Thursday, June 23, 2016

The X-Files: Event Series - How do the extras measure up?

Review of the DVD extras on The X-Files: Event Series, Season 10

Now we are here, now we have arrived at not only having seen the new series episodes in Jan and Feb, but now having the release of the Blu Ray and DVD release of the Event Series, Season 10. The following is to not access the merit of the episodes, there’s plenty of time to do so, but to access how the extra’s content measures up. There has been a legacy with the previous media releases, from the VHS cassettes, onward to the DVD and the High Def Blu Ray releases, to this release. There’s much to have to measure up to for those who want to learn about every aspect of the series, and this was always going to be a tall order, but fortunately it seems to measure up well.

Let’s address the most pressing points first.

Deleted Scenes – There has been a lot of consternation by many fans over what felt like what was missing from aspects of the episodes, especially the two mythology episodes, there were fans who felt like some details were rushed, or glossed over, and considering the network time limits of what can air in the space of an hour, or more accurately 43 minutes, there’s only so much that can be done. The Deleted Scenes only cover two episodes, a sequence from “My Struggle” that features the old man’s daughter. We learn what happened to the old man, and just how much danger Mulder and his circle are facing. The other episode features en extended take on Mulder’s hoe down dance from “Babylon”, this isn’t really essential viewing, but features a few extra glimpses of ‘cowboy Skinner’, and the ‘cowboy lone gunmen’. It will depend on one’s feelings about the fan aspects of the sequence.

43:45 – The Making of a Struggle: This is an exhaustive breakdown of the development and production of “My Struggle”, including the event screenings at Comic Con, and Los Angeles. This much more comprehensive than I expected. How does it measure up to the documentaries that were featured on the prior DVD / Blu Ray, seasonal box set collections? Pretty well. What you get is a more interactive documentation of the production, with a greater sense of the play that occurred on the set. The title is in reference to the network requirement for broadcast length. When you consider that the original DVD sets started up in 2000, and offered a lot of after the fact, recollective segments about the prior seasons. What separates the new documentaries is the new ‘in-the-moment’ coverage from pre production, to shooting and crowd management, and post production. The production values for the interview segments are quite high. The comprehensive aspect also seems to be about demystifying the creative process. It’s hard to really say, nor presume, that the efforts of The X-Files Lexicon, or X-Files News to cover every aspect of the series had an influence on this comprehensive focus.

Season X – These long segments cover the rest of the series episodes, and offers more in depth background that led to FOX’s interest in producing more. These are structured longer than the ‘behind the series’ features that could be found on the original series DVD or Blu Rays. Once again, the production values for the interview segments are quite high. The menu segments are as follows “A 13 Year Commercial Break ,Getting The Band Back Together, Platonic Activity, Art Comes to Life, The Little-Uber Scullys, Man Bites Lizard, The Meta-Files, Homegrown Terror, Mulder’s Wild Ride, Signal To Noise, The Last Temptation of Mulder and Scully, Scully Likes Science, This Is The End.”

Gag Reel – There’s been a long tradition of X-Philes sharing the previous production crew Gag or Blooper reels on-line. The producers of the extras must of realized this to include this new Gag reel from Season 10. It reinforces just how relaxed the cast and crew looked during the bulk of the production from the summer of 2015.

Monsters of the Week - The Wildest and Scariest from the Original Series – There’s nine selections from each season and this is hilariously hosted by Kumail Nanjiani. Those selections include – “Squeeze, The Host, Pusher, Home, Folie A Deux, Field Trip, Orison, Roadrunners, Sunshine Days.” The choices seem to be Kumail’s personal view, he acknowledges the ton of episodes not highlighted. It’s a fun little segment.

The X-Files: Green Production – This acts as a short PSA about how the production was green conservation conscious during all aspects, from the offices, to the set construction, and props. Actually, A similar segment appeared on the “I Want To Believe” feature extras in 2008.

Grace – This is a short film by Karen Nielsen, the Script supervisor during the new season. The selection is apt as the story does have the flavor of an X-Files, or Millennium episode. A small percentage of people who worked on The X-Files were involved with this.

The audio commentaries hold up well, in comparison to the tradition of past commentaries. The Commentaries for “Founder’s Mutation” and “My Struggle II” are comprehensive. The commentary for “Mulder and Scully Meet The Were-Monster” is far more looser. The “Founder’s Mutation” commentary features James Wong and Chris Carter. The commentary for “My Struggle II” features Chris Carter and Producer / Director of Development at 1013 Gabe Rotter. The “Mulder and Scully Meet The Were-Monster” commentary is the most generous featuring both David Duchvony and Gillian Anderson, and Darin Morgan and Kumail Nanjiani, the humor is a lot of relaxed. I suspect the Duchvony and Anderson comments, and Morgan / Nanjiani comments were recorded separately.

The entire three disc package is generous, while it doesn’t include the kind of menu booklets that were found in the 2000-2002 DVD reissues, nor has the kind of inserts like the “Threads of the Mythology” foldout booklets, it does have some deep content, thanks to the documentaries from Julie Ng. As of this writing, word came back it just won a Saturn Award for best DVD / BD TV set. The extras are worth looking into.

Promotion images courtesy of FOX home entertainment.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

In memoriam 2016, part 2

(The following reflects the views of the webmaster and not the entire XFL staff.)

