Okay, well, the high temperatures have abated a bit, but I had so much fun writing the last post (it was the writing, I swear, not the beer I was drinking as I wrote it), I've decided to make another top five list on a related theme: rock and roll's most amazing women. It goes without saying that it's a subjective list, of course, and feel free to take issue with my choices. Just don't expect to convince me otherwise. And, so, that having been said, here we go...
No, wrong, it's not because of the way she looks and the fact that, during her heyday in the 80s, I wondered on a regular basis why I couldn't have been born in Florida, adopted by an older couple from New Jersey, and grown up to be Debbie Harry, front woman for Blondie. It's because she is such a damned survivor. After an ignominious beginning in the music scene as the (brown-haired) lead singer for a forgotten late 1960s folkie band called Willow, Ms Harry went to work as a Playboy Bunny, and then, after meeting Blondie guitarist and resident weirdo Chris Stein, reinvented herself as the queen of late 70s/early 80s New Wave, mesmerizing audience and many critics with a stage persona that seemed to be a mixture of Marilyn Monroe-style glamour, Ramones-inspired street savvy, and bad-girl-with-a-heart-of-gold earthiness. Her singing chops have never been what you could call "formidable", but as the co-writer of many of Blondie's songs, she deserves to be recognized as the artist she is instead of yet another pop diva, which she never was. And let's not forget that heart of gold thing. For me, one of the most intriguing things about Debbie Harry is her lack of artifice and a down-to-earth quality that fame doesn't seem to have diminished. Even after she and Stein parted ways romantically, she remained at his side following a serious illness which derailed his career back in the late 80s. And who can forget that moment when, following Blondie's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006, Debbie and the current incarnation of the band took to the stage to perform, leaving fired rhythm guitarist, Frank Infante (aka Spook) at the podium. Feeling left out (understandably), Infante yelled out, "Hey, Debbie, I wanna play with you tonight!" Without blinking a mascara-fringed eye, Debbie replied,"Not tonight, Frank", grabbed her mike and started singing. Just another night for one of New York's best bands of the 1980s. And another cool moment for the woman who made that band worthy of its induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Let me say, straightaway, that there have been moments when, reading interviews with Chrissy Hynde, founder of The Pretenders, PETA spokeswoman, and former girlfriend of Pete Farndon (The Pretenders late bassist) and Ray Davies, as well as the ex-wife of Jim Kerr of Simple Minds, that I've thought to myself, "God, what a freaking bitch." I mean, of course reporters are going to ask personal questions about her relationship with Ray Davies, the equally snotty and brother-punching lead singer of The Kinks. That's what reporters do, Chrissy. And when it comes to PETA, well, nothing against vegetarians or those working to halt the mistreatment of animals, but it's not as though being the lead singer of The Pretenders (who it so happens was once a meat-eater herself) gives her the right to slam complete strangers for still enjoying a cheeseburger now and then. But all that aside, Chrissy Hynde is without question one of the most amazing women in rock and roll, if only because she has never, ever, as far as I can see, relied on anything but her musical and songwriting chops to achieve her much deserved success as an artist. I once read an interview with Pretenders drummer, Martin Chambers, in which he said that, during Chrissy's first pregnancy (blame Ray Davies) back in the 80s, it was hard to fathom the fact that she actually was pregnant because she had always just seemed like one of the guys. It was clearly not an act. Chrissy Hynde may never be mistaken for "pretty", but she' sexy nonetheless, simply because she is so completely and utterly herself on stage. But even now, pushing 60 and the mother of two daughters, don't waste time looking for her in "the middle of road." If Chrissy Hynde is anything at all, she's an artist...one who still has a razor sharp edge.
There's a video on YOUTUBE, taken from a 1976 performance by Heart on the old TV show "Midnight Special" (pre-MTV, that's where we had to go to actually see the bands that we heard on the radio), which captures Nancy Wilson in what had to be one of Heart's most glorious moments up to that point. Standing alone in the spotlight, the rest of the band waiting in shadows behind her, acoustic guitar slung around her shoulders, she launches into the extended, record-perfect intro for "Crazy On You." There were other female guitarist around at the time. Suzi Quatro, Joan Jett, Lita Ford, Joanie Mitchell, and the tragically unsung June Millington, lead player for the all-woman rock band Fanny. But I wager that very few people watching the show that night had seen anything like Nancy Wilson before: a strikingly beautiful young woman handling her guitar with a riveting combination of confidence and quiet passion, her fingers flying over the strings, an artist in love with her instrument and seemingly oblivious to the fact that the majority of males in the audience were probably already in pre-wet dream stage. True, her older sister, Ann is every bit as amazing, her voice one of the most recognizable and most formidable in the history of rock and roll, but Nancy Wilson was a charter member of a club with an even more exclusive membership. Which brings us to what has been a burning question in the minds of all Nancy Wilson fans ever since she and her husband of 25 years, writer and filmmaker Cameron Crowe, announced their plans to divorce last year: For God's sake, Cameron...what the bloody hell is wrong with you?
