Reflections on four musicians I loved that we lost in 2017
|While there's no question the massive losses in 2016 of David Bowie, Prince and Carrie Fisher (and that's just scratching the tip of the iceberg) were tragic, there were four musical losses that felt like gut-punches in 2017. The first was probably the hardest as it still hurts now. In 2011, I picked up an Alice Cooper 3-pack of albums, he was a man with ties to many Classic Rock and Hard Rock superstars like Joan Jett, Joe Perry, Slash, Ozzy Osbourne, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai and Nikki Sixx, and I was curious. One of the albums was the concept album "The Last Temptation," in which a man or boy is tempted by the devil while seeking fun, a sort of "carnival gone wrong" event. One track that stood out to me on the album was "Unholy War," a song where the man is no longer willing to deal with Satan's lies and tells him to go away and get out of his life, preparing to do whatever it takes to do this. It was written by Chris Cornell, who I would later find out didn't have a religion due to the violence he saw people who did carry out, which was surprising in the fact that the song seemed like it was written by a Christian who had battled the devil and came out victorious. Because of how well the song was written, I never forgot the name, but since grunge wasn't a big genre, I didn't learn any more until early 2017. Then, woman-led metal band Halestorm released their third covers EP, containing "Still of the Night" by Whitesnake, "I Hate Myself For Loving You" by Joan Jett and "Ride the Lightning" by Metallica. Another song was "Fell on Black Days" by Soundgarden, a band I heard of but didn't know anything about, and was credited to Chris Cornell. Its down yet intense mood set it apart from the barnbuners on the rest of the album (save "Heathens" originally by twenty one pilots and also on the EP, but since I saw Suicide Squad and owned the original, the biggest surprise was hearing it performed by a hard rock band with a woman singing it) and I decided to get the original. I planned to try out Soundgarden more when I wasn't busy keeping up with the latest releases, then came May. I was on Twitter two days after my birthday, May 18th, 2017, and saw the hashtag, #RIPChrisCornell . I couldn't believe it. He didn't seem old like David Bowie, and while I didn't know what killed Prince, he was different enough from him to avoid whatever it was. But I checked Lzzy Hale's Twitter and she was in mourning, telling Toni Cornell to carry on the torch of her father. I don't remember how many other artists I checked to see if they commented (I know Alice Cooper also mourned, but that was after I visited), but to my surprise, I went to Billy Ray Cyrus' page and he had a tribute. Before now, he'd only said anything about Nirvana when it came to grunge (since he had met Kurt Cobain a couple of times), but he had a picture of Chris Cornell playing acoustic guitar and called him "the voice of a generation." A few years later, Miley would sing "Say Hello 2 Heaven" at a tribute event called "I Am the Highway" with members of Temple of the Dog backing her up, two of them being Pearl Jam's Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament according to setlist.fm. Toni would release a single in 2018, covering "Nothing Compares 2 U."
Before the month was out, Gregg Allman of the Allman Brothers Band also died. Like Chris Cornell, Billy Ray posted a picture of him playing acoustic guitar on Twitter and said something, I forget what. Mostly, I just remember the previous year going to a show called "Generation Axe" at the Paramount Theater in Seattle, a gathering of five amazing guitar players. I think the idea was the brainchild of Steve Vai, and also involved were Nuno Bettencourt of Extreme fame (by that, I mean he was in a band called Extreme), Tosin Abasi of Animals as Leaders, Yngwie Malmsteen (who can blend metal and classical music well) and Zakk Wylde, a massive Viking-like man inspired by Skynyrd, Hendrix and Black Sabbath. He's actually Roman Catholic, though. That night, Wylde played a rendition of Gregg Allman's "Whipping Post," a song about a man who has been cheated on, feels terribly abused and outright yells, "Sometimes I feel tied to the whipping post, tied to the whipping post, tied to the whipping post, tied to the whipping post, Good Lord, I feel like I'm dyin'." Its guitar work by Duane Allman made it a crowd favorite and before people shouted "Free Bird!" at concerts, they would shout "Whipping Post!" There is actually a live album of Frank Zappa somewhere where this happens and he decides to change a song of his to a Southern Rock song on the fly. So it was hard to take in that another talented songwriter had died and with him, the Allman Brothers Band was no more.
