Categories ‐ Moments in Rock History

January 2, 2015

“Walk this Way:” Rock and Rap Tie the Knot

“I met a cheerleader, was a real young bleeder / Oh, the times I could reminisce / ‘Cause the best things of lovin’, with her sister and her cousin / Only started with a little kiss, like this!”

The lyrics smack of macho, male-centric lust. They are unabashed, explicit, adolescent fantasies of sex, and nothing but. The character who only seems to matter is the first-person singer, the misogynistic bravado ringing out like a thump to his chest. Is it a rap lyric? Or is it rock? These days, the line between the two mediums has blurred. Rock music today cannot be defined solely by long-haired or grunge-scowled musicians who strum their instruments to three chord ditties. And rap is surely not the sole lexicon of the inner city African-American youth. The two genres of music seemed to combust and spread from the epicenter of the song quoted above. The fact that the song had all the sexually-charged, self-centered perspective common to many rap lyrics made this rock tune a natural “crossover” to the world of hip-hop. First recorded in 1974, but later reworked to incorporate the burgeoning rhythms of rap in 1986, the song was Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way,” and when it was re-tooled with the vocal accompaniment of Run-DMC, a floodgate of musical avenues opened which has never waned to this day. And once the song’s rule on the charts cleared, one of the bands was reborn, more popular than ever, to a new legion of fans, while the other group reached a possible pinnacle of their career, sliding away to near obscurity shortly thereafter.

The Boston quintet named Aerosmith are the definitive example of American rock stars. Having survived career lulls, overwhelming drug and alcohol abuse, and years’ worth of tour sex and failed marriages, they have scaled to the top of the mountain of dinosaur rock, invigorating it with crystal-clear production sound and hook-filled, memorable tunes. With two albums to their name, a hit song in “Dream On,” and a constant, profitable tour schedule, the boys were close to the top of their game by the mid-1970s. Then came their 1975 masterpiece album, “Toys In The Attic,” and its monster hit “Walk This Way.”

The seeds of the song began while the band was on tour in 1974, supporting acts like The Kinks, Sha Na Na, and Mott The Hoople. Lead guitarist Joe Perry was riffing five minutes before a soundcheck in Hawaii, when out came the main opening rhythm to “Walk This Way.” He related in the band’s autobiography, “I was into funky stuff, had played James Brown songs over the years, and at the time was listening to lots of the Meters from New Orleans, one of the best bands in the country, and I was asking, ‘Why don’t we write our own songs that have that feel to them? Let’s try to write something funky so we don’t have to cover James Brown.’ Back in New York, the band laid down the track, and then it came time for Steven Tyler to write and sing the lyrics. For four days, he was stumped as to what to write about. The band took a break one afternoon and saw the Mel Brooks comedy “Young Frankenstein” at a nearby theater.

Bass guitarist Tom Hamilton said in the Aerosmith autobiography, “…we came to the part where Marty Feldman as Igor limps down the steps of the train platform and says to Gene Wilder, “Walk this way,” which Gene does with the same hideous limp. We fell all over ourselves laughing because it was so funny in a recognizably Three Stooges mode. The next day at rehearsals we tell Steven, ‘Hey, the name of this song is “Walk This Way.” He said, ‘Whaddaya mean, I didn’t write the lyrics yet!’ But we said, ‘Trust us.”

Tyler spent time writing at his hotel and later, after losing his lyrics, in the stairwell of the Record Plant studios to get just the right words for the new song. He explained his mindset behind the lyrics to author David Fricke of Rolling Stone magazine in 1994: “The thing for me has always been not to be blatant. But the difference between you and me is, you sit down as a writer with a preconceived thought. I don’t just go blither, blither, blither. With “Walk This Way,” I did not go: ‘Masturbation. Let’s see. I can do it with one hand or the other, or pretend one of them is a girl. Hmmm. ‘Backstroke lover / Always hiding ‘neath the covers / ‘Till I turned to my daddy, he say / You ain’t seen nothin’ / Till you been down on the muffin / Then you sure to be walkin’ this way.’ It’s just boom. Like you tap a hole in the side of your head and it falls out.”

“Toys In The Attic” was released in April 1975 and by September of that year it had reached No. 11 on the U.S. chart. The album stayed on the charts for over a year, and the single “Walk This Way” climbed ever so slowly up to No. 10 by January 1977. Aerosmith started headlining their own stadium shows, beginning with a performance before 80,000 fans in Michigan on June 12, 1976. Throughout the mid-to-late 1970s, they attained superstardom. But they also began to decline as a band. The drugs and fights were taking their toll. By the time they were putting the finishing touches on their album “A Night In The Ruts” in December 1979, Joe Perry quit the band in disgust, citing creative and personal differences with Steven Tyler. Guitarist Jimmy Crespo replaced him, and Perry started his own group called The Joe Perry Project. Aerosmith guitarist Brad Whitford followed suit in 1981, quitting Aerosmith as the band was in pre-production for the album “Rock and A Hard Place.” Whitford was replaced by guitarist Rick Dufay.

By the early ‘80s, a new form of music was being heard on the streets and in clubs of big cities across America. Expressing the dissatisfaction and anger with conditions plaguing urban environments, rap was a voice through which, artistically, a musician could relate stories indicative of social injustices. Disco had brought a beat to American radio, but its sugary-sweet, vapid lyrics did nothing to intrigue the mind. The Sugarhill Gang and Debbie Harry had usurped some of the rapping styles they heard in the streets of New York and placed them in polished songs of their own. But the urban youth, as a whole, were being drawn to a more raw sound.

A young man named Russell Simmons, from Queens, New York, began managing upstart rap acts like Whodini and Kurtis Blow. Rap of this period was basic – vocals with either scratch turntable or heavy drumbeats, backed with a smattering of occasional guitar and bass riffs. Russell encouraged his younger brother, Joseph, to start a rap group of his own, which Russell, in turn, would then manage. Just out of high school, Joseph teamed with Darryl McDaniels and Jason Mizell, both friends of his from Hollis, Queens, and began writing and performing songs. Both Simmons and McDaniels were inspired by the rock bands of the 1970s, and like many of the rap groups performing at clubs, they began sampling rhythms from the great rock albums they had listened to as kids. While Mizell scratched on the turntable, Simmons and McDaniels began a style of rapping that was equal parts caustic and intelligent. Their approach consisted of overlapping each other’s lines and finishing each other’s sentences.

It was Joseph’s brother, Russell, who eventually named their group. McDaniels told Sonicnet, “(Russell) called us and said the name of your group is going to be Run-DMC. It sounds so good now, but back then, we thought it was the worst thing to ever come out of someone’s mouth.” Joseph became Run, Darryl, of course, was DMC, and Jason took up the moniker, Jam Master Jay. They released their first single record “It’s Like That” backed with “Sucker MCs” on Profile Records in mid-1983.

Meanwhile, Russell was tired of just managing acts. He wanted to form his own record production company. He found a partner in Rick Rubin.

Rubin was a white kid from Long Island who was attending New York University. Unlike many of his fellow students, who were embracing either the Athens’ sounds of newcomers R.E.M. or snapping up everything New-Wave, Rubin was into rap. He told Shark magazine, “I used to go into the rap clubs in New York – I’d be the only white guy there – and they’d be playing rock ‘n’ roll records with guys rapping over them. Like ‘Walk This Way.’ ‘Walk This Way’ was an original record that every rap DJ would have and use…And the rap records that were coming out at the time were like Sugar Hill Records, which were essentially disco records with people rapping over them. Kids who liked rap bought them because there weren’t any records representative of their rap scene. So I saw this void and started making those records, just because I was a fan and wanted them to exist.”

Both he and Russell formed Def Jam Records, and began producing acts already under Simmons’ management. Def Jam snapped up Run-DMC.

The rap trio had been steadily gaining a following. Their eponymous album debut in 1984 was the first rap album to go gold. Their 1985 follow-up LP, “King of Rock,” was the first rap album to knock into platinum territory. With their fedora hats, big gold chains, and Adidas track suits, Run-DMC were helping to define a style, outside of the music, for the fashionably-conscious hip hop culture to embrace. Their song “My Adidas” probably inspired thousands of teenagers to go out and snap up sneakers emblazoned with the company’s logo.

Aerosmith, on the other hand, was hardly inspiring any of their fans at that time. Narcotics abuse soared to an all-time high (no pun intended), and their output of hit singles had atrophied to the point of being nonexistent. Columbia Records, the act’s label, was particularly getting fed up with the lack of winner songs Steven Tyler and company were failing to produce. Meanwhile, Joe Perry, who was wrestling with a drug addiction himself, wasn’t faring much better in his solo group. In March 1984, both Perry and Brad Whitford rejoined Aerosmith, and their replacements, Crespo and Dufay, were dismissed.

As Perry explained to Guitar World magazine, his and Whitford’s reunion with Aerosmith did not come without conditions. They stipulated, “no old management, no old road managers, no old coke buddies. None of the old s**t.” The band obtained a new manager, Tim Collins. Collins quickly realized that the drugs the group had taken, and continued to take, might become an issue when, during the band’s initial reunion meeting, a friend played “You See Me Crying” from the “Toys In The Attic” album over a stereo. According to Collins in the band autobiography, Steven said, “Hey! That’s great! We should cover this. Who is it?” Joe Perry said, “It’s us, f**khead.” Tyler didn’t recognize his own song.

The group rehearsed for a comeback concert series known as the Back In The Saddle Tour which commenced in May 1984 and ended, after fights and drug scenarios on the road, in Oakland at the end of the year. Through the guidance of A&R guru John Kalodner, the band signed with Geffen Records. The first album they recorded for their new label was “Done With Mirrors.” The group showed up with about 16 songs at the recording sessions in California, but the drug abuse snuffed all energy out of their performance. The album came out in November 1985 and sold a meager 400,000 copies. Geffen management was understandably underwhelmed.

Aerosmith hit the road to support their new effort. Joe Perry told Musician magazine, “The ‘Done With Mirrors’ tour, I remember not remembering anything from the night before. I used to drink to blackout, and it wouldn’t be any big deal, but it got to be every night. I’d have a few beers while I was warming up and then wake up the next day. I’d have to call somebody to find out how I played. I’d think I should drink a little less the next night which is impossible to do.” Even though all of Aerosmith was espousing sobriety, they were stoned to the gills. Their career was nearly flushed down the bowl. That’s when Rick Rubin entered their lives.

Joseph Simmons had been rapping to “Walk This Way” since he was 12 years old. The rap impresarios wanted to take a crack at covering the tune for their third album, “Raising Hell,” which they were in the process of putting the finishing touches to. Rick Rubin saw a unique opportunity to capitalize on two genres, to perhaps broaden the scope of rap, by incorporating one of rock’s leading figureheads into the equation. He called manager Tim Collins and said he wanted Steven and Joe to play on the rap version of the song with Run-DMC. Collins said, “Um, Rick, what is rap?”

If Collins seemed clueless as to what rap was, Run-DMC seemed almost equally clueless as to who Aerosmith were. Russell Simmons said that Run-DMC always played “Walk This Way” but “they never knew who Aerosmith was. To them, Toys In The Attic was the name of the record, the group, everything.” Rock and rap were about to meet.

As Collins related in the band bio, he phoned A&R man John Kalodner and asked his advice about the pairing. “(Kalodner) said, ‘I don’t know if I want them singing with those f**king rappers. Let me look into it.’ John called back an hour later. ‘I think this could be really cool. I think we should definitely do this.” After the promise of a quick $8,000, Tyler and Perry flew to New York for the session at Magic Ventures Studios in Manhattan on March 9, 1986. They still hadn’t kicked their habits. Joe Perry told Kerrang magazine, “The ‘Walk This Way’ thing was strictly Rick Rubin’s project which he asked us to sit in on. We realized we needed new input but at that point we were so f**ked up we couldn’t even get into a studio and stay awake…like I say – it didn’t have anything to do with the way we were thinking at the time. We did the Rick Rubin session, and we realized we were too f**ked up to move along. We also never realized what a big hit “Walk This Way” was, especially in Europe. When Steven and I went over to do a press tour, we realized just how big it was.”

When the rock twosome arrived in the studio, Joseph, Darryl and Jay were huddled in a corner. Tyler said in his band’s bio, “I go, ‘Joe, what are they doing?’ ‘Probably smoking crack,’ he says. Later we went over to the corner. They’d been eating lunch from McDonalds.” Rick Rubin began the session by having Perry go through the tune, playing his guitar in the same style he had performed it countless times before. Steven treated himself to a little coke. Run-DMC were just antsy about finishing up the session fast enough so they could return an overdue rental car. Simmons and McDaniels were all prepared to rap the lyrics they normally performed over the Perry track, but Joseph’s brother Russell told them to stick to Steven Tyler’s lyrics. The lyrics to “Walk This Way” already sounded like rap, he reasoned.

For such a brief period of time in music history, this monumental meeting of rock superstars with rap superstars subsequently created the benchmark by which all rock-rap acts since then should owe their gratitude to. With Perry’s blistering guitar stylings and Jay’s scratch-master grooves, with Tyler’s amped screeches and Run & DMC’s staccato delivery, “Walk This Way,” the rock-rap anthem, was the most unique song to burst forth from the 1980s.

Two weeks after the session, the two groups rejoined at a rundown theatre in New Jersey to shoot the landmark video to the song. The video’s concept of their breaking down the wall which separates the two styles of music may have been overtly literal in its execution, but it drove home the point that rap was to become just as viable a force in the musical mainstream as rock had firmly established. The video received massive rotation airplay from MTV. The music channel had hardly featured an Aerosmith video to that point, thinking of them as a bit washed-up, and as for Run-DMC, MTV had never aired a rap video until this time. The song debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 on July 26, 1986 and began a steady climb over the summer.

After the Run-DMC shoot, Tyler and Perry were ready to gear up for their next album. They approached Rick Rubin to possibly produce it. Aerosmith went into the recording studio in Boston intending to cut a few demos with Rubin. Perry told Musician magazine, “Steven and I were crazed at that point. We figured we’d go into the studio with him and record a song one night. I had methadone in one pocket, some blow in one pocket, some pills in another pocket, and a bottle of rum. So, I was set to record. It was so f**ked. The next day we listened to the tape and I was just embarrassed about how we must have acted. And the song sucked. It was time for a major change. For me, and for everyone else in the band.”

That change came shortly thereafter, as “Walk This Way” was cracking the Billboard Top Ten, and when Steven Tyler went to Tim Collins’ office, believing he was scheduled to talk on a BBC radio interview. He was confronted by Collins and the band. The intervention led to his being taken to a rehab clinic named Chit Chat, where he spent 45 days sobering up. The other band members, in turn, checked into clinics. Although they had reached the pinnacle of drug abuse up until the recording of “Walk This Way,” the success of the single showed them that they could all make a major comeback, if they just cleaned up.

For both groups, the video and the song put them squarely in the spotlight. The tune hit number 4 on the Billboard pop chart on September 27, 1986. Run-DMC’s “Raising Hell” album, which contained the “Walk This Way” single went multi-platinum. The trio appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine, the first rap group to ever be given that honor. They were also the first rap act to appear on “American Bandstand” and as a musical guest on “Saturday Night Live.” When Aerosmith emerged from rehab, they went into the studio with veteran Bon Jovi producer Bruce Fairburn and songwriter Desmond Child and churned out their most polished album in a decade, 1987’s “Permanent Vacation.” Geffen Records was pleased that the now-sober band members had produced some solid singles for the album, most notably “Dude (Looks Like A Lady),” “Angel,” and “Rag Doll.”

Unfortunately for Run-DMC, as the 1980s wore on, their star began to fade while Aerosmith’s only got brighter. The rap trio’s two follow-up albums after “Raising Hell,” “Tougher Than Leather” and “Back From Hell,” did mediocre business. While they busted the doors of rap wide open to mainstream, they had also given voice to acts who had a more controversial point of view. The Beastie Boys, another Rick Rubin group, brought the rap message to white suburbia and were followed quickly by the politicized views of Public Enemy, who, in turn, vied for airplay against the visceral gangsta rappers N.W.A. Profanity, the glorification of weapons, and the denigration of women were never much a part of the Run-DMC rap. McDaniels told Pantagraph magazine, “We didn’t just say it’s bad in the ‘hood. We said it’s good and bad, so be cool and go to school.” Teens, eager to lap up the spirit of rebellion, soon saw Run-DMC as ‘old school’ and left their CDs in the cut-out bins.

McDaniels spiraled into bouts with alcohol in the ‘90s and Simmons was accused of a rape. But they fought through the hard times. McDaniels sobered up, and the charges against Simmons were dropped. Both men became born-again Christians, Simmons was ordained as a minister (Reverend Run), and as a reflection of their new-found faith, they released the uplifting rap album “Down With The King” in 1993. The title track cracked the R&B top ten chart and the album went gold.

The rap trio continued playing small venues through the 1990s. Aerosmith dominated the airwaves and arena rock during this period. On March 5, 1999, while performing at the House of Blues in Los Angeles, Run-DMC was joined onstage by their old rock chums, Steven Tyler and Joe Perry for a rendition of “Walk This Way.” The two groups had never performed the song together in concert. Aerosmith invited Run-DMC to open some of their shows during their 1999 tour. But the biggest example of how far the influence these two musical groups’ collaboration had reached was displayed in September 1999, when they appeared together onstage with Kid Rock at the MTV Video Music Awards. After rapping one verse of Run-DMC’s “King of Rock,” Kid Rock was joined by the trio for a rendition of their “Rock Box.” From the audience, Steven Tyler and Joe Perry walked forward to chime in with “Walk This Way.” Kid Rock told Simmons backstage that Run-DMC and Aerosmith had a baby and it was Kid Rock.

The union of Aerosmith and Run-DMC had also arguably spawned the likes of other current chart-toppers like Korn, Limp Biskit, Sugar Ray, DMX, Lil’ Kim, Nas, and Prodigy to name but a few. Not that McDaniels sees the current crop as being better than his old-school mates. He told Sonicnet, “Lyrically, a lot of these rappers I can’t relate to. I think Chuck D (of Public Enemy) is the greatest rapper to ever live. When I first heard him, I felt like God was rapping.” Nonetheless, Run-DMC takes adulation where it can, and right now, the current rappers seem honored to partake in a little contribution to their forebears’ recent recording. Run-DMC’s latest album, “Crown Royal,” features the cream of the current rap/rock crop, but it has yet to be released, due to continued artists’ label disputes.

McDaniels recently told Sonicnet, “Back when we started out, people always asked whether rap and hip hop was a fad. And we’d say, nah. It’ll last forever. And look at it. I’m happy for what the music has done.” As for what it did for legendary rock gods like Aerosmith, guitarist Brad Whitford seemed to have summed it up when he said, “It made us look hip for a change.”

“Walk This Way” lyrics
by Steven Tyler and Joe Perry

backstroke lover always hidin’ ‘neath the covers
till I talked to your daddy, he say
he said, “you ain’t seen nothin’ till you’re down on a muffin
then you’re sure to be a-changin’ your ways
I met a cheerleader, was a real young bleeder
oh, the times I could reminisce
‘cause the best things of lovin’ with her sister and her cousin
only started with a little kiss
like this!

seesaw swingin’ with the boys in the school
and your feet flyin’ up in the air
singin’ “hey diddle diddle”
with your kitty in the middle of the swing
like you didn’t care
so I took a big chance at the high school dance
with a missy who was ready to play
wasn’t me she was foolin’
‘cause she knew what she was doin’
and I knowed love was here to stay
when she told me to

walk this way (8x)
just gimme a kiss
like this!

schoolgirl sweetie with a classy kinda sassy
little skirt’s climbin’ way up the knee
there was three young ladies in the school gym locker
when I noticed they was lookin’ at me
I was a high school loser, never made it with a lady
till the boys told me somethin’ I missed
then my next door neighbor with a daughter had a favor
so I gave her just a little kiss
like this!

(repeat second verse, substitute this at the end)
when she told me how to walk this way, she told me to
walk this way (8x)
just gimme a kiss
like this!

© 2000 Ned Truslow

January 2, 2015

Trouble in Neverland: The Michael Jackson Molestation Charges

Michael Jackson has always liked kids. That’s not meant to be a salacious observation. It’s merely evident in how he has chosen to conduct his life. He, himself, has acted very much the child in the past. With an entire life in show business, with an abusive, single-minded father/manager, with an overbearing crush of adulation leading to isolation, Michael Jackson, it seems, has never fully matured as a man. His definition of maturity and ours would, of course, be at variance. For, by being simplistic in his ways, and overtly caring in his statements, he is defining a maturity that may far exceed the average cynical male. It is this very nature, the oddity it presents on a public front, which has made him such a derisive target for the majority of the last decade. Whether the media’s harsh judgement of him in this context is warranted is debatable. But it is certainly these very behavior traits he has displayed which have led many to simply dismiss and condemn him. How did it all go wrong in 1993?

A chimp named Bubbles, a hyperbaric sleep chamber, a bid on the Elephant Man’s bones. These are but a few of the so-called oddities that surrounded the Michael Jackson persona after his monumental breakthrough in the mid-‘80s with the album “Thriller.” He has gone on to dismiss the idea of his buying any bones and scoffed at the use of any age-reduction sleep chamber. But as Michael entered the 1990s, his style and his flair of showmanship was on the wane for many teens in the American market. Globally, he did, and still does, command a huge following. Grunge, rap and techno were edging out his over-the-top, eccentric creation. Falling out of step with the times, he became more noticeable in his egotistically-driven bid as the self-proclaimed “King of Pop.” For many, this made him seem like a ripe target.

In 1991, Michael founded the Heal The World Foundation. Its goal, according to Jackson, was “healing – pure and simple.” The organization provides immediate relief efforts to needy children around the world. During the Sarajevo crisis, the foundation sent over several airlifts of food and medical supplies to aid the war-torn nation. It also instituted an immunization and drug abuse education program called Heal LA after the riots in 1992.

Michael’s actions seemed to always speak of his desire to help children. Often he would invite inner-city youths out to his ranch, the sprawling compound named Neverland, in California’s Santa Ynez Valley, to enjoy park rides and petting zoos on the grounds. He has visited with countless sick children in hospitals around the world. Oftentimes, he would go to local shops and music stores to buy thousands of dollars worth of toys and CDs. He would then go to the local children’s hospital, orphanage, or school where he would then distribute the items to the sick and disadvantaged. It is apparent that he wouldn’t just drop off the gifts but instead he would hang out and talk with the kids.

He befriended young AIDS victim Ryan White and drew attention to his plight. He invited 14-year old heart transplant patient Donna Ashlock out to his home for lunch. He paid for the funeral of 9-year old Ramon Sanchez Jr., who was shot by a stray bullet while drinking milk in his kitchen, because Ramon’s family could not afford a proper burial. Michael clearly adored children. But the combination of his “weird” looks, his effete demeanor, his suspect sexual orientation, his crotch-grabbing dance moves, and his love of kiddie activities helped to fuel a fire that was already primed when he was hit with accusations of child molestation in late 1993.

The first inkling that signs of trouble were looming on the horizon began in May 1992, when Jackson’s car broke down on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles one afternoon. A woman, who was the wife of an employee at a local car rental company, took Jackson in her vehicle over to the Rent-A-Wreck offices. While arranging for alternative transportation, Dave Schwartz, the company’s owner, was on the premises, and dazzled by the celebrity standing before him, phoned his wife June. June quickly brought her two kids from her first marriage, a 6-year old daughter and a 12-year old son, to the Rent-A-Wreck offices to meet Jackson. The young son exclaimed to Jackson that he was a big fan of the entertainer. June Chandler Schwartz gave Michael her phone number.

Jackson, who was not shy about connecting with children, as he had publicly displayed in his association with celebrity kids like Emmanuel Lewis and Macauley Culkin, began to talk with June’s son by phone. In June 1992, his world tour in support of his “Dangerous” album kicked off in Munich, Germany. After three months on the road that summer, he finally arrived home to Neverland and had June and her kids come out to visit.

The friendship went full-blown at this point, as June and her kids traveled with Michael to places like Las Vegas, Disney World and Paris. He lavished the kids with after-hour shopping sprees at Toys-R-Us. By March 1993, he began to have June’s children up to the ranch for sleepovers. On May 12, 1993, while attending the World Music Awards in Monaco, Michael was seen in the front row of the auditorium with June’s boy sitting on his lap. Both June and the boy’s stepfather, Dave, didn’t seem to mind the attention Jackson was giving their kids. June’s ex-husband, Evan Chandler, the boy’s real father, also seemed to like Michael Jackson in his life…at first.

Evan was a dentist with a practice in the Los Angeles area. He had a few dental negligence mishaps attributed to him in the 1980s and apparently owed June thousands in alimony and other assorted expenses. As a fledgling screenwriter, he was credited with co-writing the Mel Brooks’ film “Robin Hood: Men In Tights.” According to Mary Fisher of GQ Magazine, Jackson slept over at Chandler’s house with the boy a short time after the Monaco event for five consecutive days. Chandler never apparently saw the two without their clothes on in bed together and never saw any actual sexual misconduct.

A taped phone conversation that Dave Schwartz, the Rent-a-Wreck owner, made of a chat he had with Evan Chandler sometime during July 1993 was made available to journalist Mary Fisher and her article. In the conversation, in which both men talked openly about their suspicions about Jackson’s true intentions with the child, Evan was heard to say, “It’s already set. There are other people involved that are waiting for my phone call that are in certain positions. I’ve paid them to do it. Everything’s going according to a certain plan that isn’t just mine. Once I make that phone call, this guy (presumed to be his attorney, Barry Rothman) is going to destroy everybody in sight in any devious, nasty, cruel way that he can do it. I’ve given him full authority to do that…And if I go through with this, I win big-time. There’s no way I lose. I’ve checked that inside out. I will get everything I want, and they will be destroyed forever. June will lose (presumably custody of her son)…and Michael’s career will be over.”

Having secured the services of attorney Barry Rothman, a big-shot lawyer, who Fisher characterized as someone who owed many creditors and oftentimes, never paid his employees or allowed their checks to bounce, Evan and Rothman let June know that the boy should not be around Jackson anymore. Word got to Michael as to what Evan and Rothman were insinuating, and he enlisted the aid of his attorney Bert Fields and private investigator Anthony Pelicano to look into the matter. Pelicano, according to Fisher’s article, asked the boy point-blank if he had seen Michael naked in bed and if he had ever touched the child. The boy responded in the negative to both questions.

Pelicano went on to reveal a meeting that he, Michael, Evan and the boy had at a hotel in August 1993 at which Evan allegedly produced an assessment by a local psychiatrist. The doctor’s conclusion on the behavior displayed between Jackson and the boy was one of concern, and Evan concluded the meeting by snarling at Jackson, “I’m going to ruin you.” According to Pelicano, both Rothman and Chandler subsequently demanded a 20-million dollar settlement. Mary Fisher even reported that Chandler had sodium Amytal administered to his son, an anesthetic that is incorrectly assumed to be a ‘truth’ serum, when in fact, it has been misused oftentimes to effectively plant false memories within a patient.

After June filed papers against Evan to have the boy returned to her, Evan immediately maneuvered to have the psychiatrist phone the Department of Children Services in Los Angeles. At that point, local authorities were notified of alleged molestation charges. On August 17, 1993, the Los Angeles Police Department began a formal investigation into the situation. In cooperation with detectives from the Santa Barbara Police Department, the two enforcement agencies raided the Neverland Ranch on August 21st and seized evidence, including videotapes. The videotapes did not contain anything incriminating. But when confidential documents from the Department of Children’s Services leaked to the local media, the world crashed down on Michael Jackson.

Tabloid television shows like “Hard Copy” ruled the airwaves in 1993 far more prevalently than they do today. Viewership was high for this type of “entertainment,” and subsequently, so-called leads in the investigation, which were provided in minute detail on the tabloid shows, were used as the lead stories in more legitimate news broadcasts. News directors, especially in the Los Angeles area, were eager to find anything on the Jackson scandal, regardless of its dubious source. “Hard Copy” went on to broadcast contents of the leaked documents from Children’s Services, which contained salacious passages written by a social worker like, “while laying next to each other in bed, Michael Jackson put his hand under (the child’s) shorts.”

On September 14, 1993, two former housekeepers at the Neverland ranch, Stella and Philippe LeMarque, sold their interview to Britain’s The Globe newspaper for $15,000. They claimed they allegedly saw Jackson “doing what honeymooners do” with young boys. By this point, Evan Chandler and Barry Rothman had gone their separate ways, and civil attorney Larry Feldman had stepped up to represent the boy. On September 15th, a 30-million dollar civil suit alleging the pop star had seduced and sexually molested the Chandler boy was formally filed. “Hard Copy” later found a former Jackson maid, Blanca Francia, who claimed Michael had been in a Jacuzzi with naked boys. Later, when she was formally deposed, Francia could not recall any instance when she saw anyone naked, and that the boys had been wearing swim trunks at all times.

Jackson, throughout all of this turmoil, was trying to continue his “Dangerous” world tour. While performing in Singapore, he was visited by his friend Elizabeth Taylor, who noticed that Michael was over-abusing prescribed painkillers. She saw he was in agony.

By October 1993, a dozen detectives from LA and Santa Barbara had talked with over 30 children who had been acquaintances of Michael Jackson. Even though some said they had slept in the same bed as Jackson, not one of them claimed he had done anything improper. Alfonso Ribeiro, an actor who had worked with Michael when he was 11 years old on a Pepsi ad said to Entertainment Weekly magazine, “I was there, I went to Michael’s house and went on his tours and hung out with him after his concerts. All I know is there was none of that going on when I worked with him, and I’ve talked to other children who hung out with him and none of them saw anything happen either.” An Australian boy, Wade Robson, stated, “Sure I slept with him on dozens of occasions. But the bed we shared was huge. He slept on one side, I slept on the other. It was just a slumber party.” Actor Corey Feldman related to TV Guide magazine, “I was a child when I started hanging out with him. We both came from abusive homes and started performing at the same age…It’s not blind faith. I just know. We slept in the same room. The accusation is just ridiculous.”

The pressure became too much for Michael to handle. On November 12, 1993, his publicist announced at a press conference that the rest of the “Dangerous” tour was to be cancelled. His attorney Bert Fields told the press that Jackson was “barely able to function adequately on an intellectual level.” Jackson was in Mexico City at the time, and he subsequently disappeared for a while. The media speculated he had gone into hiding, and rumors connected him being somewhere in the French Alps. Actually, his pal Elizabeth Taylor had helped to check him into a London rehab clinic to kick the painkiller addiction. He stayed at Elton John’s home while undergoing treatment. While he battled his addiction, his multi-million dollar sponsorship deal with Pepsi-Cola was severed.

Ten days later, on November 22nd, five ex-security guards at the Neverland ranch told the media they were prepping a suit alleging that they were wrongfully terminated from employment because they knew too much about Jackson’s supposed peculiar love of young boys. Later, under oath, the guards couldn’t come up with one instance of Jackson’s impropriety, and the case was thrown out in March 1997. Two of those ex-employees were ordered to pay Jackson $60,000 in court expenses.

Jackson’s own family members were alternately too upset or outright accusatory in his defense. Earlier in late August, his brothers Tito and Jermaine had walked off the set of NBC’s “Today” show when they saw a crew from a local affiliate turn up to ask them questions about the scandal. His sister LaToya didn’t help matters any when she held a press conference in Tel Aviv, Israel on December 8, 1993, saying, “I can’t remain silent. I love him, but I cannot and will not be a silent collaborator (in) his crimes against small innocent children. You tell me what 35-year old man is going to take a little boy…and stay with him for five days in his room?”

On December 22, 1993, Jackson finally went public. In a 4-minute speech he broadcast via satellite from the Neverland ranch to stations around the globe, he vehemently denied any wrongdoing. He implored, “I ask all of you to wait to hear the truth before you label or condemn me. Don’t treat me like a criminal because I am innocent.” Many viewers did not buy his denials and couldn’t see beyond the eccentric façade that seemed to continually distance Jackson from other so-called “normal” people. He had one supporter in the wings, though, who definitely wanted to see him through the hard times.

Lisa Marie Presley, daughter of Elvis, had first met Michael Jackson when she was seven years old. She was in Las Vegas and had come to see 17-year old Michael perform. The two did not see each other again for many years. But a series of phone calls in 1993 led to their starting to date in early 1994.

