I wish I had more first hand memories of Chet Helms.
I met him more than once, but the first time was the surprise. This is from long ago, now. When a thumb outstretched on certain by-ways was seldom overlooked, back when people stood at freeway onramps at the foot of University Avenue in Berkeley optimistically holding up cardboard signs signaling their destinations. One said "London", and another noteworthy had hand-lettered the word "Nepal".
I was skimping on busfare. I was hitch hiking up University Avenue more than a few miles to class and a bearded guy in a common old-looking pick-up truck stopped to give me a ride. There was a big dog sprawled across the torn front seat who had to scoot, and the driver fortunately had a column shift or the dog would have had to move more if there had been four on the floor. The driver was Chet Helms.
It was at my destination, at the Sproul Plaza entrance, the colorful handbills for his concerts would be handed out to passersby. I know this, because I'd gladly accepted a few here and there. And one time earlier on, a fellow rather closely attached to the inner sanctum of the Family Dog had handed me half of his stack and asked me to help disburse them. That was but one of the locations.
Chet went a bit out of his way to take me to the campus that day, the way that hippies were sometimes known to do. That's likely because the driver was Chet Helms.
I don't have many first-hand memories of Chet Helms. Almost everything I've heard about Chet Helms has come from other people who knew him. Maybe that's true for you, too. Not quite fifteen years later, that same leafleteer I mentioned above was still in association with his friends and they brought Joe Strummer and the Clash over for their first appearance in California. I previously had thought it was the Clash's first appearance in America, but in reading through Chet's tribute, I realize I was mistaken and being grandiose in my memories. I was pleased to learn back then that Joe Strummer ate kippers, as members in my immediate family (my hubby and cats) also at that same point in time partook of that same tinned finny snack and with immense enjoyment. That made me feel we had something in common.
Not quite twenty years later, that same leafleteer, himself a concert promoter then, commented to me in a frustrated tone that Chet had been sitting on a treasure trove with those posters and handbills and he didn't know what he had, he hadn't made a dime from it. Because he wasn't a financially successful entrepreneur, the current coin of the social realm, that means Chet probably was kind of a hippie or some kind of counterculture guy then, wasn't he? I'm not breaking any confidences when saying the same leafleteer also criticized Chet for leaving his dog in the truck way too much and for too long.
Like a lot of other people my age who were in the vicinity, I kind of come from being around the swirl in those old days. Those old days started becoming the new old days when a friend of mine migrated North to join the Actor's Workshop, which transformed into the San Francisco Mime Troupe
, which soon needed a benefit (to help defray legal expenses for an appeal or bail or something), and a guy named Bill Graham
held a show ... and on and on and on. We were all just so many travelers finding our way on life's highway and would sometimes find we shared a path in common for a time and bump into each other for awhile down the road a bit.
Just as David Byrnes says there are more moths than butterflies, all I can say is I know there are plenty of little kippers who also joined the swim, which seemed always and inevitably to include the big fish and just as inevitably the sharks.
Bye, Chet. Thanks again for the lift!
(More for your reading pleasure on Chet Helms, Rebel with a Cause"
(via Rox Populi
(I was going to write a little thing here about how it is I never considered myself a critic, per se. How could I? I mean the closest I ever got to Pauline Kael was knowing the projectionist in her theater. And his only claim to fame was that he rented a basement room to Sandy Bull on the street where I lived.)
Flash re Clash from Steve Rubio: "I was sure I'd seen their first U.S. appearance, and it was at the Berkeley Community Theatre. I looked, and that show was several months before Tribal Stomp. They played in Vancouver for the first stop on their first North America tour, so Berkeley wasn't the first on the continent, but it was the first one here in the States."
A music critic defends his "Tastelessness""
I Don't Know What I Don't Like"
"How can you possibly have your mind open to a brand new piece of music if the only music you'll allow into your life is music that you already like?"
To anybody who's missed this series by Marc Anthony Neal on the painful erosion of R&B, here's your chance to be edified.
