The Mid-Week Beat: Happy Birthday to Elvis and Bowie!

Happy-Birthday-Elvis-Presley-David-Bowie-elvis-presley-18274375-500-311Today marks the birthdays of two major forces in modern popular music, one has sadly passed on and the other continues to create original and challenging music. I am, of course, referring to the legendary and iconic Elvis Presley and David Bowie.

Elvis Presley was born on this day in 1935 in Tupelo, Mississippi. It was in the Assembly of God church in Tupelo that Elvis first discovered his love for music. He entered a singing contest at the age of ten at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show, winning fifth place, and, a few weeks later, got his first guitar for his birthday. He would take lessons over the following year and would watch and learn from other guitarists but he remained shy and nervous about performing in front of other people.

He eventually began bringing his guitar to school on a daily basis, playing and singing during his lunchtime, despite being teased for playing “hillbilly” music. He became a fan of Mississippi Slim’s radio show on the local radio station WELO, and Slim’s younger brother, who was a classmate of Presley’s, began taking him to the station. Slim begain showing the young Presley guitar chord technique and eventually scheduled him for two on-air performances. He chickened out of the first one but made it to the second.
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The Mid-Week Beat: RIP Lou Reed

lou-reed-lou-reed-31564770-1024-768So, if this was a normal Halloween, I would be writing about all the upcoming Halloween music events but when a musical legend dies, it’s the duty of the music fan to pay tribute. This last Sunday morning, we lost probably one of the most influential musicians of the past 40 years and an artist that had a tremendous impact on me: Lou Reed.

Any fan of “alternative” music owes a huge debt to Reed. Starting his musical career in the era of “free love” and psychedelia, Reed was churning out discordant, droning songs about violence, hard drugs and life on the streets of New York City; far removed from what was going on in hippy meccas like London or San Francisco. Reed believed that rock and roll could push boundaries and challenge audiences just like the literature of the Beat Generation or the art of the avant garde.

Therefore, it’s not surprising that he found a confidante and ally in Andy Warhol, who took Reed’s band the Velvet Underground under his wing, giving them a home at his Factory, an entourage of “superstar” fans and a dark, surreal aesthetic that struck a deep resonating chord for the music fans that would later develop the punk ethos. The famous saying goes that the first Velvet Underground album sold very few copies, but everyone that bought it, formed a band.

After the demise of the Velvet Underground, Reed continued to experiment, creating the proto-industrial record Metal Machine Music, penning probably the first Top 40 hit about transsexuals (“Walk on the Wild Side”) and becoming a major influence and star of the glam rock scene of the early 70s. Of course, by the mid-1970s punk was in full swing and Reed was regularly credited as one of the founders. His songs were covered by bands like Joy Division, The Modern Lovers, Slaughter and the Dogs and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, who all obviously owed a huge debt to Reed and the Velvet Underground.

Reed continued to make challenging music up until his death on Sunday, collaborating with Metallica and the Gorillaz, among others. Needless to say, the music world is a lot emptier without his presence and for this week’s Mid-Week Beat, I thought I’d highlight shows and musicians that owe a debt to Mr. Reed and the music he created. Thanks for everything Lou. We’ll miss you.
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