With Spring Programming in its third week and the new semester rapidly overwhelming our every waking moment, we thought we’d take this final opportunity to acknowledge some of the towering figures our musical community lost in 2018. Featuring contributions from DJs, staff, and KXSC alumni - hope these move you to revisit some of your favorite artists and explore the work of those whose names are as-of-yet unfamiliar to you!
(5/22/1924 - 10/1/2018)
by Fio Karpenko
Charles Aznavour was born in France to a family of Armenian immigrants. Following in the footsteps of his father, a singer, Charles began performing at a very young age. When his father left to fight in World War II, young Charles would sing to support his struggling family. He adamantly pursued his career despite ruthless mockery of his appearance and unconventional voice. However, his profound sincerity and vulnerability enabled him to succeed not only as a musician, but also as an actor. When he eventually rose to prominence, he starred in countless films, most notably, Truffaut’s Shoot the Piano Player. Through his incredible talent and perseverance, Charles single-handedly transformed the dying genre of Chanson from a relic of the past into an international success that sparked a newfound national pride amongst Armenians and the French alike.
Charles died on October 1st of 2018. He had spent the year touring the world and performing despite being 94 years old. His age, unfortunately, took its toll, and he suffered numerous injuries in between performances. Retaining the same tenacity that he had kept with him throughout his life, Charles promised to return and give all the concerts that were cancelled. He was a hero not only in France, but also in his parents’ homeland of Armenia. Perhaps the most expressive and sincere singer I’ve ever heard, his music has the unique power to make you nostalgic for a life you never had, for the times in Charles’ life that are forever lost to him, but are immortalised for us to experience through his beautiful music:
I was twenty years old
I caressed time
I enjoyed life
Like one savours love
And I lived for the night
Without counting my days
That were wasting away with time
(3/29/1945 - 10/30/2018)
by Blake Wagner
“I like participating without the need for attention.”
How do you commemorate an artist who spent his entire career shrouded in anonymity? For Hardy Fox, the founder and weirdo-in-chief of the Residents, the answer would have been simple – there are no artists, only facsimiles of artists, instruments in the profiteering of shadowy corporate interests. The Residents hid behind eyeball masks for close to fifty years, lampooning pop music and criticizing the false notions of culture being peddled to a brainwashed public. But late at the end of 2018, it was revealed that Fox had lost his battle with brain cancer, and the mask came off. Leaving behind a massive catalogue of work, Fox’s career spoke for itself in a way that few artists’ can, all without so much as a writing credit.
From the get-go, it was readily apparent that “North Louisiana’s Phenomenal Pop Combo” had no interest in selling records. Fox’s second album as the Residents, 1976’s seminal Third Reich ‘n Roll, rearranged the era’s biggest hits into a cacophonic mélange so demonic that it might very well have summoned Beelzebub himself. Like their spiritual offspring DEVO, the Residents have since been relegated to something of a novelty act, but the parallels they drew between pop culture and fascism remain disturbingly salient. As their career progressed, the Residents’ obsession with capitalism, the treachery of images, and bubblegum pop remained, but as they ventured into stranger territory, they also helped quietly lay the foundation for countless ambient, industrial, and noise acts to come.
Ironically, the Residents maintained a great reverence for the pop music they so often deconstructed, apparent in their encyclopedic (if warped) repertoire of oldies covers. Fox’s passing came with the revelation that he was gay, and it seems obvious now that an unapologetic sense of camp was as integral to the Residents’ vision as their bleak sense of humor. Could it be that, like Warhol before him, Fox sought to queer the aesthetics of mainstream culture? Like so much else with his enigmatic output, his intentions are devoid of explication. But at the end of his life, Hardy Fox chose to lift the veil on his own identity, giving us the gift of someone to thank for decades of boundary-pushing achievements. That might be the boldest statement he ever made.
(3/25/1942 - 8/16/2018)
by Lani Renaldo
The world mourned Aretha Franklin when she passed away this summer. Aretha was to soul and R&B as icing is to cake - you could do away with it, but it just wouldn’t be the same. At one point or another, everyone has heard Aretha Franklin. Simply because she broke the mold for many contemporary singers, divas like Adele, Whitney Houston, Christina Aguilera, and even Mariah Carey would not exist without Aretha’s flair, passion, and guttural voice.
