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.


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