July 6, 2012

Too Soon: Bands that broke up before we were ready

The message arrived unannounced last month and unprecedented in the long, celebrated history of this blog — a request from a loyal reader. 

Could you all (and guest contributors) do a post on a list of bands you wish you could have seen before they broke up, died, or became uncool?

Vanessa asked and now receives her answers from The Sad Bear, in the form of top tens and top threes and peppered with lyrics, speculations, footnotes, and regret.


I started listening to good music before I could drive and before my parents thought I should be allowed to go to shows. I missed out on so much. Bands came and went before I could see them live. I'm a little bitter about it still. Not that every missed opportunity was their fault, but they are responsible for a good chunk of my unhappiness in this regard. Other instances of missed opportunity come from poor birth-timing. It just didn't work out. Here are the top ten bands I wish I could have seen way back when:

10. The Who

I love their energy. No one can compare. When I heard "A Quick One ... " in Rushmore, I almost died.

9. Operation Ivy

They were a Gilman St. pseudo-ska punk band from the late 80's and early 90's. I adore them. I loved how fast they played. They were so political, and yet so fantastically fun. I actually made my own Op Ivy jacket and my life was forever made better when I found an Operation Ivy button in the parking lot of a Salvation Army. I just knew some punk kid had left it there for me. When I was old enough, Rancid was the new thing. Sorry, Jack. You know I hate Rancid.

8. Green Day

I'm happy for these guys. They made a career out of being best buddies and staying together in a band. But, they suck so much now. I adored Kerplunk and Dookie (who didn't?) but never really had the chance to see these fellas before the cheeze set in.

7. The White Stripes

Around Get Behind Me, Satan I realized that the White Stripes were going to fall apart. I felt stupid for waiting so long to see them. Then, this guy at work said that he had tickets to see them at The Masonic Temple. But, he only had two one for me and for him. He was 57. I didn't go.

6. Buddy Holly

This man and I could have been best friends, I'm absolutely sure.

5. Neutral Milk Hotel

I wish that I could have been old enough around the time of In the Aeroplane, I probably would have stalked them.

4. Hole

When I learned about Cobain's death, I started an unrequited friendship with Courtney Love. And, with that, her band. But after Celebrity Skin, I found other loves.

3. Fiona Apple

Really, she shouldn't be on this list. I thought she was done with music when I first got the idea for this post. It has been seven years since her last record. And I'll be darned if she isn't putting out a new one and I'm going to see her this month.

2. Otis Redding

Everything I love about music can be found in his music. Sorrow, love, familiarity, truth, peace, sexiness. God bless his soul.

1. Cat Power

This was an easy No. 1 pick. I love Chan Marshall and will love everything she does until she's dead. But I wish I could have seen her back when she drank and smoked too much. Cat Power completely defined who I am and how I think about the world. Too bad I couldn't see her back when she had important things to say.


Top three, since I've never been a concert junky:

3. Billie Holiday

I don't know what people did when Billie performed; whether they sat at tables in tuxedos sipping cocktails or danced a slow foxtrot across a gymnasium floor, but whatever it was, I know I want to do it.

2. The Animals

'cause Eric Burdon's evil face mesmerizes me.

1. Dire Straits

The speed the enormous leap across an unimaginable distance by which this band went from cool to suck astounds me. Their first self-titled album rings with just that laid-back, slick and soothing, tongue-in-cheek, lyrical quality that would wonderfully occupy my mind for an evening. All successive albums, and especially whatever catastrophe included "Money For Nuthin'" would cause me to walk out. I would pay money not to see that.

P.S. David Bowie. He transcends my list.


I tried to think of bands that would be physically impossible to see now (i.e., death or permanent dismemberment). Especially since it seems like now bands are getting back together, it seems, to make some quick cash without actually writing any new music. (giving you the stink-eye, Pixies!)

Of course, one band that came to mind immediately was Uncle Tupelo a group still alive and playing their instruments just fine. (I hope ... Mike Heidorn, what's your status? Let me know.)

