Ozzy Osbourne turns 61 years old today. The godfather of modern metal, Ozzy first grabbed attention as the creepy, theatrical frontman of Black Sabbath, still one of the heaviest bands in rock history. Of course, Ozzy is probably best known to modern audiences as a reality show star (MTV's smash hit "The Osbournes") and as a solo artist (his hit "Crazy Train" remains a staple at sports arenas, rock-themed karaoke bars and air guitar contests worldwide).
It's nothing short of miraculous that Ozzy has made it this far. He had a legendarily massive drug and alcohol habit during his youth, and though he's clean now, it remains a constant struggle. In one of the great rock and roll stories of all time, Osbourne was on tour with Mötley Crüe when he spied a row of ants following the trail of a melted popsicle. In a stunt that seems apocryphal but appears to be true, Ozzy took a straw and snorted the insects as though they were a giant line of cocaine. You would think that behavior like that wouldn't let a man reach his 61st birthday, but like Keith Richards and Nikki Sixx, the man appears to be basically indestructible.
In the latter part of his career, Ozzy has become something of a balladeer, leaving behind much of the heavy material from his past in favor of sentimental swoons and covers. Perhaps he's just a softie at heart, but perhaps he was inspired by his 1988 collaboration with Lita Ford on "Close My Eyes Forever," a stunning and underrated power ballad from the hair metal era.
Today is World AIDS Day, 24 hours set aside for international awareness and education about HIV and AIDS. Though those auto-immune diseases don't grab headlines the way they used to, they are no less a problem. Over 33 million people are struggling with AIDS, and over two million die each year from AIDS-related complications. Nearly 75 percent of those deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa, where economic and social development is constantly crippled by the spread of AIDS.
Medical science continues to make progress in the treatment of AIDS, and though there are expensive drug cocktails that can slow the disease's development, there remains no real cure or sure-fire treatment. Prevention remains the best vaccination available, which is why today is set aside for education and awareness.
Musicians have long been involved in helping to get people educated, from Bono's involvement in the (RED) campaign to Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes' advocacy of condom use in TLC videos. In 1991, Salt-N-Pepa released their controversial single "Let's Talk About Sex," which was a lyrically frank discussion of sexual morays and the dangers of unprotected intercourse. They also released a version called "Let's Talk About AIDS," which addressed the disease directly. It's hard to imagine now, but openly discussing AIDS and the prevention thereof was considered taboo in the early '90s, back when most people were still unclear as to what it was (the idea apparently being that if everybody just ignored it, then it would go away). Salt-N-Pepa attempted to break down those barriers with a direct message aimed at young people. It looks sort of corny now, but back in '91 it was sort of revolutionary.
T.I.'s Urban Legend — which hit the streets on this day in 2004 — was the rapper's third full-length outing. But it might as well have been his debut, because while Tip showed promise on his first two albums (2001's I'm Serious and 2003's Trap Muzik), Urban Legend established him as a truly great MC and the kind of player who could really change the game and become a superstar.
He certainly lived up to said potential. Following the breakout success of Urban Legend (which sold over one million copies on the back of the singles "Bring Em Out" and "U Don't Know Me"), Tip went on an unprecedented creative roll, knocking out a series of memorable guest spots (including the Destiny's Child hit "Soldier," Justin Timberlake's "My Love" and remixes of Kanye West's "Drive Slow" and Fat Joe's "Make It Rain") and cranking out three instant classic albums in as many years (2006's King, 2007's T.I. vs. T.I.P. and 2008's Paper Trail, all of which hit the top spot on the Billboard album chart).
In fact, the only thing that has slowed Tip's momentum is the fact that he has been incarcerated for the better part of 2009. Still, he has managed to stay in the public eye, dropping the single "Hell of a Life" and continuing to enjoy the fruits of the singles from Paper Trail (including the Rihanna-assisted "Live Your Life"). Tip is scheduled to be released from prison in March of 2010, when he will no doubt have plenty to write about. Until then, we can continue to enjoy his past work — including his Swizz Beatz-produced breakout single "Bring Em Out."
If you see Mark Lanegan today (and considering how tall and imposing he is, you can't really miss him), be sure to give him a slap on the back and wish him a happy birthday. The Seattle icon turns 45 years old today, and he can feel pretty good about the decades he has spent creating music. Best known as the frontman for Screaming Trees (the band lumped in with the grunge movement who were secretly much heavier, more psychedelic monster than anybody gave them credit for), Lanegan has made a career out of lending his distinct voice (a whiskey-soaked croon that can shift into an apocalyptic metal growl) to a variety of projects. He's currently a member of the Gutter Twins, his collaboration with former Afghan Whigs frontman Greg Dulli, but he has also teamed up with Belle and Sebastian member Isobel Campbell and Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age.
