by Ryan Meehan
The miracle of life is a wonderful thing. The feeling of holding something living in your hands reminds us that indeed our existence is a very lucky one indeed. But at some point everybody is going to count worms, even those who have made the music that we’ve grown up to love over the years. With the exception of Tupac Shakur, we’re not going to be seeing any new releases from the artists who have handed in their dinner pail. While ProTools may give you the opportunity to pick apart material compiled during an individual’s life and set it to a beat, it’s fair to say that when it comes to songwriting once you’ve bought it the world isn’t going to be blessed with what you have to give in that department from that point forward. That’s why life is so precious, and why some of this is going to hurt a bit. Before we get started, we need to set some ground rules for this piece.
- First off, we’re going to toss out any artist who had a majority of their success before 1968. It’s safe to say that anyone who was cashing huge checks before the RFK assassination is probably lucky to be alive. I’m sad that Robert Johnson is dead too, but if he weren’t he’d be 103 years old and probably not the world’s most exciting touring musician.
- None of the artists on this list are going to be obvious choices. Anybody can make a playlist comprised of John Lennon songs, but that’s already been done millions of times. Same thing goes for George Harrison, Frank Sinatra, and Robbin Crosby from Ratt. Those guys are complete legends, and we all know enough about them that they don’t effectively need to be discussed in further detail.
- I am not a fan of Jimi Hendrix. Yes, the guy was a great guitar player. Yes, I am aware that he performed a few blocks away from the store at the legendary Col Ballroom. And no, I don’t own a single Jimi Hendrix album, CD, or MP3. Let’s not make a huge issue of this. Everybody has their own personal preferences, and one of mine is that I’m not big on the founding fro of the fretboard.
- Iggy Azalea, 2 Chainz, T-Pain, and all of the members of Nickelback are all still alive. While I’ve read all of your emails and I completely understand the sentiment, I can’t order out any more hits until I’m off probation. There are plenty of people in Nevada who can make this happen, I suggest you contact them for further information as I can be of no immediate assistance.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s get down to business and sharpen our shovels. Welcome to the fourth installment of the Ragged Record Playlist series: This is Ragged Records Playlist Four: The Dirtnap Edition.
- Death – “Infernal Death” (from the album “Scream Bloody Gore” released in 1987)
Date of passing: 2001 (Chuck Schuldiner)
It seems only fitting that we should open this one up from the man who invented the death metal growl, and arguably is one of the founding musicians who can be seen as the godfather of death metal. Chuck Schuldiner began the band that eventually formed Death just a year earlier, and although they had been jamming for some times before CS moved to Ontario it was pretty impressive to think that this record was made in only a year. The intro is very grindy and bricky, and out rips a killer speed metal riff once everything kicks in. I’m starting to have a lot more respect for musicians in any genre that can take care of the business necessary to get their point across in under three minutes, and I’d much rather listen to a metal song like this than one of Cradle of Filth’s linear eight-and-a-half minute opuses which lack the sort of central focus I’m looking for in music north of 150 bpms. Schuldiner departed this life in a very tragic manner in 2001, from a tumor that had returned after almost a year and a half. His family was unable to afford the treatment at the time, but the metal community pitched in and was able to cover the costs associated with fighting the disease until Chuck eventually succumbed to pneumonia at the young age of 34. The fact that he was unable to cover the costs of his treatment when the tumor returned speaks volumes about the industry of health care in America today, but perhaps even more so about the lack of money artists make off of their craft. You’d think that a guy whose work was so critical in making heavy metal what it is today would have had the financial means to assist in combating such a serious disease, but you’d be wrong because sometimes life really, really fucking sucks.
