Thursday, April 28, 2005

Whitesnake, black heart

Our Rogers Park correspondent replies to a 45s post.

What’s funny about the "Here I Go Again" video is the other two videos from that dreaded Whitesnake album are entirely the same, each focusing on Coverdale's leggy model girlfriend as she licks and lap dances a wide assortment of very lucky sports cars. Together, I think they even form a trilogy of sorts—imagine Lord of the Rings, but with less hobbits and more syphilis. And I don't know if you remember or not, but this woman also made the tabloids a few years ago for beating the shit out of her then-husband—some baseball player for the Cleveland Indians or Anaheim Angels—in a prescription drug-induced rage that ended up getting her arrested. I can't remember who the ball player was [Chuck Finley —Eds.], but in his first game back after recovering from the thrashing, the soundman at the ballpark played "Here I Go Again" during one of his at bats. Perhaps predictably, the soundman was cruelly fired the next day—for what I thought was a truly inspired act of pop cultural terrorism. But imagine if this gesture of his was like some kind of 6 Degrees of Separation big bang-rogue virus, wherein the NEXT day a drinking buddy at the soundman's favorite watering hole played "Here I Go Again" on the jukebox to taunt HIM for getting shit canned? And then the cycle of violence would somehow continue on and on and on until the song was ruined for everybody. I guess then we'd all have to start listening to Warrant or something.

SIDE NOTE: This woman we're talking about also starred alongside Tom Hanks in the 1984 screwball comedy classic, Bachelor Party, which I always thought was Hanks’ last good movie. Somewhere there is a parallel universe where this forgotten sexpot stars alongside Hanks in icky flicks like Sleepless in Seattle and You Got Mail, while Meg Ryan is known only as That Chick from the Whitesnake Videos.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Venues on Carole King's upcoming tour that sound like band names

Casino Rama
Cape Cod Melody Tent
Celebrity Theater
Wolf Trap
South Shore Music Circus
Zoo Amphitheater
Mountain Winery

Monday, April 25, 2005

The other side of the Popsicle

At this blog we love Wolfman Jack. For all his cool, though, the Wolfman definitely fell into the grim category of "celebrity." Somehow he managed to avoid the Dean Martin Celebrity Roast, and I don't recall a Love Boat appearance, but the Wolfman nonetheless worked the bargain basement of pop culture. Yes, radio, but what I refer to are the TV guest spots and the game shows. You know only age saved him from losing the 100-yard dash to Susan Anton on Battle of the Network Stars.

Of all the Wolfman manifestations, none can possibly be more surreal than his guest work on Galactica 1980, the ghastly sequel to the original Battlestar Galactica. This showed up on the Sci-Fi Channel one morning as I ate my delicious bowl of Total. At first I thought I must still be asleep. A search of the all-knowing Internet, however, made it clear I had indeed witnessed Wolfman Jack dressed as Henry VIII (appropriate) and administering medical help to a Cylon felled by a microwave oven.

"Help me, Wolfman," one guest says, as they try to lift the Cylon to his feet. So the Wolfman was playing ... the Wolfman! Good casting. In the meantime, some nonsense was taking place involving a Cylon plot to take over a radio station--hence the Wolfman tie-in. Now a Wolfman in his position has to take what work he can get. After a taste of real celebrity, going back to Mexican radio was out of the question. And probably the show paid well, for the rest of the cast was filled out by familiar faces like Robert Reed and Robbie Rist (aka his Brady Bunch nephew Oliver), plus the ubiquitous Barry Van Dyke and Lorne "The Beard" Greene. But it was nonetheless sad to recall the slumming WJ had to do in his decline. There's no shame in, say, an episode of Vega$, but giving CPR to a humanity-hating robot from deep space in a show with the production values of an Elvis movie? That has to make you wanna howl.

Friday, April 22, 2005

A cry for help

Writer's block is like insomnia. You really want to do something, and the only way to get it done is to keep trying, yet the harder you try the harder it is to make happen.

