A non comprehensive collection of influencers.
By Heather Pasley
My mom loved Rickie Lee Jones. They shared a similar tone and register—In fact, mom could mimic her lazy lilt and tambour in perfect tribute at will. I didn’t love every song on her albums. I always wanted to skip Coolsville for example. It was a little brooding and intense for my childlike sensibilities. But the opening progression that begins Night Train feels like a hug from my mom. Last Chance Texaco, sounds like the comfort of my dad’s guitar and a strangers broken heart. A Saturday Afternoon in 1963, to this day makes me cry for reasons I can’t explain. And Danny’s All Star Joint…sounds like gibberish, joy and home.
One of my favorite Rickie Lee memories came from my Grandma Mimi. She didn’t quite understand her daughter’s affection for Rickie Lee, preferring the musical stylings of Vickie Carr and Ella Fitzgerald. But, one day, out of love — or maybe respect for her daughter, she sat and listened to Texaco. After giving it her full attention with an open mind and heart, she conceded… “I get it”
Sampling is an artwork. Not the Puff Daddy kind that lays lyrics over an dated track, fooling a generation into thinking it’s an original thought. I am talking about using some of the greatest riffs, progressions, horn sections, grooves and bars of all time to create a recipe that no one has ever tasted before. The top chefs of sampling, are the hip hop icons of De La Soul. They took sampling to a Michelin level. They were lyrically clever, wildly innovative and downright quirky at times. They used popular and obscure songs like instruments, mixing them into oblivion while honoring them implicitly.
My Dad bought 3 Feet High and Rising and shared it with my sister and I like a gift he was presenting that we would cherish for life. He knew they were important if we wanted to understand what innovation and greatness sounded like. Thank you dad for placing Potholes In My Lawn and introducing me to the D.A.I.S.Y. Age. —Shout out to CK who devoured De La tracks with me like dessert over the years. I’ve got Oodles and Oodles of love for you.
Lazarus Heart is a time machine. It takes no more than four notes to transport me to my younger self. Sting’s second solo record, Nothing Like the Sun, was a staple at my house…wherever it was we were living. It was a perfect record (with the exception of Rock Steady, which always sounded like a High School Jazz Choir number). Fragile continues to be a cautionary anthem that fills the air in my home when war erupts…yet again. They Dance Alone sends me to a room filled with women I love, moving in empathy with protesting Chilean wives and mothers. The Secret Marriage Vow felt a little melodramatic, but still reminds me of my sister and her innate love of romance. Be Still My Beating Heart , Englishman in New York, History Teaches Nothing…each song adjusts my mood and makes me want to wear an apron and sing in the kitchen with my mom and my sister.
I hated sleeping alone when I was a little girl. It took everything in me to stay in my room at night and try to sleep without the comfort of my mom or my sister or a friend sleeping over. When attempting to solo slumber, I would tune into Delilah on 92.5 (KLSY) thanks to my trusty AM/FM alarm clock radio. But, one sleepless night, I changed the dial from the perpetual 70’s love ballads favored by Delilah in search of something that would set me adrift.
I waded through static in search of a clear signal that would help me sleep. And then I heard it.
Love…I get so lost, sometimes…
I adjusted frantically to get a clearer signal and laid down on my pillow and listened for the first time to what is still, to this day, my favorite song.
I didn’t hear the song again, until Say Anything came to the silver screen. Lloyd Dobbler executed what might be the most strangely romantic moment of any movie I can think of. Thank you Cameron Crowe for being my Shazam. And thank you Lloyd for being a “great person”.
Peter Gabriel went on to be one of my favorite artists and a critical conduit for processing anything and everything that life sent my way. If you want to experience one of the greatest listening experiences ever, take in Peter Gabriel’s album, US, in its entirety. You will never be the same.