1. Rhythm and Bullshit?: The Slow Decline of R&B,
Part One: Rhythm & Business, Cultural Imperialism and the Harvard Report
"Does the soulless sound of contemporary R&B really have its roots in a controversial Harvard study from 1972, an alleged blueprint for the corporate theft of black culture's heritage? Or was it all Clive Davis's idea? The first of a three-part examination of how R&B became big business on the way to becoming irrelevant."
2. Part Two: New Jack Swing, Mary J. Blige and the Coming Hegemony of Hip-Hop
"In the 1990s, hip-hop and R&B cross-pollinated to create the crossover sound of hip-hop soul and conquer urban radio. But was anybody keeping it real?"
3. Part Three: Media Conglomeration, Label Consolidation, and Payola
"Throughout the late 1990s, the Clear Channeling of radio and record-label Universalizing left untold numbers of R&B acts undiscovered."
4. The Slow Decline of R&B, Epilogue
"If the best new artists are shut out from urban radio, what's an R&B fan to do? Here, some suggestions of where to look for the genre's current torchbearers."
Music Critic or Toxic Avenger?
Behind as always on my reading, I've just found Cheek has had quite the lively interchange with a person who took much umbrage with a review published recently.
Ry Cooder on Zero Content
Day after something described as Ry Cooder Day in Los Angeles, here's Ry suddenly popping up in an article in the magazine of record, straight from the Big Apple, "Stadia Mania".
“What do you need another mall for?” he went on. “In L.A., that’s all they ever have built. They cut up the Brown Derby. They cut up all those restaurants that looked like funny things, like pigs or hot dogs. They tear down every coffee shop they can find. You talk about heritage, man, it was there. They find a bowling alley, chop it down. Interesting old apartment house, chop it down. Then they give back stuff with zero content, buildings with no past, a useless present, and no future at all. Where nobody is going to get together, where no memories will be created or associations made, or good times. They will simply be directing you into the act of taking your credit card out of your wallet, with that glazed look on your face. So, you see, I’m not a fan of that. You can put the stadium into that category. Some may argue and say no, the stadium’s for fun and it’s a social place and you get together and eat hot dogs—I don’t know what you do in a stadium, because I never go, see.”
(via orange crate art
Some other reviews on Chavez Ravine to be found in the SF Chronicle.
Joel Selvin, "Forever digging up roots, Ry Cooder breathes life into a lost neighborhood"
"Real Roots Music 'The Buena Vista guy' Ry Cooder goes home to re-create a lost moment in time
Genya Ravan, Lollipop Lounge
Happy to have just run across this review at Stylus of Genya's memoirs (yes, that's pronounced "MEM-wah").
A postcard from Monterey, Mexico's rap scene: "Hipper Than Thou"
More on the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies awards
for writing about music,
You can read articles by the winners and runners-up by clicking here, which will propel you to the AAN site.
(courtesy of this morning's newsy email from CJ Chilvers (Association of Music Writers and Photographers.
Arts Journalism Institute in Classical Music and Opera Announced
To Be Held at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism Oct. 16-27, 2005
NEW YORK -- June 23, 2005 -- With support from the National Endowment for the Arts, this intensive workshop brings twenty-five arts writers, critics and editors to New York City for a deep immersion in classical music and opera. In October 2004, the first two-week Institute was organized at Columbia University for writers who live outside the nation's ten largest cities. Journalists from twenty states attended classroom sessions on classical music, heard concerts, and took part in writing workshops led by top critics.
The faculty included such noted scholars and critics as Michael Beckerman, Henry Fogel, Walter Frisch, Joseph Horowitz, Elaine Sisman, Justin Davidson, Anne Midgette, Alex Ross, Terry Teachout, James Oestreich and John Rockwell. The participants learned about current issues in music management from the leadership of Carnegie Hall, Metropolitan Opera, BAM, American Symphony Orchestra League, Miller Theatre and other organizations. They honed their music skills during a voice-coaching session led by MET Opera choirmaster Raymond Hughes.