The previous piece ran so long, we wanted to continue with other important figures who passed on:

Honorable Mentions

Glenn Frey (November 1948 – January 2016)

Glenn Frey was the co-founder of The Eagles, one of the most vilified and yet beloved bands of the 70s. He sang lead vocals on "Take It Easy, Peaceful Easy Feeling, Tequila Sunrise, Already Gone, Lyin’ Eyes, New Kid In Town" and "Heartache Tonight". The Eagles started in 1970 as a backup unit for Linda Ronstadt. Born in Michigan, he became part of Detroit’s rock scene of the 1960s, and played on Bob Seger’s "Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man" in 1968 before moving to Los Angeles in 1969. The Eagles were signed to Asylum Records in 1971, and released their first album in 1972, followed by Desperado in 1973, On The Border in 1974, One of These Nights in 1975, Hotel California in 1976, and The Long Run in 1979. The Eagles were never really the worst band; they were mostly guilty of producing impeccable tracks that were middle of the road to most critical tastes. Frey started his solo career in 1982 with No Fun Aloud with the single "The One You Love". In 1984 he followed it with The Allnighter, with the "Sexy Girl" single, and the bigger "Smuggler’s Blues", which inspired a Miami Vice episode he co-starred in. He wrote "The Heat Is On" for Beverly Hills Cop, and "You Belong To The City" for Miami Vice. He released three other solo records, 1988’s Soul Searchin’, 1992’s Strange Weather and 2012’s After Hours. The Eagles reformed in 1994, toured, and put out Hell Freezes Over, a mix of live tracks and studio cuts including "Get Over It", a tirade against political correctness. Their album Long Road Out of Eden was primarily released via their website in 2007. While Don Henley was the more celebrated and incisive writer of the two, and while Frey might not have been a groundbreaker, he did have the knack of crafting a good pop tune.

Sir George Martin (Jan 1923 – March 2016)

Almost every record producer wanted to emulate George Martin, but few have ever matched him. Sir George seemed to define what being a rock record producer meant and demonstrated it with true meaning, which was to draw the best performance out of an artist, whoever it was. The tag of being the ‘fifth Beatle’ had some merit, though many others, such as Stu Sutcliffe, Derek Taylor, Neil Aspinall and particularly Brian Epstein could lay claim to that title. In the studio he was sober, even-handed most of the time, and flexible. He didn’t discover The Beatles, but was open enough to see their potential to his great credit. As a child Martin developed an early interest and ability with music. Aged 17, in 1943, he joined the Fleet Air Aim of the Royal Navy and became an aerial observer and commissioned officer. Using his veterans’ grant, he attended the Guildhall School of Music and Drama from 1947 to 1950. In 1948 he married his wife Sheena Chisholm, whom he had two children with, and was hired at EMI in 1950. He married his second wife Judy in 1966, having two children with her also He started recording comedy albums with Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan and making classical recordings after becoming of head of Parlophone in 1955. Martin was approached through channels to consider signing The Beatles in February 1962. He found their Decca recording demos not very promising, but liked Lennon and McCartney’s vocals. He wasn’t initially impressed with their originals nor cover selections, but was more impressed with their personal charm; after Ringo Starr replaced Pete Best (at his suggestion), their original writing rapidly evolved at an astonishing rate, and once they had their first number one with "Please Please Me" they never looked back. Martin’s classical background and arrangement skills helped the band to broaden their palette from 1965 onwards. In 1979 Martin created Air Studios in the Caribbean city of Montserrat and countless artists such as Elton John, Eric Clapton, Dire Straits, The Police and Stevie Wonder recorded there. The studio closed in 1989 after much of the island was destroyed by Hurricane Hugo, but his UK studio, also called Air, is still maintained, and remains one of the largest scoring facilities for soundtracks.

After the Beatles breakup in 1970, Martin could have retired and rested on his laurels, but he carried on and produced countless bands and artists, working with America from 1974 to 1979, and recording two of Jeff Beck’s best instrumental albums Blow By Blow in 1975 and Wired in 1976. He also produced Mahavishnu Orchestra’s Apocalypse album. He produced heavier acts like U.F.O’s 1980 album No Place To Run, and Cheap Trick’s unexpectedly experimental All Shook Up in 1980. He supervised the music selections for the Beatles Anthology in 1994-1995. I have always argued that George Martin was more adept as an orchestral arranger and composer than he was given credit for. The orchestral score for Yellow Submarine (1968) has some hugely inventive moments. Martin did a second score when he worked with Paul McCartney on the theme for the James Bond film Live and Let Die in 1973, which he also wrote the score to alongside some nice embellishments to the Monty Norman theme. Martin was also involved with Elton John’s re-recording of "Candle In The Wind" (the biggest selling single of all time) in 1997 following the death of Princess Diana. He helmed a retirement album in 1998 called In My Life with various artists.

Paul Kantner (March 1941 – January 2016)

