Powder Ridge: The Rock Festival That Could Be Stopped (Sort Of)

Here is another article I penned for Crawdaddy!, this time from the year two thousand eight. Some days this feels like the best thing I’ve ever done.

Having spent the first 15 years of my life there, I can say with some authority that Connecticut is a state generally populated by fuddy-duds, buzzkills, and sticks in the mud. No one there over the age of 35 wants anyone under the age of 25 to have any fun at all. I could cite countless examples from my youth, including the time my mom threw away the totally real pair of nunchucks I found outside our apartment complex or the winter we weren’t allowed to have snowball fights because some geezer in the neighborhood was convinced one of us children would lose an eye. The greatest example of the Nutmeg State’s penchant for getting all “heavy” on “the kids,” though, is the 1970 Powder Ridge Rock Festival, better known as the Three Days of Groovy & Righteous Music Old People Totally Pissed All Over.

Scheduled from July 30 to August 2 of 1970, Powder Ridge would have been New England’s answer to Woodstock. Eric Burdon & War, Sly & the Family Stone, Fleetwood Mac, James Taylor, Joe Cocker, the Allman Brothers, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Mountain, Janis Joplin, Grand Funk Railroad, and even Bloodrock were all lined up to perform at what was normally a ski retreat for uptight WASPs and their mistresses. At least one rumor suggests Led Zeppelin may have at one point been seriously considering the idea of thinking about discussing the possibility of making an appearance at Powder Ridge (no such gossip exists concerning the presence of that hippie favorite Sha Na Na). Truly, it would have been a monumental exposition of stuffed crotches, inane stage patter, and endless guitar solos.

Unfortunately, the citizens of sleepy little Middlefield, where the Powder Ridge resort is located, were just not having it. Fearing complete annihilation at the hands of shirtless, grubby youth types, townies banded together, visited a Middlefield Superior Court, and received a temporary injunction against the Powder Ridge Rock Festival and its promoters on July 28, a mere two days before the proposed start of the concert.

Normally, anyone slapped with a legal band-aid such as this could just rip it off via appeal or by merely paying whatever fines would be incurred. The ball doesn’t roll like that in Connecticut—appeals against temporary injunctions aren’t permitted in the state that gave us Christopher Lloyd (or at least they weren’t in 1970). Paying the fines wasn’t an option either. “The court ruled that the festival was a public nuisance,” a court official was quoted the day the injunction was granted. “That doesn’t mean it wants $110,000. That means it wants the festival stopped.” Proving Connecticut wasn’t just talking out its ass, State Superior Court Judge Aaron Palmer swatted down a request for a reversal the next day. He also tapped Middlesex County attorney Vincent Scamporino to be his muscle, ordering Scamporino to enforce the injunction by any means necessary.

Talk about harshing your mellow.

I want to single this tiny community out as the big party poopers, but they really aren’t unique. According to Wikipedia, the most accurate and reliable source of failed rock concert information in this day and age, 30 out of 48 planned major music festivals in 1970 were cancelled due to the complaints of cranky old people. That’s a staggering 63%. With statistics like that, it’s a wonder Jolson and Model Ts didn’t make a comeback. Powder Ridge stands out, though, because the idealistic youth who were so looking forward to watching Little Richard gesticulate in an open field would not go quietly into the Connecticut night.

Indeed, no court injunction was going to stop their party. The concertgoers descended upon Middlefield that weekend anyway, extending a figurative middle finger directly in the faces of the crotchety Establishment jerks who tried to ruin their fun. Not that it was all that hard to reach Powder Ridge once the injunction was handed down—“by any means necessary” in Connecticut apparently means putting up a handful of “FESTIVAL CANCELLED” signs and hoping everyone just goes away. Authorities waited until Friday, July 30, the first day of the festival, to close off all roads leading to Middlefield. By this time, several armies of music-hungry kids were already hanging around, waiting for something to happen.

The figures on just how many people showed up to this non-event fluctuate: one source will say the Powder Ridge crowds didn’t surge beyond 10 or 20,000, while others claim over 50,000 breezed into Middlefield on that faithful 1970 weekend. I paid a visit to Middlefield last year, and while the rolling, picturesque hillsides of the ski resort looked to offer enough space for any number between the aforementioned guesstimates, the town itself seemed to bristle at the arrival of three extra bodies. Children shot icy glares from their seats inside the cozy diner as my friends and I passed by. Adults quickly turned their backs as we came upon the general store. I can see how the looming threat of a giant rock festival would send the residents of this peaceful burg into a complete tizzy. But by early Friday afternoon, it was too late for them to do anything. A small country of rock fans had arrived, ready to shake their groove thangs and get down. It looked like this thing was happened whether they wanted it to or not. Had the kids actually triumphed? Would the musicians actually show up, emboldened by the positive attitude and optimism of several thousand rock fans, and put on the greatest concert of the pre-US Festival era?

