The Donald Trump could hardly have wished for a better Celebrity Apprentice contestant than former Poison frontman Bret Michaels. Not only has the guy proven an able contestant, landing himself in the final two by a combination of unharnessed creativity, fierce motivation, and an endlessly endearing lack of pretension, he’s also demonstrated an admirable sense of personal accountability and a willingness to accept feedback and learn from it. Fellow contestant Rod Blagojevich could’ve learned a thing or two from Mr. Michaels. Michaels knows who he is – and he’s no brain surgeon – but if he’s not saving lives, so to speak, in his chosen profession, he’s clearly made a choice to contribute to the saving of lives by staying in Trump’s game, and staying focused even when his personal life threatened his ability to stay on. And all this in a season which saw some supposed winners (for shame, Darryl Strawberry) check out early.
This week, Bret Michaels gave The Donald the kind of unexpected bonus only the most cynical Goldman Sachs exec could envy when he was hospitalized – again – after experiencing what doctors call a transient ischemic attack, but what the rest of us call a “warning stroke”. Further tests revealed that he has a “hole in his heart”. (Cue the Extreme song!) All of which has added a new layer of suspense to tonight’s Celebrity Apprentice live season finale in which Michaels could very well win the show’s top prize for his charity, the American Diabetes Association. As a diabetic myself, and a former non-fan of Poison, Bret Michaels – I salute you!
Celebrity Apprentice was less kind to 80s songstress Cyndi Lauper, who, like comedienne (and first firee) Carol Leifer, seemed especially vulnerable to the “mean girl” politics of Team Tenacity. In one episode, pro-wrestler Maria Kanellis expressed frank disappointment when she discovered that her childhood hero was actually a person with three dimensions, human feelings, and, as a project manager, could be firm, driven, and demanding. Cyndi was also fighting a good fight close to this writer’s home. Her True Colors Fund works to advance equal rights for the LGBT community. When she was fired a couple of weeks ago, she was clearly frustrated and disappointed by the decision. And so was I. I was really hoping for a endgame rematch of the season’s first challenge in which Lauper and Michaels faced off as their respective teams’ project managers. (Bret won that one, although Cyndi won as project manager in the same episode in which Kanellis griped about her bossiness as a boss.) Here’s a song from Cyndi’s 1993 album Hat Full of Stars which, like Cyndi herself on this show, has gone woefully underappreciated. Written with the Hooters’ Eric Bazilian and Rob Hyman (who plays their band’s namesake keyboard on this song), “That’s What I Think” is, to my mind, one of Lauper’s best singles, and sounds like a fitting post-mortem to her adventures in Trump’s parallel universe.
When the original line-up of 80s prog-rock-meets-pop-rock supergroup Asia reunited three years ago to commemorate the 25th Anniversary of their classic self-titled debut album, nobody expected it to last, given the band’s tumultuous first run. In fact, the reunion did run into some adversity early on, but not from dueling egos. Both singer John Wetton and drummer Carl Palmer were hospitalized for heart problems. Both came out okay, and the reunion lasted long enough to yield a miserable dud of an album called (with unintentional irony) Phoenix in 2008. Lucky for the band, and for their fans (myself included), the reunion has also lasted long enough to put out a “sophomore” record Omega. And Omega is spectacular. The record, which hit stores a couple weeks ago, re-embraces and further advances the critically-derided formula upon which they first built their brand – four minute pop songs, performed monumentally – with a fiery intensity. The album’s first single is “Finger on the Trigger”, maybe the most straightforward classic-rock sounding song they’ve ever put out. Freaking Asia. As Wetton sings on the first chorus: We got a good thing going on. Damn straight, they do.
One band that won’t be reuniting any time soon is the Norwegian pop trio a-ha who, earlier this month, played their first North American concerts in more than 20 years as part of their “Ending On a High Note” farewell tour. Though a-ha will always be best known to American audiences as the one hit wonder behind “Take On Me”, the group has put out nine studio albums including last year’s Keane-ish Foot of the Mountain and remains popular throughout the world. Meanwhile, Rhino Records has just announced the upcoming release of a new a-ha singles compilation and deluxe edition remasters of a-ha‘s first two albums, 1985’s Hunting High and Low and the following year’s Scoundrel Days, which will only be available to U.S. customers via the label’s website website. Here’s a 2008 live performance of their 1987 hit “Manhattan Skyline” from the Scoundrel Days record. This song’s Jeckyll & Hyde combo of sweetly yearning synth pop verse and raging hard rock chorus blew me away back when I was in the 7th grade. Wave good-bye…
Another crucial album getting the deluxe treatment from Rhino this spring is The Cure‘s massive 1989 album Disintegration. The rest of the band’s early catalog, up to the 1986 collection Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, had already been reissued a couple years ago, but fans have had to wait this one out. And while most Cure die-hards will agree it’s not their best record, it remains one of their most important – not just within their own body of work, but in terms of bringing “alternative” music to a mainstream audience. Unlike the band’s previous album which yielded a trio of short, sunny pop singles (“Hot! Hot! Hot!”, “Just Like Heaven”, and “Why Can’t I Be You?”), Disintegration is one of their densest, darkest, dirgiest records – one which explored failing relationships and lead singer Robert Smith’s insecurities about aging with an often nightmarish candor. Still, it became their most commercially successful and iconic record. At a time when hair metal still ruled the airwaves, the pop success of songs like the grimly atmospheric “Fascination Street”, and the lovely, understated “Love Song” helped to prime radio for the darker still confessions of Cobain and Staley.
The Swedish pop duo Roxette have been playing shows across Europe and working on a new album all spring, hoping to complete the record this fall for an early 2011 release. It’s been almost 10 years since singer-songwriters Per Gessle and Marie Fredriksson have released a full length album. In the interim they’ve put out a handful of singles and greatest hits comps, and both have worked on solo projects. Gessle put out a 2008 solo album called Party Crashers, and while Fredriksson also issued a solo album – 2004’s The Change – her most important solo project has been staying alive, following the discovery and diagnosis of a malignant brain tumor in 2002. Of their recent live shows, Per Gessle said in a recent interview: “Both Marie and myself want a total live situation these days, no click tracks, no sequencers or computers on stage… Lots of ad lib, great harmonies and silly jokes in the dressing rooms.” Sounds like classic Roxette to me.
Roxette: #Almost Unreal#
And finally, this week marked the passing of legendary jazz pianist Hank Jones at the age of 91. Here he is in a solo performance, a young man of 75. Until next week…