Let me start by adding that I have an indirect connection to Paul Kantner, and while his life may not have had a great personal impact, I recognized his importance to the field of rock n’ roll. At the end of the eighties and early nineties I attended Marin Community College around the time that China Kantner, his daughter with Grace Slick, was still attending classes there. Also, back when my mother was a manicurist, she once did Grace Slick’s nails. Kantner was a native of San Francisco, unlike many musician transplants who ended up moving there in the mid 60s. After his mother passed when he was eight, Kantner spent his childhood at a Catholic boarding school, and was an avid reader of science fiction. Once he got into music, he wanted to be a protest folk singer in the mould of Pete Seeger. When Marty Balin came across Paul at a folk gig, he invited Kantner to join his band Jefferson Airplane, and Kantner had a hand in bringing in guitarist Jorma Kaukonen in around 1965. During his time in Jefferson Airplane he wrote "The Ballad of You and Me and Pooneil, Watch Her Ride, Crown of Creation", and co-wrote with Balin "Volunteers". In 1970 Kantner recorded the science fiction themed album Blows Against The Empire under the banner of Paul Kantner and Jefferson Starship. Kantner and Grace had become a couple by then and their daughter China was born in 1971. After numerous personal changes, Balin reappeared in 1975 to give them a huge hit with "Miracles", the band changed course, Jefferson Starship were retooled with Mickey Thomas and guitarist/songwriter Craig Chaquico, and had a string of hits like "Jane, Find Your Way Back, Winds of Change, No Way Out" and "Layin’ It On The Line". They able to compete with Bay Area acts like Journey for a spell, while Kantner would continue to contribute his idiosyncratic songs. He left after 1984’s Nuclear Furniture and the band had to change their name to Jefferson Starship due to Kantner’s legal action but in 1989 Jefferson Airplane did a reunion album and tour. Kantner continued solo projects, and toured under the Jefferson Starship banner with a new circle of players. He helped define the social activism of the 60s, and sincerely held the belief that music could socially change things.

Keith Emerson (November 1944 – March 2016)

For some, Keith Emerson was a polarizing figure in the field of progressive rock. It all depended on if you felt virtuoso playing distanced the listener from the emotion of a rock arrangement or not. But little could be argued that Emerson was a groundbreaker in helping to change the evolution of the synthesizer from a strictly studio recording instrument to a working touring instrument and, like Jon Lord from Deep Purple, used stage dynamics and theatrics to excite the audience by not having the keyboard remain a static instrument. Emerson was born in Todmorden, Yorkshire, and grew up in Worthing, West Sussex. As a child, he didn’t own a record player, but used jazz sheet music from Dave Brubeck and George Shearing and learned jazz piano from books. While he studied Beethoven, he could also play Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis songs, which helped him to avoid getting bullied. After becoming adept on Hammond organ, he formed The Nice in 1967, before discovering the Moog synthesizer. He formed Emerson, Lake & Palmer in 1970, and pieces like "The Barbarian" and "Knife-Edge" were based on Bartok and Janacek pieces. The bulk of the "Tarkus" track on their second album was composed by Emerson. The live EP Pictures at an Exhibition was based on a Mussorgsky suite. The band’s third album Trilogy featured such Emerson compositions as "Fugue" and "Abaddon’s Bolero". Brain Salad Surgery in 1973 was their most successful album with Emerson compositions such as "Karn Evil 9: Second Impression". A triple live album was released in 1974. Some classical scholars complained that he didn’t write his own classical compositions so he answered them on the 1976 double Works: Volume 1 album, with a piano concerto; that album also featured their rock arrangement of Aaron Copeland’s "Fanfare for the Common Man". The more condensed Works, Volume 2 in 1977 featured such compositions as "Barrelhouse Shake Down" but after Love Beach in 1978 the band fell apart. In the eighties Emerson recorded several solo projects and soundtracks. He formed the brief Emerson, Lake & Powell in 1985. At the start of the 1990s, the band saw a resurgence of interest and the album Black Moon was released in 1992 with cuts such as "Changing States, Close to Home" and Prokofiev’s "Dance of the Knights" from 'Romeo & Juliet', followed by In The Hot Seat in 1994. As the 2000s progressed, Keith formed his own band and collaborated with classical figures like Takashi Yoshimatsu, with classical players like Jeffrey Biegel performing "Piano Concerto 1". Emerson also enjoyed flying and secured his pilot’s license in 1972. Health problems had started to limit his abilities and, suffering from depression, he took his own life in Santa Monica. He will be remembered for exposing many rock fans to classical pieces they might not have held an interest in. A tribute concert is pending.

Alan Rickman (February 1946 – January 2016)

Alan Rickman became one of the most respected stage and screen actors of his generation, due to his distinct voice and sardonic persona. He could play a charming heavy, but he was a much more layered actor than that. In film franchises populated with impeccable castings, his work on the Harry Potter films alone as the teacher nemesis Severus Snape might have been one of the most perfect possible. Born in Acton, London to a working class family, his father Bernard died when he was eight. As a youth he was adept at calligraphy and watercolors, attended the Chelsea College of Art and Design, and then the Royal College of Art. He considered becoming a graphic designer, but auditioned for and then attended the legendary acting school RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Art) from 1972 to 1974. He worked with British repertory and experimental theatre, securing his first theatre lead role in 1985 with "Les Liaisons Dangereuses". He appeared in several BBC Shakespeare productions before he got his first notable attention for playing Hans Gruber in Die Hard (1988). He followed this by playing the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991). He also appeared in Sense and Sensibility (1995) and Michael Collins (1996). He appeared in Kevin Smith’s Dogma in 1999 playing a representative of God as well as appearing in the fan-beloved Galaxy Quest as Alexander Dane/Dr Lazarus. He started playing Severus Snape in Harry Potter & The Philosopher’s Stone (2001) and would continue to do so for seven more films. In 2005 he played the voice of Marvin, the Manic Depressive Robot in Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. In 2007, He appeared in Tim Burton’s version of the musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street as Judge Turin. He soon followed this by playing the voice of Absolem in Burton’s Alice In Wonderland (2010). He appeared in Lee Daniels’ The Butler in 2013, playing, somewhat bizarrely, but as ever brilliantly, Ronald Reagan. His final two films were Eye in the Sky and Alice Through The Looking Glass; both released this year. There’s a story that when Rickman first played the role of Severus Snape, before the third film, J.K. Rowling took him aside and shared the secret of Snape’s relationship to Lily Potter. Later, Snape’s heroic dedication was poignant when the character died in film eight, The Deathly Hallows Part 2. Rickman was able to embody great understanding in even the most unlikable character. His passing was overlooked somewhat, coming only four days after Bowie, but he will be hugely missed.