- Dan Fogelberg – “Same Old Lang Syne” (from the album “The Innocent Age” released in 1981)
Date of passing: 2007
One of the saddest songs ever to be recorded, Fogelberg uses this song to tell the story of how he ran into his old lover at the grocery store and connected on a personal level with his now-married ex-counterpart. But instead of them banging in her minivan, he goes on to talk about how they drank a six pack and all he got was a peck on the cheek. Listen, I know men and women can be platonic friends once a relationship is over and all of that good stuff but I’m calling bullshit on this one. If you return from a tour, see your ex in the soup aisle, she tells you how she saw your album in a record store, and that exchange doesn’t end up with an empty Durex wrapper somewhere in her vehicle – you’re doing it wrong. But always the consummate gentleman, Fogelberg tells the story in a way that you almost believe he didn’t seal the deal. Even though I can’t stand holidays of any sort, ballads that can incorporate holidays without actually being directly associated with those holidays are always going to be gold. I’m not going to make too many jokes about Fogelberg’s passing, because he died of prostate cancer and given the number of times I get up to use the restroom in the middle of the night I got a funny feeling that moment is eventually coming for me as well. Then some asshole will get to draft up a similar article which includes “Treated” by Ravenation, but of course the joke will be on him because I’ll be dead already so I won’t have to write it.
- Marvin Gaye – “Inner City Blues” (from the album “What’s Going On?” released in 1971)
Date of passing: 1984
Quick! Without looking, how do you think Marvin Gaye died? With a history of cocaine abuse that rivaled that of any heavy metal or hard rock artist, the words “Drug Overdose” were probably the first two words to come flying out of your mouth when you read that question. Well, you’d be wrong. As fate would have it, in the early to mid-eighties Marvin actually moved back in with his parents to try and clean his life up. He also bought his father a gun that he would use for protection. Shortly thereafter Marvin Gaye, one of the greatest entertainers in the history of the business ended up getting shot in his own bedroom because he was trying to break up an argument between his mother and one of the stupidest men to ever live. If this isn’t the most cautionary tale of the dangers of religious lunacy, I don’t know what is. I think that for the most part, individuals that decide to become a part of the clergy are decent people. But there’s always a few of them that remind us that the idea of “religious extremism” is a term that should not necessarily be reserved for Muslims. One of these exceptions to the rule would be Marvin Gaye Sr., who deservedly went to be with the Lord of the Underworld in October of 1998 while absolutely nobody on the planet felt sorry for his passing. “Inner City Blues” was probably one of the most socially conscious songs of its time, and I say that with force because a lot of the artists who made the music of the sixties preached peace but really had no idea what was going on in the ghetto (er…excuse me…”urban”) communities. I love Jefferson Airplane, but those folks had no idea of the oppression African-Americans were suffering in those communities heading into the seventies. Topics like the Vietnam war, inflation, and police violence were all addressed in this song, and it was set to a very somber yet groove-laden backdrop that proved you didn’t have to disrupt traffic to peacefully address the many problems that were occurring in the world at the time.
- Nick Drake – “River Man” (from the album “Five Leaves Left” released in 1969)
Date of passing: 1974
I was introduced to this artist by a friend of mine who had what was probably an unhealthy obsession with music that could be classified as “Sad-core”. Artists such as Red House Painters and Codeine were indisputably influenced by a musician who gained prominence in the late sixties by the name of Nick Drake. A quiet and troubled man who found himself with a record deal at just twenty years old, Drake was never really comfortable in his own shoes. He dropped out of Cambridge in 1968 and later that year he began recording Five Leaves Left, an album whose title many believe predicted the date of his own death as it was named upon completion in 1969 and Drake died in 1974. Probably the most haunting track on the record was “River Man”, a song that was in 5/4 time signature but also one of the only compositions Nick wrote in standard tuning. It’s a perfect example of how he had the unique ability to shift from minor to major chords and then back again, all the while carefully managing the balance of the pace of the piece. As previously stated, Drake passed away five years later in ’74 from an overdose of anti-depressants. His recordings would be posthumously released on Rykodisc, a record company that also housed the likes of Bill Hicks, Sugar, and David Bowie. He was one hell of a musician, and this is my favorite song of his by a longshot.