As an affliction, writer's block is minor compared to, say, the Marburg virus, or that dreaded syndrome where you can only like a single band. It is nonetheless bad for blogging, especially if, like me, you try to blog in a coherent way. (Keeping in mind the relationship between blog and coherence is a sometimes thing even among The Greats.) In the interest of providing content, however, The Editors present outtakes from this week's aborted, half-written, and plain-bad posts—the bootlegs, the basement tapes, call them what you will. With any luck, it'll pass as Dadaist.

1. Here's why I liked Karen Carpenter: she was a drummer. Note this is not because I drum. When it comes to rhythm I am sub-normal even for a white person. At karaoke night the Japanese and Koreans in the place are happy to see me because they know someone in the house will exceed them in total jiveness.

2. Either Rolling Stone's cover of rock star kids was a botched Photoshop job, or Art Garfunkel's son both looks unusual and dwells in a dimension just slightly out of perspective compared to our own.

3. How far out were The Carpenters? They provided music not for people who missed the Sixties, but for those who refused to believe the decade ever happened. Most of those people now run our country. How resilient is a good rock song? Well, Karen and Richard covered "Please, Mr. Postman," and it lived.

4. The CD single. Few products are more inadequate compared to their predecessors. In a life dedicated to absurd pop culture consumption, I have bought one. Period. It was Matthew Sweet's We're the Same, and only because his cover of the Speed Racer theme song was the so-called flip side.

5. Probably our relationship hit its most divisive early moment when—as is so often the case with Gen X Midwestern males—I chose Springsteen, and abandoned the Bob Seger of my fathers.

6. When is the greatest hits album a cry for help? Answer: always. It's kind of a music industry version of that old dating cliché, "Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?" Or at least for $13.99 on sale at Best Buy.

7. When you think about it, indie rock had a lot in common with communism. It was supposed to change the world, it made a hell of a noise, and those who believed in it still wonder how it failed. If you change "primacy of vodka" to "primacy of Robert Pollard's beer cooler," there's a fourth parallel.

8. Does the new pope feel kind of like Hagar fronting Van Halen?

9. An alternative dimension where easy listening destroyed rock, where—drugs and disorders be damned—The Carpenters conquered the world and tore down The Wall, then threatened to storm the gates of Asgard until that day when fatal hubris won out and Karen announced her impending marriage to Richard Pryor.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Ashes to ashes, dogs to dogs

No music is more pop than an advertiser's jingle. Thus the reason they use a lot of real pop and rock music to sell their products. But in the old days the advertisers liked to come up with their own material. Barry Manilow's classic State Farm theme, for one. The unforgettable Oscar Mayer weiner song for another.

Oh, ho, that bologna may have a first name, but Oscar's ode to the hot dog—the delicious mixture of meat byproducts, road kill, and chopped up old mattresses—is the true "Hey Jude" of his sound. Today the world learned of the death of one of the company's sturdiest employees, George Molchan, aka "Little Oscar," a corporate goodwill ambassador and dwarf who for thirty-six years toured America via Weinermobile preachin' the gospel of the world's greatest dog. As sad as his passing is, Mr. Molchan had a funeral to envy:
The 27-foot-long Wienermobile was parked Saturday near Mr. Molchan's grave in Merrillville, drawing smiles from dozens attending his memorial. Before priests said the final prayers over the coffin, about 50 mourners sang a chorus of the Oscar Mayer jingle and then blew short blasts on hot dog-shaped whistles.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

A half-hour is a lifetime

The half-hour Time/Life informercials are standard late-night TV fare, as ubiquitous as the reruns of Fear Factor for those of watching TV on a cycle more friendly to diurnals. None of the Time/Life ads appears more often than Lifetime of Romance, "the greatest collection of love songs I’ve ever heard," according to host Bobby Vinton, a man with a hairpiece that looks like a wayward ball of lint.