And it was in early 1994, that Michael Jackson decided to try to end the depressing ordeal. On January 25th, he settled the civil suit with the boy in what has always been purported to be an amount somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 to 20 million dollars. Jackson’s attorney at the time, Johnnie Cochran, Jr., said in court that the settlement was “in no way an admission of guilt.”

Diane Sawyer later asked Michael Jackson on ABC’s “PrimeTime Live” in 1995 about this abrupt end to the matter.
Diane Sawyer: “Why did you settle the case? And it looks to everyone as if you paid a huge amount of money…”
Michael Jackson: “That’s…that’s, most of that’s folklore. I talked to my lawyers, and I said, ‘Can you guarantee me that justice will prevail?’ And they said, ‘Michael, we cannot guarantee you that a judge or a jury will do anything.’ And with that I was like catatonic, I was outraged!”
Diane Sawyer: “How much money…”
Michael Jackson: “Totally outraged. So, I said…I have got to do something to get out from under this nightmare. All these lies and all these people coming forth to get paid and all these tabloid shows, just lies, lies, lies, lies. So, what I did, we got together again with my advisors and they advised me. It was a hands-down, unanimous decision – resolve the case. This could be something that could go on for 7 years!”

Later, in May 1996, after the broadcast of this interview, Michael was hit with a $60 million lawsuit by Evan Chandler, claiming that the singer had violated the terms of the settlement on the molestation suit because he had publicly implied, with his “lies, lies, lies, lies” statement, that Chandler and the boy had fabricated the entire case. Later, in July 1999, an arbitrator finally ruled that Jackson’s comments on “Primetime Live” were not in violation of the settled suit’s terms.

By May 1994, Michael’s and Lisa Marie’s relationship had grown closer, and one day, he awkwardly proposed to her. He told Ebony magazine, “Well, first I asked – I’m the shyest person in the world. I said to her – we were on the phone – ‘If I asked you to marry me, would you?’ She said, ‘Of course!’ Then there was silence. I said, ‘Excuse me, I’ve got to go to the bathroom.’ So, I came back. I didn’t quite know what to say. But that’s how it happened.”

As Lisa Marie indicated to Diane Sawyer in 1995, the couple put into effect some sort of pre-nuptial agreement. Together, they were secretly wed on May 26, 1994 while in the Dominican Republic by civil judge Hugh Francisco Alvarez Perez. They mysteriously denied rumors of the nuptials for two months until Lisa Marie finally divulged to the press on August 1st that they were indeed husband and wife. As if to show he could be intimate with a female, who in this case was his spouse, Michael made a point to appear at the opening of the 1994 MTV Video Music Awards program and kiss Lisa Marie onstage before the surprised audience members.

By that time, the criminal investigation into the alleged molestation claim was pretty much a moot point. The LA and Santa Barbara District Attorney offices announced on September 21st that they were not going to file any child molestation charges. After interviewing over 200 people, including over 50 children, not one single shred of evidence corroborating the Chandler boy’s claims had come to light.

One would think that Jackson might cool it around kids and not openly show them interacting with him for a while. If anything, it seemed he flagrantly put forth images depicting him as a figure worshipped by small children. In October 1994, the Boy Scouts of America released a statement saying, “Michael Jackson is not and has not been a registered leader or member of the Boy Scouts of America. Our approval for publication was not sought, and the publisher has not returned our phone calls.” The publication in question was a 1995 calendar featuring a photo of Jackson in a scoutmaster’s uniform surrounded by adoring kids in scout uniforms.

In the “PrimeTime Live” interview, Diane Sawyer and Michael discussed the sleepover tendencies:
Diane Sawyer: I just want to…is it over? Are you gonna make sure it doesn’t happen again? I think, this is really the key thing people want to know.
Michael Jackson: Is what over?
Diane Sawyer: That there are not going to be more of these sleepovers, in which people have to wonder.
Michael Jackson: Nobody wonders when kids sleep over at my house. Nobody wonders.
Diane Sawyer: But are they over? Are you…are you gonna watch out for it now?
Michael Jackson: Watch out for what?
Diane Sawyer: Just for the sake of the children and for everything you’ve been through.
Michael Jackson: No! Because it’s all…it’s all moral and it’s all pure. I don’t even think that way, it’s not what’s in my heart.”
Diane Sawyer: So you’ll, you’ll do it again?
Michael Jackson: I would never ever…do what again?
Diane Sawyer: I mean, you’ll have a child sleeping over?
Michael Jackson: Of course. If they want.

Michael subsequently went on to release a promotional video for his upcoming album “HIStory” in which he marched down an Eastern bloc-type street, complete with goose-stepping soldiers, as women cried and children ran after him, starry-eyed, as if he were some sort of demigod. The press noted similarities in the piece to Leni Reifenstahl’s Nazi-propaganda documentary “Triumph of the Will.” The album itself drew controversy in regards to the lyrics in the song “They Don’t Care About Us.” The verse “Jew me, sue me, everybody do me, kick me, kike me, don’t you black or white me,” was seen obviously by some as anti-Semitic, and Jackson, subsequently, released an apology.

Michael also supposedly met with shock-jock Howard Stern, according to a chapter in Stern’s book “Miss America,” and through a publicist, asked if Howard would lead a demonstration on the streets of New York in support of Jackson. A baffled Stern turned down the request.

While the mainstream media had let up on the molestation stories, tabloid television was still sniffing for any trace of scandal about Jackson. On January 9, 1995, Diane Dimond of “Hard Copy” was a call-in guest on the Los Angeles radio station KABC-FM’s “Ken and Barkley Show.” She implied that a freelance journalist, who had supplied her with previous alleged improprieties concerning Jackson, had witnessed an incriminating 27-minute video. Here is what was said, according to the Appellate Court transcripts of the original case brought before the Superior Court of Los Angeles County:
Question: This is a recent video, or something?
Dimond: Yes…It was taken right before Christmas as the story goes, and it was recorded by one of Michael Jackson’s own security cameras. He likes, everyone knows that he likes to bug rooms and put cameras up and the whole nine yards.
Question: How do they (the District Attorney’s office) know about this?
Dimond: Well, it’s kind of a convoluted story but the bottom line as I understand it is, someone close to…Michael Jackson knew of the existence of this tape. It is an x-rated tape, I must tell you and –
Question: It is an x-rated tape?
Dimond: It is…yes.
Question: Of Michael Jackson?
Dimond: Truly explicit.
Q: It’s what? Michael Jackson and a little boy. Are you 100% sure that this tape exists?
Dimond: I am as sure as I can possibly be.
Q: You have not seen it?
Dimond: I have not seen it, but one of my best sources on the Michael Jackson story has seen it.
Later she said:
Dimond: And, I have to tell you, if my source is correct, who has seen this tape, and again, he always has been…The acts that are being performed on that tape are exactly what the accuser a year ago said Michael Jackson did to him.
Question: Well, I mean you don’t need to beat around the bush. What are those acts?
Dimond: We are talking about oral sex.
Question: Um, hmm. Performed on Michael Jackson or by Michael Jackson?
Dimond: By Michael Jackson…

An enraged Jackson filed a $100 million lawsuit against KABC-FM, producers of “Hard Copy,” Paramount Television, which owned the program, and finally against the “source” witness of the alleged video, Victor Gutierrez. While the claims against the corporate sources were dropped, a superior court judge ruled on October 15, 1996 that Gutierrez had to pay damages for refusing to show any indication that the alleged video ever existed. The judgement amount was later determined in April 1999 as 2.7 million dollars to be paid to Michael for the erroneous claims.

By the end of 1995, Michael was informed by Lisa Marie that she wanted a divorce. Michael’s world tour in support of “HIStory” in 1996 was met with protests from governments and concerned citizens who had heard of the scandalous tales in countries like South Korea and Malaysia. While on tour on November 4, 1996, the press received word that a long-time friend of Jackson’s, Debbie Rowe, a dental assistant, was pregnant with his child.

On November 14th, Debbie and Michael wed in a private ceremony at the Sheraton On The Park hotel in Sydney, Australia at 2:00 in the morning after one of Michael’s concerts. He said, “Debbie and I love each other for all the things you’ll never see onstage or in pictures…I fell for the beautiful, unpretentious, giving person that she is, and she fell for me just being me.” The Daily Mirror newspaper reported that Debbie would receive $1.25 million after their child was born and $280,000 a year for every year the couple stayed married after that. If the marriage failed, the Mirror claimed Rowe would still receive $2.3 million. Debbie denied this “report” to KNBC News of Los Angeles by saying, “I would never do this for money. I did this because I love him. That’s the only reason I did this.” Rowe gave birth to a son, Prince Michael Jackson Jr. on February 13, 1997. In order to quash the insatiable tabloid need to capture photos of the kid, Jackson sold exclusive rights to the National Enquirer to publish little Prince Michael’s pictures for 2 million dollars.

After giving birth to another child, a daughter named Paris Michael Katherine Jackson, on April 3, 1998, Debbie did, indeed, file for divorce from Michael on October 9, 1999, citing irreconcilable differences. From all outward appearances, it looks as if Jackson has retained custody of his two children. Asked by TV Guide magazine shortly after his second divorce if he thought he would marry again, Michael responded, “That would be nice.” For now, he is back at his ranch with the kids and is currently pursuing avenues to invest in everything from fancy hotels to amusement parks around the globe.

Ultimately, based on outcome alone, the public has no reason to believe any of the charges lodged against Michael Jackson had any validity. But many people still do “feel” he is capable of these actions. A grown man who chooses to have children who are not his very own share a bed with him brings a knee-jerk reaction to just about every concerned parent in the days that we live in. The very moniker the tabloids crowned him with in the 1980s, “Wacko Jacko,” carries a stigma well into the new millenium that hints, for some, as something nefarious when Michael is spotted in the company of children. In response to this nickname he told Barbara Walters on “20/20,” “I have a heart and I have feelings. I feel that when you do that to me. It’s not nice. Don’t do it. I’m not a ‘wacko.”

Perhaps it’s that soft denial, that sensitive, emotional nature he displays that give a few people insecurity. In the world of superstars, Michael still has his supporters and detractors. Whether it’s Paul McCartney, who immediately supported Jackson after the charges in 1993, when he said to USA Today, “I wouldn’t hesitate a second to entrust my own children to Michael’s care,” or actor Wesley Snipes, who said on a radio program in 1998 that he wouldn’t let Jackson babysit his 9-year old son, celebrities are still split over their former King of Pop.

But without any evidence revealed, to be fair, we should all probably assume, for the time being anyway, that Michael Jackson is just an extremely eccentric man and leave it at that. He prefers to be childlike in his view of our world. He tried to sum up his need to bond with all children to Ebony Magazine in May 1992. “A great poet said once, ‘When I see children, I see that God has not yet given up on man.’ An Indian poet from India said that, and his name was Tagore,” Michael related. “The innocence of children represents to me the source of infinite creativity. That is the potential of every human being. But by the time you are an adult, you’re conditioned; you’re so conditioned by the things about you and it goes. Love. Children are loving, they don’t gossip, they don’t complain, they’re just open-hearted. They’re ready for you. They don’t judge. They don’t see things by way of color. They’re very child-like. That’s the problem with adults, they lose that child-like quality. And that’s the level of inspiration that’s so needed and is so important for creating and writing songs and for a sculptor, a poet or a novelist.”

Michael Jackson’s Speech from Neverland on December 22, 1993

As you may already know, after my tour ended, I remained out of the country undergoing treatment for a dependency on pain medication. This medication was initially prescribed to ease the excruciating pain that I was suffering after reconstruction surgery on my scalp.

There have been many disgusting statements made recently concerning allegations of improper conduct on my part. These statements about me are totally false. As I have maintained from the very beginning, I am hoping for a speedy end to the horrifying, horrifying experience to which I have been subjected. I shall not in this statement talk about the false allegations that have been made against me, since my lawyers have advised me that this is not the proper forum in which to do that.

I will say that I am particularly upset at the handling of this matter by the incredible, terrible mass media. At every opportunity, the media has dissected and manipulated these allegations to reach their own conclusions. I ask all of you to wait to hear the truth before you label or condemn me. Don’t treat me like a criminal, ‘cause I am innocent.

I have been forced to submit to a dehumanizing and humiliating examination by the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department and the Los Angeles Police Department earlier this week. They served a search warrant on me, which allowed them to view and photograph my body including my penis, my buttocks, my lower torso, thighs, and any other area that they wanted. They were supposed to be looking for any discoloration, spotting, blemishes, or any other evidence of a skin disorder called Vitiligo that I have previously spoken about.

The warrant also directed me to cooperate in any examination of my body by deposition to determine the condition of my skin including whether I had Vitiligo or any other skin disorder. The warrant further states that I had no right to refuse this examination or photographs, and if I failed to cooperate with them they would introduce that refusal at any trial as an indication of my guilt.

It was the most humiliating ordeal of my life, one that no person should ever have to suffer. Even after experiencing the indignity of this search, the parties involved were still not satisfied. They wanted to take even more pictures. It was a nightmare, a horrifying nightmare, but if this is what I have to endure to prove my innocence, my complete innocence, so be it.

Throughout my life, I have only tried to help thousands upon thousands of children to live happy lives. I am not guilty of these allegations, but if I am guilty of anything it is of giving all that I have to give to help children all over the world; it is of loving children of all ages and races; it is of gaining sheer joy from seeing children with their innocent and smiling faces; it is of enjoying through them the childhood that I missed myself. If I am guilty of anything, it is of believing what God said about children: “Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not for this is the Kingdom of heaven.”

In no way do I think that I am God, but I do try to keep God’s light in my heart. I am totally innocent of any wrongdoing and I know these terrible allegations will all be proven false. Again, to my friends and fans, thank you very much for all of your support. Together, we will see this through to the very end.

I love you very much and may God bless you all.
I love you.

© 2000 Ned Truslow

January 2, 2015

Time, Money, and a Little Brain Damage: Pink Floyd Creates the Masterful “Dark Side of the Moon”

Spending endless hours under the skull-crunching grip of oversized headphones in a darkened bedroom was the rite of passage for just about every teenage boy in the early 1970s. As mandated under an invisible 27th Amendment to the Constitution, the album “Led Zeppelin IV” was to be played at full volume, ensuring that each pubescent lad would get lost in a land of black dogs and heavenward staircases. But in early 1973, the heralded headphone album dropped a peg, vacating the turntable needle for a group of cosmic nihilists who would push our stereophonic synapses into the stratosphere. With manic giggles, blistering guitars, a madhouse of clocks, and a catchy “ka-ching” of cash, Pink Floyd plugged into our sensory jacks with enough punch and production pizazz to propel the concept of album-oriented rock into the forefront of radio airplay everywhere. By opening ourselves up to the cohesive, trenchant ideas behind ‘Dark Side,’ we were left with notions of instability and isolation yet were soothed by the accessible melodies and instrumentation in its musical backing. This album experience washed over its collective audience with creepy ambiance, but shook us awake with its pretensions of high art.

Certainly for the members of Pink Floyd, it was their most accomplished and structured piece of music since their inception eight years earlier. For the four dour musicians who were prone to long-winded jam sessions and instrumental noodlings, this effort, their eighth album, was a brilliant burst of clarity. When “The Dark Side of the Moon” was released on March 24, 1973, it immediately hit the U.K. charts, rising to a comfortable number two position and nestled into the British Top 75 for an ensuing 310 weeks (approximately 6 years). For a band that had never even cracked the Top 50 stateside, Pink Floyd’s masterpiece seemed like an overnight sensation to many in the American record-buying public. A month after its release, “The Dark Side of the Moon” struck the number 1 bell on Billboard’s chart during the week of April 28, 1973. While it only sat there for 7 days, the album went on to become the all-time favorite son who wouldn’t leave the house. Johnny Mathis had been the reigning champ of Billboard with his “Greatest Hits” album lasting in the top 200 for 490 weeks (almost 9½ years). By the time “The Dark Side of the Moon” finally stepped off the chart on July 13, 1988, it had logged an insurmountable 740 weeks in the category. Over 14 years!

When EMI jumped into the manufacturing of CDs in 1984, it designated the monumental work as catalogue item no. 001. It was rumored that a pressing plant in West Germany spent night and day churning out nothing but “Dark Side” CDs from its branch. With sales to teens of a new generation easily moving enough units to have put the album back on the Billboard Top 200, the honorable recording magazine stipulated in the late ‘80s that once a CD drops off its current chart it would then have to stay off the list. By the close of the century, “The Dark Side of the Moon” alone had been purchased by thirty million people worldwide.

By today’s standards, this musical masterpiece was put together over a relatively short period of time. Pink Floyd’s schedule during the making of this album was a blur of activity. “Throughout the early ‘70s, we were either on the road or in a recording studio. That’s all I can remember,” keyboardist Rick Wright recalled to interviewer Mark Blake. As the succeeding, unofficial ‘conscience’ of Pink Floyd, lyricist and bassist Roger Waters was just beginning to bring a voice to the group’s vision.

The group’s founding leader was no more. Syd Barrett had gone a bit mad back in 1968. It was either the result of a bad LSD trip or the brutal onslaught of schizophrenia that contributed to his mental deterioration. One night while on their way to a gig in Southampton, Roger simply suggested they not pick Syd up for the appearance. The bright and troubled founder subsequently slipped off to his mum’s home in Cambridge and proceeded to be a recluse for the better part of thirty years. Rick Wright told interviewer Blake in 1994 that Syd never really came out of his shell. “We don’t see him, because apparently if he’s ever reminded of Pink Floyd and when he was in it, he goes into a depression for weeks on end. His mother asked us to stay away a few years ago.”

By the time of Barrett’s departure, Waters had already brought aboard an old guitarist friend of Syd’s named David Gilmour to fill in for the erratic member. With Wright and drummer Nick Mason seemingly content to stay in the background, Waters and Gilmour began a titanic jockeying of egos that would ultimately splinter their partnership in the mid-‘80s. Mason boiled down the two men’s struggle to its very essence for Mojo magazine. “(It’s) Dave’s desire to make music, versus Roger’s desire to make a show.” Gilmour acknowledged a broader scenario to the magazine, “Things between the four of us were always pretty rocky.” The talented guitarist felt he was on an uneven playing field as soon as he joined. “I was the new boy. Not only that, I was two years younger than the rest of them, and you know how those playground hierarchies carry over. You never catch up. Roger is not a generous-spirited person. I was constantly dumped on.”

The band forged through the late 1960s to very tepid receptions. Its brew of unstructured sonic psychedelia seemed to rub audiences everywhere the wrong way. “You must never underestimate how unpopular we were around the rest of England,” Nick Mason told Mojo. “They hated it. They would throw things, pour beer over us. And we were terrible, though we didn’t quite know it. Promoters were always coming up to us and saying, ‘I don’t know why you boys won’t do proper songs.’ Looking back on it, I can’t think why we persevered.”

Signs of acceptance amongst their countrymen became apparent when their album “Atom Heart Mother” finally managed to top the U.K. chart in October 1970. Constant touring throughout 1971 left them little time to squeeze in the recording of their follow-up, the album “Meddle.” What the record did provide was a glimmer of inspiration for the ideas that would soon transform into the ‘Dark Side’ effort. “I was getting strong urges to make extended pieces with segues between tracks and also to develop pieces where the songs have relationships,” Waters told interviewer Peter Henderson. The first side of the LP “Meddle” consisted of a long, thematic track named “Echoes.” This cohesive suite served as the launching pad for Waters’ desire to make an entire album centered on timeless, universal themes.

The band finished the North American leg of their 1971 tour in November and convened at a rehearsal studio in the London suburb of Broadhurst Gardens in December. “It’s difficult to remember the exact chronology, but I think we had already started improvising around some pieces at Broadhurst Gardens, and after I had written a couple of the lyrics for the songs, I suddenly thought, I know what would be good to make a whole record about the different pressures that apply in modern life,” Waters related to interviewer Henderson. Gilmour recalled Waters’ approach to Mojo: “I remember him saying that he wanted to write this album absolutely straight, clear and direct, for nothing to be hidden in mysteries, to get away from all the psychedelic warblings and say exactly what he wanted for the first time.” Waters later let his vast ego do the talking to the Washington Post, when he recalled telling the others about his ideas. “…They went, ‘Okay, that’s a good idea.’ In the ‘histories,’ it always comes out sounding like ‘we’ did this and ‘we’ did that and ‘we’ decided it was going to be a concept album. But there was none of that. There was never any question of sitting around and discussing what we might do. I have to say it’s not all my work – I only wrote all the lyrics and two-thirds of the songs. Gilmour’s contribution was very slight.”

Modern existence topics like money, travel, violence, and aging were broached as potential subjects for songs. As they did when assembling music for their previous albums, the band members searched through some of their old tapes to see if there would be snippets of melodies they could use. Waters had scored a soundtrack to a documentary called “The Body” in 1970. He took a small riff he had used for that film and turned it into the song “Breathe.” The band had also put together some music for the movie “Zabriskie Point,” and one of their unused tracks would serve as the musical bed to their “violent” song “Us and Them.” The subject of aging was addressed in the song “Time,” while the last act of death and beyond became the basis of the tune “The Great Gig In The Sky.”

To bring the pieces together into a psyche-devolving end, Waters concocted the song, “Brain Damage.” This meditation on insanity became renowned for its lyric, “the lunatic is on the grass.” Waters told Peter Henderson, “The grass was always the square in between the River Cam and King’s College chapel (back in Cambridge). I don’t know why, but when I was young that was always the piece of grass, more than any other piece of grass, that I felt I was constrained to ‘‘keep off.’ I don’t know why, but the song still makes me think of that piece of grass.” He went on to reveal, “The lunatic was Syd, really. He was obviously in my mind.” The entire song was not intended as a reflection on his old chum though. “…All that stuff in ‘Brain Damage’ about ‘If the band you’re in starts playing different tunes,” Waters later observed, “I think this was more for me than Syd.” Roger was already feeling the struggle of creating a singular vision with his fellow bandmates at this time. Of course, the follow-up line to those lyrics — “I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon” — evolved into the name of this most enduring album. For Waters, the dark side of the moon was everyone’s down side, that area of bad feelings, which he wanted listeners to know that we all shared and shouldn’t feel isolated in our emotions about.

By December 12, 1972, the band had rehearsed the majority of songs that would make up their next LP. They broke to finish filming on a movie they had begun earlier in October named “Live in Pompeii.” After Christmas, they resumed rehearsals at another studio in Bermondsey. When they hit the road for a tour around Britain on January 20, 1973, the band performed their new material under the name “Eclipse.” By the end of this jaunt, when they played live at London’s Rainbow Club in Finsbury Park, they were referring to their new material as “Dark Side of the Moon – A Piece for Assorted Lunatics.” Gilmour told Q magazine that the five nights they played ‘Dark Side’ at the Rainbow “tightened it up performance-wise, although one or two of the pieces which were a bit more performance-oriented got thrown out and replaced in the studio.” A bootleg recording of the concert was subsequently released and sold a whopping 120,000 copies. Pink Floyd was furious, and while there was nothing they could do to retrieve the black-market recording, they put more stringent guidelines on performance venues in the future.

From February through May, the band spent time scoring yet another film, “La Valee (The Valley),” for director Barbet Schroeder (“Reversal of Fortune,” “Single White Female”). When not recording the soundtrack, Pink Floyd toured Japan, America, West Germany and Holland. When their music score was released in June under the name “Obscured By Clouds,” the band was ready to finally settle in and record their “Dark Side of the Moon” material.

The group ambled into the fabled Abbey Road Studios on June 1st. A staff engineer at the studio, who had assisted on the landmark Beatles albums “Abbey Road” and “Let It Be,” was contracted to engineer Pink Floyd’s latest effort. His name was Alan Parsons, and the band knew of him through his mixing efforts on their previous album “Atom Heart Mother.” He would subsequently form his own hit-making outfit known as the Alan Parsons Project in the mid-‘70s. The band set about laying down basic tracks for the song “Us and Them,” using an instrumental riff keyboardist Rick Wright had previously come up with for “Zabriskie Point.” “I can’t remember when I wrote the top line and the lyric,” Roger Waters recalled to Peter Henderson, “but it was certainly during the making of ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ because it seems that the whole idea, the political idea of humanism and whether it could or should have any effect on any of us, that’s what the record is about really – conflict, our failure to connect with one another.”

On and off for the next 25 days, the group laid down the rest of the album’s tracks. For once, it appeared as if Gilmour and Waters were playing down their adversarial tendencies. Parsons recalled that “they produced each other – Roger would produce Dave playing guitar and singing, and Dave would produce Roger doing his vocals.” Gilmour told Q magazine, “In theory we were all producing, but in practice it meant that Roger and I would argue considerably about how it should sound.” He continued with Mojo magazine, “We had huge rows, but they were about passionate beliefs in what we were doing. Roger is a very intelligent and creative person, and I am very stubborn and pigheaded, but I think I have a good musical sense. Sometimes he would be willing to sacrifice all sorts of musical moments to get his message across. Our roles were complementary, at least in theory.”

Midway through these sessions, they played a gig in Brighton, England, and it was during this performance that they introduced the album’s final song, “Eclipse.” Waters explained to Peter Henderson, “It felt as if the piece needed an ending…The rather depressing ending, ‘And everything under the sun is in tune/but the sun is eclipsed by the moon,’ is the idea that we all have the potential to be in harmony with whatever it is, to lead happy, meaningful and right lives.”

The sonic clarity by which Alan Parsons was able to capture each element in the recording made the album a standout classic. Gilmour would spend hours fiddling with his guitar, eliciting the right attacks and withdrawing in understated moments for each track, until time came to record the tune. Then he would barrel through, usually in a take or two, with enough force, according to Parsons, to rattle the walls of the dear old Abbey Road facility. “The record very much focuses on important information,” Waters elaborated to the Washington Post, “so if it’s a vocal you can hear it, if it’s a guitar solo you can hear it, and if it’s a sound effect you can hear it. That’s because the drums are very quiet all the way through the record. That’s one thing about the record that sounds really old-fashioned because these days we tend to have drums up really loud, which leaves less space for other information.”

From July through August, the band took a much-needed holiday. In September 1972, they flew overseas for another set of North American concerts. It wasn’t until mid-October that they ambled back into Abbey Road for another nine days of recording. The songs would now be embellished with sound effects and spare vocal tracks, ingenious devices that would indelibly spot-weld the entire album into the world’s conscience as a landmark rock classic.

Perhaps the most beloved sound effect used on the entire album was that of the cash register and coinage sounds at the start of “Money.” Roger Waters told Peter Henderson, “I had a two-track studio at home with a Revox recorder. My first wife (Judy Trim) was a potter, and she had a big industrial food mixer for mixing up clay. I threw handfuls of coins and wads of torn-up paper into it. We took a couple of things off sound effects records too.” Parsons expounded on their technique: “The effects loops at the start of the song were re-recorded in the studio and this took a long time. Each sound had its own loop which we had to measure, using a ruler, to keep it in time. There was a tearing paper sound, a telephone Uni selector from a sound effects tape, bags of cash literally being dropped on the studio floor, and a cash register ringing.” The loop of effects became the click track, the device musicians use to set the signature time of a song. Parsons played the cash loop over their headphones.

During down-periods between his recording sessions at Abbey Road, Alan’s other job had been to traipse all over London to record effects for EMI’s vast sound library collection. He was utilizing the capabilities of a new process of recording known as quadraphonic, a system by which four channels of sound are used to deliver the reproduction. “Dark Side’ was recorded at a time when the quadraphonic system seemed to be on the horizon,” he told Guitar World magazine. “For example, a lot of the effects on the album were designed with quad reproduction in mind – most notably, the introduction to ‘Money.’ The idea was that each part of the cash register would emanate from a different speaker.”

It was Parsons who came up with the idea for the lead-in segue to the song “Time.” On one of his outings, he had ventured to a watchmaker’s shop, and utilizing the quadraphonic technique, had isolated and recorded the sounds of clocks ticking and chiming. Along with the distinctive beating sounds of Nick Mason’s rototom drums and Waters’ plucking his Fender bass, the intro to “Time” was every bit as unconventional as the one to “Money.”

Gilmour was pals with an inventor named Peter Zinovieff who had constructed a huge synthesizer called the VCS3 behind his house in a garden shed. Zinovieff was able to condense the workings of the instruments into a suitcase, and the device was lugged into Abbey Road Studios for use on the album. The song “On The Run,” which had featured Gilmour’s guitarwork when the band played it as a longwinded jam on tour before the recording session, was suitably benefited by the introduction of the VCS3. Gilmour fiddled with the controls, programming a random sequence that became the basis of the simple tune. “All the basic sounds came as a mono feed from that one synth,” Parsons told Guitar World. “It’s funny, because most people assume that ‘On The Run’ is composed of several overdubs; it’s actually a one-off performance.” With liberal use of train, airplane and explosive sound effects from the Abbey Road library, Parsons contributed another distinctive feature to the track while the group was taking a break. “There were no band members present – it was just me with my assistant engineer, Peter James. Poor Peter had the job of running back and forth while I recorded him. I remember instructing him to do things like, ‘Breathe harder.”

The band put Parsons through the ringer when they decided on having an ‘echo’ effect after each line of lyric on another of their standout songs. “It was literally a fight to get the delay effect on ‘Us and Them,’ Parsons related to Guitar World magazine. “We spent a tremendous amount of time hooking up Dolby units and realigning machines at the wrong tape speed to accomplish that effect. ‘Us and Them’ was all done with tape delays, because digital delays didn’t exist then. All those things took hours to set up.”

Liberally sprinkled throughout the entire album were spoken word, disconnected sentences from varying voices. Instead of scripting the bits of monologue and having group members utter the lines, Waters was looking to grab ad-libbed notions that would fit into his ‘Dark Side’ thesis. “I devised a series of about 20 questions on pieces of card,” he related to Peter Henderson. “They were in order and ranged from obscure questions like, ‘What does the phrase ‘the dark side of the moon’ mean to you?’ to a series of questions that related to each other like, ‘When was the last time you were violent?’ and then ‘Do you think you were in the right?’ We asked people to just go into an empty studio, look at the top card, respond to it, move on to the next card and respond to that, and so on until they’d done all the cards. We showed them to everyone from Paul McCartney to Jerry Driscoll, the Abbey Road doorman.” It was Driscoll’s response to his feelings about death (“I’m not frightened of dying. Anytime will do, I don’t mind.”) that was used in the album’s ‘mortality’ song, “The Great Gig In The Sky.”

By November 1972, the bulk of “The Dark Side of the Moon” had been recorded. Surprisingly, the group felt that their standing in the rock world was still unfocused and shaky. Since all four of them came from stable, middle-class, well-educated backgrounds, the logical thing to do with their careers at this juncture was to explore other avenues, in case the whole ‘rock’ thing fell through. From November through February 1973, the band hooked up with renowned French choreographer Roland Petit and set about making plans to compose music for his Les Ballets de Marseilles troupe. They soon realized they weren’t too inspired by Petit to come up with esteemed classical pieces. “The reality of all these people prancing around in tights in front of us didn’t feel like what we wanted to do long term,” Gilmour explained to Mojo. The group wound up playing their own established tunes during a few ballet performances in Marseilles and Paris and quickly dropped out of the dance world.

Over eleven more days inside Abbey Road, during the period of January 18 through February 1, 1973, Pink Floyd polished off its masterpiece album. Two relatively unknown contributors would put their personal stamp on the record, giving it an extra boost of pleasurable sonic notoriety. The group felt both “Money” and “Us and Them” would benefit from a saxophone break. Instead of hiring a seasoned session man, Gilmour coaxed a friend from one of his old Cambridge jazz bands, Dick Parry, to travel to London and lay down his soothing, outstanding sax lines. As for “The Great Gig In The Sky,” an instrumental piece written by Rick Wright, some sort of vocal backing was seen as necessary to complete the track. Alan Parsons thought of a friend of his, a novice staff songwriter over at the EMI offices, who might fit the bill. “I received a phone call to come in and do a session for Pink Floyd,” Parson’s friend Clare Torry told Peter Henderson. “It didn’t mean much to me at the time, but I accepted and was booked: 7-10pm Sunday, January 21, Studio 3. When I arrived they explained the concept of the album to me and played me Rick Wright’s chord sequence. They said, ‘We want some singing on it.’ But didn’t know what they wanted, so I suggested going out into the studio and trying a few things. I started off using words, but they said, ‘Oh no, we don’t want any words.’ So the only thing I could think of was to make myself sound like an instrument, a guitar or whatever, and not to think like a vocalist. I did that and they loved it.”

