February 24, 2005

Mixtape Friday: RIP Hunter S. Thompson
By Canyon Cody
Published in The Heights

If it wasn't for Hunter S. Thompson, "I" wouldn't be here. The father of gonzo journalism was the first to bring himself into the story, refusing or unable to remain inconspicuous and unobtrusive. After 67 years, Thompson recently took his own life, delivering a blow to counterculture at a time when crazy eccentrics are hard to find.

Thompson didn't just write, he ranted and raged. He broke all the old rules of journalism about objectivity and sobriety. His life of drugs, guns, and motorcycles produced the fantastic stories found in his semi-autobiographical books, including Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Hell's Angels.

I'm sure Thompson will continue to cause trouble wherever he ends up, especially now that he's reunited with his old friend and fellow merry prankster Ken Kesey, who died in 2001, and kindred spirit Ol' Dirty Bastard, who died in 2004.


Bill Withers "Ain't No Sunshine"
As a writer for Rolling Stone and later ESPN, Thompson could write about anything under the sun. For the counterculture movement, there ain't no sunshine with Thompson gone.

The original and still best version of "Ain't No Sunshine" appears on Bill Withers' first album, 1971's Just As I Am. At only two minutes, Withers' brief original has spawned hours of imitation, but nothing compares to the original heartwrenching breakup song.

D'Angelo "Ain't No Sunshine"
Even Withers himself would acknowledge D'Angelo as a legitimate disciple. D'Angelo knows, he knows, he knows (26 times he knows) that he should leave his lover, but a world without her is too dark to tolerate. This song is really the inverse of the chipper "You Are My Sunshine," sung instead from the dark side of the moon after a painful breakup.


Michael Jackson "Ain't No Sunshine"

Only one year after the original, Michael Jackson covered "Ain't No Sunshine" as the first track on his first solo album, Got To Be There. With skin so white, there clearly ain't no sunshine in Jackson's life. He opens the song with a spoken intro: "You ever want something that you know you shouldn't have? The more you know you shouldn't have it, the more you want it." I'm not in the business of kicking a man while he's down, so you'll have to insert your own joke here about Jackson's forbidden desires.

DMX "Ain't No Sunshine"
Hip-hop has poor self-control. It doesn't know when to leave an old song alone. DMX turns a beautiful song about lost love into a gritty song about robbing someone for money. The song fits well on his debut, It's Dark and Hell Is Hot, and features DMX at his best, but it lacks the vulnerable soul that made the original great. Recently, rapper Akon again turned the tune into another rap song, with better success.

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