Thursday, April 21, 2016

Prince dead at 57

Prince Rogers Nelson
June 7, 1957 - April 21, 2016

Music icon Prince died Thursday morning at the age of 57. The cause of death is unknown. Last week on April 15 after performing a show in Illinois, his private plane made an emergency landing- rushing the singer to a hospital. After three hours, he was flown back home to Minneapolis- reportedly recovering from the flu. According to reports, sheriff's deputies were the ones who responded to a call placed by Paisley Park Studios in Chanhassen. There was an attempt at CPR but at 10:07 am- Prince was pronounced dead. An autopsy is scheduled for tomorrow while a police investigation in currently in progress.

For almost four decades, Prince was one of the most successful artists of all time. Born in Minneapolis to John L. Nelson (1916-2001) and Mattie Della Shaw (1933-2002), Prince became interested in music at a young age. Growing up, he developed an interest in R&B and funk music, along with rock music. Taking these genres of music, Prince was able to make a sound for himself. By 1976, his demo tape caught the attention of Owen Husney- who would go on to become Prince's manager. After signing to Warner Brothers Records, he released his debut For You in 1978.

It wasn't until the 1980s when Prince hit his peak. During the 1980s, Prince kept releasing hit after hit: "Little Red Corvette," "1999," "Delirious," "Kiss," "Uptown," "Sign O The Times" and many others. His most successful period would be in 1984 when he released the chart topping album Purple Rain. As the soundtrack to the movie of the same name staring Prince, the album featured hits such as "Let's Go Crazy," "When Doves Cry" and the title track. Prince was also a controversial figure, as his music was deemed very sexual. In fact, "Darling Nikki" from the Purple Rain album almost single-handedly inspired Tipper Gore to found the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC)- a group of wives in Washington who were able to get the Parental Advisory warning labels on records that were deemed offensive.

During the 1990s, Prince fought a public battle with Warner Brothers Records over artistic input and album sales. In 1993, he started using a symbol to substitute for his name. The symbol, which was a cross between the signs for male and female, was an unpronounceable name that fans would later refer to as the Love Symbol. The media ended up referring to him as "The Artist Formerly Known as Prince" until early 2000- when Prince announced he would start using his own name again (it was also around that time when he had parted with Warner Brothers).

In his career, Prince would release a total of 39 studio albums. As an artist, Prince believed in releasing as many albums as he could for total artistic freedom- which might explain why he released so many albums. His last release was earlier this year- HITnRUN Phase 2.

In his personal life, Prince was married twice. From 1996 to 1999, he was married to his back up singer Mayte Garcia. The couple would have one child, Boy Gregory, who died one week after being born with Pfeiffer syndrome. From 2001 to 2006, Prince was married to Manuela Testonlini. Prince is survived by a sister, Tika "Tyka" Evene Nelson.

Only a year or two ago, I started getting into Prince's music. Some people who know me might be surprised that I'm even writing this. Being into classic rock and heavy metal, I tried to stay away from pop music in any other forms. However as my tastes expanded, I was able to get into Michael Jackson and even Rick James. I remember watching VH1 Classic sometimes and after hearing a Prince song, I would think "I liked that." He was an incredibly talented musician and songwriter. When I read about him going to the hospital, I thought "Well at least he didn't die. Doesn't sound like anything serious." This is very sad to hear.

Rest in peace, Prince. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Dissecting Brian Johnson's statement about AC/DC and the future

Just three days after AC/DC released their statement on Axl Rose filling in for Brian Johnson, Brian Johnson has issued a statement of his own. For this blog post, I will dissect Brian's statement and give my opinion. After reading it once, I still don't think we have a clear answer to what's going to happen to AC/DC after this tour is over.

 "As many AC/DC fans know, the remaining shows for the 2016 AC/DC 'Rock Or Bust' world tour, including 10 postponed U.S. shows, are being rescheduled with a guest singer. I want personally to explain the reason because I don't believe the earlier press releases sufficiently set out what I wanted to say to our fans or the way in which I thought it should be presented."

What really sticks out here is that Brian remarks that he didn't like the press release that came out on Saturday. This is what we've been waiting for: did Brian agree to this statement or not? It looks like he didn't. 

