Recommendations of Musical Things and Performers from my Youth

On Saturday during our weekly Cocktail Zoom Hour, I got to talking with Mom about various artists from my youth that I thought she might enjoy or at least find interesting? It was along the frequency of handsome, intelligent singers/artists who had interesting things to say or show that strongly influenced me and that I remain impressed with, even though they all or almost all have problems and conflicts. So with the caveat that all your, my, and her faves are or potentially are problematic, here’s a list of things to look into among some artists that I thought  Mom might want to check out or otherwise poke a snoot into.

I’m not saying that these necessarily have to be anyone’s cup of tea, though I will say why I think they’re interesting and worth a look. Mom started it by saying how fascinating she’s found looking into Freddie Mercury, who I think of course died too early – that it seemed like he had great things within.

Also, obviously I probably can’t link to entire albums, but where I can, I try to provide pointers to good tracks or albums, and I leave it to you all to look at them or find them if you’re interested. Mom, I can probably hook YOU up if you want to listen/look and can’t find them on your own.

Freddie Mercury

This was one guy I was pretty resentful I got into too late – I think if I had been paying better attention, if the timing of my various comings out, and if hadn’t been a socially clueless nerd at the time he was alive, I might even have attended what must have been fantastic concerts. Feh. I miss him, and I only know his recordings. After he passed on, I did get into mashups, which have a deservingly poor reputation – a lot of mashups are pure crap, but the idea is that if you are artful and skilled, you can beat-match very different tracks and meld and blend them to make fantastic fusion pieces between one or more different tracks. Obviously, this has some troubles also with fair use, and often mashups are released very informally.

But one mashup album that I always thought stood the test of time (at least for me) is The Kleptones’ Night at the Hip-Hopera, which is a mashup album of and about Freddie Mercury and Queen.

You can listen to it here (Bandcamp):

If you are super geeky about mashups, there’s a Wikipedia article that traces all the different sources used in each track:

Anyway as I was saying to a friend of mine this morning, I didn’t actively know him when he was alive, but by the time I found him, I missed him, terribly.

Frank Zappa

I lived in Baltimore, MD, from 2002 to 2012, and I always felt like the Ghost of Frank Zappa was sort of remotely there when I was there, though he’d passed on from prostate cancer 10 years before I even got there.

I have a difficult ex to, I think, deservedly, really thought highly of Zappa. I myself was deeply impressed by his range and skills. A great self-taught musician, who could keep up with classical performers and composers, who explored experimental music, whose final album (while he still lived), “The Yellow Shark” is brilliant, satirical, maddening, and expert, as usual. He wasn’t wasted in rock, nor was he wasted performing with the Mothers of Invention. But like with Mercury, it’s a shame he didn’t live longer.

Here he is debating Tipper Gore (yes, married to Al Gore) on censorship (on a news show):–xxOM

He was a stunningly opinionated, but soft-spoken person who sort of hewed his own road and refused to get baited into debates that he felt were a waste of time and energy. He just did his thing, and people loved him for it.

The Yellow Shark:

Commentary about the Yellow Shark in his words:

Here’s a video recording of my favorite track, G-Spot Tornado, from The Yellow Shark:

Video of Zappa conducting an Overture:

Here’s a Classical Composer watching/listening to Inca Roads. The music may not be your favorite, but this guy is deeply impressed by the work, the musicality, the talent of the composition and musicians:

David Byrne

A pretentious prick if there ever was one. Dude is brainy as hell. But the problem is that he knows it.

I was a huge fan of his in my youth. I watched his movie, True Stories, over and over. By the time I was done with it, that was a well used VHS tape. True Stories was released in 1986 and was a musical satire film released at the same time as the Talking Heads’ studio album. You can’t see the whole film for free, but you can see the actors perform some of the songs from the movie. I actually prefer the actors’ performances in general over the band’s performances on the album, but David Byrne was directing the movie, so I think he still can claim some creative juices here.

