Social commentary about music department
Ms Musings on 11-29 takes a closer look at what's going on in hip-hop
"There are male rappers -- Mos Def, Common, Talib Kweli and, because I can't resist giving him another shout out, Boots Riley -- who, in Kolawole's words, 'resist dick-swinging bravado.' So why aren't we hearing more of them? Kolawole turns to bell hooks: 'Mass media pays little attention to those black men who are opposing phallocentrism, misogyny and sexism. Alternative, progressive black male voices in rap or cinema receive little attention -- their voices are not celebrated in patriarchal culture.'
"Kolawole then continues: 'The only conclusion to be drawn from the current furore is that misogyny against black women is fine so long as it's kept firmly within the protective bosom of black folk. Take heed, Eminem, we like to keep our dirty business in the family. Stick to dissing your own in the future.'
sounds off on the current state of music criticism:
He thinks "the clubby self-reinforcing promo culture of criticism always needs an outsider to give it all a good kicking. ...
"There ought to be a sort of "critic code" to notify the reader of the critic's relationship with the artist in question, and also the relative security of the critic's career. Beginning critics often lapse into the publicist game, because their skins are thin -- and hell, you can build a nice career out of coddling artists.
"Part of the reason everyone worships Lester Bangs it that he turned his enthusiastic sound-scoping into a severe bout of self-abuse. Bangs nearly destroyed himself when confronting his hero Lou Reed, whose solo albums just sucked. But those interviews turned into classics of modern criticism: two dead dead flowers rustling and shaking across the hotel bedspread. People try to top that shit today, and fail miserably. Nick Kent succeeded, sometimes, but then, getting chain-whipped by Sid Vicious is definitely more "real" than a grunting nasal know-it-all lecture on methamphetamines.
"Nobody but old fogies could give a shit about Lou Reed's solo records in the seventies, yet we all hunger to reread Lester's articles on the topic. See, that's the other thing: critics should always be looking at the long run, not the short run. The we-shall-all-be-dead critics will astound you with the risks they take, their icy rock-solid balls (or ovaries as the case may be), their willingness to alienate everyone just to speak the plain truth to the next generation.... "
Here's a NY Times piece dedicated to all those who make art for its own sake.
(He mentions Simon Rodia most famous for his Watts Towers as an example of "outsider art". )
TOT (Ooby Dooby)
has a regular engaging habit of unearthing obscure and interesting links to music writing.
Like this fascinating online music history project
This is the introduction to the topic:
"There is the history of the hits. Most books on rock music are histories of the hits. The charts decide, i.e. the masses decide. Marx would have loved it, except there is a catch: the masses tend to buy what is publicized by the media, which is what corporations pay money to publicize. Marketing decides the charts. Invest a few million dollars on me and even I, regardless of my musical talent, will break into the charts, i.e. will become part of "that" history of rock music. Most books on the subject are, in fact, books about the music industry. Very often, the profile of a musician is simply a list of her/his successes in the Billboard charts ("that album broke into the charts", "that album hit #5", "that album sold one million copies"). In other words, books on rock music tend to treat musicians like corporations or start-ups, judging them by their revenues, profits and marketing strategy.
Then there are national versions of the history of rock music. Italians have been more exposed to British music than American music. The Eagles and Creedence Clearwater Revival are hardly known, whereas the Moody Blues and David Bowie are almost household names. The history of rock music viewed from Italy is sharply different from the history of rock music viewed from, say, Boston."
(Thanks, T.O.T. for the holiday reading link)
Tim Byrnes at punk rock blues delves into the dangerous issue of "celebrity".
If immensely wealthy "celebrities" allegedly commit not just crimes, but heinous acts against humanity, and then appear to have bought their way to freedom, what sort of message does that send to the public?
In his own elegant thoughtful manner, Greil Marcus compares and contrasts two country tunes and their artists.
Brooks and Dunn drink a can of beer while a country gal burns down her house, and Greil uses this opportunity well.
Marcus discusses the notion of social commentary -- that's right, social commentary
-- explaining how it is that bringing in ideas and story into music and subsequent discussions of it (that's the "social commentary" part) might actually have some meaning to a community and also make for music that is significant or relevant in some way other than mere commercial considerations (i.e., "turning a buck" or enhancing a famous name.)
"Social commentary" strikes me as a neutral term; although there are many critics of even the phrase "social commentary", just as there are those who want to avoid the whole idea altogether. I can't help but think that those people (and musicians are among them) might be responding that way because they are in some way concerned that the "commentary" might not reflect well on them.
Currently, the most vociferous critics of "social commentary" seem to fall out of the right-wing side of the political spectrum -- both those who just want to avoid the topic altogether as well as those massaged by think-tank propaganda systems who'd prefer only discussions of "universal" truths (or "just talk about the music") as well as those who'd prefer to omit any reminders of the troublesome specifics.
The popularity of this attitude might go on to influence the success of more musicians who genuinely have nothing to say and nothing to play who will likely go on to years of financially rewarding careers.
Which isn't to say there isn't a need for fun, but let's say if Hitler and his minions are careening about, why might people need a little fun to blow it all off for awhile? That's the "social history" or "social commentary" part.