What can I say about Donna Summer without sounding trite? She has a voice that is at once sexy and majestic. She is a force of nature on stage, a stunning woman with the sort of stage presence that makes it impossible to take your eyes off her, especially when she's going those impossibly high notes that she somehow manages to toss off as easily as though she's simply clearing her throat. She's one of the few black women in music (at least in my opinion) who, like fellow artist of color, Jimi Hendrix, before her, has transcended R&B to carve out a singular niche of her own, one which can't be categorized because it defies genre completely. For a singer who started out as a disco-era siren moaning "love to love you, baby", Donna Summer has come a long way, breaking a lot of solid ground in the process and earning my respect as both an artist and a woman. Hot stuff? Try volcanic eruption. Hell, who else could have covered "MacArthur's Park", one of the most lyrically awkward songs ever written, and made it sound not only good, but poignant? But that's our Donna. Amazing. In the extreme.
A while back, I did a post on June Millington, who, along with her sister, bassist Jean, co-founded the groundbreaking, and sadly unsung all-female rock band, Fanny in the late 60s. Not gonna cover that same broken ground again. Still, this list would be worthless without her name and face adorning it. June Millington has been called "the hottest female guitar player in the industry" by Guitar Player magazine, and the accolade is well-deserved, but even more than that, she is simply one of the great rock and roll musicians of all time. Genius loses none of its luster merely because it goes unrecognized by the majority of the population. It's one thing to be Eric Clapton or Jimmy Page, artists who no doubt struggled to achieve their musical goals and definitely paid the dues required to earn them a place in the rock and roll pantheon of guitar gods. It's quite another to be a woman banging away at the same goal, your musical chops often overlooked and even dismissed simply because you happen to be a woman, which meant, back in the primordial days of the late 60s and early 70s, you were apparently inviting derision simply for having learned to play the guitar and having the audacity to want to make a career out of playing it on stage. But that's what Jean Millington did, and is still doing, which makes her...wait for it...yes, that's right...amazing.
If you're looking for a blog with meaningful content on the important issues of the day, you've come to the wrong place. This is the shallows, my friend. Nothing but shallowness as far as the eye can see. Let someone else make sense of things. I like it here.
- I love my grown children, miss all the dogs I ever had, and I cry at the drop of a hat, I believe in true love, destiny, fairness, and compassion. If I could be anywhere right now, it would be the ocean. My favorite city is New York, but I am always longing for London and craving more time in Copenhagen. I'm drawn to desolate places, deserted buildings, and unknown byways. I don't care how society perceives me as long as my gut tells me that what I'm doing is right. I am interested in paranormal things, spiritual things, historical things, and things that glow at night. I like to drink, I smoke when I write, I can't stand small talk, and despite my quick temper, I would rather kiss than fight. I'm selfish with my writing time, a spendthrift with my love. My heart has been broken so many times that it's held together with super glue and duct tape. The upside is that, next time, I won't be tempted to give away what I no longer have to give. But I will let you buy me a Pink Squirrel.
IN A WORLD FILLED WITH COMPLEX POLITICAL ISSUES, SOCIAL INEQUALITY, AND FINANCIAL UNCERTAINTY, I CONSIDER IT MY GIFT TO YOU, MY READER, TO OFFER THIS SHALLOW LITTLE HAVEN, WHERE NOTHING IS TOO SHALLOW, TOO INSIGNIFICANT, OR TOO RIDICULOUS TO JUSTIFY OUR ATTENTION. IN OTHER WORDS, IF IT'S NOT IMPORTANT....SO WHAT? NEITHER WAS MARILYN MONROE'S BRA SIZE. AND THAT STILL SELLS MAGAZINES, DOESN'T IT?