Some tracks/performances from True Stories:

I also just love this Talking Heads track, “And She Was”:

Byrne’s latest is American Utopia, which you can see in some late run theaters, and it’s also streaming on HBO:

David Bowie

David Bowie had some problems, and he’s done some clout chasing and been the heartthrob of many, many people, including as the gorgeous Goblin King in Labrynth. But like every other celebrity it seems, has been accused of sexual misconduct. So be aware.

A brit who died in New York in 2016, he was still quite formative for me in many ways, and I’d be lying if I said he had no influence in my early fascination for androgyny and androgynous aesthetic.

It was also famously difficult to get a handle on his politics.

It’s hard for me to suitably articulate Bowie’s impact on my life. Especially without publicizing my weird fascinations for unpopular movies and other cultural references.

It’s almost stream of consciousness, isn’t it?

He did Space Oddity (aka Major Tom) which was a pretty major plot point in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller). He co-wrote Fame with John Lennon and Carlos Alomar. He collaborated on “Under Pressure” with Queen. He played Ponius Pilate in The Last Temptation of Christ (see Peter Gabriel, below). He was refined. And he was disgusting. In many ways he felt more human to me than some of the hyper celebrated, disgustingly rich people I’ve known of in my life. I found him fascinating.

Peter Gabriel

I got into Peter Gabriel in the mid-1980s, when I was leaving Berkeley High School and becoming my early adult self in Santa Cruz. I really fell for his 4th album, Security, but have really liked his stuff for most of my life.

He has some problems too, obviously. He’s from Britain, working class family.

His solo albums (after Genesis) were great. So was revelatory for me. Passion, his work on The Last Temptation of Christ, was mesmerizing with amazingly complex Turkish polyrhythms. I haven’t seen Birdy, but the music is mesmerizing. He had some changes when his Dad was dying, when he was exploring his own identity as a father. But then he did the Down to Earth track as part of the Wall-E soundtrack. I just love it. As a white man who has worked with indigenous and African musicians, he seems fairly respectful and nonexploitative, though I admit I haven’t don’t as thorough a vetting as I could. There could still be problems in there.

But I found his work very nourishing, most of my adult life.


Now I diverge slightly from Mom recommendations

Okay Mom, you can stop here if you like. Here some women creators whom I really love and who’ve made significant positive contributions to my life.

Janelle Monae

Monae is multitalented, and I really admire her. I mentioned to you (Mom) before that she costarred in Hidden Figures, that movie about mathematicians in NASA during the Appolo program.  Really good movie, and she acts fabulously in it.

I think my first exposure to her was from a track from Fun that featured her voice (We are Young), but when I started listening to her songs directly, woo! Amazing stuff. I love her Tightrope, and most of her albums. She got successful enough and came out as bisexual, pansexual, and nonbinary. I think she’s just amazing, gorgeous, hypertalented, and fabulous.

Her Wikipedia article is chock full of links to follow. I don’t think I could do better.

But for me, highlights:

Miss Platnum (the Romanian one)

Miss Platnum crashed into my consciousness with her single “Give me the Food” which talks about how being fat is part of her culture, and if you really love me, you won’t withhold food.

I was in a Balkan, Romani Music phase at the time, so it worked well (and I still do like a good Balkan mix tape). I followed a bunch of her other work for a while. Then she cemented it for me with the brilliant Babooshka 2009, which was a really good cover of Kate Bush’s Babooshka. The video was golden. I like some of her other work, some of which was eye opening during a time when my relationship with my especially bad ex was breaking up.

After, I enjoyed her album, The Sweetest Hangover, especially “She moved in”.

She seems to have dropped out as of around 2016. A shame.


Kate Bush

Kate got recent love from fans of Stranger Things for “Running up that Hill”. But got to know Kate in the mid-1980s, actually primarily because Mom got the album The Kick Inside around when it was released. Her voice has always been magnificent and deeply evocative.

She also collaborated with Peter Gabriel in a duet on “Don’t Give Up”, and apparently was the first performer to use a wireless headphone/headset combination?

She has a simply huge Wikipedia article. I couldn’t possibly keep up with that:


There are so many more I could name and gush about, but hopefully this serves as a start.