Sunday, July 26, 2020

The Remarkable Alternate Universe of Emitt Rhodes (1950-2020)

On April 17, 1970, Paul McCartney--having a week prior announced his departure from the Beatles and essentially, to the public, breaking up the best rock band ever--released his first solo album, titled simply McCartney

I was only 18 months old at the time, so can only imagine the hubbub of "PAUL QUITS THE BEATLES" headlines coming amidst contentious scheduling conflicts with the release of not only the last official Beatles' album, Let It Be, but also Ringo Starr's solo debut, Sentimental Journey.

Stung by John Lennon's private departure from the Beatles the previous fall, it was a rather audacious move for the 27-year-old McCartney, who was for 7+ years officially half of rock's greatest songwriting duo--although in the Beatles' latter years he and John largely wrote separately.

Paul would record the McCartney album at home and, excepting some minor contributions from his wife, Linda, played all the instruments on it.

Though McCartney sold well--going to #1 in America before ceding that spot to Let It Be--and contained some gems ("Maybe I'm Amazed," "Every Night," "That Would Be Something"), it was far from a masterpiece filled with the type of ear candy brilliance Paul regularly wrote with the Beatles.

By the end of 1970, George Harrison (All Things Must Pass) and John Lennon (Plastic Ono Band) would release solo albums that were--subjectively, though in the minds of many--superior to McCartney.

So too would a handsome 20-year-old, who had left behind a band he fronted, The Merry-Go-Round, and within his parents' home in Hawthorne--the same SoCal burg that birthed the Beach Boys and their transcendent songwriter, Brian Wilson--played all the instruments on what would be his official, self-titled debut album:

Emitt Rhodes

Now, certainly, we can agree that Paul McCartney was--and remains--an insanely great pop songwriter, possibly the best ever.

And we might also agree that, while it has its moments, his 1970 solo debut album is lesser than releases that year by not only John Lennon, George Harrison and The Beatles but also Van Morrison (Moondance), Neil Young (After the Gold Rush), Derek & the Dominoes (Layla and Assorted Other Loves Songs), Creedence Clearwater Revival (Cosmo's Factory), The Kinks (Lola Versus Powerman), Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (Déjà Vu), Simon & Garfunkel (Bridge Over Troubled Water), James Taylor (Sweet Baby James), Randy Newman (12 Songs), Elton John (Tumbleweed Connection), David Bowie (The Man Who Sold the World), Led Zeppelin (III) and likely records by Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Pink Floyd, Traffic and many more.

So, hey, no one bats 1000.

But take a listen to this; a prime cut from Emitt Rhodes called "Fresh as a Daisy:"

Doesn't it sound McCartneyesque?

And if you're intrigued, take a listen to Rhodes' entire solo album, which I culled from a longer retrospective on Spotify.

Now, to be clear, regardless of the "Paul is Dead" rumor that surfaced a few years prior and which I enjoyed exploring about a decade later, I'm in no way suggesting that Paul McCartney was Emitt Rhodes, or ever recorded in his name. (Or vice-versa.)

Nor am I saying that, in the whole scheme of things, Emitt Rhodes was as anywhere near as great or important a musician as Paul McCartney.

That would just be stupid.

But maybe I'm amazed that in the year Macca (McCartney's nickname) officially ended the Beatles in order to put out his solo debut on the day he wanted, a little-known musician--Emitt Rhodes did go to #29 on the Billboard charts so wasn't completely ignored--who sounded rather similar released a solo debut album that was even better.

I don't know if its apt to use the term "alternate universe" or "alternate reality" or "crazy coincidence" or "unknown treasure" or "hidden genius," but I'm fairly certain that there are insanely gifted people living among us whose talents will barely be known.

In this, I'm not referencing--necessarily--supremely talented co-workers whose true gifts are never tapped (nor even much shared) while toiling in mundane jobs, though I've known many.

And though I don't rule out the possibility, I've yet to see evidence of X-Men type mutants, or unrevealed superheroes.

But I swear a college friend of mine who never played organized prep sports could throw a baseball 90 MPH, serve a tennis ball at 120 MPH and hurl a football 80 yards on a rope. I'm sure he's not the only one.

Once I attended a party where talented musicians were jamming, then one dude showed up in a well-worn Honda Civic and routinely tossed out guitar solos that sounded every bit as good as prime Clapton.

