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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Want Ads: Queen of Hearts needs a new king..


So, I wanted to write the final piece of my 'music tryptich' about my personal male idols/gurus of rock. These are six male rockers who I not only look up to but probably would be/have been friends with if I knew them personally. Though in this specific post, I will only talk about three: John Lennon, Freddie Mercury, and Jerry Garcia. I tried to keep the list down to five, but it's too hard, so I made it six. It is in no particular order because I hold each of these rocker gentlemen in equal esteem. I like each of these rockers for very similar but different reasons.

A) JOHN LENNON: Everyone knows about his stint with The Beatles, but I would argue that he REALLY made a dent in music and social politics after his career with The Beatles. It was for his personal convictions and activism, after all, that he was killed (at least I believe that's true). I have watched biographies about Lennon and his post-Beatles career. 'The US vs. John Lennon' is a great documentary that highlights the controversy behind Lennon and his activism. Also there's the movie 'Nowhere Boy' which came out a couple of years ago in 2010. Of course, there's ton of reading about John Lennon and his journey from The Beatles to John Lennon ‘The Activist’. What I find so inspiring about him is that he was a champion to the cause of peace. There's the famous be-in/love-in/bed-in, where John and Yoko Ono sat in a bed to protest for world peace. They were aware that their marriage would gain lots of press coverage, so during their honeymoon, in Amsterdam on March 25, 1969 (they staged a second in Montreal) they sat in bed dressed in only their pajamas inviting the press to cover this event for seven days from 9am to 9pm. I know a lot of people accuse Yoko Ono of breaking up The Beatles. However, I would make an argument that John Lennon HAD to leave The Beatles (and Paul McCartney's ego) to become so shiningly brilliant and a beacon for social activism. Yoko pushed him into being a better artist, a better person; her art married his, and they created some outrageously amazing ideas/art together. In fact, John Lennon was almost deported back to England in an attempt to silence his and Yoko's voice and spirit. Thank goodness the Nixonian fuddy-duddies didn't win; Lennon got his green card in 1976. However, I would also agree with the argument that has been made about John Lennon being murdered due to his beliefs. In my opinion, he is a martyr. It is not surprising that when he was born, in 1940, when the Nazis were bombing England. His middle name is Winston, after Winston Churchill. He understood and wanted to preserve beauty in the world. Because of his dealings with evil and humanity at arguably its darkest hour (1940's Europe), he stood by the idea of peace and pacifism until his death. His lyrics and poetry in music was effervescent. He released 12 albums after The Beatles, and has had the most number of songs/hits of the Fab Four post-Beatles. His memorable songs: 'Imagine', 'Watching the Wheels', 'Working Class Hero', 'Instant Karma', 'Beautiful Boy', 'Give Peace a Chance'. He transcended the status of The Beatles and established fame and notoriety outside of it. What's more is that he was into music for the sheer sake of its art. He wasn't about the money and fame; he wanted to make a difference and spoke out against Vietnam and war, human rights and civil liberties. He is an icon for the sixties, for today.

'Working Class Hero' (1971): (

'Give Peace a Chance' (live from Bed Peace-1969):

(=)further reading:

~John Lennon movies
~Time Photos: John and Yoko Bed-In
~Rock Hall bio on John Lennon

=Official John Lennon site

B) FREDDIE MERCURY: Freddie Mercury is by far the most amazing front man of any band past and present (probably future too). He had a great flare for the dramatic and theatrical. His get-ups onstage include wearing a king's crown and velvet robe, suspenders and tight jeans, or no shirt and leather shorts/pants. He didn't care; he just got up on stage and sang his heart out. His vocals range from raunchy to ridiculous but also can be operatic and sincere. I have never gotten goose bumps from music other than Queen. They are my top three bands of all time not only because of Freddie Mercury but because I have NEVER heard a Queen song that sucks. It just doesn't exist. Also, Freddie didn't hide being gay. He didn't marry a woman and try to be straight like other singers (not that I am judging Elton John) but he was daring enough in a pre-gay tolerant world to say I'm who I am; deal with it, dearies. I still remember when he died of AIDS in 1991. That was when HIV/AIDS was gaining understanding and acceptance. Before that point, people didn't discuss it; certainly if you contracted it, you kept it secret. He was one of the first public celebrities to openly tell the world about his AIDS status. For that alone, he is an amazing individual. Musically, he was so talented. He is like super tenor! I could never even imagine hitting the notes he made sound effortless. Interestingly, he was born in the 40's (like Lennon); he was born in Tanzania in 1946. He also spent a lot of time in Bombay attending boarding school there; he is half-Indian after all. His first couple bands were the Hectics and Ibex. However, it was meeting Brian May and Roger Taylor while attending Ealing College of Art, that would launch Freddie Mercury's career and life of stardom. Queen didn't play their first gig until 1971, and they released their first album in 1973. I have some early recordings of Queen and it isn't so different from doo-wop and some of the psychedelic sounds going on before Queen made anthem/power/stadium rock into a genre. In 1974, 'Killer Queen' became Queen's first hit on their album, Sheer Heart Attack. Then 1975 saw the birth of 'Bohemian Rhapsody' from the album A Night at the Opera, possibly the most well-known Queen track and album (partly thanks to the movie Wayne's World). Other hits of theirs, of course, include: 'Radio-Ga Ga', 'Another One Bites the Dust', 'We Will Rock You'/'We are the Champions', 'Fat Bottomed Girls', 'Under Pressure', and 'Crazy Little Thing Called Love'. In 1985, many people remember the Queen set for Live Aid, a benefit for famine victims in Africa. At Freddie Mercury's illness and death, Roger Taylor said (about his friend Mercury): “He didn’t want to be looked at as an object of pity and curiosity, and he didn’t want circling vultures over his head." This is what I respect him most for, aside from being a singer/songwriter and heading the greatest band of all time; he was open about his sexuality and lifestyle. Freddie Mercury didn't hide from people; he was honest and up front in a time when the world was just waking up to the reality of AIDS. For this, he will be emblazoned in my mind as an activist and champion of not only gay rights but human rights. For it is one's groups rights that affect us all!