Hell no. The bands stayed home. I guess they were all up on their New England permit laws. A few unannounced local acts turned up to provide spontaneous entertainment over the course of the three days (including Fairfield’s Goodwill and New Haven rockers the Mustard Family), but the only scheduled performer who showed up to Powder Ridge was irrepressible folk singer Melanie. “I said, ‘I just got a feeling the court injunction will be lifted and everybody’s gonna have a concert,’” the plucky songstress remarked in a 1978 radio interview, probably echoing most ticket holders’ thoughts at the time. “’Cause how can they do that, you know, after they take the money, and the people are there already anyway, I mean, why bother?”

Any artist who attempted to take the main stage at Powder Ridge supposedly faced the threat of arrest. Undeterred, Melanie snuck in with a local news team and commandeered a Mister Softee ice cream truck to power her as she warbled for assorted pockets of the crowd on various hilltops. It was truly a moment that epitomized the can-do spirit of this particular generation, not to mention a testament to the versatility of ice cream trucks.

According to comedian Lewis Black in his book Nothing’s Sacred, scheduled super group Rhinoceros also performed at Powder Ridge that weekend. I’m not sure how true that is, mainly because I found no verification of it anywhere else, but also because Black makes no mention of the concert being a complete wash in his tome—it’s just the backdrop for a funny story about screwing up a parking attendant job. It wouldn’t shock me if Black’s memory of this event has become clouded or confused with another.

The handful of artists I contacted regarding Powder Ridge, including Ten Years After, Grand Funk, and the almighty Bloodrock, didn’t remember the festival at all. Granted, it was a long time ago, and none of them were actually there, but come on, this was a defining moment in rock n’ roll history. It was the music festival the kids went to but the bands bailed on. How disillusioning! You could tack it on the list of “Moments We, The Hippie Youth Culture, Knew the ’60s Were Over” (ever notice how most of those moments didn’t even occur in the ’60s?). Doesn’t Bloodrock keyboardist Stevie Hill feel any remorse for leaving his peeps hanging high in the almost-mountains of Connecticut? No, he doesn’t. The words “Powder Ridge” are no more meaningful to him than “toaster oven” or “Bud Bundy.”

Ironically, the hard-nosed Establishment seemed to care more about the kids at Powder Ridge than any of the bands who supposedly embodied love, free spirit, and revolution. Scamporino knew calling in the cops or National Guard to disperse the surging crowds would probably result in brutal, unnecessary violence. He decided to pull a Herbert Hoover and do nothing. The concert goers would eventually figure out the concert wasn’t on, pick up their love beads, and go the heck home. The Zemel brothers, owners of the ski resort, were a little more proactive. One of them took to the main stage with a bullhorn as the sun was setting Friday evening to try and politely convince the masses it was time to leave. The crowds weren’t having it. They had come this far. No dope with a bullhorn was gonna ruin their festival, man.

But with no Janis, no Fleetwood, and not even one Allman Brother to help kick out the jams, what were all these kids going to do for the next three days? Drugs, of course, as many as they needed to forget the fact they were stuck on the crowded grounds of a New England ski resort in the middle of August without food, shelter, entertainment, or running water. Hallucinogens began circulating early; eventually, to meet the staggering demand, dealers began dumping their wares (including LSD, mescaline, speed, mushrooms, and STP) into open barrels of water around the festival site.

This “electric water,” as it was known, created what physician William Abruzzi called a full-blown “drug crisis” by the second day. The doctor was treating up to 50 patients an hour at Powder Ridge who were experiencing bad trips. With the only amplification/electricity coming from ice cream trucks, it was tough to get the word out that most of the drugs on site were low quality and giant purple fire-breathing frog inducing. A nearby middle school was turned into a makeshift infirmary to help treat the increasing number of freak outs.

