Burn Out, Or Fade Away?
I was sitting around listening to some Elliott Smith with the wife last night and, apropos of nothing, she turned around and asked me, “Elliott Smith, if he was still alive, would he suck?”
Good question. Would he? So many of our most revered musicians lived fast and died hard. Let’s do the list: Robert Johnson, Buddy Holly, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Mama Cass, Stevie Ray Vaughn, both Buckleys, Curt Cobain and the aforementioned Elliot Smith. We love their music, but we also love the music made by artists who emulated them. You could make the argument that a vast swath of our modern rock and roll and popular music is based, in some way or another, directly on the music of these dead artists.
So, when a question like, “Would __________ suck if he/she was still alive today” is a very tempting question. You start to think about the career that artist might have had, had he/she lived. What kind of influence would they have affected in the intervening years? Would that influence have been positive or negative?
Of course, the inverse of this is an equally interesting, if a bit grisly question, as well. What if _______________ had died earlier in his/her career? This would apply when discussing such former musical geniuses like Eric Clapton, Carlos Santana or Stevie Wonder. Imagine if Stevie Wonder died tragically right after Songs in the Key of Life. Or if Clapton had O.Ded right after recording Layla.
But, we’re focusing on those that actually did die. Time to enter the “pure speculation” zone and postulate what might have been. How about a nice, rounded-down list of five?
5. Buddy Holly
What Was- Holly was a huge star when that plane crashed over an Iowa cornfield over 50 years ago, (just one in a series of many examples backing up my “never go to Iowa” motto) and you have to believe that he’d only get bigger. He had already eschewed the heavy-handed control of the record producers of the day by arranging his own music and writing all of his own songs. He was the original DIYer.
What Could Have Been- I think Holly continues to capitalize on his success. His continued popularity leads to a tweaking of his sound and brings on the power pop era much, much earlier, which in turn leads to emo being popular in the 1970′s, instead of the late-90′s, saving us from the horrors of disco and new wave. He also could have joined Roy Orbison, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, etc, in The Traveling Wilburys, making them even more excellent than they were.
Final Verdict- Buddy Holly not dying would have been awesome.
4. Jimi Hendrix
What Was- Hendrix was a guitar god among guitar gods. Clapton, Jeff Beck and Townshend played second fiddle to him. He wasn’t afraid of branching out into other mediums, playing blues standards and even jamming with jazz musician Miles Davis. Both Axis: Bold As Love and Are You Experienced? are utter classics. He was an innovator who also used and respected earlier influences.
What Could Have Been- I think that, since Hendrix was such a chameleon musically, he fully falls into the trap of over-production and, yes, disco in the 70s. Some demo recordings with Bootsy Collins are the only redeeming thing that he did during that entire decade. The 80s were a similarly lost time for Jimi, as he dabbles in the keytar and cuts an album with Flock of Seagulls. But, in the 90s, he has a late-career resurgence, altering the course of grunge and making bands actually learn how to play their guitars before starting bands and increasing the quality of their heavy-handed screeds. He was born in Seattle, after all.
Final Verdict- Jimi Hendrix not dying is mixed. Two lost decades followed up by a major resurgence.
3. Jim Morrison
What Was- A certified genius, Morrison was also a certifiable psychotic. But, for a time, he made some damn good music with The Doors. Based in psychedelia, jazz and the blues, they plowed through the late-60s, racking up hit after hit, arrest after arrest, sloppy-drunk performance after sloppy-drunk performance. Morrison alone probably raised the stock of Jim Beam and Jack Daniels with his prodigious consumption. His music has continued to be appreciated by teenage stoners and middle-aged alcoholics everywhere.
What Could Have Been- If Morrison lived past that bathtub in France, he likely would have been committed to a mental institution at some point during the 70s. After being released, I think he falls into the Leonard Cohen/Tom Waits crowd and spends the later part of his career writing dense songs, becoming recognized as one of the greatest songwriters around. Later on, he winds down his musical career to do more spoken word engagements, subsequently ruining Henry Rollins’ post Black Flag career.
Final Verdict- Jim Morrison not dying is a critically-acclaimed success, even if it doesn’t sell a lot of records.
2. Kurt Cobain
What Was- Forming one of the seminal grunge bands in the late 80s, Cobain helped kill off hair bands with a messier, angrier version of the exact same thing The Pixies were doing years before. Nirvana was THE band in the early 90s, releasing two platinum albums and one epic live album (Unplugged in New York) and basically overshadowing every other grunge band during that period.
What Could Have Been- Cobain breaks up Nirvana in 1995, leading to many of the same kids who mourned his death to have something to do with their time. Meanwhile, Kurt uses the Unplugged in NY performance to springboard a drastic career switch to plaintive, acoustic-based songs, pre-empting Conor Oberst’s (Bright Eyes) claim to fame and causing even more kids in dorms across the country to play acoustic guitar in common areas. He never reaches the success that he had with Nirvana, but due to his better outlook on life and 1996 divorce from Courtney Love (who subsequently killed herself, much to the relief of everyone) he becomes a much more balanced person, raising Frances Bean by himself.
