Nelson Mandela died today. And I am totally in support of all of the wonderful things being said about him.
Except for this: he can't hear you. I've long maintained that after they die is a really shitty time to tell someone how awesome you think they are. I know Mandela received plenty of accolades while alive, but still.
So, with all due respect to Nelson Mandela, who was a giant who walked the earth, I think it's also appropriate to praise one of the greats who is still with us.
Little Richard is 81 years old today.
He and Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry are pretty much the last of the great rock and roll pioneers who are still with us.
Little Richard's influence on rock and roll, and therefore popular culture, has been enormous. You can see his influence in every shiny, outrageous performer from James Brown to Elton John to Prince to Lady Gaga. You can hear his influence in Paul McCartney's "Woo!" and Zeppelin's "Rock and Roll" and just about every rock and roll song you've ever listened to.
Like Chuck Berry, Little Richard helped break down racial barriers in music.
But Little Richard's greatness doesn't just lie in his influence; it's in his music, which rocks and swings and brings more energy and passion than about ninety percent of what came after him. Here are three of my favorites:
"Keep A-Knockin'" (Zeppelin stole the intro to this for their "Rock and Roll.")
The Girl Can't Help It, from the film of the same name which starred Mariska Hargitay's Mom:
And now, here's that real solid man of rock and roll, Little Richard, and Long Tall Sally:
Thanks, Little Richard, for helping create rock and roll, for the costumes and the hair and for being awesome. Happy Birthday!