a few sketches, notably as the host of his own talk-fest The Mellow Show. (Flip flops.) Here, "Jack" interviews fellow mellow yellows Dave Matthews and Jason Mraz, as well as Ozzy Obsourne (played pretty well by Mr. Matthews himself). (Vegan cookies.)
Since this date only occurs every four years, there are fewer birthdays and notable happenings in the history books. But things have indeed occurred on Feb. 29 throughout time — even a few related to music. Here's a quick roundup:
• Buddy Holly's famous glasses were found at the Mason City Sheriff's office in Iowa, buried in old files. They also found Big Bopper's watch. Both items were believed to have been worn by the pair when they died together in a plane crash in 1959. Holly's glasses are on display at the Buddy Holly Center in his hometown of Lubbock, Texas.
• The Beatles' Sgt. Peppers wins Album of the Year at the 1968 Grammys.
• In 1996, musician/songwriter Wes Farrell, who wrote and co-wrote songs performed by The Beatles and The Animals, many hits by The Partridge Family and Ohio State anthem "Hang on Sloopy," died on this day in 1996 from cancer.
• Don't feel so bad, Sammy Hagar. Eric Clapton can't drive 55, either! The guitar god's license was suspended on this day in 2000 after he was busted speeding.
• Guitarist for Punk pioneers Social Distortion, Dennis Danell, died at the age of 36 on this day in 2000, reportedly from a brain aneurysm (though Mike Ness claims it was a heart problem).
And here's your song for today: a slanted Jazz freakout called "Leap Year Day" by Chicago Lounge music revivalists (they called it "Garage Jazz") The Coctails, taken from the group's Popcorn retrospective box set.
Born This Day: A few psychopaths were born today — like Richard "Night Stalker" Ramirez, Aileen Wuornos (played by Charlize Theron in the film Monster) and Tony Robbins (OK, maybe the motivational-speaking superstar's just a little weird) — but there have been a few musical types born on Leap Day as well.
Big Band Jazz superstar Jimmy Dorsey was born Leap Day, 1904.
Rap star Ja Rule — who released a new album yesterday — turns 36 today and will celebrate in a New York state prison, where he's serving time for gun possession charges (TMZ reports he will party in jail with special meals throughout the day — corn flakes, Jamaican "patties" and "turkey stew").
Chris Conley of Emo favorites Saves the Day was born Leap Day 1980.
Mark Foster, frontman for breakout stars Foster the People (if you haven't heard their hit "Pumped Up Kicks," please tell us where your bunker is located), was born today in 1984.
And poet, activist, spoken word star and inventive recording artist Saul Williams was a Leap Newborn on this day in 1972. In honor of Saul's 40th b-day, here's a video for a track off of his amazing Trent Renzor-produced album The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of NiggyTardust!