Sunday, June 27, 2010

Behind the Music’s Comeback Featuring Courtney Love

My favorite show is back and I had no idea it was happening! Behind the Music is a television series on VH1 that originally ran from 1997 to 2006, before it was stopped and only aired new episodes sporadically. The show was resurrected on September 10, 2009 and aired profiles on Lil Wayne, T.I. and Pink. Each show focuses on a musician or musical group, documenting both the successes of the musicians and the problems they faced during their careers.

What I always liked about Behind the Music was getting the real story about musicians. The show humanized them regardless of whether or not being on the show was a P.R. move. Mostly the show was about bands or musicians who went through some serious tragedy and had some serious baggage. Whether it was drugs, alcohol, divorce or a fight with a label, these shows told the story. Some would say that Behind the Music glamorized the rock and roll lifestyle while others thought it was a window into the subject’s background.

The most recent episode of Behind the Music profiled Courtney Love who is the perfect candidate because she has had more ups and downs than one would think was possible. The two-hour episode talked about Love’s parents who were too into drugs to raise her, Love’s time as a stripper, her anger and rage that turned her on to rock and roll and of course her relationship with Kurt Cobain.

“I get shit because I’m the only woman left standing,” Love said.

Although Love’s out of control behavior has earned her the “crazy bitch” reputation over the years it’s possible that she is hated because people speculate that she killed Kurt Cobain or maybe it’s because she says exactly what she thinks or maybe it’s the fact that she always took copious amounts of drugs. There is no question that she has said, worn and done some insane things but there is also no question that she is talented. She is hated and loved because she can’t keep her mouth shut and was an addict for a long time.

During the show she said that she had so much rage and that it could only be controlled by rock and roll.

“My ambition is unwavering but I can be terribly self-destruction.”

For those of you reading this who hate Courtney Love (and I'm assuming that’s the general consensus) I am not writing about her to change your mind. She has done way too many things to get people to hate her with over the top comments and generally obnoxious demeanor. That being said, as someone who generally prefers male singers to female singers, her aggressive sound was always interesting to me. And she can play her guitar very well. Love is so angry and she uses music as her outlet so I can’t even imagine what kind of monster Courtney Love would be if she didn’t have rock and roll.

With all her turmoil Love also apparently had a lot of insecurities like her nose which she had done several times. I found it almost funny that she got nose jobs since it’s so stereotypically something that girls like Love would never do. She was also very self-conscious about becoming a famous musician and not being in anyone’s shadow. Her issues worsened due to a Vanity Fair article written about Kurt and Courtney questioning their drug addiction and ability to be good parents. The article also questioned if the couple was the next John and Yoko or the next Sid and Nancy.

Although Kurt and Courtney fought for custody of their daughter Frances, Cobain was more of a mess than anyone could have imagined. He overdosed several times, was in constant pain due to his stomach issues and battled with being so famous. That, coupled with his heroin addiction, led to his demise. On April 8, 1994 he committed suicide with a shotgun and contrary to popular opinion, Love was in an L.A. rehab center when she heard what happened.

Hole’s next album, eerily titled Live Through This, was a huge success which led to the media speculating that Love killed Cobain. Two months after Kurt died, Hole’s bassist overdosed on heroin. Soon after, Hole hit the road with a new bassist and, while on stage, Courtney would scream at the audience and act like a crazy person who should have been recovering not performing. The photos of her taken during that time are devastating.

When Love landed a role in The People vs. Larry Flynt and earned a Golden Globe nomination it looked as though she had cleaned up her act. Released in 1998, Hole’s Celebrity Skin went platinum and Love seemed to be back on top. In the early 2000’s she overdosed on oxycontin and lost custody of her daughter. History was repeating itself. On the 10th anniversary of Cobain’s death she hit another low and went to a psychiatric ward. Her 2004 solo album America’s Sweetheart was critically slammed and after coming inches away from facing prison time she finally got clean. In April of this year Hole released Nobody’s Daughter which has earned very positive reviews. Love said the album is for Frances who is now a beautiful teenager and looks so much like Cobain it’s scary.