So, too, did a vast majority of Floyd fans. Torry’s jazzy, emotional, soaring vocals, wailing over the heavenly rise of Wright’s hymn, lent a beautiful, heartfelt dimension to an otherwise somber album. For a song dealing with our final departure from this mortal coil, her sound gave it a highly romantic bent. In 1990, Australian radio listeners curiously named the lyric-free ditty as the best song to make love to. Torry was paid about 30 English pounds for her session. “If I’d known then what I know now, I would have done something about organizing copyright or publishing (rights),” she later wistfully said.

By the time recording wrapped, Waters and Gilmour were at extreme odds about the entire album’s production sound. Another Apple staffer who had worked with the group Badfinger was called. “Chris Thomas came in for the mixes,” David Gilmour told Guitar World magazine, “and his role was essentially to stop the arguments between me and Roger about how it should be mixed. I wanted ‘Dark Side’ to be big and swampy and wet, with reverbs and things like that. And Roger was very keen on it being a very dry album. I think he was influenced a lot by John Lennon’s first solo album which was very dry. We argued so much that it was suggested we get a third opinion. We were going to leave Chris to mix it on his own, with Alan Parsons engineering. And, of course, on the first day I found out that Roger sneaked in there. So, the second day I sneaked in there. And from then on, we both sat right at Chris’ shoulder interfering. But luckily, Chris was more sympathetic to my point of view than he was to Roger’s.”

Finally, by February 1, 1973, the album was officially completed. Spread out over a 7- month period, Pink Floyd had only spent 38 days in the studio to record their landmark achievement. Waters told the Washington Post, “When it was finished, I took the tape home and played it to my first wife, and I remember her bursting into tears when she’d finished listening to it. And I thought, yeah, that’s kind of what I expected, because I think it’s very moving emotionally and musically.”

The group’s respective labels, EMI in Europe and Capitol in the U.S., were ecstatic about the results as well. They wound up giving the album a huge promotional push. The group tapped Storm Thorgerson, who was founder of the hip art design firm, Hipgnosis, to design the album’s cover. Thorgerson’s unique photography had produced the haunting women-on-steps look of Zeppelin’s album “Houses of the Holy” and the instantly-recognizable curves of Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells.” He would later capture the striking imagery of Pink Floyd’s ‘burning man’ cover for “Wish You Were Here,” the floating pig on the “Animals” cover, and 800 empty hospital beds for the “Momentary Lapse of Reason” sleeve. His design for “The Dark Side of the Moon” “took about 3 seconds,” Thorgerson related to Q magazine, “in so much as the band cast their eyes over everything, looked at each other, said in unison, ‘That One,” and left the room.” The selected design, that of a white light refracting into a rainbow through a pyramid prism, would become one of the best known covers in the annals of rock album designs.

Upon the release of “The Dark Side of the Moon,” everything became more grander, more complicated for the group. Pink Floyd hit the road and toured throughout much of 1973. Their stage show had always been an elaborate presentation of lights and slides, but now the band began shooting films that would be projected behind them in conjunction with the music. “We’d have lots of problems with cue-tracks to keep in synch with the film,” Rick Wright told Mojo magazine. “We were one of the first bands to do that, click-tracks they call them now. It was a massive headache because the equipment was pretty unreliable. The film would snap or the projector would break down or the click would suddenly come blasting out of the P.A. in the middle of the piece because someone had turned the wrong knob. There was a lot of missing cues and trying to get back in time, whereas today with everything digital, it works like clockwork.”

With their new album, the band had something they’d never truly experienced before. A bonafide hit single. “Money” reached number 13 on the Billboard chart. “It was ‘Money’ that made the difference rather than ‘Dark Side of the Moon,” Gilmour related to Mojo. “It gave us a much larger following, for which we should be thankful. But it included an element that wasn’t versed in Pink Floyd’s ways. It started from the first show in America (in Madison, Wisconsin). People at the front shouting, ‘Play ‘Money!’ Gimme something I can shake my ass to!’ We had to get used to it, but previously we’d been playing to 10,000-seaters where, in the quiet passages, you could hear a pin drop. One always has a bit of nostalgia for the days when we could perform without compromise to that level of dynamics.”

The album also brought Pink Floyd notoriety as the group to ‘trip’ out to. “Roger’s and Nick’s largest indulgence was alcohol,” Gilmour later tried to explain, “mine and Rick’s might have involved the occasional reefer. But at that time we were nothing like our image. I’m not sure Roger’s even taken LSD – it certainly wasn’t on our menu after Syd left. We’ve never got away from that reputation, though, not to this day.”

The only recognition from their peers resulted in Alan Parsons receiving a Grammy for ‘Best Engineered Album’ in 1973. Critics were split down the line, some gushing, some dismissive. For Roger Waters, the mountain had been climbed, and there was nowhere else to go but down. “We’d cracked it,” he related to Q magazine. “We’d won the pools. What are you supposed to do after that? ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ was the last willing collaboration – after that, everything with the band was like drawing teeth; 10 years of hanging on to the married name and not having the courage to get divorced, to let go; 10 years of bloody hell. It was all just terrible. Awful. Terrible.” Waters’ contempt for Gilmour increased tenfold, and in years since, he has not been meek about trashing the group to the press. “Nobody else in the band could write lyrics,” he moaned to the Washington Post, “there were no other lyricists after Syd left. David’s written a couple of songs, but they were nothing special. I don’t think Nick ever tried to write a lyric, and Rick probably did in the early days, but they were awful.” Gilmour has been more succinct in his criticism for his old bandmate, as in his statement to Guitar World: “To me, one of Roger’s failings is that sometimes, in his effort to get the words across, he uses a less than perfect vehicle.”

Waters’ viewed the stadium shows as a moral sellout, a greedy spectacle, and after playing a gig at the Olympic stadium in Montreal during their 1977 “Animals” tour, he began shaping his arena-size disillusionment into the rock opera “The Wall.” Rick Wright was dismissed during the making of this LP. Waters and Gilmour barely collaborated on it. The aptly-titled “The Final Cut” in 1983 would prove to be the last Pink Floyd effort involving Roger. In December 1985, he formally wrote the record company his resignation. When Gilmour recruited Wright and Mason to release “A Momentary Lapse of Reason” in 1987 under the Pink Floyd name, Waters sought to legally prevent their actions. But it was to no avail. While Pink Floyd followed up with several massive tours and the multi-million dollar-selling album “The Division Bell,” Waters’ solo efforts like “Radio K.A.O.S” and “Amused To Death” seemed to spin straight to the bargain bin. All the same, the three remaining members of the Floyd haven’t appeared to be overjoyed in carrying on the torch for the legendary band. “We don’t socialize much,” Rick Wright told interviewer Mark Blake in 1996. “Pink Floyd is like a marriage that’s on a permanent trial separation. We all respect each other, but we’re not close friends.”

Outside of all the dispirited feelings, the work truly has remained exemplary over the years. “The Dark Side of the Moon” continues to entice new listeners with its sterling production values and universal themes. In an age where radio airplay tosses hit singles on and off the rotation cycle with all the rapid-fire fervor of 1960s AM programming, ‘Dark Side’ stands as a shining example of an intelligent, complete work not so easily dispensable. For Waters, the album’s endurance will always stand as testament to dealing with his own life’s philosophies. “You hit puberty, decide you want to be a rock star,” he observed to Musician magazine, “…and you feel you need all that applause and money to validate your life…And I suppose I was starting to ask some of the larger questions of, ‘Well, hang on a minute. What’s the ‘point’ of all of it?’ That’s what ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ is about, and maybe that’s why it survived.” Perhaps it’s the crystal clear themes of life and death, light and dark, the sun and the moon, sanity and insanity that speak to listeners from any background. For David Gilmour, it truly seems to have that all-encompassing appeal. “I listened to ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ last year,” he related to Guitar World in 1994, “…and I remember feeling that it was pretty timeless. And a lot of the issues that we have dealt with – that Roger wrote about in his lyrics, if you like – are pretty timeless. They are things that apply to any generation.”

© 2001 Ned Truslow

January 2, 2015

The Who Give Birth to Tommy

“Deaf, dumb and blind boy; he’s in a quiet vibration land; strange as it seems, his musical dreams ain’t quite so bad.” These opening lyrics to the song “Amazing Journey” summed up the story of rock’s preeminent operatic concept album. In 1969, the British band The Who delivered a double LP set that forced critics and fans alike to reassess the limitations previously affixed to the trappings of rock and roll and concur that the group’s work had legitimately molded a new art form in modern music. The Who had brought forth “Tommy,” a rock opera.

In 1966, Pete Townshend had dabbled a little with the idea of a “rock opera.” His ribald song “A Quick One, While He’s Away,” had a sense of operatic sweep. And in January 1968, when the album “The Who Sell Out” was released, a cut called “Rael (1 and 2),” which imagined the Red Chinese as world leaders in 1999, was a truncated version of a much broader-scoped idea he was unable to flesh out into operatic proportions.

The group had toured mercilessly throughout the years 1967 and 1968. They appeared at the Monterey Pop Festival and were the highest paid act to play the Fillmore West in San Francisco. Groupies, drugs and Keith Moon’s antics had dogged their reputation everywhere they went. Pete Townshend had a seriously bad trip on LSD during this period and felt the need to look elsewhere to heighten his awareness. When a journalist friend mentioned the teachings of an Indian spiritual guide named Meher Baba, Townshend delved into a mystical quest for inner peace and answers to the mysteries of life. Only Beatle George Harrison seemed as devoted as Townshend in seeking spiritual truths at this period of time in rock history.

Baba was born in Poona, India in 1894 and, through the course of several mystical events, came to see himself as the Original Enlightened Soul, a being that allegedly returns to our planet every 700 to 1,400 years to reawaken mankind to a higher path of spiritual awareness. In 1925, he took a vow of silence and remained speechless until his death in 1969. Baba “spoke” through the use of alphabet cards and hand gestures. The essence of his teachings were grounded in love, pure and simple. No rituals or ordained deeds were required of his followers. Just by loving him, one would presumably begin to recognize, live with, accept, and then diminish their own faults in life. Meher Baba’s best known phrase, “be happy, don’t worry,” was incorporated by singer Bobby McFerrin when he released the hit single of the same name in 1988.

Townshend has always been intellectual in his assessment of rock music and the generations that champion it. His music in the 1960s explored the adolescent themes of rebellion, distrust, and carefree nihilism that gripped, in particular, the “mods” and the “rockers” of his native England. As he came out of the grueling tour schedule in 1968, his take on the “underground” youth movement of the ‘60s was one of misguidedness. As much as they claimed to seek enlightenment, the young people of his day were instead caught up in the actions and hedonistic gains of the secular world to the same extent as those individuals they vociferously denounced. True spirituality, like the teachings he was reading from Baba, were alien to the peers around him. Through this enlightenment yearning, and his desire to please Baba, Townshend began to conceive a story, one that would eventually evolve into “Tommy.”

Kit Lambert, the band’s manager, brought much of the fuel to Townshend’s fire in creating his rock opera. Lambert, the son a classical composer, bombarded Pete with numerous notions and once they had the seeds of their story, he helped to cajole, shape, and bounce ideas off of Townshend and the band.

Townshend turned to the teachings of Baba for inspiration. As he related in “The Story of Tommy,” Townshend said, “Meher Baba talked of our lives being led in an ‘illusion;’ that we were dreaming; that reality was Infinite, and that we would realize that Infinity only through denying the lust, greed, and anger of the material world, through love, and starting our journey ‘back’ to God.” Since, according to Baba, our five senses tend to limit our minds to what is “real,” Townshend, in turn, thought someone with physical limitations of the senses would aptly reflect, symbolically, our society, in general, which is “trapped” in reality. He studied the work of Professor Nordoff, who worked with autistic children, helping to bring the youngsters out of their “trance-like” state with loving care and specifically with the aid of music. He began to see the lead character of his concept project as more severely handicapped, that is, being deaf, dumb and blind. “I always loved circus and freaks,” he related, somewhat sarcastically, in “The Story of Tommy,” “and the only group I ever produced, Thunderclap Newman, was another expression of this love of freaks who make it (Thunderclap Newman went on to release the hit single, “Something in the Air.”) The fallen raised up. I also nearly produced Tiny Tim.” He went on to say, “My idea was, that I would write a series of songs that flashed between the point of view of reality and the point of view of illusion, seen through the eyes of someone on the spiritual path, a young boy, and I called the basic idea ‘Amazing Journey.”

By May 1968, Townshend was firmly caught up in shaping a full-length narrative centered around these ideas. He confirmed it to Melody Maker magazine that month, saying “I’m working on an opera, which I did once before (“Rael”), and I am thinking of calling it ‘The Amazing Journey.’ I’ve completed some of it, and I’d like to put it on an LP. The theme is about a deaf, dumb, and blind boy who has dreams and sees himself as ruler of the cosmos.”

In June, the band went back on the road to America for another 9 weeks of touring. Townshend continued to formulate his story, which he did not want to be overly pious or pompously pretentious. Unlike the studio wizardry of The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s” album, Townshend wanted his concept to be free of complicated engineering feats so that it would be able to be performed in concert hall venues. “What I wanted to do at that particular time was to be sort of musico-diplomatic,” he said in “The Story of Tommy.” “I wanted to hit everybody all at once. So I did, cautiously, put across a spiritual message because I did feel that I had learned a fantastic amount through my life and perhaps even through dope, which had led me to Baba, and I knew that Baba was something very special, and I wanted this all to be wound up. But at the same time, I wanted “Tommy” to be rock and roll, I wanted it to be like singles that you could pull out and play. You could pull out “I’m Free” and “Sensation” and they’d be good just as songs.”

“Tommy,” of course, still wasn’t named “Tommy” at this point. “The Amazing Journey,” “The Brain Opera,” and “Journey into Space” were all titles that were being bandied about. By the time The Who wrapped up the second of two shows at the Fillmore West in San Francisco on August 15, 1968, the title “Deaf, Dumb, and Blind Boy” was the latest moniker for the piece. On this night, after the performance, Pete Townshend went to Jann Wenner’s home. Wenner, the owner and editor of Rolling Stone magazine, talked with Townshend throughout the night, and it was during this interview, that Pete felt his comments about the rock opera’s story truly solidified, shaping in his mind what the piece was going to be about. He conveyed that this deaf, dumb, and blind boy would perceive things as musical vibrations, music that would be interpreted in The Who’s songs. He talked about a scene in which the boy’s father would be talking to the kid, trying to reach the boy, and as the boy lays there unresponsive, the father would strike his child in a violent outbreak. Townshend said in the interview, “And the kid doesn’t catch the violence. He just knows that some sensation is happening. He doesn’t feel the pain, he doesn’t associate it with anything. He just accepts it.” The same complacent acceptance occurs when a perverted uncle “plays” with the boy. The boy just interprets the pedophilic intrusion as music. His self-imposed deaf, dumb, and blind isolation would be lending him spiritual harmony and a blissful, escapist world of imagination impervious to the violations of the outside world. Many listeners would misinterpret Townshend’s intentions during these song vignettes and translate them simply as cases where a handicapped boy is being tragically abused.

As for the pivotal moment when the boy would realize he has had his senses all along, and he rises to a higher plane of heightened awareness, Townshend acknowledged this transition would be a “difficult jump” to compose. “The music has got to explain what happens, that the boy elevates and finds something which is incredible. To us, it’s nothing to be able to see and hear and speak, but to him, it’s absolutely incredible and overwhelming; this is what we want to do musically.”

The name of Tommy, very commonplace in Britain as a “regular bloke”-sounding moniker, was now being used to refer to the central character. Townshend even put the mystical spin on the selection by mentioning that Tommy could be broken apart as “To Me,” positing some sort of spiritual slant. Whatever the reasoning, “Tommy” lurched forward at a more accelerated pace. On the way back from the West Coast, The Who stopped off in New York to play on the bill with The Doors at a concert. As The Doors performed their set, a female fan leapt upon the stage trying to get Jim Morrison’s attention. A bodyguard slugged her in the gut and sent her on her way, and Morrison apparently ignored the whole episode. Townshend, watching from the wings, made a mental note of this event, and fashioned the song “Sally Simpson,” which told of a female fan getting hurt trying to make a connection with Tommy at an appearance, for his new rock opera.

Back in England, the band gave Pete Townshend and Kit Lambert the space they needed to mold the piece into a coherent, plausible narrative. A song Townshend had written about a very spiritual girl he’d met in Australia, with the line “she’s a sensation” was switched to “I’m a sensation.” Thus, the song “Sensation” became one of the pivotal tunes portraying Tommy’s awareness of his heightened senses above those of the society around him. Townshend had also written a song that was an anti-authoritarian diatribe, “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” and he incorporated this tune as the anthem of rejection Tommy’s followers chant at the end of the story. Two other songs, “Welcome” and “I’m Free” had originally been conceived as straightforward examples of his love and devotion to Meher Baba but were also placed into the Tommy opera.

The rock opera became reality as the band began recording tracks in November 1968. On the simplest of summaries, the concept told of a boy who is born during World War I while his father is off fighting for England. When the father returns, he ostensibly discovers his wife with a lover. Something horrible occurs (during the song “1921”) which is never described, but presumably, the lover is murdered by the parents in front of their boy. Telling the boy, “you didn’t hear it, you didn’t see it, you won’t say nothing to no-one, ever in your life,” the parents effectively send him into his own shell. He withdraws, becoming deaf, dumb and blind in “a quiet vibration land” where he takes an amazing journey with a bearded guide (Meher Baba perhaps?). In this world he is unreachable. A magic healer comes in contact with Tommy’s situation. Tommy is oblivious to Christmas celebrations and its very meaning. A babysitting cousin abuses him. A pusher/prostitute tries to draw him out. A perverted uncle “fiddles” with him. A pinball champion battles the boy, who is mysteriously proficient at the game. A doctor tells his parents that the boy’s “eyes can see, his ears can hear, his lips speak,” that the boy is fully capable of reacting to their pleas. The boy’s only outward sense is when he stares at himself in a mirror. His reflection is interpreted by him as god-like. When his mother smashes the mirror, Tommy’s senses are heightened to a point that everyone sees him as a “messiah.” He appears before the masses like a rock star. A fan is injured when she tries to make contact with him. Tommy proselytizes his experiences to the masses. At his holiday camp, the followers are harangued to give up their vices, to experience sense deprivation, and they revolt, leaving Tommy alone.

The group spent six months in the studio, an uncommon amount of time for most bands in the late ‘60s. Kit Lambert pushed to incorporate orchestrations into the album, but the band felt it needed to be a true “rock” concept and dismissed any attempts Lambert had at using any outside musicians. The Who’s record label, Decca, had been informed by the band that the next album they were to receive would be ready by Christmas 1968, but they obviously could not rush this new, daring experiment. A tour had already been booked for the end of April 1969, so the group worked overtime to try to complete the double album before that date. As the studio costs escalated, the members of The Who would oftentimes spend half their sessions just talking about the direction each song, each lyric, each nuance of the opera needed to head in.

In an effort to placate a prominent rock critic who was an avid pinball player, Townshend introduced Tommy’s innate pinball abilities while the group was in the midst of recording. He wrote “Pinball Wizard” very quickly, not confident it would fit into the overall piece, but the band loved it. With its musical pings and bells, the pinball machine worked cleverly with the notion that Tommy’s deaf, dumb, and blind world was sensitive to musical vibrations.

When Townshend was stumped over how to present a unique “religious” setting for Tommy’s new converts, drummer Keith Moon came up with the idea of a holiday camp instead of a church surrounding. Bassist John Entwistle contributed significantly to the nasty lyrics associated with “Uncle Ernie” and “Cousin Kevin.”

Townshend’s allusions to the teachings of Meher Baba were evident throughout the albums. When Tommy’s mother smashes the mirror, Tommy’s “miracle cure” pushes him to the level of spiritual guide, and he starts his own organized “religion,” making specific demands upon his followers. This scenario is in direct contrast to what Baba advocated in that no one should follow a hierarchical organization of religion. When Tommy tells his followers to stop drinking and smoking pot, both tenets are recognized as consistent with the ways of Baba.

Many fans and critics have debated the exact meaning Townshend was implying at the end of the opera. After the disciples sing “we’re not gonna take it,” Tommy chimes in with the lines “listening to you, I get the music; gazing at you, I get the heat; following you, I climb the mountain; I get excitement at your feet.” These verses are the same ones Tommy has said when he looked at himself in the mirror. Some people presume that Tommy is left alone at the end, shattered, babbling to the heavens. Townshend presumably saw this ending as Tommy’s way of returning everybody back to their former selves. They tried to follow him, but they fell short on being able to learn from him and grasp his true message. Tommy realizes he can’t be their god and that they are never going to be “complete.” This alligns with Baba’s teachings that Man is never truly complete, and thus, that is the very essence of Infinity. Tommy’s ultimate purpose, therefore, is to look upon his followers, as they retreat from him, with love and understanding, seeing them as part of the overall “incomplete” plan. He’s now listening to them, getting the music from them, not from the god he saw in the mirror, which was himself. Of course, it is a piece of music. Music can be interpreted in many ways, so the listener is free to come up with his or her own conclusions.

In the end, because of cost cutting needs exacerbated from the record label’s tightening budget, Lambert’s production technique and the quality of the studio, IBC, was not flattering to the important historical significance of this music milestone. The album’s overall sound was muted and not as multi-layered as it could have been. Time constraints were a factor, of course, but it is a fact that the band was not entirely happy with the production outcome of their effort. Nonetheless, The Who had fashioned a true rock masterpiece. It told a coherent story, it had standout single songs, and it connected with Townshend’s original vision for a spiritual message. Roger Daltrey’s commanding vocal gymnastics led listeners on the amazing journey, and he truly became Tommy throughout the piece. Rock had given birth to the long-form concept album.

The Who played the entire opera in concert in Dolton, England on April 22, 1969. “Pinball Wizard” was released as a single around this time and immediately went to number 4 on the U.K. charts. They then performed the opera at an official press gathering at London’s Ronnie Scott club in early May. Shortly thereafter, on May 9th, the band began a tour of the U.S. in Detroit, Michigan. Finally, on May 23, 1969, “Tommy,” the double album itself, was released. The BBC banned the record, as did several other radio outlets, perceiving the “deaf, dumb, and blind kid” in the songs made a mockery of handicapped children. Townshend retorted, “The kid is having terrible things done to him, because that’s life as it is. In fact, what I was out to show is that someone who has suffered terribly at the hands of society has the ability to turn all these experiences into a tremendous musical awareness. Sickness is in the mind of the listener, and I don’t give a damn what people think.”

The Who’s tour took them to ballrooms and theatres, but did not include arenas or stadiums. By August they were truly exhausted. The band virtually were coerced into appearing at the Woodstock festival on August 16th. They took a short break and then continued performing “Tommy” sporadically through November 1969. At the turn of 1970, The Who performed their conceptual album in the opera houses of London, Paris, Copenhagen, Cologne, Hamburg, Berlin, Amsterdam, and finally, the Metropolitan Opera House in New York.

In the summer of 1972, an orchestral presentation of the rock opera was proposed. Subsequently, the band worked with guest artists, as well as with the London Symphony Orchestra and Chamber Choir, and an album was issued featuring this collaborated effort. By the end of 1973, director Ken Russell was hired to shoot a film version of the rock opera. Townshend laid down new tracks featuring actors from the film, primarily Ann-Margret and Oliver Reed, and Roger Daltrey took the part of Tommy. The film was released in March 1975. At the time, Townshend hated the film, which reduced the story to high camp and overheated melodrama. As with all things “Tommy,” his opinion, as well as those of his bandmates on their crowning achievement would waver over the next two decades.

“Tommy” was interpreted by the Royal Canadian Ballet. It was released in a synthesizer opus called “Electric Tommy.” The piece was even arranged for college bands everywhere as “Marching Tommy.” The Who’s successful rock opera opened the door for people like Andrew Lloyd Webber to concoct heavy-handed musical interpretations of the life of Christ and the Phantom of the Opera. Artists like Rick Wakeman and Pink Floyd owe a certain amount of debt to this conceptual forebear.

Although “Tommy” is seen as a true milestone in the annals of rock history, time has sometimes not made the heart grow fonder. Pete Townshend thoroughly dissed his accomplishment in a 1987 Rolling Stone interview: “I suppose the mistake I made in “Tommy” was instead of having the guts to take what Meher Baba said – which was ‘Don’t worry, be happy, leave the results to God’ – and repeating that to people, I decided the people weren’t capable of hearing that directly. They’ve got to have it served in this entertainment package. And I gave them “Tommy” instead, in which some of Meher Baba’s wonderfully explicit truths were presented to them half-baked in lyric form and diluted as a result. In fact, if there was any warning in “Tommy,” it was ‘Don’t make any more records like that.”

However disagreeable he appeared towards his rock opera, Townshend and his bandmates decided after their January 1989 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to re-form and perform the album once again. On June 27, 1989, The Who performed “Tommy” onstage at Radio City Music Hall in New York for the first time in 19 years. They churned through the material in a little over an hour’s time. Afterwards, Pete grumbled, “’Tommy’ is very flawed…It doesn’t hang together very well,” and Roger Daltrey said, “It’s a bit laborious.” Nevertheless, the band went on to perform it in its entirety in Los Angeles with an all-star cast, featuring artists like Elton John, Patti Labelle, and Billy Idol. Both concerts benefited the Nordoff-Robbins Research Foundation, the very same professor whose research Townshend had found inspiration for “Tommy” in its musical/medical applications for autistic patients 20 years before.

Townshend either had another change of heart concerning his rock opera, or he relished the dollar signs he would reap when he and director Des McAnuff collaborated on a theatrical stage version of “Tommy” in the early ‘90s. With over two dozen slide projectors, 30 foot wide screens, numerous video control computers, and over 20 tons of scenery and equipment, “Tommy” opened to critical and audience praise on Broadway in 1993. While the story’s ending was made a little more family friendly (Tommy goes back to his mom and dad and everything’s hunky-dory), the essential themes of misguided messiah worship and heightened awareness still hummed through the subtext of the splashy stage presentation.

With a mediocre box office turnout for the band’s 1996-1997 concert renditions of their follow-up rock opera “Quadrophenia,” The Who, seemingly to the millenium generation, may finally be perceived as treading on the downward curve of their career. Time will only tell how future rockers respond to raucous call-to-arms like “Won’t Get Fooled Again” and “My Generation.” But with its many incarnations continually springing forth with an always-relevant message, their crowning achievement of “Tommy” may ultimately serve to outlive the legacy of the band itself.

© 2000 Ned Truslow

January 2, 2015

The Bare Facts: Madonna Exposes Her ‘Sex’ to America

Madonna struck a pose. The former staff photographer for Life and Esquire magazines didn’t really need to tell her how to move. The accomplished dancer contorted her naked and lean body gracefully, with a savvy knowledge of how her image would be captured. The camera clicked away, exposing multiple frames of her in improvised stances. Playful in one shot while cupping her bare bosom; somber and staring forlornly in profile in the next. The day’s session ended after a couple of hours. The photographer, Bill Stone, graciously thanked Madonna for her time and patience. And he paid her $25. It was December 1978. The Bay City, Michigan aspiring singer/dancer had recently arrived in New York. These revealing photos, along with others she would sit for during her early years of struggle in the Big Apple, would wind up, against her wishes, in the pages of Playboy and Penthouse seven years later in the summer of 1985. Madonna’s response to their publication was summed up in her official statement, “I’m not ashamed of anything.” As if to flaunt this notion of unabashedly exposing her sexuality to a nation, she soon embarked on a carefully-publicized, taboo-crushing campaign that would arguably fling open doors to the sexually-charged imagery in rock that we take for granted today.

Ambitious is a description that falls woefully short when summarizing Madonna’s decades-long desire to be in the spotlight. For much of the 1980s and early 1990s, she carnivorously tore into the national conscience, chomping up the airwaves and discarding the bones of pretenders to the throne. Having always claimed that the loss of her mother to breast cancer, when she was the tender age of six, left a void in her delicate upbringing, Madonna seemed to have set out to be the little girl who ran into the country’s living room after school, begging for attention. And like the pesky kid whose tantrums and stunts telegraph the message ‘You Will Notice Me,’ she was so consistently self-absorbed in her own promotion that it didn’t truly matter what opinion we had of her. Just so long as we had one.

Her chameleon ability to switch costume, change hairstyle, and adjust her levels of outspokenness was keyed in direct proportion to her overwhelming desire for adulation. There is nothing unusual in this psychological makeup that differentiates her from fellow superstars. What does make Madonna a standout amongst her peers is that she so consistently pushed our collective button. She genuinely seemed not to give a damn how we responded to her antics, but instead, expertly fashioned her outrageous behavior so masterfully that we were compelled not to ignore her. And as stuffy Americans living in one of the most stifling political climates in modern times under the Reagan era, we as a nation were completely open to relishing masterfully-crafted scandal and titillation. We encouraged Madonna to drag us out of the drudgery of our Mayberry existence.

Madonna launched her assault on our senses within the first year of her major record label debut. The tough-talking, assertive character she played in “Desperately Seeking Susan” signaled to the general public that here was a captivating female presence – with the smarts of Lauren Bacall and the sass of Mae West — who wasn’t going to put up with the Establishment. While many had struck down this same path before, Madonna blitzed across the screen with charm and sexuality oozing from her boy-toy, streaked-hair persona. Her follow-up blast of the “Like A Virgin” album and tour served to showcase her as a teasing carnal Betty Boop, rolling around onstage in wedding gowns, coyly keeping the boys at a distance. The music was infectious, and the hits poured out of the airwaves, scoring her numerous chart-topping positions around the world. She was still a creation, someone whom we just accepted as a manufactured product. But that would soon change.

When true-blue love finally opened her heart, Madonna’s personality seemed to arise from behind the bubblegum curtain. Tumultuous episodes with her new husband, Sean Penn, gave us stark paparazzo images of a pop singer wrestling with the idealism of marriage and normalcy. We caught glimpses of the celebrity unguarded, and the impression we took with us was of someone desperately trying to keep total control of an uncontrollable situation. As her heart became broken and the marriage unraveled, a switch in Madonna’s presentation slowly started to take shape. Instead of simply slapping a façade on her persona – boy-toy, Marilyn Monroe, virgin – she now was eager to show us the variations that lurked within. The prior sexual creations were aloof. Now she was compelled to literally bare all. If she couldn’t share her innermost sexual desires with her husband, she was darn well gonna share them with America.

Before “Will & Grace,” Ellen and Ann, and the countless gay-themed entertainment acceptable to heartland families everywhere today, the 1980s, in comparison, were not very open. In the world of music by the end of that decade, heavy metal ruled supreme. And while the boys wore Maybelline and used Streaks ‘n’ Tips, their stage presence only allowed for testosterone-fueled, hetero antics. Elton John and a questionable George Michael (at the time) seemed to be the only designated bi-sexuals roaming in the wings. So when comedienne Sandra Bernhard appeared on “Late Night with David Letterman” in 1988, French-kissed the affable host, and called to her playmate Madonna to join her onstage, America bolted upright. So did Dave. Dressed alike in t-shirts and jean shorts, the twosome cuddled and hinted at their nighttime activities with an ogling Letterman. At no time before had a female celebrity along the caliber of Madonna so vibrantly and unabashedly projected to the viewing public a preference for both genders.

Madonna later commented ambiguously about her relationship with Sandra: “The fact is, she’s a great friend of mine. Whether I’m gay or not is irrelevant. Whether I slept with her or not is irrelevant. I’m perfectly willing to have people think that I did. You know, I do not want to protest too much. I don’t care. If it makes people feel better to think that I slept with her, then they can think it.”

Still married to Penn, Madonna assured her hot-headed hubby that she had only been joking around on the “Late Night” show. But the union was on its last legs. She spent Christmas Eve with Bernhard and before the turn of the New Year, Penn had allegedly bound and gagged his wife for several hours at their Malibu home. By January 1989, Madonna and Sean were divorced. The smoldering control Penn had exuded over her, combined with her all-consuming devotion to him over the past three years, seemed to ignite in Madonna an unchecked desire to provoke like she never had before. She had been slapped around and tied up because of her sexual antics and admissions to America, so now it was time for her to do some of the slapping.

