Archive for September, 2009

PUMPING UP THE PEARL JAM

September 30, 2009

Already Pearl Jam’s eighth Australian No.1 album, their new ‘Backspacer’ release is on track to becoming the band’s first US No.1 in more than a decade.

On the surface that hardly seems groundbreaking news. No.1 albums are a dime a dozen these days thanks to the strategic marketing of record companies. They’re so addicted to getting to No.1 and so good at it, in the end achieving No.1 has been totally devalued, just one of the ways the music industry has managed to destroy its own well-being over the years. They’re interest in what’s No.1. It means less and less to the record buyer. What’s interesting about Pearl Jam’s potential US No.1 is that in America at least there isn’t a major record company behind the Pearl Jam release. They’ve released the album themselves – a luxury of their position of success – on their own Monkeywrench label through a creative patchwork of deals with physical and digital retailers, the most prominent of which is a one-off, exclusive deal with retail chain Target. To appease their fan base’s sensibilities and keep some of their famous integrity in tact, Target agreed to let independent music retailers carry ‘Backspacer’ a first for one of its exclusives. ‘Backspacer’ is also sold on Pearl Jam’s Web site and at Apple’s iTunes Music Store. Rather than the $1.50 or $2 they have received per record  throughout their career so far Pearl Jam earn $5 for each copy of ‘Backspacer’ sold in the US. Tell that to an artist trying to get their career off the ground!

Internationally, Universal Music is the label for the release.

While the recent business adventures of Pearl Jam, Radiohead (releasing their album on-line for whatever fans wanted to pay), Madonna (signing a recording deal with event and communications conglomerate Live Nation) are obviously good for the artists in question, these deals inflict more wounds on the ailing music industry.

In the past, “owning” a successful money-spinning artist meant that in theory a record company was able to invest in  unknown untried artists. With Pearl Jam and others taking their money out of the system, they remove opportunity for others.

BACKSPACE BACK STORY

‘Backspacer’ reunites Pearl Jam with Brendan O’Brien, who produced their next five albums after the breakthrough debut ‘Ten’, that all-important era then which saw the band lift themselves out of the Seattle/grunge hype and out from under the large shadow of Nirvana.

 They had delivered ‘Ten’ as Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’ was capturing everyone’s imagination. They were seen as Seattle “sell-outs”, especially after Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain dismissed them. So there was a lot hanging on that next album, the first one under Brendan O’Brien’s control. The eventual title ‘Vs’ reflected the combative pressure they were in. Until the last minute the album was going to be called ‘Four Against One’. O’Brien helped the band climb out of the ‘Ten’ era song by song for ‘Vs’, mixing each song on the way, and then album by album as Pearl Jam established themselves as one of the world’s finest and most successful rock bands. O’Brien in the meantime established his producer credentials. After five albums both parties thought it was time to explore other possibilities – until now.

 It started with an invitation for Pearl Jam to record The Who’s ‘Love Reign O’er Me’ for the movie ‘Reign Over Me’. That proved such a happy reunion for Pearl Jam and Brendan O’Brien they decided to work together again on a whole album, what we now hear as ‘Backspacer’. Another break with past recording sessions was the decision to record the album in Los Angeles, away from home, forcing the band and the producer to focus on the job at hand.

 At 11 songs and less than 37 minutes, ‘Backspacer’ is the leanest and meanest Pearl Jam album yet.

 SECRET HISTORY

 Spinal Tap’s drummers kept exploding. Pearl Jam and Nirvana both also had trouble with drummers. Pearl Jam were looking for another drummer when Kurt Cobain died and killed Nirvana in the process – if he hadn’t left already of course. For a moment there was a possibility of Nirvana’s drummer Dave Grohl joining Pearl Jam.

 

Their drummer on ‘Ten’  Dave Krushen left Pearl Jam as soon as the album was finished and replaced briefly by Matt Chamberlain who played a few dates with them but after years on the road wanted a break. When Chamberlain landed the drummer’s job in the house band on television’s ‘Saturday Night live’ he suggested his friend Dave Abbruzzese. Abbruzzese helped  Pearl Jam tour ‘Ten’ and recorded ‘Vs’ and ‘Vitology’ with them. He thought he’d bonded with the band, even got himself a Pearl Jam tattoo, but four months after ‘Vitoolgy’ was released he was sacked. He hadn’t bonded with all the members of the band, especially Eddie Veddar. It was up to guitarist Stone Gossard to deliver the news. In August 1994, when Stone rang to say he wanted to meet him Abbruzzese thought he wanted to talk about U2 producer Daniel Lanoir working with Pearl Jam. He was replaced by an old friend of Vedder’s, ex- Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer, Jack Irons and Dave Grohl had other plans.