Anyway, I think they would have been fun to see in the early 90s when they were still playing dank basements of St. Louis bars and playing songs like this to drunken singalong revelry.

A few others that would have been fun to see in their heydey include Joy Division (pre-Ian Curtis hanging), Fugazi (you can hear basically every show they ever played right now, they've been releasing all of their concert archives ... they have no setlists, so the shows were probably just lots of punk dudes shouting out song requests and moshing before getting yelled at by Ian MacKaye to stop moshing) and Black Flag. Just so I can say I punched someone at a VFW Hall somewhere.

Finally: The White Stripes. I'm sure Jack will someday decide to reform them again, because he does whatever the hell he wants these days, but I had the chance to see them at St. Andrews before they got massive. I still kick myself for not going.


Sam Cooke
Presented without comment. Or Otis. Either.

The Who
Imagine the last five Super Bowl halftime performances as various regions in Dante's Divine Comedy. Madonna would be one of the milder levels of hell. The virtuous pagans, say, or Francesca and Paolo would be doomed to watch Madonna's plastic self bolstered by various tolerable Top 40 acts over and over again. It'd be unpleasant but tolerable. The Who's performance would be significantly deeper. Perhaps the heretics in the 6th circle would be subjected to Roger Daltrey's ancient goatish voice (no offense meant, Jon) and Pete Townshend's creaking approximations of rock guitar.

The Black Eyed Peas have the 9th circle LOCKED. DOWN. Judas Iscariot is watching these morons make their already-awful songs sound even worse for eternity. We'll say Tom Petty goes in Purgatory I've still got a childhood soft-spot for him (YA SO?!??). Meanwhile, The Boss is crotch-sliding through Paradise.

So the Who were bad, but the performance was not, in and of itself, completely horrible. Unlike the Black Eyed Peas, the Who did not make me embarrassed to be part of the human race. Still, while the Peas were terrible to a greater degree than expected, I knew they were going to be very, very bad.*

So the Peas were a travesty of Top 40 Pop Rebecca Black before Rebecca Black was a twinkle in the Internet's eye but the Who's performance was Greek tragedy. It's the difference between Adam Sandler continuing to make shitty movies† and Dana Carvey falling from "Gerald Ford dead today" to The Master of Disguise. It's not so much the bad performance as the fall from grace that gets you.

Looking back as we must through a haze of CSI opening credits and overplay of their most mediocre hit,° it's hard to realize how badass these guys were. The Who revolutionized music. They coined the term though didn't really invent the form "power pop." You don't get the Flaming Lips without the Who. You can argue that the Who even more than the Stones pushed the Beatles from teenie-boppers to rockers. And a more ambiguous legacy they invented the death growl.

My uncle saw the Who at a music festival at some point in the 1970s. A Montgomery boy through-and-through, Uncle Woody (no identity protection here) had a taste only for country and rockabilly and such until that scream at the end of "Won't Get Fooled Again" instantly converted him into a fan of rock 'n' roll. Incidentally, that scream also made me beg my parents to buy a Nissan Maxima for a week or so until I saw one in person and lots my faith in advertising.

Then time took its toll. Vanessa asked us to write about bands we wish we could have seen "before they broke up/died/got not-so-cool." Though I'm open to counter arguments, I'm willing to argue that the Who are the most distinctive foursome in rock history.ª In a sense, then, the Who died with Keith Moon in Harry Nillson's Curzon Place flat in 1978. John Entwhistle's 2002 cocaine-and-hooker fueled death made the Who even more unrecognizable.

But the Super Bowl performance puts the Who in Vanessa's final category too. I still like Pete Townshend. He seems like a decent guy. But he and Daltrey have gone from legendary rockers to sad old men. All flesh is like grass.


*Has a group as bad as the Black Eyed Peas ever been this popular for this long? There is quite literally nothing redeemable in their entire catalogue. Not even in a hipster-ironic or guilty-pleasure or love-to-hate-em or winking-contrarian sense (crawl in a hole and die Slate).