Bjork is not of this world. Iceland grew her. My favorite album of her making was Vespertine, but the cover lacks her likeness. Post however, came out my Senior year and marked a watershed moment in my musical life. She stretched her voice and used sounds and phrasing that were unusual, beautiful and at times uncomfortable. Perhaps it is my viking roots and family ties to the Arctic Circle that make everything she does feel a little cold and familiar.
Favorite Bjork inspired memory: Whilst visiting my friends, Chris and Dee, I donned a shockingly believable gorilla costume and carried out an impromptu dance routine to the song Enjoy. Where did I get the Gorilla suit? Good question. Who knows. All that matters is that the iconic primate performance was caught on VHS tape.
That same evening, we used my sister ’s 6 month old baby, James as a prop and put together an interpretive dance to the song Hyper Love Ballad that involved tossing him back and forth rhythmically. I believe he still has a deeply imbedded memory of this experience whether he realizes it or not.
Annie Lennox relied on power over vocal gymnastics, which made me feel like it was okay not to be fancy if you could be strong. That was me in a nutshell; physically, personally and musically. I hated dresses and ruffles, was naturally contrarian and preferred my hair short. Annie Lennox made it pretty clear, there was nothing wrong with that.
No story-telling needed. Prince is prince. He’s all the things. Enjoy.
My dad took my sister and I to see Spinal Tap live at Bumbershoot in the early 80’s. I was too young to know why he was laughing so hard as a giant skeleton head with horns descended from the silver scaffolding in the former Coliseum. I was terrified.
When I got older, my dad introduced me to the documentary, if you will, rockumentary —This is Spinal Tap. My lingering childhood confusion and fear was instantly driven out by the sound of the UK’s loudest band and replaced with laughter that I can, to this day, conjure at the mere thought of the movie. Spinal Tap is still in my top five favorite films of all time. I can recite it verbatim. The sequel comes out in March. Wanna go?
We were in the Soviet Union on a Goodwill Games promotional tour. It was 1988 and “glasnost” and “perestroika” were in the air. Gorbachev was in power and the USSR seemed headed for a breakdown and breakthrough.
It was the Fourth of July and my mom decided to sneak away from the tour group with my sister and our interpreter, Irena, to try and get into a peace concert featuring Bonnie Raitt, Crosby Stills Nash, The Doobie Brothers, Jackson Brown and the hypothetical love of her life, James Taylor!!! They didn’t have tickets, in fact only card carrying members of the communist party were welcome, but Mom had giant American balls and a dream.
Armed soldiers lined the entry to the festival. Having no credentials or tickets, the nervous trio decided to try and infiltrate the event. Twice they were stopped by soldiers, saying “нет! нет!” In other words….no.
Not easily dissuaded, mom improvised.
“Americanski, got to sing with James Taylor in 10 minutes!” Truth be told, she had no idea when James would be on. The Soldiers weren’t yet sold. It was time to break out in song.
“I’m a steamroller baby…and I’m gonna roll all over you”.
Her performance was convincing, and they waved her on, and on, and on until they landed backstage where she found herself face to face with none other than Sweet
Baby James…Taylor, who just happened
to be playing in ten minutes! (Just look
at the chemistry!)
My dad introduced me to Steve Martin as a child via his breakout comedy album, Wild and Crazy Guy which was a household favorite and frequently quoted. But it wasn’t until my early teens that I encountered his greatest work, a book of short stories called Cruel Shoes. My dad gave it to me with a degree of seriousness that was intentional and funny on its own. He encouraged me to read each story aloud with my best friend CK, and really take in the wisdom being offered to us. Stories like, My Uncles Metaphysics, Serious Dogs, Women Without Bones, and my personal favorite, What to Say When the Ducks Come.
The story was simple. Powerful. Intense.