The absence of music and circulation of suspect drugs didn’t dampen everyone’s spirit at Powder Ridge. According to local news reports from the time, plenty of attendees felt ample amounts of brotherhood and good vibes as they were forced to create their own happening. Some claimed they never wanted to leave this beautiful scene and were hoping the ski resort could become a new anti-establishment community where revolutionaries could live out their lives, exchange ideas, and continue to consume ridiculous amounts of drugs away from the weak bummer that was the real world. There were calls to elect a “Freak Mayor” of the aborted festival as early as Friday night. That never happened (everyone was probably too busy trying to figure out how to handle the bleeding rainbows they saw shooting out of each other’s eyes), but at least one flag was made to celebrate the possibility of an unprecedented Powder Ridge Nation. Cobbled together from dirty clothes and scraps of fabric, it naturally read “E Marijuana Unum.”

The scene at Powder Ridge. Photo by Jean-Pierre Laffont.

By the time the sun was setting on Sunday, August 2, however, everyone was starting to come down and slowly realizing the dream was over. A ski resort where they paid $20 for overflowing portajohns and acid-induced nightmares was no place for the first city founded by way out dudes and their old ladies. The kids all started to leave, wondering if they’d be able to get their money back. Refunds weren’t given initially as the promoters, known confusingly as Middleton Arts International, were intent on making this concert up at a more prestigious venue. Deals were attempted with both Yankee and RFK stadiums, but those fell through.

Around the same time, the IRS filed a large tax levy against Middleton Arts and indicted chief promoter Raymond Filiberti on perjury charges. There was an alleged mafia link in there somewhere. That might explain why nothing else ever happened. There was never a Powder Ridge make-up concert, none of the ticket holders ever got a refund, and no one was ever held responsible for ripping off upwards of 50,000 people. Plenty of attendees were arrested as they left Middlefield, though, for dealing drugs on the grounds of the ski resort.

It should come as no surprise there was a sharp decline in outdoor hippie music gatherings following Powder Ridge. “Festivals are really dead,” remarked Dr. Abruzzi shortly after what could be called the biggest disappointment in Connecticut history (aside from Charles Rocket’s unexpected suicide a couple of years ago). “Society can’t understand why kids want to do what they want to do, so they can’t find a way for them to do it.” That thought could apply to so many generational conflicts, from the flappers of the ’20s who just wanted to hang out in basements, drink, and do the Charleston to the skate punks of the ’80s who just wanted to hang out in parking lots, do whippits, and grind on some gnarly pavement to the hackers of today who just want to hang out on a LAN network, smoke crystal meth, and pwn n00bs. It’s a sick, never-ending cycle, a gap that not even Dr. Phil or the Grumpy Old Men movies could bridge.

The residents of Middlefield must have felt pretty smug when Powder Ridge went south and became one of the last nails in the ‘60s coffin. Finally, they could go back to their Mint Juleps and golf tournaments, confident in the fact they had stopped Joe Cocker from polluting their fresh colonial air with his raspy caterwauling and general stink. Connecticut was safe for everyone over 35 again. It would remain that way for many years to come. In fact, the only other serious threat these people had to face came in 2005, when a false emergency broadcast went out over the airwaves calling for the evacuation of the entire state (obviously the work of bored, horny teens jacked upon the good stuff).

At least the scene at Powder Ridge was groovy enough to see the birth of a love child. Dina Amoure, born to Peter and Shelley Rowland of New York City, popped out onto a grassy Connecticut knoll in the middle of that crazy, crazy weekend (the proud father passed around joints in lieu of cigars). Dina is the official Powder Ridge Baby, the human representation of not letting things become a total bummer, even if the suits are trying to bring you down and the water is all polluted and you’re gonna get busted by a pig the second you walk outta there, man. Hopefully Dina has grown into a wonderful flower loving enough to let her own kids keep whatever stray ninja equipment they find lying around their family’s apartment complex and have snowball fights whenever they please.

Here’s to you, Dina, where ever you are.

Yes, Virginia, The Great Milenko By Insane Clown Posse Is Dope

The article below was originally written for and published by Crawdaddy! in two thousand ten. Since that time my appreciation for the enormously absurd album discussed has only grown deeper. Just call me Stretch Nuts.

Quality, essence, virtue—terms that, by this point, are rarely (if ever) debated when it comes to Insane Clown Posse, the ultimate bastard sons of music. True Juggalos have already unconditionally accepted the alleged greatness of rapping jesters Violent J & Shaggy 2 Dope like the most fervent born again Christians, while those outside “The Dark Carnival” have difficulty thinking of a more pathetic and misguided social subset America has produced. Even Civil War re-enactors rank higher than Juggalos, mostly because of their stately 1860s facial hair and the vintage weapons they brandish that could blow your spleen across a Long John Silver’s parking lot.