†I liked lots of Sandler's movies in middle school and high school, and I still like and laugh at those movies but doing so involves tapping into my adolescent idiocy. They are funny to the remnants and memory of my adolescent self, not to my present adult self. Similarly, a friend we'll call "Kyle" (to protect his identity) and I put an instrumental version of "Let's Get Retarded" on our varsity basketball pump-up mix a moment of youthful embarrassment on par with crying in front of the (flag) football team and being pictured in an elementary-school yearbook picking my nose. The difference is that I'll still laugh at Happy Gilmore, but I grimace even to think of that stupid, uncatchy song.

°Clearly I wish blogger had footnotes. Alas. Anyway. Part of me wishes Louis C.K. would have picked a better track, but then isn't "Who Are You" the perfect dadrock track? Furthermore, if you ignore the sissy, Steve-Miller-Band-knock-off chorus, the rest of the song still rocks.

ªIt's true that Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison are untouchable, but Moon brought a helluvalot more to the Who than Ringo Starr ever did for the Beatles.


This one was a little hard for me to think through, so I set aside difficulty determining whether an extant band has become lame and assumed that, for each entry on my list, I would see each band at the height of their capability and cultural relevance. With that in mind, I have a list:

10. The Smiths
9. Sonic Youth
8. The Clash
7. Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band
6. The Books
5. Black Sabbath
4. Bob Dylan
3. Pixies
2. Neutral Milk Hotel
1. The Doors


I'm only going to be writing about one group, one that I thought was both unpopular and long gone.

However, after a nominal amount of research I've discovered that Eiffel 65 may remain uncool, but they are most certainly not dead. Well, not technically. I'm sure most of us can remember their two hit songs from our grade school days, "Blue (Da Ba Dee)" and "Move Your Body," songs that appeared on the first album I ever owned, Europop. Both did well on music charts across the world, the former hitting No. 1 spots in at least eight countries, not to mention No. 3 in Italy (their birthplace) and No. 6 in the United States. They had other hits throughout the early 2000s, but nothing noticeable since the abysmal showing in 2004 upon the release of Eiffel 65 2 (apparently a sequel to their original self-titled album?).

They remained dormant throughout the rest of the decade, until late 2010, when they announced a new album to be released ... soon. First they said we'd get a listen that same year, but then postponed it until 2012 (I hope you all are spinning and crying as much as I am over this news). For what it's worth, I remember loving the "beats" in their songs while growing up, and the music became an introduction to techno music for me. In fact, they probably had a role to play in me coming into contact with my Italian pen pal, Andrea, who would send me mixtapes (via cassette tape) all the way from Turin, Italy, then the techno music capital of the world (side note: Andrea and I still keep in touch). I remember hearing about Benny Benassi long before any of my American friends. Anyway.

I'd love to see them live just because they are absurd and it would be a blast. Their music is still catchy, and some of their lyrics are hilariously strange (read: total gems), even if they are losers in the musical world:

'Cause all that i want is a silicon girl,
With silicon lips and silicon hair.
Sha la la, la la la
you're my silicon girl
So come into my silicon world

lolwut? So whether they're singing about silicon girls or The X-Files, or Sony Playstation, or just the color blue (.. .da ba dee) ... I would find it impossible to pass on seeing a show of theirs should they come through the United States. Though, for any other star-crossed Eiffel 65 lovers out there, we'll just have to commiserate together, because I think the only thing they're doing these days is a mini-Australian tour. Boo.


I envy Americans born in the 50s. I wish I would have had the classics as my high school soundtrack instead of embarrassing shit like Bright Eyes and Dashboard Confessional. If I could go back in time and make it all right, I would have made sure to see Parliament-Funkadelic sometime in the late 1970s, after both Mothership Connection and Funkentelechy Vs. The Placebo Syndrome were released.