“Think,” “Respect,” and “Say A Little Prayer,” are just three notable songs, but for a woman with 18 Grammy awards, I can guarantee you, she left musical gems in R&B, Pop, Soul and Gospel music. Aretha was a musical milestone. An iconic contributor to American musical and social history that cannot and will not be forgotten. From singing "Precious Lord" at Martin Luther King Jr.'s funeral to "My Country, 'Tis of Thee" at President Barack Obama's inauguration, she marked a tremendous voice for music, the African-American road to freedom, and America’s pantheon of once-in-a-lifetime voices.
I’ve often felt as though soul, beyond being a genre, comes from the inside. The passion and conviction with which you sing is not determined by just your musical skill or quality. It also comes from a deep understanding and connection within. To understand why Aretha was powerful, you have to acknowledge that Aretha became a woman early in life. She lived through segregation, a violent father, and a pregnancy at age 12. She also marched and when she sang, she brought “church.” Much more than pain, there was a rising, a voice that demanded and called your attention. The ability to command a microphone, a stage, and lift us all through a soaring spirit of strength and womanhood.
(10/16/1969 - 11/2/2018)
by Jatin Chowdhury
"More than a language or freedom of expression, music is something that intensely affects emotion, quite terrible to be put in human hands"
- Corbin Jones
Every so often a sound comes along that becomes a revelation for an entire generation of musicians and listeners. For example, Herbie Hancock's "Rockit" and Stevie Wonder's "Jamming On The One" were a revelation for the impending generations using turntables and samplers as their instruments of choice. For jazz musicians of my generation, revelations of this sort include Lalah Hathaway's "Something", Robert Glasper's "Black Radio", and most subtly, Roy Hargrove's "Strasbourg St. Denis". While Hathaway's and Glasper's sounds are exponentially innovative in their own right, "Strasbourg" is a fairly straightforward jazz standard, standing out amongst his own innovative work with the RH Factor and D'Angelo. And despite its humble simplicity, every single jazz head of my generation can tell you exactly when and where they first heard "Strasbourg St. Denis".
Throughout history, music has often been seen as a religious experience, but I think it's worthwhile to take a second to think about what that means. I think that for me, music expresses something beyond the understanding of humans, something that seems spiritual in the same way as a deep meditation, or faraway mountain peak. Watching Roy Hargrove play or talk about music, he always approached it with the hushed reverence and peaceful yet fiery passion. It is in this way that he was able to create profoundly beautiful and culturally iconic music in such an unassuming way. While Miles taught us to use the space between the notes, and Coltrane taught us to explore the outer reaches of harmonic possibilities, Hargrove taught me the power of a song, simple and straightforward, that expresses god.
Rest in peace Roy Hargrove. Though I cannot express the deeply physical impact I felt from your departure, on behalf of my entire generation of jazz musicians I thank you for your contributions, and promise that your music will live on.
(9/6/1971 - 1/15/2018)
by Natasha Doshi
Dolores O’Riordan’s death came as a strange, confusing tragedy at the beginning of what would be a very strange and confusing year. Dan Waite, a label executive from Eleven Seven who worked with the Cranberries in the early 2000s and was working on an upcoming project with O’Riordan, told Rolling Stone magazine that “she was in a good space.” She had left Waite a few voicemails in the early morning of January 15th, musing on her three children, reflecting on her brilliant career, and singing snippets of the Verve’s “Bitter Sweet Symphony.”
My introduction to O’Riordan came in a pretty relatable and conventional way. I was in elementary school, listening to 95.5 KLOS with my parents, when “Zombie” came on the radio. I remember my mom describing her haunting, mezzo-soprano voice, as “the most beautiful, inimitable voice - no one else in the world can sing like Dolores.” For the next few weeks, the rest of the Doshi household nearly lost their minds while I attempted to sing “Zombie” and “Linger,” off-key with a mind-numbingly bad Limerick accent. I watched music videos, admiring her deep green eyes and slicked back pixie cut. I replayed songs over and over again, but there was truly nothing I could do to sound like her. O’Riordan’s voice was secretive and mysterious, with a profound sadness throughout her lyrics.
Much like her sound, O’Riordan led a very secretive life. Dealing with anorexia, bipolar disorder, and trauma from years of sexual abuse at a young age, she never openly spoke about her personal battles until much later in life. She is accused of being fragile and reserved, but I couldn’t disagree more. Much of her work with the Cranberries, D.A.R.K., and her own solo albums are charged with opinionated, calculated lyrics and melodies that speak to all of our own insecurities and vulnerabilities.