Final Verdict- Kurt Cobain not dying is a good thing, since it hastened the end of the grunge era and saved us all from the horrors of 7Mary3 and their ilk.
1. Elliott Smith
What Was- After an early career with hardcore band Heatmiser, Elliott strikes out on his own with haunting acoustic ballads. Despite critical acclaim and love from fans everywhere, Smith falls further into his drug abuse and commits suicide during the recording of his last album, From a Basement on a Hill. His death is mourned by artists and fans everywhere, leading to tribute albums (To: Elliott, From: Portland) and various demo releases.
What Could Have Been- If Elliott didn’t commit suicide by stabbing himself in the heart, he probably would have continued his musical progression towards a fuller, more Beatles-esque sound, much to the pleasure of music fans everywhere. Eventually, he decides to get clean and writes an album during his withdrawl that makes Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot sound like a Wiggles record.
Final Verdict- Elliott Smith not dying would have bettered the musical landscape, allowing the indie aesthetic to fully crossover into the mainstream, kicking Britney Spears and The Fray to the curb and halting American Idol in it’s tracks. Yay, Elliott!
Prepare for Slow, Floaty Death
I don’t mean to alarm anyone, but the jellyfish of the world are out to get us. Or, at least, they must be, because they’re spreading all over the oceans and now, somehow, they’ve rendered themselves immortal.
Yes, immortal. Just like vampires and cursed mummies and Dick Clark.
Shit your pants yet? Well, here’s a quote from the Telegraph.co.uk news site:
Marine biologists say the jellyfish numbers are rocketing because they need not die.
Dr Maria Miglietta of the Smithsonian Tropical Marine Institute said: “We are looking at a worldwide silent invasion.”
A “worldwide silent invasion.” In other words, we’re screwed. It’s only a matter of time before these immortal, undead, zombie jellyfish float into our rivers and streams and bring their slow, floaty death to all of us. We’re as good as dead.
The problem apparently arises out of this weird ability a certain type of jellyfish has where their cells go through “transdifferentiation.” This essentially means that, after becoming sexually mature, they revert back to their younger selves. So, not only are they going to cover the earth with their immortal brethren, but they’re going to have Hollywood clamoring to extract whatever it is that allows the jellyfish to revert back to their younger selves. Once the celebrities have the ability to transdifferentiate, we’ll be subjected to a whole new round of “Home Alone” movies and people like Jim Carrey and Martin Lawrence will never go away.
I don’t think that I can stand living in that kind of world. A world filled with slow, floaty, immortal jellyfish death and another Rocky movie or ten. We must declare war on the world’s oceans. We have to eradicate the immortal jellyfish by driving a stake through their jelly-filled hearts (do jellyfish have hearts?) and drive them back to that hellish abyss that they came from, in this case, the Caribbean Sea.
Hurry, there is no time to lose!!!
KHAAAAAAAAAAANNNN!!!! Is Dead. May He Rest in Peace…
Ricardo Montalban died today. He lived a long, full life, reaching a hearty 88 years on earth. He was in many movies (such as Star Trek II, where he played KHAAAAANNNN!!!), starred in Fantasy Island with the adorable little Tattoo, was a pitchman for Chrysler (where he used his considerable pipes and accent to make us all desire “Soft Corinthian Leather…”), and a dutiful husband who was married for 63 years.
But, in this blogger’s humble opinion, Montalban reached his peak with this 1975 Chrysler Cordoba commercial. Not only is it the famous “soft Corinthian leather” spot, but since it was made in the 70′s so it has a soundtrack that rivals any classic porn movie and the car has a tagline that is utterly laughable by today’s standards. See if you can catch it at the end:
Rest in Piece, from your admirers at Sodblog, Mr. Montalban.
Sod Thinks This Just Sucks
Apparently, actor Heath Ledger has decided to call it quits. Permanently. And we think that’s pretty shitty news.
Ledger was found by a masseuse and a housekeeper at a Manhattan apartment owned by Mary-Kate Olson, yes, that Mary-Kate Olson. Authorities say that they do not know why Mr. Ledger was in Ms. Olson’s apartment. The death was an apparent suicide, as Heath was found sprawled out on a bed, surrounded by bottles of pills. Heath Ledger was 28.
I think I speak for everyone here when I say that this just sucks. While not the most earth-shattering thing in the world, it’s still the death of someone that was loved by his friends and family, and for them, this is just plain shitty. So, while we brace ourselves for the inevitable TMZ retrospective, “Heath: We Wish We Had More Time to Stalk You,” we offer our sincere condolences to Heath’s friends and family for their very unfortunate loss.