The Juggalos are one thing; overzealous fans of any entity (Paul McCartney, the Green Bay Packers, the Twilight franchise) can be intolerable. Is it fair, though, to automatically malign and dismiss the Wicked Clowns themselves? I was viewing the much-ballyhooed video for ICP’s “Miracles” the other day, and I have to say, aside from the LOL-inducing, are-they-serious? lyrics, the song is pretty boring. Straight up, “Miracles” is a boring ass song. The clowns aren’t even really rapping, they’re just kinda talking softly (save for that jaw-dropping “fuck scientists” bit). The beat in “Mircales” is equally flaccid. The sub-mediocrity I saw before me got the rusty gears in my brain turning.

These guys weren’t always this bad.

Yeah, yeah, Insane Clown Posse used to be, like, kind of exciting. Actually almost insane, even. 1997. The Great Milenko. Everyone I knew had that album. Everyone I knew loved that album. It was funny, it was weird, it was stupid, the songs had legitimately cool beats. The clowns had dreadlocks. They relied heavily on the term “stretch nuts.” They screamed shit like their trashy Midwestern lives depended on it.

What happened? Am I crazy? Is this selective amnesia?

As my steam-powered noggin began chugging, I remembered that I had very similar thoughts of disappointment when ICP released the limp single “Let’s Go All The Way” in 2000. It sounded like fuckin’ half-assed 311. Where was the evil calliope music? I was dumbfounded when I saw Violent J in the video with closely cropped bleach blonde hair. Were the Wicked Clowns selling out on the final Joker’s Card?

I’m not sure it’s possible to sell out when your group is named Insane Clown Posse and you’ve been signed to a Disney subsidiary for an amount of time that can be measured in hours. Hollywood Records paid $1 million for the rights to release The Great Milenko in 1997 after a groundswell of industry buzz. Then, someone in khakis actually listened to the thing, and Disney realized these clowns were insane in the stabby killy way, not the wearing-Hawaiian-shirts-to-business-meetings way. Hollywood withdrew Milenko the same day it was released (even though it had already sold nearly 20,000 copies and was climbing up the charts) and canceled all future plans for ICP. The Clowns were at an autograph signing when they learned they were no longer part of Donald Duck’s extended family.

I can think of ten thousand hardcore punk bands who wish they could say they were kicked off a major label like that. Let’s face it: ICP were the Clinton Era’s Sex Pistols, and Disney was their great rock n’ roll swindle.

Though nowhere near as invigorating or groundbreaking as the Sex Pistols, the Insane Clown posse of Great Milenko remain worthy of more praise than they’ve ever received. Milenko offers the same template of boiling suburban rage, infectious beats, hilarious rhymes, and comically graphic violence that Eminem rode to global renown just a year or two later. Granted, Eminem is a better rapper than either Clown, but as far as gimmicks go, Em’s reference-every-current-tabloid-headline approach probably dates his material more than ICP’s insistence they belong to an evil carnival from another dimension. Besides, Eminem was already complaining about the pressures his superstar lifestyle on his second album. Marshall Mathers gets on “TRL” a couple times and bro-ham can’t handle the pressure. Boo hoo. Didn’t you fool around with Mariah Carey? Yeah, you don’t get to complain about anything.

The Great Milenko is Insane Clown Posse’s fourth album, and never again would they sound this legitimately disturbed, hilariously demented, or crazy frightening. Possibly the greatest example of this comes almost midway through the “House Of Horrors,” when Violent J intones the following:

“Lemme show you something—[makes high-pitched raspberry noise] / You know what that means? it don’t mean nothin’! / But it scared you, ’cause people don’t be doin’ that shit / But me? [makes noise again] / Bitch, [makes once noise again] I’m all about it!”

Think about that for a minute. An overweight harlequin with dreadlocks invites you into his dark, foreboding fun house. Suddenly, he turns to you amidst the dry ice and strobe lights and starts excitedly making noises with his mouth. Can you honestly say you wouldn’t vigorously soil your Tommy John boxer shorts at that very moment?

