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Divas and the dead men who love them; Yusuf Islam was Cat Stevens and you weren’t


It is June 1997 and Lil Kim is a mess -I know this because she is performing at a great women of hip hop concert and she can’t speak and she can’t talk and she is stumbling and crying. Notorious B.I.G. had died a coupla months earlier and she wailed and wailed and wailed.

Two years earlier, February 14, 1995 to be exact, I am watching Hole kill at the Brookyn Academy Of Music recoding their MTV Unplugged concert. Courtney is facing her audience less than a year after her husband’s suicide and both the “Live Through This” songs and a number of new songs sound passionate and heartbreaking.

Perhaps no better than a gorgeous acoustistic “Softer, Softest”: I turn to my friend, “You can’t fake tht,” I say. But I’m wrong because just before the audience is about to be let out we are called back. There waa a problem with the mic and she has to sing “Softer, Softest” again and she does and it’s just as good.

Lil Kim’s first album, “Hardcore,” ‘s Executive Producer was Biggie and can you feel him (not to mention hear him) all over this album, even more than the Junior Mafia album. Not just “Drugs” -which figures, but “Crush On You,” “Big Mama thing”… it tooks nothing away from Lil Kim’s excellent flow to suggest this is Biggie’s, and, rightfully, this should be considered part of Biggie’s cannon.

More importantly, none of Lil Kim’s subsequent albums were in the same league as “Hardcore”; she could call herself “Notorious K.I.M.” as much as she lmight have liked. The follow up “La Bella Mafia” suxd and I didnt bother with her after that.

Courtney Love’s story is worse. the first Hole album, “Pretty On The Inside” was pretty good punk rock and “Live Through This” was a flat out grunge rock masterpiece and though Kurt Cobain doesn’t appear at all that is some jump between albums and the follow up (with way, way, way too much of Billy Corgan) was simply horrible.

Her subsequent solo “America’s Sweetheart” was no better.

Lil Kim and Courtney Love are like baseball players after they’ve given up steriods, suddenly they can’t hit the ball out of the infield.

The former Cat Steven’s career boils down to a handful of great songs before he became a starand two masterpiece albums “Teaser And the Firecat” and “Tea For the Tillerman” and the soundtrack of the great cult movie “Harold And Maude” (much of which is on “Tea”. But after that? “Catch Bull At Four’? “Foreigner”? “Buddha and the Chocolate Box”? Double ugh.

So he found religion just in time and his two Yusuf Islam albums are nothing much. They sound like Cat Stevens but the songs are not quite there like (to continue with baseball metaphors) a pitcher who has lost five miles off his fast ball.

Having said that, nothing takes me back to my teen years half as fast as Islam’s voice and watching him last night on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon was a real pleasure. I actually watched “Harold And Maude” for old time sakes afterwards. “We all know it’s better yesterday has passed…”

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