What to Say When the Ducks Show Up
I, for one, am going to know what to say when the ducks show up. I’ve made a list of phrases, and although I don’t know which one to use yet, they are all good enough in case they showed up tomorrow. Many people won’t know what to say when the ducks show up, but I will. Maybe I’ll say, “Oh ducks, oh ducks, oh ducks,” or just “ducks, wonderful ducks!” I practice these sayings every day, and even though the ducks haven’t come yet, when they do, I’ll know what to say.
One day in the spring circa 1992, CK and I were enjoying a latchkey day after school, when two ducks came walking down the driveway toward the house. They were coming from the main road, nowhere near the adjacent lake. I turned to CK and said in a slow cinematic cadence….The Ducks Have Come!
I ran to the cupboard and grabbed a loaf of bread and headed out to greet them, just as I had been instructed.
“DUCKS! Wonderful DUCKS!” I exclaimed dropping hunks of crust in an intentional path from the driveway into the house.
DUCKS! Oh ducks! Oh ducks!”
CK, though also moved by the ducks arrival, was not excited about my idea to bring them inside. “I don’t want any part of this.” She had a strong sense of the obvious and headed downstairs to avoid culpability.
The ducks loved my plan. They ate their way straight up the steps through the front door and into the living room…then I made a mistake. I shut the door behind them.
Suddenly, all hell broke loose. The two ducks went from welcomed guests to jail birds desperate to break out. They began flying around the room, flinging themselves into the windows violently knocking over lamps, vases and stacks of paper.
CK heard the screaming and walked upstairs to find me flinging windows open, tearing off screens, and dodging the angry birds.
Once they finally escaped, CK and I were left alone to survey the damage of their foul play. Stationary and debris were scattered about. Feathers and bird droppings blanketed the room.
Apparently we knew what to say when the ducks came, but we didn’t know what to do.
There is no other band that makes more appearances on the soundtrack of my life than U2. They comforted me in moments of distress (40), offered courage when it was desperately needed (Bad), pumped me up before school (Unforgettable Fire) , and walked me back down the aisle after Mike and I said I do (Where the Streets Have No Name). I can still feel the swell of the organ and the siren of Edge’s guitar as we were pronounced man and wife almost 24 years ago.
And when I go there, I go there with you…
If you’re wondering, I love Adam and had a crush on Larry through the entirety of my adolescence. I just liked the way my recreation of Edge and Bono turned out better.
Some lesser known favorites that never made it to the radio: Until the End of the World, Drowning Man, Miracle Drug, Ground Beneath her Feet, Miss Sarajevo…
I heard Last Goodbye by Jeff Buckley for the first time with my sister in the car. We pulled over. His voice was unearthly and as my sister put it…sounded blessed and cursed all at once. It would be nearly a year before I bought his debut CD, Grace.
I listened to it for the first time straight through—undivided and in awe. I called my sister immediately to debrief and emote.
Like so many musical icons, he died at 27. His lyrics eerily foreshadowed his fate.
There's the moon asking to stay
Long enough for the clouds to fly me away
Oh, it's my time coming,
I'm not afraid
Afraid to die
He died intoxicated by alcohol and the Mississippi River. He wandered in with all of his clothes on to take a swim and was heard singing A Whole Lotta of Love before being swallowed by the river.
Favorite Tracks: Lover Should’ve Come Over, Last Goodbye, Grace, Mojo Pin, Everybody Here Wants You
I want to be Jack Black. I want to be best friends with KG. They are (one of the) greatest and best bands in the world. This is my tribute.
It was the early 80’s…so we rented a VHS player. Then we rented Breakin. Then, I met Turbo, Ozone and Special K. If you prefer the sequel, Electric Boogaloo, then you haven’t spent enough time with the original. Because the origin story of this trio, and their epic battles against Electro Rock are historically important and downright legendary.
Bob Marley is not a cliche in Jamaica. He is a hero, a martyr, a shaman. He is reggae.
In America, most people listen to reggae to escape or because weed is present. But, I listened to reggae because my mom had it on. A lot.
