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One Album Wonders: Mad Season

Posted by Eric Brightwell, November 2, 2015 02:31pm | Post a Comment

The Scientists were likely both grunge's inventors and the genre's first supergroup (members had previously played in Cheap Nasties, Slick City Boys, and Victims). However, if one hears “grunge supergroup” they more likely think of Temple of the Dog, a one album wonder the members of which had previously played in Seattle grunge bands including Soundgarden, Green River, and Skin Yard (as well as the not-really-grunge one album wonders Mother Love Bone and not-at-all Seattle - since they were from San Diego - Bad Radio). Mad Season, when they're remembered, are that other grunge supergroup. 
 
Mad Season's Above


Mad Season arrived pretty late on the scene, toward the end of 1994. In April of that year, Kurt Cobain had killed himself but alternative and music had by then long ceased to be anything remotely underground and was resolutely mainstream. In 1992, MTV had replaced 120 Minutes host Dave Kendall with, Lewis Largent and the program, which had previously showcased a host of bands playing diverse music became a parade of bands whose members dressed like Largent, in shorts, combat boots, flannel, and backwards baseball cap. If that wasn't mainstream enough, MTV also launched the ironically named Alternative Nation as a showcase for the manufactured corporate guitar rock favored by soulful dudebros (eg Candlebox and Stone Temple Pilots).
 

In 1993 Marc Jacobs had served up grunge realness on the catwalk for Perry Ellis -- five years after Martin Margiela had pretty much done the same thing, serving up a fantasy of homeless fashion for the one percent. By 1994 pre-ripped jeans and combat boots were part of a uniform adopted by the knavescene and celebrities like Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp, and Keanu Reeves. Their female counterparts, such as emaciated supermodel Kate Moss,  were used to promote heroin chic. After not having heard any interesting new American rock in what seemed like forever, I gave up on it. I would hear the names of new bands, including Toadies, Seven Mary Three, Sky Cries Mary, Jars of Clay, Primitive Radio Gods, Eels, DC Talk, Duncan Sheik, Sister Hazel, Local H, and more. All would have their champions but like every Steven Spielberg movie since Raiders of the Lost Ark, if I gave any a chance I'd almost certainly be underwhelmed. 

 
 

Mad Season were one of those bands I was aware of but never heard the music of (until now). I was familiar with the most of members’ respective bands. Barrett Martin (drums) came from Screaming Trees, a psychedelia-tinged grunge act that I appreciated. Layne Staley was from Alice In Chains. He had an interesting voice, although Jerry Cantrell wrote that band's best songs. Mike McCready was a guitarist in Pearl Jam, a band whose first record I’d connected with when I lived on an Iowa hog farm and they were an actual alternative to the Garth Brooks, Travis Tritt, Billy Ray Cyrus, and conservative classic rock playlist of KGGO that seemingly sustained my classmates. John Baker Saunders had played in a bunch of blues bands but after the end of Mad Season would play in the sometimes excellent Seattle (and not-at-all-grunge) band, The Walkabouts.

Saunders and McCready met whilst kicking heroin at a Minneapolis rehab facility. Upon returning to Seattle they formed a band with Martin and, after working on a couple of songs, brought in singer Staley, still very much in the throes of his own dope addiction, which ultimately killed him. They wrote a batch of songs quickly, rehearsed twice, played four shows and cranked out Above in just over a week in the studio. Given their respective bands, that Above is steeped in ‘70s arena rock theatrics comes as no surprise. Despite the guitar licks and solos, there are no real anthems though, or even especially memorable tunes. 

Martin adds nice bits of color with occasional double bass, cello, marimba, and vibraphone but the songs get by more on groove than melody. There's less color to the lyrics, however, which are relentlessly serious and unceasingly hopeless. Allmusic’s allstar reviewer Stephen Thomas Erlewine astutely observed that the album, “sounds like a cross between Alice in Chains and Pearl Jam.”
 

Above was Top 40 — it reached 24 and produced two expectedly nihilistically-toned singles, “River of Deceit” and “Don't Know Anything” but it wasn't apparently intended as anything more than a sidegig and after the album's release, the members returned to their day jobs. Attempts were made to revive the band but Staley’s addiction had worsened his health to the point where his involvement was impossible. Screaming Trees’ Mark Lanegan, who’d contributed vocals on several tracks on Above, took over lead vocals and the four continued as Disinformation. Disinformation began working on an album but when Saunders died of a heroin overdose in 1999, the band was again on hiatus. When Staley died in 2002 it seemed likely the end of Mad Season but in 2012 the surviving members (and Lanegan) joined Loaded singer Jeff Rouse and bassist Rick Friel to play once again. In an interview on Louisville’s WFPK McCready claimed that Mad Season were at work on a new album. However, when Above was re-released in 2013 it included five unreleased tracks from the unreleased second album and a disc of live material, and that was apparently the end of Mad Season.

