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Underneath the purple rain

DCP eulogizes this year’s lost musical icons

By DCP Audible Writers

Editor’s note: After his departure Jan. 10, 2016, David Bowie has been hand-selecting elite humans from this terrestrial realm for his own—or at least putting his plans into action. These are some of the musically inclined among the Chosen Ones. 

 

Sir George Martin
Jan. 3, 1926 – March 8, 2016 

By Gary Spencer

Perhaps the most impactful musical death of 2016 for me was the passing of Sir George Martin, a record producer best known as the “fifth Beatle,” for all his work with the Fab Four. My earliest memories of listening to music were hearing my dad’s Beatles’ albums, still among my favorites to this day.

As the years went on, I wanted to know more about the sounds I was hearing on these Beatles albums, especially the mid- to late-period albums. It’s well documented that Martin encouraged the Beatles to think outside the box about the music they could make—that is, that they could create sounds that strayed beyond the then common mantra of simple three-minute pop records. Thanks to Martin’s input and vision, the Beatles began incorporating things in popular music unheard of for the time—tape loops, backward guitars and vocals, orchestras, distortion, musique concrete, in and out fades, feedback, disposal of banding on their albums, and everything in between. Thanks to Martin’s influence, the possibilities of what could be pop music were changed forever.

Reach DCP freelance writer Gary Spencer at GarySpencer@DaytonCityPaper.com.

 

Prince
June 7, 1958 – April 21, 2016

By Tim Walker

Music is what he was, and music was what he did, and he did that better than damn near anyone ever has. Talk to me about Mozart, preach about Miles, sing the praises of Elvis or Michael or Bowie or Beethoven… Prince was a man touched by God. Glory, glory, hallelujah, and amen un2 the joy fantastic.

Prince Rogers Nelson, born in Minneapolis in 1958, tragically, was found dead there at Paisley Park in April at the age of 57. In the time we were blessed with his presence on Earth, the musician created works of art so beautiful, so breathtaking, so universally admired, that the man—Prince, himself, the human vessel through which that otherworldly talent flowed for so many years—was simply unable to endure the adulation the world gave him in return. He retreated from fame. He changed his name, scrawled “Slave” on his face, and tried to hide. He built a white castle for himself  in Chanhassen, Minnesota. He stayed away from prying eyes and rarely emerged, except to play his music. He lived and worked there in his castle, always recording, a creature of the studio, transcribing his inimitable purple genius into notes and phrases and brilliant albums, which he presented to us common folk like Moses, just come down from the mountain. I saw him once, and when he stepped onto that stage in Louisville, when he plugged in that guitar and felt the power begin to flow, he showed us all what it means to be alive. To love. To kick up our platform heels and dance, and push away death—to play and sing and laugh and, most of all, to rejoice. He was purple rain; he was love-sexy; he was dearly-beloved-we-have-gathered-here-today-to-get-through-this-thing-called-Life. He sang about sex, and he sang about God, and he sang about love. He was vulgar and devout and ageless and beautiful.

And now he is gone. But the music and the message remain.

Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Walker at TimWalker@DaytonCityPaper.com.

 

Leonard Cohen
Sept. 21, 1934 – Nov. 7, 2016

By Joey Ferber

You may not know it—hell, I may not even know it—but I do have a hunch Leonard Cohen is somewhere writing away in my subconscious. The legendary Canadian poet and songwriter passed onto whatever the next world may look like this past year—a revolution filled with fare-thee-wells and moments of perspective-shifts for those of us lucky enough to be involved in the love that was once named music. While Cohen’s deep rasp of a voice never personally chilled me through the skin, as it may have my uncle who was raised on the golden age of folk music, I was raised with respect for those who meticulously craft their messages to the world. And I have always known Cohen to be a craftsman. I recently listened to a podcast on genius where two types were proposed—one: the instantaneous genius, whose art magically emanates from every breath or every finger of a specific life embodiment; the other: an iterative genius who patiently iterates and re-iterates, visions and re-visions until the art along with the self has grown into what it needs to become to be impressed on the world. This podcast used Cohen’s original song “Hallelujah” as an example of the latter form of so-called “genius.” This song-turned-masterpiece is iterative, to say the least. And while most folks know the fame of Jeff Buckley’s finalized recording, this podcast so beautifully shed light on the dark processes of years of writing numerous verses and years of recording numerous versions of the same track by several artists. The genius that is Buckley’s version is an evolution that threads through many other sources before reaching its releasable state. So while I may not know the intricacies of how Leonard impacts the art I involve myself in today, I do know that I am inspired by patience and the lifelong growth that kept him producing heartfelt lyrics and music into his 80s.