This fall, the Institute reconvenes at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism, with a similar faculty and mix of activities. Concerts will include the Cleveland Orchestra at Carnegie Hall; Falstaff at the MET Opera, with Bryn Terfel; a piano recital by Pierre-Laurent Aimard; Midori soloing with the New York Philharmonic at Lincoln Center; and Richard Rodney Bennett's "The Minds of Sulfur" at the New York City Opera. Details and guidelines will be posted at www.najp.org.
Deadline: Tuesday August 16, 2005
For details, or to request an application, contact Kathleen Brow at 212.854.2717 or firstname.lastname@example.org(read rave comments from last year's participants right here)
Book Alert (Follow the colorful links)GLOBAL BEAT FUSION:A History of the Future of Music
By Derek Beres
"Derek Beres is part reporter and part prophet standing in the middle of the eye of the World Music storm that is raining new musical genres on the Earth today, each one fused by the love of song and spirit." - Krishna Das
Music Criticism in the Press
1. From today's paper of record, "Sometimes Snarkiness Is Preferable to Sincerity"
"One of the funniest and meanest music-criticism blogs publishes no original music criticism at all. It's called The Shins Will Change Your Life, online at indierock4eva.blogpost.com, and it compiles excerpts from breathless or fawning articles about indie-rock albums and musicians."
2. Elsewhere, in living, breathing cyperspace, Simon Warner outlines the differences between
free papers in the UK and the US. He explains why it is he finds vibrance in the independent
press in the U.S.
Warner also recounts how it was the judges cast their ballots for the best music writing in the AAN:"ANGLO VISIONS
Media Mainstream? There's Still an Alternative"
'The outcome was a splendid surprise…not only did the three of us broadly sing from the
same song-sheet when it came to identifying the outstanding writers, we also happened
to pick women for both of the awards. This was great news because the line of important
rock journalists has been so dominated by male practitioners that the prevailing
assumption is that only men can really grapple with the trajectory of the popular cultural
juggernaut. Obviously, such an assumption is plainly untrue.
In the small paper category René Spencer Saller of the Illinois Times proved a
worthy champion. I described her writing as "incisive, acerbic, opinionated, densely
packed and well-informed" While Melissa Maerz of the Twin Cities' City Pages, the
prize-winner in the large paper section, delivered "pen portraits of mayhem on the
Minneapolitan pop scene…quirky snapshots taken with a throwaway camera [which] fizz
with life even if the writer's cameos are mostly seen through a fish-eye lens or, just as likely,
the bottom of a cocktail glass".'
Just a Litty Bit More on the Experience Music Pop Music Conference 2005
62. J. Niimi, "Love and Theft Revisited: EMP 2005", Perfect Sound Forever (June, 2005 issue).
"The fiery discussion, like the conference in general, didn't come close to solving any problems once and for all, but it was a true rock moment – disorienting, pulse-raising, scary – where questions fraught with gravity displaced the comfort of pat answers. Like a great pop tune (or a Buddy Holocaust song), its aftereffects still tug at me."
63. Carl Wilson, "WHO WAS THAT MASKED SINGER-SONGWRITER? BANDONYMS, THE AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL FALLACY AND THE MASCULINE ABJECT IN THE LO-FI FIN DE SIECLE ", Experience Music Project.
Elsewhere in the quick shifting cyberworld, the paper Zoilus presented at the conference is at last available for a complete and total read at the EMP site (in downloadable PDF).
(Links to the other sixty or so articles that make up the poor man's internet version of EMP Pop Music Conference 2005 are to be found right here in Flaskaland's archives, April 27, 2005, if you're looking for such a thing, that is.)
Best Damn Interview with a Musician I've Read This Year Dept.Sounds of LA's lost souls echo down the years: Musician Ry Cooder tells Dan Glaister how a book of extraordinary images led him to the story of the city's ruthlessly evicted Latino community
Ry Cooder himself on Chavez Ravine. (And you owe it to yourself to read this all the way to the end, where Ry delivers the honest truth about the real secret history of pop music!!)