The Polish Prince hosts Lifetime of Romance with the easygoing manner of a pro. Fake enthusiasm, surely, but never over-the-top. That cannot be said of the ghastly blond woman riding shotgun. After numerous viewings—and I mean numerous, for I sleep less than Keith Richards—I cannot figure out if her face was planned that way by Time-Warner’s crack plastic surgeons, or if she has the combination of cheerleader pep and being permanent startled that one often finds in suburban mothers.

Lifetime of Romance follows the usual Time/Life formula. A little chat, three- to five-second snippets of the songs, some soft sell testimonials of satisfied customers and some Vinton hard sell like that quoted above. The best moment is when the camera takes us back to the parlor of the world’s most flowery B&B to hear the blond woman burble something along the lines of, "Oh, that’s a great song." Clearly she has no idea what just played.

The ad barrels toward the big finish with a reprise of the greatest hits of the first fifteen minutes. As Time/Life is part of an old school corporate behemoth, it is certain the reprise includes the songs most likely to close the deal as ascertained by reams of market research. Thus we can attribute the recurrence of Anne Murray to cold, rational numbers. John Denver I understand. That guy’s cult is as tenacious as the Druids. Anne Murray, though. Well, I suppose the numbers don't lie. Talk about the madness of Reason.

The product itself reflects the anarchical rhythms of human love. Let’s take for example the disc "Secret Rendezvous." Leading off: the high tenor and turtlenecked pathos of Andy Williams singing the theme from Love Story. A haunting song, to be sure, haunting having many meanings. Then comes Johnny Mathis, just because you didn’t think a higher voice was possible. The CD spins on through more movie themes—with a brief stop at Engelbert Junction—before a rendezvous in Nashville. Surely the Time/Life programmer has Tourette’s, for having survived Perry Como we cannot expect country, let alone the sublime Charlie Rich. A Nashville three-fer follows the Silver Fox—Willie, Ray Price, and Glen Campbell’s "Gentle on My Mind," the worst of his late Sixties hits. More syrupy horrors follow, but Time/Life at least deserves a nod for eclecticism, as always one of the best byproducts of a chemical balance.

Of course the whole flowery business is unspeakable. Yet I watch. Granted, Lifetime of Romance is not my favorite in the series. Singers and Songwriters brings back memories of watching Sesame Street while my parents blasted Goodbye Yellow Brick Road in the background; and the informercial for Legends allows me to pity co-host Roger Daltrey, a man with either no shame or the world’s worst tax bill. But Lifetime of Romance is on the most. For some reason, alas, it never helps me sleep. I just lay there in the dark, with "Snowbird" repeating over and over in my mind.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Porkchops; see Favorite Foods (Broiled)

Does Bruce Springsteen really need a 600-page encyclopedia?

Listen, mister. I have lived many years as a citizen of Boss Nation. I believe he should be our country's next president. I put in my pre-nup that my wife had permission to leave me for or commit serial infidelity with one man, no questions asked: Bruce Springsteen. Such is my fandom that one of my favorite tracks isn't a song but that story he tells about fighting with his dad and how that ties into flunking his army physical.

But The Ties That Bind: Bruce Springsteen A to E to Z puts us in Enough is Enough territory. The giant lyrics book, okay, that's standard these days. Photo books? Too many, but he's still four dozen behind Tori Amos. There are at least two collections of Springsteen articles and assorted Scripture, via Penguin and Rolling Stone, and even public intellectual types—Robert Coles and Eric Alterman—have lent their IQs to the man. For God's sake, there's a 2006 wall calendar! Has any other fiftysomething rocker ever inspired such media saturation?

Look. The man is a rock legend. But a wall calendar! Can the clothing line be far behind there, Bruce Aguilera Spears? When can I get "Nebraska: The Fragrance?"