Already on the fast track to star as Breathless Mahoney in Warren Beatty’s “Dick Tracy,” the pop diva was readying her most mature album to date, “Like A Prayer.” With semi-autobiographical songs like “Oh Father” and “Till Death Do Us Part,” the latter a sordid account of a relationship in flames, the record topped the Billboard chart shortly after its release in March 1989. Pepsico announced from its headquarters in Somers, New York that Madonna had been signed for five million dollars to star in promotional spots for their soft drink, and the company would sponsor her upcoming Blonde Ambition tour. “The Pepsi spot is a great and different way to expose the record,” she told Rolling Stone magazine. Veteran commercial director Joe Pytka was hired to film Madonna sipping a Pepsi while watching some of her old birthday party home movies. The song “Like A Prayer” was inserted into the ad, and the Pepsi execs thought they had a warm, soothing spot showcasing their seemingly-tame celebrity huxter. They were completely unaware of another video version of the song.

Madonna had enlisted the help of director Mary Lambert, who had helmed many of the Material Girl’s earlier, groundbreaking videos, to concoct the music video for “Like A Prayer.” What the two came up with caused a conservative nation to harp incessantly about Madonna’s mixed messages. Highlighting the story of a black man falsely being accused of the rape of a white woman, the video showed Madonna kissing a black saint in church, her hands receiving bloody stigmata, and the provocative one singing in a negligee before burning crosses. When the tame Pepsi spot aired on March 2nd during “The Cosby Show” on NBC, millions tuned in to catch a glimpse of their favorite icon. The next day, MTV began airing the Lambert-directed “Like A Prayer” video.

The American Family Association, led by zealot Donald Wildmon, labeled the music video “blatantly offensive” and called for a nationwide boycott of Pepsi. A Roman Catholic organization protested the broadcast of the “Like A Prayer” video in Italy. Pepsi bowed under pressure and never aired their Madonna commercial in the U.S. again and pulled out of sponsorship for the singer. Madonna kept the $5 million along with the widespread publicity.

Some of that money might have gone into the making of her $1 million follow-up video for “Express Yourself,” directed by a young David Fincher, who went on to make the stylized film, “Seven.” Grabbing her crotch, slinking across a floor, chained to a bed and lapping milk from a saucer, Madonna exuded a more overt take on the kinky side of sex than she ever had to date. But this was just the beginning of a widespread ‘awakening’ campaign she would expose to the nation.

Diving into the filming of “Dick Tracy” and into the arms of Warren Beatty, Madonna still had time to show the world her ‘friendship’ with Sandra Bernhard had not diminished. The pair were seen singing “I Got You Babe,” while bumping and grinding, before an audience assembled for a rainforest benefit on June 11, 1989. Warren was tolerant of her burgeoning ‘lesbian’ reputation. As for the film, Madonna worked with composer Stephen Sondheim to create slinky 1930s lounge songs. The kink was still vibrant in her work as she trilled to “Hanky Panky,” a ditty about the pleasures of spanking.

By September 1989, she was gearing up for a massive tour in support of the “Like A Prayer” album. She auditioned male dancers in January 1990, in search of seven guys who wouldn’t be adverse to wearing conical breast brassieres. She revealed one of her own breasts for famed photographer Helmut Newton in a spread for Vanity Fair magazine. This was the first time she displayed her naked body to a photographer since her early nude work was published in Playboy and Penthouse in 1985. By the end of the next two years, both fans and detractors would have seen enough of Madonna’s body, thank you very much.

Dragging along a fledgling film director, former Harvard grad Alec Keshishian, Madonna kicked off her Blonde Ambition tour in Japan on April 13, 1990. Filled with phenomenal dance numbers and crisp production sound, the concert’s raciest moment concerned Madonna flagrantly simulating masturbation on a bed during a Middle-Eastern-tinged version of “Like A Virgin.” “I was exorcising myself of the guilt of the Catholic Church over sex and masturbation,” Madonna later explained. In an Esquire magazine piece from August 1994, she elaborated on her views of the sex quotient inherent in Catholicism to famed author Norman Mailer. “It’s very sensual, and it’s all about what you’re not supposed to do. Everything’s forbidden, and everything’s behind heavy stuff – the confessional, heavy green drapes, and stained-glass windows, the rituals, the kneeling – there’s something very erotic about that. After all, it’s very sado-masochistic, Catholicism.”

After her tour swung through North America (almost being shut down in Toronto), the Catholic Church was waiting for Madonna in Italy. They condemned her show as being blasphemous and demanded that her appearances in Turin and Rome be canceled. Upon arrival on Italian soil, she issued a statement, “If you are sure I am a sinner, let whoever is without sin cast the first stone. I ask you, fair-minded men and women of the Catholic Church – come and see my show and judge it for yourselves. My show is not a conventional rock concert but a theatrical presentation of my music, and like the theater, it poses questions, provokes thought, and takes you on an emotional journey.” In the face of controversy, the Queen of Rock always found a way to turn it into self-promotion.

After her world tour finished, Madonna dropped Warren Beatty and hooked up with a male model named Tony Ward. Enamored with the world of crossdressing and S&M, Ward soon became Madonna’s little puppet boyfriend. She would dress him up as her ‘girlfriend,’ and the two would hit the town. Meanwhile, her penchant for hyping her sexual shock tactics manifested itself once again in a public service announcement she taped for MTV urging young people to vote. Wrapped in an American flag, wearing flimsy lingerie, she told voters to do their rightful duty or else risk a spanking. In September 1990, her appearance at the MTV Video Music Awards cast her as a powder-coifed French courtesan who, in the course of singing her hit song “Vogue, allowed a male dancer to route around underneath her hoop dress onstage.

Record producer Shep Pettibone had assembled a greatest hits package for Madonna, which she promptly named “The Immaculate Collection” and dedicated to the Pope. She recorded a breathy, sensual ditty, co-written with rocker Lenny Kravitz (and later contested, credits-wise, by singer Ingrid Chavez) called “Justify My Love.” Madonna’s ambition to display her desires, her fetishes, and all manner of kink finally came to full blossom when she set about to film the video for this song.

While Madonna was trolling the fashion shows in Paris during the autumn of 1990, she tapped director Jean-Baptiste Mondino to assist in helping her execute her vision in the video. Renting out an entire floor of the exclusive Royal Monceau hotel, Madonna and Mondino, along with thirty other friends, laid down a five-minute black-and-white vision of the swinging life over the course of a week. As the video begins with the Blonde One lugging her suitcase down the hotel’s corridor, she stumbles upon a series of fantasy scenarios that included voyeurism, S&M, bisexuality, transvestism, group sex, hints of oral sex and lesbianism. Madonna’s hunk-of-the-moment, Tony Ward, nuzzled and kissed his icon squeeze along with European model Amanda Cazalet. Exposed flesh and crotch fumbling were discernable throughout as the mostly androgynous players lolled about in that detached, vapid look of the fashion world. It was one grand sex party. Robert Farrel, who was the agency rep that booked Cazalet for the job later said, “Everyone knew that once Madonna met Amanda, it was going to be her. They got along very well.”

MTV, her greatest champion over the years, planned a “Madonnathon” for the weekend of December 1, 1990. They had the “Justify My Love” video slated to kick off the festivities. But once they received a copy of the promiscuous vignette on November 26th, executives were flustered. They promptly issued a statement: “We respect her work as an artist, and we think she makes great videos. This one is not for us.” Madonna responded in the press by saying, “Why is it that people are willing to go to a movie and watch someone get blown to bits for no reason, and nobody wants to see two girls kissing or two men snuggling? I think the video is romantic and loving and has humor in it.” The Madonna camp, along with her record label, Warner Bros., swung into high gear and soon released the very first “single” video version of a song. “Justify My Love” was priced at $9.98 and quickly sold 250,000 copies.

A curt and controlled Madonna appeared on ABC’s “Nightline” program the night of December 3rd. The network aired the entire titillating video and then substitute-host Forrest Sawyer tried to make sense of it all. “I guess half of me thought that I was going to get away with it,” Madonna offered, “and the other half thought, ‘Well, with…the conservatism that is sort of sweeping over the nation…there was going to be a problem.” Asked by a concerned Sawyer what she thought would be the result if a ten-year old were to watch the video and become confused, Madonna snappily responded, “Good. Then let them get confused and let them go ask their parents about it.” The program turned out to be “Nightline’s” second-highest rated episode in the history of the show.

1991 swept in heightened Madonna awareness, as her likeness was plastered across many magazine covers citing her controversial tactics. Learning that Tony Ward was a married man and had been keeping his matrimonial secret from her for all of their months together, Madonna summarily dismissed the male model from her presence and went to work in a bit part for Woody Allen’s film “Shadows and Fog.” She attended the Academy Awards in March with date Michael Jackson and sang “Sooner or Later.” Her documentary film of the Blonde Ambition tour called “Truth or Dare” opened nationwide. Featuring Madonna and her immature dancers, the movie followed their sexcapades across the globe and captured the bickering, the jealousies, and the laughs shared while on the road. Of course, there were provocative moments. Madonna was seen ordering a dancer to expose his winkie, she played around with her naked dancers in bed, two men gave each other some serious French kissing, and, oh yes, Madonna demonstrated her oral sex techniques on a soda bottle. The last act rang somewhat false since she confessed to Carrie Fisher in Rolling Stone magazine in 1991 that her lovers “don’t tell me I give good h***, believe me, because I don’t give it.”

When she attended the film’s screening at the 44th Cannes International Film Festival in France, she made sure to pose for the assembled paparazzi as she emerged from her limo. Parting a red satin cape draped around her body, Madonna giggled and flaunted the white bra and see-through girdle that she wore underneath. Hundreds of drooling European slags clicked away on their Nikons. Later, at a small dinner party, fashion designer Jean-Paul Gaultier took the film’s theme to heart and dared Madonna to french kiss “La Femme Nikita” actress Anne Parillaud. Needless to say, both women accepted the challenge, and the two became tongue-tied before the approving diners.

She exposed her sexual exhibitionism further in the gay magazine The Advocate shortly after the release of the documentary. When asked about the size of Warren Beatty’s most fabled appendage, she coyly replied, “I haven’t measured it but it’s a perfectly wonderful size.” She offered that her first experiences in the realm of sex had been with girls and hinted that she felt Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene “probably got it on.” Observing that heterosexual men were rather uptight in their proclivities, she counseled that “every straight guy should have a man’s tongue in his mouth at least once.” “I am aroused by two men kissing,” Madonna elaborated. “Is that kinky? I am aroused by the idea of a woman making love to me while either a man or another woman watches. Is that kinky?” When all else fails, store-bought accoutrements are not acceptable in the Madonna bedroom. “I like the human body. I like flesh. I like things that are living and breathing. And a finger will do just fine. I’ve never owned a vibrator.”

Cardinal O’Connor of New York turned the shade of his red robe. During the month of May, he called upon the Pope to excommunicate Madonna for her abuse of Catholic/Christian imagery and the blasphemy she perpetuated in her performances.

On July 8, 1991, producer Shep Pettibone flew to Chicago where Madonna was getting ready to film the baseball movie “A League of Their Own.” He handed her a cassette containing three songs that he felt would be perfect for her vocal talents. It triggered her to think about a follow-up album to “Like A Prayer.” Even though the film she currently worked on, with Geena Davis and Tom Hanks, was mild, PG-oriented fare, Madonna seemed to still be hankering for a way to truly express herself. The double-whammy delivery of the upcoming “Erotica” album and an oversized book called “Sex” would be the pinnacle of her campaign of sensual shock. She agreed to work with Pettibone once the film wrapped.

Judith Regan, vice president and senior editor at the time for Simon & Shuster books, claimed to Entertainment Weekly magazine that she was the one who planted the seed for the “Sex” book in Madonna’s head. According to Regan, she flew to meet the rock queen as early as March 1991, mapping out a proposal for photo-erotic pictures in a collector’s book. Madonna supposedly shook hands on the deal, but the two never got back in touch with each other on the idea. Regan referred to Madonna as “sleazy and stupid. I wouldn’t have minded if she sent me a note, but she showed no graciousness, no manners.”

By the time “A League Of Their Own” finished filming in the autumn, Madonna had already tapped New York photographer Steven Meisel to click shots for a tome she was now going to publish through Warner Books. The concept of the book had already been honed by editor Glenn O’Brian, a former editor of Interview and Spin magazines, and its approach was set as a no-holds-barred examination of sex. The team began holding casting calls for New York’s most adventuresome and kinky nightclub denizens to join their ranks. Nicholas Callaway of Callaway Editions Inc., the publishing house that ultimately produced the book, told Vanity Fair magazine, “Sometimes she brought people in, and within minutes of first meeting her they found themselves without their clothes on, French-kissing Madonna.”

In October, Madonna split her time, working on songs with Pettibone at his New York apartment and then going off for two weeks at a stretch with photographer Meisel to shape the book. By December screen tests were conducted, a process that saw many male models lining up to show their physiques to the Madam of Music. Meanwhile, Madonna hated the first batch of songs she and Pettibone had concocted for her album. Pettibone told Icon Fanzine that some of the songs had a New York house sound and many had a Los Angeles polished production sound. “If I wanted the album to sound like that, I’d have worked with (producer and friend) Patrick Leonard in L.A.,” she told Pettibone. “I got the point pretty fast. Madonna wanted ‘Erotica’ to have a raw edge to it, as if it were recorded in an alley at 123rd street in Harlem.”

On New Years Eve 1991, Madonna threw an all-girl topless party for her friends. Her gal pal Sandra Bernhard showed up with her girlfriend Ingrid Casares. Casares, a Cuban-American socialite, was the owner of two Miami hotspots. Shortly thereafter in the early months of 1992, Madonna was spotted around town snuggling and kissing Casares. Bernhard fumed and dropped Madonna’s friendship like a hot coal. The ill-will still exists for Bernhard today. When the “Erotica” album debuted, Sandra made a point to parody the song in her comedy act, entitling it “Neurotic.” She was quoted as saying, “I look at my friendship with (Madonna) as like having a gall stone. You deal with it, there is pain, and then you pass it. That’s all I have to say about ‘Schmadonna.” When she recently showed up at the 2000 CFDA Fashion Awards as a presenter, Bernhard needled her old chum’s tendency these days to affect a British dialect. “Am I speaking in a funny accent?,” she queried the audience. “Well don’t you know? I’m a different person now.”

Madonna addressed the longstanding issue with The Face magazine in 1994. “When I met her (Casares), she was Sandra’s girlfriend and I thought she was the sweetest girl. Sandra was on the verge of breaking up with her, and I felt sorry for Ingrid. She likes to work out the way I do, so I started to ring her up and we’d go for a run or whatever. But Sandra assumed that I was trying to – whether she thought it was true or not, the way it came out in the press made it sound like I was trying to steal her girlfriend. I’ve never had a sexual relationship with Ingrid, that’s the irony. But she is a very good friend, and I’ve grown to love her. So it’s a tragedy what happened with me and Sandra, but I got a good friend out of it. You win some, you lose some.” Truthful or not, Ingrid became a prime character in Madonna’s sex book, and the friendship with Bernhard that had smoldered on the Letterman show in 1988 was no more.

Photography commenced for the book in January 1992. The majority of the shots took place in and around New York City. Locations like The Vault, a downtown sex club, and The Gaiety, a male burlesque theater, were set upon by Meisel’s crew and assorted kinkmeisters. The entourage moved to Miami for four days to snap photos of Madonna at a mansion (an abode she later bought for $4.9 million) and en flagrante around the city. A veil of secrecy was clamped on the process throughout. Roughly 20 people involved in the project were the only ones to have access to the “Sex” materials. Meanwhile, by March 1992, Madonna and Pettibone had firmed up 15 songs in demo format that they felt would be good material for the new album. After fine-tuning their ballad “Rain,” a call came from director Penny Marshall. She asked Madonna if there was a song she could loan to the soundtrack of “A League Of Their Own.” In a matter of a day or two, they churned out “This Used To Be My Playground,” which eventually went on to be a number one single in August. The next day, Madonna flew to Oregon to begin filming “Body of Evidence.”

For this new celluloid treat, Madonna played a woman who may or may not have planned pre-meditated murder on her rich, aging lover through the use of rough, S&M sex. Actor Willem Dafoe portrayed an attorney who takes her case and inadvertently gets roped, so to speak, into her little kink games. The movie was essentially a carry-over of all the sexually liberating ideas Madonna had been espousing, neatly wrapped up in a sub-par murder mystery. The film was ultimately received with general distaste and brutalized by critical opinion. “Erotic” scenes with Madonna and Dafoe dripping hot candle wax on each other and engaging in rough sex were merely laughable. The original ending was supposed to show Madonna’s character being acquitted of the crime, despite hints of her guilt. The director instead allowed Madonna to get shot. “I fought it every step of the way,” she told The Face magazine. “But I had no control. Women who have sex must die; that is the theme of that movie, but it wasn’t that way to begin with.”

Despite all of the controversy Madonna was kicking up, Warner Bros. and their parent company, Time Warner Inc. knew a great commodity when they smelled one. On April 20, 1992, the company announced a seven year multi-media contract with the Debauched Diva, allowing her to set up a group of divisions under the name Maverick. Recording, publishing, television, merchandising, and motion picture endeavors concerning Madonna and her whims all would now be managed under the Maverick umbrella. The deal, conservatively, was estimated to be in the neighborhood of $60 million.

Meanwhile, the making of the “Sex” book forged ahead. It was alleged in May 1992 that an ex-employee of the photo lab that processed the film had absconded with 44 pictures of a naked Madonna and was trying to sell the sexy shots to a London tabloid. Madonna’s public relations conveyed that the U.S. Attorney’s office got involved, a sting operation was put in motion, and the culprit was subsequently captured. Suspiciously, no one was charged in the incident. The photo lab’s co-owner later told Entertainment Weekly, “We think the incident was hyped for publicity’s sake.”

Madonna went into the studio on June 8th to begin recording her “Erotica” album. Many of the tracks reflected a sense of bitterness, along with dissolving partnerships with loved ones. “Bye Bye Baby” had her cooing “What excites you?/What turns you on?/What makes you feel good?/Does it make you feel good to see me cry?/I think it does/That’s why it’s time to say bye, bye.” “Waiting” also spoke to love gone astray: “Well, I know from experience/That if you have to ask for something/More than once or twice/It wasn’t yours in the first place.” The two steamiest cuts were “Where Life Begins” and “Erotica.” The former commandingly highlighted her taste for receiving certain oral delights. “Now what could be better than a home-cooked meal/How you want to eat it/Depends on how you feel/You can eat all you want/And you don’t get fat/Now where else can you go for a meal like that/It’s not fair to be selfish or stingy/Every girl should experience eating out.” As for the song “Erotica,” Madonna drew inspiration from the book she was shaping.

The premise behind the book revolved around a woman named Dita inviting the reader into her fantasy world of photos, letters, musings, and diary entries. After the book’s opening statement, Madonna’s character is introduced. “My name is Dita. I’ll be your mistress tonight. I’ll be your loved one, darling. Turn out the light. I’ll be your sorceress, your heart’s magician. I’m not a witch. I’m a love technician. I’ll be your guiding light in your darkest hour. I’m gonna change your life. I’m like a poison flower. Give it up. Do as I say. Give it up and let me have my way. I’ll give you love. I’ll hit you like a truck. I’ll give you love…I’ll teach you how to f***.”

The song “Erotica,” which was slated to kick off the album, introduced Dita as well. “Erotica, Romance/My name is Dita/I’ll be your mistress tonight/I’d like to put you in a trance,” Madonna croons. Producer Pettibone told Icon Fanzine that Madonna was more relaxed with the sexual content of her song when she relied on the subversive character she had created. “It seemed as if Dita brought out the best in her, actually serving as a vehicle for the dangerous territory she was traveling. Actually, it was the same name Madonna used when she’d stay in hotels around the world. Not anymore.” (Madonna named herself Dita after the silent movie actress Dita Parlo.)

On September 12, 1992, Pettibone had finished with the mastering of the album. Madonna, meanwhile, took time out to stroll the catwalk for a fashion benefit for AIDS, hosted by Jean-Paul Gaultier at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. Having been out of the public spotlight for a few months, she once again felt the need to give her breasts a breath of fresh air and exposed them to the assembled indifferent. Finally, on October 15th, Madonna was ready to offer up her “Sex.” A lavish party was held at Manhattan’s Industria Superstudio for 800 invited guests from the media and entertainment world. Madonna trotted in, dressed in blonde curls and a Swiss-miss skirt, as a Little Bo Peep with a toy lamb. Around her, loyal followers engaged in a smattering of tattooing, simulated sex, S&M, and dancing amongst outsized dildos.

A few days later, “Sex” hit the bookstands. Retail price was $50. Each volume was individually numbered and designed to be collector’s items. It was printed on Mohawk Superfine, an expensive uncoated paper. The cover of the book was made out of metal. A spiral binding held the hefty covers in place, sort of. (Madonna originally wanted the book to be completely encased in metal with a lock, but the manufacturing cost of such a design proved too foolhardy). The entire package was sealed inside a Mylar wrapper. Inside, “Sex” contained 128 pages of Madonna’s fantasies. At no time in the annals of celebrity lore has an entertainer with the popularity, fame, and fortune possessed by Madonna ever laid bare such a daring, calculated presentation of their id to their adoring fans. The book is truly a landmark in publishing history, however misguided it appeared to be, because no one before or since has had quite the brass cajones Ms. Ciccone mustered in unashamedly exposing herself on all levels of sexual expression.

And expose herself she did. Modeled after a 1933 photo book by Brassai, which captured seedy images of Parisian brothels and lesbian nightlife, “Sex” began with the following opening statement: “This book is about sex. Sex is not love. Love is not sex. But the best of both worlds is created when they come together. You can love God, you can love the planet, you can love the human race and you can love all things, but the best way for human beings to show love is to love one another. It’s the way we spread love through the universe. One to one. Love is something we make. Pass it on.”

With that ‘feel-good,’ ‘we are the world’ intro, the reader was then submerged into the world of Madonna’s alter ego, Dita. Which meant mostly bondage at first. Pictures at the start of the book featured Madonna and others in chains, dog collars, ropes, and tight leather. Two butch females yank hair, one holds a knife inside Madonna’s open legs. An S&M dungeon comes into view next, with whippings, bikers, lesbians and oral sex simulation. Dita offers an observation: “There is something comforting about being tied up. Like when you were a baby and your mother strapped you in the car seat. She wanted you to be Safe. It was an act of Love.” Madonna’s warped sense of irony is as prickly as an icepick. Dita surmises, “I think for the most part if women are in an abusive relationship and they know it and they stay in it, they must be digging it…The difference between abuse and S&M is the issue of responsibility.” Madonna’s humor definitely was not for all tastes.

Onto a hotel room and Madonna sits admiring a naked guy standing over her. The next shot has her visage perched right in his posterior. To showcase the lengths of inanity associated with interpreting “art” such as this, the following excerpt from Madonna’s chat with esteemed author Norman Mailer in Esquire magazine is perhaps the penultimate in pretentious, absurd analysis.
Mailer: Either you are kissing him in the crack of his a** or you are biting him there. It’s hard to tell. There’s also a crucifix in the background. On his arm.
Madonna: It’s his tattoo. That’s a coincidence.
Mailer: But the picture was chosen. You had several hundred pictures in the book, and I think I read in the advance publicity that there were twenty thousand contacts to choose from. So this photo was certainly…it was a dangerous area.
Madonna: Oh, yes, oh, yes.
Mailer: Still religion and excretion are not all that separate. You eat your food and whatever spirit was in the food is changed greatly. Then it’s excreted. It reaches the waters again – that’s like a passage into death. And organized religion is certainly concerned with preparedness for death. Did you choose that photograph because you felt a connection?
Madonna: Maybe unconsciously.
Mailer: It shocks the hell out of people, and at the same time you’re saying something. Isn’t that your idea of intellectual heaven?
Madonna: Yes, thank you for noticing.

Ugh! Please check your pseudo-incisive claptrap at the door. This was a voyeuristic sex book. Pure and simple. Madonna finished her thoughts about the image by finally telling Mailer the truth: “But also he happens to have a beautiful a**, and I was enjoying that.”

More carnal Kodak moments followed. Madonna examining her bosom in a mirror marks the first full-fledged color photograph in the book. A g-stringed Madonna perches on all fours over a dog on his back, his head buried somewhere close to her ‘lucky star.’ The statement, “My pussy has nine lives,” (she’s an animal lover, yes?) leads into the Miami portion of the tome. Here we find Madonna hanging out in a backyard with nothing but heels and an Azzedine Alaia purse. She has ‘fun’ with herself, with an old guy, and with B-list celebs like Isabella Rosselini, Vanilla Ice, and Naomi Campbell.

Throughout the book, Dita writes letters to her ‘boyfriend’ Johnny, describing the sexual gymnastics she’s performing with her pal Ingrid. (Ms. Casares presumably). She also confers with a psychiatrist, relating erotic dreams that convey all the romance of a Penthouse Forum letter. One tale she spins is about a fellow buying clothes in a retail store, and it climaxes, so to speak, with his receiving a humming lesson, if you will, from a Cuban salesgirl named Lourdes. Madonna apparently loved the name so much she bestowed the moniker on her first-born in October 1996.

The book wraps up with the bleached blonde beauty hitchhiking naked alongside a Miami highway, the result of a spontaneous challenge from her crew. She continues to expose herself at a gas station, outside a strip club, and while casually wolfing down a slice at a pizza joint. She tries to sum up the entire experience in pure Material Girl bravado: “A lot of people are afraid to say what they want – that’s why they don’t get what they want.”

500,000 copies reportedly sold in both the United States and internationally by the end of the first week of the “Sex” release. Eventually all copies were snatched up, and today, “Sex” routinely trades on E-bay for around $150. Meanwhile, “Erotica,” the single, rose to number 2 on the American charts. Like “Justify My Love” before it, the video for “Erotica” was filled with raunchy, seedy sex, mostly S&M-flavored, and MTV only aired it three times before withdrawing it from rotation. Subsequent singles saw “Deeper and Deeper” rise to number 6, “Rain” to number 14, and “Bad Girl” to number 36.

The backlash to Madonna’s book, video, and album was palpable. For many people, she had finally pushed our sensory buttons too far. Robert Knight, director of cultural studies for the Family Research Council weighed in with his viewpoint: “You know what adult bookstores do to neighborhoods? Madonna is the adult bookstore in our culture; she drags down the entire neighborhood.” Dr. Joyce Brothers chimed in with her stance: “When you are a true feminist, you want power not for power’s sake, but you want to accomplish something…Here, her power is used to exploit, and I think it’s kind of sad if young women use her as a role model – I mean, what are you emulating? You’re emulating a rich slut.” Madonna countered her detractors in Vanity Fair magazine. “I don’t think that sex is bad. I don’t think that nudity is bad. I don’t think that being in touch with your sexuality and being able to talk about it and being able to talk about this person and their sexuality (is bad). I think the problem is that everybody’s so uptight about it that they make it into something bad when it isn’t, and if people could talk freely, we would have people practicing more safe sex, we wouldn’t have people sexually abusing each other, because they wouldn’t be so uptight to say what they really want, what they really feel.”

By the turn of 1993, America was just plain sick to death of what Madonna thought about anything to do with sex. What had started out as a shocking game, calculated to increase our attention with every heightened revelation, had hit its plateau, and overall disgust, mixed with queasiness, filtered into our newfound intolerance for her stunts. After “Body of Evidence” was released in January to a disinterested public, Madonna followed it up with an even more dismal entry called “Dangerous Game.” This film made less than $60,000 at the box office. While her 1993 “Girlie Tour” was a smash sellout around the world, the general consensus was that nobody could stomach another glimpse of Madonna’s naked charms or hear about her latest kink fixation.

By comparison with previous years, she maintained a low profile throughout much of 1993, licking the scars inflicted on her by the press and the disenchanted. By 1994, she was working, once again, on new material for an album. One of the songs she pulled together was in response to those who had chastised her. “Human Nature” spoke of her anger towards those who were once admirers. “You punished me for telling you my fantasies/I’m breakin’ all the rules I didn’t make/(Express yourself, don’t repress yourself)/You took my words and made a trap for silly fools/You held me down and tried to make me break.” Madonna affirmed the meaning behind the song to The Face magazine: “It’s my definitive statement in regards to the incredible payback I’ve received for having the nerve to talk about the things that I did in the past few years with my ‘Sex’ book and my record. It’s getting it off my chest. It is defensive, absolutely. But it’s also sarcastic, tongue-in-cheek.”

Madonna rose to the occasion, once again, seemingly for the last time, to try to jolt our established norms. She chose to appear with the one guy who first afforded her that significant rise to the next level of provocation previously in 1988. On March 31, 1994, Madonna sat down for a profane conversation with David Letterman. Gone was the baring of flesh. She now resorted to tongue-lashing. She uttered the f-word 13 times. Instead of being drawn to her defiant spirit, Letterman, this time, acted the Puritan.

While the program was certainly entertaining, Dave seemed to have lost all control of his cheerfully antagonistic guest.
Dave: You can’t – you can’t be coming on here – this is American television, you can’t talk like that.
Madonna: Why?
Dave: Because people don’t want that in their own homes at 11:30 at night.
Madonna: Wait a minute, wait a minute – people don’t want to hear the word f***?
Dave: Oh, stop it! Will you stop? Ladies and gentlemen, turn down your volume! Turn it down immediately! She can’t be stopped! There’s something wrong with her.
Madonna: There’s definitely something wrong with me – I’m sitting here.
Dave: I think you’re a decent, nice person, and I’m happy you could come by tonight and gross us all out.
Madonna: Did you know it’s good if you pee in the shower?
Dave: (to audience) I’m sorry.
Madonna: Don’t f*** with me…peeing in the shower is really good; it fights athlete’s foot. I’m serious. Urine is like an antiseptic. It all has to do with the enzymes in your body.
Dave: Don’t you know a good pharmacist? Get yourself some Desenex!

For his part, Letterman seemed to know that Madonna was kidding, but he didn’t take to her humor. He told USA Today, “Madonna could have been a real boost, but I’m not pleased with the way it turned out. I’m not pleased with the way I handled it. I should have said, ‘You say that word one more time and you’re gone. That’s it. Adios.’ And I didn’t.” “She sent me a fax on my birthday,” he continued, “and it was more of the same. Happy f*****’ birthday. Have a nice f*****’ day.” Madonna explained to Esquire magazine, “I don’t think he knew what he was getting into. But once he realized how the show went, the next day, instead of just saying, ‘We had a good time; it was all good fun and completely consensual,’ maybe the networks freaked out and he didn’t want to fall from grace with them. So he went with the gestalt of the media and said, ‘Yeah, it was really disgusting, and yes, she really behaved badly,’ and turned it into something to save face.”

Madonna had essentially lost her right to shock. America had enough icons by the mid-90s to continue pushing the ‘taste’ envelope. But she had truly opened that passage, for better or worse, during those five years of promiscuous bombardment. Explicit language and sexual imagery litter the landscape of media these days. Madonna arguably introduced the fashionable acceptance of “lesbian chic.” She sanctioned the preponderance of top-flight celebrity men and women baring their flesh in ‘upscale’ magazines like Maxim and Vanity Fair. And her frank, sexual banter, at the very least, helped burst through the walls of female repression in the music industry, giving voice to artists like Fiona Apple and Lil’ Kim.

The Madonna-wannabes of the new millenium use their sexuality to advance their every career move. Madonna, herself, recently acknowledged these proteges when she wore a ripped Britney Spears T-shirt during a free concert in New York and a Kylie Minogue T-shirt during the MTV Europe Awards in England. When asked about her idol wearing her name for all to see, Minogue likened it to “being blessed by the Pope.”

Ah yes, the Church. The detractors. Those that would smite her ‘voice.’ One would think that Madonna would be humbled today. Content to reflect upon her noteworthy revolution. Two children have entered her life, and the breach of middle age existence seems to have mellowed her outspokenness. But one only needs to view her latest video for the song “Music” and watch the Ambitious One juking with her homegirls at strip clubs to be reminded that she’s not ready for the retirement condo just yet.

Like the defiant spirit she exhibited long ago regarding the nude photos in Playboy and Penthouse, Madonna still never apologizes. She never backs down. In 1999, she said to “60 Minutes,” “I am the result of the good choices I’ve made and the bad choices, you know. And if I say I regret something or that I made a mistake, I wouldn’t be who I am today. I don’t want to have any sense of shame about it. And I don’t want to have any sense of regret. Why should I?”

Her strong will and voracious self-promotion is as apparent today as it was back when she was belting out “Borderline.” It truly seems that in Madonna’s mind, it doesn’t matter what opinion we have of her. Just so long as we have one.

© 2000 Ned Truslow

January 2, 2015

Selena: Latin Music Loses It’s Precious Princess

Dressed in a bright red jacket, her hair perfectly coifed, she tearfully, simply told the reporter, “She was like a child to me.” She dabbed her eye. The woman was seated in a rather plain room. The reporter listened intently, non-committal. The woman later mumbled, “God knows it was an accident.” The “accident” was the untimely, tragic death of Selena Quintanilla Perez. The woman talking was Yolanda Saldivar. The date was November 9, 1995 inside the Nueces County jail in Texas. Saldivar had been convicted just two weeks earlier for the murder of the talented Latin music sensation her fans around the world simply referred to as Selena.

Selena’s father, Abraham Quintanilla, would always feel a tinge of guilt. He had guided Selena into the world of music, into the world of celebrity, from a very early age. He had rehearsed her to a professional level, molded her performance on stage, and taught her how to be gracious with her fans. He had ruled over every aspect of her brief life with a caring, yet stern, hand. He had also felt slightly responsible for allowing Yolanda Saldivar to remain in their comfortable world without definitively responding to the dangerous aberrations she was increasingly exhibiting as the years went by.

Abraham, himself, had been a musician. He was born and raised in the Corpus Christi area of Texas in the 1940s. The collaboration of musical styles, meshing Anglo-European dance hall songs with traditional Mexican music was common throughout the region. This mixture was rather plainly known as musica alegre (or happy music), a bouncy, joyful blend of sounds. It was also referred to as Tex-Mex. Corpus Christi was known as the ‘seed,’ the creative capital of Texas, music and otherwise, during this time. As the 1950s rolled in, local groups began to incorporate big band sounds, like those of Benny Goodman, into their Tex-Mex music, resulting in a more orchestral or “orcuestra” style. Abraham became enamored with the music scene as rock ‘n’ roll started to present its world-changing influence on their local environment.

South Texas’ first major star was Freddy Fender. He led the way for other Texas-Latin crooners like Sunny Ozuna and the Sunliners, Rene & Rene, and Flaco Jimenez to shine during the late 1950s. Abraham, in his late teens, joined a group called The Dinos (an Italian slang word for “the boys”), and they sang doo-wop at local clubs and dance halls. When he returned to the group after a two-year stint in the Army in the early ‘60s, Abraham found that the market had changed. Radio mavens no longer cared for hispanic-looking groups singing in English. There was no encouragement for this kind of “crossover” anymore. The Dinos started playing gigs, singing in Spanish, throughout the 1960s, but by 1969, facing recurring prejudice on the road, internal squabbles, and finally, audience indifference, Abraham left the Dinos. He settled with his wife Marcella and their two children, son A.B., and daughter Suzette, in Lake Jackson, Texas, a small community 55 miles south of Houston, and went to work for Dow Chemicals.

A woman sharing the maternity room with Marcella on Easter Sunday morning in 1971 had thought of a name for a boy and a girl, depending on which gender she was about to deliver. She gave birth to a boy. Marcella wound up using the female name the woman had thought of for her own baby girl that day, April 16th. Selena.

Abraham still pined for the music life, as he toiled in the industrial environment of Dow. He got A.B. a bass guitar and started teaching the boy to play. Selena would try to get her father’s attention by singing. Abraham later said, “I saw all the qualities in her at a very early age. She could dance and had charisma as a little girl, she had stage presence. I knew she would go places.” Abraham nurtured her nascent gift, and along with Suzette, he began shaping his children into a musical group, much like The Beach Boys’ dad, and the Jacksons’ dad had done before him.

By the summer of 1980, Abraham wanted to work for himself. He and a friend opened a Mexican restaurant, Papa Gayo’s, and everyone in the family labored to keep it afloat. Selena and her siblings would often sing for customers. One day, a local DJ, Primo Ledesma, heard her singing and recorded it on a portable tape recorder. When he played Selena’s tune on the radio the next day, the phone lines lit up with people curious about the new talent.

The restaurant foundered in one year’s time. Abraham, broke and practically living on the streets, moved the family to Corpus Christi and began pushing them as a full-fledged group, named after his previous one, Los Dinos. They recorded a few singles at a local studio and received a little airplay. While working at a truck leasing company and teaching Selena to sing in Spanish (she could hardly speak it), Abraham booked the kids, and their backing players, Rena Dearman on keyboards and her husband Rodney Pyeatt on guitar, into as many restaurants and ballrooms as he could.

In the 1980s, the local music, long since being referred to as Tejano, was becoming widely popular. Plain Tejano music consisted of traditional Mexican music, along with a blend of polka and country. An accordion was almost always a part of the mix. But by the 1980s, merengue, Colombian cumbia, Anglo rock, pop, and R&B were all being added in as flavor.

Los Dinos began recording with producer Freddie Martinez, who had recorded a 1970s smash hit himself (“Te Traigo Estas Flores) which had sold over 100,000 units. Rick Longoria, a studio engineer at the time, later told the Houston Chronicle that Selena was very professional when it came to recording her first album in 1983. “She’d be sitting there while the session was going on, doing little girl things. It was kind of hard to believe that she was the vocalist. But when she started to sing, it was no problem. I’ve done sessions with people twice her age where we’d be there doing things over and over because they couldn’t get it right.” The family continued to tour in a beat-up van all over Texas, many times scraping franks and beans out of a cold can for dinner, because there simply was no money.

Around 1985, Selena was turning 14, and with her captivating stage presence, it was natural that the group began calling themselves Selena y Los Dinos. Abraham’s incessant demands on them to rehearse and perform resulted in Selena having to leave the 8th grade and study the rest of her school years through correspondence courses. She earned her GED at age 17.

They managed to hook up with Manny Guerra and his record label to produce their next set of songs. Guerra was a Tejano heavyweight who had one of the best recording studios in Texas. With the hot-flame ranchera sound of “Dame un Beso” (Give Me a Kiss) and the country-sounding “One In a Million,” Selena was awarded the Female Entertainer of the Year honor in 1987 at the Tejano Music Awards. (She would subsequently win this honor for seven consecutive years up until the time of her death). By the late 1980s, Tejano music was starting to move out of the dance halls and oftentimes now packing arenas. Big groups like Mazz and La Mafia commanded huge ticket sales with their flashy, light-dazzling acts, and Selena y Los Dinos would sporadically get a chance to open for them.

When Selena turned 18 in 1989, the group signed with Capitol Records. Based on her captivating good looks and squeaky-clean image with her fans, Selena and her family also landed a lucrative sponsorship of their performances by the Coca-Cola Company. The first single of their new Capitol label album was “Contigo Quiero Estar” (I Want To Be With You), and it racked up more sales than they had ever experienced with their records they had released on tiny Texas labels. The follow-up album, “Ven Conmigo” (Come With Me), shot up to the top of the Billboard Mexican regional chart. The band was now going simply under the moniker of its biggest star, “Selena.”

Selena was becoming a grown woman. She had been sheltered by her father, Abraham, her whole life. Since the family grew up with Jehovah Witness beliefs, Selena had not been able to attend any school-sanctioned parties in her early adolescence. She couldn’t be alone with any boys, and if she were asked to dance, the boy would always need to obtain Abraham’s permission. On the road, well into her late teens, Selena slept in her Dad’s motel rooms, while her brother and sister were allowed to have rooms of their own. She once turned down a role in a Mexican soap opera because one scene called for a steamy kiss. Needless to say, Selena was feeling stifled. Sensing the changing moods of the country and her own female identity, she began dressing in tighter fitting clothes. When she posed for the cover shots of her next album for Capitol, “Entre A Mi Mundo” (Come into my world),” she wore a black leather jacket, black stretch pants and a mesh top. Abraham got so choked up, finally realizing she wasn’t a little girl anymore, he had to leave the studio.

Guitarist Chris Perez had known Selena and her family since 1988, and when they needed to replace a member in 1990, Chris joined the fold. Selena developed a crush on him while the band toured. After a year and a half, Chris began to respond. When they were caught innocently smooching on the bus by Abraham, Chris was fired. On April 2, 1992, Selena told her folks that she was going out shopping. She instead went to a local courthouse with Chris and got married. Abraham allowed Chris back into the band, but the newlyweds were not to mention their marriage to the press.

Around Christmas of 1993, Selena sat for an interview with Joseph Harmes of Mas Magazine. Amongst the topics of conversation, she mentioned her fan club and the person who ran it for her. “The president is doing exceptionally well. And it’s so funny how we met her, because there’s this girl that kept on telling her, ‘You’ve got to go see this group, you’ve got to go see this group. They’re great.’ And she said, ‘No, no, no.’ Anyway, she ended up going and she liked the group to the point where she was overwhelmed. She was moved. And she said, ‘Hey, you know, I want to do something for these guys.’ She approached my father and said that she wanted to open a fan club. And we have had a lot of people approach. Fan clubs can ruin you if you don’t have people who take care of it….you know, people can get upset and they’ll get turned off. So to this day, they have collected, just in the San Antonio area, over 1500 members, which is good. They are the largest fan club in San Antonio. And this is not including members from Washington and California. So she’s doing good.”

“She” was Yolanda Saldivar. In late 1991, this 31-year old former nurse from San Antonio, who had avidly followed the Tejano scene, approached Suzette first, who then introduced her to Abraham. Yolanda was hired and began mailing out T-shirts and newsletters, collected dues from members, and notified radio stations of upcoming Selena appearances. Selena and Yolanda became close buddies. Selena did not have many friends because she was constantly constrained by business matters, and Yolanda didn’t seem to have many friends, period. They felt a bond in their isolation.

By the end of 1993, Selena was a huge draw amongst the Tejano scene. Capitol was positioning her to “crossover” to the English language market, and signed a deal with their ancillary company SBK Records for Selena to find time in the next year to try to record a strictly English-singing album. Her stage act was extremely professional, her handling of the Spanish language was increasingly polished, and the level of songwriting, mostly by A.B., resulted in the release of more and more hits. As Selena began 1994, the international markets seemed to truly open its arms to her, and by the end of that year, the band grossed more than 5 million dollars in sales and concert appearances.

Her old keyboardist friend, Rena Dearman, said that, although Selena became a very big star, “She never got haughty with us. She never changed. She was as fun-loving back then as she would be later.” In March 1994, Selena won a Grammy for Best Mexican-American Album (for her next Capitol release “Selena Live”). She also swept the Tejano Music Awards in every major category. For her follow-up album, “Amor Prohibido” (Forbidden Love), she broadened her sound, incorporating Caribbean beats, bolero, rock, and a smattering of dance into the Tejano backbeat. The album jumped between the number one and two spots on the Billboard Latin top 50 album chart for almost a year. The album also spawned four number one hit singles on the Latin chart that year.

Selena, in the meantime, wanted to branch out. She had been in the musical spotlight most of her life. Throughout all those years on the tour bus, she dabbled in designing fashions, for herself and for the band. She told journalist Mary Budge in 1994, “I probably would have been a designer if I hadn’t gone into entertaining. I’ve always loved fashion.” Her dream came true after she met San Antonio designer Martin Gomez. With his design savvy, she opened her own boutique and salon in Corpus Christi on January 27, 1994 called Selena, Etc. She turned to the one person who adored her the most, outside of her family, Yolanda Saldivar, to manage the operation. The fan club had run fairly smoothly over the last three years under her watch, therefore, Abraham had no real qualms in Yolanda being brought on as heading up operations for Selena’s new venture. Others saw evidence of behavior in Yolanda that drew warning signals.

Albert Davila of KEDA-FM in San Antonio told author Joe Nick Patoski, “One of our employees went to (Yolanda’s) house to pick up some materials and freaked out because one room had an altar, candles, everything. It was a Selena shrine.” Yolanda was perceived by family friends and employees at the boutique as being extremely obsessive about Selena. She wanted to accompany her on the road, but Abraham saw no need for Yolanda to tag along, and most times, forbade her presence. When Selena flew to California in mid-1994 to film a scene for the movie “Don Juan de Marco” and record three songs, Yolanda made herself welcome to tag along to the production set to see the film’s stars Marlon Brando and Faye Dunaway.

Yolanda insinuated herself into a business venture that Selena was trying to initiate outside the auspices of her controlling father. Even though Selena opened a second boutique in San Antonio in September 1994, she felt that Mexico would be a great market to expand her line, and a country in which to open many stores. With Yolanda’s connections in the industrial town of Monterrey, Mexico, she felt that her line could be produced cheaply, yet professionally. Selena also met with Leonard Wong, a perfume “designer,” whom she contracted to come up with a scent specifically for a line of product she would start under her own name. Yolanda was a part of those dealings as well.

Meanwhile, the boutiques in Texas weren’t doing great business. The medical insurance for the stylists and clerks were suddenly cancelled in the fall of 1994. Yolanda, when confronted by the employees, brushed it off, saying she’d take care of it. Designer Gomez felt the bills weren’t being paid and that Yolanda was both skimming money off the books and destroying some of his fashion creations to cover up “sales.” She certainly seemed to have a very nice lifestyle. When notified of these discrepancies and her blunt nature, Selena chose not to approach or deal with Yolanda. She dismissively told one friend who was concerned about Yolanda, “She’s weird…don’t pay any attention to her.” Yolanda made a point to collect money from her store’s employees, pooling it together to buy a ring made out of miniature Faberge eggs which she presented to Selena as a “friendship” token.

Meanwhile, Selena continued to excel in her musical endeavors. In late 1994, she performed for over 60,000 adoring fans at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. In February 1995, her latest album, “Amor Prohibido,” took the Album of the Year honor at the Tejano Music Awards. And on March 7th, she entered the studios to begin recording her English “crossover” album, beginning with the song “Dreaming of You.”

Two days later, Abraham, Suzette and Martin Gomez sat down with Yolanda, confronting her as to why monies from the stores were missing. Abraham related, “She just looked (at me), she didn’t have an answer to any of the questions.” Suzette called her a liar and thief outright. Chris Perez told author Patoski, “There were a lot of things out that weren’t accounted for, and we couldn’t get an explanation we were satisfied with.” Along with the mismanagement of the stores, the family had found four checks, including one for $3,000 that Yolanda had written to herself on the fan club account. It was discovered that she had previously been accused by a San Antonio doctor of stealing more than $9,000 in 1984 when she was the doctor’s bookkeeper. The Aetna Insurance Company paid off the doctor, then, settled out of court with Yolanda. Selena finally told Chris that she couldn’t trust Yolanda anymore.

Yolanda was effectively severed from managing the stores. On March 11, 1995, she went to a gun shop called A Place To Shoot, Inc. and purchased a Taurus 45 snub-nosed .38 caliber gun. On March 13th, she picked up the gun from the store, but 2 days later she returned it, claiming her father had given her a pistol and she wouldn’t be needing the new weapon. Strangely, eleven days later, Yolanda again returned to the gun shop and repurchased the .38.

Yolanda drove with her sister to Monterrey, Mexico, carrying with her several bank statements reporting transactions on Selena’s business accounts over the year. Yolanda had absconded with the perfume tester sample Leonard Wong had concocted for Selena’s proposed line of scents. While in Monterrey, Yolanda began withdrawing on business bank accounts on which she still had signatory privileges. A bank teller notified Selena back in the States.

Selena called Yolanda on her cell phone — a phone, incidentally, Selena paid for — and told Yolanda she needed to bring back the bank statements and the perfume immediately. On March 30, 1995, Yolanda dropped her sister back off in San Antonio and drove to Corpus Christi. She checked into a Days Inn motel off Interstate 37 on the north side of town, near Selena’s recording studio. She beeped Selena on her pager. At 11:00 that night, Selena phoned Yolanda, saying she would retrieve the missing items from Yolanda straightaway. She and Chris drove to the motel, and Yolanda handed over a folder containing documents. When they got home, Selena and Chris realized that many of the crucial bank statements she sought were not contained in the manila folder. She told Chris she would go back to the motel in the morning.

On Friday, March 31, 1995, Selena awoke around 7:30 in the morning. She drove her Chevy truck to the Days Inn, phoning Yolanda on the way. When she arrived, Yolanda went into great detail about an ordeal she supposedly suffered while away in Mexico. She claimed that men had surrounded her car, dragged her from the vehicle and raped her. She persuaded Selena to take her to see a doctor. At the Doctors Regional Medical Center, nurses examined Yolanda and indicated to Selena there was no conclusive evidence of any trauma from a rape episode. Selena drove Yolanda back to the motel, and while enroute, Selena received a call from her dad questioning her as to her whereabouts. Selena had been scheduled in the recording studio at 10:00am that morning to continue laying down tracks for her English language album. She told Abraham that she would be in as soon as she dropped off Yolanda.

Back at the Days Inn, in Room 158, Selena supposedly confronted Yolanda about the missing bank statements. She began taking off the Faberge egg ring Yolanda had given her. The Houston Chronicle reported what happened next. “A maid cleaning a hotel room upstairs told police she heard them yelling. Then she heard the gunshot. She looked out the window and saw two women running by the pool. One was screaming for help and clutching her chest. The other woman had a gun in her right hand. The maid says she saw her aim and fire.”

Selena was bleeding profusely from a wound in the area of her right shoulder. The bullet had severed an artery. She stumbled into the motel’s lobby, yelling, “Help me, help me, I’ve been shot.” As she collapsed, the motel clerk locked the door. A witness standing by, kneeled down to staunch the flow of blood, asking Selena, “Who shot you?” Selena said, “Yolanda.” In her hand, she clutched the “friendship” ring.

Barbara Schultz, the Days Inn manager, phoned 911.
Schultz: “We have a woman, ran in the lobby, said she’s been shot. She’s laying on the floor. There’s blood.”
911: “Okay, how old is she?”
Schultz: “She looks about 20.”
911: “She’s in the lobby right now?”
Schultz: “Yes, ma’am. She just passed out.”

Ambulances arrived within 3 minutes and whisked Selena away. Meanwhile, Yolanda had gone back into her room, wrapped the gun in a cloth and carried it out to her parked pick-up truck. With tires squealing, she sped around the motel parking lot to the north side of the property and pulled into a space. A police squad car maneuvered in behind her, blocking her path should she try to put the truck in reverse. As the officers approached her vehicle, Yolanda put the gun to her right temple, telling them that she was going to kill herself. The police stepped back, easing the tension ever so slightly.

Abraham had gone to lunch with his son A.B. and was just returning to the studio when they got a call from Abraham’s sister-in-law, telling him to go to the hospital. Selena had had an accident, she urgently said to him. Doctors, meanwhile, were giving Selena blood transfusions and managed to get her heart started again for a brief period. But when Abraham arrived just after 1:00, rushing up to the doctor in charge, he was informed that his shining light, the daughter he had carefully watched over and groomed her entire life to be a star, had passed away.

Tactical unit officers kept watch on Yolanda in the truck throughout that Friday afternoon. She sat in the front seat, talking with police on her cell phone and occasionally raising the gun to her temple. At dusk, a maid who had been in a room just 20 feet from where Yolanda had parked, and who had immediately barricaded herself safely inside, was led out by a police officer carrying a bulletproof shield. Light rain began to fall as SWAT team members set up portable generator-powered lights to shine on the truck. Yolanda repeatedly admitted shooting Selena, but she blamed it all on Abraham and his meddling ways with their friendship. Finally, at 9:30, some 9 hours after the incident, Yolanda surrendered to police and was quickly hustled off in a squad car.

Radio stations had been playing Selena’s songs all day in memory of the fallen angel. Fans drove around Corpus Christi with signs proclaiming, “We Love You, Selena.” Hundreds of thousands of flowers were placed outside the family’s working class neighborhood home. Sensing the overwhelming support and sympathy from fans flying in from all around the globe, Abraham and Marcella decided to hold a memorial service for Selena at the Corpus Christi Convention Center on Sunday, April 2nd. More than 20,000 fans walked by her casket to pay their respects.

In May 1995, the family asked fans to make a stand against gun violence in Selena’s memory by casting an opposing vote on a proposal in the legislature that would allow Texans to carry concealed handguns. The bill unfortunately passed. Capitol released an album that summer featuring five tracks in English that Selena had recorded just before her death. As early as June, just three months after the tragedy, Abraham and the family were talking with producers from California about making Selena’s life into a motion picture feature. The following year of 1996 saw the release of “Selena” starring a new Latin actress, Jennifer Lopez, who would go on to attain much the same heights of popularity, perhaps even greater, as the woman she was portraying.

Yolanda Saldivar’s murder trial got underway on October 9, 1995 in Houston. There was very little the defense could do. Yolanda had bleated her “confession” to the police many times over during her phone conversation with them from her pick-up truck. The jury only took two hours to decide her guilt.

Abraham told the press, “I think people are tired of the wickedness of this system. She (Selena) was a good person, a clean person with morals. They could see that. And there’s not too much of that left in this world.”

Selena, herself, ultimately touched on the one thing that made her seem open with her fans over the years, yet also left her tragically vulnerable to the situation which befell her, when she chatted with Joseph Harmes back in 1993. “I trust too easily,” she said. “That’s my problem. And I end up getting hurt in the long run. This happened to me a lot. I’m so stupid. But you try to help somebody out and you think you are doing okay and in the long run you’re the one who’s going to be losing out. Not that I’m saying that you shouldn’t help people out…I’m sincere and very honest. And I feel that nowadays a lot of people have lost that, but I think that starts in the home. My parents have taught me that. Being fair with people.”

© 2000 Ned Truslow

January 2, 2015

Purple Rain: Prince Snags His Rightful Place on the Throne

“Oh baby, I’m a star!

Might not know it now.
Baby, but I are, I’m a star!
I don’t want to stop,
Till I reach the top.”

The transformation one Prince Roger Nelson undertook onscreen to arrive at this song, “Baby, I’m A Star,” indeed heralded a celluloid moment of celebrity achievement rarely witnessed in the annals of “overnight” sensations. When the diminutive dreamer launched his all-out “Purple Rain” assault on America in 1984, he took the biggest gamble of his life. The calling card of a knockout soundtrack, a blockbuster tour, and of course, the semi-autobiographical presentation of his own life on film, was audacious and wholly unique. Up to that point, most people simply categorized this artist, then known as Prince, as a sexually-stoked androgenous pop singer with a few novelty hits under his belt. Who was this guy kidding, putting out a movie about himself? Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” was dominating the charts, the Gloved One had blown everyone away moonwalking at the Motown appearance, and the King of Pop seemed a more likely choice to star in his own filmed extravaganza than this little prince. Who did this purple dude think he was?

He was an extremely versatile and disciplined musician with a soul full of swelling confidence — that’s who he was. Like a similar struggling Material Girl clambering up the pop ladder to success at this time, Prince never seemed to doubt his abilities or vision. It takes a plentiful dose of ego to place the blinders on and myopically trudge to the summit. Oftentimes, this focus results in leaving others behind. For Prince, all that mattered to him was his music. Friends were interchangeable and his broken family merely acted as a creative wound to draw from for the sake of his art. Life for Prince was geared to attaining success the second he began putting his mind to it.

While the story of the film “Purple Rain” is entirely fiction, it does highlight many aspects of Prince’s surroundings and upbringing in the Minneapolis, Minnesota environs. The main character, called The Kid, is an intensely private individual whose personality has been shaped by an abusive father and emotionally-detached mother. He has turned to music as his only outlet for connection to the world. His outlook on women leans toward the sexist, and it is only through his music that he finds a nurturing bond with one particular female. Arguably, these synopses summed up the psychic foundation of Prince’s own life.

His father might have been violent. When Oprah Winfrey asked Prince in 1996, “Your father was an abusive man, right?,” he replied, “He had his moments.” John Nelson had been an accomplished jazz pianist, leader of the Prince Roger Jazz Trio in the 1950s, when he hired and subsequently married a singer named Mattie Shaw. Mattie was 16 years’ John’s junior, and she soon retired from singing to raise her family. Prince was born on June 7, 1958, named Prince Roger Nelson, and was raised on the north side of Minneapolis. “I grew up on the borderline. I had a bunch of white friends, and I had a bunch of black friends,” he told Rolling Stone magazine. “I never grew up in any one particular culture.” From an early age, he was extremely withdrawn and self-absorbed. His father was distant as well, and by age seven, Prince saw his dad leave his mom for good. The senior Nelson also left behind his piano.

Young Prince taught himself to master the keyboards. When Oprah asked him what was the first song he was able to play, Prince cranked out the theme to TV’s “Batman” show for her. His fascination with the Batman franchise would later yield him a number one album and song when he composed the music to Tim Burton’s “Batman” movie in 1989. His musical ear led him to other instruments, such as the guitar and drums. Other interests included sports. But his growth in that arena was overshadowed by his brother Duane. Prince told the Los Angeles Times, “My older brother was the basketball star. He always had girls around him. I think I must have been on a jealous trip, because I got out of sports.” Focus soon turned entirely on the desire to play his music.

His mother remarried, and Prince’s stepfather took him to a local concert at age 12. Seeing the Godfather of Soul, Mr. James Brown, burn up the stage and enthrall an audience lit the fuse on Prince’s aspirations. Tensions with his new Dad sent Prince running to the home of his real dad, John Nelson. But the stay was short-lived. Prince has often related the story of how he was thrown out of his father’s home only to plead on a payphone to come back. His father’s rejection of his request was emotionally-scarring to say the least. Years of flopping with various family members and friends ensued. “I ran away from home when I was twelve,” he confirmed to Rolling Stone magazine in 1981. “I‘ve changed address in Minneapolis thirty-two times, and there was a great deal of loneliness.”

He soon settled in the basement of friend Andre Anderson’s home and was raised through his teens by Andre’s mom Bernadette. With rabbit fur and mirrors decorating his new pad, Prince spent practically everyday holed up composing his own songs. He started a band called Grand Central with several school chums, one of whom had a cousin named Morris Day who sat in for the band on drums. Once in high school, the group changed its name to Champagne. Playing for school gigs and local dances, Prince’s band would oftentimes face off against other funk groups in town, primarily an outfit named Flyte Time. When he was interviewed by his school newspaper in 1976, Prince was already looking beyond the Midwest. “I think it is very hard for a band to make it in this state, even if they’re good. Mainly because there aren’t any big record companies or studios in this state. I really feel that if we would have lived in Los Angeles or New York or some other big city, we would have gotten over by now.”

He yearned to break out. His flamboyant manner of dress and the musicians he hung with were already pegging him as an outsider in school. “People would say something about our clothes or the way we looked or who we were with and we’d end up fighting,” he told Rolling Stone. “I was a very good fighter. I never lost. I don’t know if I fight fair, but I go for it.” Graduating at age 18, Prince blasted out of school, and never looked back. He also dropped out of his band. “We basically got all the new music and dances three months late, so I just decided that I was gonna do my own thing,” he related to Rolling Stone. “The white radio stations were mostly country, and the one black radio station was really boring to me.” He hooked up with a local British ex-patriot named Chris Moon who owned a recording studio, Moon Sound, Inc. Because of his versatility, Prince was able to play many instruments for commercial takes Moon recorded at his studio. In return, Moon allowed Prince keys to the palace.

Moon soon told a local ad agency owner named Owen Husney about the talented protégé laying down tracks at his studio. Husney left his million-dollar agency and began managing Prince. After cutting demos, assembling presskits, and wooing record labels in Los Angeles, Warner Bros. Records sealed a deal with the 19-year old Minnesota musician, and Prince was soon producing his own album at a studio in Sausalito, California. After a long 6 months of recording, this debut album, “For You,” was released in April 1978. The project had been overseen by veteran engineer Tommy Vicari, but a print error on the record sleeve gave the one and only Prince sole credit. The album sold a respectable $100,000 worth of units and entered the top 10 on Billboard’s R&B chart. Prince put together a band to tour that included his teen friend Andre Anderson (now Andre Cymone), and future Revolution musicians, drummer Bobby Z and keyboardist Matt Fink.

In 1979, Prince released his second album, “Prince,” an effort that only took six weeks to record. With a number one single on the R&B chart, “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” the album sold over a million copies. Again, another collaborator, this time Prince’s old friend Andre Cymone, had his credit for singing on a song deleted, and Prince seemed to be the only one in command of his albums. Cymone and his buddy had a subsequent falling out. On the flip side, an accomplished pianist named Lisa Coleman soon joined the band. Prince let go of his manager Owen Husney, and opted for a more high-powered representation with Bob Cavallo, Joe Ruffalo and Steve Fargnoli.

With the advent of New Wave, Prince added more of a synth sound to his music for the next album effort, “Dirty Mind,” released in October 1980. His penchant for spicing up his lyric content with songs like “Head” (about oral sex) and “Sister” (about loving incest) propelled him into the category of ‘controversial’ in some sectors of the entertainment media. Sporting leopard-skin bikini briefs and thigh high boots, he certainly caught the attention of his female fans during the subsequent “Dirty Mind” tour.

In an effort to bolster the importance of music in the Minneapolis scene, and in essence, to help create a myth surrounding his own persona, Prince formed side bands. Producing members of his rival group Flyte Time, including Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Prince molded them into The Time, fronted by his old drumming pal Morris Day. Inspired by a new lady in his life named Denise Matthews, he christened her Vanity and gave her two backing singers for a band of her own called Vanity 6 (originally named The Hookers). Continuing with his own output of material, Prince released the album “Controversy” in October 1981. While the title track received decent airplay, tunes like “Jack U Off” and “Do Me, Baby” made radio programmers file the album in the off-air, guilty pleasure bin.

Still eschewing the help of others, Prince submerged himself in the basement of his new purple home in the suburbs of Minneapolis in the summer of 1982. He elaborated to Rolling Stone magazine about the noticeable lack of fellow artists on his albums: “The reason I don’t use musicians a lot of the time had to do with the hours that I worked. I swear to God it’s not out of boldness when I say this, but there’s not a person around who can stay awake as long as I can. Music is what keeps me awake. There will be times when I’ve been working in the studio for twenty-four hours and I’ll be falling asleep in the chair, but I’ll still be able to tell the engineer what cut I want to make. I use engineers in shifts a lot of the time because when I start something, I like to go all the way through. There are very few musicians who will stay awake that long.”

He modestly elaborated his isolationist stance further in a talk with a Detroit DJ named Electrifying Mojo in 1985: “I worked a long time under a lot of different people, and most of the time I was doing it their way. I mean, that was cool, but ya know, I figured if I worked hard enough and kept my head straight, one day I’d get to do this on my own…and that’s what happened. So I feel like…if I don’t try to hurt nobody…and like I say…keep my head on straight…my way usually is the best way.”

Prince emerged from his basement in the fall of 1982 with the double album “1999.” For the first time in his career, two of his singles, the title tune and “Little Red Corvette,” received favorable airplay on both R&B and Top-40 stations. MTV put both videos into heavy rotation. Prince was featured on the cover of Rolling Stone with Vanity, and the magazine named him rock artist of 1982. Whereas, the majority of artists sputter after a few hits, slowly slinking back into the oblivious consciousness of America, Prince had gotten to the on-deck circle, and now he was shuffling from foot to foot, warming up to hit one out of the park.

His band, now formally named The Revolution, went back on the road with Vanity 6 and The Time to support “1999.” Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis had been pining to work on side ventures of their own, and when they were stranded in a snowbound Atlanta, producing a song for the group The SOS Band, The Time fired them for missing a gig. The duo went on to start a record label of their own, Flyte Time, and produced some of the hottest singles of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, including many of Janet Jackson’s hits. A childhood chum of Lisa Coleman’s, guitarist Wendy Melvoin, joined the Revolution during this period, and her sister Susannah purportedly caught the eye of his Purple Badness. Vanity was not amused.