Having grown up in the general vicinity myself, and during the same timeframe, Ry's comments are not just quotes. He seems to have tapped into the fiber of my social being and is reading my mind. I should ask him sometime how he does that ... I could say innocently, "Just how do you do that, Mr. Cooder?"
Dave Alvin made a funny remark to me once about a part of this. He said, "If you grow up as a kid in L.A. you grow old before your time ..."
And I understood exactly what he meant and bubbled out a laugh in response. Because all your childhood and neighborhood landmarks are bulldozed and the kids sound like old codgers with wavering voices saying, "I remember when my school was over there ... "
Never Interview Your Heroes Dept.
"It is one of the shrewder received wisdoms of journalism that one should never interview one's heroes. It is the surest way of turning that sense of wonderment that we try so hard to cling on to with the advancing years, into the dull ache of disillusionment. Let those characters who captured our young, zestful imaginations retain their unsullied reputations. Let them not be subjected to the banal limitations of what has largely become an appallingly artificial format."
Then Peter Aspden goes on to sas he's glad he never met Frank Zappa.
But a few insights from a chat with Frank's family are soon revealed in "The Revolver: Perfectly Frank"
Dorothy Chase has passed on. Dorothy was such a great lady. She was always rather quiet about her own achievements, so others are obliged to sing her praises. A bit more than forty years ago, she'd teach group guitar lessons in living rooms borrowed for the occasion for the grand sum of fifty cents per person per lesson, and those two quarters probably just covered the cost of the mimeographed song and chord hand outs. If a student broke a string in class, Dorothy would reach into her guitar case and she usually had a spare to share so the person could continue. She taught elegant and intricate fingerpicking on guitar and just wanted people to play music, you know, and she succeeded mightily. One time, she brought Libby Cotten to town to play. I used to refer to Dorothy Chase and her family as "instrumental figures" about town, and I'm fairly certain everyone who heard it got tired of hearing that joke from me.
Everyone in their family worked in the store, including the Grandpa who spoke with a thick accent and had a funny trick when he shook hands with the kids. The Folk Music Center was in a small wooden building, what was once a private residence that had been converted to a commerce. Facing the tracks that ran through town, the center was a short stroll from that greeting card studio where Frank Zappa worked for awhile. Back then, the Chases had a clock on the wall with the numbers reversed, so the hands seemed to move backwards through time. This was long ago, when they were there at that shop. The San Bernardino Freeway had just been completed and the lanes were nearly empty of cars because Los Angeles still a distant city, and a different world.
Inside the store, there were a few bins of records and small baskets of capos and kazoos, and harmonicas in many keys were offered for sale. Guitars, banjos, and other stringed instruments covered the walls, held aloft with brightly colored pipe cleaners. There were dulcimers, a fiddle or two, and banjo-ukes! And people were always free to try them out, often retiring to the outdoor courtyard to play, and impromptu "hoots" would soon erupt. Back then, you could buy on time and arrange regular payments if the Chases knew you, and they even sold bongo drums!
The center moved to larger quarters on the main downtown thoroughfare, in vicinity and across the street from where the small hay and feed store used to operate right nextdoor to the only "department store" in town. There were rarer instruments on the walls, and even a sitar rested on a stand in the corner, and the baskets held shakers and rattles and claves. The baskets sometimes held postcards of aerial shots of the LA basin, showing the ominous dark bank of smog ending like a wall at the edge of our valley. I first met Baby Ben Harper in that store when he still was a babe in arms, cozied in his infant carry-all that rested on the counter while his mom was tending the register. This is just a small story about neighbors and friends and people in the community and some of my memories of them. Dorothy Chase's passing announced in today's L.A. Times.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Sara Seiler
(206) 447-1801 -or-
ROCKRGRL Music Conference 2005
Extends Performance Showcase Deadline to July 1
Seattle, WA â€“ ROCKRGRL Magazine, the only national magazine that levels the
playing field for women in rock, has announced its deadline for showcase
applications for the ROCKRGRL Music Conference 2005 has been extended through
The ROCKRGRL Music Conference 2005, a repeat of the highly successful
original ROCKRGRL Music Conference 2000 (which featured artists from Courtney
Love and Wanda Jackson) will take place from November 10-12, 2005. Conference headquarters are the Madison Renaissance Hotel in downtown Seattle.