Although these days going to rehab seems like par for the course for actors and musicians, for Love, who has been in and out more than a handful of times, rehab saved her life. She admits she made mistakes and that she is an addict. That being said, throughout her entire Behind the Music interview she was clear-eyed, well-spoken and emotional. True to form she also chain-smoked and cussed her way through the whole thing.

Whether or not you are a fan of Courtney Love (or Hole) she very much holds an important place in rock and roll history. The fact that this is the longest blog post I’ve ever written indicates (to me at least) that her ups and downs and relationship with arguably one of the most influential musicians ever makes her matter. She is a nightmare and a great musician all at once; she is interesting and a cliché at the same time. She is, whether we like it or not, rock and roll.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The King Of Pop: One Year Later

Tomorrow (June 25) will mark the one year anniversary of Michael Jackson’s death and I honestly can’t believe how fast time flies. It seems like it was last week that the Internet was flooded with the news that one of music’s greatest performers had left us. I remember going home and staring at the television for hours watching all the tributes and old videos on MTV and VH1. It was so great to see MJ back on those music channels but so sad that it was because he was gone.

June 25 is also my Dad’s birthday which is interesting since his photos of MJ are some of my favorites. I remember talking to my parents the day Jackson died and they told me a story about running into him and his brothers on Bourbon Street in New Orleans in the late seventies or early eighties. My Dad, always ready with his camera, took a photo of my Mom with MJ. My parents have countless great music stories but this one was one of their best for sure.

To commemorate MJ’s death there will be slew of specials honoring the man that gave us incredible dance moves, showed us that transforming from kid star to pop icon is possible and reminded us that fame comes at a price.

Here are a few of them in case you want to tune in:

CBS: The Early Show (Friday, June 25, 7-9:00 a.m.) The entire 8 a.m. hour, billed as “The King of Pop: One Year Later,” will see Harry Smith, Maggie Rodriguez, Julie Chen & Co. hosting a special tribute performance by James Morrison in London. Also on hand will be guests Christina Aguilera, Marc Anthony and Smokey Robinson, who will share what Michael Jackson’s music has meant to them.

CNN: Michael Jackson—The Final Days (Friday, June 25, 8-9 p.m.) CNN’s Don Lemon talks with Jermaine and Tito Jackson about their brother’s death and drug abuse. Also on hand is Jackson crony Dr. Deepak Chopra and famed choreographer Travis Payne, who shares details about working with Michael Jackson on preparations for his “This is It!” tour.

MTV: Michael Jackson’s Top 10 Video Countdown (Friday June 25, 5-6:30 p.m., Saturday June 26, 8-9:30 a.m.) MTV determines MJ’s Top 10 videos based on the number of views each has received on The special features running text commentary, Jackson’s VMA performances, and rare interviews he granted MTV.

MTV: Michael Jackson’s Influence on Music (Friday June 25, 6:30-7:30 p.m.) A compilation of videos featuring top music artists discussing Michael Jackson’s influence on their work.

TV Guide Network: Gone Too Soon (Friday, June 25, 9-11:00 p.m.) Ian Halperin, New York Times’ No. 1 bestselling author of Unmasked: The Final Years of Michael Jackson, spent five years researching Jackson and declared in December 2008 that the King of Pop had only six months to live. He was only off by one day. Halperin directs this documentary about the factors that he believes contributed to Jackson’s untimely death.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Why is Grease so good?

When you think of summer movies you might initially think of blockbuster flicks like Armageddon or Transformers, or maybe even Independence Day. But if you think really hard about the quintessential summer movie a little musical from 1978 called Grease might come to mind. Starring John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John, Stockard Channing and Jeff Conaway, Grease is a timeless story about two high school kids who fall for each other over the summer only to end up back at the same school without knowing it. Danny and Sandy fall into two completely crowds and the fun begins.