Peter Doyle gets the "Heeby-Jeebies: Little Richard, Sputnik 1 and Australia's 1950s"
Australia in the 1950s has been generally represented by both conservative and progressive commentators as characterised by cultural conservatism. Yet the facts of the Little Richard rock-n-roll tour of 1957 stand at odds with the construct. With the extravagant Little Richard as headliner, Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent as supporting acts, the tour brought together arguably the most 'hardcore' assemblage of rock-n-rollers then possible. With minimal support from press, radio or television, the show attracted audiences of many tens of thousands in cities and large country towns in Eastern Australia. For Richard himself the tour was the occasion of an encounter with the apocalypse. The sight of Sputnik 1 passing overhead in Melbourne convinced him that the end was indeed nigh, and he promptly renounced rock -n-roll music and cut short the tour. (The incident entered rock-n-roll historigraphy as the first of a series of landmark 'death of rock-n-roll' moments.) In terms of cultural utility, the Australian audiences who so spectacularly and passionately participated in the Little Richard tour (and more generally in the early phase of rock-n-roll) did so mostly 'under the rada' of then-reigning cultural institutions. Their choices and commitments -- in 1957 still only minimally serviced by commercial and media interests, and ignored, trivialised or actively opposed by both conservative and progressive cultural commentators -- were marked by a high level of agency on their parts, and are not adequately understood within a simple, passive 'youth culture consumption' model.
A new study rolled out by the sociology press and lauded by students of the social sciences: A Field Guide to the Urban Hipster.
Flash: There has never been a worse time to be a music writer
"The ludic quality of music criticism merges with a serious approach to the subject rarely found in a mainstream that treats music as entertainment rather than art. Add encyclopaedic knowledge, genre-crossing frames of reference and a disregard for celebrity, and you have the key traits of the music blog.
Above all, music blogs are free from the business plans and targeted readerships that determine the content of commercial publications. It may be, as one blogger recently admitted, a "hermetically sealed and potentially borderline-autistic pursuit", but this unregulated zone contains fantastic, stimulating and piercingly acute writing. Savour the moment before its protagonists have to find proper jobs."
Didn't This Machine Used to Only Kill Fascists?
How Folk Music Can Kill or Be Killed.
Remember that little village I came from? There was all sorts of arts there, both in permanent and temporary residence. The music in the place ran a wide course, from jazz musicians to symphony people, no rock and roll people just yet, but Mexican tunes and American folk music people were there and imports were arriving.
There was a fellow who moved there who had studied gamelan and had learned Balinese dancing while living on one of those remote islands. And one day there showed up at the store that sold stringed instruments and Folkways records was a person calling himself Bill Guthrie. He happened into the area and stayed around for a while. He called himself by the name Bill "Guthrie," and he frailed a banjo. Soon people were saying he even looked like Woody. I couldn't tell if he did or not, only having an old scratchy photo on an album cover to look at. Soon it was said he was one of the many children that Woody had sired as he roamed about the country, and everyone "in the know" seemed to believe this story, although he never told it himself that I ever heard. I wasn't sure what to believe. He was a very quiet person, and during his single year there, he disappeared for many weeks one summer, it was said he had gone back East to see "his dad". And then he returned, but not to stay for long.
One night he drove his black model T Ford onto the railroad tracks, turned off the engine, and waited for the freight train to show up. It came along full speed and he sat behind the wooden steering wheel, he didn't move his car in spite of their warning whistles. He was killed in a very noticable manner and the newspaper gave his name but it wasn't "Guthrie".
The story became even more dramatic in a small town, people reporting that his car key was found alongside the tracks, which implied he was worried about changing his mind. Whoever he might have really been, I found myself grieving a bit for Bill, that was a damn shame he could never find acceptance from "his father", trying in some way to be like him, playing folk music, travelling about in cars of his "dad's" generation's vintage and he even picked a "hobo" symbol of freedom for his demise. That was years ago, 1961 or 1962 that happened, and I was a rather young person at the time, just barely a teenager.
Then Woody died. Then Arlo Guthrie later showed up with "Alice's Restaurant" in the mid-sixties. I thought it was interesting as a "talking new york blues" if a bit overlong as a story-song but I was amazed at how popular it became. Just for regaling some trifling little anti-authoritarian conflict. It was popular because I guess people really, really felt assaulted by the powers that be at that time, and everyone accepted that the establishment would go to any ridiculous lengths to harrass and punish them.
Then, that era was over and everything just seemed to degenerate as it became more widespread, popularized and glittery.
In 1974, I stumbled into a new oak-paneled eaterie on Pacific Coast Highway, a thoroughfare so busy by then you couldn't so much as stop to look at the waves any longer and people waited impatiently to back out of their own driveways to their simple wood cottages which although always overpriced then were upwards of six hundred grand.
So I had risked life and limb to turn across the busy highway to get some chow and I was in this restaurant. As I stood peering into the case, the guy behind the counter swooped up. As he was waiting to take my order, he actually sang "You can get anything you want in Alice's Restaurant." Now, that might have been a welcome or interesting phenomenon, in and of itself, but it also happened to be the name of the place which was spelled out in cursive by a light rope above the counter.