No matter what project he's working on, Lanegan always provides an amazing balance of menace, sweetness, toughness and sex. If the Gutter Twins ever come around to your town, it's worth it to check them out if only to see them tear through "Methamphetamine Blues," a track from Lanegan's 2004 solo album Bubblegum. But the best example of Lanegan's remarkable instrument unique approach is "All I Know," which is from the Screaming Trees' final album, 1996's Dust.
Why is it that rap music seems to be littered with incredibly talented MCs that never get their due while artists with inferior skills cash giant checks? Every genre of music (and every other art form) has its underrated, underexposed stars whose work is passed around like a secret, and their work is typically looked at retroactively as seminal or essential. Still, it can be frustrating in the present tense (both for fans and for the artists themselves).
Such is the case with Redman, the New Jersey-based rapper who has at least one stone cold classic album under his belt (his 1992 debut Whut? Thee Album) and another pair of absolutely essential LPs. One of those is the album that came out on this day in 1998: Doc's Da Name 2000 (the "2000" was an inexplicable thing that Def Jam tacked onto most of their releases at the end of the millennium, perhaps in a bid to sound "futuristic"). It's a stunning slab of rubber band funk cruising below Red's unique mix of hardcore street tales, left-field boasting and cheeky R-rated humor.
Despite the greatness of Doc's Da Name 2000 (as well as subsequent albums, including the pair of LPs he cut with Method Man), Redman is rarely mentioned on conversations about the greatest MCs of all time. But you need only spin "Tear It Off" (from the first Blackout album), "Whateva Man" (from 1996's Muddy Waters) or the first single from Doc's Da Name 2000, "I'll Bee Dat," which had a fantastically whacked-out video. (Also, do yourself a favor and spin Blackout 2, which contains one of the great lyrics of the year: "Call your moms on the phone, it's the jam/ I got jet skis that ride over land.")
Miley Cyrus' tour has the day off today, which is perfect timing, as it will allow her to do fully celebrate her birthday, which is today. Seventeen years ago, the singer was born Destiny Hope Cyrus (which has honestly always sounded more made up than her stage name), and in that brief period on the planet, she has managed to carve out a tiny empire that not only features her music, film and television projects but also a cosmetic line, licensed clothing and any number of other tie-ins. Not bad for the daughter of the guy who unleashed "Achy Breaky Heart" onto the world.
Of course, it's probably not all about celebration today in Cyrus' camp, as they just lost a member of their road crew to an unfortunate tour bus accident last week.
Cyrus has grabbed a number of headlines in the past year, most notably in her swearing off of Twitter for the sake of more privacy. Her music is evolving, too. The dance-rock of her Hannah Montana material has given way to a more singer-songwriter type of vibe on songs like "The Climb" and "Full Circle." Amazingly, Cyrus' audience appears to be evolving along with her, so it will be interesting to see how she deals with entering young adulthood. Based on what came through on her Twitter, it's quite possible that Cyrus could crank out this century's version of Exile in Guyville by the time she's 25.
But that's the future. For now, she can enjoy her birthday, and we can celebrate by cranking up the volume on "7 Things" and getting lost in the moment.
Right now, this very second, "The Twilight Saga: New Moon" is playing at a theater near you. Perhaps you're going to see it tonight. Perhaps you're taking the afternoon off to see it. Perhaps you're a true devotee and you've seen it already. Twice. No matter what your level of enthusiasm is, one thing is for certain: The story of Edward Cullen and Bella Swan has captured the imaginations of millions, and the hunger for the continuation of the films is real. It's telling that one of the most searched-for items on the Internet this morning had to do with the release date of "Eclipse," the already-completed third film in the "Twilight" series (for those curious, it's June 30, 2010, so feel free to get in line now).
The anticipation over "New Moon" has hit a fever pitch this week, with stars Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart and Taylor Lautner making the rounds on talk shows and late night programs all week. In fact, all three of them will be on tonight's episode of "Jimmy Kimmel Live." Also appearing on tonight's episode? Death Cab for Cutie, who are fresh off their excellent performance at Wednesday night's Woodie Awards taping. Their new single "Meet Me on the Equinox" is the lead track from the soundtrack to "New Moon." Sadly, after all the anticipation over where the song would appear in the film, it only runs over the credits). Still, the video is a delightfully moody piece, full of neo-goth foreboding that perfectly matches the song's dreamy melody.