I've seen P-Funk twice in the last couple years even danced on stage and gotten a guitarist's digits! and the band still plays a mean live show, but P-Funk was undoubtedly their best in the late 70s. The funk dream team were all together then: George Clinton (of course), Bernie Worrell (synth/keyboardist) and Bootsy Collins (also bassist for James Brown) were in the line-up, not to mention Gary Shider and Maceo Parker. The band was also at the height of their creativity for live entertainment; the late 70s featured wonderfully ridiculous spandex get-ups and elaborate plots to the theme of recent albums. In fact, the band played several shows that involved an enormous spaceship containing Dr. Funkenstein (Clinton, naturally), whose arrival marked the proliferation of funk to the audience.

The Mothership has since been lost somewhere, but a replica is being made for the new Smithsonian's Museum of African American History and Culture. The Smithsonian curators and I apparently share some thoughts about P-Funk: this music had much cultural significance as an expressive tool during the post-Civil Rights Era.

(Also, fun fact: Worrell's synth line in the song Flashlight is played an octave below the normal range of human hearing, for added funk.)


Bruce Springsteen 

I would probably enjoy a Springsteen show today, provided that he were to stick to his early catalog, but even then, something about Bruce's persona just grinds my gears now. Also, Clarence Clemons died about a year ago, so it's sort of double whammy on this one.

J Dilla

I started listening to his work a year ago, which was about one year after I first heard of him, which was about four years after he died of a rare disease.

Modest Mouse

I don't know if I'd go so far as to say they've gotten lame. Good News for People Who Love Bad News was great, and We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank was alright, and I haven't listened to much of anything they've done since. But I wish I had seen them in 2002-03, in their prime, touring for Moon and Antarctica. Also, tickets were like eight bucks.

I'd also say: the White Stripes (split up), Weezer (lost interest), Wilco (lost interest), and the Beastie Boys (future uncertain with recent death of MCA)


I'd love to be able to be brief with my answer, offering no explanation and just putting this out there: Rage Against the Machine.

But I can't. I have to come clean: R.A.T.M. is probably the band that I had the best chance of seeing live that I didn't — although I may be kidding myself to think my parents would have let me go before age 14, and that I could have survived in the mosh pit.

I was similarly caught off guard by the breakup of Sleater-Kinney. I thought I'd see them. And I'm still waiting for Modest Mouse and Cake — two bands that were on my must-see list in college, including during the time I vowed not to see any band for a second time before first seeing the must-sees. Yo La Tengo obliterated that rule.

I also want to point out a particular show I regret not seeing: the White Stripes and the Flaming Lips 2003/2004 New Year's Eve show in Chicago, which critics raved about, literally, for years.

And now, where I failed at brevity, J Dunn brings us home:

J Dunn

I wish I could have seen Benny Goodman in the 40s, Frank Sinatra in the 50s or the 80s, and Sublime in the 90s.

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Blogger Tony said...

Of all the bands suggested by the group, I find myself in most agreement with two drastically different acts here: The Doors and Eiffel 65. How about that?

On the flip side, I do consider myself incredibly lucky to have seen Circulatory System in Athens, and, of course, Jeff Mangum in Chicago.

July 6, 2012 at 9:18 AM 
Blogger Fr. Mark Perkins said...

I was going I try to write about LCD Soundsyatem but figured someone else would do a better job of it. They seem a notable absence. My friend Wes saw them twice, said once that James Murphy sounded like he was seventy and bored, and once he absolutely kicked ass.

July 6, 2012 at 11:35 AM 
Blogger JHitts said...

Vanessa hates Rancid? How are we friends?

July 6, 2012 at 6:21 PM 
Blogger JHitts said...

Also, Econ, good call on the Beasties.

July 6, 2012 at 6:33 PM 
Blogger Margaret Anne said...

Econ, didn't we see Modest Mouse together like two summers ago at Pitchfork? Granted, it wasn't exactly in their prime...

July 9, 2012 at 2:26 PM 

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