They did make her go to rehab, but by then it was too late. Making her fame out of not going to rehab was the worst thing that could have happened to Amy Winehouse. She just wanted to be a jazz singer. Instead she became an outlaw rock star, and outlaw rock stars do one of two things; they inexplicably live forever or they drop dead. It’s nice to imagine an alternate universe in which Amy swaggers into her seventh decade a grande dame of the sort Marianne Faithfull and Patti Smith have become. Alas, the 27 Club always has room for one more, and all we get for it is more artists’ renderings of dead stars playing poker up in heaven. And alas as well that the best way to keep your music alive and relevant is to die in the most tragically ironic way possible. Amy Winehouse could’ve been a good solid artist with a career full of relative ups and downs. It’s probably what she would have chosen, if her back hadn’t been against the wall. Instead she became the rock’n’roll martyr of our time. Until the next tragic hero comes along, that is.
And here we have some of that guitar rock that 2006 was sorely lacking. It was sorely lacking so much that the Arctic Monkeys’ debut album shot them straight to instant fame and breathless accolades of the sort that almost inevitably lead to sore disappointment. There’s hardly a cursed accolade worse than ‘instant classic’ to sink a promising ship, especially if it’s plastered on a debut. As an audience, if you’re not one of those fans who were in on the ground floor and get to say “I told you so!”, your first impulse is to find something to hate. “This so-called instant classic is sooo overrated” you parry “You lot can’t impress me, for what even is guitar rock than just the same Stooges album regurgitated ad nauseum?” That’s actually a pretty fun position to take for the aspiring armchair critic. It’s even worse if you’re the band, and you’ve got nothing to do for the rest of your life except try to live up to a load of hype that got thrown at you when you were barely old enough to sign your own checks. I’m going to hold my initial position here and say that the first Arctic Monkeys album was not actually as monumentally great an achievement as the hype would have it, though apparently a garage rock concept album about the spoils of partying is just what the world was hungering for. However, it was a good start, with or without hyperbole, and more importantly, these guys really beat the odds. They didn’t flame out under pressure, they kept working and got tighter and developed a more interesting image and made increasingly better albums and actually grew into being one of the best guitar bands.
Just one more from my favorite band that nobody’s ever heard of, then I’ll lay off telling you about ThouShaltNot for a little while. This song may be more suitable for enjoying late in the night – you can play it at your next seance! I love the slow-building drama here. It’s almost like a goth power ballad, for anyone out there who still identifies as a goth. Does anybody still do that? When they’re not in high school? I don’t know, there’s probably a flaming hot goth scene right under my nose and I haven’t walked into it yet. I know there’s a club that hosts a vampire night. Let’s go to it.
ThouShaltNot is my little secret, apparently. I can’t quite recall how I discovered them (somewhere in the back alleys of the interwebs) but is certainly wasn’t through any old-school published media, and it wasn’t word of mouth. I don’t know anyone who’s heard of them. I’ve never read anything about them, not even a passing mention. Maybe they’re a figment of my imagination; it’s possible that in my fever dreams I would imagine an alt-goth post-punk band that time-traveled from the 80’s. The world’s not a fair place, as we know, and sometimes really talented people who deserve to become hugely famous – don’t.
Not your father’s Purple Haze. This is your Irish granny’s Purple Haze. If your Irish granny was the legendary Maire Brennan, that is. I suppose she’s referring to some mystical misty dell, not whatever drug references most of us associate the phrase ‘purple haze’ with. It’s all about the atmosphere, anyway, which to me feels very cozy. This is prime teatime music, and I find it very comforting. I guess a lot of people find Irish music ‘comforting’ and it’s kind of a coffeehouse cliche, but still… Cliches have to come from somewhere, after all.
ThouShaltNot is not more, but for a little while in the early 2000’s they were keeping 80’s-style goth music alive. I don’t even remember why and how I discovered them, because the keeping goth music alive scene is not really my scene. (The interwebs, obviously, though.) I’m glad I did, and I’ve been listening to them pretty regularly for years. It’s nice to discover something that is in the same vein as the classics everyone and their dog loves but hasn’t been hammered to death by every two-bit DJ in every poorly-lit sleazy nightclub you’ve ever been to.
Nobody exceeds at the fine art of narrative songs like the Decemberists. Small wonder Colin Meloy writes children’s books in his spare time; I haven’t read them but I would and I would read any adult book he might write. In the meantime, we can enjoy the most literary canon in pop music right now. The Decemberists’ discography is more like a miniature library stuffed with novels, leaning heavily towards historical fiction, but also not without the serious family dramas, not without explorations of folklore, not without the fantasy epic, and not without the occasional hard boiled crime thriller. If the diversity of subjects and genres is any clue, I’d guess that Meloy is the kind of person who picks up boxes of books at garage sales and behind dumpsters, then reads all of them.