The introverted Prince had always scribbled notes, diary entries, and lyrics wherever he went. Throughout the “1999” tour, he was assembling thoughts in a purple notebook about his life’s story. Newly-hired tour manager Alan Leeds told Icon Magazine about his initial impressions of his boss around this time: “The person I met was suspicious and paranoid of people and life in general, and was sarcastic and cynical and clearly troubled by his personal demons. And, of course, the more we learned about his background – his mother basically walked away from him, and his father struggled to raise him and threw in the towel, and the kinds of rejection he suffered as a youngster – it certainly doesn’t add up to a very secure, well-rounded individual.” Prince was on the verge of revealing all of these insecurities to the world.

As early as 1980, Prince had been toying with his autobiography. Lisa Coleman said in the book “Purple Reign,” (authored by Liz Jones), “When I first joined Prince back in the days of “Dirty Mind,” he was already talking about his ideas for what would be “Purple Rain.” An Emmy-winning television screenwriter named William Blinn, who had written the TV-movie “Brian’s Song” and a segment of the landmark “Roots” mini-series, was contacted by Prince’s management in 1982 to write a script. He met Prince in a Hollywood restaurant. “He’s not purposefully face-to-the-wall, but casual conversation is not what he’s good at,” Blinn told Rolling Stone magazine. “It was as if I asked someone what they wanted for dinner, and they said they weren’t sure, but they’d like it to have some tomatoes in it, and some beef, and some onions. And I’d say, ‘I think we’re talking about beef stew here.”

Blinn sussed out a big part of what Prince was trying to convey in the movie’s main theme, primarily his anguished relationship with his father John Nelson. “It was as if we were sorting out his own mystery – an honest quest to figure himself out,” Blinn illustrated to Rolling Stone. “He saved all the money on shrinks and put it in the movie. Music is obviously a cloak and a shield and a whole bunch of things for him. It’s a womb.” By the early summer of 1983, Blinn had knocked off two drafts of the script, then titled “Dreams,” for Prince. The perfectionist in the Artist sensed the tale was not completely up to snuff. Lisa and Wendy were relieved when a steamy lesbian scene between them was later snipped from the final draft.

Meanwhile, Prince had been concocting a few tunes he felt would work well in the final concert sequence of the picture. A local club in Minneapolis that Prince and the Revolution had frequented, called the First Avenue, held a charitable event for the Minnesota Dance Theater in August 1983. Prince and his band showed up with a mobile recording van, ready to capture the sounds of his new songs, “I Would Die 4 U,” “Baby, I’m A Star,” and “Purple Rain,” before a live audience. Alan Leeds said in the book “Purple Reign,” “It was very hot and humid. Prince took to the stage like a boxer to the ring. “Purple Rain” brought the house down. That’s the version on the album. Thank God we got it on tape.”

Having cast his entire coterie of musical chums for the various roles in the film, Prince’s band of non-actors suddenly needed to learn the ways of the thespian craft. Prince hired a local actor named Don Amendolia to give everyone acting classes 3 times a week beginning in August. “Morris Day wasn’t as interested as some others,” Amendolia related to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, “but he had natural abilities that the others didn’t have. Vanity was lazy. She’s so beautiful and she’s good – but she didn’t like to work hard. Prince was very, very good. He’d flip right out of his persona and be whatever character he had to be. He’s very shy, as most actors are to a degree. He took direction well, probably the best. He asked a lot of questions.” Choreographer John Command was hired to drill six years’ worth of dancing into six months training for the unskilled rockers.

Cavallo, Ruffalo and Fargnoli scrambled to put together a budget. They received four million dollars from Warner Bros. Records’ head Mo Ostin and were desperately shopping the script around Hollywood for their client. The problem was, outside of the teen market and dance clubs, not many suits sitting behind the studio desks had ever heard of a guy named Prince. It was an extremely hard sell. The managers even had a difficult time convincing the film division of Warner Bros. to swallow the concept. But the hook finally took, and soon the studio coughed up the remaining demands on the budget. “Purple Rain” mustered $7 million in backing. Now they needed a director.

A highly-stylized teen picture named “Reckless,” starring a young Darryl Hannah and Aidan Quinn, was in its final stages of post-production in Hollywood. The director, James Foley, was approached to helm “Purple Rain.” He gracefully bowed out but suggested “Reckless’” editor, Albert Magnoli, for the task. Magnoli, a 30-year old former film student, had never directed a feature motion picture before. He met with Prince’s management, only to give some script ideas he had for their project, but after ten minutes into their meeting, Magnoli wanted the gig. He described his initial introduction with his Purple Highness to Rolling Stone: “We had dinner and he let me speak for about twenty-five minutes, and I began working off what was emanating from him. And I got very involved with the parents at that point: the father became a musician, the mother became sort of a woman walking the streets, things like that; I was just basically watching the person in front of me, just feeling what that was all about. And at the end, he said, ‘Okay, let’s take a ride.’ So we took a ride, and he said, ‘I don’t get it. This is the first time I’ve met you, but you’ve told me more about what I’ve experienced than anyone in my life.” Magnoli nailed the job.

To capture the full sound he desired for his new set of tunes, Prince poured $450,000 towards turning a barren warehouse into a state-of-the-art recording studio. He proceeded to record songs like “Computer Blue” and the frothy anthem “Let’s Go Crazy.” Prince explained to Musician Magazine in 1997 how he was still quite gunshy about expressing his full inspirations in songs during this period: “My original draft of ‘Let’s Go Crazy’ was much different from the version that wound up being released. As I wrote it, ‘Let’s Go Crazy’ was about God and the de-elevation of sin. But the problem was that religion as a subject is taboo in pop music. People think that the records they release have got to be hip, but what I need to do is to tell the truth.”

Nevertheless, Prince started the song with a sermon of hope. “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here 2day 2 get through this thing called life/Electric word life/It means 4ever and that’s a mighty long time/But I’m here 2 tell U there’s somethin’ else/The afterworld/A world of never-ending happiness.” A backward track following the cut “Darling Nikki” wound up revealing the words “Hello, how are U? I’m fine cuz I know that the Lord is coming soon. Coming, coming soon.” With the title tune, the majestic “Purple Rain,” Prince was inventing a passion for the violet hue that would be associated with him for years to come. Other lyrics, such as “Dream if U can a courtyard/An ocean of violets in bloom” from the song “When Doves Cry,” and “Let’s look 4 the purple banana till they put us in the truck,” from “Let’s Go Crazy” also supported his color-based motif.

Director Magnoli was frantically churning out a revised screenplay over the month of August in a Minneapolis hotel. He hung with Morris Day, who would play the leader of a rival band, and Vanity, who was slated to play Prince’s girlfriend in the film. The story still centered on the title character of The Kid, that of Prince as a sensitive artist with an abusive father and an abused mother. To escape his brutal home life, The Kid winds up competing for a slot in the three-group rotation of house bands at a local club in town (the First Avenue). He is enamored of a lead singer in a rival group, yet the abusive tendencies he has learned from his father threatens to jeopardize his love for this new lady in his life. At the conclusion, after severely beating his wife, The Kid’s father tries to commit suicide unsuccessfully, and The Kid rises above his flawed traits to win a music contest, and presumably, gain the respect of his woman.

Many people thought that the father in “Purple Rain,” portrayed by Clarence Williams III, closely mirrored John Nelson. Prince clarified the comparisons to Rolling Stone magazine in 1985: “That stuff about my dad was part of (director/co-writer) Al Magnoli’s story. We used parts of my past and present to make the story pop more, but it was a story. My dad wouldn’t have nothing to do with guns. He never swore, still doesn’t, and never drinks.” As for the nightclub First Avenue, the former bus depot, was, of course, an actual hangout in downtown Minneapolis. In the film, the club is owned and the bands are booked by Billy, a grumpy African-American who wears a flashy tracksuit and white sunglasses. In reality, the club’s booker was owner Steve McClellan, a father-figure white guy, who never had requisite ‘house’ bands for his club. Many groups played First Avenue over the course of any given month, each differing in style, like rock, funk, folk, and dance.

Pre-production on “Purple Rain” officially commenced on September 15, 1983. And it was around this time that Vanity chose to leave the film. Whether she was miffed about Prince’s flirtations with Susannah Melvoin or whether she simply wanted to venture out on a solo career is debatable. But she did mention that “they wouldn’t pay me enough money to go through the crap I would have to go through.” Vanity went on to release solo work, act in a handful of movies, and then she changed direction in life, becoming a born-again evangelist in the late 1980s. Meanwhile, a frantic search for a replacement resulted in over 700 women being auditioned. A Los Angeles photo model named Patricia Kotero landed the role. Prince immediately became her mentor, renaming her Apollonia and altering the moniker of Vanity’s old band to Apollonia 6.

Susan Rogers, an engineer for the recording of “Purple Rain,” rather succinctly said in the “Purple Reign” book, “Apollonia couldn’t sing.” Keyboardist Matt Fink also told the book’s author, “Yeah, the Vanitys and the Apollonias bothered me. I thought, ‘Prince, you could be surrounding yourself with and producing extremely talented people, not people who were there for their looks rather than their singing capabilities.’ The whole band found it annoying, but you had to bite your tongue and let it go.” Wendy Coleman also chimed in. “There is no question that was very frustrating. Prince would take these women who didn’t have much of anything apart from the ability to emote a great amount of sexuality. I used to scoff at that – like, what are you wasting your time with this woman for? But then I realized he is not in the business just strictly for the music, no matter what he tells you. He’s also in it to entertain.” Apollonia stayed, she sang “Take Me With U,” and the chemistry between her and Prince onscreen proved to be more successful than anyone could’ve predicted.

Cameras finally rolled on November 1, 1983. It was in the heart of winter. A Minnesota winter, mind you. A scene in which Prince’s character toys with his lover, forcing her to skinny-dip in a lake was shot in this cold Minnesota winter. Poor Apollonia took the plunge on a day when the temperature was 20 degrees outside. The First Avenue club closed its doors to the general public for three weeks of interior shooting during December. For the most part, all of the musicians did not have to stretch their acting abilities very far to support the thin plot. Prince, however, did a commendable job, playing the distant, narcissistic lead character who slowly draws us into empathy with his screwed-up home life. Later asked by Oprah Winfrey which scene in “Purple Rain” was the most autobiographical for him, Prince responded, “I’ll say that it was probably the scene with – with me looking at my mother, crying.” Indeed, the pain on his face reads palpably, as he strikes back at his out-of-control father.

Seven weeks of on-location shooting finally wrapped around Christmas 1983, and after a few scenes were lensed in Los Angeles over the following weeks, “Purple Rain” was prepped for release. Prince spent the majority of his time in the first six months of 1984 tinkering with his new soundtrack album and his new movie. His ambition and a huge part of his soul were about to be exposed to the public. Would anyone care about this artist called Prince?

The record was released in June, and the reclusive musician held his breath. He told Paper Magazine in 1999, “Apollonia and I slept under a hotel table waiting for the reviews of “Purple Rain” (the album). We were so excited we couldn’t sleep. When we saw them, they were all good.” And record sales figures proved the critics were right. The first single from the album, “When Doves Cry,” jumped into the Billboard Hot 100 at number 57 on June 2nd. By July 7th it was firmly lodged at number one, where it stayed for 5 weeks.

Lionel Richie, Stevie Nicks, John Cougar Mellencamp, The Talking Heads, Kiss, Devo. They all showed up at Graumann’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood, California for the premiere of the movie “Purple Rain” in July. The film experience knocked the socks off everybody who attended. The Los Angeles Herald Examiner’s Mikal Gilmore summed up the vibe of the night by asserting that Prince “dominates the screen with all the allure, menace and vulnerability that made Marlon Brando so irrefutable in ‘The Wild One,’ and for anybody expecting merely high-tech concert fare or sexual peacockery, his performance will prove astonishing and unforgettable.”

The album rocketed up the chart shortly after the film’s general release, booting Bruce Springsteen’s “Born In The USA” off the top spot on August 4, 1984. The album remained perched at number one for 24 consecutive weeks. In its first three days of release during the weekend of July 27, 1984, “Purple Rain,” the movie, took in $7.8 million, and four weeks later, it K-Oed Steven Spielberg’s “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” out of the number one box office position in the country. The album’s follow-up single, “Let’s Go Crazy,” zoomed into the Billboard chart at number 45 and rose to number one for 2 weeks following September 29, 1984. Three other singles from the stupendous album hit the chart over the following months: “Purple Rain” climbed to number 2 in November, “I Would Die 4 U” trotted to number 8 in February 1985, and “Take Me With U” chugged to number 25 in March 1985.

For many new fans, it appeared as if Prince had fluttered into their collective conscious overnight. For an artist who was used to capturing a few million dollars for his first five albums combined, the cash register ring of over $13 million for his new effort was justification that his confidence in offering up his “life’s story” had been worth the risk. The film grossed over $80 million. And on November 4, 1985, Prince launched a 32-city Purple Rain Tour out of Detroit.

The audacious showman gave the audience what they craved – all of the songs from the “Purple Rain” soundtrack. He climbed into a bathtub onstage, stroked his guitar until fluid shot from its neck, and body-humped the floorboards with wild abandon. His virtuoso guitarwork shined, and critics fell over themselves to laud him as the next Jimi Hendrix. Prince preferred to be compared with Carlos Santana. Be that as it may, 1,692,000 ticketholders merely crowned him the new king of funk-rock. Three Grammy Awards were handed to him in February 1985, and in March, he received the Academy Award for Best Song.

Of course, with popularity came a small swell of backlash. Many women felt Prince’s treatment of females in his movie was overtly sexist. One female character is seen being shoved headfirst into a garbage dumpster. Prince responded to these criticisms on MTV in 1985: “Violence is something that happens in everyday life, and we were only telling a story. I wish it was looked at that way, because I don’t think anything we did was unnecessary. Sometimes, for the sake of humor, we may’ve gone overboard. And if that was the case, then I’m sorry, but it was not the intention.”

A notable policy was enacted in the recording industry as a result of Prince’s landmark album release. Tipper Gore, wife of 2000 presidential candidate Al Gore, wrote in her book “Raising PG Kids in an X-rated Society,” “I purchased Prince’s best-selling album ‘Purple Rain’ for my 11-year old daughter. I had seen Prince on the cover of magazines, and I knew that he was the biggest pop idol in years. My daughter wanted his album because she had heard the single ‘Let’s Go Crazy’ on the radio. But when we brought the album home, put it on the stereo, and listened to it together, we heard the words to another song, ‘Darling Nikki’: ‘I knew a girl named Nikki/Guess you could say she was a sex fiend/I met her in a hotel lobby/Masturbating with a magazine.’ I couldn’t believe my ears! The vulgar lyrics embarrassed both of us. At first, I was stunned – then I got mad! Millions of Americans were buying ‘Purple Rain’ with no idea what to expect.”

Tipper subsequently launched a campaign to force the record companies to label their albums with warning stickers denoting explicit language. This practice continues today. Prince commented on the whole Tipper scenario in 1997 on CNN’s Showbiz Today: “I wonder what she’s thinking now. That’s pretty lightweight compared to what’s happening right now.” He went on to say, though, that he approved of the warning label practice. “That’s very good. So, if I’m responsible, then I’m glad.”

The whirlwind notoriety and the swift ascent to fame surrounding Prince during the months of early 1985 brought with it the seeds of doubt. As Prince later related to Paper Magazine, “We looked around and I knew we were lost. There was no place to go but down. You can never satisfy the need after that.” By May 1985, as the tour was winding up, the shy, withdrawn Prince was reaching the end of his tether. “I was doing the 75th ‘Purple Rain’ show, doing the same thing over and over – for the same kids who go to Spice Girls shows,” he told Icon Magazine in 1998. “And I just lost it. I said: ‘I can’t do it!’ They were putting the guitar on me and it hit me in the eye and cut me and blood started going down my shirt. And I said, ‘I have to go onstage,’ but I knew I had to get away from all that. I couldn’t play the game.”

At the conclusion of the Purple Rain Tour, Prince announced he would never tour again. He retreated to a new recording studio, a place he called Paisley Park. The huge complex had a dutiful, loyal staff, high fences, and security guards. Paisley Park also became the name of Prince’s label for Warner Bros. After three months of recuperation, the creative musician took to the soundboard once again, this time with a new direction in mind. The album “Around The World In a Day” was more psychedelic in nature, as if Prince purposefully wanted to distance himself from the hard-driving dance-rock of “Purple Rain.”

He told Entertainment Weekly in 1999, “In some ways, (Purple Rain) was more detrimental than good…People’s perception of me changed after that, and it pigeonholed me. I saw kids coming to concerts who screamed just because that’s where the audience screamed in the movie. That’s why I did ‘Around The World In A Day,’ to totally change that. I wanted not to be pigeonholed.” This follow-up album went to number 1 for three weeks in June 1985. Prince’s newfound fans were a bit baffled by the record’s trippy sound, but the album’s singles “Raspberry Beret” and “Pop Life” rose to number 2 and 7 respectively on the Billboard chart all the same. Contrary to his earlier announcement, Prince toured extensively to support many of his albums over the years.

His next film “Under The Cherry Moon” was a resounding flop. The soundtrack to the movie, titled “Parade,” yielded the number one smash “Kiss,” in April 1986 but quickly fell off the charts. Prince seemed to want to discard those memories and friends whom he associated with his old formulas. While touring with The Revolution for the “Parade” album, Wendy Melvoin said in the “Purple Reign” book, “We had a sense it would be the last time we’d be on stage together. He broke all his guitars – he’d never smashed guitars before. We never played with him again.”

The Revolution was disbanded in late 1986. Prince would work with other incarnations of a backing band, notably the New Power Generation. And he would score number one successes with the singles “Batdance” in 1989 (along with the chart-topping “Batman” soundtrack) and “Cream” in 1991. But the promise of his powerhouse breakthrough in 1984 seemed to dwindle away as time marched into the 1990s. When he wasn’t churning out an uneven album’s worth of material at a dizzying rate, he was battling various record companies and Internet sites over copyright issues and royalty residuals. Then, there was that whole period of a name change, which resulted in his moniker being that of a symbol, a move which further isolated him from a decreasingly-enthusiastic fan base. By the end of the millenium, the Artist we’ll always assume is Prince had officially released nearly 35 hours of music and was finally settled down, seemingly blissful in a marriage with a woman named Mayte and playing the real-life role of a new father.

Prince’s talent for crafting scintillating songs and heartfelt ballads has not diminished in recent years. The problem, some say, lies in the fact that he puts too many mediocre tunes on each album, diluting the overall impact of the listening experience. The hysteria surrounding “Purple Rain” in 1984 indisputably provided this Artist with one of rock’s most triumphant breakthroughs. The music and the movie still retain the quality and rewards that Prince originally poured into their creation. Prince is certainly not going to fade away. The overwhelmingly self-confident personality knows he still retains bragging rights to muster the magic it takes to score one more hit. He summed it all up appropriately enough, at the pinnacle of his career in 1985 to Rolling Stone magazine. “In peoples’ minds, it all boils down to ‘Is Prince getting too big for his breeches?’ I wish people would understand that I always thought I was bad. I wouldn’t have got into the business if I didn’t think I was bad.”

© 2000 Ned Truslow

January 2, 2015

Pa-Rum-Pa-Pa-Pum: Ziggy and Der Bingle’s Holiday Oddity

What compelled two of the biggest generational icons to join together in a London studio in 1977 and spread holiday cheer over the airwaves? The world may never really know the true motivations either performer, David Bowie or Bing Crosby, had for sharing the screen in a duet of “The Little Drummer Boy/Peace On Earth.” What pop history does know is that the moment was a symbolic snapshot. One which seemed to cauterize the wounds inflicted by the generation gap polarities of the 1960s and early ‘70s, primarily those parent and child disparate views on Vietnam, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. Bing and Bowie calmly, yet somewhat warily, seemed to symbolize a peace accord between the generation camps, a coming to terms and respect of each other, all rolled up in a chestnut-roasting, goodwill Christmas video. Above all else, as many a journalist has mentioned since, it was the oddest pairing of singers up to that point in history.

Sure, everyone from The Beatles and the Stones, even The Doors, had succumbed to the “establishment” over the years and been introduced by the clueless, older generation symbol, Ed Sullivan. Many ‘hip’ acts of the time had appeared on shows hosted by Dean Martin, Johnny Carson, and Joey Bishop. But this moment, with the alien who fell to earth and the pipe-smoking crooner, was the most recognized landmark in television history where two artists with nothing in common but their love of music happened to hook up for a song. “I’m not sure, but I believe that working with Bing led to Bono working with Frank (Sinatra),” Bowie related to Q Magazine in 1999. “I set a precedent there.” The generation divide was so blurred by the time The Chairman and Bono joined creatively that the U2 frontman told 2CR-FM that before Sinatra died, Frank asked Bono if he wanted to be the president of the Frank Sinatra Golf Classic in Palm Springs. “I wrote back saying, of course, I would be greatly honored,” Bono observed, “but I have never played golf.”

Indeed, after Bing and Bowie there seemed to be no turning back. Natalie Cole raised her dad from the Great Beyond to forge new “Unforgettable” territory. John Tesh coaxed Dweezil Zappa into his New Age tinklings. Elvis Costello jumped at the chance to compose with Burt Bacharach. Stevie Wonder lent his amazing talents to those of Babyface. Gloria Estefan surrounded herself with N’Sync. Tiffany hung with Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. Tom Jones sang a little Prince. Tony Bennett and Luciano Pavarotti sang with just about everyone. And Cher somehow felt the need to work with Beavis.

It was originally Bing’s idea to showcase a guest that would reflect a star of the new generation. Crosby had always delivered his annual Christmas specials, first for radio, then for television, over forty-two years. Along with his family members, Bing had invited people like Carol Burnett, Jackie Gleason, Michael Landon, Roy Clark, and Fred Astaire to share in the eggnog on camera over the previous outings. Crosby and his rendition of “White Christmas” virtually defined the season and its cheery tidings.

Having spent over half a century performing for audiences around the globe, Bing Crosby was perceived as a mild-mannered, peaceful man. Unfortunately, life at home was revealed to be anything but. Three of his four children from his first marriage to Dixie Lee, a 1930s actress, turned out bitter and despondent in their latter years. Gary Crosby, the eldest, wrote a scathing book, “Going My Own Way,” which detailed the abuse and beatings he suffered at the hands of America’s favorite crooner. Gary subsequently succumbed to lung cancer, while his brothers Lindsay and Dennis both committed suicide, in 1989 and 1991 respectively, via shotgun blasts to the head. When Bing remarried after Dixie died of cancer in the mid-50s, he settled on a woman 30 years his junior, Kathryn Grant, who gave up her acting career and raised the three children they had together. Bing seemed to mellow in the 1960s. His new brood appeared with him on the TV specials and seemed to enjoy his company.

By the late ‘60s, Crosby’s work regimen (he had released close to 200 albums at this point) seemed to sputter. From 1969 to 1974, he recorded only two albums. His health was declining, and he had a small tumor removed from one of his lungs. The operation actually seemed to rejuvenate him, because during the next three years into 1977, Bing recorded and released ten albums. He worked the concert circuit again, something he hadn’t done since the 1950s. Crosby was on the rebound.

In March 1977, he was taping a TV special in Pasadena, California, taking a bow before a standing ovation, when he suddenly fell through a hole in the stage near the orchestra pit. He ruptured a disk in his lower back. Singer Pearl Bailey held Bing’s head, as his old “Road” buddy, Bob Hope, rushed out from the dressing room to see what had happened to his friend. “Bing opened his eyes and looked up at me,” Hope related in his 1985 book, “Confessions of a Hooker.” “Then he smiled weakly and said, ‘Jimmy Dundee couldn’t have done it any better.’ Dundee was our stuntman at Paramount.”

While Crosby spent the next few months recuperating, singer David Bowie was coming off a period of self-imposed recuperation himself. Holed up in an apartment in a Turkish district of Berlin, West Germany, both Bowie and his friend Iggy Pop set out to kick a nasty cocaine habit. By this period of his career, David had shucked himself of his Ziggy persona and together with musician Brian Eno, had entered his experimental phase. The album “Low” was released on January 14, 1977 and confounded many of his fans with its dark, mostly-instrumental, synthesized fragments of songs. He then toured with Iggy and his Stooges, performing punk ditties throughout Europe and America. It was at the end of this tour on April 5th that Bowie made for a kooky appearance on The Dinah Shore Show in Los Angeles with Iggy. Both boys behaved themselves, as the sweet, southern-talking hostess queried Pop with concern about his tendency to slice himself with broken bottles. Perhaps this moment instilled in David a willingness to appear alongside personalities perceived as the ‘establishment’ and not cause an outrage with any overt antics.

During the summer of 1977, Bowie finished work on his “Heroes” album with Eno and guitarist Robert Fripp. Again, the release was mostly an avant-garde-sounding venture with the title tune being the only radio-friendly single in its offering. In New York, Bowie recorded a voiceover narration to a children’s audio presentation of Prokofiev’s “Peter And The Wolf.” Meanwhile, Bing Crosby was headed to Europe, having finally weathered a substantial recovery from his fall. On August 27th he gave an open-air performance to benefit the Norwegian Red Cross in Oslo, Norway. He returned to England, gearing up for the taping of his Christmas special and playing a fair share of his beloved pastime, golf.

Back in Britain, himself, Bowie was contacted by fellow glam rocker, Marc Bolan, formerly of T-Rex, the monster metal band that once toured with Ziggy and his Spiders. Bolan had a show on England’s ITV called “Marc” that featured acts which appealed to the teen audience. On September 9, 1977, Bowie entered the Granada TV studio up north in Manchester and performed his latest song, “Heroes.” Bolan’s other guests on the show that day were Generation X, featuring a then-relatively-unknown sneering punker by the name of Billy Idol. Bolan had Bowie accompany him on an improvised song called “Standing Next To You,” and during the performance, David received an electric shock from a nearby microphone. Bolan then proceeded to fall off the stage. At 7:00, union television crew members shut the performance down at regulation hour, and any further jamming on-camera was effectively terminated for the evening. Afterwards, Bolan and Bowie laid down a few demos. The two made a commitment to work on a future collaboration. One week later, however, on September 16th, Marc was suddenly killed in an auto accident in London. The demos the two worked on were never officially released.

Bing Crosby was wrapping up the taping of his latest annual special, entitled “Bing Crosby’s Merry Olde Christmas.” The formerly anorexic-looking ‘60s supermodel Twiggy was already featured on the program. Crosby’s idea for bringing in a current rock star resulted in Bowie’s name being brought up, allegedly by Bing’s teenage daughter Mary Frances. Bing had never heard of the British pop provocateur, but his kids certainly were aware of him. Bing was no slouch, however, to covering the popular tunes of the day, having recorded The Beatles “Hey Jude” in 1968 for his album, “Hey Jude, Hey Bing!” Paul McCartney once revealed that The Beatles’ first huge hit, “Please Please Me” was inspired by Crosby’s 1932 song “Please.” In fact, the king of Rock, Elvis himself, had a close tie with the Bingster, having covered the tune “Blue Hawaii” in his film of the same name. Crosby had first warbled the song in his 1937 feature film “Waikiki Wedding.”

In answer to whatever fancy it was that struck him, David Bowie accepted the invitation to appear with Bing Crosby on the TV show. On the morning of September 11, 1977, Bowie and Bing met each other for the first time in the Elstree Studios outside of London. “It was the most bizarre experience,” Bowie later recounted for Q magazine. “I didn’t know anything about him. I just knew my mother liked him.”

A cozy set with a Christmas tree and a piano had been fashioned for them to interact in. Holiday cards were strewn on top of the closed keyboard along with a weak-looking floral arrangement. Both men dressed in blue: Bowie in a blue sport jacket and open shirt; Bing in a blue cardigan and white shirt. The director took them through a rehearsal for an hour that morning. Bing had chosen the song “The Little Drummer Boy” for their proposed duet. Once they started rehearsing, Bowie realized his voice wasn’t being used very effectively in the lower registers of the tune. He suggested he sing a counterpoint vocal. The show’s writers quickly fashioned the “Peace On Earth” verses for David to dramatically offset Bing’s “pa-rum-pa-pa-pum’s.”

The scripted dialogue preceding their song was cheesy to say the least. Both men relied heavily on the carefully-positioned cue card men just off the set to help them with delivering their lines. The premise behind Bing’s special is that he’d been staying in England at a quaint old mansion with his family. The two singers appeared primed and ready to go, so Bowie stood outside the set’s fake front door, and the director called for “action.”

Bing opened the door.
David Bowie: Hello…you’re the new butler?
Bing Crosby: (laughs) Well, it’s been a long time since I’ve been the new anything!
Bowie: What’s happened to Hudson?
Bing: I guess he’s changing.
Bowie: Yeah, he does that a lot, doesn’t he? Um, oh, I’m David Bowie, I live down the road.
Bing: Oh!
Bowie: Sir Percival let’s me use his piano if he’s not around. He’s not around, is he?
Bing: I can honestly say I haven’t seen him, but come on in! Come in!
Bowie: But, I…
Bing: Come on in!
(Bowie enters and they crossed slowly over to the piano)
Bowie: Are you related to Sir Percival?
Bing: Well, distantly…
Bowie: Oh, you’re not the poor relation from America, right?
Bing: Ha! Gee, news sure travels fast, doesn’t it? I’m Bing.
Bowie: Oh, I’m pleased to meet you. (the two shake hands) You’re the one that sings, right?
Bing: Well, right or wrong. I sing either way.
Bowie: Oh well, I sing too.
Bing: Oh good! What kind of singing?
Bowie: Mostly the contemporary stuff. Do you…do you like modern music?
Bing: Oh, I think it’s marvelous! Some of it’s really fine. But tell me, have you ever listened to any of the older fellows?
Bowie: Oh yeah, sure. I like, uh, John Lennon and the other one with…Harry Nilsson.
Bing: Hmm…you go back that far, huh?
Bowie: Yeah, I’m not as young as I look.
Bing: (laughs) None of us is these days!
Bowie: In fact I’ve got a six year old son. And he really gets excited around the Christmas holiday thing.
Bing: Do you go in for anything of the traditional things in the Bowie household, at Christmastime?
Bowie: Oh yeah. Most of them really. Presents, tree, decorations, agents sliding down the chimney.
Bing: What?
Bowie: Oh, I was just seeing if you were paying attention.
Bing: (laughs)
Bowie: Actually, our family does most of the things that other families do. We sing the same songs.
Bing: Do you?
Bowie: Oh, I even have a go at “White Christmas.”
Bing: You do, eh?
Bowie: And this one. This is my son’s favorite. Do you know this one?
(The instrumental track begins for “The Little Drummer Boy”)
Bing: Oh, I do indeed. It’s a lovely theme.

And so began a broadcast moment which has been designated as sacred a holiday video nugget as “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and “It’s A Wonderful Life.” Since it is truly one of the first, if not the first, music video heralding a ‘hip’ pop singer covering a Christmas tune, music channels like MTV and VH-1 never fail to air it during the month of December. The June 5, 1999 issue of TV Guide magazine chose the duet as one of television’s 25 best musical moments. It was subsequently released as a single and went to number 3 on the U.K.’s chart in 1983. The song was included on a Bowie compilation in 1995. Recently, both the single and the video were issued on a CD by Oglio Records in 1999.

The performance itself is rather stiff. Bing and David don’t even look at each other during the song. Bing’s eyes are fixed off-camera, and Bowie, probably not too familiar with his “Peace On Earth” substitution, constantly checks the printed verses laying on the piano before him. Bowie later told Q magazine what he was thinking during the grand moment. “I was wondering if he (Bing) was still alive. He was just…not there. He was not there at all. He had the words in front of him.” Bowie mimicked Bing’s deep voice, “Hi, Dave, nice to see ya here…” Bowie continued, “And he looked like a little old orange sitting on a stool. ‘Cos he’d been made up very heavily and his skin was a bit pitted, and there was just nobody home at all, you know?” However, stilted he felt the proceedings were executed, the moment has become a slightly warped, yet very nostalgic event in the lives of many boomers.

Bing, ever the professional, was not so catty about his take on the Thin White Duke. A few days later after the taping, he told a reporter that Bowie was a “clean-cut kid and a real fine asset to the show. He sings well, has a great voice and reads lines well. He could be a good actor if he wanted.” (Bowie had already performed in Nicholas Roeg’s film “The Man Who Fell To Earth” by this time). Crosby even graciously gave Bowie his home phone number at the end of taping, encouraging him to call sometime.

