It was 20 years ago today. Sgt. Pepper may have taught the band to play but I’m amazed at the kind of cultural year 1991 was. What do you think of when you think of 1991?
• James Brown was released from prison.
• Dylan turned 50. Six new books about him were published.
• LaVern Baker, John Lee Hooker, Curtis Mayfield & The Impressions, Jimmy Reed and Wilson Pickett (all personal favorites) were inducted into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.
• Very cool debut albums were released by Seal, Galactic Cowboys, Mindfunk, Into Another, Follow For Now, The 4 Horsemen and Lucy Brown (where are these folks now?).
• Country music started sounding more and more like rock ’n’ roll, losing its weepy side, getting adventurous, and, as a result, quite hip. Obviously, hardly any of it was played by stupid country radio. I’m talkin’ ‘bout artists like Sammy Kershaw, Marty Brown, B.B. Watson, Aaron Tippin, Marty Stuart, Texas Tornados, Prairie Oyster, Travis Tritt, Kentucky Headhunters and Kelly Willis.
Kelly Willis was so sexy, so demure, petite, pretty and delicious that I remember following her around Nashville like a sick puppy, interviewing her, having my picture taken with her, putting her on the cover of the country mag I edited back then (I had taken Modern Screen, America’s most popular movie magazine at one time, and turned it into Modern Screen’s Country Music, an experiment that lasted 10 years). Anyway, Kelly Willis was the type of woman you’d be powerless not to fall in love with… even if you were married like I was (an experiment that lasted 27 years). Lyle Lovett was married also: To actress Julia Roberts. Only difference between Lyle and I was, Lyle’s marriage came apart at the seams after he met Kelly Willis. (Who could blame him?) Good thing Kelly Willis never paid me no mind. But I digress.
• Hard rock made a comeback with tantalizing albums by Metallica, Extreme, Corrosion Of Conformity, Dead Horse, Fishbone, Primus, Red Hot Chili Peppers and 24-7 Spyz.
• Great albums were released by Paul McCartney, Sting, Ice-T, John Prine, The Geto Boys, R.E.M., N.W.A., Marshall Crenshaw, Ice Cube, Natalie Cole, Public Enemy, Michael Jackson, Scarface, Bonnie Raitt, Monie Love and Roger McGuinn.
• On the concert stage, Jane’s Addiction rocked my world but it was a spine-tingling set by Ricky Lee Jones at Carnegie Hall that left my insides churning for hours afterwards.
• Though dead, Elvis Presley had a great year.
• Great moments on television included The Great Kat making mincemeat out of Maury Povich; Anita Hill talking about how potential Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas left a pubic hair on a can of Coca Cola; the William Kennedy Smith sex trial.
• On radio, lesbians ruled on Howard Stern’s show.
• In the book stores, Henry Miller’s 1929 Crazy Cock became available, as well as Tales Of Beatnik Glory by Ed Sanders of The Fugs and Behind The Mask, about gay baseball umpire Dave Pallone. Valerie Martin’s Mary Reilly is a beauty of a summer-read page-turner novel with her feminist take on the old Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde story. My man Herbert Huncke—thief, hustler, poet, addict, drunkard, hobo, the man who gave William S. Burroughs his first shot of recreational morphine—admitted to it all in Guilty Of Everything. And the book of the year was Kate Millett’s The Basement: Meditations On A Human Sacrifice that still, 20 years later, haunts my soul.
On the negative side…
• Guns N’Roses turned to shit.
• America bombed Baghdad.
• Limp albums were released by John Mellencamp, Genesis and U2.
• The Grammy telecast would have us believe that Phil Collins and Mariah Carey were the highlights of the year.
And that’s the way it was in 1991.