A Malibu LA-look, the waiter was, with top two buttons of the shirt precisely undone to display casual disarray or disregard for appearance, a style that in fact came to be known as "Malibu casual", a pose belied by the well-pressed surface of the maroon gabardine of his shirting and the gold chain necklace which was a beginning phenomenon then, a well-coiffed dark ponytail, earlocks, and antique-store gemstone earring, he now smiling and singing, "You can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant ..."
Well, what would a reasonable response to something like that be? Should I sing my order back to him? This wasn't neat or cool or surprising, this was kind of boring. I stared down at the overly-glazed items on the frilly paper doilies on the glass shelves in the to-go case and the situation was getting a bit more irritating because I didn't see anything I really wanted there.
My friend with the cadillac patch loaned me a brand new magazine you've probably read months ago. The glossy thick dateline November Special Music Issue of Vanity Fair.
Mixed in with full-page glittery color portraits of diamond drenched this or that and loads of stinky perfume ads, there is a lively gem wherein vinyl junkie David Bowie lists 25 LP's from his collection and writes a little about each one.
(This is kind of a fun article and I'll encourage you to read it. Of course, the thing made me think a bit about being exposed to some music chronologically, right during the time it was created, hearing it while it is happening, the surrounding musical environments that make it stand out, and some of the challenges facing the bona fide music historian in trying to explain any of that).
David Bowie likes "Blues, Rags, and Hollers" by Koerner, Ray, & Glover. David Bowie writes: "Demolishing the puny vocalizations of "folk" trios like the Kingston Trio and Peter, Paul and Whatsit, Koerner and company showed how it should be done. First time I had heard a 12-string guitar."*
David Bowie also likes "Funky Kingston" by Toots Hibbert.
David Bowie likes "The Fugs" by the Fugs. And Little Richard.
Guess the rest or read the article.
Where Music Comes From Dept.
We Like Sounds That Remind Us of Us!
A new look at music, arguing music derives from human speech itself. (Fresh approach to the topic)
Songs of Ourselves
"Human musical preferences are fundamentally shaped not by elegant algorithms or ratios but by the messy sounds of real life, and of speech in particular -- which in turn is shaped by our evolutionary heritage. Says Schwartz, "The explanation of music, like the explanation of any product of the mind, must be rooted in biology, not in numbers per se."
"Schwartz, Howe, and Purves analyzed a vast selection of speech sounds from a variety of languages to reveal the underlying patterns common to all utterances. In order to focus only on the raw sound, they discarded all theories about speech and meaning and sliced sentences into random bites. Using a database of over 100,000 brief segments of speech, they noted which frequency had the greatest emphasis in each sound. The resulting set of frequencies, they discovered, corresponded closely to the chromatic scale. In short, the building blocks of music are to be found in speech.
"Far from being abstract, music presents a strange analog to the patterns created by the sounds of speech. "Music, like the visual arts, is rooted in our experience of the natural world," says Schwartz. "It emulates our sound environment in the way that visual arts emulate the visual environment." In music we hear the echo of our basic sound-making instrument -- the vocal tract. The explanation for human music is simpler still than Pythagoras's mathematical equations: We like the sounds that are familiar to us -- specifically, we like sounds that remind us of us."
Whatever Happened to Passion?
"I saw it all the time in my school; we had geniuses in music, prodigies in writing, masters of art who were being made to study something they had no enjoyment in because apparently music, writing and art do not bring you a 'future'."
A passionate defense of passion.
Another belated defense of worn-out humanism or a belief in Music's spiritual, intellectual and social dimension
"To come to terms with the fact that music is not just a game of sound but that it has a broad mental, spiritual and social dimension. Thirty years ago, musicology was similar to that period's music, targeting exclusively a few specialists. The study was only concerned with the works' structure. There were historical reasons behind this, yet I find it devastating, as it alienated it from its core subject, which is music, the art of the soul, the art of feeling. Whatever music we come up with, we are expressing human nature. I believe that the future of musicology lies in interdisciplinary research, including philosophy, art and psychology."
What music is good for:
It was on a silver falls by a narrow
That I heard the cry I ever will remember.
The fire sent and cast its burning embers
On another fated city of our land.
"Fire! Fire!" I heard the cry
From every breeze that passes by.
All the world was one sad cry of "Pity!"
Strong men in anguish prayed,
Calling loud to Heaven for aid,
While the fire in ruin was laying
Fair Baltimore, the beautiful city.
Amid an awful struggle of commotion,
The wind blew a gale from the ocean
Brave firemen struggled with devotion,
But their efforts all proved in vain.
("The Baltimore Fire")
You've read about it in the papers and some people went so far in the online world as to say they needed to say something about it. 743,000 acres burned in Southern California. It was a firestorm, sweeping through the hills above Claremont, taking away Palmer Canyon and nearly every home there. That's where many artists I knew used to live, tucked away in old vacation cabins and old wooden houses in the chaparral, but over the years pretty much all those buildings had been replaced with newcomer's homes.
The vineyards of Cucamonga where Zappa had his rented farm house called Studio Z have been transformed over time into the small city of Rancho Cucamonga, spread with tasteful expensive middle-America homes, placed on wide new boulevards with many palm trees. Fast food places and not many art galleries.