In July 2017, Two months later, after seeing Transformers; the Last Knight and enjoying it, I was online again for news. Another severe blow hit, this one a little closer. "Last Knight" seemed as catered as possible to appease both the masses and the old-school fans and the old-school fans were STILL calling it shit. But we wouldn't have even made it to movie 5 without movies 1-3, and a common link in one through three was a specific band started off the end credits, they even became close enough to composer Steve Jablonsky to get their songs mixed into the Soundtrack, such as the track "Nest" from Revenge of the Fallen. They were alternative rock band Linkin Park, and while most online parodied them for how "emo" their songs could get, all I heard was "What I've Done," "New Divide" and "Iridescent," even downloading the first two into Rock Band 3. The enduring spirit presented in these songs, the willingness to continue in a war-torn landscape, fit the movies perfectly and I had even hoped I would save up to see them in the KeyArena in 2017 to hear "New Divide" live. But Chester Bennington was a close friend of Chris Cornell's, to the point he had been chosen to be his kids godfather. Personally, I think the flak the live-action Transformers series was getting at the time didn't help, either, since he helped make it. Chester Bennington, one of the few younger musicians considered cool enough to hang with Glenn Hughes, Duff McKagan and Steve Stevens in the Kings of Chaos and one of the main reasons three action movies work, hung himself in July 2017. And I'm not going to lie, this contributed to the rage and wedge between me and the rest of the Transformers fandom that ultimately led to me leaving it to find fanbases with less negativity and demands that the franchise abandon all attempts at reinvention and cater exclusively to the old-school fans.
The last, sad, painful stop was October 2nd, 2017. As a madman killed people in another shooting the government would simply shrug at, an old soul went home miles away from the tragedy. I'll admit, I didn't have much of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers before the death of Tom Petty and I haven't had the resources or drive to pick up much since then, but the man left a pretty sizeable dent in my thoughts on music nonetheless. I don't remember if it was 2009 or 2010, but I wanted to buy some Beatles solo albums. Ringo Starr had always been my favorite, he was a storyteller with the Beatles, he was Mr. Conductor on Shining Time Station and he was the one of the four who liked the others post-breakup the most. I heard from Wikipedia he recorded an album called "Vertical Man," the album was the closest you'd get to a 1990s Beatles album; with a cover of "Love Me Do" with Harmonica played by Aerosmith's Steven Tyler, Paul McCartney lending his talent on "What in the...World?" (that's how it is on the back, the chorus doesn't have unnecessary pauses) George Harrison showing up for the last times on "King of Broken Hearts" and "I'll Be Fine Anywhere" and fun rockers like "One" and "Puppet" plus a heartfelt ballad to wife Barbara with "I'm Yours." There was also a trio, "Drift Away," a cover song I heard performed by The Nylons on a CD my Mom had over 20 years ago. This one was slower and more deliberate and had Tom Petty and Alanis Morrisette (it was released in 1998) singing lead on some verses. It created an image of Ringo walking down the street and Tom Petty and Alanis walk up to him and encourage him to keep going, "getting by with a little help from his friends." I would later hear Tom Petty duet with Carl Perkins on a posthumous Carl Perkins album that featured many friends of his across Classic Rock, Ringo Starr, George Harrison, Paul McCartney, John Fogerty, Johnny Cash and even archived performances of "Blue Suede Shoes" by Jimi Hendrix and John Lennon. I also remember watching a George Harrison documentary with a good friend and her family and seeing the Traveling Wilburys, seeing Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan and Harrison himself having a happy time playing music. Hearing of Tom Petty's death felt surreal. It wasn't a "you had to take one more, death?" It wasn't rage-inducing, it was just heartache. His recording career had just turned 40, the same era of bands like Cheap Trick, Heart and Foreigner, and they didn't seem worried about how little time they might have left. Cheap Trick released three albums recently, one a Christmas album, Foreigner releasing live albums like crazy and Heart is preparing to tour this year with legs with Sheryl Crow and Joan Jett opening for them. It seemed too young to be gone.
Looking back two years later, as more classic rock artists retire, it makes me want to treasure as many legacies as I can by seeing the artists live. I don't make much money, though, so it feels impossible at times. I wanted to create a Tribute Band through Facebook, but it was hijacked by a Southeast Asian boy band of the same name, so I had to delete it when it was clear too many confused people were liking the page. Unlike Gene Simmons, I don't think Rock is Dead, not with bands like Black Stone Cherry, Halestorm and BabyMetal around, but I more worry that we will lose part of its history as more and more acts either die or retire.