And lastly....

Muhammad Ali (January 1942- June 2016)

For most of my life, Muhammad Ali has been an icon that I recognized, but also someone who was in decline due to Parkinson’s Disease since 1984. Due to that situation, he hasn’t had much of a personal impact on me, but it has been hard to ignore that fact he has been one of the most celebrated and significant sports figures of the 20th, and as much as I have never been much of a follower of Boxing, he was to be admired. There was a lot to admire about the man, he held an honesty that was rare, his verbal skills, and verbal jousting could not be matched by any other athlete. He was born Cassius Clay and raised in Lousiville, Kentucky. At 18, he won the Light Heavyweight gold metal in the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome.  At 22, He beat Sonny Liston in the 1964 upset of WBA and WBC heavyweight championships, he had already converted to Islam by the time he changed his name to Muhammad Ali during that year. But he would remain an inspiring and polarizing figure. He won significant titles in 1964, 1974, and 1978. He was the only boxer to be named in The Ring magazine Fighter of the Year five times, and Sportsman of the Century by Sports Illustrated. By 1966, he triggered controversy by refusing to be conscripted in the U.S. Military, due to his religious beliefs and his opposition to the Viet Nam war. Nevertheless, he was given the nickname of “The Greatest”. His trash talking, a free style rhyme scheme, and spoken word poetry was so musical, he worked in acting, and music as well, and his style anticipated elements of Hip Hop and Rap. As a Muslim, he initially was affiliated with Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam (NIO), but disavowed it and converted to Sunni Islam, and devoted his life to religious and charitable work after he retired in 1981. His conscientious objector stance made him a counterculture icon with the 60s youth. Even some of Ali’s fights would inspire Sylvester Stallone to write Rocky. He is ranked alongside Joe Louis as the top all time greatest Boxer. But for many, it was his humanity in later years, and generous nature, that made him all the more a marvel, he will be missed.

Special thanks to Liz Tray for editorial assistance.

Friday, June 3, 2016

In memoriam 2016, part 1

(The following are the personal views of the webmaster, and doesn't reflect the views of the XFL staff.)

We haven’t really addressed a wave of major deaths at the start of 2016. This pattern has become so disturbing and distressing that for anyone who believed in the notion of a higher power it would be hard not to argue that the cosmos is resetting everything, and that we are losing our greatest icons and heroes at an alarming rate. If God does exist, is he nudging us to step up and become our own heroes? I don’t have an answer for that, but we need to address the meaning of these people’s passing, and apply some understanding. I sensed that was a major shift brewing after the death of Robin Williams in 2014. Then came the death of Leonard Nimoy in 2015, another passing we noted, but we never addressed the passing of actor Christopher Lee in June of 2015. Certain deaths are expected once an actor reaches a certain age, and come as less of a surprise. But when others pass on at a younger age, and when those figures have been such a vibrant force in their fields, it is unnerving as it throws off our continuity with the world, and our sense that ‘things are normal’. This wave of death doesn’t just extend to celebrities, but I have experienced two personal losses that have left their impact on me. One was a black actor who I knew in passing named WM Hunter, a man who was very charming, and aspired to go further with his career. The other was an old high school friend named Chris Gariffo, who had a great impact on all who knew him. He was an avid fisherman, businessman, and expert in a range of fields, from jazz music, to geography and geology, sports, married but with no children, and who acted as a uncle, surrogate uncle or godfather to a number of children. No one is really safe from the grip of time and mortality, and we must learn to make the most of our lives. As much as we don’t know celebrities, they act as markers, or benchmarks for our own time here. I want to go back to Christopher Lee before I go forward.

Christopher Lee (May 1922 – June 2015)

Christopher Lee was a true icon of my childhood, and as an actor he was involved in a number of classic and iconic films, and some not so great films. He was known for his feral performance as Dracula in the Hammer Horror films of the late 50s, 60s and 70s and for playing Scaramanga in the Bond film The Man With The Golden Gun (1974). Lee was a lifelong Tolkien expert and played Saruman in Peter Jackson’s Lord of The Rings trilogy, as well as the Hobbit films, and Count Dooku in two of the Star Wars prequels. But he also appeared in the highly acclaimed horror drama The Wicker Man. The son of Countess Marie Carandini De Sarzano and Lieutenant Colonel Geoffrey Trollope Lee, he was an ancestor of Robert E. Lee. He came from a great lineage, was a cousin to Bond writer Ian Fleming, and had met J.R.R. Tolkien as a child. But his history was even more interesting than some might assume. Lee also served in World War II as a British officer in various guises and worked in British intelligence. Lee’s acting career began in the late 40s, appearing in un-credited roles in Lawrence Olivier’s Hamlet and Quo Vadis before his star turn as the creature in the Hammer films adaptation of The Curse of Frankenstein in 1957, which was soon followed by his turn as the count in Dracula (1958). Lee followed this with The Mummy (1959), and played off of Peter Cushing’s Sherlock Holmes as Henry Baskerville in The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959). Lee came back to the role of Dracula to Hammer films under protest for Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1965), and would continue to appear under protest in more: Dracula Has Risen From The Grave (1968), Taste the Blood of Dracula (1969) Scars of Dracula (1970), and the modern takes on the series with Dracula 72 A.D. (1972), and The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973).