During this seasonal outbreak, my husband was traveling to visit outside San Diego. On his way there, many miles away driving through Rancho Cucamonga area the smoke from the fire closed the new Foothill freeway and miles of traffic was diverted and slowed to a stop on offramp after offramp. The smoke so bad, the Ontario airport was closed, too.
Then the San Diego fire approached the ranch where he had just arrived. They were preparing to evacuate. They hopped in the ranch truck and they were on their way to see what condition the roads were in when the fire jumped the drive in front of them not 100 yards from the main house. The truck was thrown into reverse gear and they circled up the ranch road to higher ground to get a better field of view and see what the roads and general conditions were like, but the fire spread quickly and soon turned and was following close up after them.
They arrived at the top of ridge to see a neighbor with a bulldozer smashing down a ranch gate on a road closed and not used for 20 years so those in the truck could turn and double back down the old road to escape the fire following them up the hill.
Then three days of fighting the fire face-to-face on the property all day and into the night. Hubby lost his glasses at one point but actually found them the next day. They appeared to be unharmed, but when he put them on, the metal frame popped from being exposed to the heat.
Hubby said three Mexican ranch hands saved the place. One filled a tank truck used for pesticides with water and drove around spraying the whole time, while another fellow spent days doing all he could with a mere garden hose. A guy on a bulldozer cut and carved breaks and smothered small ground fires with large scoops of dirt. People were deciding what they needed to do to save the place and did it.
The fire went through half the orchard so there will be no fruit from those trees for a few years, but that seems small in comparison to others close by -- one neighbor died right away while trying to save her horse, and some kids just down the road got in big trouble, lost and confused by the heavy smoke and running their car into a ditch. Two kids got out and ran down the road through the smoke and thought their sister was with them, but she was still in the backseat of the car. That followed by another story of a heroic fire crew crawling down the road on their bellies under the wall of smoke to save the girl who was pulled out but she was burned over 85% of her body and will need years of hospitalization and treatment if she lives.
It was awful.
Each fire is worse than the last experienced. Hubby said this time the fire because of wild fierce movement was much worse than the week of fire we experienced here at home in '99.
That seemed a slow-moving all-consuming inferno at the time, with trees igniting and going off all night like rockets. He describes this now is like a well correographed movement compared to this recent wild firestorm, where the fire was so hot it would create its own winds to carry itself along.
He just got back and I have only a few moments of description. He said, "Thousands of homes were lost and many people died."
Simultaneously up here, I was reading online about the fire in Rancho Cucamonga and getting creeped out when I went outside to see our canyon ablaze a mile or so down, which started on Butte Creek Island Road with the winds headed in towards us. I assumed the position: I got the shovels, hoses, extinguishers, and every cat had a carrier and the dog her leash. But five hours of a borate bomber and water helicopters and a change in wind saved our canyon.*
I count my blessings always, but thank you for your prayers.
*(Update 11/16. Actually, it CDF and our local canyon volunteer fire company and 150 firefighters, 20+ fire engines, 4 airtankers, watertenders, 3 bulldozers, and 3 helicopters working in red flag wind conditions. The change in wind direction is thankfully accurate.)
"How does celebrity exert such fascination? If you jettison the childish explanation of talent and the mystical one of charisma, and focus, as I did with Judy Vermorel in our 1985 book, Starlust, on the other side of the equation, if you talk in depth to the consumers of celebrity, if you consider music fans, for example, as consumers in a consumer environment consuming products that happen to be music stars, and map their desires in their own terms, you realize that celebrities are blank screens onto which we all project our fantasies.
This is what celebrities are really rewarded for. A celebrity's "act" readily spills from "real life" to "screen life" because there is no distinction to be made here between private and public spheres. In fact, a celebrity's raison d'etre is to erase such distinction. Celebrities are made-up creatures, fictions from the very start and to the very end. We own them."
Always due yet another peek: Fantastic Vouyeur
Heir of the hornbook dept.
Doing Our Own Thing: The Degradation of Language and Music and Why We Should, Like, Care by John McWhorter
Reviewer Robert George outlines below:
"BERKELEY professor and Manhattan Institute Senior Fellow John McWhorter's latest book - complete with a lengthy, yet witty title - tackles a big topic: The 1960s - in addition to the decade's racial, gender and sexual upheavals - also brought about a fundamental change in the way Americans speak and understand one another.
Where once existed a barrier between casual spoken English and a more formal, stylized way of speaking reserved for significant occasions, the casual form now dominates everything.
McWhorter places the blame on a nation that, beginning in the '60's started to question its own instincts and values. He declares that a love and respect of one's language is ultimately the clearest indicator of love and respect for one's country.
Anyone who has sat through a speech by the average baby boomer politician knows how much they fall flat in comparison to orators of past age.
On the year anniversary of 9/11 (McWhorter began writing on Sept. 10, 2002), rather than try to write their own speeches, elected officials in New York chose instead to read excerpts of classic speeches.
For McWhorter the trend is clear: Original and formal speaking, writing and musical creation has given way to people just "talking."
Thus, news-talk is the most popular radio format.