So why is this movie so adored by everyone who watches it? The story has all kinds of cheesy lines and it seems like people break into song every few seconds but it’s still a classic. Maybe it’s because the songs are actually good (although I always fast forward through “Hopelessly Devoted To You”) or maybe it’s because John Travolta is incredibly talented or maybe it’s the chemistry between Travolta and Newton-John that makes it so irresistible.

Apparently it’s not just a fan favorite because according to the critics, the movie was a hit. It received five Golden Globe Award nominations in 1979. It was the highest grossing movie of 1978 and the highest-grossing movie musical at the time, surpassing 1965's The Sound of Music.

The movie's soundtrack was a number one album in many different countries. The song “You're The One That I Want” was released as a single prior to the film's release and became an immediate chart-topper. Regardless of my thoughts on the song, “Hopelessly Devoted to You” was nominated for an Academy Award (1979) for Best Music - Original Song. The movie’s title song was also a number-one smash hit single for Frankie Valli.

Despite the critical acclaim I’m still trying to figure out what makes Grease so good. Maybe it’s because it’s relatable on many levels to all kinds of people. Those who grew up in the 1950s and the 1970s feel the nostalgia, people who love music can sing along to favorites like “Greased Lighting” and “Summer Nights,” and anyone who ever experienced high school knows how important cars, booze and your reputation are when your 18 and under.

This summer Grease is hitting theatres again and I think the masses will pay to see the movie that has held up over three decades. If it’s playing in your city or town I’d recommend going, especially if you have any old school drive-in theatres that are still functioning. During one scene in particular you might feel like you have a starring role.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Cover It Up

There are all kinds of opinions out there on whether or not cover songs help or destroy music. I’ve heard some people say they think it’s great to hear their favorite song done a different way and I’ve heard others say that covering a masterpiece is unforgiveable. Either way, covers provide a fresh take on a favorite song and I am always curious to hear what another artist brings to the table.

A few examples of covers that made a mark:

When Johnny Cash covered Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” legend has it that Petty told Cash that the covered version was better than the original.

The Beatles’ “Yesterday” is said to be the most covered song in history - by over 2,200 artists.

The Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses” has been covered by numerous artists from Tori Amos to Guns ‘N Roses.

“I Shot the Sheriff” is one of Bob Marley’s most famous songs but it became even more famous when Eric Clapton recorded a version that was included on his album, 461 Ocean Boulevard. It is the most successful version of the song, peaking at number one on the Billboard Hot 100. It is Clapton’s only chart-topping hit in the U.S.

The Beatles’ “Come Together” has been covered by some big names including Aerosmith and Tina Turner and most recently, American Idol runner-up Crystal Bowersox (who I predict is going to have an incredible career).

Melissa Etheridge and Joss Stone blew the roof of the 2005 Grammy Awards when they sang “Piece of My Heart.” The performance was Etheridge’s first appearance after her battle with breast cancer and she hit that high note like it was the last note she would ever sing. Although most people attribute “Piece of My Heart” to Janis Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company, it was originally written by Jerry Ragovoy and Bert Berns and originally recorded by Erma Franklin in 1967. However, the song became a hit when Joplin and Big Brother covered the song in 1968 on their album Cheap Thrills.

Joss Stone covered the White Stripes’ rockin’ “Fell In Love With A Girl” but made it her own with a soulful rendition called “Fell In Love With A Boy,” which became her breakout song.

Jimi Hendrix covered “All Along The Watchtower” in 1968 after receiving a tape of the original version written and recorded by Bob Dylan. Hendrix's finished version was released on the album Electric Ladyland and the single reached number 20 on the Billboard chart, which was his only top 40 entry on that chart. Because of the popularity of Hendrix’s version and the fact that two rock and roll giants recorded versions of the song I have witnessed many arguments over who sang it first.

When Sheryl Crow covered Guns ‘N Roses’ “Sweet Child of Mine” not everyone was pleased but everyone had to hear the song. Although I am a huge Sheryl Crow fan I am not a fan of her covering this song because like Robert Plant, Axl Rose is a voice that is extremely difficult to make your own.

