Flaskaland
Wednesday, May 31, 2006
 
From today's music headlines I learned that music journos just don't seem to like the results of what they suspect comes from viral marketing:

Internet Superstar or Just Another Rock n Roll Swindle?

Once upon a time, I groused about a similar beef.
 
 
I, too, much prefer reading about things I have already made up my mind about, more especially when the writer happens to agree with my long term and currently prevailing point of view. Like this wildly! enthusiastic! piece on Muddy Waters (and I do feel the same way about Muddy ... at least as far as the screamers !!! go)
 
 
I haven't seen this thing about Woodstock, either, but it's another film that was nearly sunk before release.
 
 
Live, online, it's the new incarnation of the Music Press Report ...
 
Monday, May 29, 2006
 
I'm thinking about that damn Cisco Pike nostalgia piece again. There was no way on earth that I could ever be a scenester. Back in the day I am talking about again. Olivia's served plates of food and a bottle of Louisiana hot sauce (Tabasco) was a regular every day condiment sitting next to the salt and pepper shakers. During that same period I went to Fred C Dobbs exactly once, so you can tell I didn't hang out there. In the first place, it was way the hell across town .... miles and miles away on busy boulevards ... and those miles and miles are longer at night, and farther yet if you don't have a car and must rely on public transit, and longer still if that transit was the L.A. county bus system. Even if you drove, finding a place to park was a hassle. And the place was in a part of town I was a stranger to, located somewhere on the Sunset Strip section of Hollywood. Everything in the surrounding environment seemed so neon-lit, glittery, and plastic that I felt like the tourist I was, it just wasn't my scene. I've since been reminded that the staff at Fred C Dobbs threw an eggshell in the grinds before brewing coffee, an old trick inherited from someone's grandmother, supposed to reduce coffee bitterness.

The only thing I remember about that single coffee house adventure was on the way back, being stopped by the police a few blocks down the road for a defective tail light. The only souvenir from that outing came to me a few years later in the form of a button, which had a drawing of a fews guys in sombreros on horseback, that said: "We don't need no stinking badges." I don't know if it had anything whatsoever to do with the coffeehouse, but I was told that the buttons came about as a fundraiser as the coffee house Fred C Dobbs was in financial trouble after the Sunset Strip riots.
 
 
The defining issue of our time is media

A fascinating look at how media works, by dissecting how an article was shaped in writing about an answer to the key culturally identifying question of our time: What's on your iPod?
 
 
Flood of Protest Songs Reflects Growing Anger

"Popular culture, once something of a monolith, has broken into stratified niches, and audiences have a seemingly infinite number of distractions vying for their time and attention.

'Everything in the culture is fragmented, and therefore it's very hard for anything in the culture to be the big voice in the way that, say, songs that came out during the civil rights movement could be in the early '60s,' says Todd Gitlin, professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia University and author of "The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage."

Gitlin points to another key difference.

'Forty years ago, there was a social movement, or a collection of social movements, and people gravitated to the music because they thought the music spoke for them,' he says. 'So the music ... was an anthem for armies that were already on the march. Today, the armies are not so much on the march, if there are armies. So necessarily, the place of the music is going to be different. It's more often out ahead of what people are doing in their political lives.'
 
Saturday, May 27, 2006
 
LA Times unbelievably looks back fondly at dreck '70s film "Cisco Pike" and gets a bit nostalgic. (Although admittedly so do I sometimes. I mean get afflicted with that nostalgia manque. I had seen that utterly forgettable movie, too. So I was glad to be reminded of Olivia's, and reminded that Olivia's had made it to the big screen courtesy of the locations co-ordinator. That was a nice place, Olivia's was, to go to eat once in awhile back in the day. In specific reference to the flick, maybe I had arrived too soon, but rather like the Great American Disaster in swinging London a scant half decade later, I never saw a single solitary rock star in there at the time nor any famous musician that I knew of.

