Friday, August 28, 2009

A consideration of Maria McKee: success and men - before one is prepared to handle them - can be a curse

Updated at bottom

Though her trauma didn't directly come from success, Tina Turner did survive man trauma and come out the other side. Tina had instincts, smarts, and grit. She is a survivor.

And Tina had talent. In this video, she reminds of a Jim Brown, Earl Campbell, or Bo Jackson: she just has more talent than the more mortals who ostensibly are her peers. They actually are not her peers. She is on another performance level.

Also, the backup singers are not to be missed.

Earlier this summer, I wrote about the beautiful Iowa girl, Jean Seberg. Jean Seberg's wealth, fame, beauty, and taste of the world did not bring her any more happiness than that of the Iowa housewife she might have become, or that of the babysitter she once was.

What would have happened if Jean Seberg had been more firmly grounded in solid values? In religious principles?

Jean did not survive her fame; did not survive the predator men who stalked her beauty. Many of us, finding ourselves in similar circumstances, would not have survived.

Now consider Maria McKee, of the 1980's L.A. cowpunk band Lone Justice, who was as attractive as a 21 year old 1980s white girl musician could be:

Maria's story is happier than Jean Seberg's story. Maria's music career continues, successfully - though she never achieved the bigger success which her talent and beauty made a reasonable possibility.

Maria's older brother was a musician in the cocaine drenched early 1980s LA Alternative Rock scene. One can imagine a high school aged Maria amidst that scene: beautiful, airheaded, backstage, and unsupervised amidst Los Angeles alt rock bacchanalia.

Even at a young age, Maria possessed a nice Kathleen Turnerish raspy voice which she could take high or low. She possessed a knack for performance - even a bit of a Mick Jagger-ish quality. She had access to the managers and producers on the alt rock scene. By age 18, Maria had her own successful cowpunk band, Lone Justice. Here she is at age 21:

The guys in that band are 30 years old. They are not watching out for her. They are weak assholes who are exploiting her. She is 21, unsupervised, philosophically and spiritually unprepared, dating a 35 year old guy in Tom Petty's band, and surrounded by music industry leeches who are exploiting her. Here she is in Germany - also at age 21 in 1985. Look for the hilarious crowd shots:

Let's jump one year, to 1986 and age 22. Lets see another performance of "Ways to be Wicked". What is this? Maria's freshness is dissipated. She's a horse which has been rode hard, and she is (sadly) a very old age 22. I'm speculating, but: she looks coked out. I used to be a bartender - in Miami, of all places. I know what coked out looks like, and that's what it looks like. Her look is sloppy around the margins, and so is she: her voice is hoarse; her lyrics enunciated poorly and breathlessly (and she doesn't notice); she is a bit thin. If you watch through to the very end, you can close your eyes and imagine a high Janis Joplin near the end of her life:

Sometime after, the band went on tour as opening act for U2, and then broke apart after the tour. Maria had made friends in Ireland during the rehearsals before the tour started. She said she sensed she had experienced "too much too soon", and she sensed she had to break away from her life. She moved to Ireland, and lives there to this day: heavier, brunette, still with excellent vocal talent. Maria, like Tina Turner, was gritty enough and smart enough to survive.

Her career, after a short dead period, went on. She had a #1 hit in the UK: "Show Me Heaven", which made it onto the soundtrack of Tom Cruise' Days of Thunder. She had a song on the Pulp Fiction soundtrack - the Willie Nelson style "If Love Is A Red Dress", which she wrote and performed, and which showcases her vocal talent. Crack open a cold beverage, think country music, and enjoy Maria McKee(and random video the YouTube member put together):

If Love Is A Red Dress (Hang Me In Rags)

My heart is empty.
Your eyes are dull.
Once we were hungry,
Now we are full.
These ties that bind us,
Can't beat these chains.
If love is a shelter,
I'm gonna walk in the rain.

You were my angel,
Now you are real.
So like a stranger,
Colder than steel.
The morning after,
No one should brag.
If love is a red dress,
Well, hang me in rags.

Ah well,
There goes the fairy tale.
Lord, ain't it a shame?
In all this comfort,
I can't take the strain.