Although Beyonce won critical acclaim when she played Etta James in the 2008 film Cadillac Records, James was not thrilled when Beyonce covered her song “At Last” at President Barack Obama's Inaugural Ball. While being interviewed James claimed she was going kick Beyonce’s ass. Real classy Etta!

Friday, June 11, 2010

I’m Too Old For The MTV Movie Awards

The MTV Movie Awards used to be a show that I looked forward to every year. I loved the good old days of Jim Carrey showing up looking and talking like Jim Morrison. I always got a kick out of MTV pairing up presenters who hated each other. It was also nice when the show was hosted by quality comedians like Chris Rock or Jimmy Fallon and when the ages of the people who were winning and presenting didn’t end in “teen.”

Sadly, I’m getting too old for MTV award shows but NO ONE was too old to watch the highlight of this year’s award show: Tom Cruise taking himself out of his comfort zone and out of his “Tom Cruise-ness” to play Les Grossman. It was comedic bliss. As a greedy, disgusting studio executive, Tom Cruise transformed himself into the funniest character I’ve seen in a LONG time. And then it got better: Tom Cruise shaking his money maker with Jennifer Lopez to a Ludacris song was priceless.

Ok, now for the rest of my comments in order of appearance:

-Twilight sucks, the cast sucks and they are possibly the most uncharismatic and awkwardly annoying trio in the history of movies. How does Kristen Stewart have a job? How is she popular? She can’t even accept an award without being awkward and obnoxious.
-“Best Scared As Sh*t Performance” is an award category? What??? I remember when “Best Kiss” was the provocative category.
-What was with the “live/previously recorded” nonsense always appearing onscreen? Who cares?
-Loved the basketball game style “Kiss Cam.”
-I want to hang out with Bradley Cooper.
-Someone please tell Russell Brand to stop talking.
-In her electric blue wig and spray tan, Katy Perry looked like Nutjob Barbie. Thank God Snoop Dogg was there to rescue the neon-colored atrocity that was her performance.
-I love that Betty White has suddenly become the go-to celeb guest.
-Sandra Bullock: All class all the time. Good to see that people of all ages realize it. And she called out Scarlett Johansson for being awkward…and….a….stage prop? And then they kissed. Weird.
-“Best WTF Moment” is a category? Wow….
-Loved watching Samuel L. Jackson bring back the Pulp Fiction biblical reference.
-If the audience wanted their WTF moment they got it when Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell were hanging from the ceiling complaining about why they were up there.
-What was that fringe outfit Shaun White had on? Please put a shirt on. Thanks.
-Christina Aguilera has such a huge voice; I just wish she found something else to sing about other than being a bionic woman. Also, the flashing heart on her crotch was a little much.
-Twilight won "Best Movie?" No!!! Those three remind me of the band that never wants to play the song that made them famous in the first place. They conduct themselves as if the audience is lucky to be in their presence. Make it stop!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Two Black Keys

Three years ago my friend Heidi told me she had a song I had to listen to by a band called The Black Keys. This is how the conversation went:

HB: Laura you have to hear this band. The lead singer kinda sounds like a younger Jimi Hendrix.
LL: Bullshit. No one sounds like Jimi Hendrix!
HB: Just listen to “Girl Is On My Mind” and “I’ll Be Your Man.”
LL: Fine.

Heidi could rest her case. When I first heard those two songs the lead singer/guitarist, Dan Auerbach, absolutely sounded like he could have been Jimi’s son and I was floored. When I did some research I found out that the incredible voice was coming from a skinny white guy from Ohio and that the incredible sound was coming from a music duo. I thought for sure that there was a full band making all that noise but I was wrong! The other half of The Black Keys is drummer/producer Patrick Carney, a tall, lanky, nerdy guy with big nerdy glasses which, again, was not what I was expecting.

Last week I saw The Black Keys live at the Fillmore along with what felt like everyone else in Denver since the show was completely sold out. Not bad for a band no one has ever heard of. Auerbach sang with more snarl than he knows what to do with and at one point I wondered how so much volume was coming from one guy. Then I looked to the left and saw Carney tearing it up on his drums like he’s John Bonham circa 1970. Carney seriously gave one of my favorite drummers I’ve seen live, Dave Grohl, a run for his money.