Thus, rap is the most popular "music" form.
If there is one criticism of the book, it's that McWhorter is almost too analytical in his approach.
In an apparent attempt to balance academic and mainstream audiences, McWhorter adopts a rather impassive tone.
Anger? Outrage? Perhaps McWhorter senses that those sentiments might fall upon deaf ears.
As James Brown once said, we are "talkin' loud and sayin' nothin'." In previous eras, the great orators of their times were those who could synthesize bits of information and distill it into knowledge - sustenance for both the immediate listener and subsequent generations.
There is nothing of that sort today."
This just in Dept.
Kalifornia Uber Alles
(Say, this is really good!)
Like Christopher Isherwood dipping into the screenwriter's pool only to find Nathaniel West already comfortable on an inflatable crocodile, the intrepid Barney Hoskyns travels to Hollywood Babylon to pound his journalistic beat, talk story, gather confessions, and otherwise research his upcoming book on the real Canyon Scene of yesteryear, and here tells of wildfires, suicide, and breakfast with Mickey Dolenz.
And speaking of Telegraph Avenue back in the glory days when it didn't smell like wee in every doorway and there was no Gap store for disappointed candy-ravers to loot ... you'd bump into musicians and other sorts of street artists living out a part of their lives there:
1) Robbie Basho looking mystical in his beard, robes and rope belt. Need I say more?
2) Barbara Dane walking along the Avenue with Lightning Hopkins and ducking into the India Imports store, where he bought his made-in-Mexico serape striped surfer vest.
3) Mixed among the leather belt stampers was David Lindley as a street merchant selling his artistically painted rocks (one of which, I swear, was inscribed with "Help! I'm a rock".)
4) Robert Crumb dressed in a suit playing his banjo with a hat in front of him, and a sign made from the cardboard pulled from a new shirt package that said: "I need to raise $25,000 to sue the crooked lawyers who stole all my money" or words to that effect.
5) A newly arrived to town band, two of whose members decided to play a duet in front of the Bank of America on accordian and snare drum, see George and Pooky who with the right direction soon performed under their real stage name "Commander Cody" after someone heard them playing there.
6) John Cippollina (of Quicksilver Messenger Service) and Nicky Hopkins (piano player then with a famous English group) wearing velvet bell bottoms and fur coats and jumping out the back seat of a double-parked Rolls Royce to run into Cody's book store for an urgent read.
7) A musician famous for B-3 hammond local rock palace appearances tripping on some mind-altering substance and walking straight into every passerby, just not noticing they were part of his physical sphere.
8) Managers of "acid-rock" bands wearing mufflers and overcoats, looking prosperous walking a pair of salukis.
9) Andy Warhol (again! what's he doing here?)
10) Arthur Rubinstein's son, the actor James, in the midst of one of his many schizy episodes in the aisle between the magazine rack and the remainders table at Shakespeare's book store
11) And even Sgt. Joe Friday himself, Jack Webb.
Now that last sighting was where I thought I was seriously losing it. I was in a coffee house communing with my macchiato and staring casually out the large plate glass window when I spied a familiar figure striding purposefully down the sidewalk.
I had many doubts about this particular apparition, such a strange thing would not be, could not really be happening in front of my eyes, not even on Telegraph Avenue, which was then to my thinking one of the strangest streets in the world. But, yes, it was truly Jack Webb, coming to see the scene for himself in the hippie demonstratin hey-days, to get the lay of the land for whatever reason, a future televised episode perhaps. "Just the haps, man" and I read about the reasons behind his visit later in the local newspaper. So, there, it really happened.
12) I watched a wellknown poet feed the meter even though that offense was punishable by law.
Joel Selvin is now Senior
Pop Music Critic, (just like Bonnie Raitt was no doubt efficiently and relentlessly tracked down a few years back by the AARP with a membership card offering. Be careful, Bonnie. Once they've found you, they're harder to lose than the NRA or alumnae associations).
Speaking of which, I know musicians still working today whose wives seriously suggest to their booking agents to use their 5% AARP discount on hotel rooms just to do something to keep tour costs down. And after years of selling megamillions, they now sweat giving away a single CD.
It was all so different once. If I am drawing from the charred memory banks correctly, I recall the time when Joel published one of his very first articles with the Chronicle, he filled in when Phil Elwood was on vacation.
I turned the pages as I sat on a padded stool at the long wooden table and read it one late morning at Kip's Smokehouse on Telegraph, the smell of cheeseburgers sizzling on the open grill and the hot buttered rum sauce that was poured over the hot apple pie served for breakfast mixed nicely in the air. Joel wanted to really sparkle on that one, and it was very well written.
Here's Joel now, still longing for the days of a decent cheeseburgie and getting crabby if not outright cranky about the imitation stuff offered by the world of entertainment today at Rock's Theme Parks.
Ok, I admit it thinking of how things are put together now can make me disgusted and angry. But it's also sometimes sad to me to think that all some younger music fans will ever know, remember, or write with misty nostalgia on their blogs about will be their early experiences: MTV, Clear Channel Radio, McSheds, or even the House of Blues.
Well, what can I say -- at least I had an interesting youth.
