Simple Things: Johnny Clegg (1953-2019)

Johnny Clegg died of pancreatic cancer today at the age of 66. He was an accomplished and inspirational musician, social anthropologist, songwriter and activist. His multi-racial bands Juluka (founded with Zulu migrant worker Sipho Mchunu in the early 1970s) and Savuka (formed in the mid-1980s after Mchunu retired and returned to his family’s farm) provided a pointed, potent cultural spearhead through the final years of South Africa’s apartheid era and beyond.

The vast majority of his musical output touched on the sociopolitical and personal realities of life in South Africa, with two songs in particular capturing the world’s fancy: “Scatterlings of Africa” (Juluka, 1982) was a global pop hit, telling the story of the dispossessed and dislocated people of his home continent; and “Asimbonanga” (Savuka, 1987) was an open cry for the release of Nelson Mandela from his prison cell at Robben Island. A 1999 video of Clegg performing “Asimbonanga” with his band, joined by a very special guest dancer — no longer a prisoner, but instead the duly elected President of his people — is one of the most joyful things on the Internet to these ears and eyes:

I can’t write an obituary that would do Johnny Clegg the honor and justice he’s due. NPR has a nice one here and France 24’s obituary provides a more European perspective on his life. It’s also worth reading Clegg’s Wikipedia page, if you are unfamiliar with his life and career, and the numerous honors and awards that have been bestowed upon him over the years. I can, however, share some stories about how special he was to me in my own musical, cultural, and personal development, by way of explaining why his death touches me so.

While at the Naval Academy in the early ’80s, I made a decision to focus my political science studies on African politics. My motivations were not entirely altruistic: I found that it was easier to wait until the last minute to work on papers and projects because so few books about Africa ever got checked out of the Academy’s library, while the Soviet or European or Chinese shelves would be picked clean most of the time. Score one for the lazy man with a keen eye for an angle.

Initial motivations notwithstanding, I actually really got into my African studies, and in parallel, I got deeply interested in African music, and spent much of my paper-writing, reading and studying time listening to it. In those pre-Internet (and pre-“World Music” CDs at the Starbucks check-out counter) days, records from Africa were still relatively hard to find, and information about all but the most high-profile artists (e.g. Fela Kuti, Manu Dibango, Miriam Makeba, King Sunny Ade, etc.) was scarce. I had an odd hodge-podge of tapes and albums from all over the continent that I played to death for a couple of years, but the popularity of “Scatterlings of Africa” (the album it came from was even reviewed by the likes of Rolling Stone and Spin) opened up new interest in African music, politics and culture that made it easier to access some true gems of the era and beyond, on and on for me up to this day. (Case in point: the brand new album from Kinshasa’s KOKOKO!, which you should hear!)

While UK artists like The Specials (“Free Nelson Mandela,” 1984), or Peter Gabriel (“Biko,” 1980) helped raise awareness of the cultural price of Apartheid, and Paul Simon’s Graceland (1986) brought Township music a wider global audience than it had ever had, Clegg’s work always seemed to me to be somehow less manipulative, and more honest, than its European and American counterparts. It was a whole lot easier for the Westerners to bring African musical concepts into their (safe) European homes than it was for Clegg to learn Zulu language and dance, gain the trust of KwaZulu’s musicians and activists, and then merge his own Celtic and folk musical influences with native South African styles and themes, in an environment that was decidedly not safe for such cultural cross-pollination.

There was nothing of the debutante about Johnny Clegg from where I sat as a fan and follower, whereas the appropriated cross-cultural works by the likes of Simon and David Byrne always left me feeling vaguely icky after I listened to them.  (Heck, when you get right down to it, Neil Diamond beat both of those guys to the punch by more than a decade with his “African Suite” from 1970, but he’s not considered cool enough to get due credit for that, now, is he? He deserves it, though, and I commend Tap Root Manuscript to you as well).

Anyway: Juluka and later Savuka were regular, nearly constant, spins on my stereo for years, and you’d likely be amazed at how much isiZulu I can sing phonetically, having those sounds and words deeply burned into my brain through repetition, repetition, repetition. Fast forward to 1987, when Marcia and I are both working at Naval Reactors, hanging out with the same group of friends, but not dating, not quite yet. We did a lot of stuff with various permutations of our social group, but things just did not work out so that it was only the two of us doing something together, no matter how hard I worked to make that happen. After some months and many missed opportunities, a Savuka concert at the legendary 930 Club (the original one, at the deeply scuzzy 930 F Street, not the shiny new, big, trendy, popular, safe one that came later) finally became the thing that got us out on the town together, just she and I, doing and seeing something really, really cool, together. Wow! Fireworks! Wow! That one night made it easier to do other things together, just the two of us, and a few months later, we were couple, inseparable for over three decades since.