If we played even,
I'd still be your queen.
But someone was cheatin'.
And it wasn't me.
I've laid it on the table,
You held something back.
If love is Aces,
Give me the Jack.

Some years ago, Maria sang with one of my favorites: Sharleen Spiteri, in Glasgow. The girls were good together:



Bro64 emails:
I'm a big fan of hers, although conditionally, because there are some songs I have a hard time sitting through, especially the darker, angsty ones.

Re: speculation of being coked out: another possible explanation
You may be right. It was L.A. in the late 1980's, she was in the rock and roll scene, she was in a band with much older dudes, she was dating Petty's band member, etc. Decent possibility that there were some drugs being used. However, there is another possibility in that time period. She was bipolar, and did not know it for several years.

Re: the German concert performance you posted
I had never seen that one. The crowd shots are priceless. I was fascinated that they all seemed to be carrying those big plastic jugs with drinks inside; enough liquid to last one person an entire day at a music festival! For some reason they reminded me of jugs of urine, and every time somebody lifted one up to drink I thought "Noooooooo! Don't drink that!"

Re: Maria's "Mick Jaggeresque" onstage quality
Good comparison. At times, it seems like she went a little over the top and out of control, but she was so young it seemed almost endearing. It's the same feeling we get when we watch a young colt try to stand and run.

Here are my two favorite examples of her stage energy at the age of 21 and 22:

"Sweet, Sweet, Baby Mine" - a slightly overproduced video, but dig the backup singers, and look at how charismatic is Maria's stage presence. [Greg's note: Bro64 links a couple of videos which hearken to the early days of MTV and music videos, when artists and directors were still trying to figure out the most effective format. Fun to revisit those days.]

"I Found Love" - she roams the stage like a caged animal; here she is a little over the top at times, but still a great and original rock and roll song.

Re: Maria's voice
A wonderful, original, emotional voice with huge range and great clarity. She was capable of so many styles. Here she is in a tiny club in England in 1991 singing "Show Me Heaven". The song on the "Days of Thunder" soundtrack was overproduced pop, but still a lovely song. This video was a bootleg from a small club and has awful production qualities, but the performance is fantastic. Look at how comfortable she is, in a much smaller and relaxed setting, without knowledge of cameras, wearing overalls, and with only a cheesy organ to accompany her. In this environment, she really gives herself to the song, and gives the most heartfelt rendition I've ever heard from her. I would have loved to have been in the audience that night.

(BTW, Kris is cooking dinner, and just threw in our Maria McKee CD, but she had no idea I was writing this EM and she did not see The End Zone today. Freaky karma. She really can read my mind; I have no chance at independence in my life)

Re: Maria's songwriting ability
Vastly underrated. She has written many of her hit songs, and does not seem to receive as much credit as is due. Other artists recognize her songwriting skills. Watch this video of "Don't Toss Us Away". She wrote and recorded this song with Lone Justice at the age of 21 in 1985. Patty Loveless always loved the song, and many years later had a country hit with it. Check out the crowd in this video. Imagine a bunch of Los Angeles hipsters in the 1985 club scene, showing up at a club to hear this hot new "cowpunk" band they read about in Rolling Stone, and getting a song thrown at them that could have been pure Tammy Wynette. At the beginning, they don't know what they're listening to, but they are at rapt attention, and by the end Maria owns them. [Greg's note: this song is a perfect showcase for Maria McKee's vocal talents. She could have been huge in Nashville - and still, really, ought to go that direction.]

Re: Maria the total package
Here is Maria playing a solo version of her song "Am I The Only One" at a music festival in England, in 1990. Why is this Maria the total package?
  • Songwriting - the Dixie Chicks recorded this song on "Wide Open Spaces"
  • Guitar playing - she is fantastic, though it's not often highlighted. Here, she is onstage with only a keyboardist, ripping through the song on guitar
  • Singing - she opens up and gives a full throated version of the song
  • Stage presence - the guitar limits her over the top movements, but her charisma still shines through. She is irresistible.
She still has talent, and at the age of 45 I hope she still has a few good songs left in her.
Thanks, Bro64. Good stuff.

Am I the Only One (Who's Ever Felt This Way)?

There is no damn reason I should have to be so alone
I’m smothered by this emptiness, Lord I wish I was made of stone
Like a fool I lent my soul to love, and it paid me back with shame
God help me, am I the only one who’s ever felt this way?