Maybe next episode I will tell you how I, in the role of an eager unofficial A&R person rounded up some musicians for what eventually became Freak Out
. One a classical cellist recruited in a such a circuitous overly complex manner that only circumlocution could describe it. Another likely suspect encountered and sized up over a ... (I was about to say hot dog .. but that humble nomenclature would not describe what was better known on the menu as a "cha cha wa wa" at Der Weinerschnitzel where he was gainfully underemployed).
Or maybe I won't. I still have my moods.
Steve Rubio's online life
on this day informed me this is Bonnie Raitt's Birthday and she is only 54 today!
Well, thank heavens some of the good ones manage to stick around and continue doing good stuff. Many many years ago, before Bonnie was nearly as famous as now, when she may have even had her first album out, a friend inveigled not just a concert ticket and a backstage pass for me, but graciously accorded me some special dispensation or privilege which allowed my uninhibited passage towards and hover rights over the overflowing guacamole bowl that graced the backstage table at the beloved Berkeley Community Theatre.
As I sidled down the corridor after a genuinely knock-your-socks-off spectacular show and made my determined starving student way towards the coveted feed and fuel station, I had the misfortune of overhearing an embarrassing remark, one so clumsy, crass, or just downright insensitive that I still tsk! in disbelief remembering it clearly as I do to this day.
Though the intent I will gladly admit was likely complimentary, the very wrong-headedness in utterance seemed to typify the attitude of many male musicians of the time, even when they had their feet planted in environments such as Berkeley during the exact moment in history that consciousness was being elevated to celebrate women's achievements, and even when a portion of their own career or livelihood depended on a woman.
Bonnie's bass player of the time was obviously under some kind of strange influence as he stood propped by a doorway and brayed loudly to no one in particular, "No woman deserves to sing and play guitar that good."
Well! Backwards compliment or just plain lame remark? Only you can be the judge.
The following comments were posted on the old commenting system:
Date/Time: Nov 08 2003, 06:00 pm
Poster: Steven Rubio
Hey Barbara, thanks for the link! If your story took place in the early 70s, I'm assuming that bass player was Freebo. He spent ten years playing with Bonnie, so he was doing something right, I'd guess. If I had to judge, I say the comment was both backwards compliment and lame remark.
Date/Time: Nov 29 2003, 07:41 pm
Oh, shoot! Did I actually write BASS player? My fault entirely! Nope, I don't want people in any way to get the wrong idea. Most assuredly not Freebo -- he stayed with her all those years. That other fella -- a very temporary drummer who soon, um, ... well, it was obvious he just wasn't working out or in possession of either the appropriate outlook or temperament to comfortably "hang out" with the rest of the players.
Writing with passion about music Dept.
Thrill of the week, from tim byrnes at punk rock blues
Thursday, November 06, 2003
Nature Abhors a Vacuum Cleaner Salesman: Led Zeppelin’s Irony Deficiency
(The Golden Age of Rock and Roll 1970-1978 Part 4)
We all have our cut-off points, watershed people/places/events in our rock and roll experience where lines get drawn and crossed. There comes a time for all of us when there’s no escaping that feeling that "rock and roll’s been going to hell since........
Elvis joined the Army
] The Beatles Grew Moustaches and Beards
Dylan went electric
Dylan went Christian
Dylan went Orthodox Jew
Dylan went a’courtin’ and he did ride, uh-huh
Hendrix/Joplin/Morrison shuffled off this mortal coil
This Mortal Coil......"
You get the idea, right? Well, for me, and I’ve alluded to it elsewhere in these communications, the point where rock and roll was shaken badly (the form itself can never be ruined, simply misused, and harshly at that) and made prime for the wholesale cultural highjacking and the inevitable, and continuing, corporate make-over that compromises all that was/is pure in rock and roll was when Led Zeppelin got that freaking airplane. With that one purchase came the turning point where rock and roll went from our little theater to their big business. When concerts went from gathering places to stadia, from act of love and communion to packing in as many burnt-out offerings as possible into the cheap seats and skyboxes. Rock and roll was headed on a course than led (hmmmmmm) to the codification of our rebellion and thousands of Robert Plant clones singing like they were being paid by the ‘baby’ and thousands of sloppy guitar auteurs slouching over Les Pauls and crucifying the blues.
Now, I’m not so blind to not recognize the musicianship of Zeppelin, let alone the fact that their music has touched millions and continues to rake in the bucks, no the Zep were dope and can’t be blamed for their lesser imitators, but I tend to judge a band on intent as well as execution and on what I see as the artists responsibility to the form. I know I think about this stuff way too much, but this is the closest thing I have to a religion and, anyway, it’s only a theory.
Zeppelin grew, of course, out of the Yardbirds, a quasi-blues band out of England in the early 60's who’s history is well covered elsewhere. A blues band, British at that. Jimmy Page took the electric, feral growl of the masters (Son House, Robert, Muddy, Wolf etc) and pumped it through Marshall Amps, platform shoes and black satin dragon jackets while Robert Plant shrieked stolen lyrics like a helium freak, thrusting his nipples toward the world. John Bonham was, indeed, a force of nature and John Paul Jones is without a doubt one of the coolest guys in rock, but because of ‘This Sporting Life’ his 1995 collaboration with Pete Thomas and Diamanda Galas, not for any bloated spectacle credited to Superhype Publishing.