So Johnny Clegg was a part of our own story that night, as was Dudu Zulu, Clegg’s dancing partner onstage with Savuka, their traditional jumps and thrusts and leaps and kicks taking the music up to a whole ‘nother level of mind-blowing and ass-kicking. After that tour, and after a few more tours and records beyond that, Dudu Zulu was gunned down near his home in KwaZuluNatal in 1992. That was the end of the line for Savuka, with yet another tragic loss added to the list that Clegg had written and sang about for so many years.

Clegg played on after that as a solo act, and on, and on, and on, and he kept the memories of Zulu and Biko and Aggett and Mxenge and Mandela and the causes they fought for in front of his audiences, lest we forget their importance and their lessons. I learned a lot about the real issues facing South Africa through Johnny Clegg’s music, beyond what the textbooks could tell me. And I learned a lot about how to speak truth to power, and how to use simple language to express complex sentiments, and how to build bigger, better, more innovative things by working with diverse communities, rather than sulking in a silo of social homogeneity.

Fast forward yet again, lots of years, to our first summer in Chicago, 2015. After four years in relatively sleepy Des Moines, it was huge for Marcia and I to have so many options to see so many cool things, right within walking distance of our new condo. As fate would have it, one of the first gigs we spotted and scored tickets for was Johnny Clegg playing at City Winery, with his son, Jesse, opening the show. It was an awe-inspiring evening, and an amazing way to mark the opening of a new phase of our life, just as that Savuka show in 1987 had been a milestone for us all those years before. We loved it! We sang along! We danced! We talked about it and marveled at how wonderful he remained, and how powerfully his songs still spoke to us! Yay, him! Yay, us!

And then soon after that, we learned that Johnny Clegg had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and then after 2017, there were no more tours and no more records to follow. Clegg fought that awful disease, but it got him in the end, as it almost always does. He was too young to leave us, but golly, what he life he lived, what a legacy he left behind, and how important he was to me, in so many ways, over so many years.

As we are subjected to racist hate-speak emerging from the maw-hole of our nation’s malefic President this week, it’s shocking, but important, to consider and focus on just how important Johnny Clegg’s messages remain, everywhere, all the time, whenever we are faced with institutional or individual racism and discrimination. No, the Republic of South Africa may not be ruled by a racist oligarchy anymore, more power to it and its people, but us? I’m not so sure . . . if we aren’t there already, we’re in danger of getting there soon, and we need to stand up and join hands and sing songs and tell stories and act in ways that cast light on and denigrate the shrill, shallow, petty evil of racism and its proponents and apologists. Johnny Clegg showed us how to do that. May others emulate him, right here, right now, and tomorrow, and in all the years that follow even after that.

As many people do, when they learn that a beloved artist has passed, we tend to fill up the listening spaces in our lives with the departed one’s music, a phenomenon that Marcia has dubbed “I Hear Dead People,” given how often I do it hereabouts, as the stars of our youth age out and pass on to some great reward. I will note, somewhat sadly, that because I knew Johnny Clegg has been deeply ill, I actually got a head-start on that process over the past year or so, and we’ve been spinning him regularly for a long time, loving his songs, loving his language, loving his stories.

I’m glad we were thinking about him while he was still fighting his final battle, and not just after he flew away from us. That listening will be continuing in the weeks and months ahead, likely with a larger playlist, since I’ve got plenty of his stuff. I close this post with the song I chose to title it, probably my personal favorite from Clegg’s canon. This one was co-written by Sipho Mchunu from the 1982 Scatterlings album. Its bottom line message — “Simple things are all we have left to trust” — resonates with me, in a tumultuous personal and political world, where the little, dear, personal things are really the ones that sustain me, the constant anchors in the noisy rushing flow of life around all of us.

Bless you, Johnny Clegg, for the gifts you gave to so many. You truly made a difference.