The Clowns’ bizarre viewpoint also pops up in the slow, introspective jam “How Many Times?” At first, it seems like this song is just another chill rap tune about dealing with life’s smaller aggravations (particularly highway traffic). Then, apropos of nothing, one of the clowns starts losing his shit because he cannot pay for fast food by imparting scientific knowledge upon the cashier (“Can I walk into McDonald’s to the counter / and tell ’em you can make limestone from gun powder? / Will they give me a cheeseburger if I know that shit? / Fuck no, fuck you, and shut your fuckin’ lip!”). That ICP favors the barter system comes as no surprise, as I don’t believe psychotic circus workers generally keep bank accounts.

I’d call it a double standard that people have been regularly eating up GWAR for so many years when their musical output is at least equally as stupid as ICP’s, but everyone involved here is a white male from flyover states. GWAR wears foam rubber cocks that shoot fake ejaculate all over their audience and they get more respect from the outside world than ICP. Does that make any sense? Perhaps ICP lowered their market value by aligning themselves with an off-brand soft drink like Faygo. Winn Dixie brand doesn’t cost much more, and it carries a less backwoods stigma. Good rule of thumb: if they can afford to put a NASCAR driver on the bottle, you won’t look stupid drinking it.

Another point to ponder: if the Insane Clown Posse is so bad, how come legends like Alice Cooper and Slash make appearances on Milenko? Those guys don’t necessarily go around lending their legacies to crap (Alice Cooper was in Wayne’s World, for the love of Chris Farley). What could Slash have to gain by appearing on the major label debut of some rapping clown band? Nothing, really, aside from a paycheck he probably didn’t need. He’s Slash! He must have simply dug the hot circus jams.

Perhaps it’s all a tomayto / tomahto thing. I believe there’s some kind of genius in lyrics like “He eats Monopoly and shits out Connect Four!” (Violent J’s description of an average ICP fan in “What Is A Juggalo?”). If you can’t see that, I guess we’re just in opposite time zones. This entire debate brings to mind an astute remark usually attributed to actress Mary Woronov: there is a difference between art and bullshit; sometimes, bullshit is more interesting.

Yes, The Great Milenko is targeted at people who would rather spend a Saturday afternoon watching “Charles In Charge” and doing whippets as opposed to visiting the nearest Christo exhibit or foreign film fest. Yet you can’t view this album through the same “OMG, irony fail!” prism as “Miracles.” Milenko is a finely-tuned, gratifying journey through the admittedly low brow genre of horrorcore, second only to the first Gravediggaz album in terms of relative greatness. Juggalo fervor has overshadowed ICP’s music in recent years, be it good or bad. No one seemed to bat an eye when the Clowns released 2007’s The Tempest, possibly the first hip-hop album featuring a song about a roller coaster. Seems like they had to make a crazy joint like “Miracles” just remind people they’re an actual musical group and not just some out-there trailer park cult.

Hopefully one day bizarre and sickening minutia like Juggalo baby coffins will be separated from ICP’s musical catalog and The Great Milenko will garner recognition as the worthwhile exercise in cathartic silliness it is. If Music From “The Elder” by Kiss could eventually find a home in our shared cultural circle, there’s hope yet for the fourth Joker’s Card.

Unsolicited Stay Puftin’ On The Ghostbusters 2016 Trailer

Certain elements excite me (crisp look of the establishing shots, everything with Kate McKinnon, the car) and certain elements give me pause (recycling of the library ghost, recycling of Slimer, the ghost punch). Judgment reserved until I exit the theater in July but definitely interested to discover what else this remake / reimagining is cooking up. Ready for busting to commence.

The Name Game: M.I.A. & M.I.A.

The following article was originally published in slightly wordier / clumsier form via Crawdaddy! in the year of our lard twenty-eleven.

Follow music long enough and it will slowly be revealed that many of history’s greatest band names have been used at least once before. In 1967, the year Kurt Cobain was born, Patrick Campbell-Lyons and Alex Spyropoulos formed a progressive rock act called Nirvana that experienced fine success in their native UK until the grunge explosion of the early ’90s wiped them out of the history books. Also in the UK, circa 1980, an anarcho punk band sprung forth named Anthrax; no one would ever dare confuse them with the wild-haired, rap-obsessed Long Island thrash band that came together a year later.

Don’t get me started on the two Undeads, who tolerated each other for a couple decades until the New Jersey Undead brought a trademark case against the California Undead in 2006. A Trademark Trial & Appeal Board ruled in favor of the NJ Undead because the CA Undead could not legally prove they were a band prior to 2002 (even though there are probably a few old zines lying around somewhere that could cement the fact the CA Undead existed four years before the NJ Undead). The wildest part of this kerfuffle is that the two Undeads apparently played a show together long before their legal donnybrook. Why the CA Undead waited so long to copyright their name is anyone’s guess (cough cough drugs? cough cough).