He also appeared for Hammer in The Devil Rides Out (1967) and Rasputin, The Mad Monk (1966).

Lee also appeared in the early sixties in a number of European films, notably those by Antonio Margheriti, and several Mario Bava films, Hercules In The Haunted World (1961) and The Whip And The Body (1963) with Daliah Lavi, which we’ve discussed before here. At the start of the 70s he appeared in the iconic The Wicker Man in 1973, written by Anthony Shaffer, the brother of Peter Shaffer (of Equus and Amadeus fame). Lee played Lord Summerisle, the leader of a small island village that harbors a dark secret, the practice of fundamentalist Paganism, while a British inspector played by Edward Woodward searches for a missing girl. The Inspector suffers from his own fundamentalist Christianity, and the extremes by both sides become the real horror of the piece. Aside from Lee’s Bond outing, he also appeared in a notable Space: 1999 episode from season one, "Earthbound". Lee also could appear in some really awful films, of note would be Starship Invasions, and End Of The World. He appeared in Spielberg’s 1941 as a Nazi commander. He carried on in the 80s and 90s, and started a real comeback by appearing in a number of Tim Burton pictures, starting in 1999 with Sleepy Hollow, followed by The Corpse Bride, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, one of the voices in Alice In Wonderland, and Dark Shadows. He worked with Scorsese on Hugo and appeared in The Golden Compass. He was married and had a daughter, and held an interest in both heavy metal and Italian opera, producing two metal-based concept records. It was largely due to Lee’s imposing height (6 ft 5in), and aristocratic demeanor that he could project charm with a dark quality. Christopher Lee was a complex man who led a robust life.

But we now must discuss the new wave of deaths, as Christopher Lee’s should have been an imposing omen of what would come next. The passing of David Bowie and Prince would have been unthinkable a few years earlier, so let’s review in the most current order.

Prince (June 1958 – April 2016)

My first real exposure to Prince happened in junior high school once I heard his 1999 album in late 1982. It was bold and shocking in many respects, the varied, yet bold dance workouts which encompassed a range of musical styles and evocative portraits. While he credited his band, The Revolution, he handled the bulk of the playing and he was a dynamo of a player in every respect. Aside from his incredible range as a vocalist, you knew he was someone special from the outset. Prince pushed to star in a film, and when Purple Rain was released in 1984, the film, soundtrack and tour were juggernauts. While it might not have been a great movie, it acted as a showcase for the songs, and the soundtrack took Prince to a new level. At that point, he had already become a kingmaker, helping to launch the careers of Morris Day and The Time and Vanity, and writing countless hits for other artists.

Prince Rogers Nelson grew up in Minneapolis, the son of Mattie Della and John Lewis Nelson, both musicians. He developed a mastery of various instruments at an early age and signed with Warner Brothers Records at 19, after recording a demo in 1976, and set about playing and producing everything himself.

For You was released in 1978 and had a moderate hit in "Soft and Wet". His second album was released in 1979, simply titled Prince, and included "I Wanna Be Your Lover" and "I Feel For You", later made hugely famous by Chaka Khan. He had found a place in the R&B market place, but pushed for more. Prince allowed himself to be influenced by new wave and rock, and his next record Dirty Mind was a audacious change in style and content, with such tracks as "Head", and the post-pop-punk of "When You Were Mine", which Cyndi Lauper would eventually cover. Controversy followed in 1981, and in addition to the single helped to refine the Minneapolis sound. He helped launched The Time around this period, and his female protégé Vanity, who sadly also passed this February. His fifth album, the double 1999, was his breakthrough with such mainstays as the title track, "Little Red Corvette" and "Delirious", with "Let’s Pretend We’re Married" covered by Tina Turner as a B-side. His Purple Rain soundtrack pushed him commercially into the stratosphere with singles like "When Doves Cry, Let’s Go Crazy, I Would Die 4 U" and "Take Me With U" and the title track. Prince followed it with a bold psychedelic pop album, Around The World In A Day, with "Raspberry Beret" another huge hit, as well as "Pop Life". Prince tackled his second film, this time directing it, Under the Cherry Moon, to more mixed results, but its soundtrack Parade featured a massive hit with "Kiss" and singles such as "Mountains" and "Girls & Boys", not to mention the gorgeous "Sometimes It Snows In April", which has been much played following his passing.

Prince soon disbanded The Revolution and headed off in new directions. Sign o’ the Times was his second double album, where Sheila E and Eric Leeds took on a bigger role. "U Got The Look" was a big hit, a duet with Sheena Easton, and aside from the title track other hits followed, like "If I Was Your Girlfriend", the great "I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man", and "Adore". After attempting to put out The Black Album in 1988 and being prevented by his label, Prince followed up with Lovesexy, which contained the masterful hit, "Alphabet Street", also featuring "Glam Slam" and "When 2 Are In Love". Right when Prince’s commercial appeal seemed like it was starting to wane, he embarked on a crossover project that was unprecedented, a rock score to Tim Burton’s Batman film in 1989 (Not the Danny Elfman Orchestral score). Several of the songs were featured in the film and the score acted as a conceptual mini rock opera with the Batman/Bruce Wayne, Joker and Vicki Vale characters playing out Prince’s interest in sex, good and evil, and spirituality with tracks like "Batdance" - the album closer - "Partyman", the Prince/Sheena Easton ballad "The Arms of Orion"(which was even better than the previous duet.), the ballad "Scandalous!" and such Stevie Wonder-flavored cuts like "Vicki Waiting". But Prince commercially stumbled again when directing his second film in 1990, Graffiti Bridge, a Purple Rain sequel, that both kind of stumbled as a film and as an album soundtrack. Part of the problem was that the album was diffused with too many guest artists, and "Thieves In The Temple" was the one standout track, perhaps alongside the "New Power Generation".