The members of Mad Season’s primary bands were certainly influential on a quite a few bands but I've never heard anyone cite Mad Season as an influence. A search online of bands influenced by Mad Season led me to the Werehouse music website, which suggested Godsmack, Sinch, Creed, and 3 Doors Down. I’m not sure if Mad Season can be blamed for any of those (and I’ve never heard Sinch, who might be excellent for all I know) but I do blame Staley in part for the resurgence of the topknot. Ever since the 1970s there’s been a twenty year revival cycle and like clockwork, twenty years after Staley started rocking that ridiculous ‘do, a Pinterest memo went out to the world’s conformists alerting them that it was time to grow out their hipsterjugend 'dos into that most unflattering of hairstyles and within a fortnight the unflattering coiffure was being donned by the likes of Colin Farrell, Mr. Posh Spice (David Beckham) and every insufferable, pretentious bartender who wants to be referred to as a "mixologist." 

*****

Follow me at ericbrightwell.com

Top 20 Songs About Heroin

Posted by Billyjam, November 25, 2014 03:00pm | Post a Comment

Upon hearing the incredible, engaging new single "Bag A Gear" from the Dublin, Ireland-based rapper Tommy KD (formerly known as Man & The Machine) on the topic of his former heroin habit that he is grateful to have finally kicked, I was reminded of the numerous songs tackling the topic of the highly addictive opiate.

I have put together a Top 20 Songs About Heroin list - some seemingly pro but most definitively con. These songs (with accompanying videos) are culled from different genres and different eras but all share views on the same topic - one that has destroyed way too many great musicians' careers and lives over the decades. Just as there are countless terms and nicknames for heroin (horse, smack, H, skag, junk, dirt, brown sugar, golden girl, hell dust, white nurse, thunder, etc. etc.) there are also seemingly endless songs about the drug. This subjective top twenty list could easily be extended into a Top 100 or Top 200 list, so feel free to post any songs on the subject of heroin that you think should have been included. Since I tried to keep it down to 20, I had to cut out duplicates by artists included and did not include such greats as "Ain't it Fun" by both The Dead Boys and Guns N' Roses.

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The Connection (1962) Screening July 20-26th- New Beverly Cinema

Posted by Mr. Chadwick, July 16, 2012 11:50pm | Post a Comment
The New Beverly Cinema is screening a brand new print of Shirley Clarke's legendary Junk/Jazz docudrama The Connection. Filmed in New York at the beginning of the 60's, this film focuses on a group of junkies, including legendary sax player & jazz composer Jackie McLean and pianist Freddie Redd, as they philosophize, swing, smoke and sweat it out while they wait for a special delivery. 

A must see!!!


California Fool's Gold -- Exploring Skid Row

Posted by Eric Brightwell, October 25, 2010 07:00pm | Post a Comment

THE NICKEL AKA HELL'S HALF-ACRE -- LOS ANGELES'S SKID ROW 


This blog entry is about Skid Row. Joining me on the adventure were Aussie-Chinese film-producer Diana Ward and Colombian-Chinese-American designer/illustrator/downtown resident Wendy Chin -- both used to playing "traveling companions" to my Doctor.

Skid Row
is a neighborhood in Los Angeles' Central City East District. It's known to locals as "The Nickel" because it's centered on 5th. It's neighbored by the Fashion District, Little Tokyo, The Toy District, The Flower District and The Downtown Industrial District.

To vote for other Los Angeles neighborhoods to be covered on the blog, vote here. To vote for Los Angeles County communities, vote here. To vote for Orange County communities, vote here.

Continue reading...

R.I.P. Willy DeVille

Posted by Mr. Chadwick, August 7, 2009 07:50pm | Post a Comment

The former frontman of Mink Deville passed away yesterday from recently found pancreatic cancer; he was 55. Making his initial splash with Mink Deville during the mid/late 70's in the early days of the CBGB's scene. The band, like many of their contemporaries, got lumped in with the then-fashionable punk scene.  For Mink Deville this was especially ridiculous, as their whole schtick was about as far from the Dead Boys as you could get.

Their first LP, produced by Jack Nitzsche and called Cabretta, is an important piece of the late 70's NY puzzle. To me, it gives the listener a real street level glimpse of the time period that few other records from the era can match. Kill City by Iggy & James Williamson and Lou Reed's infamous ranting on Take No Prisoners cover similar bar sleaze territory, but Cabretta tempers all that with soothing background singers, classic pop songwriting and great percussion arrangements. Willie also brought to the mix a true believer's approach to mythmaking and storytelling that keeps songs such as "Venus of Ave. D" from falling into camp territory. I've spent many a drunken evening listening to him spin his street tough yarns on both Cabretta and its follow up, Return To Magenta, but I never acquired a taste for his more polished 80's & 90's work. "Spanish Stroll," featured on Cabretta, was a top 20 UK hit and his song "Miracles," featured in the Rob Reiner film the Princess Bride, was nominated for an Academy Award. Willy even performed it at the awards ceremony.  His live performances were legendary, pleading on his knees and pouring his soul into heartbreaking ballads.

Although his stateside career never broke big, in Europe his career was quite healthy-- even if his decades of heroin abuse weren't. With a reputation second only to Johnny Thunders, Willy indeed lived the life he sang about. Drugs, suicides and broken marriages paved over much of his intense life. In fact, he was the person that had to identify Johnny Thunders' body in New Orleans, as he was the only person in town who knew him. There's some excellent interviews regarding Johnny's death in the Thunders documentary Born To Lose. It seems that life had, in recent years, picked up for Mr. DeVille. But, upon preparations for Hep C treatments, a nasty bit of pancreatic cancer was found and it only took a couple of months to take him out...


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