I'm sure the encyclopedia is a fantastic reference. But 600 pages? Is there a listing for Van Zandt's dog? John Keegan covered the entire history of warfare in 496 pages. I realize Springsteen had little, probably nothing, to do with this book. And at the risk of undercutting my own post, I'd skim the tome if I saw it in a bookstore. But the Boss surely has the power to stop any (favorable) project, for his fans are used to taking his proclamations as messages from On High. Do we as a people, then, need to ask him to turn in a few cred chips—strictly as tough love? Because when the Bruce Springsteen Visa card comes out, it'll be too late.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Speaking the unspeakable

As a rule this blog avoids celebrity gossip. But I'm afraid Britney Spears' family life has now invaded my reality.

It is to my great sorrow that she chose for her second husband someone with my first name. Actually, someone with my middle name, but nonetheless the name I have gone by since that moment in infancy when both my father and I answered one of my mother's glass-rattling screams. No doubt that day I cried; and I wouldn't blame Dad if he did, too. After that, he kept our first name, and I slid one over.

That scream obviously impressed itself on my multiplying brain cells, for in the years since it happened, I've lived with an uncontrollable reflex: I jump every time I hear my name in public. On the bus, at the park, in the Chinese restaurant—no matter how small the odds are that I am being addressed, I react with a petite mal conniption. And now, through the machinations of ironic Fate and the power vested in some Justice o' the Peace in the state of Louisiana, I share a name with the slacker mate of Britney, the greatest bimbo sapiens of all, and such a darling of Americans that she—and by extension her husband—are called by their first names. On the bus. On the radio. And most of all on TV.

I was aware CNN spent a fair amount of time on celebrities even outside of Larry King Live. But I have new insight into what "news" means now that my heart skips a beat every time I hear the name of Britney's personal Tom Arnold while the TV's on in the background. In fact, I've needed the de-fib paddles eleven times in the past forty-eight hours, probably more often than Larry King himself.

God knows I love white trash. In fact, I could've turned out that way myself, had I not been bitten by a radioactive Pretenders fan and discovered a different mission in life. Normally, I would hope the Spears-Federline union defied the high divorce rates in certain red states. But I doubt KF is going to change his first name, not after he spent twenty years learning to spell the one he has. Britney, I know you get few requests that do not involve that act that made you pregnant, but, please, leave him. There's a life at stake.

Added note: the Associated Press story on Yahoo reminds readers that Britney once had a Vegas marriage with boyhood friend Jason Alexander. Yahoo helpfully provides a hyperlink through Alexander's name to a picture of ... George Constanza.

Monday, April 11, 2005

45s: Power Perms

"Here I Go Again"
By Whitesnake
Written by David Coverdale and John Sykes

This is one of the great collages of cliché in pop music history. From the soaring pre-refrain harmonies—you say cribbed from Bon Jovi, I say cribbed from Elton John—to the diddling synth line strung through eighty percent of the decade’s hits, "Here I Go Again" so brilliantly synthesizes all the elements of a metal pop moneymaker that it deserves its own display in the Museum of Cynicism in Art. It's irresistible! And that’s before you mix in the ridiculous vrooming guitar fury and the Triple-A Robert Plant fronting the band.

Whitesnake rose out of the ruins of Deep Purple in the mid-1970s. Like a lot of the festival bill-fillers of the day, the group sported a semi-recognizable star—David Coverdale, lead singer of the official Second Best Deep Purple lineup—plus refugees from a number of other bands. A spot of European success was followed by a serious sinus problem that threatened Coverdale's voice, and the ‘Snake went on ice. Never to return? Are you kidding? A man’s got to work, and there’s only one kind of employment for a guy with a loose blond perm.

Somewhere in Malibu, songwriters have perfected a computer program that spits out metal pop like "Here I Go Again." That’s how Aerosmith came back. Thus, we must stand in silent awe when we realize the merely human minds of Coverdale and guitarist John Sykes hit on lyrics like this without (1) mechanical assistance or (2) shame:

Goin’ down the only road I’ve ever known/Like a drifter I was born to walk alone

To walk along the lonely street of dreams
(ripping off
Rainbow, another splinter faction from Deep Purple!)