Prince managed another surge in 1991 with the Diamonds And Pearls album, and aside from the title track, "Cream" and "Gett Off" were another pair of major hits. He debuted his new band, and shifted away from synths and drum machines, using players that could deliver a live James Brown flavor. "Money Don’t Matter 2 Night" was another standout. Prince was on the verge of making some radical changes when he released The Love Symbol album in 1992. It pushed the live band feel again with tracks such as "Sexy MF" and "My Name Is Prince", the mid tempo "7" was most intriguing, as was the Queen flavored "3 Chains of Gold", but it would be the last album where he enjoyed the kind of commercial impact he saw in the 80s. His dispute with Warner Bros in 1993 triggered a lot of misunderstandings and strange behavior seen by the public that would only be explained in hindsight. He became known as The Artist Formerly Known As Prince with his love symbol to ID his name. His dispute with the record label had to do with their refusal to release material at a faster rate, and his realization that they owned his name. The Black Album was finally released in 1994, and admittedly subpar albums like Come, in 1995, and The Gold Experience, which had his final big single "The Most Beautiful Girl In The World". His final release for Warner Brothers was 1996’s Chaos and Disorder. Prince set up his own label NPG records, and released his sprawling three-disc Emancipation in the same year, but the album was almost too overwhelming for most listeners. This issue came up again in 1998 with the four disc set Crystal Ball, which featured various 80s and 90s cuts not released, and by now, it was only the most dedicated fans who were following him.

In 1999, he must have sensed the problem when he signed with Arista Records, and tried a comeback with Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic, his attempt at pop, but the guest appearances didn’t give him the hit he desired. He managed a more assured comeback in 2004 by signing with Columbia and releasing Musicology with the title track released as a single. He managed to maintain more momentum by signing with Universal Music in 2005, and releasing 3121 with the brilliant single "Black Sweat". He gained a lot more awards recognition in 2006 with the Webby Awards and Brit Awards. In 2007, following his landmark Superbowl performance, he released Planet Earth and Lotusflower, and embarked on a remarkable 21-night run at London’s O2 arena (which inspired Michael Jackson to sign his own, doomed, 50-show residency). In 2010 he won a lifetime achievement award from BET, and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. In 2013 he re-signed with Warner Brothers after having settled his disputes, and formed a project with the all-girl group 3rdeyegirl. His last two releases during his lifetime were Hit and Run, Phase One and Two, in 2015.

As for his personal life, he married Mayte Garcia in 1996 but tragically their son, Boy Gregory, was born with Pfeiffer syndrome and died a week later. They divorced in 1999. Some have speculated that after his son’s death, a further miscarriage, and the decline of his marriage, he was never the same. He later married and divorced his second wife, Manuela Testolini.

While the films he starred in may have been mixed, there was one constant: his screen presence was dazzling; this was even more true with his music videos. He was a multiple threat, a great stage performer, and unique dancer, with phenomenal musical skills as a player, guitarist, pianist, and singer with a great range. His sense of style in fashion blurred the lines of gender, while remaining afro-centrically hip. He wrote multiple hits for other artists, ghost writing "Stand Back" for Stevie Nicks and not taking credit. He wrote The Bangles’ "Manic Monday", Sinead O’Connor’s "Nothing Compares 2 U", Sheila E’s "The Glamorous Life", and The Time’s "Jungle Love" while more recently guesting on the last Janelle Monae record. He could craft a great pop song, or write something completely on the fringe. Prince was a complex man, an enigma that could be wildly contradictory; he could praise women, but could also be juvenilely misogynistic, as evidenced in the Purple Rain film and perhaps even in his videos for "Cream" and "Gett Off", but he championed female artists more than anyone you can think of in pop music, and constantly had his bands populated by brilliant female musicians. There’s said to be a mountain of unreleased material, as well as the anticipated collaboration with another icon, Miles Davis, which only surfaced, unofficially, years later. He was fearless. His kind is rare.

David Bowie (January 1947 – January 2016)

Probably one of the most profound losses in rock music, David Bowie redefined rock music both in substance and style in the same way that Miles Davis redefined jazz. Bowie was an artist in every way possible, as a composer, lyricist, musician, actor, conceptualist, a trend maker in fashion, and he found a way to take the avant-garde and make it accessible via theatre. I first really knew of Bowie in junior high around the time of Let’s Dance in 1983, then gradually started to discover his body of work via radio, and became obsessed by 1990 when the Rykodisc reissues reminded the public of how vital his work from 1969-1980 really was. Few musicians have had as great an impact on my thinking about music and presentation as Bowie did. Anything was possible, and anything was almost permitted; he might not have been an exclusively bisexual man (he even said he was gay in 1972, while married to his first wife Angie), but he was influenced greatly by London’s gay culture, which let him be fearless. David Robert Jones, as he was born, was racked with fears over his family’s history of insanity, and he channeled that concern into his art, and managed to remain whole until his death from cancer. Not only was his life astonishing, his final year was also remarkable as he went out on his own terms, and managed two final statements (his album Blackstar and play "Lazarus"), a feat that few have been able to achieve.