"On March 7th, after a series of examinations by leading physicians in the field of hearing loss, I was advised that if I continue to perform at large venues, I risked total deafness. While I was horrified at the reality of the news that day, I had for a time become aware that my partial hearing loss was beginning to interfere with my performance on stage. I was having difficulty hearing the guitars on stage and because I was not able to hear the other musicians clearly, I feared the quality of my performance could be compromised. In all honesty, this was something I could not in good conscience allow. Our fans deserve my performance to be at the highest level, and if for any reason I can't deliver that level of performance, I will not disappoint our fans or embarrass the other members of AC/DC. I am not a quitter and I like to finish what I start. Nevertheless, the doctors made it clear to me and my bandmates that I had no choice but to stop performing on stage for the remaining shows and possibly beyond. That was the darkest day of my professional life."

Brian makes it known here that he really didn't want to bow out from the tour or the band. With something as serious as hearing loss and considering the man's job is singing for a rock band, the guy's hearing and health is more important. It must've been a very difficult decision for Brian to make. 

"Since that day, I have had several consultations with my doctors and it appears that, for the near future, I will be unable to perform on stage at arena- and stadium-size venues where the sound levels are beyond my current tolerance, without the risk of substantial hearing loss and possibly total deafness. Until that time, I tried as best as I could to continue despite the pain and hearing loss but it all became too much to bear and too much to risk."

From what it sounds like, the doctors are telling him that if he had to perform- he has to avoid arena and stadium shows. So what's the next level? It looks like Brian could still perform at small sized theaters and venues. However, that seems highly unlikely since AC/DC are the kind of band that plays only arena and stadium shows. I just don't see them going back to where they started. 

"I am personally crushed by this development more than anyone could ever imagine. The emotional experience I feel now is worse than anything I have ever in my life felt before. Being part of AC/DC, making records and performing for the millions of devoted fans this past 36 years has been my life's work. I cannot imagine going forward without being part of that, but for now I have no choice. The one thing for certain is that I will always be with AC/DC at every show in spirit, if not in person. Most importantly, I feel terrible having to disappoint the fans who bought tickets for the canceled shows and who have steadfastly supported me and AC/DC these many years."

This is pretty self-explanatory. With text and writing, it's hard to pick up on the tone sometimes when reading something. In this case, it's very clear that Brian is devastated.

"Words cannot express my deep gratitude and heartfelt thanks not just for the recent outpouring to me personally of kind words and good wishes, but also for the years of loyal support of AC/DC. My thanks also go to Angus and Cliff for their support."

Aww, we love you to Brian. But wait! Brian only thanks Angus Young and Cliff Williams for their support. Two things come to mind, the first being that Brian didn't mention Stevie Young or Chris Slade. However, Stevie and Chris have only been in the band for a year or so each since rejoining. The second thing that comes to mind is that Cliff might have a bigger role behind the scenes. However- until 2014, the two constant members of AC/DC were Malcolm and Angus. Almost 20 different people have been in the band. Aside from the Young brothers and Brian, Phil Rudd and Cliff have had the other longest tenures. With Malcolm and Phil no longer in the band, Brian is probably just being a gentleman and thanking Angus and Cliff for their 36 years together. This makes me think that Brian is no longer in the band. 

"Finally, I wish to assure our fans that I am not retiring. My doctors have told me that I can continue to record in studios and I intend to do that. For the moment, my entire focus is to continue medical treatment to improve my hearing. I am hoping that in time my hearing will improve and allow me to return to live concert performances. While the outcome is uncertain, my attitude is optimistic. Only time will tell.
Once again, my sincere best wishes and thanks to everyone for their support and understanding."
Okay, now I'm confused again: the guy isn't retiring and says he can still record in the studio. On top of that, he wants to go back and perform again. With AC/DC? If so, then how long will we have to wait? 

I've already shared my opinion about what I think AC/DC should do. In a nutshell, I think they should have a one-off concert with guest lead singers and Brian comes out at the end for a few songs. With that, the band can call it a day. However, I have a feeling that AC/DC will continue without Malcolm, Phil or Brian and instead with Angus, Stevie, Cliff and Chris. I highly doubt Axl will be a permanent member of the band. I'm also convinced that the band are going to continue because a report from Blabbermouth claims that Darren Caperna, singer for AC/DC tribute band Back in Black, was auditioned. With Caperna was guitarist Mike Mroz and according to Mroz, Angus told Mroz that Caperna had done a great job in his 21 song audition. Other reports say that the shows with Axl were "financially motivated." I'm thinking once these shows with Axl are complete, the band might consider taking Darren under their wing. 