I don’t know where I’m goin'
But I sure know where I've been...

Welcome to the archive of rock lyrics in the public domain.

Granted, making fun of a band for using the road image is unfair. Songwriters have used it forever. The tradition probably goes back to the days when skalds sang ballads of wanderlust before being tossed in a blanket and launched by mead-drenched Vikings over the nearest glacier. With the exception of the straight-ahead love/lust song, the road song† might be the most reliable theme in rock. Not that Sykes escaped karmic judgment for dipping into the well.
Coverdale fired him from the band sometime between the recording of "Here I Go Again" and its release.

The appetite for the merger of rock warhorse with lite metal was amazing.
About the time Coverdale cashed in, the permapermed Lou Gramm released "Midnight Blue." Talk about a photocopy-of-a-photocopy. Having already fulfilled many of the criteria for Over-the-Hilldom with Foreigner (recording with a black choir and doing an ode to Rock’s Greatness being but two), Lou showed a pro’s instincts by using the sound of the moment to guarantee himself a solo hit.

Whitesnake rocked hard enough to inspire air guitar in the boys, yet slowed down when necessary to let Coverdale play power balladeer to the girls. Label mates Guns ‘N Roses would dip into that bag and sell ten times as many records because they rocked harder and felt more deeply, if more crazily. It's tempting to label "Here I Go Again" an irresistable embarrassment. But Whitesnake's not (quite) a hair band. Ripping off Zeppelin is stealing from the best. And Coverdale's got pipes you can take to the bank. Along with everything else in this song.

Video, Video. "Here I Go Again" was going to be a slam-dunk once it got noticed. Formula for getting noticed? Hire model Tawny Kitaen, then Coverdale’s paramour. Get her to frolic on a hot rod. Repeat. Further description of the video is unnecessary. If you watched MTV circa 1987, you saw it so many times it’s clearer in your mind than all but the happiest or most traumatic moments of your life.

† Not to be confused with the It’s Hard to be a Rock Star song. Naturally, there is some overlap, considering the logistics of The Life, but road songs usually try to implement symbolism, whereas an IHTBARS is mostly an attempt at what a rock star considers realism.

Friday, April 08, 2005

It's twue

Allow me to go off-message a moment, to comment on television. The other night the ABC Family channel—cable home of 7th Heaven reruns and pusher of Pat Robertson and the spawn of Pat Robertson—laid down a prime-time broadcast of Blazing Saddles. Now Blazing Saddles is a funny movie, and that's as rare on ABC Family as it is on the resume of Mel Brooks. But a family picture?

Much can be done with judicious editing. But the broadcast is a good illustration of why we cannot leave censoring in the hands of the family values types. They're just too unhip to do a good job. Anyone can cut all the racial slurs, for instance—though that pretty much undoes the entire point of the film, as well as cutting it down to twenty minutes. It's easy to cull Lili Von Shtup's curiosity about Sheriff Bart's anatomical gifts. Or Slim Pickens' immortal poetry, "God darnit Mr. Lamarr, you use your tongue prettier than a twenty dollar whore."

But ABC Family should consider hiring editors with a basic knowledge of slang. Or at least Yiddish. For instance, Lili Von Shtup's name translates (very) roughly into Lili Fuck (even Lili Noble Fuck). Sure, they cut out "buggerers" and "Methodists" from Hedley Lamarr's list of "the worst dregs ever to soil the face of the West," but why edit the movie at all when you leave in this line, as Bart meets a friend who is working on the railroad:

Friend: They said you was hung!
Bart: And they was right.

Ah, that's a classic. But, seriously. What about the children?

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Ain't that America?