When the 1980s came to a close, there were a handful of artists who had established themselves as definitive contributors to the decade's musical palette. Names like Bruce Springsteen, Prince and Michael Jackson became synonymous with changing the direction of popular music in the decade of decadence. A strong late bloomer (but still a powerful contender), U2 were also mentioned alongside those greats. Their '80s output (especially 1987's The Joshua Tree) cemented them as not only a group who could fill stadiums with their soaring anthems but who were also pushing the envelope musically and socially. Of all the great groups from the '80s, U2 managed to evolve both the fastest and the best, and they proved it on this day in 1991 when they released Achtung Baby. The 12 song collection was recorded at least partially in Berlin, Germany, in the wake of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and blew out U2's sound to include elements of dance music, industrial rock and the glowing, humming ambient tones of co-producers Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno. While it seemed like U2 were on top of the world, Achtung Baby elevated them to new heights, inspired the massive "Zoo TV" stadium tour and helped usher in the era of alternative rock. (U2 don't get enough credit for making arty experimentation seem like pop music.)
Though the rest of the '90s were not nearly as triumphant for U2 (they battled both fans and critics on the even-further-reaching albums Zooropa and Pop), they remain one of the great shape-shifting international rock bands, and despite having 30 years of experience under their collective belt, they still feel vital today. Break out your copy of Achtung Baby and marvel at how well it has aged. Start with "Even Better Than the Real Thing."
When they first scored a breakout hit in 1997 with "Dammit," it seemed like Blink-182 would simply be another pop-punk band who had ridden the coattails of Green Day to another anonymous radio smash. But there was something about the potty-mouthed trio that kept people coming back, and the group with the nonsense name ended up becoming one of the more influential rock groups at the turn of the millennium. It helped that they continued to deliver great songs ("All the Small Things," "What's My Age Again?" and "The Rock Show" among them) along with excellent videos (the boy band-skewering "All the Small Things" was a notorious "TRL" staple for a large portion of 2000).
As time progressed, the group became more and more adventurous on record, adding a healthy dose of early adult melancholy and a handful of sonic experiments. Despite it's pun-tastic title and a series of big hooks, 2001's Take Off Your Pants and Jacket is something of a bummer (at least tonally), and the band's self-titled fifth album (which was released on this day in 2003) is mostly filled with New Wave-inspired sounds and profoundly "adult" themes. It sounded like an album made by a band dealing with tumult, so it wasn't particularly surprising when the group announced they were going on hiatus in 2005. It opened the door for a number of side projects (including Angels & Airwaves, +44 and the Transplants), each of which received some degree of success. But the group finally decided to get back together and tour earlier this year, and a new album is coming in 2010. It's safe to say that the fans agreed with the sentiment of Blink-182's "I Miss You," a dramatic, Cure-inspired ballad that stands as one of the band's biggest hits.
Being a legend can be tough. Sometimes you're not entirely appreciated until after you die (or at least until after you stop making work that people pay attention to). Sometimes it's worse than that, and you're forced to toil under the burden of your past accomplishments, forever failing to live up to what you did decades ago. This is especially true in the film world. Because the lifespan of a director can cross over a number of eras, movements and business outlooks, it seems like a number of artists whose places in the annals of movie history were formerly secure now struggle to find relevance.
Martin Scorsese doesn't have that problem. He's a rare combination of living legend and active genius, constantly pushing himself to the limit and experimenting with his storytelling skills. He could have easily settled into a pattern of simple crime dramas for the rest of his career, essentially remaking "Goodfellas" over and over again. Instead, he indulged in bold experiments like "Bringing Out the Dead," "Kundun" and "My Voyage to Italy." Along the way, he remained interested in the relationship between crime and justice in America ("The Departed," "Gangs of New York") and next year sees the release of his first thriller (the atmospheric "Shutter Island").
Scorsese celebrates a birthday today (he turns 67 years old). One thing that has kept him young is his love for music (he directed the Bob Dylan documentary "No Direction Home" and the Rolling Stones concert film "Shine a Light"). He has directed but a single music video in his career, but it's a big one: Michael Jackson's cinematic, tough-looking "Bad." Enjoy the rarely-seen long version, and remember that Marty is a national treasure.