As soon as the historical moment got underway, it was over quite quickly. It took them only 3 takes to complete their segment together. Later reports indicated that Bowie had sang his song “Heroes” for the show, but the footage was never aired that year. The next day, Bing went into the recording studio to churn out his final album, “Seasons.” The project had been one he’d desired to do for a long time, that of compiling tunes referring to seasons in their title and lyrics, like “In The Good Old Summer Time,” “June is Bustin’ Out All Over,” and “April Showers.” As Bing went on to perform a two-week stint at the London Palladium, Bowie received news of his friend, Marc Bolan’s death. On September 20th, he attended Bolan’s funeral at Golders Green in London.

Crosby gave his final concert in Brighton, England on October 10, 1977. The next day he sang for the BBC radio program “The Alan Dell Show.” On October 12th, he flew to Spain, to get in a little golf. It was late in the afternoon of October 14th, as Bing finished swinging through 18 holes at the La Moraleja Club golf course in Madrid that the final curtain dropped. Many say he passed away having done the one thing he always enjoyed, playing golf. He putted in his shot in the 18th and turned to bow to a few fans observing and clapping nearby. “It was a great game,” he remarked. Bob Hope later wrote in his 1985 book, “Sometime after his death, I heard that a doctor in England told him to play only 9 holes because of his heart. Bing had finished 18 that day, and was walking up the hill to the clubhouse, when he collapsed and died.” Bing Crosby, the man his friends affectionately addressed as “Der Bingle,” passed away from a massive heart attack at the age of 73.

CBS-TV ran “Bing Crosby’s Merry Olde Christmas” on November 30, 1977. It was broadcast in the U.K. on December 24th of that year. Since Bing’s show aired posthumously, there were several rumors that the duet between Crosby and Bowie had somehow been enhanced or generated through computer technique. This special effect, so common to our times, and used in the case of Natalie Cole’s “duet” with her father, was something mysterious and insidious in its connotations during the ‘70s. Of course, those conspiracy theorists obviously didn’t know about tape delay.

Musically-speaking, David Bowie and Bing Crosby couldn’t have been farther apart in their sensibilities. Bing came from an era in which the only demands put on song were whether it had a catchy ‘hook’ and was it pleasing to the ear. David was more intellectual about his use of lyrics and messages. He expressed the differences between crooners of Bing’s era and the rock vocalists of our times with Seconds magazine in 1995. “I can’t really speak for them (the crooners). I think for them, the idea of singing was a means to an end. It’s a way of becoming famous. I’m not sure that they ever felt that what they were doing was pertinent sociologically. We’ve taken on the mantle of all that in Rock – that we actually believe what we’re singing about has something to do with society. I think there was a period in the Eighties where I noticed a lot of younger artists looked at the whole industry…and the idea of career opportunity was a flag that a lot of them were saluting at the time. I think that’s receded a little now. In the Eighties, it probably approached the Bing/Sinatra feeling more than any other time since the Fifties. ‘Hey, you sing the right song, you get to the top of the pile.” With the resurgence of ‘catchy,’ undemanding tunes through the likes of Britneys, N’Syncs, and Rickys, one could argue we’re back in a ‘crooner’ phase.

Over the years, the image of the two icons on a corny TV stage, singing a lovely Christmas piece, has seemed less cynical and more in the heartfelt vein in which Bing obviously intended it to be. Just a moment for young and old to share, with no posturing or theatrics. “I think the thing with Bing is the most ludicrous…,” Bowie let the thought trail off in talking with Q magazine. “It’s wonderful to watch. We were so totally out of touch with each other.” Yes, Mr. Bowie, but that’s what has made the fabled event so enduringly endearing.

© 2001 Ned Truslow

January 2, 2015

Operation Marley: Babylon Takes On Jamaica’s Reggae King

In 1887, a man named Marcus Garvey was born in the Jamaican parish of St. Ann. He would grow up to be a great uniter, someone with a high degree of oratorical and organizational skills. He eventually relocated to Harlem in New York City, amassing a following worldwide of millions of devotees who agreed with his notions of repatriating back to Africa. The bedrock of his decree lay in the assumption that Ethiopia was the cradle of civilization, the birthplace of man. He preached of the God of Ethiopia and cited Psalm 68 in the King James Bible, which noted, “Princes shall come out of Egypt; Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God.” When a baby was born in Ejarsa Gora, near the city of Harar in Ethiopia on July 23, 1892, many were convinced he was a direct descendent of King Solomon of Jerusalem and Queen Makeda of Sabo (or rather Sheba). He was named Ras Tafari and he had uncanny powers of psychic foreknowledge. This was the leader, or Lion of Judah, many believers who followed the Holy Piby (the “Black Man’s Bible”) were sure was their long-awaited messiah. The Piby was purportedly based on the first Bible, written in Amharic (the early language of Ethiopia) which was later supposedly usurped by the Roman Catholic Church and altered to make God and his prophets in the image of Caucasians. On Sunday, November 2, 1930, Ras Tafari was crowned Haile Selassie I, a name that meant literally “Power of the Holy Trinity.” What Garvey, and soon others, proclaimed as the fulfillment of a long ago prophecy, the faith of Rastafarianism took root among many of the poor and neglected blacks across the globe, and especially on the tiny island of Jamaica.

Bob Marley was also born in the parish of St. Ann fifteen years later in 1945. And like Garvey before him, Marley would be seen as a world-renowned unifying voice in the tenets of Rastafarian life. While many would cite his views as revolutionary, a position which would target him as a threat to varying, powerful factions, Marley, like other Rastas, didn’t advocate violence nor was he a racist. Everyone was invited to repent of their sins and accept Jah (an abbreviated form of the word Jehovah). Of course, Rastas assert they once led the human race, and thus, being the superior race, they would rule again after the Armageddon. Their ganja, or marijuana, was a blessed herb, a wisdomweed, that when smoked, was a religious rite of praise to Jah. At the outset, however, all Bob Marley seemed interested in, once he made his way to Kingston in the early ‘60s, was to make music.

In September 1959, the Jamaican Broadcasting Company came on the air and radios around the island blasted out tunes from local talent. Jimmy Cliff was an early star with “Miss Jamaica” and Owen Gray scored favoritism with the locals on his song “Darling Patricia.” Both artists recorded for a Chinese-Jamaican named Leslie Kong, who subsequently recorded Marley’s first tune “Judge Not.” The calypso sound that dominated the island’s output in the 1950s was evolving to the scat-paced, jerky, sounds of ska by the early 1960s. Bob’s follow-up songs, “Terror” and “One Cup Of Coffee” garnered him more attention in the Jamaican music community. Recruiting several musicians and backup singers, including his friend Bunny Livingston (aka Bunny Wailer) and Peter Tosh, Marley formed a group called the Wailers. He subsequently left Kong over a payment dispute and hooked up with eccentric producer Clement Dodd, otherwise known as Sir Coxsone. Another local producer, Edward Seaga, did not get the opportunity to retain Marley’s services, but he would come to see Bob as a threat far greater than a simple ska musician in the next decade.

By the 1930s, Jamaica’s sugar industry had all but dwindled. Bananas became the primary product of export, under the auspices of the country’s colonial rulers, the British Empire. Low wages and horrible working conditions led to bloody strikes, which, in turn, fostered the need for labor representation. In the late ‘30s, two political factions stepped forth to represent the constituents of the island. One was the Jamaican Labour Party (JLP), a conservative, right wing outfit, and the other was the democratic and socialist People’s National Party (PNP). Both parties jockeyed for representation in Parliament, and Jamaica’s populace soon became split over which group to align themselves with. The parties also signaled to Britain that Jamaica would soon be seeking independence. In the 1950s, two cousins led each faction — labor leader Norman Manley ran the PNP and the intimidating, military rascal Alexander Bustamante lorded over the JLP. At the turn of the 1960s, Bustamante’s right-hand man was Edward Seaga, the record producer, and now, also a member of the Legislative Council, who chose West Kingston as the focus of his constituent base. West Kingston was the heart of Jamaica’s recording industry. Born in Boston and a Harvard scholar, Seaga was distrusted by the island’s Rastas, who were convinced he had been recruited by the CIA while attending the prestigious university. On August 5, 1962, Jamaica became independent of Britain, and Bustamante and his JLP assumed control of the government.

Bob Marley was probably quite unconcerned about his emerging nation’s politics at the time. He concentrated on his music for the first half of the 1960s, churning out singles for Sir Coxsone. On February 10, 1966, he married his back-up singer, Rita Anderson. The next morning, he flew alone to the United States to live with his mother in Delaware, where he would work an assortment of odd jobs raising enough money to support his musical ambitions back in Jamaica. While he was away from his homeland, Haile Selassie flew to Marley’s island nation in April for a heralded, religious celebration. More than 100,000 Jamaicans met him at the airport, and Rita was bowled over by his majesty and presence. Bob, meanwhile, was despondent in America and saddened he had missed the emperor’s visit. He had a dream in which his estranged father, a white naval officer, had given him a black jeweled ring. The trinket made him feel uncomfortable. Before Marley left to go home to Jamaica in October 1966, his mother gave him a black jeweled ring his father once owned, exactly like the one in his dream. Bob was immediately taken aback by the significance of it. His mother said, “Yuh been given a sign. De ring might help yuh ta ketch de meaning of it.”

Upon his return to Jamaica, Bob was swayed by Rita and her experience of seeing Selassie to immerse himself in spirituality, specifically in the Rastafarian faith. He grew his hair long, allowing his locks to twine into nappy tresses. Marley was in top physical shape, jogging and playing soccer on a daily basis, and abstained from alcohol, tobacco, meat and most fish so that he would be ital, or pure, as required by his faith. A mentor named Mortimo Planno introduced him to the world of Rastafarians, taking Marley deep into the jungles of Jamaica to their settlements. Plano interpreted Bob’s earlier dream about the black ring telling Marley that he would either grow in his spirituality through his experiences or ‘ketch a fire’ (catch hell). Marley channeled his newfound beliefs into his music. Releasing singles through the end of the 1960s, he moved from the “rock steady” sound the island had embraced to a new kind of beat, reggae. The Wailers were increasingly draining their financial resources, and in the winter of 1971, found themselves stranded on a tour in England. Chris Blackwell, a well-to-do entrepreneur, whose family had owned plantations in Jamaica, offered to take Marley onto his Island Records label. The initial album release, “Catch A Fire,” embodied Bob’s distinctive singing style and its sound was a template for hundreds of reggae acts to come. From the start of his association with Island Records, Marley’s songs would shout to the world Rasta dictums such as ending racial oppression, decrying Babylon’s (the establishment’s) tyranny, living within the earth’s limits, and becoming more in tune with Jah.

Blackwell purchased a dilapidated home in a prestigious Jamaican neighborhood of wealthy businessmen and government officials in the early 1970s. Located at 56 Hope Road, he dubbed it Island House, and soon, he was loaning it out to Marley and all of his Rasta friends. Most Rastafarians who lived in the Kingston area were mainly grouped in Trench Town, a hazardous, unhealthful district so named because it was built over a ditch through which all of Kingston’s sewage flowed. Bob and Rita had lived with their family on the outskirts of that area in government-built projects known as ‘Concrete Jungle.’ So when Marley and his group of Wailers plopped down residence in the tony Hope Road side of town, Rastas were skeptical of his adherence to their beliefs. But once he opened his home up to them, organizing daily soccer matches on the front lawn and passing the ganja around late into the night, Marley became a sort of hero to his fellow displaced and hated Rastafarians. Fellow group members Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh, however, soon sought to seek their own fame and left the band in pursuit of solo careers.

In 1973, when his next album for Island, “Burnin’,” was released, Bob became an internationally-acclaimed musician instantly. Hits from the record like “Get Up, Stand Up” and “I Shot The Sheriff” put Marley on the map. People like Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney raved about his wonderful music to the press. Hippies from America swarmed to Jamaica by the thousands, eager to bask in the Rasta vibe, and of course, smoke a lot of ganja. The leaders of Jamaican politics and high society already despised the island’s Rastafarians, since their beliefs ultimately aspired for the day privileged whites and their empire would topple into the ocean. With Marley’s heralded, global fame, and the world’s attention being drawn to the message and lifestyle of this non-tax paying, materialism-rejecting, fringe group, several people in power on the island saw him as a foe who needed to be manipulated.

Under Bustamante, Edward Seaga was now the JLP’s minister of finance. He was next in line, along with Bustamante’s successor, Hugh Shearer, to take over the reins of power in the country. Norman Manley of the PNP had died, but not before passing on the torch of his cause to his son, Michael Manley. And when the general elections of 1972 were underway, Manley gave Seaga a run for his money, by appealing to the Rastas. Michael had gone to Ethiopia to sit with Haile Selassie and returned to Jamaica with a walking stick the Emperor had personally given him. Manley paraded that holy piece of wood all over the island, dazzling Rastas far and wide. Whereas, Seaga and his JLP had beefed up Jamaica’s infrastructure, bringing forth incentives for local and foreign corporate interests to invest in the economy, Manley was intent on appealing to the downtrodden, the individuals stuck in Trench Town, promising socialistic advances for people of any class. Manley and his PNP swept the election in 1972, and Michael moved into a home just a few blocks over from Marley’s place. The two, oftentimes, spent many hours on Bob’s porch, talking the night away. The Prime Minister and the Reggae King.

Marley began hanging with the big shots in both of the political parties. Each faction had their political strongmen, like Bucky Marshall of the PNP and Claudie Massop of the JLP. When trouble needed to be stirred up in the name of their cause, or radicals needed to be put in their place, guys like this would be the ones to goad supporters into violent action. Marley’s next album, 1974’s “Natty Dread,” contained several allusions to a need for political change through revolutionary means. Both parties felt threatened by this slant, sensing Marley was in league with the other faction. Since the PNP was in power, Rastas, including Peter Tosh, were beaten up and hassled on the island while Marley and his Wailers went on tour in support of the album that year.

Even though he was stirring tension with his lyrics, especially with the smash 1975 hit single “Jah Live,” Marley was also cognizant of his actions amongst his fellow Rastas. He spoke of the strife and desires his brethren were suffering to interviewer Eric Benjamin. “Home there are people who can not even go out on the street without going to jail. Just for how he look he can go to jail. They publicize that the Rasta bad, and all that s***. All the Rastafariah wants is to live with love. If you live with love, you live forever, as His Imperial Majesty Almighty God.” With increasing financial success, Marley took time to be extremely charitable with his island fans. On Fridays, a long line of people would congregate outside his Hope Road front lawn, with tales of woe to tell. Bob handed out thousands of dollars to them. He bought books and uniforms for mothers who were unable to finance these items for their kids’ education. And when he went to visit his old friends in the ghetto, he never put on airs. Chris Blackwell described the times Marley would visit Trench Town in his hard-earned, fancy silver BMW automobile. “…When he would drive into the ghetto, he would never lock the car, he would just get out of it and leave the windows open or whatever. He never separated himself from the people.”

Marley and his Wailers acquired a savvy manager named Don Taylor in early 1975. He was quick to put together a huge concert on the island on October 11th of that year. R&B legend, Stevie Wonder, riding high in his career after a successful stream of hit albums in the early-to-mid-‘70s, agreed to perform with Bob Marley’s group. Thousands of fans swayed to the hybrid sounds of an American legend playing with their nation’s number one rock star. Police nervously watched the audience during Marley and Wonder’s rendition of “I Shot The Sheriff.” For many, this moment signaled a turning point in Rasta recognition worldwide. When “Rastaman Vibration,” Marley’s 1976 album was released a short time later, he effectively became the biggest-selling artist in the third world. With his acknowledged acceptance of a new kind of Rastafarian faith on the album, one involving the Twelve Tribes of Israel, as well as including a recorded message from Haile Selassie entitled “War,” Bob was extremely outspoken in his beliefs. As it would be later revealed, nefarious individuals within the United States’ government were assessing Marley as a grave potential threat to the stability of the Caribbean.

Kingston, Jamaica in 1976 was a hotbed of violence and corruption. Manley’s police would regularly fire shots into shantytown neighborhoods. Snipers commonly strafed unwitting schoolyards and community centers. It was suspected Edward Seaga’s JLP was inciting unrest amongst his factions in West Kingston. The general election was slated for December, and both the PNP and JLP were unsure which party Marley would champion. As the voice of the Rastas, it was pivotal to earn his favor, either by friendly or threatening means. When Bob and his soccer buddy, Skilly Cole, accompanied JLP strongman Claudie Massop on a day at the races over at Caymanas track, Rastas and the PNP felt Marley might be making a statement. In October, a few of Manley’s thugs appeared at Bob’s Hope Road home, suggesting the famed musician hold a free concert just before the elections in order to quell the violent atmosphere around Jamaica. Labeling the event as “Smile Jamaica,” Don Taylor suggested it be held at Jamaica House, Prime Minister Michael Manley’s office building. JLP associates soon balked at the overt partisanship Marley would be displaying, and so, the venue was changed to the National Heroes Circle, a memorial in honor of less-politically-aligned individuals like Marcus Garvey. This action placated the JLP momentarily, however, Manley’s PNP were aggressive in hanging posters around the island, showcasing the Prime Minister and Marley’s concert.

It was a fact that the United States’ government had kept a close eye on Jamaican politics over the course of Michael Manley’s tumultuous reign. With his socialist ideals and close association with Fidel Castro, the Republican administrations of Nixon and Ford did not disguise their distrust of his party. Their allegiance was more in tune with Edward Seaga’s Westernized, capitalistic JLP. Chris Blackwell was brought into the office of the American ambassador to Jamaica for a discussion about Bob Marley. Blackwell related, “…He said that they were keeping an eye on me, on what I was doing, because I was working with this guy who was capable of destabilizing. They had their eye on him.”

A few weeks before the announcement of the concert, a group of sketchy individuals who regularly hung around Bob’s home concocted a blackmail conspiracy concerning the racetrack at Caymanas. These criminals were former friends of Bob and Rita’s when the couple had lived in the ‘Concrete Jungle’ section of town. Their plan was to kidnap one of the jockeys, threaten his life to throw a few races, and promise him money to leave the country. The deal went down as planned, but some of the criminals skipped the country along with the jockey, absconding with the share of loot slated for their fellow compatriots. The thugs left behind looked to Marley to make up the financial difference in their losses, since the scam had been hatched on his property. They even threatened his life if he wouldn’t pay. Bob, who had nothing to do with the actual incident, reluctantly agreed to pay out installments. The thugs sent around a courier on select afternoons to collect their scandalous funds.

Meanwhile, Bob completely underwrote the concert himself. He did not want it funded by either political party. Manager Don Taylor flew off to the United States to collect a $143,000 royalty check and to hire a documentary film crew for the event. As a gesture of security against the JLP or other factions, and in light of death threats Bob was receiving, Manley sent over several armed bodyguards with automatic rifles. Calling themselves the “Echo Squad,” they stood guard at Bob’s house night and day. Marley later told Don about an incident that occurred while Taylor was away in America. “…The other day a white boy came here and told me that if I do not tone down my blood claat lyrics and if me no stop tek weh, the white people them from America, them a go tek weh me visa and me can’t go to America again.” As related in his autobiography, Taylor asked Marley how he replied to the threatening Caucasian. “I told him tek yu blood claat out of my yard, before me lick yu up. You should see the white man run out of Hope Road lie a madman into his car and speed away.” It was suspected that the man had an affiliation with the CIA.

The “Smile Jamaica” concert was slated for December 5, 1976. During the week prior to the event, when the bodyguards roamed the Marley front lawn, the ‘Concrete Jungle’ thugs were unable to get their courier through to pick up payments. On Friday, December 3rd, two days before the event, Bob Marley and his Wailers rehearsed some songs for the upcoming concert on the side porch of his 56 Hope Road home. The group broke for a rest around 8:30pm, and band members moved about the house and property relishing the downtime. Don Taylor, back from Miami, and having just met with Chris Blackwell about the concert, drove through the Hope Road home’s driveway gates. Behind him, two white Datsuns quietly drove into the property. At approximately 8:45, Seeco Patterson, the groups’ percussionist, peered out the window and noticed the “Echo Squad” bodyguards were nowhere in sight. At that moment, Don Taylor was entering the kitchen, and spotted Marley at the counter, slicing a grapefruit open for himself.

“I told him I wanted to speak with him and that I would also like a piece of grapefruit,” Taylor later wrote in his autobiography. “He beckoned me to come and get it. Just then, as I reached for the grapefruit, I heard a sound like firecrackers. It was Christmas in Jamaica. Firecrackers at this time of the year are a common background noise. I paid little attention. Bob, however, looked startled and asked, ‘Who the blood claat a bus firecracker in mi yard?” At that very moment, the seven or so gunmen from the ‘Concrete Jungle’ had encircled the house and were blasting away with automatic rifles and pistols. “Before he could finish the sentence,” Taylor continued, “the kitchen was shattered by an ominous and repetitious ‘rat-ta-tat, rat-ta-tat’ sound. Suddenly, I felt a strange burning sensation, and even before I realized that I had been shot, my body went limp and I pitched forward onto Bob, whose only exclamation was, ‘Selassie I Jah Rastafari.”

A gunman with an automatic rifle had come in through the back kitchen door. Seeco Patterson ran right past him. He squeezed off 8 shots in the general direction of Marley and Taylor. One hit the counter, another went into the ceiling, but five drove into Taylor’s backside and one ricocheted off Marley’s chest, leaving a crease and burrowed into his left arm. Throughout the incredible firestorm, Bob flashed upon something that had mystically come to him in an earlier dream. “It hurt me on one arm on one night, but me feel the vibes, me know something was going to happen,” he later recalled. “Me not know exactly what. So when one night I go to bed and in the night my vision say me in a barrage of gun-shot, but me can’t see who fires the shot, and me like against the wall amid pure gunshot fire. But me not get shot. When me wake up, me start to think about me vision and realize it very serious vision, so me talk with the brethren about it. Here I was, and when I first heard gun-shot outside, me jump and think to run, but remember vision – in vision, don’t run. I must stay, don’t run.”

“I recall Bob holding me up in front of him while the shooting continued,” Taylor wrote. “When the hail of fire had finally stopped, he let me go, and I tumbled onto the floor, unconscious. Everything had happened as if in a dream.” In all, 56 bullets had been fired at the house. Bob’s friend Lewis Griffith was shot in the stomach. The only other person in the house to have been injured in the firefight was Rita. She had tried to make her way across the front lawn with her children and a visiting reporter when she was literally lifted off her feet with a bullet to the head. The slug did not smash through her cranium but instead lodged between her scalp and skull. A police car passing by frightened off the gunmen, who leapt into their Datsuns, careening at top speed down the street. Marley and others hurriedly brought the cops into the house. “I regained consciousness,” Taylor recalled, “and found myself crumpled on the floor of the kitchen, amid a ghastly silence. Gradually, I could hear quarreling voices. I heard Bob say, ‘They shoot up Don Taylor, Don Taylor dead or something.’ The Rastafarians were arguing and refusing to lift me up off the floor because they objected to handling ‘deaders.’ I tried to say something but could not speak.”

Bob and the policemen carried Taylor, whose aorta was open, furiously releasing precious blood, to the backseat of a squad car. He and the Marleys rode to nearby University Hospital. Michael Manley met them in the emergency room. Bob was treated immediately and released. Rita underwent surgery to remove the bullet from her scalp as did Lewis Griffith. Don Taylor lay on a stretcher, unable to move whatsoever. He heard a nurse refer to him as being dead. His vocal muscles would not let him get out a scream, let alone a whisper. An orderly wheeled Don on a metal gurney to the door of the morgue. Mercifully, an intern passing by asked to examine Don, and suddenly gasped, “This man is not dead, he is alive!” Immediately wheeled into the emergency room, Taylor needed a blood transfusion, but the nurse who had the key to the facility’s blood bank was away at a Christmas party. He blacked out and awoke to see Prime Minister Manley and his wife standing sorrowfully over him. A bullet was lodged near his spine, and the doctors’ limited expertise at the hospital made it impossible for them to remove the slug. Chris Blackwell paid to have Taylor flown to Miami’s Veteran’s Administration Hospital to have it extracted.

Bob was taken to one of Chris Blackwell’s private enclaves high in Jamaica’s Blue Mountains, escorted by Manley’s police squad and kept under constant watch that weekend. Very few people knew of his whereabouts. Singer Roberta Flack, who had flown in for the “Smile Jamaica” concert was driven up to the hideout. One member of the documentary film crew, whom Don Taylor had hired in the United States, made it up to the encampment. However, he wandered in without his camera. His name was Carl Colby. Suspiciously enough, he happened to be the son of CIA director, William Colby.

As the Marley contingent spent the weekend recovering from the shock, Bob debated whether to appear at the concert or not. He certainly didn’t wish to cave in to violent overtures, and if the attack was politically motivated, it was all the more reason to attend the performance. Manley’s cabinet minister, Tony Spaulding showed up at the hideaway on Sunday, December 5th, the day of the concert, trying to persuade Bob to appear. The event was already underway, and they could hear via walkie-talkie, the support at the National Heroes Circle of the 80,000 fans who had turned out to hear their reggae leader. “At that moment, Bob’s wife, who had fled the hospital in her hospital gown and a bloody bandage on her head and a bullet still in her forehead in a stolen car, showed up…,” road manager Roger Steffens later recalled to FFWD Weekly. “Bob grabbed her as she got out of the car, put her in the back seat of the police chief’s car and said, ‘We’re going to do a song.’

The motorcade threaded its way into the center of Kingston and onto the festival site. The crowd cheered thunderously, as Michael Manley greeted Bob onstage and hugged him. Marley turned to the audience and said, “When me decided ta do dis yere concert two anna ‘alf months ago, me was told dere was no politics. I jus’ wanted ta play fe da love of da people.” Because of his arm wound, he could not hold his guitar and told the crowd that he would only be able to perform one song. He and the Wailers launched into “War,” the Haile Selassie-inspired revolutionary call to arms. Overwhelmed and energized by the cacophonous applause, the band continued on for another 90 minutes. “It was one of those most amazing moments in musical history of this past century,” Roger Steffens told FFWD. “It was the weekend that Bob went from pop star to shamen.”

As to the identity of the actual gunmen, speculation has mostly fallen on the individuals mixed up in the ‘Concrete Jungle’ gang and their racetrack scam. It is highly-rumored that all of the gunmen met their deaths shortly after the incident. One was killed in New York, another was found hanging from a tree in St. Catherine’s, Jamaica, while others simply went missing, permanently. Questions remain, however, as to what exactly their motivations were and perhaps, who might have ordered their assault. The JLP and Edward Seaga faced another election, and they were well behind Manley in the polls. A seemingly-buddy-buddy friendship Manley had fostered with Marley worked to the JLP’s detriment. Silencing him before his PNP-backed concert might throw the party into disarray. But the more likely scenario concerned the PNP using Marley as a pawn.

The CIA seemed to feel that the PNP were using Marley for their own purposes. A telegram sent to the CIA from the American embassy in Kingston was later given to Neville Garrick, an artist who painted Marley’s album covers, under the Freedom of Information Act in 1983. As author Timothy White revealed, it read in part: “The concert was part of People’s National Party (PNP) election campaign and was scheduled to coincide with the Jamaica Labour Party’s (JLP) release of its long-awaited manifesto – to the detriment of news, time, and public attention for the latter. Rumors abound as to the motivation for the shooting. Some see the incident as an attempt by JLP gunmen to halt the concert which would feature the ‘politically progressive’ music of Marley and other reggae stars. Others see it as a deep-laid plot to create a progressive, youthful Jamaican martyr – to the benefit of the PNP…”

Whether Marley had died or if he had performed, he would have been helping the PNP’s cause either way. It is a mystery, of course, that Manley’s armed bodyguards conveniently disappeared from Marley’s property minutes before the attack. Since the CIA and Washington were very sympathetic to the JLP, it’s unlikely they would have funded a plot to kill Marley in order to make him a martyr to the PNP platform. Instead, it appears they sent an agent by to try to talk him out of the performance, and later, might’ve even tried to keep tabs on him with Colby’s son showing up at his hideout. Asked in 1977 if he knew who shot him, Marley responded succinctly, “Yeah, but dat top secret. Really top secret.” He reflected further on his lack of malice about the whole incident in 1978. “It was a miracle. The whole thing was a miracle. No one sees who, no one catches who, and is a miracle that me get saved. So everyone get the miracle, mon.” On December 16, 1976, a week and a half after the concert, Michael Manley and his PNP party won the election.

Marley subsequently stayed away from Jamaica for the better part of the next year. He traveled to various cities and recorded the album “Exodus” in London. While in Paris in 1977, playing a little soccer with friends, he exacerbated an injury on his big toe that he’d previously wounded two years earlier. The toenail came off, and once his digit was examined, he was informed that he had cancer. Melanoma to be exact. Bob’s distrust of the medical community led him to seek holistic treatments over the next few years. Rumors to this day purport that he was somehow injected with the cancer as a part of a CIA plot to eliminate him. The debate is an ongoing source of highly-speculative fare on television and the Internet. Dr. Lowell B. Taubman M.D., a devoted Marley fan and melanoma specialist, recently told interviewer Peter Grimes, “…To the best of my knowledge, it is not possible. I will try to simplify this. If I give you a piece of my tissue to you, your body will reject it. So you cannot take cancer from one person and inject it into another person…In 1977, when Bob developed his melanoma, tissue rejection and transplantation was a new field of science. If Bob was injected with melanoma, his body would not have recognized it, thereby it would be walled off, so it would not spread.”

On the flipside, conspiracy theorists contend that the billions the American government spends in covert operations and technologies makes it extremely possible that they might have had a way to eliminate their Rasta foe. The Covert Action Quarterly in Winter 1991 contained an article by Richard Hatch who purported that the CIA, in close connection with the National Cancer Institute, had been conducting experiments revolving around aerosol distribution of carcinogenic viruses as early as 1970, for applications in biological warfare. A Dr. Richard Griesemer at Ohio State University, working in conjunction with the two government agencies, allegedly was successful in introducing tumors to mice and monkeys via aerosol transmission beginning in 1965. JFK conspiracy speculators have always felt that this is how Jack Ruby contracted cancer behind bars in prison. Griesemer later went on to conduct human radiation experiments under the umbrella of the Department of Energy.

All the same, Marley began to suffer and decline in health from the ill-effects of his disease. While in London and Miami, he had been approached jointly by both Seaga and Manley’s strongmen, Bucky Marshall and Claudie Massop, to take part in a “One Love Peace Concert” being held in Kingston on April 22, 1978. Bob agreed, and appeared that day before 30,000 fans. He beckoned both Edward Seaga and Michael Manley onstage and brought their hands together into a united shake above his head, symbolizing his strong desire for peace in the island nation. On June 15, 1978, Marley was awarded the Peace Medal of the Third World from the United Nations.

But peace was an ideal and not the natural state of affairs in both Jamaican politics and street life by the end of the decade. Nine months after the One Love Peace Concert, Claudie Massop, along with two other JLP cronies were pulled over by police and executed. Street legend around the island has always held that Marley once prophesied that his primary attacker would one day be cut down by the same number of bullets fired upon him in 1976. The myth-spreaders contend that Massop was riddled with 56 bullets. PNP’s henchman, Bucky Marshall was shot to death at a reggae gathering in New York City in May 1980. During the election period on the island later that year, violence invaded the shantytowns of Jamaica to one of its all-time highs. Factions supporting both Manley’s PNP and Seaga’s JLP took to the streets, spreading mayhem that escalated to an official death toll of 750. It was rumored that the CIA, in conjunction with the incoming right-wing Republican president Ronald Reagan, were eager to get JLP and Seaga into office at any cost. Marley allegedly learned that he would be killed if he tried to enter Jamaica after his world tour before the polls closed on election day. The Rastas were disgusted with both parties, but especially disdainful of the new chief warlord in D.C. To them, the number of letters in Ronald Wilson Reagan’s name, 6-6-6, only confirmed that he truly was the antiChrist incarnate. Seaga won the election that year.