Queen (at Live Aid-1985)

Freddie Mercury (65 Birthday tribute-2011)

~Freddie Mercury bio

=Queen official website
=NPR interview on Freddie Mercury

The Grateful Dead, like Queen, is also in my top three pick of all-time favorite bands. Aerosmith is number three, but I will discuss Steven Tyler in another post. Jerry Garcia is a legacy. He was with GD for 30 years (1965-1995), and was playing music for even longer. He has a franchise empire from t-shirts, ties, hats, pendants/jewelry, stickers, plush bear toys, mugs/glasses, and lots of other paraphernalia. He even has his OWN Ben n' Jerry's ice cream flavor, 'Cherry Garcia'. Not to mention that the songs of the GD have ice cream namesakes as well. The Grateful Dead is best known for their jam style and fusion of blues, jazz, funk, and country into rock. They are one of the few bands that really don't have a genre, or at least they fit into many different genres. The GD are known better for their live sets and consequently bootleg recordings. Before we had CD's and MP3's, Deadheads would go to GD concerts and tape live shows. The Grateful Dead also have a faithful following, Deadheads, who traveled from show to show and formed a niche community. This Deadhead atmosphere and kindred togetherness helped to groove into the whole hippie movement and counter-culture atmosphere. It is also alive and well in some choice music festivals today (thought not many). Not surprisingly, Jerry Garcia was born in San Francisco during 1942 (two years younger than John Lennon and four years older than Freddie Mercury). Jerry had two major tragic events happen in his young life. When he was four, he lost the top half of his right middle finger in a wood chopping accident. Then, about a year later, his father died in a fishing accident. Jerry found an outlet in music, and not shockingly, his father was a bandleader who also played saxophone and clarinet. Jerry played piano from early on, and when he turned 15, he got his first guitar. Thank goodness Jerry Garcia told his mother to take back his accordion and get him that guitar. This guitar launched a love for music and led to many band formations. Jerry Garcia found himself more interested in music than school, and he dropped out at the age of 17 in 1960. He moved to Palo Alto, and played music in and around Stanford. He began to experiment with bluegrass and country joining bands with very country names like the Sleepyhollow Hog Stompers and Hart Valley Drifters. In 1963, he formed a duet, Jerry & Sara with who would later be his first wife, Sara Lee Ruppenthal. In 1964, he joined a jug band, where he met Bob Weir (guitar) and Rob McKernan (keyboard/harmonica). At this time, though, they were still the Warlocks. At deciding to use electric instruments and infuse the country sound with rock, they also added Phil Lesh (bassist) and Bill Kreutzmann (drummer). This is also when the officially became The Grateful Dead. Of course, the GD are known for classics like 'Fire on the Mountain', 'Samson and Delilah', 'Terrapin Station', 'Truckin', 'Bertha', 'Sugar Magnolia', 'Eyes of the World', 'Uncle John's Band', 'Mexicali Blues', 'Turn on your Love Light', 'Fraklin's Tower', 'Casey Jones', 'Shakedown Street'. Their music is prolific, so much so that there was a Church of GD near San Francisco back in the 60's (who knows it might still be around today). Jerry Garcia was a pioneer in music. He transcended genre and plugged right into the counter-culture of an era. His voice/music was the soundtrack to the acid tests of Timothy Leary, Woodstock, the love-in scene of Haight-Ashbury. Jerry Garcia was the 60's and managed to keep on making music right until he died.

Acid Tests (1966):

Grateful Dead at Woodstock (1969):

Grateful Dead in 'Festival Express) (1970):

~Jerry Garcia bio on All Music

=Jerry Garcia official site
=Catalogue of Jerry Garcia's music outside GD

In the next post, I will continue my ode to the kings of rock by discussing Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, David Bowie, and Frank Zappa. Sadly, out of these six men, only two I will ever have the chance to meet.

Peace, love, & rock n' roll:

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