Best Albums of 2019 (First Half)

It’s been six months and 10 days since I posted my “Best Albums of 2018” report, so per my slightly forward-skewed rubric, that means it’s now time to see how the first half of 2019 is shaking out for new music. There have been lots of new (to me) artists thus far, along with some welcome returns to form by old favorites, so I’ve appreciated having a nice blend of high-quality tunes spinning from a variety of genres through the winter and (apparently never-ending) spring. I don’t bother with long form reviews at this point in the year, and the albums cited are just presented alphabetically by artist with no qualitative hierarchies, since I know this list will evolve significantly before I do the full 2019 year in review, and I will lock them all in then. That said, if you’re looking for good new music, and you know and trust my judgment (or don’t, I guess), then I highly recommend you explore any of this baker’s dozen of very good discs via the embedded links, as some of these are already knocking around in my head as potential “Album of the Year” honorees come November/December, and they’re well worth enjoying now. Happy listening, as always!

Clinic, Wheeltappers and Shunters

F-DORM, COMMUNE

Focus, Focus 11

Imperial Wax, Gastwerk Saboteurs

Malibu Ken, Malibu Ken

Mekons, Deserted

Alice Merton, Mint

Piroshka, Brickbat

Sacred Paws, Run Around the Sun

The Specials, Encore

Tronos, Celestial Mechanics

White Denim, Side Effects

Xiu Xiu, Girl With Basket of Fruit

One of a few serious early contenders for “Album of the Year 2019.”

“Gastwerk Saboteurs” by Imperial Wax

It’s been 16 months since legendary Mancunian musical genius and cancer victim Mark E. Smith stubbed out his last cigarette and shuffled off this mortal coil, at the sadly premature age of 61. Seven months before he flew away, he released New Facts Emerge, the final album by The Fall, the group which he had fronted through four decades of brilliant studio releases, storming live concerts, and a series of ongoing lineup changes that had long become a music critic cliche by the time he last took a stage before an audience.

That final studio document of his life’s work found Smith supported by his longest-lasting and most stalwart musical crew, guitarist Peter Greenway, bassist Dave Spurr, and drummer Keiron Melling. The instrumental trio had worked together with Smith for eleven continuous years by the time of The Fall’s final bow, most of that time spent with Smith’s wife Eleni Poulou on keyboards and backing vocals, though she was absent for the muscular all-lads New Facts Emerge, having re-emigrated to Germany, where she is now recording excellent droney noise with NOHE NOSHE.

Greenway, Spurr and Melling were left in England to handle the obligatory interviews, and my admiration for them (already high based on their no-nonsense musical chops) increased several orders of magnitude as they gracefully, graciously handled the press in ways that honored and humanized the easily-caricatured Smith, without clutching the spotlight closely in any self-aggrandizing or self-promotional ways. They made it crystal clear that The Fall had died with Mark E. Smith, while also resolutely and accurately noting that they’d become a formidable group over a decade together, and that they had more to say in their own rights. Other key tenets of the last years’ worth of interviews with the trio tended to focus on four key themes: (1) Mark E. Smith was their friend, (2) He was funny, and they had fun with him, (3) He instilled a tough work ethic in them, and (4) They had a process for making music, and it worked with and for Smith, and they believed it could work for them without him.

Based on the audio and video evidence of their new debut album, Gastwerk Saboteurs, Imperial Wax (as the group are now known, invoking the 2008 Fall album, Imperial Wax Solvent, where they first worked together) still hew to that tough work ethic, with a proven process for producing noisy, clattering rock and roll built on titanic riffs with abrasive, creative soundscaping, and they’re having fun still, both as old friends, and with a new colleague, singer-guitarist Sam Curran of post-punk garage rockers Black Pudding. You can certainly hear the sonic connections to the punchy, muscular and weird New Facts Emerge (most clearly in Greenway’s amped up psycho spaghetti western guitar stylings and the Motörhead crunch of the Melling-Spurr rhythm section), but Curran’s strong voice and the heft of the twin-guitar attack clearly mark Imperial Wax as a different sort of beast than its forebears, to everyone’s benefit.

Album opener “The Art of Projection” (which has a dugga dugga dugga Wire vibe about it) and lead single “No Man’s Land” have been floating around online for awhile before the rest of the album’s release, and they provide a fine introduction to the new group’s charms, as evidenced by their entertaining videos, linked herein. Imperial Wax would have been ill-served in recruiting a Mark E. Smith mimic (if one could be found) to handle microphone duties, and Curran shines as a front man, not only just as a different type of singer, but also as a strong and confident vocalist in his own right, with a fresh approach and a range that allows him to deliver shouts and croons as and where needed, with aplomb. He’s got a different lyrical style, too, and Gastwerk Saboteurs is a word-rich album as a result, engaging and direct in the spaces where Smith was often verbally obtuse and elliptical, (wherein lied many of his own unique and irreplaceable charms, of course).

Gastwerk Saboteurs features another ten songs beyond those two teaser tracks, with a pair of short jammy instrumentals (“Wax On” and “Wax Off”) serving as previews of an unexpected album closer, the wordless nine-minute epic “Night of the Meek,” which builds and stomps with the sorts of mecanik precision and power in which Fall-inspirations CAN once specialized. Another long highlight is “Rammy Taxi Illuminati,” a wonderfully weird two-parter that opens with a storming, shouting roots rock rave, then pivots into a lugubrious, syrupy, effects-drenched groove that would have done Hairway to Steven-era Butthole Surfers proud. (Interestingly, Surfers bassist Jeff Pinkus forged the link that got Imperial Wax signed to the Texas-based Saustex Records label; they’ve been doing a great job with early marketing of the disc, so it seems a sound connection).

“Turncoat” and “More Fool Me” turn the tempos down a bit, but not the grooves, and they both merge memorable rock riffing with unusual and unexpected production approaches that pop sonic surprises into unexpected crevices. “Plant the Seed” is a classic chugger, and “Barely Getting By” is an inverted blues lamentation anchored in a timely and recognizable sociopolitical setting, rife with dismay and disappointment, delivered with demon intensity. Group backing vocals and processed guitars and keyboards (?) are prevalent throughout, adding density and variety to the record’s sound, which is spacious and warm and invites, nay, demands loud plays on the family hifi, on repeat.

All in all, a wonderful and exciting debut record from a new band forged in the crucible of an old one. It’s not The Fall, not at all, and much credit to its creators for recognizing that the best way to honor their fallen Chief is by forging forward, with the new album, if not the next album after that, standing as the one that excites them most. Bless them for sharing that excitement with us, and kudos for a job well done, under circumstances where most others would have faltered and failed.

Listen/Purchase Here: Gastwerk Saboteurs by Imperial Wax

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Another Song About . . .

Professor Buggy Jive is a soul rock singer-songwriter with a basement studio in Albany, New York. He loves Joni and he loves Aretha and he loves Prince, and I love him and his music. He comes from a big musical family, and I also knew his sister, Jennifer (she was, indeed, too big for Schenectady) and his second cousin, Bryan Thomas, when I lived back in the 518. Good folks, all of them.

Bryan was an especially exquisite performer and composer, now retired. When my Dad died in 2002, his then-recent song “Shine” was my centering chime for months and months. It perfectly captured the complex swirl of emotions around a boy losing his church-loving Daddy (we both had church-loving Daddies) and the confounding feelings associated with seeing the men we loved most being taken away by the God they loved most. It was just right, just so, just perfect. My soul moved. I wept. It helped. Later, I asked Bryan to sing “Mary, Don’t You Weep” during an Easter Weekend Mass at the Chapel + Cultural Center at Rensselaer when I was director there. All the souls in that room moved too. But he told us not to weep, so we (mostly) didn’t. Much.

Much later still: Albany’s creative community (of which I was a small part for nearly two decades) was devastated in recent weeks by a pair of losses, with Caroline “MotherJudge” Isachsen and Greg “Sarge Blotto” Haymes both flying away too young, and with shocking quickness after late-stage cancer diagnoses. I knew them both. I was shocked, too. And very saddened to hear the news from so many miles away. It’s hard to hug over wifi.

Folks in Albany and elsewhere (even Des Moines) have been extending condolences, sharing hugs and stories, planning memorials, remembering, laughing, reflecting, as one does, when one grieves. Buggy Jive knew and loved Greg and Caroline too, and while he was thinking about them, someone asked him to go look at the Moon. He tells us about it in this little video here. It is just right, just so, just perfect. My soul moved. I wept. It helped. Love you, Professor. Thank you.

EP Me

Back in the ’70s, ’80s and maybe into the early ’90s, the EP (“extended play”) record was a key component of any good collection. These were collections of songs that were just a bit too long to be singles (even 12-inch ones), but just a bit too short to be LP (“long play”) albums, and the 10-inch vinyl record was a particularly iconic representation of the format.

Some of my favorite songs and records from that era were originally issued as EPs, including, but obviously not limited to:

Brown Reason To Live and Cream Corn From The Socket of Davis by Butthole Surfers

Autumn Equinox: Amethyst Deceivers, Winter Solstice: North, Spring Equinox: Moon’s Milk or Under an Unquiet Skull and Summer Solstice: Bee Stings by COIL

Slates by The Fall

Poguetry in Motion by The Pogues

Chronic Town by R.E.M.