While one can’t blame someone for becoming famous, as that is usually out of the famous’ control, hey if we could all be famous we all would be famous, now wouldn’t we? But, and here’s the tricky part; what one does with the fame, attention and most importantly, influence that fame confers is what separates the Great from the merely Good. With Zeppelin, it seemed to me that the attention they aroused was somehow enough, in and of itself, for the band. With each album and the tours that followed the Zeppelin experience became bigger, broader and ultimately more distancing to their audience. The rock band became the Rock Superstar, the rock show the Rock Concert, where 4 guys, just like us with a degree of talent, became Super-Heroes under the Super Troupers, fleet fingered virtuosi and gold maned sirens who came from the land of the ice and snow and we’re gonna give us every inch of their love.
(My favorite Zep lyric, from ‘Ramble On’, remember Plant wrote this:’MA-MA-MA-MA-MA-MAMA-YEAH!)
Hogwash! By which I mean bull****, what a load of crap! Now, if Zeppelin was cool with the fact that it was crap, they would have attained the greatness of a ? And the Mysterians or the sainted Iggy,. But Zeppelin had not the grace of the blessedly demented, instead they invested their howl and moan with the STURM und DRANG of Grand Opera with the fairy dust mysticism of the unicorn and rainbow 70's like the acquaintance we all know who, while never having actually read "The Lord of the Rings" knows that, gee, it represents a better like, life, y’know? Mindless pageantry, self important and anti-human in that it exchanged flesh and blood for flash and fantasy, and they did it while pillaging the work of past musicians, stealing lyrics wholesale, amplifying the old poses past the point of credulity. I’m not saying Led Zeppelin was lame, I’m saying they were worse than lame; they betrayed the trust of their community by taking the torch from our hands and, rather than lead us into the future, simply bathed themselves in a flattering light and took, took, took, giving us back nothing but their image, which we were there only to admire.
The Worst Album Covers Ever
(which proves there was always a lot of bad art to behold, and may help convince, persuade, or implant the notion that some things surviving the rigors of the historical process are not necessarily good art).
Giving a Folk
BY GARRETT KAMPS/SF Weekly
"Here in the world of music criticism, we altweekly writers have a reputation for being snide, snarky, and dismissive. Pick up the Chronicle and you'll find intelligent, respectable pop critics reviewing Lisa Marie's concert, the kind of show I'd rather send a Ninja to than seriously critique. (Speaking of which, look out for Rock Ninja!'s Randy Newman review in two weeks in these pages.)
Yes, I am a cynic, hard-bitten at that, and about the only comfort I get out of nurturing such an attitude is knowing that I am not alone. There are droves of music lovers -- professional and amateur -- who hate the state of music as much as I do; who find most bands laughable at best, complete frauds at worst; and who are offended by the way musicians parade around like paladins, taking themselves oh-so-seriously because, after all, they made a record.
What's important to keep in mind, though, is that deep down, we foster this scorn out of love. Underneath the quips and the chiding is optimism -- hope for the way things could be, perhaps for the way they really are, if only we could view the whole state of affairs through
the right set of lenses, rather than through these scratched, out-of-focus Coke-bottle thingies we've got."
(Thanks to Bob Sarles for the pointer)
Don't you know, Jacomo?
Kokoma, the old pop music of Lagos, Nigeria
(powered by the sound of metal on glass bottles) prepares a well-deserved comeback.
Back when some people were passionate about music, in distant times a musician wrote a letter to the editor about another musician:
A young David Bowie complains about a reviewer's praise for Hendrix in a letter to 'Record Mirror', May 1967
'I was treated to a proverbial feat of journalistic insanity in last week's review... Like a can of knowledgeable Windolene, he wiped off the cloud of mystery surrounding Jimi "out of sight" Hendrix and 123. How, I ask myself, could the 123, with their chromatic quarter-tone and chordal harmonies, hope to compare with the ethnic, emotion-filled E chord of Mr H? Why should they think that open harmony and subtle colouring could hold a light to the volcanic battery of one's senses and involved tongue-wiggling from the tentacle-headed flower show from Greenwich Village?'
(From a review of a new biography on Jimi Hendrix
, via the grace of Emma
Hip-Hopping Around the World
Wherein a young scholar from Nairobi posits the question:
"How did this form of music travel from its inception on the streets of the Bronx in New York to the streets of Havana, Paris and Dakar?"
and goe on to outline the benefits of social commentary and to encourage the spread of good ideas.
The following comment was posted on the old commenting system:
Date/Time: Nov 07 2003, 09:30 am
A few years ago I spent a month in Kenya. What I saw there was a deep interest in African-American music, especially hip-hop. Men painted their matutus--or van taxis--as an homage to their favorite hip-hop artists. They cranked up the hip-hop as they drove around town picking up passengers.
One day, when strolling around a market in Nakuru, I stopped to get some cassette tapes at a stand. The guy offered me a Kenny Rogers tape. I insisted upon some local music, and wondered why he didn't offer me American hip-hop. And why did they have Kenny Rogers tapes?