The Black Keys formed in 2001 and were active in the underground scene of Akron, Ohio. The band released their debut album, The Big Come Up, in early 2002. Along with their second album Thickfreakness, it was recorded entirely in Carney's basement on an 8-track tape recorder from the early 1980's. No question these guys are old school.

Even though The Black Keys’ have been bringing their bluesy rock sound for close to a decade it seems like every time I mention them people have no idea who I’m talking about. But that is quickly changing. They were recently featured in Rolling Stone and their songs have been used on television shows such as Entourage, Sons of Anarchy, Rescue Me and Gossip Girl, among others, and in movies such as Black Snake Moan and RocknRolla, just to name a few.

So the question is this: If The Black Keys are all over the pop culture radar then how come no one knows about them? Do yourself a favor and download a couple songs and see what you think. Start with these: “I’ll Be Your Man,” “Girl Is On My Mind,” “Tighten Up” and “Howlin For You.” I’m pretty sure you won’t be disappointed.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Royal Pains: The MacGyver Of Medical Shows

When young emergency room doctor Hank Lawson (Mark Feuerstein) is fired after being wrongly blamed for a high profile patient’s death he goes to the Hamptons to party with his CPA brother Evan (Paulo Costanzo) where he ends up saving a girl’s life. Word gets around that Hanks is a “concierge doctor” and with the help of Evan and Physician Assistant Divya (Reshma Shetty), Hank Med is born.

Although Hank is reluctant to become the doctor-for-hire for the rich and famous, he finds himself in high demand. Whether it’s a crazy middle aged woman with more plastic parts than natural parts, a teenage kid who drives a Ferrari or a grizzled fisherman, Hank helps everyone and has no choice but to make wherever they are into a hospital room.

Royal Pains is the medical show that could with some MacGyver-like tendencies. Hank is calm, smart, quick and on his game and checks his arrogance at the door. He is kind without being annoying and clever in more ways than one. Since he sees all his patients outside of a hospital he uses whatever he can to fix the problem. Examples include using rubber cement to fix a motorcycle accident wound or using a mirrored serving platter to detect which members of a family have the correct blood type for a transfusion. His clients are people who are willing to pay big bucks to protect their privacy; they will do whatever it takes to keep their medical issues under wraps.

While Royal Pains is on the small, underdog USA Network it is in rather good company with other popular shows like Burn Notice, In Plain Sight and Psych, among others. It’s also nice to see a show that is set somewhere other than NYC or LA where the main characters aren’t the rich people, they help the rich people. As local hospital administrator and Hank’s love interest Jill Casey (Jill Flint) says, Hank is the Robin Hood of medicine.

But Robin Hood can’t do it alone and Evan and Divya are two very intelligent and very witty sidekicks who provide smart dialogue and irresistible chemistry. Each member of the Hank Med trio does their part in making sure that their grassroots company succeeds in one of the most specialized and high-end markets in the country. And it works.

Since the Hamptons is clearly a summer getaway spot it makes sense that USA has made Royal Pains a summer show. Although summer shows are sometimes viewed as the ones that can’t hack it during the prime time TV season, this show proves that theory wrong. Unlike House where episodes can sometimes feel redundant, Royal Pains switches it up by bringing in sub-characters in and out of episodes which makes it more interesting. My favorite sub-character is Tucker Bryant, a 16-year-old who is way beyond his years, has several Ferraris at his disposal and has a billionaire addict father (badass Andrew McCarthy who looks as though the 80s could have been yesterday) who is hardly around. Hank and Tucker bond over their absentee fathers while still maintaining clever dialogue along with the always welcomed Top Gun references.

Favorite Tucker line: "Dude don't punk the Crackberry or she'll light your ass up like a Christmas tree." (Warning Hank not to make fun of Pinkberry frozen yogurt in the presence of his girlfriend).

The second season of Royal Pains debuts tonight and if the show’s sophomore season is as good as its first then we are in for one hell of a summer.