And I have to assume that there are professional or Olympic-caliber athletes who perhaps don't even know their own talents, and/or will never be "discovered."

So Emitt Rhodes, who passed away on July 19 at the age of 70, just fascinates the fuck out of me.

Oddly, news of his death reminded me that I had once heard of Rhodes and his unlikely brilliance, but then forgot about him.

Having worked in creative environments for much of my career, frequently on a short-term, freelance basis, I've had the pleasure of knowing many skilled musicians, painters, filmmakers, comedians, actors, authors, etc., etc., who had other day jobs.

At one stop, where I actually wound up twice, I got to know a guy named Todd, a copywriter by day and also a singer/songwriter under the guise of Hop on Pop, with which he's made a few albums. (At the linked Bandcamp page, check out "Here" from the Chicken on a Bicycle album, among other fine tunes.)

Todd is also probably the best-versed musicologist I know, at least in rock realms.

Over lunch one day, during a gig that for me last 2 weeks, Todd told me about Emitt Rhodes and his brilliant first album. He may have even played something for me.

I was impressed, enough to note Rhodes in my iPhone's Notes app, but the debut album wasn't readily available on Amazon--it still isn't--and if on Spotify was perhaps part of The Emitt Rhodes Recordings 1969-1973, as it remains.

So I came to know of Emitt Rhodes, but not really his music, and essentially forgot about him.

Until late last Sunday, when I saw a post on Facebook--not from Todd--about the passing of Mr. Rhodes.

Obviously, I wasn't the only one who found him a fascinating footnote in rock history.

In 2009, a fan and filmmaker named Cossimo Messeri had made a documentary about Rhodes titled--as others had referenced him--The One Man Beatles.

Within the past week I found the 54-minute film on Vimeo and enjoyed it, but it seems to have been taken down. 

It showed Rhodes--residing in a friend's home in Hawthorne, across from his childhood home and parents until they passed--older, heavier, bearded, speaking of his having depression, but with a Brian Wilson-like innocence, NOT bitter regret. 

And still a gift for knocking out a catchy tune. 

The Bangles, Michael Penn and noted producer Keith Olsen are among the notable Emitt Rhodes fans interviewed in the documentary. And although I didn't know it until this week, in 2016 Rhodes released Rainbow Ends, a new solo album featuring contributions from Susannah Hoffs, Aimee Mann, Jon Brion, Richard Thompson, Nels Cline of Wilco and others. 

Somewhere in this long piece I should probably have mentioned that Rhodes initially played drums in a band called The Palace Guard, that The Merry-Go-Round had some nice tunes and minor acclaim in the late-1960s and--in part due to legal & financial troubles with record companies before & after going solo--his last album prior to Rainbow Ends came in 1973. (Find his Wikipedia entry here, AllMusic bio here and several fine tributes since his passing, including this one from the L.A. Times.)

I should also note, as several of the obits of Emitt Rhodes did, that director Wes Anderson used one of the debut album tracks, "Lullabye," significantly in his 2001 film, The Royal Tenenbaums.

Anyway, so far I've mainly (re)focused on Emitt Rhodes, the rather obscure 1970 solo debut that, IMHO, matches that of Paul McCartney. Or probably even surpasses it.

But from a listen to Rainbow Ends and some songs Rhodes was shown tinkering with in The One Man Beatles, it seems clear that his prodigious pop songwriting talent wasn't just a long-forgotten fluke. Or something that just went away, as he seemed to.

Even minus the proverbial pot o' gold at the end, Emitt Rhodes' alternate universe seems to have legitimately covered quite a spectrum.

And clearly, there is so much untold brilliance than can conceivably be found and savored, perhaps just biding its time somewhere beneath the surface.

Or unwittingly walking among us.

Monday, July 06, 2020

Mourning the Passing of Nick Cordero (1978-2020)

Although I go to -- or at least used to go to -- a bunch of theater, in Chicago and occasionally on Broadway in New York, my database indicates I'd only seen the musical actor Nick Cordero once.

That was in the jukebox rock musical Rock of Ages, in Chicago in 2010. But I have followed news of his critical condition at the hands of COVID-19, and was quite saddened to learn of his passing yesterday.

So to serve as a Facebook cover image, I felt compelled to make this. (The actual GoFundMe link can be reached here)

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

And Yet Even More Madness

See this post to understand why I'm posting the latest completed tournament...

...and the opening bracket of the current tourney: