Wednesday, April 21, 2010

December Boys

Within the past two months, the pop music community has lost three of its more underappreciated figures: Mark Linkous, mastermind behind 90s/00s indie group Sparklehorse; Alex Chilton, the leader of 70s jangle-pop group Big Star; and Keith Elam aka Guru, best known as one-half of seminal 90s hip-hop duo Gang Starr.  All three died well before their times: Guru at age 47 from multiple myeloma; Chilton at age 59 from a heart attack; and Linkous at age 47 by his own hand.

I have little interest in this post of exploring the mental illness underlying Linkous' demise, the role a lack of health insurance played in Chilton's passing, or the unfortunate acrimony felt by Guru for his former partner DJ Premier.  I would like only to share some of their music.

Mark Linkous (1962-2010) was best known as the guiding force behind Sparklehorse, whose first record Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot was released in 1995.  He hit his creative peak with 1999's Good Morning Spider, which was recorded after what was likely a failed suicide attempt.  Sparklehorse suffered from poor timing, reaching its zenith only a few years before the democratization of music through file sharing changed the landscape of indie music  His collaboration with Danger Mouse, entitled Dark Night of the Soul, is due for posthumous release on July 13.

Sparklehorse - Sunshine

Alex Chilton (1950-2010) began his career with the Box Tops but is best known for his work with Big Star.   Big Star released three full-length records (#1 Record 1972, Radio City 1974, Third 1978) before disbanding.  Their influence can be heard in countless subsequent bands including R.E.M., Wilco, and Yo La Tengo.  Chilton continued to work and tour until the time of his death, releasing several solo records.  A resident of New Orleans, he was evacuated from his home during Hurricane Katrina.

Big Star - The Ballad of El Goodo

Keith Elam (1962-2010), better known as Guru (Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal), rose to prominence in the hip-hop community after forming Gang Starr with DJ Premier in 1987.  Their records Step Into The Arena (1991) and Daily Operation (1992) were both included in a 1998 list of the 100 greatest hip-hop records by The Source.  The group was known for its fusion of jazz and hip-hop, championed by contemporaries such as A Tribe Called Quest, Jungle Brothers, Main Source, and Pete Rock.  Their final record, The Ownerz, was released in 2003; a greatest hits compilation was released in 2007.  Guru released his final solo record in 2007.

Gang Starr- No Shame In My Game


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