- Heavy D & The Boyz – “Now That We Found Love” (from the album “Peaceful Journey” released in 1991)
Date of passing: 2011
Although technically not an original as the sample was lifted from the 1973 track of the same name by The O’ Jays, this is probably the cut from Heavy D that I will remember the most. As a twelve year old boy with a pair of cheap rollerblades who lives in a metro area where at the time there was virtually nothing for someone of that age to do, I spent a great deal of my time at the local roller rink. Since I wasn’t a very big fan of a lot of R&B music that was being put out at the time, the tracks that belonged in that category which I did like really stuck out to me and this one was at the top of the pack. Heavy was everything that his name suggested: Likely not a huge fan of salad and he had a deep voice to match. But just as gangsta rap was making its way towards the not-so mean streets of every white kid you knew at the time, D was putting out singles that were very radio friendly and he could still demand street cred because he was a really good rapper. His list of television and film appearances includes just about everything that was popular in African-American culture at the time, and he composed the theme music to the television shows In Living Color and MADtv. The man who was born Dwight Errington Myers collapsed outside of his home in Beverly Hills on my birthday back in 2011, and his death was later determined to have been attributed to a pulmonary embolism. This is also a double qualifier for the dirtnap edition because one of the Boyz (Trouble T. Dixon) also ate a grass taco back in 1990, so I highly doubt that a reunion tour will be in the works anytime soon. The tragic ending doesn’t change the fact that it was a great story, one that saw a kid from Jamaica become a senior vice president at the record label which would later become Universal Music Group.
- GG Allin – “Dope Money” (from the album “Freaks, Drunks, & Junkies” released in 1988)
Date of passing: 1993
What list of musicians who pegged out would be complete without the man who was once forcibly removed from a speech at NYU in which he shoved a banana up his own asshole? Not this one, because while other rock and roll icons engaged in debauchery New Hamsphire’s favorite son GG Allin took it to a whole new level of craziness. Also famous for eating his own feces and requesting that his corpse not be washed for his funeral service, Kevin Michael Allin was buried underneath a headstone that labeled him as a rock n’ roll terrorist next to a quote that simply read “For my mission ends in termination, vicinity of death”. Recorded proof of the evident lack of respect for his own body during his short life here on this planet is the 1988 classic “Dope Money”. This song lists makes apparent the long list of things he will do to acquire the currency needed to score opiates, which include everything from blowing a complete stranger to offering to torpedo your turd cutter for the ability to snatch up a couple of stamps of smack. This cut is true GG, because you can’t tell if it was recorded on a four-track or the blackbox of a cross-country flight that slammed into the side of Rocky Mountains. The term “lo-fi” doesn’t even begin to do this track justice, as I’m not sure if Allin did a single second take his entire career. To give you an idea of how truly out of his mind GG was, he actually used to visit John Wayne Gacy. This was probably not surprising to those close to him, especially when you consider that the woman he was romantically involved with at the time of his death met him when she was just seventeen years old. I could sit here all day and rattle off bizarre facts such as that one, but really the world of the Scumfuck Outlaw himself is something that you need to research yourself as it seems almost unimaginable two decades after he turned up his toes. Also, as an alert to all those who are in the field of marketing: To give you an idea of poorly YouTube tracks your advertising dollar, the advert that came up before this video was for Olive Garden. I shit you not. Kind of changes the way you look at free breadsticks, doesn’t it?
