It was a sad week for all, obviously, as the world looked on in horror at the devastation in Haiti after a catastrophic 7.0 earthquake. But it was a sad week for music, too, as two extremely different but very influential musicians passed away.
The major death of the week was that of 59-year-old soul legend Teddy Pendergrass, who finally succumbed to a long battle with colon cancer (he underwent surgery in May 2009 and had been hospitalized for months during what his son called a "difficult recovery"). It was not the first health struggle for the R&B crooner, who had been paralyzed from the waist down and wheelchair-bound since a 1982 car crash. Teddy was famous for sensual soul ballads like "I Don't Love You Anymore," "Close The Door," "Turn Off The Lights," and "Love TKO," and had continued with his recording career after his terrible accident. A massive talent has indeed been lost.
The other casualty of the week was a much lesser-known name, but his death sent shockwaves throughout the indie-rock community. Jay Reatard (real name: Jimmie Lee Lindsey), a prolific Memphis garage-punk artist with a large cult following and 22 full-length independent albums to his credit, was found dead in his home at age 29. He reportedly passed away in his sleep, and as of this writing the cause of his death has not been determined. Eerily, when conducting an interview about his most recent album Watch Me Fall last year, he told Billboard that the album was about "dealing with mortality issues, growing older, and disenchantment with your youth." He too shall be missed.
Back to the sad subject of Haiti, where death has tragically become all too commonplace after this week's disaster (tens of thousands of people have reportedly perished as a result)...this week Haitian-born rapper Wyclef Jean journeyed to his homeland to help victims of the earthquake, and publicly urged his fellow Haitian ex-pats to help too. "There are 4 million Haitians that are outside of Haiti," Wyclef, a longtime supporter of Haiti through his Yele Foundation, told CNN's Anderson Cooper. "So I think this is time for the Diaspora, the Haitians that are outside of Haiti, to step up. Call their congressmen, and say we need a state of emergency for our country." He also asked people to make $5 charitable donations by texting the word "Yele" to the number 501501.
However, doubts were son raised by several experts about the accounting practices of (and tax returns filed by) Wyclef's organization, which as of this writing has raised more than $2 million for the earthquake cause. "It's questionable. There's no way to get around that," said Art Taylor, president and chief executive of the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance. "Here's the bottom line: For an earthquake of catastrophic proportions, do people really believe that this organization is in a position to do anything right now?"
While Wyclef's efforts remain under scrutiny, among the other prominent musical celebrities helping out in the Haitian relief efforts this week was Madonna, who donated $250,000 to medical provider Partners In Health and declared: "I urge all of my friends and fans around the world to join me collectively to match my contribution, or give in any way you can. We must act now."
In other death-related news, albeit much more positive and light-hearted news, it was announced this week that two late legends, Johnny Cash and Jimi Hendrix, will have new posthumous releases in stores this year. The final installment in Cash's Rick Rubin-produced American album series, American VI: Ain't No Grave, will be released on February 26, which would have been the country icon's 78th birthday; the album will feature mainly acoustic covers of tunes by the likes of Sheryl Crow and Kris Kristofferson. Hendrix's Valleys Of Neptune will come out March 8 and will include covers of Cream's "Sunshine Of Your Love" and Elmore James' "Bleeding Heart" as well as alternate cuts of classic Jimi tracks, all recorded between 1968 and 1970. Janie Hendrix, the late guitar god's half-sister, says that the Jimi album will offer a "deep insight into Jimi's mastery of the recording process" and "demonstrate the fact that he was as unparalleled a recording innovator as he was a guitarist."
It was indeed a dark and depressing week, but thankfully American Idol returned for its ninth season to offer a welcome distraction from all of the above-mentioned sad events. Unfortunately, the resulting excitement was somewhat diminshed by main judge Simon Cowell's bombshell announcement, the day before the season 9 premiere, that he will leave Idol in 2011 to focus on the U.S. launch of his other hit TV talent show, The X Factor. (This announcement sparked speculation about Simon's possible replacement--including unsubstantiated rumors that Elton John was up for the job--as well as gossip that former Idol judge Paula Abdul would join the X Factor cast.) However, despite this setback, American Idol premiered to high ratings this week and entertained the masses with its usual array of sob-story underdogs and wacky no-talents.
However, it was 62-year-old novelty rapper General Larry Platt who made the biggest impression on Idol, when despite being way over the age limit he was allowed to audition with his original musical rant against baggy-trousered B-boys, "Pants On The Ground." Simon Cowell told the General that "Pants" could possibly become a big hit, and apparently Simon was right as usual. Within minutes of Larry's hilarious audition, "#PantsOnTheGround" became one of the top Twitter trending topics of the night and the clip was all over YouTube; by the following morning, a crew of ambitious amateurs had uploaded various "Pants" remixes and cover versions. (Alex Wagner-Trugman, a top 36 semi-finalist on Idol last season, actually recorded one of the best covers.) Jimmy Fallon even got in on the act, performing the song on his late-night show in the acoustic style of Neil Young. It would be easy to write off General Larry as this year's new William Hung, but it turns out he's a Civil Rights Movement veteran, a former student of Martin Luther King Jr., and a longtime activist who was honored with his own "Larry Platt Day" in Atlanta for his community service. So it turns out General Larry Platt is a true American idol, after all.
And on that upbeat note, we conclude this week's news wrap-up. Have a safe and pleasant weekend, and please consider making a donation to the Red Cross if you can by clicking HERE or calling 1-800-REDCROSS (1-800-733-2767) or 1-800-257-7575 (Español).
THIS WEEK'S TOP 10 STORIES:
1) Teddy Pendergrass, RIP - The legendary soulman dies of colon cancer at age 59.
2) Wyclef Jean Helps Haiti - The Haitian-born singer and longtime activist returns to his homeland to assist in earthquake relief efforts.
3) Simon Says...Goodbye - Cowell announces he will leave American Idol after this season.
4) Hot "Pants" - General Larry Platt's "Pants On The Ground" becomes an instant viral sensation.
5) Jay Reatard, RIP- The garage-punk cult musician passes away at age 29.
6) Madonna Please Preach - She urges fans to match her generous donation to help Haiti.
7) A Dixie Chick Flies The Coop - One of the Dixie Chicks will not appear on the group's next album.
8) Still Cashing In - A posthumous Johnny Cash album is in the works.
9) Hendrix Lives - Jimi also has a posthumous release on the way.
10) Susan Boyle Finally Dethroned - SuBo is knocked out of the number-one chart position by newcomer Ke$ha.