I’ve been trying to figure out just what it was that I dug about George Harrison. Certainly there’s the songs. During his 40-year career, Harrison wrote a number of good tunes and one truly great one (“Something”). He also taught the people who make pop records that guitar solos could be good things. And absolutely, his position as one-fourth of the greatest band that ever existed makes his passing a significant event.
To me, though, Harrison always seemed… well, unremarkable.
And that, I finally figured out, is what I dug about him.
He was in the Beatles – the Beatles, for Christ’s sake – and rather than becoming an icon like John and Paul or a joke like Ringo, George Harrison managed to come off as just a regular bloke. He somehow never suffered in comparison to John or Paul, even releasing a triple album of songs they rejected (All Things Must Pass from 1970) after the Fabs broke up, an album that stood toe to toe with the Beatles’ work. He also never convened an “All-Starr” band or took on a Vegas-style “play the hits” tour. In his final 20 years, he concentrated on home and family, with an occasional pop album every six years or so, and no one ever expected more from him. No one looked to George Harrison to save the world, and no one was disappointed when he didn’t.
It’s weird, but unlike any of his bandmates after the breakup, George Harrison was always good enough. And he got to play guitar in the best band in the world, and then he got to live a quiet, spiritual life, and the world basically left him alone. Who wouldn’t want a life like that? It’s a shame that his death was so painful, and he will certainly be missed. He’ll be remembered, at least by me, as a great guitarist, a good songwriter and one of the luckiest men who ever lived.
You can trace a straight line from the Beatles to every artist that enjoys creative freedom with label backing today. Before the Beatles, pop artists never wrote their own songs, never had a hand in the production of those songs, and never were allowed to craft their own image. If that sounds like ‘N Sync to you, well, go to the head of the class, because the mechanics of popular music haven’t changed much since 1961.
But the treatment of artists has. As much as Aimee Mann might bemoan the state of the record industry, it was a lot worse before the Beatles. The Fab Four made the first artistically driven pop albums, no doubt, and used their platform as the biggest band in the world to strike a major blow for creative rights. Sgt. Pepper was the first shot in a revolution that has led to thousands of creatively-driven records given national and international distribution each year, to artistic concerns winning out over financial concerns (seldom, but it does happen, and pre-Beatles it didn’t happen at all), and to artists being granted the freedom to experiment and create any type of music in any form they wish.
So, really, you can trace a straight line from the Beatles to Led Zeppelin to Prince to U2 to Frank Zappa to Nirvana to Radiohead, and now, to Cush.
Who is Cush? Glad you asked…
Cush is not a band. Cush is a revolution. To prove it, they even have a manifesto. Here’s some of it:
“Cush is willing to change and grow with others. Willing to have anybody play any role, whoever is most suited for it at the time. Willing to be anonymous. Willing to be produced. Sharing, being selfless, letting go. Being Honest. The song winning. Soul. Letting your ego get you there, and then sacrificing it when the time comes. Music being able to be performed in any way, by any combination of people, in any setting.”
It’s that last part that defines this band – music performed in any way, by any combination of people, in any setting. Cush is not a group of musicians, it’s a philosophy that any like-minded musician can contribute to. Here’s some more of the Cush Manifesto:
“Cush feels the best, and hurts the most at the same time. Cush sounds familiar, like the best songs you’ve ever heard, but feels new. Cush is an Action. Cush is not a solo project. Cush is not a band. A Cush song does not have to be 3:30 long. A Cush song can be 68 minutes long. A Cush song is already a greatest hit.”
Pretty amazing stuff, huh? In an age of ego-grappling superstars, the two Cush releases so far have been refreshingly anonymous. Each disc is simply titled Cush. No band photos accompany the CD booklets. Contributing musicians are listed, but no mention is made of who did what on which song. The complete creative credit on both CDs reads: “All songs written, performed, produced and engineered by Cush.”
This puts the focus squarely back on the music, where it should have been all along. And the music is spectacular.
I will admit familiarity with some of the contributors of Cush, including all four members of the late, lamented Prayer Chain, an art-pop band from California. The Prayer Chain fizzled after their wondrous second album, Mercury, and the first Cush album represents the first time all four have appeared on record since. Most of the lead vocals on the first record are handled by Michael Knott, a 20-year veteran of bands like Lifesavers Underground and the Aunt Bettys.
But Cush doesn’t want you to think of them as a group of musicians, but rather as a single creative being that bleeds gorgeous music. The first album certainly qualifies on that score. It’s a dreamy affair that glides from one gorgeous melody to another on Andy Prickett’s lighter-than-air and yet heavier-than-anything guitar playing. Mentioning individual songs would be beside the point, but “Angelica,” “The Clouds Are All the Same” and “Arching Heart” are all standouts.
The recently released second disc is shorter, sharper and more raucous than the first. This 26-minute romp sounds as if the New York Dolls met the Smiths on the set of Velvet Goldmine, so glam is its gloom. True to the Manifesto, Cush’s second album features different musicians and a completely different sound, and it’s just as wonderful in a completely different way.
Cush the second is a concept piece about a religious rock star on the rise. (Some say it’s the story of their former singer, Mike Knott, and the similarities to his career are pretty striking…) It goes from the messy fury of “Blessed to Kill” to the sprightly lilt of “Sailing Sounds” to the cascading beauty of “A Rock and Roll King,” touching on both the Ramones and Catherine Wheel along the way. It’s like the best garage rock album you’ve ever heard.
Beyond just the music, though, both Cush albums sound indescribably alive, in a way that only complete creative freedom can bring forth. Their record label, tiny Northern Records, lets Cush do whatever they want, and in fact consist of whomever they want, and you can hear the exuberance of such liberation in every note here. Cush, both as an idea and as a musical entity, is exhilarating.
As I said, they’re not a band, they’re a revolution.
Get both Cush records at www.northernrecords.com. The second one is a fairly limited edition, so hurry up.
Next time, the second-to-last column of the year, with a hip-hop wrapup before the Top 10 List.
See you in line Tuesday morning.