- Greg Giraldo – “Midlife Vices” (Full album, released in 2009)
Date of passing: 2010
As stated in the opener, I’m skipping the obvious choices here. So when it comes to stand-up comedy, I’m assuming you are all familiar with Richard Pryor, George Carlin, and Lenny Bruce. With those legendary comics stuck in your brain you have missed the genius that was Greg Giraldo, whose tragic passing just a half a decade back really made everybody in the comedy community take a long hard look at how they were treacherously living their own life on the road. His material was disturbingly honest, and I could only imagine that being married to him took a very emotional toll on his wife Maryann. This I would presume put a lot of stress on their marriage, and threatened to derail Giraldo’s sobriety. But it couldn’t stop him from coming up with unforgettable phrases like “This two foot scrotum feels like the tongue of God on my thigh” and “There are more whipped guys on television nowadays than on the Amistad”. A former lawyer who abandoned a craft at which he would make much more money, in “Midlife Vices” Greg told terrifying tales of the demons he fought daily. This was a fantastic special, but perhaps Giraldo’s greatest quote over the course of his career was this one: “I’ve always had real troubles knowing what my actual desires and goals are. I’ve just been dragged along by fate”. That fate became a fatality in September of 2010 when Giraldo overdosed on prescription pain medication in New Jersey and never woke up.
- Joy Division – “Shadowplay” (from the album “Unknown Pleasures” released in 1979)
Date of Passing: 1980
In the late seventies, the initial wave of the punk movement was causing the genre to split into many different subcultures. A lot of these subcultures approached music with the goal of outdoing each other’s weirdness, which makes sense because it reflected the rebellious nature of what it meant to be punk rock in the first place. One of these bands formed after a Sex Pistols gig, and eventually caught the attention of Manchester TV personality Tony Wilson. Wilson eventually released the band’s debut album “Unknown Pleasures” in 1979, which contained the track “Shadowplay” as the second song on the second side of the LP. I understand that sometimes the term “simplistic” can be interpreted as insulting, but this song is a perfect example of why sometimes it’s a good thing to simplify. Great lyrics, very basic feel to it, killer work all around. Only 24 at the time of his suicide by hanging, Ian Curtis had unknowingly laid the groundwork for a majority of danceworthy alternative music that would dominate the eighties. You show me a member of Depeche Mode that wasn’t heavily influenced by Joy Division, and I’ll show you a medicine cabinet of antipsychotic medication that you can shovel into your mouth because you are fucking delusional. I’d like to think that had Curtis lived he would have despised New Order, and when you go back and listen to Joy Division it’s almost implausible to think that shit show evolved out of one of the most important bands of the previous era.
- Elliott Smith – “Waltz #2” (from the album “XO” released in 1998)
Date of Passing: 2003
A melancholy story told in the key of intense depression, “Watz #2” by Elliott Smith possesses probably one of the best bridges ever written. That portion of the song is a tad disappointing when the climax is finally reached and the curtain falls, but the three vocal notes that lead up to that disappointment are so great that it doesn’t really matter. This song was recorded with the guitar tuned a whole step down, so when the A minor chord is played a Gminor – one of my favorite guitar tones. G chords are typically in major form, so when played as a minor they serve a heightened sense of stirring effectiveness. (One of my favorite examples is Built to Spill’s “Randy Described Eternity” off of “Perfect from Now On”) There are several choices here with regards to which line is the best, but the chorus to this song contains the lyric “I’m never gonna know you now, but I’m gonna love you anyhow” and that’s the one that sticks with me the most. It’s extremely cryptic, and unusual for Elliott’s body of work because of its inherent sing-along nature. One could make the argument that folk songwriter Elliott Smith eventually died from the last of several suicide attempts, the first of which began right around the time the material from this album was being composed. While some musicians opt to toy with drugs until they OD, although Elliott did that on numerous occasions he also took it a step further by stabbing himself in the chest when he finally chose to depart this planet. However he did make a lot of amazing music in his short time on this earth, and if you have to listen to just one song from his catalog this one would be it.