Born to Margaret Burns and Haywood Jones In Brixton, he showed gifts as a dancer and prose writer; as a young child, Elvis Presley and Little Richard had a profound impact on him in the 50s. His half brother Terry Burns exposed him to jazz, and he took up the alto saxophone. Terry also exposed him to Buddhism. As the sixties progressed, Terry would be diagnosed with schizophrenia (he took his own life in 1985), and this decline and the mental illness history of his mother’s aide of the family would have a profound impact on his life. Another event would help to reinforce his ‘otherness’. A fistfight with his friend George Underwood, in 1962, would damage one eye and leave it permanently dilated. Thus, this would establish the identity of David being both inwardly, and outwardly ‘cracked’, and he would take advantage of his otherness like no one else. He played in a number of R&B bands, many of which got signed to small record labels and put out singles that went nowhere. He would change his name from David Jones to Bowie, due to that other Monkee, and would cross paths with Ken Pitt, who would become his manager in the mid 60s. Pitt would have an impact, shifting Bowie to focus on music hall numbers with the flavor of Anthony Newley, and David would also be exposed to The Velvet Underground’s 1967 album thanks to Pitt. He became the first artist to cover a Velvets song, releasing his own version of "Waiting For The Man" before the original had even come out. Bowie met mime Lindsay Kemp in 1967, studied dance under him and became his lover; Kemp’s work would have a great impact on Bowie’s later work. By 1968, Bowie briefly worked with his first great love, Hermione Farthingale, and bassist John Hutchinson, and their break-up would have another impact that would carry over to several songs in later years. He founded the Beckenham Arts Lab at the start of 1969, and while that floundered, he wrote his first significant single, "Space Oddity", which became a huge hit after being used on the BBC’s moon landing coverage The record was produced by Gus Dudegon, arranged by Paul Buckmaster, with keyboards by Rick Wakeman. It would have a great impact on at least one person, as the Elton John would later snatch up the team for his own albums. The album, also titled Space Oddity, a mix of folk and rock, was produced by his longest serving collaborator, producer Tony Visconti. Bowie met Angie Barnett, his future wife, around the same time, and it was she who would embolden him to take risks.

Bowie started off 1970 by forming a new band with guitarist Mick Ronson and drummer Mick ‘Woody’ Woodmansey, and released the heavy The Man Who Sold The World, which was a flop. The title track would gain attention in time and would become a concert staple. The album’s engineer Ken Scott would be promoted to co-producer on the lighter follow up, 1971’s Hunky Dory rescued his chart career (he was considered a one-hit wonder and "Space Oddity" a novelty record) and gave Bowie his next major hit with "Changes, Oh, You Pretty Things" and the landmark "Life on Mars?" He added bass player Trevor Bolder to the band and brought back Rick Wakeman for Hunky Dory before he joined Yes. Many of these early albums would reference occult or religious themes. By now Ken Pitt had been replaced by manger Tony Defries, and the groundwork for Bowie’s success was in place. After a radical image change, the album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars was released in 1972, and would turn Bowie into a megastar of the glam scene; the singles "Ziggy Stardust, Suffragette City", and "Starman" would be ubiquitous. 1973 saw the American sequel, Aladdin Sane with the "Jean Genie" single and the track "Prettiest Star", and the covers collection Pin Ups, all co-produced by Ken Scott. Then, just as quickly as he had formed them, Bowie broke up the Spiders (during his Hammersmith tour finale in July 1973, he told only Ronson he intended to announce on stage that the band was over). During the heady period of 1972/3, Bowie would also produce albums for his heroes, Lou Reed’s Transformer, and Iggy Pop’s band The Stooges’ Raw Power, while also penning the biggest single of Mott The Hoople’s career, "All The Young Dudes", as well as release the non-album single, "John, I’m Only Dancing". His output was astonishing.

In 1974 Bowie tried the loose concept album Diamond Dogs, and spent the better part of the period trying to shake his Ziggy persona. He released his first live album, David Live, which hinted at him letting go of his hard rock sound. He retooled his band in 1975 with R&B players, and recorded the soul, disco flavored Young Americans, the title track being a massive hit, as well as the follow up single "Fame", co-written with John Lennon. 1976 saw his first feature film appearance as a lead in The Man Who Fell To Earth, while his next record Station To Station hinted at a Kraftwerk influence, and featured "Golden Years", as he donned a new persona of the Thin White Duke. But his drug addictions had him in such a grip at that point he was driven close to death or madness. He moved, with Iggy, to Berlin in 1977, at least in the official narrative to overcome his cocaine addiction and met Romy Haag, a transgender German drag queen who he was infatuated with. Regardless, the move probably saved Bowie’s life. During this period he reunited with co-producer Tony Visconti and brought in Brian Eno to help with a groundbreaking series of albums. Low which featured tracks such as "Sound and Vision" and "Be My Wife" was released the start of that year. The follow up, Heroes, was released in October and featured the hit title track, powered by Robert Fripp’s guitar mastery, and "Beauty and the Beast", with both albums also featuring a series of impressionistic instrumentals. He also worked in Berlin and at Château d'Hérouville in France (where much of his ‘Berlin trilogy’ was recorded) on Iggy Pop’s two best albums, The Idiot and Lust For Life. The live album Stage was released in 1978, and included new reworkings of his past hits and the newer material. The final album of the trilogy, Lodger, recorded in New York and Queen’s studio Mountain in Montreux (he recorded a huge amount there for the next 15 years) was released in 1979 and featured a trilogy of radio singles "D.J., Look Back In Anger" and "Boys Keep Swinging". He had ended ‘78 by appearing in his second film Just A Gigolo.