My Mom has a deep and abiding love for the island of Jamaica. In fact, she has been there 54 times. Not because of the jerk chicken, or the beaches, the reggae or the ganja. She returned time and time again because she fell in love with the people of Jamaica and was undone by the beauty and the tremendous need there.
Over two decades, she served at orphanages and infirmaries bringing God’s love and care to thousands of people. I got to go with her several time band each time, Bob was there…on the walls and in the air. The heart of Jamaica.
My cousin, Troy is the MVP of our family. Troy will remember your birthday and your mother-In-law’s birthday—down to the minute of your arrival. He has perfect pitch. He’s incredible at musical trivia and spelling. He plays the harmonica and excels at giving toasts and praying for people. He runs 5K’s for pleasure and performs epic tributes to his family members when they need to hear it most.
What does this have to do with Stevie Wonder? Well, Stevie is my second favorite blind man.
They are wizards. I am convinced. For several decades now, Radiohead has made nothing short of magic. Their ability to innovate and integrate and grow without ever appearing to hit a creative wall is evidence of their musical sorcery and immortality. Maybe whatever elixir they imbibed that turned them such vibrant colors is the source of their power? Listen to their entire catalogue with headphones on to fully experience the enchantment. Wizards I say!
*You can do Pablo Honey without headphones if you want.
Joni Mitchell was on at my house all the time. But it wasn’t until one rainy afternoon in the church parking lot that my mom turned up Heijra on the Aerostar CD player and asked me to take in each word.
I'm traveling in some vehicle
sitting in some cafe
A defector from the petty wars
That shell shock love away…
I hung on every syllable of the perfectly crafted song. I loved the feel of the fretless bass and the poetry almost as much as the moment with my mom. I could feel her in it. Her youth, her depth and her sacrifices. You should find a parking lot and give Heijra a listen too. In fact go ahead and listen to Shadows and Light all the way through. You’ll be grateful you did.
Everyone knows the Beatles are clearly in the pantheon of musical icons, but what makes them even more remarkable is that, the deeper the cut, the more amazing the track.
My dad has always been a musical treasure hunter. He found gems in the days of headlamps and pick axes, when you had to dig them up on your own. He placed his musical jewels in the golden setting we once called…a mixed tape.
It took time, precision, and know-how. His changes were perfect (for those under 40, I am referring to space between songs on a mixed tape). His flow was flawless. His treasures, abundant. He taught my sister and I this art form. First, we learned to always explore the B-sides. Second, you must listen…really listen so you could recognize when a turn of phrase was actually a stroke of genius or an instrument was used in a way it hadn’t been used before.
He didn’t want you to just know a band or a song was great, he wants you to know why.
His ability to know the difference may be what makes him such a brilliant song writer.
Sure Let it Be is a strong song, but A Day In the Life is what you should spend time with! Listen!
Want to get into the Beach Boys? “California Girls is fun, but what you really need to know is the song, Vegetables.”
I tihnk it is my dad's ability to make changes, curate a feeling and and find the flow that make him such an incredible song writer.
Chaka…Chaka…Chaka Khan—I Feel For You. I think I love you. Ain’t Nobody Does It Better. You’re Every Woman.
Bonnie Raitt is a giant in her field—a husky, sultry, smokey voice matched by epic slide guitar chops. I once saw her dwarf some of the greatest guitar players of our time like she was toying with them. You thought that was a guitar solo? This is a guitar solo.
And now for my favorite singer/songwriter of all time— Kirsten Wenlock. You won’t find her on the wall. You will find her in the room—a musical genius of supernatural proportions walking around like a mere mortal. I am in awe of the body of work she has sculpted. So many of her greatest songs live quietly in the shadows…but I know them all. Every perfect word.
I love her voice and the way she chooses the road less traveled, opting for the the more interesting note, stacking vocals like a wall of sound to lean against. I love how she finds the harmony that is hiding and gives it to me. She is my musical hero and my favorite artist.