The Undeads could have learned a lesson from two competing bands in the mid-’70s named after a certain incendiary racial slur. The New York N-words (I’m not even kidding) helped listeners differentiate from the Detroit N-words by abbreviating their name to N.Y.N. Of course, paring each Undead down to an acronym probably would have made them sound like competing trade schools. CAU let me keep all the tools in my tool belt!

Besides, there were already too many punk bands wandering the ’80s with three letter names. F.O.D., A.O.D., D.O.A., C.I.A., JFA, D.R.I—granted, this trend probably made flyers more compact, but it was hard to keep track of every single group. This is probably what hampered excellent SoCal quartet M.I.A. from attaining the recognition they so richly deserve in the countless long form genre retrospectives with which we’ve been graced. Now, ever since the “Paper Planes” M.I.A. showed up, these guys don’t stand any chance of being remembered by the world at large.

Founded in 1980, the punk M.I.A. first gained widespread notoriety thanks to Last Rites For Genocide / M.I.A., their 1982 debut LP split with New Jersey’s Genocide. Offering up a tighter, angrier, and more melodic attack, M.I.A. was destined to best their Garden State pals with proto-Green Day nuggets like “Tell Me Why,” “I Hate Hippies,” and “All The President’s Skin.” Alas, M.I.A. was dissolved by the time Last Rites began burning up turntables. Singer Mike Conley, whose surfer dude vocals helped make M.I.A. so outstanding, drifted back to his native Las Vegas (where M.I.A. had existed as the Swell).

Perhaps realizing they were squandering opportunity, M.I.A. reformed in 1983 and quickly scored a deal with Alternative Tentacles. 1984’s Murder In A Foreign Place found the band just as snappy and irritable as ever, if not leaning further toward a pop inevitability other punks at the time tended to frown upon (“Boredom Is The Reason” could have easily fallen from the pen of the mighty Westerberg). 1985’s Notes From The Underground continued this trend; by the time of their final LP, 1987’s After The Fact, M.I.A. was trapped somewhere between Hüsker Dü and the Cure.

Mournful exercises from After The Fact such as “Whisper in the Wind” and “When It’s Over” seemed like blatant attempts to hijack FM airwaves, and why not? These tunes were on par with most college rock of the era. Yet M.I.A. had not totally given up their slap-happy hardcore roots: After The Fact contained the band’s mosh-ready cover of “California Dreaming,” complete with ass-ripping guitar solo and classic snot-laden delivery from Conley.

M.I.A. split up for good in 1988, fading into the ether while a spunky teenage girl of Sri Lankan heritage named Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasam came of age in South London. Initially focused on painting, Arulpragasam graduated from Central St Martins College with a degree in fine art and began flexing her artistic muscles through graphic design (she created the cover art for Elastica’s 2000 release The Menace) and filmmaking (an offer to work with director John Singleton was turned down by Arulpragasm because he wasn’t “radical” enough). The call of music was too strong, however. Young Maya would soon abandon her other talents, dub herself M.I.A., and break out with the bouncy 2003 club hit “Galang.”

Arulpragasam has long been coy about the origin of her pseudonym. Most sources claim the outspoken artist chose the acronym to stand for “Missing in Acton,” Acton being a London suburb with which the rapper was too familiar. Of course, once “Galang” started hooking fans with its accessible yet worldly flavor, her name didn’t really matter—she could have been called DJ Fried Green Oven Mittz. Similarly exotic and danceable songs populated M.I.A.’s 2005 debut Arular; dense production combined with the vocalist’s playful, sexy rhyming won her more acclaim not only from highfalutin’ music critics but also respected American rappers such as Nas.

M.I.A.’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” moment came in February of 2008 via “Paper Planes,” the haunting and violent third single from her sophomore effort Kala. Whatever “Paper Planes” is suggesting or reflecting—twinkling hope for the end of the Bush Dynasty, Generation Y’s detachment from their Boomer parents—America latched onto the song like the Titanic’s final life raft. “Paper Planes” was the definition of ubiquity, appearing in a plethora of commercials and movie trailers (including Seth Rogan’s zenith pot comedy Pineapple Express). Any entity that massive is going experience backlash, and M.I.A.’s definitely felt that since “Planes.” You know the world is out to get you when you make headlines for eating the wrong kind of french fries.