 For the sake of his own sanity and amusement Grohl had written his own songs between Nirvana shows, and while contemplating his future after the death of Cobain he went into a studio and practically on is own recorded what became the first Foo Fighters album. In February 95 he assembled a band for Foo Fighters’ first performance. A few weeks later he played three shows with Pearl Jam during their March 1995 Australian tour but by then Dave and Pearl Jam had both decided on futures without each other.

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PLAYING MAMAS AND PAPAS

September 30, 2009

We shouldn’t be totally shocked by actress Mackenzie Phillips’ revelations that her Mamas and Papas father introduced her to heroin at 17, raped her at 19 and that the pair eventually had consensual sexual relationship that ended when Mackenzie fell pregnant and wasn’t sure whether her own father or her lover was the child’s father. John Phillips paid for the abortion.

There was also a drama about Mackenzie’s half-brother Tamerlane, when John Phillips and his then-wife Geneviève sparked a police chase on charges of child-stealing. John Phillips’ second wife Michelle – also a member of the Mamas and Papas – had become concerned for the welfare of Tamerlane. – both John and Geneviève were drug addicts – and she offered to raise Tamerlane. They agreed but after a while this bothered Tamerlane’s mother and she convinced John Phillips it would be a show of their love for their son if they snatched him back. Genevieve (who was then pregnant with another child, Bijou) flew out to L.A. and, on a ruse to take Tam to Disneyland, spirited him to Las Vegas, where they met up with John. Then they all drove across the country. They were subsequently charged with child-stealing in December 1979 but convinced the judge they’d been dealing with a disgrunted ex-wife.

A few months later John Phillips was arrested by FBI narcotics agents in possession of cocaine as part of pill-pushing ring. He was sentenced to 5 years in prison but this sentence was later commuted to 250 hours community service – giving anti-drug lectures. After Bijou Phillips was born in home delivery by John and daughter Mackenzie, Bijou was hospitalized with kidney failure, blood complications, and suffering from severe morphine withdrawal. Her parents were ultimately found unfit and Bijou was placed in foster care.

When Bijou was two in 82 he father and half-sister Mackenzie formed the “new” Mamas and Papas. Mackenzie, now an actress and 23, had just come out of rehab, but collapsed on the set of her latest show and was written out of the series after refusing a drug test. Going out on the road with her father was not necessarily a safe option. John Phillips received a liver transplant in 1992 after years of abusing alcohol and illegal drugs. He died in March 2001 of heart failure. He was 65 and married for the fourth time.

BACKSTORY

John Phillips had been active in the New York folk scene since 1957. In 1962 he met 16 year old Holly Michelle Gilliam, who had come to New York to be a model. John was already married with two children, Jeffrey and Mackenzie, and his affair with the teeange Michelle to the dissolution of his marriage. He also decided he wanted the have the attractive Michelle as part of a new group with his friend Denny Doherty. Eventually they were joined by Denny’s friend Cass Elliot, a largish woman who didn’t want to stand on stage beside Michelle, but put vanity aside in favour of being close to Denny on whom she had a crush. It meant that she could keep an eye on Denny and Michelle who obviously fancied each other. John Phillips didn’t want Cass on stage either, but he did want her voice.

It was Cass Elliot who came up with the group name Mamas and Papas, after hearing a Hells Angel on TV saying they called their woman Mamas.

The Mamas And Papas became a pop sensation overnight with “California Dreamin’” and “Monday Monday”, songs created by John Phillips. One night Denny and Michelle slipped away and consummated their feelings about each other. Cass was hurt. Michelle in the meantime had become her best friend. John Phillips was angry and took revenge. When Michelle returned to him he wrote a song called ‘I Saw Her Again Last Night’ so that Denny would be forced every night to sing words written by John that said Michelle belonged to John. Denny turned to alcohol. Michelle found someone else for her affection – Gene Clark of the group Byrds.

Every chance she got Michelle Phillips sat in the front row of a Byrds performance blowing kisses at Gene Clarke. Husband John Phillips got even madder and gave the band an ultimatum. Someone had to go – John or Michelle. It wasn’t a fair choice. Michelle was replaced by a lookalike for three months, but no-one was happy about the situation and Michelle had to be invited back.

Finally Mama Cass put an end to the group, walking out after John Phillips insulted her in front of her idol Mick Jagger. They agreed to make one last album. John and Michelle had a daughter, Chynna, and split up for good. It would be Chynna who would alert Michelle to the situation half-brother Tamerlane was living in.

WHAT’S NEW

By coincidence an album of previously unreleased material recorded by actress Mackenzie Phillips and her father John Phillips is scheduled for release in 2010. The tracks were recorded more than 20 years ago when John reformed The Mamas And The Papas with Mackenzie and Denny Doherty. We wouldn’t have been very interested, but McKenzie’s controversial new memoir ‘High On Arrival’ put that era of her and John Phillips’ life in a new perspective.