Marley would not live much longer into the new decade. On May 11, 1981, he passed away from the cancer that had voraciously spread throughout his frail frame. Both Seaga and Manley attended his massive funeral. Despite his wish for peace and non-violence, Jamaica’s history raged on with incidents of bloodshed and instability well into the 1990s. Marley’s agreement with Gandhi’s postulate, “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind,” would seemingly go unheeded. But the reggae prophet had planted a seed through his music. His reflections on the dignity of black men and women, on the validity of Africa being a sacred continent, and his desire for one-blood, a view of the world as nonracial, carry on in the strains of his melodic, insightful songs. Like all Rastas, he believed in Word/Sound/Power. That is, if you combine visionary words with embracing sounds, it will result in world-transforming power. He referred to this phenomenon as “Chant-down Babylon.” Taking down the establishment. His work remains as a living inspiration to new generations of impoverished, downtrodden individuals who seek a powerful voice to shatter the forces that seek to bury their spirit.

© 2001 Ned Truslow

January 2, 2015

Management, Music, and Misery: Badfinger Signs Their Life Away

Perhaps nowhere in the history of rock has a band been so close to grasping the brass ring of success and crashed back to earth in such tragic disarray. The story of Badfinger is one of wide-eyed innocence being burned by the ugliest manifestations of evil, that of greed and indifference. While their career was launched with all the cache necessary to achieve great heights, the four members of this mild-mannered British group signed their lives over to one man who effectively snuffed out their flame. Talent was all they could rely on in their darkest hours. And Badfinger had talent to burn.

The band had its roots in the cold, wet environs of Swansea, Wales. Pete Ham was a sensitive lad who showed an affinity for the guitar at an early age. He immersed himself in the local music scene, playing in a succession of bands from the late ‘50s into the early ‘60s. As rock ‘n’ roll swept the nation, he and his mates got more gigs at clubs in neighboring cities. When their bassist quit, local lad Ron Griffiths joined Pete’s group. After tossing about various names, Griffiths came up with the moniker The Iveys, based in part on their love of the Hollies’ song “Poison Ivy.” Drummer Mike Gibbins soon hooked up with The Iveys in 1965.

When the group played a local ballroom in 1966, a man named Bill Collins was in the audience. This woodworker and engineer had been a pianist for several dance bands throughout the 1930s. His interest in the sparkling tunes, many originally written by the band members themselves, prompted him to offer his services in managing The Iveys. Over thirty years their senior, Collins came to be seen as a protective father figure in their struggle for success, and he allowed the boys to live at his London home. The atmosphere around this abode was conducive to constant rehearsing and youthful shenanigans.

When the group’s guitarist announced he was leaving, the Iveys looked to a Liverpool guitarist named Tom Evans, who played in another band called The Calderstones, to join their ranks in the summer of 1967. Evans had grown up in a very musical family, and his fascination with rock ‘n’ roll left him with a burning desire to be in a band. As a young teen, he had caught the Beatles at a performance in Liverpool’s Cavern Club shortly after their second trip to Hamburg. Evans soon moved into Bill Collin’s house, and The Iveys rehearsed, recorded in the front living room, and toured incessantly.

Collins was an acquaintance of the Beatles’ road manager, Mal Evans, and one day, he accompanied Evans to a recording session at Abbey Road Studios. There, he met Paul McCartney and struck up a conversation about The Iveys. McCartney expressed interest in hearing some of this new band’s tunes. In 1968, the Fab Four formed their business venture, Apple Records, and were soliciting anyone and everyone to send in their music for possible recording deals. Mal Evans was extremely keen on bringing The Iveys to Apple. After many demos were sent to the staff, Apple Records finally conceded that The Iveys had what it took to be on their label. The Apple contract they signed basically agreed to split the publishing share of their songs with Apple and The Iveys could keep their writer’s share. Bill Collins essentially became the fifth member of the band, and all agreed to split the monies equally between themselves. It was a glorious moment for the four naïve rockers from Northern England. The Iveys went from playing small gigs in London clubs to being represented by the greatest musicians on the planet practically overnight.

The band set to work immediately, strumming through the vast assortment of tunes they’d written over the last few years at their new upscale recording studio. One particular song, “Maybe Tomorrow,” seemed to strike a chord with their new-found mentors. Tom Evans told interviewer Glen Baker, “I remember Paul McCartney comin’ down the stairs at Apple saying, ‘I think you got a hit record there.” The single was released in late November 1968, but fared poorly on the British record chart and only reached number 67 on the American chart. Apple, nonetheless, warily continued to support The Iveys. Tom said at the time, “The Beatles bought our gear for us, all the equipment and the group van, and we’ve had all sorts of concessions…all we need now is a hit single, or even just a new single, hit or not, and we’ll be happy.”

As a result of a changeover in Beatle management under New Yorker Allen Klein, Apple was in a state of disarray and put The Ivey’s first LP, “Maybe Tomorrow” into limited release in countries like Germany and Italy. Hope for a hit single seemed to diminish. But, suddenly, the band got a boost from Mr. McCartney. Having been contacted to contribute songs for the British film “The Magic Christian,” McCartney realized he did not have enough of his time to give to that effort while he was in the midst of putting together the “Abbey Road” album. He offered The Iveys the job and played them a song he’d written for the main theme of the movie. “Come And Get It” turned out to be the hit Tom Evans and the others were pining for.

Meanwhile, a transition took place in the group. Bassist Ron Griffith, who had been with Pete Ham from the start back in the mid-60s, had just become a new dad. After barely-veiled needling from Tom Evans, Griffith reluctantly resigned and moved his family to another town, where he became a factory worker. The group, at this time, was also bandying about ideas for a name change. Evans told Glenn Baker, “We used to come out with lists and lists everyday, everyone had to write a hundred names out, you know. It was like being in school…we’d hone them down to 20 everyday.” Paul McCartney wanted to call them Home. John Lennon was chiming in with Prix. It was Apple’s executive, Neil Aspinall, who suggested Badfinger. He remembered a moment when John Lennon was playing a riff on the piano with a bad finger and had christened the ditty “Bad Finger Boogie.” Pete Ham, Tom Evans, and Mike Gibbins all accepted the new moniker and became collectively known as Badfinger. Now they just needed a new bass player.

Joey Molland had been playing guitar in bands since his grammar school days in Liverpool. He had been a member of groups like The Masterminds and Gary Walker and The Rain. His agent encouraged him to join the newly-named Badfinger. To accommodate Molland, who didn’t play bass, Tom Evans relinquished the rhythm guitar slot to Joey and took up the Hofner. “Come and Get It” was rising into Britain’s Top Five and Badfinger’s debut album “Magic Christian Music” peaked at number 4 on the U.K. chart. In America, “Come and Get It” reached number 7 on the Billboard chart. The boys of Badfinger were dazzled by their good fortune, as Mike Gibbins later summed up to VH-1, “It was Alice in Wonderland for us, come on!”

Bill Collins had acted as the group’s manager throughout their Ivey days, but now, as Badfinger, the band was gaining global recognition, and Collins’ business savvy was not very well informed when it came to the American market. Through a mutual friend, while on a trip to the U.S., Collins was introduced to music business manager Stan Polley. Polley was a New Yorker who had come up primarily through the garment trade, having practiced law along the way. His clients included Al Kooper, formerly of Blood, Sweat, & Tears, and singer Lou Christie (“Lightning Strikes”). Badfinger met Polley shortly thereafter and agreed to have him set up their debut tour across America in September 1970. Mike told VH-1, “My first impression of Stan was ‘he’s a powerful guy.’ Joey gave this observation: “He’s a real kind of ‘Dad’-kind of person, you know, ‘father’ kind of person.” A father usually has the best interest of his children in mind. Stan Polley turned out to be Badfinger’s nightmare papa.

The band’s next single “No Matter What” was released on October 12, 1970, while they were on their first tour of the U.S. Written by the group’s unofficial leader, Pete Ham, the solid rocker has endured on classic rock stations ever since. At the time, it rose to number 8 on the Billboard chart and number 5 in Britain. The group’s second album “No Dice” peaked at Billboard’s number 28. The band appeared to be on their way to a prosperous and creative career.

Polley spied those looming dollar signs on their horizon and wooed Badfinger while they were in New York. Mike Gibbins told author Dan Matovina, “You couldn’t help but like Polley. He could sell sand to an Arab; he was that good.” Gibbons, Ham, and Molland wound up signing a contract. It basically stipulated that Polley would receive 30% gross of all Badfinger revenue. Most managers take 5 or 10 percent. The boys in Badfinger were on a speedboat ride and didn’t stop to worry about the shark in their midst. Tom Evans was the only group holdout. That is, until Polley presented him with a new Porsche. Evans quickly scribbled his signature on the dotted line.

Polley set up a company called Badfinger Enterprises, Inc. (BEI), and attached Stan Poses to run the British end of it. His idea centered around the group putting all of their earnings into the company. Polley would then give them a salary. He’d manage their taxes, offer stock options, and find investments. Polley, of course, owned the majority of stock in the new endeavor. According to author Matovina, a friend of the band’s said, “Pete was very excited when they signed with the manager from New York. He said he had a few big stars on his books. He felt he wouldn’t have to worry about money, that this fellow was going to take care of it all.”

Badfinger went back into the studio around the start of 1971. Kathie Wiggins, a girl Joey Molland had met while the band played Minnesota, flew to England and moved in with everyone at Bill Collins’ home. A new tension seemed to be introduced into the makeup of their tight unit. Band friend Brian Slater told author Dan Matovina, “Prior to Kathie, Joey Molland was a fun-loving guy who had no responsibility, didn’t want any. Everyone liked him, he was good-time, good-laugh Joey. He became very serious and very heavy after Kathie came ‘round.” Funds were scarce still, adding further to the tension. While on their second tour of America in the spring of 1971, Pete Ham told Rolling Stone magazine about the drawbacks sudden success can bring. “Business, it’s the big problem,” he related. “The only really big problem is business – money.” The band’s pittance of a salary from their new management barely paid for their cigarettes and meals. Kathie Wiggins (later Kathie Molland) observed on VH-1, “They had no clue about what they were doing. ‘Cause these guys had hit records, and they didn’t have a fridge, and they didn’t have a TV.”

Undaunted, the boys genuinely liked performing their songs to audiences, and most fans related to their easygoing, highly-melodic structures. The group’s next album, “Straight Up,” would contain two hit songs that were partially shaped by life on the road. While in Kansas, Pete Ham met a girl backstage who he subsequently brought along for the rest of the tour. Her name was Dixie, and she is the primary character (“my Dixie dear”) of Pete’s top 20 song “Baby Blue.” While Dixie was just a fling, Pete truly missed his ex-girlfriend Beverly, whom he had been with for over five years. Thinking of her, he wrote the wistful rock classic “Day After Day,” a single that went to number 4 on the Billboard chart.

Both of these songs had been produced, at varying periods in the studio, by Todd Rundgren and George Harrison. Harrison had always appreciated the band ever since they signed to Apple as The Iveys, and he wound up having them contribute as backing artists to his “All Things Must Pass” album. As another indicator of his great regard for their musicianship, Harrison asked them to participate in his landmark Concert For Bangladesh at Madison Square Garden on August 1, 1971. With practically no rehearsal, Pete Ham stood up front beside George onstage strumming and singing together on “Here Comes The Sun.” Sharing the limelight with legends like Leon Russell and Bob Dylan, the Badfinger boys truly thought they’d “arrived.”

After the Bangladesh concert, Stan Polley showed up in England, took the boys to a fancy dinner, and regaled them with scenarios of how much money was their’s for the taking just over the horizon. Polley’s wife stayed behind at the hotel with the mother of Ian Ferguson, the band’s roadie. As related to author Dan Matovina, Ian’s mom later told Ian, “Stan Polley’s wife was talking to me and she said, ‘You’ve got to get the boys away from my husband. He’s not good for them.’ Ian related the comment to the band, but they didn’t act on these sage words of advice. After all the notoriety and record sales that had graced the group, they still lived in the cramped quarters of Bill Collins’ house. None of the band members were allowed to see their tax statements. Joey Molland related his financial concerns to New Musical Express magazine in February 1972: “I keep reading about groups buying houses for thousands of pounds and I just don’t know how they do it. I certainly couldn’t afford to buy an 80,000 pound house; I’ll be lucky if I can get one for 5,000 pounds.”

While Mike Gibbins was a solid drummer and Joey Molland preferred straight-forward rock ‘n’ roll, Tom Evans and Pete Ham were the Lennon/McCartney of Badfinger. The songs they crafted were harmonious and skillfully executed. Delve into any number of their tunes from their seven albums that they worked on together, and one is bound to find a truly worthy gem to cover. For singer Harry Nilsson, such was the case with Tom and Pete’s “Without You.”

Released on Badfinger’s second album, “No Dice,” the song “Without You” was not issued as a single for the group. But while they were working on the “Straight Up” album, singer Harry Nilsson strolled into their studio and took them to a nearby mixing room. He played his version of “Without You” for them, complete with string accompaniment. Tom Evans told interviewer Glenn Baker, “That really showed me what you can do with a song production-wise and with a good singer, ya know? It just blew me away.” The band members were surprised that Nilsson was so interested in their song. Evans related that Nilsson said, ‘To tell you the truth, we came to England to do this album with just this one song. We didn’t have any other songs…We built this album around this song, he said. I said, ‘Well, I thought it was corny.’ He said, ‘Well, what do ya think of it now?’ Tom incisively concluded from the experience, “That’s why I don’t mind ballads anymore!” Nilsson’s impassioned version of “Without You” topped the Billboard chart for four weeks in March 1972.

By the fall of 1972, the foundation of Apple Records was shaking apart. Lawsuits and management woes, along with the messy dissolution of The Beatles, sent the fabled record label down the road to massive reorganization. Badfinger’s next album for Apple was recorded in early 1973 but was placed on hold while legal wrangling ensued.

Stan Polley decided to pounce on the weakness and shop his superstar band around to potential bidders. The giant conglomerate Warner Bros. Records was interested. A contract was drawn up that essentially called for the band to deliver six albums over a three-year period. A $225,000 advance would be given to BEI for each album delivered. $500,000 of this advance money was placed into escrow, in an account BEI could withdraw from at the designated period of delivery. Polley enticed the boys of Badfinger with that guarantee of $3 million dollars for those six albums. Stan Poses, Polley’s right-hand man in Britain, became fed up with his boss. He told VH-1, “I called up Peter and I called up Tommy, and I said, ‘My decision is I’m not going to be involved in this situation. Go to your meetings next week and just refuse to sign any management papers.”

Polley was a very persuasive man. Faced with thick pages of legal documentation, the members of Badfinger once again placed their blind faith in Polley and accepted the deal. Poses left his association with Polley behind. Poses had come to believe in the reports that Stan Polley had ties with organized crime. A federal trial involving the investigation of a New York State Supreme Court Justice, who was allegedly taking bribes, uncovered Stan Polley as being one of the purported bagmen who delivered the money. The case subsequently fizzled in the courts.

Polley intimidated anyone who dared to make demands. His client Lou Christie related to author Dan Matovina that Polley “used to tell me, ‘If anybody tries to get anything from me, I’ll take their eyeballs out of their head.’ That was his famous line. I thought, ‘My God! This guy has all of my money and he’s threatening me – in his own way. He could wipe me out, he’s got control of everything. And I had none of my contracts. He kept all of them in his office.”

In order to get dibs on that advance money, Polley rushed the boys back into the studio during the summer of 1973 to record their first album for Warner Bros. Even though they were ill-prepared, all of the members of the band came up with their high standard of song craftsmanship. But clearly, the mood had darkened. “This cloud moved in very quickly and hung over the band during almost the entire time I dealt with them at Warner Bros.,” Joe Smith, former president of the record company told VH-1. “They weren’t getting their money, they felt that they were trapped. They had sold their birthright, their talent to write songs and perform.”

By this point, their former ‘protector,’ Bill Collins, could no longer help the group out. He was in way over his head in trying to effectively combat the machinations set in motion by Badfinger’s New York management. When the final Apple Record was released in November 1973, its cover art depicted how the band felt in their business dealings. A donkey with headphones stands mesmerized by a giant carrot being held before it in the sky. The album was called “Ass.” Not only did the record not yield any notable singles, it practically collided with the release of the band’s first Warner Bros. album, self-titled “Badfinger,” in February 1974. It seemed like their manager could’ve cared less about the canceling effect both albums would have on each other. Joey Molland spewed on VH-1, “It was a stupid thing to do. You don’t put two records out at the same time and, you know, fight yourself. You’re fighting everybody else!”

Warner Bros. was not only concerned about the poor record sales, but their lawyers began to wonder where $100,000 of the escrow money they’d given BEI to place had disappeared to. Stan Polley remained ‘mum’ about its whereabouts. With the members of Badfinger completely in the red and in debt to him, Polley effectively forced the band to sign over half their gross publishing income to BEI. He then sent them to the Caribou recording studios in Colorado to lay down yet another album in the spring of 1974.

Tom Evans had always been suspicious of Stan Polley. He constantly was urging friends to do some digging for him, to investigate Polley. Mike was aware of their dire straits and was leaning towards instigating some sort of severance from the manager. But Pete Ham, the sensitive gentle soul of the group, was hard to sway on his notion of the inherent good will in people. “Peter was the type of person who if he put his trust in someone, he would feel humiliated if he was wrong, you know,” Tom told Glenn Baker. “He was a very stubborn type of guy.” After Polley showed up at their Colorado studio to have the band sign some more papers, Kathie Molland finally blew her stack. “I took a jar of peanuts, and I threw it at Pete’s head,” she related to VH-1. “I was so mad at him. I said, ‘When are you gonna wake up and realize this guy is screwing you!”

After the band finished up this new album, titled “Wish You Were Here,” in July 1974, everyone took a break for a month. In September the band got together for rehearsals to prepare for an upcoming tour. Kathie’s outspokenness in the band had grated on the other member’s nerves, except, of course, for her husband Joey. Mike told interviewer Sean Siever, “She was trying to manage the band, and she was giving people advice, and she was making phone calls, and she was actually trying to do deals.” Pete felt enough was enough with the Mollands, and he quit the band. Stunned by his departure, Badfinger fretted over whom to replace the band’s strongest songwriter with. Keyboardist Bob Jackson was called in, and he seemed to get along well with everyone involved. But a few weeks later, a humbled Pete appeared back at the studio and profusely apologized, wanting to rejoin the band.

Touring in late September and October 1974, Badfinger returned to London with yet another disgruntled member. This time Joey quit the band. Shortly thereafter, the “Wish You Were Here” album was released with no promotional backing in November. The quaint, talented bunch of wide-eyed scruffs who had once been the cornerstone of The Beatles’ Apple empire, were coming apart at the seams. Stan Polley, at this time, was goading everyone back into the studio for yet another album’s worth of songs. Bob Jackson related the band’s outlook to interviewer Jesper Vindberg: “Tommy and Mike were both very critical of the management’s direction and behavior, whilst Pete still retained optimism that things would work out with them. It later became apparent to me that the management’s only concern had been to get further advances as soon as possible, because of the escalating dispute over the Warners’ escrow account.” Indeed, around the time Badfinger was back in the studio, hurriedly piecing together songs for the next album, Warner Bros. Records filed for recission of their Badfinger publishing contract in Los Angeles.

Because of this legal fallout, “Wish You Were Here,” generally regarded as Badfinger’s finest album, was pulled off store shelves and taken out of pressing a mere two months after its release. The band’s rushed final album’s worth of songs that they had worked on in December, titled “Head First,” was withheld from release entirely. (“Head First” finally made it to CD in November 2000). As with the majority of their songs, the tunes contained on the “Head First” album were highly autobiographical. Tom Evans vented his frustrations with management on two songs, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Contract” and “Hey, Mr. Manager.” In the first song, Evans sang, “Wrapped up in a rock ‘n’ roll contract/Lots of things I had to sign at the time/Man told me not to worry ‘bout the business/Just keep on poppin’ those hits.”

Stan Polley had milked all he could from his cash cow called Badfinger. Musician and former client Al Kooper told author Dan Matovina, “When Stan Polley saw what he perceived as an end to my career, he abandoned me, too. He said, ‘I’m not sending you any more money’…At the end, when we finally parted ways, with all my contracts in the company names, all my money ended up going to him. And there was absolutely nothing I could do about it.”

This is the legacy Polley left behind concerning his association with Badfinger. Mike Gibbins ranted to interviewer Dennis Dalcin, “Badfinger was left with no band and no contract. And our manager, who had all our money, was like…incognito. We didn’t even have a phone number for the guy. So all the Badfinger enterprise money, which was in America, was distributed throughout his little companies and hidden!…It’s a horror story…”

A few thousand pounds in a royalty check trickled into Pete’s hands around January of 1975. It was likely the most money he had seen at any one time during the rocketing rise and fall of his band. Together with his new girlfriend, Ian Ferguson’s estranged wife Ann and her son Blair, the threesome found a home to put money down on. It was a few doors away from Tom Evans’ abode. A small canal ran behind both properties in this quiet country setting. Pete tried to unwind in the first few months of 1975, to clear his head, and he focused what little attention he could muster on Ann and Blair. Ann was pregnant with Pete’s child.

By mid-April 1975, Pete’s bank account was overdrawn. He phoned the Polley’s management company in the U.S. weekly, but was never able to reach his manager. Finally, for Pete Ham, he realized that he had been horrendously abused in his business dealings. He became very despondent and started to drink heavily. With no income whatsoever, the band couldn’t even afford any money for touring equipment to try to go back on the road. Their livelihood, all they ever knew, and what they were so talented at, had been completely decimated. Pete wrote a few songs during that month. One was called “Ringside.” The lyrics mirrored the anguish he felt: “Take your seat by the ringside/Watch them bidding for your blood/Who will own you tomorrow?/Will you be misunderstood/Take me back to the father/Take me, take me, take me home/For I can’t bear to feel the sorrow/Of the evil that you’ve shown.”

The baby was almost due. Pete phoned everyday to America during the week of April 20th. Polley could not be reached. On April 23rd, Pete talked with Tom Evans about the possibility of getting Stan Poses, who had left Polley in disgust, to be their new manager. Poses said he was amenable to this arrangement, provided they could extract themselves from Polley without involving Poses. Sometime that evening, a phone call purportedly came in from America to the Ham residence. After Pete hung up, he mumbled something to Anne about all of his money being gone.

He phoned Tom, and the two went to a nearby pub. Arriving at 10:00pm, Pete proceeded to drink about “10 scotches” according to Tom in a half-hour’s time. “He said, ‘Well, I’ve decided, let’s go back to your house and call this guy up (Poses) and tell him ‘it’s all over,” Tom later related to Glenn Baker. Calling the U.S. from Tom’s home, they gave promise to go with Poses. They celebrated with a few more drinks and tinkered with a few songs. Then Tom dropped Pete off back at his own house. As reported by author Dan Matovina, as Pete got out of the car, he said, “Don’t worry, I know a way out.” He banged on top of the car and went inside.

Shortly before 7:00am on the morning of April 24, 1975, Anne Ferguson awoke and found no trace of Pete in the bedroom. Figuring he was in the garage playing his songs, she went outside and knocked on the back door. When no reply came back, she yanked the heavy door open. Pete Ham was hanging from an overhead beam, a noose around his neck, his body half slumped on the floor. A bottle of wine lay open nearby. According to Matovina, Anne couldn’t get the rope off Pete’s neck. She screamed back into the house and phoned Tom, who rushed right over. But it was far too late. Pete Ham had committed suicide at the age of 27.

Beside him was a songbook. Anne found a note inside. It read, “Anne, I love you. Blair I love you. I will not be allowed to love and trust everybody. This is better. P.S. Stan Polley is a soulless bastard. I will take him with me.”

Friends and family reeled from this horrible tragedy. “He was very sensitive to all sorts of things,” Bob Jackson recalled to Jesper Vindberg about Pete. “Too sensitive perhaps, if that’s possible – to the point where he felt the world had let him down. It is this caring attitude that I find so endearing. It was both his strength and his weakness, and I find it a terrible thing that a person as caring as Pete should have been driven to the point of no return…I hope it doesn’t sound weak if I admit that hearing some of Pete’s stuff can easily bring on the tears. What a terrible waste.”

Joey Molland said to Rolling Stone magazine, “I think what brought him down was that he found he didn’t have any money left. His girlfriend’s havin’ a baby inside a month. He’d had a bank account for over ten years and for the first time he was overdrawn.”

Shortly after hearing the news of Pete’s death, Stan Poses came across Stan Polley in a public setting. Poses told VH-1, “I just turned around and I said, ‘You killed my f*****’ friend,’ and I walked away.”

Pete’s death seemed to affect Tom Evan’s the most. “It wrecked him, you know, for quite some time, and I don’t think he ever got over it,” Tom’s brother, David, told VH-1. Tom later told Glenn Baker, “It just put me right off the music business totally.”

Stan Polley purportedly tried to collect on a life insurance policy of $250,000 he had taken out on Pete under the BEI company. He subsequently settled his legal entanglements with Warner Bros. Records.

By the summer of 1975, Joey was already leaping into another band called Natural Gas. The former Apple roadie, Mal Evans, who had been The Iveys first cheerleader, recorded a few demos for Natural Gas. On New Years’ Eve 1975, Mal was inadvertently shot to death by Los Angeles police officers when they responded to a suicide call placed by his girlfriend. Entering Mal’s apartment, the police say they saw him with a gun and were forced to fire. The gun was a model, a Winchester replica.

Mike Gibbins briefly toured with a band called The Flying Aces into 1976, then settled into a job as contract painter.

After having spent time helping a friend in a pipe insulating business, Tom Evans, had a change of heart about the music profession. “Peter didn’t stop anything, he didn’t change anything,” he told Glenn Baker. “So, what the hell, it’s gonna carry on anyway.” He then went on to prophetically say, “I might as well get back in the rut. – well, not the rut. – join it again.” Hooking up with former Badfinger keyboardist Bob Jackson, the two corralled some other musicians to form a band called The Dodgers.

Natural Gas released one album, a solid piece of rocking tunes, which nonetheless did not chart. Joey left the band shortly thereafter. Tom’s drinking was sometimes a hindrance to his work with The Dodgers, and the band abruptly let him go, as they recorded their first album. While Tom soon welcomed the birth of his son Stephen in January 1977, Joey went on to lay carpets for a living in Los Angeles.

In 1978, two musicians from Chicago, drummer Kenny Harck and guitarist Joe Tansin, knocked on Joey’s door one day. They were big Badfinger fans, and inquired as to whether he wanted to start a new group. “Joey didn’t seem like he was in any great hurry to get back into the music business,” Tansin related to interviewer Sean Siever. “He was working as a carpet installer, and he seemed quite happy to do that. But once a musician, always a musician.” In need of a bass player, Joey gave Tom a call. Soon Joey and Tom were calling the shots again, and Tansin and Harck took a backseat to the dealings. The new group found that the name Badfinger was garnering them attention in the record business, so they settled on using the moniker again. Elektra Records signed them and ponied up $100,000 right off the bat.

The band got underway in what was to be a lengthy recording session. Tom Evans was still quite disturbed about the loss of his friend Pete. “One night we sat in the kitchen in the house and Tommy and I, for some reason, started singing a song from “No Dice,” Joe Tansin related to Sean Siever. “It was “Midnight Caller,” the Pete Ham song. I knew the song. I was playing the piano and I started singing a little and Tommy got all choked up. At that point, I really didn’t talk about it or ask him about it very much.”

Midway through recording their new album, “Airwaves,” personality clashes forced Kenny Harck out of the band. Joey and Tom rang up their old drummer chum, Mike Gibbins. As Joe Tansin wryly pointed out in his interview with Siever, “…We had painters, carpet layers, and plumbers. Between all the members of Badfinger we could have actually started our own contracting company. We could have built houses if the “Airwaves” record would have failed.” Mike lasted only a few sessions and was sent back home.

In essence, after it was issued in March of 1979, “Airwaves” did flop. By September, Elektra dropped Badfinger from their roster. A small label in Miami, Florida named Radio Records was getting underway in early 1980, when they offered Joey and Tom $15,000 to record an album for them. Rounding out the pair with three other musicians, the subsequent record, “Say No More,” was released in January of 1981. A single called “Hold On” managed to climb up to number 56 on the Billboard chart, but the whole effort was soon forgotten, and Badfinger disassembled once again.

Joey formed his own Badfinger band, while Tom, Bob Jackson, and Mike Gibbins toured in their own outfit. Both groups fared poorly on the road. The Badfinger group with Tom in it captured its finest moment playing on commercial breaks for a Milwaukee TV horror movie program called “Shock Theater.” From the Concert For Bangladesh to Shock Theater, Badfinger’s star had fallen very far. Tom had unfortunately assigned his publishing and recording royalties to the Milwaukee promoter on his Badfinger songs extending back to his earliest recordings. This agreement would plague Tom’s conscience for the ensuing years.

Around this time, Bill Collins, Joey Molland, and Mike Gibbons were suing Tom Evans to gain a chunk in his and Pete’s writer’s share on the often-covered tune “Without You.” A Minnesota promoter enticed Tom into a disastrous endeavor, with a band called Goodfinger. Joey found slammed doors when he tried touring as Joey Molland and the Spare Parts. Soon Tom was being sued by the former Milwaukee promoter for reneging on gigs for Badfinger and on those royalty payments he had signed over. Tom’s bank account was practically dry. Tom’s drinking worsened.

Drastic mood swings had always been a staple of Tom Evans’ life. Joe Tansin told Sean Siever, “He had a strange personality. There were two sides to him. One side he was a really quiet, introverted guy. The other side, after the booze, he was a complete maniac. Tommy could stand up and take his clothes off and start screaming and singing at the top of his lungs in the middle of a restaurant…He would be testing you all the time to see what you were made out of.” But Tansin continued, “Tommy was a real down-to-earth guy. You know, working class, down-to-earth, no-bulls*** guy. And he had this ability to see through bulls***. Tommy was very unpretentious…He was very under-confident of himself and his abilities. He was modest. And I admired that in him. Because he was truly one of the most talented people I’d ever known and met.”

He was still wrestling over his friend Pete’s death. “Tommy would say, ‘One day, I’ll be up where Peter is. It’s a better place than down here,’ Tom’s wife Marianne told VH-1. During the months of October and November 1983, Tom would drunkenly call his friends, and ramble on, sometimes saying, “I can’t go on.” The night of November 18th found Tom once again on the phone, this time with his old bandmate Joey. The two had a heated argument over Badfinger’s tangled legal and monetary woes. As his wife and a friend came back from a pub, they heard him say, “I’ll be dead before I get the money!” Marianne told VH-1 that Tom’s demeanor suddenly changed. “He was really, really angry and suddenly he got into a happy mood again. Which was strange…a mood swing.”

Tom sat down with Marianne and her friend, and they sang songs. Marianne went to bed shortly after 1:00 that night. On the morning of November 19, 1983, six-year old Stephen Evans awoke and went into his parents’ bedroom, waking his mother. “He said, ‘Where’s Daddy?,’ Marianne related to VH-1. “And then he went outside and he saw his father and he said, ‘There’s a man hanging there, he looks like my Dad.” Tom Evans had hanged himself from a willow tree in the backyard. Like his friend 8½ years before, Tom was in too much anguish to carry on. This time, no suicide note was left behind.

Friend Rod Roach told author Dan Matovina, “Tom felt Pete had been his best friend in the world. But he also had some guilt about Pete’s death. It would come out when he was drunk. He would go to pieces. I think the way he chose to do it was a symbol, a symbol of his grief for Peter.”

Joey Molland, for one, was not very empathetic to the demise of his bandmates. He said in 1987, “It is weird, man, that they just opted out like that. It really pisses me off. Those guys had everything to live for. Both of them. No excuses at all. I’m still very angry at them for doing it.” Joey continues to this day to tour the States in gigs with a band under the name Badfinger.

For drummer Mike Gibbins, he tries to look past the heartache and ugly dealings to remember Badfinger for what it was…a group of talented, big-hearted musicians that crafted fantastic songs. “Most of it was good,” he told Sean Siever in 1998. “We didn’t fight all the time. We were like best of friends and all the rest of it. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have been able to make that music. We were an up-and-coming, functioning, well-adjusted bunch of people. And most of it was good. You can’t foresee people committing suicide and getting ripped off. We weren’t thinking that. We were on a major roll. Most of the memories are good memories. And the music speaks for itself. Leave it there.”

© 2000 Ned Truslow