Yesterday the Library of Congress released a list of fifty more "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" sound recordings to be granted immortality by the august institution. It is always an amazing list, and this year is no exception. The LOC's choices range from speeches like McArthur's "Old Soldiers Never Die" to curiosities like Recordings of African elephants to the whole spectrum of popular, or once-popular, music. It's only the third such list, so the LOC is still knocking down big moments in American history—the moon landing, the end of the Great War—and unsurprising canonical recordings. Still, this is literally the soundtrack of America, the recordings to be engraved on history and those disks we load onto our more patriotic satellites for voyages to other planets. Some highlights:

"Some of These Days," by Sophie Tucker (1911). This blog does not pass up any chance to reference the Last of the Red-Hot Mamas. You want longevity in showbiz? Tucker began her career on cylinder—you think vinyl is antiquated?—in a year when the first Indy 500 ran and zeppelins were weapons of war. She lasted long enough to be the subject of a good-humored onstage joke for the Beatles.

Lindbergh's arrival in Washington (1927). Considering some of his later beliefs, perhaps it was fortunate that technology did not yet allow talk radio-length rants.

Rosina Cohen oral narrative from the Lorenzo D. Turner Collection (1932). I have long been intrigued by the Gullah dialect, a mixture of Shakespeare-era English and African languages once used by certain African American communities on islands off South Carolina. Do the fanatics who want to eliminate government realize no one else is going to preserve this stuff?

"In the Mood," by Glenn Miller and His Orchestra (1939). An anthem for Generation Swing.

U. S. Highball (A Musical Account of a Transcontinental Hobo Trip), by Harry Partch; Gate 5 Ensemble (1946). Regardless of which major institution does the choosing, hoboes somehow always make the list.

Jack Benny from 1948.
Robber: "Your money or your life."
Robber: "Well?"
Benny: "I'm thinking it over."

Live at the Apollo, by James Brown. Speaking of living or dying, this is more alive than anyone's ever been or could be. "Night Train" was the song Sonny Liston trained to. 'Nuff said.

Live at the Fillmore East, by the Allman Brothers. Postmodern Mind-Fuck No. 771: the Library of Congress praises "Whipping Post."

Plus the ridiculous Star Wars soundtrack and the sublime Public Enemy and Nirvana, and dozens of fascinating others.

Feel free to nominate a song for government-sanctioned immortality. Note: as of this writing the form gives a deadline of July 15, 2004. Either bookmark and check back for when the LOC updates its website, or take a chance it is still collecting noms despite the tardiness of their header. But don't hesitate to make some noise. Obviously, it's the American way.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

The ringmaster

Greg Garrison, Dean Martin's longtime TV producer, passed away March 25. In recent years Garrison was reborn (as so many are) via the infomercial. Insomniacs enjoyed his enthusiastic shilling for old episodes of the Best of... compilations of Dino's old variety show. Surely no entertainment figure ever worked less hard than Dean on a hit television program; as is well known by now, he blew in from the golf course on Sunday afternoon, walked through whatever skits were waiting, and three hours later headed out to dinner, another episode in the can, and Dean soon to be in the bag.

Garrison played a similar role as ringmaster for the Dean Martin Celebrity Roast. As a tribute to that show, and to his role in making it a success despite many obstacles, here's Nick Tosches' description of the proceedings, from his canonical showbiz biography Dino: Living High in the Dirty Business of Dreams:

It was a dais of despair. They sat at banquet tables at either side of the podium: the undead of dreamland and the fleeting stars of the television seasons, each rising in turn, at the beckoning of Dean or his bloated sidekick, Orson Welles, to deliver the moribund jokes consigned to him for the occasion. Taped in part at the NBC studio in Burbank and partly at the Ziegfeld Room of the MGM Grand in Vegas, guests often delivered their lines to empty chairs or pretended spontaneous laughter at words that had been uttered in another state. As many as a thousand cut-and-paste edits were done to give each show the illusion that everyone was together in the same place at the same time. But no amount of editing could vanquish the pervasive air of hollow artificiality that came through. The forced attempts at humor came from a ten-writer assembly line; only Jonathan Winters and Don Rickles were ever allowed to write their own material. The jokes were so bad and the canned laughter so false, and that hollow artificiality so funereal, that the shows had the quality of a relentlessly monotonous but vaguely disquieting dream. There were those who found "The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast" entertaining. There were those who lived canned lives, who found release through canned laughter. "Time cries and lets you care," the commercial said. Canned sadness, canned happiness: a wasteland full of empty cans. And there slouched Dean boozily at the dais—perhaps alone among the empty chairs, perhaps with the ghosts of others nearby—laughing forlornly at God knew what. That image of him, presiding abstractedly at this convivium of artificial life, would be the one that America retained, a final remembrance, as he faded from the prime-time heartland of mediocrity to the realm of myth.

Bridge over frozen water

Saturday night I arrived home after a synagogue concert—alas, not the Beastie Boys or that rapping Hasid with the reggae beat. Tired, and trying to get a chant about the afikomen out of my head, I tuned to the ESPN triumverate on the cable system, the TV I watch when I'm too apathetic to actually surf the channels. To my dismay, figure skating was on. Damn you, NHL! But this was a particularly hideous form of figure skating. Not a competition. That I could respect, sort of, even as I searched for the remote. This was skating without judges, however. Mere ice entertainment.

I was surprised to see that recorded easy listening was insufficient to the spectacle. You see, when I heard "Bridge Over Troubled Water," I had no idea Art Garfunkel his own self was at rink side, laying down the song with a live band while inspiring a woman in tights to greater heights of interpretative skating.

Art Garfunkel doesn't need my sympathy. In fact, I suspect he performed just because he likes figure skating, not because he's poor. Perhaps he knows it annoys Simon to hear "Bridge" used as skating music—in my book, that's incentive enough for such an appearance. It would have been enough had he done that. But he also freed me from the song about the afikomen.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Eleven years

No tribute here, no maudlin remembrances. Better fans and better writers have hoed that ground.

Tomorrow marks the anniversary of Kurt Cobain's death. In the weeks leading up to it even the most casual observer of the rock sceene knew his next concert—hell, his next day—was no given. I had that day off from work. When I heard it happened I called up a couple of working friends to report the news. Though sad, none of us were surprised.

Full confession: I passed up a chance to see him in concert, for nothing or next to it. This despite the sense of tragedy surrounding the guy. Don't ask me why I took the rain check. I'm sure I thought he'd be back through town on a more convenient night. That's the funny thing. Whatever the relationship, even when you see heartbreak coming you often ignore the signs. As that's true of personal romance, so it's true between rock stars and their fans. All I can say is the man and his bandmates layered a lot of good music over a lot of good memories. I remember driving the Chicago-Bellingham, Wa. route in 1992. From the Corn Palace of Mitchell to empty Wyoming, from Rapid City's sad little slots to the predominantly orange decor of Spokane hotels, you could always hear two songs, regardless of the situation: "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and "Achy Breaky Heart." That's a lot of cognitive dissonance. Fortunately, you have a lot of time to think in Wyoming.

It all seems so dim, yet so immediate—Courtney Love's heartbreaking reading of the suicide note; the video of the vigils; the tributes from Neil Young and others in the aftermath. I would not say I idolized the living Cobain. For God's sake, I paid good money to see Soundgarden, yet passed on Nirvana. But like a lot of people I felt a connection to the music and a connection to Cobain himself—through a shared birthday, though, rather than the crippling emotional problems (or the smack) that others used as their conduit. Maybe it's the power of Nirvana's music—or just the mean seduction of celebrity—that invested such a luck-of-the-draw link with emotion.

The news of his death is one of the few public events I can recall that took my breath away when I heard it and pains me deep down years later. I remain confused by the immediacy of that feeling amidst the memories of that April, and the fact that a sense of loss for someone I never knew can bind me—can bind anyone—to a day eleven years ago.