A couple weeks after “Paper Planes” exploded, punk rock’s M.I.A. was dealt a devastating, fatal blow: singer Mike Conley was found dead in a Chicago parking lot with a massive unexplained head wound. Authorities eventually determined Conley’s death was the result of a very unlucky fall, theorizing that the performer and father had slipped on a patch of ice and come down too hard. Friends and fans were shocked by this cruel turn and chose to celebrate Conley with a series of benefit concerts in various locations. No less than Jello Biafra and Social Distortion stepped up to raise money for Conley’s surviving family.

If there is any connection between the two M.I.A.s beyond a shared name, it’s the sense of urgency embedded in both artists’ material. As the 2001 compilation disc Lost Boys proves, even the punk band’s throwaway tracks contained a whirlwind of emotion often turgid and intensely sharp (you are not human if the fragile melody of “SchoolBoy” does not put a lump in your throat). Similarly, we do not really know exactly what the hip hop M.I.A. is going on about in her early hit “Bucky Done Gun” (even she once admitted she has no clue about the lyrics), but damned if the listener doesn’t want to automatically cave in and agree with the ill-defined, infectious agenda M.I.A. is laying out between those “Gonna Fly Now” samples.

It’s unfortunate there can never be a bill of M.I.A. + M.I.A. like the dual Undead concert that occurred six million years ago. The punks could only benefit from such a gig, and skeptical mohawks may see there’s more to current M.I.A. than clumsily executed political statements and obnoxious sunglasses. Let’s just imagine this is happening in an alternate dimension where there are also five Nirvanas, twelve Anthraxes, and no Katy Perrys.

Following the death of Mike Conley the remaining members of M.I.A. decided to reform with founding singer Todd Sampson. Tragedy struck once more in 2010 when Sampson collapsed and died after a Las Vegas concert. M.I.A. disbanded after that until 2014. Today they perform as a trio, trading vocals.

M.I.A. the rapper has remained a captivating and vital presence on the pop music landscape. In 2012, during a performance at the Super Bowl Halftime Show, M.I.A. shot a middle finger directly into an NBC camera. Furious, the NFL responded with a $16 million lawsuit against the star for “breach of her contract and flagrant disregard for the values that form the cornerstone of the NFL brand.” M.I.A. suggested she had been “sexually exploited” by the NFL and that lawsuit was punishment for “display[ing]…female empowerment” through “punk rock.” A settlement was allegedly reached in 2014.

Burning Out The Love For This Michael Jackson Podcast

The “Yaxzon Jackson” dissection of Off The Wall concludes! Enjoy these final entries, one of which boasts a heated debate about long deceased Federalist and potential time traveler John Quincy Adams.

Yax Jax 024: “It’s The Falling In Love”

Yax Jax 025: “Burn This Disco Out”

As always, deep thanks for listening. Coming soon: the televised afterparty.

6:66 Lucifuge II: An Unsolicited Ranking of The Danzig Albums

1. Danzig III: How The Gods Kill (1992)

Power is not always a gateway to corruption. This album is nimble in its conquering, turning volume and balance on a dime. Unbelievable we’re 20 years out from HTGK and neither the sweaty sex of “Dirty Black Summer” nor the grease-stained knuckle crack of “Left Hand Black” have become radio staples. Even greater tragedy: the dust that’s settled on “Sistinas,” Danzig’s enormously stirring and best ballad.

2. 4p (1994)

Are they parodying the concept of rock as Satanist propaganda or is this a vote of confidence? Either way, baritone bravado barrels through squalls of cyberpunk effects that brilliantly serve incredibly realized compositions. 4p is the final stand of the original Danzig lineup; they go out guns blazing.

3. Danzig (1988)

Stripped down biker rock just as foreboding as the bleached skull on the cover. And yet this record is fun, fun in ways you can’t experience when you make a concerted effort to have it—it’s a byproduct of anger, weirdness, and nerves. To wit: the band had only been together six months before they cranked this out. All the more reason to stand back slack-jawed.

4. The Lost Tracks Of… (2007)

Double album of b-sides/rarities that has no right to boast such excellence. Deserves to be recognized as Danzig canon. The only misstep: the absence of “You & Me,” that explosive blue-eyed soul throwback the band gave to the Less Than Zero soundtrack in 1987 (under the moniker Glenn Danzig & The Power & Fury Orchestra).

