By Jeremy Essig
By Jason Robinson
By Hans Morgenstern
By Joseph Hess
By Peter Gilstrap
By Julia Burch
By Jeremy Essig
By Nathan Smith
The holidays are a time of family, schmaltzy Christmas commercials that somehow make you cry and — if you are involved in music journalism — list-making. Lots and lots of list-making. Mark our words: Come mid-December, the 'net and the magazine rack at your local Barnes and Noble will be brimming over with a head-spinning, eye-glazing cornucopia of rankings of the following de rigeur albums: The Arcade Fire's Neon Bible, The National's Boxer, Spoon's Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, M.I.A.'s Kala, Radiohead's In Rainbows, LCD Soundsystem's Sound of Silver and Battles' Mirrored.
So we decided to go in a different direction. In thirteen cities, we asked musicians, DJs, athletes and emcees (and in one case, a Michael Stipe-impersonating electrician) to tell us what music they loved most this year. It could be albums, songs, or the collected works of an artist — and it need not have come out this year. We just wanted to know what was moving our interviewees right now.
— John Nova Lomax, Executive Music Editor, Village Voice Media.
Cleveland's answer to Michael Stipe talks about his passions
Cleveland doesn't have celebrities. That's why our contribution to this year-end roundup is star-free. The biggest thing we've got (next to LeBron James, who was too busy playing basketball or something to talk to us) is the stripper-lovin' host of The Price Is Right, Drew Carey. But we're pretty sure he couldn't be pried away from his medical-marijuana crusade to chat music.
Besides, Cleveland's real stars are the people who make the city what it is: Clevelanders — the working-class, beer-drinking, music-lovin' guys and gals who don't need People magazine to make them famous. A couple shots of Jameson and Bruce on the jukebox work just as well, thank you.
Lakewood native Artie the Electrician (Local Union 38) is a bandana-sporting father-of-four who's played in a number of area bands over the years (including the Cheese Farmers, Ass Crack Holiday and Buddy Holly's Nipple — all excellently named, by the way). The 43-year-old was also Michael Stipe in the longtime R.E.M. cover band Radio Free Europe ("before they came out with their commercial, sellout bullshit," he says).
Artie is a lifelong music nut. He thinks most modern stuff blows ("Daughtry? I just wanna slap him, call him a sissy and send him home"), but he doesn't just dismiss it, like most guys his age do. He's listened to many of the post-Radiohead bands; he just doesn't like them.
Everyone from dead bluesmen to the almost-dead Rolling Stones to the very-alive Kelly Clarkson comes up in our conversation. Artie offers to hand over his MP3 player several times — presumably because a whopping 40 gigs of tunes will reveal just how extensive his tastes really are. The mere mention of a band (say, Primus) typically draws the response, "I got one of their CDs in my truck."
From Artie the Electrician's MP3 player and pickup truck, this is what rocked 2007.
1. Bob Mould, "Sinners and Their Repentances": I've seen him every time he's played here. I'd pay $500 to sit in the nosebleed seats at one of his concerts. I liked Hüsker Dü, but I didn't really get into him until [the 1989 solo album] Workbook. That was the album where it all came together. I don't swing that way, but I love the guy.
2. R.E.M., "Begin the Begin": It's just so rhythmically jangly. I was in a band at the time that was doing lots of Cure and Fixx songs just because we had a keyboard player — that was pretty much the only reason. One day I said, "I can't do this anymore," and started the R.E.M. tribute band. R.E.M. was my alternative to playing crap.
3. Bad Religion, "21st Century Digital Boy": This has a really good, heavy sound. They have an edge to them, but there's a lot of music going on in the background. If you sit down and really listen to it, it's a well thought-out and put-together song. It's not just three chords. On first listen, it appears straightforward and in-your-face, but there's lots of dynamics going on there. I like to pick songs apart, and this is good stuff.
4. The Dead Boys, "Sonic Reducer ": They were one of the best bands to come out of Cleveland and the last great band to come from Cleveland. I have this live tape of them, and it's so hilarious. They're so drunk, and they're literally falling down. [Singer Stiv Bators] is like, "We're here because we need the fucking money." Then they start ripping into the song.
5. Earth, Wind & Fire, "September": They're one of the best vocal groups of our time. And they're musically phenomenal. I have their greatest hits on my MP3 player. It goes from Hoodoo Gurus to Bob Mould to Mucky Pup and right into Earth, Wind & Fire."
6. Colin Dussault, "Whipping Post" (circa 1990): I knew Colin when he was putting it all together. I have a version of "Green Onions" we recorded in my basement in 1986 with me on guitar, and he played harmonica and sang. Now he 's Colin Dussault, Corporate Entity. Back then he was Colin Dussault, Balls-to-the-Wall-I'll-Drink-a-Bottle-of-Jack-Daniel's-and-Entertain-the-Shit-out-of-You-All-Night-Long. He was a drunk, his guitar player was a drunk, his bass player was a drunk, and sometimes his drummer never even bothered to show up. They're still one of the finer bands in Cleveland.