Overall, I'm really surprised by the turn of events in the last two months or so. While people claim that Angus and Malcolm weren't nice to everybody, I'm still surprised. When Brian joined to take Bon's place, people weren't sure of what was going to happen. It turned out that Brian was the perfect choice and the band were able to continue. At this point, the band have been together for over 40 years. I don't see them going on for another 40. 

We'll just have to wait and see.  

Monday, April 18, 2016

Iggy Pop brings Post Pop Depression to Philly- April 15, 2016

If the deaths of Lemmy Kilmister and David Bowie showed us anything, it is this: we, as the listeners, should be thankful for who we have left. While our heroes are still around, we should take the time to treasure them not just for their music but for their character too. When it comes to Iggy Pop, he is no exception. The Michigan-born rocker, who will be 69 before the end of the month, is currently on tour in support of his latest album Post Pop Depression. On Friday April 15, Iggy performed at the Kimmel Center/Academy of Music. Even at his age, Iggy is an incredible performer and can still put on one hell of a show.  

            The show began a little after 9 pm, with a recording of chanting Native Americans playing on the speakers. The lights went out, the curtains opened and Iggy’s backing band went into “Lust for Life.” Iggy’s backing band, which features Queens of the Stone Age guitarist Josh Homme, were in fine form the entire night. Homme and the band all wore red and black 1950s styled jackets. About a minute later, Iggy Pop walked onto the stage to the rowdy cheers from the audience. Iggy, wearing a suit jacket and pants with no shirt underneath, jumped around as he sang the 1977 hit song. The band quickly went into “Sister Midnight” afterwards. Iggy’s baritone voice was in fine form throughout the song. When Iggy crooned the longer notes, there were small rounds of applause from the audience. Sooner or later, the jacket came off and remained off Iggy for the rest of the show. After the song, Iggy said hello to the audience. Holding his jacket on his back, Iggy talked to the audience.

“At this point in my life, I’m starting to ask questions,” he said to some laughs.

“One of my questions is this: for people who are brave, for people who are willing to fight- where is American Valhalla?”

            After some applause from the audience, the band went into “American Valhalla” from the new Post Pop Depression album. Iggy and the band ended up playing every song from the new album- with the exception of “Vulture.” When it comes to artists playing songs from their new album, it usually tells some people that it’s time to use the bathroom. However in this case, the audience stayed and seemed to enjoy the new songs. Some people seemed familiar with “Gardenia,” as it serves as the album’s lead single. Like “American Valhalla,” Iggy did a little stage rap for most of the new songs. Iggy moped about employment before going into “Sunday” while for “Chocolate Drops,” he talked about meeting Chuck Berry back in the 1960’s while on LSD.  It should also be noted that Post Pop Depression is a great album and fits in with his earlier work.

            Speaking of Iggy’s earlier work, there was plenty of it played at the show. Sadly, Iggy did not play any songs by the Stooges. Given the deaths of the Asheton brothers in 2009 and 2014, it seems that Iggy has decided to lay the Stooges name to rest. With the exception of “Repo Man,” the set list was devoted to only the songs from Iggy’s first two studio albums- The Idiot and Lust For Life- along with the aforementioned new Post Pop Depression album. Although Iggy didn’t play any of his other solo work, Iggy and his band performed the classic songs with a lot of heart and passion.  While performing, Iggy is amazingly ageless. While some might notice that the leathery skinned godfather of punk isn’t getting any younger, it doesn’t matter: Iggy still has it. The man can still perform. During some songs, Iggy had a child-like approach to performing the songs. Iggy tossed his half full water bottle into the audience during “Some Weird Sin, bravely attempted stage dives during “Fun Time” and stayed classy while singing the jazzy “Nightclubbing” as he sat on a stool. Iggy also left time for some audience participation during songs. When it came time to play “The Passenger,” Iggy led the audience in singing along to the “la la la” choruses. During “Fall in Love With Me,” Iggy managed to crowd surf his way into the audience. It was there he walked up to several lucky ladies and serenaded them with the song.  The show ended with “Success” from the Lust for Life album. Iggy jumped around some more until the show was over.

            Seeing Iggy Pop in concert was a great experience. It’s hard to believe that as he approaches his 70s, Iggy can still perform as if he were himself back in the day. He is a remarkable performer and fairly underrated singer. As he has hinted with Post Pop Depression, this tour might very well be Iggy Pop’s last tour. Seeing how the tour is focusing on his first two albums and his latest album, I can see it happening. If you can, try and catch Iggy Pop in concert while you still can.

1.      Lust for Life
2.      Sister Midnight
3.      American Valhalla
4.      Sixteen
5.      In the Lobby
6.      Some Weird Sin
7.      Funtime
8.      Tonight
9.      Sunday
10.  German Days
11.  Mass Production
12.  Nightclubbing
13.  Gardenia
14.  The Passenger
15.  China Girl

16.  Break into Your Heart
17.  Fall In Love With Me
18.  Repo Man
19.  Baby
20.  Chocolate Drops
21.  Paraguay

22.  Success

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Highway to Where?: AC/DC, Axl Rose and the future- A Reaction Post

Since almost every news source has reported on this already, I've decided to do something different and write a reaction/response article to this news. This article will be based on facts, as well as my own opinion.

After weeks of speculation, AC/DC confirmed Saturday night that Guns N Roses frontman Axl Rose will fill in for Brian Johnson as lead singer for the last ten dates of AC/DC's Rock Or Bust tour. Before the confirmation, the reaction online has been mixed to negative. I would like to share my opinion- but I will first discuss the history of AC/DC in terms of lead singers and the band's last few years.

Since their formation in 1973, AC/DC have had three different lead singers. Their first singer, Dave Evans, was their singer from December 1973 till September 1974. While he didn't ever record an album with them, Evans did record a single with them- the original version of "Can I Sit Next to You Girl." However, Evans wasn't what the band was looking for. Along with some tension between Evans and brothers Malcolm and Angus Young, Evans was too much of a pretty boy. Compared to the singers that would come after him, Evans could've passed off as a member of the Bay City Rollers. After Evans was fired, the band hired singer Bon Scott to replace him. Scott, who had already sung in bubblegummers the Valentines and even once rocked the recorder in Fraternity, was the perfect fit for AC/DC's high voltage rock n roll. On stage, Scott was vicious: the curly-haired singer would often come out decked out in denim. If he wasn't wearing a denim vest, he was shirtless- showing off his tattoos. Scott was indeed a character and was adored by AC/DC fans. With Scott, the band cranked out five studio albums (six if you go by the band's Australian discography). The last of those albums, Highway to Hell, was a big seller for the band and was slowly making the band into a mainstream rock act.

However on February 19, 1980, things came to a halt. After a long night of drinking, Bon Scott died from acute alcohol poisoning at the age of 33. While Scott was already known as a heavy drinker, it was nevertheless a tragedy for AC/DC. It seemed as if AC/DC were done as Scott was deemed irreplaceable. For a while, the band were left in limbo. After getting the blessing from Scott's family, AC/DC began their search for a new lead singer. Of the singers auditioned, former Geordie frontman Brian Johnson was given the job in April 1980. While Scott and Johnson both had high pitched vocals, Johnson's style of performing was slightly different: while Scott was a man on the prowl, Johnson was high fiving fans- sporting a badass newsboy cap. Rumor has it that Scott himself told the band at one point if he were to leave at any point, he wouldn't mind if Johnson took over for him.  In July 1980, Johnson's first album with the band Back In Black was released. A tribute album to Scott, Back in Black would sell in the millions. As of 2016, it is the second best selling album of all time- right behind Michael Jackson's Thriller. The doubters were proven wrong: AC/DC could go on without the late Bon Scott. While the band's popularity did slightly decline during the 1980s, Johnson stayed with the band the whole time. Johnson's dedication and devotion to AC/DC is enough to make a convincing argument that Johnson is the best frontman replacement of all time.

Beginning in 2014, AC/DC were seemingly cursed with bad luck. Sometime in April 2014, it was announced that co-founder and rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young had suffered from a stroke three weeks earlier. At the same time, rumors spread about the band calling it a day. While the band confirmed Malcolm's stroke, they denied the reports about them hanging it up. Reports later confirmed that Malcolm was suffering from dementia and was now being cared for in an assisted living center. With his illness, Malcolm was forced to retire. In September 2014, the band announced that Stevie Young- Malcolm and Angus' nephew- would take over for Malcolm. With that, the band also announced the release of a new studio album- Rock or Bust- which was released in December. A month before the album's release, longtime drummer Phil Rudd was arrested for attempting to procure a murder. While the charges were later dropped, Rudd still faced an "attempt to murder" charge and two drug possession charges. With Rudd and his legal troubles, the band asked Razor's Edge era drummer Chris Slade to replace Rudd. Slade first appearance with the band was at the 2015 Grammy Awards. With this line up (Brian, Angus, Stevie, Chris and bassist Cliff Williams), the band went on tour.

Last month, AC/DC surprised many when they announced they were postponing the ten remaining dates left in the Rock Or Bust tour due to Brian Johnson's deafness scare. More people were surprised that the band had also announced they would be looking for a guest lead singer for those last ten shows. Since last night (and even before then), the band have confirmed that Axl Rose will fill in for those shows.

Even before the rumors and later confirmation of Rose's involvement with the band, the response to this whole situation has been crazy. Having read through articles and comment sections, these seem to be the top responses,

1. First Malcolm, then Phil and now Brian. These guys need to hang it up.
2. Axl Rose? Ugh, he's an asshole and he can't even sing anymore.
3. Why can't they cancel the whole tour? Angus is a money-grubbing jerk for deciding to continue.

Of those three responses, I would lean more towards the first one- plus some additional thoughts. However, I would like to focus on the other two responses first.

It's no secret: Axl Rose is one of the most controversial figures in rock music. For many, he's seen as a great frontman and singer. However, there are those who think he's lost it a long time ago while others find it hard to like the man at all in the first place. It's easy to see why: the former members of Guns N Roses and other musicians have admitted to Rose not being the easiest person to work with. From his dictatorship approach as leader of GNR to his notoriety tardiness to his own shows, Axl Rose certainly not the easiest guy to like. For me, I don't mind the guy. While I will admit he has done and said some stupid shit over the years, the guy is an interesting character. Also, is it really all that surprising that his voice isn't what it use to be? The guy is getting older. As you get older, you might not be able to certain things the way you used to. Axl is no different from Paul Stanley or David Lee Roth: they're getting older and their voices are not what they used to be. For those who don't care for Mr. Rose, it should come as some relief that he is only a guest singer for AC/DC. It's very unlikely this will be a permanent gig for him since he's already busy with GNR. Personally, I don't think Axl's that bad of a choice. He could pull it off (at the time I'm type this, I have watched a video of GNR at Coachella last night with Angus and Axl sounds great).

As far as Angus goes, we don't know the whole story. How do we know for sure that the band really wanted to do these last ten shows? Perhaps they were contractually obligated. However, that seems unlikely as previous reports would disprove this. According to comedian Jim Breuer (who is good friends with Brian Johnson), he claims that Brian has been left in the dark. Apparently, the band have not contacted Brian since the news of his health scare was announced. It's as if they have fired him. The statement AC/DC sent to the press seems to have the same tone.

"AC/DC band members would like to thank Brian Johnson for his contributions and dedication to the band throughout the year. We wish him all the best with his hearing issues and future ventures."

I would think the band would ask him for his blessing. With it being the weekend, Brian could come out with a statement to that says otherwise. If Brian wasn't able to talk with the band about this and have a say in this, then that's not good. Those two sentences make it sound like Brian won't return to the band. Shouldn't  Brian have written a open letter to the fans?

Of the three arguments I listed, I have to side with the first one: with Malcolm's dementia, Phil's legal trouble and now Brian's hearing, I think AC/DC should call it a day. However, I don't think the split ends to be anti-climatic. For a band who have been together as long as AC/DC has, I think they deserve something special. I propose the idea of having a one off farewell show. With Brian's hearing problems, guest singers and musicians could join the current line-up of AC/DC on stage every couple of songs. Perhaps they could invite back Simon Wright or even Mark Evans to come up and play some songs with them. At the end of the show, Brian could come out and sing a few songs and that would be it. I think that would be a decent send off. AC/DC don't need to go on anymore. They've had a good run.

While I wish Mr. Rose the best of luck and look forward to see how these shows turn out, I think AC/DC need to go out on a high note while they're at it.