The $5.98 EP: Garage Days Re-Revisited by Metallica

Four Tracks From Steely Dan by Steely Dan (the only place you could get the rare and weirdly anomalous early “Dallas” b/w “Sail The Waterway” single)

An Ideal for Living by Joy Division

The Power of Lard by Lard

The Witch Trials by The Witch Trials

Nervous Breakdown and Jealous Again by Black Flag

Paranoid Time and Buzz or Howl Under Influence of Heat by The Minutemen

Fugazi and Margin Walker by Fugazi

Duck Stab! and Babyfingers by The Residents

Signals, Calls and Marches by Mission of Burma

Datapanik In The Year Zero by Pere Ubu

Beware by The Misfits

1981-1982 by New Order

Gravest Hits and Smell of Female by The Cramps

The idiom seemed to mostly croak around the time when CDs became the dominant format, and routine, regular bloat ensued. Artists seemed more inclined to issue 70-80 minutes worth of music at a pop from that point forward, just because the format easily allowed for it. Of course, albums didn’t get 50% better for having 50% more music on them, and the opposite was actually quite often the case.

I’m noticing a trend in recent years to reverse this unfortunate predilection for musical bloatiness, and two of my favorite new records in 2019 are small collections that clearly would have been issued as EPs back in the day. The first of these is Wisdom Teeth by Jealous of the Birds, a concise and perfect five-song gem that actually follows on this heels of another EP, 2018’s tremendous The Moths of What I Want Will Eat Me In My Sleep. My favorite song on the album is “Marrow,” which also features a stellar video:

Jealous of the Birds’ guiding light, Naomi Hamilton, is a relative newcomer to my record collection, but my other favorite 2019 EP (so far) comes from a singer-songwriter who has been a deep personal favorite of mine since the mid-’80s: Andy Prieboy. His latest record, Every Night Of My Life, also features five songs, everyone of them a winner, played by a core trio of Prieboy, the late Tony Kinman (The Dils, Rank and File, etc.) and David Kendrick (Devo). Song styles vary widely, but Prieboy’s extremely astute and engaging lyrics, amazing arrangements and his always lovely baritone voice give them great continuity, and they are all fine additions to his canon. The sample song provide below features Kinman and Prieboy in a vocal duet, and it’s a delight:

I would certainly love it if artists followed these fine recent examples, issuing short, sharp collections every so often, regularly, rather than working for years to drop an 80-minute marathon on my listening machines. There’s no reason for them not to, in this our streaming season (though I still resist that development), and there’s so much quality control and discipline to be gained in purposefully issuing music in tiny packages.

Get on it, musos. Less is more!

COIL’s four equinox/solstice EPs were as beautiful to look at as they were to hear.

The “Favorite Band” Question (Revisited)

Eight some years ago, I wrote a blog post called “The ‘Favorite Band’ Question,” wherein I attempted to answer the query that, as a known hardcore music nerd, I am probably asked more often than any other, online and in the real world: “So, who’s your favorite band?”

I noted then, and I note now, that I listen to so much music, and I am so musically omnivorous, that it’s really hard for me to answer that question, simply because there are so many apples to oranges, or meatloaf to polonium, or bicycle to aardvark comparisons between the different types of things I spin. To wit: per my iTunes account, here are the past ten songs that have spun via the “random shuffle” setting on my collection as I’ve sat at my computer, getting ready to write this post:

  • “Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys” by The Specials (Caribbean funk/ska, 2019)
  • “Funky #7” by Hot Tuna (Power trio stoner rock, 1975)
  • “Whisper” by Schnell Fenster (Weird Australian pop, 1988)
  • “Dead Behind The Eyes” by Soulfly (Brazilian-flavored metal, 2018)
  • “Delius” by Kate Bush (Arty pop, 1980)
  • “Nothing Will Be The Same” by Renaldo and Michael Alan Alien (Experimental tape torture, 2012)
  • “The Wrong Thing” by Xiu Xiu (Tortured art rock, 2019)
  • “Mr. Wiggles” by Parliament (Aquatic funk, 1978)
  • “Gone, Gone, Gone” by Bad Company (Arena rock, 1979)
  • “The Creator Has A Master Plan” by Leon Thomas (Vocal jazz, 1969)