Bowie began 1980 by divorcing Angie Bowie, their relationship having deteriorated many years before, taking custody of their son Duncan, and recording Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps), an album that distilled his experimentation, and essentially brought about the entire New Romantic movement. The album featured a sequel to "Space Oddity" with "Ashes to Ashes" and the bold cut "Fashion". He took to the stage in Dallas and then on Broadway appearing for three months in a production of The Elephant Man, playing Joseph Merrick. He cut a duet with Queen, "Under Pressure", in 1981, which would remain an important single for both parties. In 1982 he co-wrote with Giorgio Moroder the theme to Paul Schrader’s film Cat People. Bowie decided to head in a new direction with a lighter sound inspired by the feel of his favorite R&B records, working with Nile Rodgers, and debuting Stevie Ray Vaughn on lead guitar. He reached megastar status with 1983’s Let’s Dance. The album had three massive singles; the title track, "China Girl" and "Modern Love", and a reworked faster tempo take of "Cat People (Putting Out Fire)" with a fiery Ray Vaughn solo. He also acted in gritty POW drama Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, and the cult favorite The Hunger as the ancient vampire lover of Catherine Deneuve. But his newly found, somewhat uncomfortable, superstar status might have hampered him, the follow up Tonight, in 1984, felt tentative with the only two memorable songs being the singles, "Blue Jean" and "Loving The Alien", the rest being reworkings of Bowie/Iggy Pop songs, and a Brian Wilson cover. His work with the Pat Metheny Group on "This Is Not America" was better, and he clearly enjoyed camping it up with Mick Jagger on a cover created for Live Aid of "Dancing In The Street" in 1985, while the soundtrack single "Absolute Beginners" held up in 1986. His next album in 1987, Never Let Me Down produced the single "Day-In, Day-Out" but it seemed over wrought and too much of a product of its time: some changes were needed.

After appearing in the film Labyrinth (which gained him an entirely new generation of fans) and more importantly as Pontius Pilate in Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ, Bowie decided to form the rock band Tin Machine in 1989 with Reeves Gabriels, and Iggy’s old rhythm section of Tony and Hunt Sales. The band lasted for two albums and a live set until 1991 – they reinvigorated his passion for music and their 1991 tour was considered one of his greatest sets of shows. Rykodisc reissued his past catalog, and a box set, thus prompting a ‘greatest hits’ tour in 1990 under the banner of Sound + Vision. After marrying model Iman Abdulmajid, Bowie went back to working with Nile Rodgers with the more experimental Black Tie White Noise in 1993. By now his commercial appeal had waned among other than the most faithful of fans. Following his superb soundtrack for a TV adaptation of Hanif Kureishi’s The Buddha of Suburbia, 1995 saw 1. Outside, a new and thrilling collaboration with Brian Eno that was a loose concept record with an electronic industrial flavor. 1997’s Earthling, a drum’n’bass opus, was tentatively received and featured "I’m Afraid of Americans" with Trent Reznor providing a remix and appearing in the video. The wistful …hours in 1999 veered away from electronica and used his live band. He had his daughter with Iman, Alexandria (Lexi) in 2000. Following a triumphant appearance heading the Glastonbury Festival in 2000, he reunited with Tony Visconti on the 2002 album Heathen, which caused a huge resurgence in interest, and was followed up in 2003 with Reality and its massive accompanying word tour, his first in many years. But a heart attack on stage in Germany, in 2004, forced Bowie to refocus on family, and he went into a semi-retirement phase. He had made a cameo in 2001’s Zoolander, and the acting bug returned with the notable role of Nikola Tesla in Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige in 2006, alongside a few other cameos. He never played a concert again but did make a couple of brief live appearances: twice with Arcade Fire in 2005, two songs with David Gilmour in London in 2006 (his last live appearance in his home country) and later that same year a charity concert, singing three songs, "Fantastic Voyage, Wild Is The Wind" and a duet with Alicia Keys on "Changes". It would be his last appearance singing in public.

But he was cooking up a new secret: he had been making an album for a couple of years that nobody bar a few friends and his label knew about. He dropped The Next Day on his 66th birthday in 2013. The album seemed to be a nod to his 70s Berlin period, but in some respects it was continuing his later work; it was well received, and it was considered that Bowie was really back to form. He was highly productive in the final years of his life; he secretly (again) recorded the Blackstar album, which followed his collaboration with jazz composer Maria Schneider on the Grammy-winning "Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime)", all the while working on a stage musical, a sequel of sorts to The Man Who Fell To Earth titled Lazarus, which caused quite the stir off-Broadway and will shortly open in London. Blackstar was released, again on his birthday, on January 8th 2016, two days before his death.

What is astonishing about the last 15 years of his life is that he managed to find real contentment with Iman and his second child, as he became an elder statesmen to a new generation of musicians and watched his son Duncan become a successful Hollywood genre director of movies like Moon, Source Code and the upcoming Warcraft. He managed to keep the demons at bay and deal with his death on his own terms, going out as mystically and symbolically as he came in. Bowie became and remained a forward thinking artist for the bulk of his career. No one could dress like him, nor move like him; he took his alienation and found a way for other outsiders to relate to it. Even during his superstar phase in the 80s, he always found ways to be subversive. He pushed people to think differently, and to work through their dark impulses; he was a beacon of light, and he will be missed for the next hundred years.

To be continued…

Special thanks to Liz Tray for editorial assistance, and heavy editorial revisions with the Bowie obituary piece.

Extra thanks must go to Christopher Knowles for his work on Romy Haag and Bowie.