Sunday marked the seventy-eighth birthday of the "architect of rock & roll" Little Richard—a true cultural pioneer when he burst on the scene in late 1955 with his first chart hit "Tutti Frutti."
Elvis Presley of course was the one who put R&R on the map in the following year, but it was Little Richard Penniman's screaming vocals and wild piano-pounding—inciting teen hysteria (and occasional riots) at many of his gigs—that made rock & roll dangerous, and therefore all the more attractive to young audiences. (Imagine the backlash if the culture police knew he was also gay!)
But after a string of raucous hits (including "Long Tall Sally," "Lucille," and "Rip It Up") Richard left show business in 1957 when he literally "saw the light"—a flaming streak in the night sky, which he took as a sign from God to quit rock & roll and become a preacher (a logical conclusion that anyone would take).
The light turned out to be the Russian satellite Sputnik, but he nevertheless abandoned his tour the next day.
As this stranger-than-usual US political season comes to a close (highlighted by some stranger-than-usual candidates), I thought I'd put this in context by drawing attention to an event that occurred thirty years ago this week, which might help explain the present situation.
Two days after the 1980 US Presidential election, won by Ronald Reagan, I went on national television to introduce myself as a "neo-independent" candidate for US President for 1984. (I thought I'd get an early start.)
The results of my campaign? Though I ran without the support of a political party and spent just a few hundred dollars, I won only one less state than Democratic nominee Walter Mondale, who spent $27 million in his losing bid to Ronald Reagan.
Here's an edited clip of my appearance on NBC's Tomorrow Show, hosted by Tom Snyder.
Today is the seventieth anniversary of the birth of John Lennon, arguably the most influential rock musician of the last century (a proposition I'm happy to discuss in the comments page).
Lennon was of course the founder of The Beatles and, in its early days, its leader and most prolific songwriter. The Beatles, as you may have heard, were the most successful pop music entity in history—a boldly imaginative British rock band that hit artistic and commercial peaks that have never been matched… in part because of Lennon's disruptive creativity.
Lennon was also an international peace activist who generated headlines of his own with anti-war protests and performances, before and after the Beatles' dissolution.
But Lennon, like so many larger-than-life pop personalities, was a bundle of contradictions. This peace advocate was a brawler in his youth and, at times, an abuser of friends and lovers alike (he was not a pleasant drunk).
Here at blfr we frequently lament the scarcity of bright, bold, creative, iconoclastic young bands who can cut new ground in rock while keeping it real.
But there is Green Day—the power-pop, retro-punk trio from Oakland, California. They're not kids anymore, but they've reinvented themselves in recent years (with two experimental but mega-successful punk rock operas) and, in the process, scooped up a new generation of young fans.
This band is now the standard bearer for Generation X and the Millennials. If that wasn't enough, Green Day's music has spawned a Broadway musical this year, American Idiot, which should win over a few more generations.
One reason for Green Day's success, methinks, is their total commitment to their ideals, which are abundantly expressed in their records. True to the punk tradition (especially by way of the '80s Berkeley scene) they consistently rail against racism, misogyny, and homophobia. (They once confronted a guy waiting in line for their concert wearing a 'White Power' T-shirt and told him they'd throw his dumb-ass out if he created any trouble.)
With Green Day you don't have to figure out what they stand for. File this under good branding.
The top Brit bands of the '60s—arguably the seven best to come out of the UK in that period, whose music is still heard on your satellite radio—had something interesting in common: their leaders/co-founders attended art school.
That would be: The Beatles' John Lennon; the Rolling Stones' Keith Richards; The Who's Pete Townshend; the Kinks' Ray Davies; Cream's Eric Clapton; Pink Floyd's Syd Barrett; and Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page. (More art school alumni in the comments.)
Coincidence? No chance. Art schools in England in the '60s were sanctuaries of cool. And like art schools everywhere they promoted the preeminence of aesthetics, beauty, style, design. Any art student would quickly grasp the importance—and basic mechanics—of standing out from the pack.
No surprise that each of these seven musicians, after leaving art school, was able to develop a distinct style of his own, a powerful brand identity—and help his band develop its own identity.