The goal of the ROCKRGRL Music Conference is to promote, encourage and
celebrate women's achievements in the music industry. With two nights of music
showcases featuring more than 250 performances by female artists in all styles,
a Woman of Valor award banquet honoring our special guest, punk legend Patti
Smith, two full days of innovative panels, workshops, clinics and trade show,
the ROCKRGRL Music Conference is a unique and innovative event where artists can
meet, mix and mingle with other artists and industry leaders in the beautiful
city of Seattle.
Confirmed panelists already include: songwriter Sue Ennis, Concrete Blonde's
Johnette Napolitano, KISS-FM (Los Angeles) Music Director Julie Pilat, Derek
Sivers of CD Baby, Indiegrrl founder Holly Figueroa and many more.
Conference sponsors include: Sonicbids.com and the Seattle Mayor's office of
Music and Film.
For more information or to download an application, please visit the ROCKRGRL
official Web site at www.rockrgrl.com
3220 1st Ave. S., Suite 203
Seattle, WA 98134
(you can guess the email address, can't you?)
"I Have often walked
Down this street before ... "
Technorati can be interesting ...
I just careened into this rant on Wild Man Fischer
with a link to a rather poignant article about Wild Man Fischer
as met up with briefly in a more recent year. Wild Man Fischer -- I've only heard his name, and hadn't known Zappa had recorded him. I readily confess I didn't really follow Zappa's career after that first ellpee. But all this fascination with what now has settled into a new genre called "outsider music" all seemed to come about back in that era when people were recording street musicians like Moondog. From coast-to-coast, even then, the truth was there were plenty of people like Wild Man Fischer and Moondog. There were also plenty of weatherbeaten accordionists on the downtown streets of LA playing with tin cups in front of them.
I'd heard of Moondog, even in LA, because I'd encountered a few emigres from New York. One, a jazz musician recently migrated from New York had recorded with him and had some reel to reel tapes. In 1965, jazz compared to the late 50's and early 60's, had nearly faded from sight in LA except for a few supper clubs and the last bastion of live jazz, Shelley's Manne Hole. And despite existing every night in that especially stubborn club, or even with Thelonious gracing the stage of the Hollywood Bowl, jazz wasn't nearly as big or omnipresent as it once was in the LA environs. So the jazz guy who had told me about Moondog the street musician had fallen back on playing guitar and vaudeville routines and was trying to get a paying gig at Disneyland. He'd sputter off in his beaten up old car and brave countless miles on the freeway for auditions there now and again and never did make the cut for the summer season shows that I know of. A few years later, in 1967 or so, another Moondog album was released. And a short time after that, Wild Man Fischer's, which I have never heard.
Then, Captain Beefheart's, which I first heard on the loudspeakers in a record store in Berkeley and they played it on request from a customer, and Beefheart was already kind of famous by then. I didn't know Captain Beefheart was that someone I had met once or twice. And my previous brush with him was quite limited. But as I knew the person who acted as major domo and manager for the Beefheart group, a person I brought into the mix myself, a trustworthy and eventempered sort who said he wanted a career in show business, I have an anecdote about Capt Beefheart.