A few days before her death, O’Riordan was writing new songs, collaborating with L.A. metal band Bad Wolves, and planning a Cranberries reunion tour with former bandmate Noel Hogan. Even though her death was shocking, a completely unexpected drowning accident from heavy alcohol intoxication, I really need to believe that Dolores was in a good space and looking forward to her next moves. She will forever be a badass Irish queen who simultaneously propelled grunge and pop into the 21st century, whose chilling, comforting, one-of-a-kind voice resonated with so many of us.
(4/17/1965 - 12/6/2018)
by Lucy Allen
The category of “British punk” probably brings to most rock fans’ minds the Clash and the Sex Pistols - two bands that, though quite different from one another, share lyrical themes of political dissidence and a general tone of rage. Buzzcocks, a band equally central to the Brit-punk canon, embody an entirely different sensibility, one of unabashed yearning, frustration, attraction, and heartbreak. The band, whose frontman Pete Shelley died December 6th at age 63, were at their commercial peak in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Their first single, the bold masturbation anthem “Orgasm Addict,” was released in 1977 to acclaim as well as controversy (the BBC refused to play it), and it established Buzzcocks as a rowdy and charming presence in the nascent punk rock genre. The band’s next hits, like “What Do I Get?,” “Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve),” and “Everybody’s Happy Nowadays” were less raunchy than their first, treading the well-worn path of mopey lyricism and animating their self-pity with infectious uptempo punk. This particular combination, which was Buzzcocks’ hallmark, anticipated the emo pop-punk that would emerge two decades later.
Shelley was prescient not just in his songwriting, but in his candor around sexuality, including his own. He was openly bisexual, and once said in an interview that he tried to keep his lyrics “ambisexual,” explaining, “I don't like excluding people from ideas simply because of their gender…The only people [my songs] exclude are people who don't know anything about love.” If Buzzcocks’ songs of pining were sexually ambiguous, however, Shelley’s 1981 synth-pop solo single, “Homosapien,” left no uncertainty about its addressee, opening with the lyrics “I’m the shy boy, you’re the coy boy.” The song, though far less explicit than “Orgasm Addict,” was also banned by the BBC.
Before indulgently bratty pop-punk became the soundtrack of teen angst, before ‘90s queercore bands like Pansy Division and their current bandcamp-dwelling heirs emerged, there was Pete Shelley. Having played shows with Buzzcocks as recently as 2016, Shelley’s absence from the world of punk will be salient, but his spirit lives on in every punk who’s ever felt unrequited love.
Mark E. Smith
(3/5/1957 - 1/24/2018)
by Norman Bhuian
Mark E. Smith was a man of contradictions, a fact clearly reflected in The Fall’s music. Originating from a working-class background, Smith loathed intellectualism yet, he was a well-read man who would become an icon of the intelligentsia. He sought to inject “intelligent lyrics” into rock music, which he regarded as “primitive”. The result was what can only be described as the volatile rantings of someone who mixed too much alcohol with bad speed, set to music so simple and repetitive that it drills its way into your brain. Smith’s lyrics painted a bleak, yet at times, darkly humorous picture of his industrial, prole world, characteristics which would ultimately define the most prolific band to emerge from Manchester’s post-punk scene.
Of course, Mark E. Smith was not infallible. No one who has devoted so many years to a doctrine as base and stupid as rock ‘n’ roll (and yes, rock is gloriously stupid) truly is. Smith’s lifelong battle with alcoholism culminated in a particularly dark episode, when, in 1998, a Fall concert ended with Smith getting into a fight with other members of the band onstage. A few days later, he was arrested for assaulting girlfriend and fellow Fall member Julia Nagle. The arrested resulted in mandatory counseling for Smith to deal with his substance abuse and anger management issues. The Fall would continue touring and releasing new music for almost twenty more years until late-2017, when Smith’s health began to critically deteriorate. Mark E. Smith died on January 24th, 2018 at the age of 60. Though at times he succumbed to his most reckless and inexcusable tendencies, he painted a striking firsthand portrait of postwar working-class life in England, and left behind a wide-reaching musical legacy spanning four decades and over thirty studio albums.