A heart that’s worn and weathered, would know better than to fight
But I wore mine like a weapon, played out love like a crime
And it wrung me out and strung me out, and it hung years on my face
God help me, am I the only one who’s ever felt this way?

Now my sense of humor needs a break
I see a shadow in the mirror, and she’s laughin’ through her tears
One more smile’s all I can fake

There is a wound inside me, and it’s bleeding like a flood
There are times when I see light ahead, but hope is not enough
As another night surrounds me, and it pounds me like a wave
God help me, am I the only one who’s ever felt this way?


The End Zone likes girl singers:

Maria McKee
Desiree Bassett: Best Girl Guitarist
Imelda May:
1) "Don't You Do Me No Wrong", & "I've Got a Lover",
2) "Johnny Got a Boom Boom", & "Big Bad Handsome Man"
Daniela Mercury
Lisa Hannigan
Joan Baez:
1) w/ Earl Scruggs: "Love is Just a Four Letter Word",
2) "Diamonds and Rust"
Jenny Silver
Brandi Carlile
Brandi Carlile and Nora Jones
Kelly Clarkson
Carrie Underwood has perfect balance in her batting stance.
Julianne Hough has booty.
Kathleen Stewart: "It Ain't Your Money to Spend"
Ash Soular: "Obamanation"
Susan Boyle: Les Miserables, "I Dreamed A Dream"


gcotharn said...

Friend and blog comment consultant Roy Lofquist writes:

"You wrote "What would have happened if Jean Seberg had been more firmly grounded in solid values? In religious principles?"

I have long believed that had Elvis Presley, a deeply religious man, not found fame and fortune he would have lived a long and happy life. There was a sharp dissonance between his star persona and his inner self. I still listen to his many gospel offerings."

I think that's exactly right. I've never thought of it before, but: Elvis would have had kids, sung in his church, been beloved in his community, and likely lived to a ripe old age. He would've been, in the ways that count, happier and more fulfilled.

And I agree: Elvis' gospel songs are wonderful: beautiful, calming, reassuring.

Maria McKee's Life is Sweet said...

I love Maria McKee. It's just a shame her huge talent has rarely had the acclaim (and sales) it's deserved.

Kevin said...

What a special gift this blog is - I was just reminiscing about my life in the early 90s and the crush I had on Maria. The first time I heard her belting out “Ways to be Wicked”, I just melted inside. Seeing her live performances gets my melancholy all riled up. I guess she is about 3 years older than I am. Between the voice, the face and the delivery, I was totally taken. I do hope life has turned out to be a blessing for her and her family. Well, I will stop babbling on and go buy all of her (and Lone Justice’) albums.
Thank you for the time and effort,
Kevin in Austin Texas

Anonymous said...

i love maria mckee her voice is amazing... your blog s cool... from brazil hehe xo

Marc nichol said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

the comments on maria's drug use seems to be alittle off. i had followed her career since before the first lj album, and theres several video's showing maria stoned (for example the video from the irs cutting edge with dave alvin where she forgets the lyrics), theres also an interview from france during the tour for the first album where she can hardly speak, and when she does, it doesnt make any sense. i love maria and her voice and her song writing, but im not sure your time line is right. you've got to remember she was playing in bars with her brother when she was 12 and 13 and even fronted maria and the red devils at 16, to say the 30 year olds in her later years (22) where a contributing factor is doubtfull (several of her band members were staunchly against drug and alcahol use). i would like to know however what happened between her last two major label solo albums.

cara said...

There is a major difference between her at 21 and 22 but it could be tiredness, depression, disillusion, etc she stated ""I have never done drugs, because I saw other people go through so many problems that I knew better, but I saw the pressures that can cause people to turn to it," she says, reflecting on the tensions during the Lone Justice days.

"I was a perfect candidate. And I eventually found my own drug: spending money. . . . I had money because 'A Good Heart,' a song I wrote when I was 18, was recorded by Feargal Sharkey and it was No. 1 all over Europe. At one point, I would spend $100 a week on fresh-cut flowers and I'd eat in fancy restaurants three times a day. . . . I was 21." you need fact before you can post the drug thing