I’m sure it’s not just limited to the music biz — there have probably been many sad stories concerning accountants throughout the last six decades — but there’s something different about an artist’s career being cut short which lends their story a heightened air of tragedy, something about promise unfulfilled, or dreams unachieved, or demons unconquered.
I’ve avoided telling these tales — because I like to keep my corner of the world super cheery and totally divorced from harsh realities — but it’s time to make the Blakean move from innocence to experience. The music is worth growing up for.
Material Issue formed in Chicago in 1985, led by singer and songwriter Jim Ellison. They spent the rest of the decade touring the Midwest and recording demos which were then collected and released on their debut album, International Pop Overthrow. The album became a surprise hit — albeit a modest one — with the track “Valerie Loves Me” proving especially popular.
Unfortunately for Material Issue, they played a brand of music known as power-pop. This style doesn’t have an exact definition, but—to paraphrase the law about obscenity—you know it when you hear it. Basically, it’s a hybrid — not quite rock, not quite pop — originated by The Beatles (starting with “Please Please Me”). It’s characterized by short, catchy, melodic tunes, often with crunchy guitars, handclaps, and prominent backing vocals and harmonies. Critics tend to love this genre, but the public at large can be indifferent. Purveyors of power-pop will occasionally have a big hit or bestselling album — like Cheap Trick, for instance — but they often end up as cult bands. To make a long story short (too late!), Material Issue’s next two records didn’t sell at all.
In 1995, the band was dropped by their record label and the following year saw the end of a long-term relationship for frontman Jim Ellison. Shortly afterwards, Ellison committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning in his garage. But he and his bandmates left behind a gem of an album. And one stone cold classic power-pop song.
I have no idea why someone posted a video of this song featuring Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of spiritual prosperity, wealth, and luck. But who couldn’t use a little more of all of those things? So blessings be upon you.