I loved everyone of those songs as they spun, and I love everyone of those artists. But can I rank or compare them in any meaningful fashion? No, not really. They’re just too different. So because I don’t do anything simply, when I first started thinking about this question back in 2011, I decided that I had to define what constituted a “favorite band” for a generic listener before I answered the big question myself. Here’s the list of criteria I developed:

  • The listener actively looks forward to listening to the favorite band’s music more than any other music, and does so weekly, if not daily;
  • The listener seeks to have a complete collection of the favorite band’s work, and is willing to spend a little bit more money than usual to acquire it, with special attention paid to albums or singles that less-enthusiastic fans might never find or hear;
  • The listener never grows tired of the favorite band and its works, and anytime they come on the stereo or radio, no matter what the song, it is greeted with volume raising and singing along;
  • The listener seeks to learn more about the favorite band, and will often buy books or magazines or watch television or internet shows related to its members and their music;
  • The listener makes an effort to see the favorite band in a live setting as often as practically possible.

In my first stab at this article, I went back through the ages of my life and listed the bands that I am pretty certain met all of those criteria more than any others in different years. That list looked like this:

  • Simon and Garfunkel (Initial musical sentience-1971)
  • Steppenwolf (1971-1973)
  • Wings (1973-1976)
  • Steely Dan (1976-1978)
  • Jethro Tull (1978-1982)
  • XTC (1982-1984)
  • Butthole Surfers (1984-1994)
  • Hawkwind (1994-1998)
  • The Residents (1998-2003)
  • The Fall (2003-2008)
  • Napalm Death (2008-present)

I note that those years in no way limit the time spans in which I actually listened to all of those groups. Take The Fall, for instance: I started playing them in 1983 or so, and I was gutted when their leader, Mark E. Smith, passed away last year. I still listen to them regularly, and I cited some albums from outside the 2003-2008 time span as all-time favorites in various lists like this one or this one. But for a variety of reasons, internal and external, I was really, really, really into The Fall in that six year span in the early Naughts, and they really spent an extravagant percentage of time on my stereo, and on my mind. I didn’t like them any less come 2009, but I did find myself spending a lot more mental time, energy, and effort listening to and seeing Napalm Death.

And I continued to do so for many years, although the reason that I revisit this old post today is because I realized recently that a couple of years ago, Napalm were supplanted atop the current pile by another group: King Crimson. (Favorite bands are like economic recessions, apparently; you can’t really decide that they’ve started until you’re well into them). I have been listening to, and loving, the Crim since the ’70s, but they sort of moved onto a different plane for me around 2014, when the “Seven-Headed Beast” incarnation of the band (now with eight heads) hit the road with a show that for the first time in their complicated history featured music from 1969’s debut album, In The Court of the Crimson King, along with cuts from every band era since, and a healthy slab of new tunes.

Marcia and I have seen King Crimson twice in recent years, and we have tickets to see them again in September. I check their website on a near daily basis for news, downloads, archived articles, or whatever else they feel like sharing with me and their other fans. We play their music pretty constantly around the house, and I’ve always got some of their cuts on my commuting and travel iPods. I still spin Napalm Death on a regular basis (though Marcia is not particularly fond of them, even though she was a sport and went to see them live with me once), but somehow it feels like they really hit a peak or a pinnacle of sorts with their 2015 album Apex Predator – Easy Meat, after which long-time guitarist-vocalist Mitch Harris went on sabbatical to deal with family matters. I’ve seen them twice since then with replacement live guitarists, and the shows were fantastic, but I don’t find myself obsessing about them quite as much as once did, with Crimbo oozing into the spaces in my frontal loaf that they used to fill.

One thing hasn’t changed since I tackled this question in 2011: I’d cite King Crimson as my favorite band right now, but if I had to name one all-time favorite, above and beyond all others, for an entire lifetime of listening, I’d still pick Jethro Tull, who have consistently filled my playlists and brightened my heart since 1975 or so, never, ever leaving the current listening pile, never, ever making me say “Ennnnhhhhh . . . not in the mood for this today (or this week, or this year).” Looking at my most played songs playlist of 2019, there are three Tull cuts on the list, and that’s the case most years since I started keep track of such things. Ian Anderson and his colleagues moved me way back when, and he and the music they made move me now, and I expect he’ll continue to move me as long as he’s still alive and kicking, and probably beyond that, unless he unexpectedly outlives me.

So, to summarize: you ask “What’s Your Favorite Band” and I answer “Right now, King Crimson. All-time, Jethro Tull.” Easy peasy. But subject to change. Watch this space.

The Mighty Crim (Eight-Headed Beast Incarnation)