- Jeff Buckley – “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over” (from the album “Grace” released in 1994)
Date of Passing: 1997
It took me longer to actually get down on some Jeff Buckley until just recently. I had a childhood friend who had that same name so I guess for some odd reason I always found myself kind of avoiding his work because I thought if the guy ever saw a CD with his name on it in my car he’d think I was a creep. He was also the only left-handed kid on our baseball team growing up. What was I talking about again? Oh right…Jeff Buckley the musician. From what I can gather about this song, it seems as if it’s really about the internal struggle that goes on in your head right after the breakup of a relationship that you could have easily repaired. It’s riddled with guilt and self-doubt, clearly told from the perspective of a guy who realizes that he messed up. That desperation is evident in the fact that the hook lands on a minor chord in the chorus of this song, something that isn’t easy to do. Buckley is unique to this list because he is the only one on it who died by drowning. Supposedly he went for an impromptu swim in the Mississippi River – no story that begins that way ever ends well – in May of 1997 and his body did not resurface until a week later. He wasn’t into drinking or dope, it was a complete accident and supposedly his family was able to identify his body because he would paint his fingernails and toenails odd colors. His influence on modern music is very evident in the Sam Smiths and the James Blunts of today, and although his passing was tragic it did alert people to the genius of his songwriting abilities.
- Morphine – “Test Tube Baby”/”Shoot ‘Em Down” (from the album “Good” released in 1993)
Date of Passing: 1999
Morphine didn’t sound like any other of the alternative bands playing in the 1990s. At that time there was nothing less hip than a guy with a baritone voice who was accompanied by a saxophonist, especially a dude who played slide on a bass that only had two strings in place. A Massachusetts band that saw more prominent success in Europe, they were led by a very bizarre looking man by the name of Mark Sandman who brought the weird out to unavoidable quantities. Sandman had an abnormally large forehead, which is concurrent with my theory that this guy just had a really huge brain. I think he just envisioned music on a completely different level, and this track is a perfect example of that enhanced vision. It’s also a great representation of the relationship he shared with fellow bandmate and horn enthusiast Dana Colley, as the sliding of the main note in the hook could not have been timed any better. Morphine toured extensively throughout their career, but those touring days came to an abrupt end in 1999 when Sandman collapsed in Italy during a live show and died. The cause of his death was listed as a heart attack, not surprising when you consider that he smoked almost two packs of cigarettes a day and that it was a hundred degrees in the shade that night. There has been a documentary film made about Morphine entitled “Cure For Pain”; and you can watch it here. I know a lot of people will swear up and down that “Like Swimming” is a better record than this one, and although I’m not vehemently disagreeing with that statement I would remind everybody that “Do Not Go Quietly Unto Your Grave” and “You Look Like Rain” are also on this LP. Either way there is more than enough Morphine to go around, which is never a bad thing.
- INXS – “Don’t Change” (from the 1982 album Shabooh Shoobah)
Date of Passing: 1997
This one I can honestly say I was really bummed about. Michael Hutchence was the type of front man that A&R people can only dream of in today’s sea of dead behind the eyes American Idol castoffs. If you look at the guy’s mannerisms, it’s not too difficult to see that he behaved a lot like Bono from U2. The difference between the two? Hutchence probably didn’t give a shit about politics because he was too busy having sex with whoever was on the cover of Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue that year. So while Bono annoyed us to no end with his empty plight to raise awareness of social issues that he probably gave less than a shit about, Michael was much easier to stomach because he just wanted to rock. Nowhere was that more apparent than in the early eighties when new wave was the coolest thing in the world and INXS was putting out gems like this one. This is just a great song, and a really puzzling guitar riff to say the very least. It’s the most motionless hook in the world, but somehow this track moved faster than 95% of the music that was coming out at the time. Michael Hutchence assumed room temperature by choking himself with a belt in his hotel room in December of 1997, and INXS would try to replace him years later to less than favorable results. But this song came from an era in which I was very young, so bands like INXS always seemed like the cool artist that your friend’s older sister listened to. So mad props for Kendra Saunders for introducing me to these guys back in the day, and I’m sorry I walked into the bathroom while you were getting out of the shower that one time. That was totally unintentional on my part.
If you took the time to read all of the way through this, I can tell you that it’s my intention that the next piece will be less depressing. No promises.
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