The Captain and his wife Jan tried I think to escape what they saw as the madness that was Los Angeles music biz by moving far into the Northern Coastal reaches, where as the folk song aptly has it "North Coast, the wild coast, is lonely..." They'd moved farther North than that, even up past the Lost Coast, onto a little promentory, a squiggle on the coastal outline called Trinidad. They chose Trinidad because the place was said to remind them of Mendocino, but also mentioned was that (then, at least) it wasn't as expensive or exclusive as Mendocino. Well, things weren''t going well for them there. They were nearly starving by all reports as money or royalties weren't arriving as expected. And, truthfully, having a history of metro living, they were quite unsuited to the kind of planning needed to survive much less ease the rigors of rural coastal living. They hadn't so much as pulled in a stick of firewood for the cold rainy winter months and had they remained much longer, they in all likelihood may have soon fallen ill if not frozen to death.
So there might be some difficult characters in show biz, see? Anyway, the major domo/manager was as I said a pragmatic sort when dealing with odd or unusual behaviors and he played some sort of role in rescuing the couple from the inclement though scenic Trinidad. In his formative years, my friend, the domo, had been forced to take on the role of guiding adult in the family home as his own dad had for years suffered and deteriorated from myasthenia gravis, a nerve disorder. The major domo later went on to tour every body from Manhattan Transfer to Ry Cooder for the record company. He ended up with nearly a lifelong career in the music biz, managing tours for Beefheart, then managing the Beefheart group, then the Beefheart ensemble called Mallard. He had an office in London, at least a house or two in the Canyon, and (accustomed since childhood to the traipings of upper middle class wealth) wore fancy suede jackets. I heard he died a few years back from picking up a virus that attacked his heart muscle from some soil that was delivered for his organic garden.
Keep in mind here, too, that I think the good stories come from the past. I could boast that I encountered Ry Cooder back when he traveled nearly everywhere throughout Los Angeles wearing a colonial pith helmet. Now that might be seen as an odd behavior by some, but instead of inferring conclusions, just chalk it up to carefree accessorizing, won't you?
Instead of my telling you any thing about yesteryear's impulsive shopping spree in an army/navy surplus store, and what might have come of it, let me describe something that happened to a friend of mine yesterday. She returned with a report of a visit to an upscale boutique in the city. Renown for antique jewelry that holds its investment value, the store is designed to cater to the wealthy aesthetes who haven't the time to seek out their own collectibles. Filled with stunning objet with breath taking pricetags, the shop is so exclusive you have to ring a buzzer to gain access. While she was there, the UPS man rang in and arrived with some cartons. One of which inexplicably exploded as he set it on the glass showcase, spurting and spraying copious amounts of what looked like jets of black ink on the showcase, and all over the purple carpet, and the five thousand dollar silk footstools.
Now a real-life anecdote like that ... a writer should be able to do something with that.
Am I the last to know that Ry Cooder's latest album is off the presses?Chavez Ravine
Continuing the stream of thought about that recent Frank Zappa sighting in D.C. ....
1. In "How to Kill Americans"
, KultureDome looks at the monster's reflection. "Uncle Meat is all about our relationship to the monster. What interested Zappa was our empathic relationship to the villain. In one way or another we were, he proposes, all cut-down in some way, made to feel imperfect by parents or other authority figures. It is only natural, then, that we should sympathize with the shortfalls of the monster. The monster, so it follows, is only the mirror of our own imperfect selves."
2. "Revolution and Renaissance"
in a scant 27 paragraphs attempts to encapsule and define "the 60's", devoting six paragraphs to the Beatles and one paragraph to Frank Zappa. The only resulting comment noted that the article was very long and so the commenter didn't attempt to read it.
3. Frank Zappa in Washington D.C. Madeline Albright catches a show by the Plastic People of the Universe
in D.C. last May, and so, of course, did the concert reviewer, who mentions Frank Zappa.
4. More Zappa sightings promised to be coming soon, as the Zappa's Tour de Frank
(P.S. Related only as it is rumored to have something to do with "the sixties", and I freely associate. Has anybody heard anything whatsoever about a soon-to-be-published memoir by a fella named Joe Boyd called "White Bicycles"???)
(P.P.S. No place else to stick this, so it goes right here. Stay Free Daily willingly subjects herself to propagandistic bombast brought forth in song and reports on the "Happy Listener's Guide to Mind Control".