Reach DCP freelance writer Joey Ferber at DaytonCityPaper.com.

 

George Michael
June 25 1963 – Dec. 25, 2016

By Allyson B. Crawford

When George Michael (born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou) died on Christmas Day, it was both tragic and fitting. Michael was known not only for his soaring voice and soulful swagger, but also his run-ins with the law. Beyond the tabloid headlines was a generous man who donated a lot of money to big charities and individuals alike.

A gifted songwriter in addition to singer, Michael was responsible for penning many of the hits he shared with Wham! co-member Andrew Ridgeley.

One of the biggest hits for Wham! came in the form of the now-classic holiday tune, “Last Christmas.” Exceptionally dark for a Christmas song, Michael tells the story of lost love and growing wiser because of it. From now on, the song will no doubt take on another meaning as a constant yuletide reminder of Michael’s untimely death.

In the years after Wham!, Michael enjoyed a massive solo career, releasing some of the most iconic and chart-topping hits of the ’80s and ’90s. He took on taboo subjects with “I Want Your Sex” and “Father Figure” and lived his own truth with “Freedom! 90,” the video which became an instant classic, featuring a bevy of the world’s most famous fashion models—and Michael himself nowhere in sight. In choosing to forgo the camera and to literally burn the sex symbols he created, including the leather jacket, jukebox, and guitar from his famed “Faith” video, Michael signaled to fans that professionally and personally he was turning a page in his life.

Ditching boy-pop that made him famous during his Wham! years, Michael forged ahead, exploring more complex themes in his music and stretching his voice for more mature ballads.

In 1998, George Michael came out as gay during a CNN interview. This was on the heels of an arrest for lewd behavior in a Beverly Hills bathroom. Michael brushed it off and made fun of the incident with the video for the single “Outside.”

Both before and after publically coming out as gay, Michael spent considerable time raising money for AIDS research and championing LGBT rights.

From 2006-2008 he toured the world as part of his sold-out 25 Live tour to celebrate his silver anniversary in the music business. After this, Michael retreated into himself. In 2011, he nearly died of pneumonia while on tour. Some of the shows during that tour were recorded and became the 2014 release Symphonica.

Michael’s final years were largely spent out of the spotlight, although he was working on a documentary about his life, which he planned to release in March of this year.

Reach DCP freelance writer Allyson Crawford at AllysonCrawford@DaytonCityPaper.com.

We’ll also miss Sharon Jones, with whom DCP spoke this summer; Greg Lake from King Crimson; Leon Russell of The Wrecking Crew; Merle Haggard; John Berry of the Beastie Boys; Phife Dawg of A Tribe Called Quest; Frank Sinatra Jr.; Joey Feek of Joey + Rory; Denise Matthews, a.k.a Vanity; Maurice White of Earth, Wind & Fire; Paul Kantner of Jefferson Airplane; Glenn Frey of Eagles; Dale “Buffin” Griffin; Pete Huttlinger; Rick Parfitt of Status Quo; Colonel Abrams; Pete Burns of Dead or Alive; Robert Thomas Velline, a.k.a Bobby Vee; Sir Neville Marriner of the Academy of St Martin in the Fields; Prince Buster; Rudy Van Gelder; Tom Searle of the Architects; Marni Nixon; Scotty Moore; Bernie Worrell; Henry Mccullough; Christina Grimmie; Dave Swarbrick of Fairport Convention; Guy Clark; Billy Paul; Papa Wemba; Jeremy Stei; Leandro “Gato” Barbieri; Lee Andrews, father of Roots’ drummer Questlove; Sir Peter Maxwell; Signe Anderson of Jefferson Airplane; Keith Emerson of Emerson, Lake and Palmer; John Chilton; Colin Vearncombe; Clarence Reid; Pierre Boulez; Robert Stigwood; Paul Bley; and anyone else now loving the alien.

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Gary Spencer
Gary Spencer is a graduate of Miami University and works in the performing arts, and believes that music is the best. Contact him at GarySpencer@DaytonCityPaper.com

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