In the north of the country, I asked some young boys where I could get some local music. They took me to a small shop and I bought some cassettes. They didn't believe me when I told them Tupac was dead. He was still releasing albums, so they figured he was still alive. How could a dead man release so many albums, they wondered?
Ethiopia was one of the few countries that seemed untouched by hip-hop. Musically it is still influenced by late '60s soul and R&B, and Persian and West African styles as well. But I heard nothing that sounded as if it was touched by American hip-hop. Believe it or not, the most recent American influence I heard there was Lionel Richie. I couldn't believe how often I heard Lionel Richie played!
Frank Zappa Laughed in Scorn:
Or I Most Certainly Did Not Organize My First Small Demonstration
I had a friend in drama class, Suzanne. Her family ancestors, she said, had once held the original land-grant from the King of Spain giving them in perpetuity all of the land from what was to become the lucrative oil fields near Long Beach all the way into the golden acres of speculative real estate in Los Angeles proper, but a relative had lost it many generations prior in a prolonged drunken gambling game described by descendents as having been played on serapes thrown on the sand. When that episode of family history was mentioned, which it rarely was by them, they would merely sneer in disgust, and the grandmother would wring a dishtowel she always seemed to carry and heave a long suffering sigh. Suzanne I learned was a vegetarian, and that was a little odd even for the early 60’s. But she was a creative girl, and serious enough about drama to spend her weekends and evenings rehearsing for an Ionesco thing.
The theatre of the absurd was being performed here and there at that time, Ustinov was big in the Rhinoceros, and here another Ionesco piece was being performed by an amateur little theatre company in Pomona. I remember reading a piece of literary criticism at the time that basically said that while an interesting trend, absurdity was a temporary phenomenon and those expressions never lasted as they lacked inherent substance.
While even Time magazine was featuring talk pieces with existential philosophers and pondering on the cover if God were dead (as if the answer would be supplied by the pages within), in keeping with the spirit of the time I thumbed through copies of "Waiting for Godot" and "Krapp's Last Tape". I'd also read a book called “The Jungle,” by Upton Sinclair, and I'd actually met the author on a bench in front of the public library after he had finished lecturing on campus. He was quite an old man by then and had to wear a wool coat despite the mild weather.
There were a lot of people coming and going in that little village, lots of lectures and events going on. People sometimes were trying to stretch people’s limits by inviting people to speak who did not always hold a popular view. Some of these were really leading edge thinkers and wouldn’t become famous for some time to come and some had already been famous and fallen from favor. The idea being that no matter what their political affiliation, they might be saying something that was true and of value. So the lecture series were always a possibility of an evening’s edification.
But that wasn’t happening everywhere all the time, not even in our precious village.
As this was a small village, and small in population numbers, fewer than a thousand people, and (have I said this enough) with not much going on, almost everything hit the local paper. And because this was a small village and with not a lot going on, you’d really have to work to amuse yourself; which meant sometimes in desperation looking through the local newspaper to find them touting anything remotely interesting to do.
This was in the era that “celebrities” would rent themselves out to celebrate grand openings. I'd been dragged to see Jayne Mansfield cutting the ribbon in the women's wear department at Buffum’s in Pomona. So we didn't get Jean-Paul but who needed him when Captain Jet would show up at a supermarket opening?
Suzanne and I read that another celebrity would soon be making a pre-publicized appearance at the brand new Supermarket, in fact the very mercantile that had once forcibly ejected Frank Zappa. So of course we decided to go.
We were there waiting as Little Oscar was chauffeured in to the parking lot in his long strange celebrity limousine that was fashioned to look like a giant hot dog on wheels. You might not remember him, but Little Oscar was rather small in stature and not much taller than a child himself. His diminutive appearance was carefully selected by an ad agency to present a friendly non-threatening appearance to young people to encourage them to ask their parents to buy them some hot dogs to eat. He was wearing his trademark chef’s outfit with the white kerchief tied in a square knot about the neck of his white eight buttoned double breasted chef’s coat which topped his black-and-white checkered chef’s pants. And on his head was his well-known puffy white chef’s hat. As the vehicle bumped up into the driveway and pulled into the lot, he was waving to the kids from the passenger side window in the front seat.
Everyone in the small crowd waved back at Little Oscar. Suzanne and I were mixed in with the crowd of eight and ten year olds and their parents while the celebrity limo adjusted itself in the parking lot for the personal appearance. Little Oscar popped out of the special hatch in the top of the Weinermobile and was still waving and smiling at the kids.
Well, Suzanne surprised even me by suddenly running at the Weinermobile shaking her fist, yelling, “Oscar Go Home!”
Little Oscar looked a little scared and appeared to be genuinely startled. As a reporter also happened to be there for the event, that one made the local paper.
That one, a spontaneous demonstration as performed by Little Oscar and the Originals, way back there in 1962.
Truthfully, Frank Zappa inevitably minimized my efforts, though he found them genuinely amusing, perhaps just to keep me from taking things too seriously. In this instance, he wondered aloud why little girls would tell Little Oscar to go home if he had such a great big dog. “Girls!” he’d laugh.
Where Little Oscar
is at now