5. Danzig II: Lucifuge (1990)

The frenzy is a little unfocused and the production slightly tepid but this is still world class hard rock when such a concept was quickly falling out of vogue. Add the loose twang of “I’m The One” to the “hits that should have been” pile.

6. Deth Red Sabaoth (2010)

The comeback album to which no one paid any attention, proving humans take more pleasure in complaint that solution. Relaxed and in the pocket, Danzig unfolds anthems that fit comfortably between the band’s ballyhooed early ’90s construction and the modern crunching they have favored since “Biker Mice From Mars” went off the air.

7. Danzig 6:66: Satan’s Child (1999)

Not corny but Korny. The denser textures test our mercurial vocal hero; he sounds shockingly hoarse throughout. That said, the sonic broth behind him has gratifying solvency, and it draws to a close with dusty legend “Thirteen” (the merit of which was cemented by its inclusion in The Hangover).

8. Skeletons (2015)

A fierce round of thunder paying tribute to the Troggs, Aerosmith, Elvis, and numerous proto-punks who first inspired Danzig. Rollicking good times even though the world didn’t need extra renditions of Sabbath’s “N.I.B.” and ZZ Top’s “Rough Boy” (Christ, of all the Top songs!).

9. Thrall: Demonsweatlive (1993)

The EP that catapulted Danzig into the popular consciousness like never before is an uneven mix of studio and live cuts culminating in the undeniable hot sneer of “Mother.” Satisfying enough to make you buy the other albums (which everybody did) and/or wish they’d release the entirety of this concert.

10. Circle Of Snakes (2004)

They accused Glenn of going too nu metal so he doubled down; Circle of Snakes is wall-to-wall chugging, scraping, and squealing, all compressed so heavily the first emotion you feel is constipation. Solid songwriting saves the day, even when Glenn’s voice is buried alive.

11. Danzig 777: I Luciferi (2002)

One would assume the addition of Murphy’s Law guitarist Todd Youth and D Generation bassist Howie Pyro was an attempt to put Danzig back in touch with his punk rock roots. Alas, no spirit of ’77 blood rush arrives; this one meanders through stale turn of the century feculence.

12. Danzig 5: Blackacidevil (1996)

There is a sinewy charm to the industrial mechanizations that comprise Glenn Danzig’s wholesale stab at being Trent Reznor, but Blackacidevil is uniformly maligned for a reason. The sounds don’t come close to matching their techno-terror inspirations and the songwriting is largely by-the-numbers. And yet, there are a few (“Serpentia,” “Power of Darkness”) which may stick.

13. Black Aria II (2006)

Part of Danzig’s two album foray into classical music. Yes, our boy has emotions that cannot be conveyed by the conventional means of his wolfy voice and rock n’ roll accompaniment. This chapter is more rounded and complete than its predecessor. It’s also moodier (read: more Danzig). If a blacker aria exists we have not heard it.

14. Black Aria (1992)

Orchestral music that sounds almost entirely composed on a keyboard with orchestral instrument settings. Could be mistaken for the soundtrack to a 16 bit video game, incidental noise from Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula, or the dulcet tones one hears in a mall or shopping plaza moments before a Spirit Halloween store suddenly materializes. Goth at any rate.

15. Live On The Black Hand Side (2001)

This double live album could have been an incredible testament to the Danzig group’s musicianship over the years. Unfortunately, in keeping with the concert releases of Glenn’s previous bands, Black Hand suffers from laughably poor quality in large stretches. Even the cover looks bootlegged. Defeat, snatched from the jaws of victory.

Get On The Floor, Girlfriend, We Can’t Help “Yaxzon Jackson”

Have you fallen behind on Season Two of “Yaxzon Jackson,” the Michael Jackson podcast I co-host with Rollie Hatch? Don’t worry, I’ve fallen behind in promoting it. We’ve done six episodes since November, delving deep into the wild event that is MJ’s 1979 effort Off The Wall. Here they are, listed in the order we recorded them (yes, we did Ep 21 before Eps 19 and 20, ‘coz we’re a pair of daft bollocks). Keep on with the force, thanks for listening.

Yax Jax 018: “Working Day And Night”

Yax Jax 021: “Girlfriend”

Yax Jax 019: “Get On The Floor”

Yax Jax 020: “Off The Wall”

Yax Jax 021: “She’s Out Of My Life”

Yax Jax 022: “I Can’t Help It”

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