When I was there, Olivia's had tablecloths cut from oil cloth. And I remember the mustard greens fondly. It was hot in there in the day time, any time of year. But in the summer, the door would be propped open and the woman who rang the tickets and waited tables would bring in a small fan and set it in operation near the register. And the old Muscle Beach was just a place of barbells turned slightly red from the salt air, but the spot was unique in its day before the more familiar decades of the home Nautilus systems rolled in, and though in the vicinity, that was a rather long walk down the beach. The area in general then was not anywhere near the colorful freak show it is now.

In that small geography were all the types mentioned in the LA times article -- pensioners who played checkers, chess, chinese checkers, dominos, mah jong, or other board games I never learned the names of, or they sometimes worked on a picture puzzle. A jazz musician was still to be found here and there, likewise guitar players good and bad, derelicts, rail-riders, crazy people whose only skill was to write a sentence backwards with both hands simultaneously, half cracked people, those who bought military berets at army surplus stores to make themselves look like poets rather than drifters, and people described as actors some of whom had made their one obligatory predictably lousy Hollywood movie, acquiring enough in the way of dramatic credentials so they could bring it up in conversation just to laugh it off about their "career" in Hollywood films.

There was a rundown coffee house called the Venice West Cafe that served coffee in chipped cups. The smell of Picayune cigarettes was in the air, though sometimes that was replaced by the sweet stink of Faros. Cheap folding checker boards defaced with a large printed number in black crayon or a cribbage board with the price tag from the Salvation Army store were strewn about on the tables. And there were books with well worn spines on the shelves, and the books had their small prices penciled in on the front page (also from the Salvation Army store). Ten cents for "The Razor's Edge." Imagine that. The coffee house was steadily habituated by all of the neighborhood types mentioned above (except the pensioners and the lady who had a regular job at Olivia's), and the cafe was located near if not exactly nextdoor to a bookstore that smelled of old newsprint and must.

Near there in a "commune" (more of a boarding house, really, with a single really long and really creepy hallway) was the location that the Peace and Freedom Party was finding form; their landlord became their candidate for governor when they made it to the ballot later in 1968. Having achieved that feat, they stood a slightly better chance than the flying saucer candidate I told you about who may never have considered actually having his name on the ballot. And given some of the other names printed on the polling ticket that particular year, you can pretty much be certain every tenant at least once seriously considered voting for their respective landlord. And for me, from Venice to Venusians was a small leap, really, all things considered.)

When I was there near the canals was long ago, the year of the first big AFTRA strike. And while nobody was too rich or famous then, there were a few people I'd encountered thereabouts who went on to become the fabled rock star types, or musicians of other notable achievement, and some became actors who've made movies or even television series you might have seen. This might be interesting to you, then again, it might not. It all kind of depends on what we might be talking about, doesn't it?

So if I were searching out old movies I might have missed the first time around, I think maybe I'd rather see "Rize", the flick Cheek recommends.

(This is an update: Another sad synchronicity or coincidence, as I just today at this moment, on Memorial Day May 29, learned that John Haag died.
 
 
Music critics are known to dive deep for meaning. Here is music criticism as literalism as approached in Rock n Roll Reactionaries, the Not so Hip Parade, describing the National Review's new trend: ("Rockin the Right").
 
Friday, May 26, 2006
 
I'd be wrong not to mention the recent passing of Desmond Dekker.
 
 
This is from the May issue of Rock & Rap Confidential. Feel free to forward or re-post.

GREETINGS FROM NEW ORLEANS, LA.--In a time of warfare against a phantom enemy abroad and a war against the poor creating phantom citizens at home, up pops Bruce Springsteen with an album titled We Shall Overcome. He didn't have New Orleans in mind when he started making it in 1997, but both the music and the ways he's using it speak directly to the situation there today.

Deciding to start his current tour with the Seeger Sessions Band at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival on April 30 reflected Springsteen's sensitivity to the issues of poverty and racism and his ability to pick up on a catalytic opportunity. What Vietnam veterans were twenty years ago--a powerful symbol of the people the system tries to erase from view--New Orleans is today.

Discussion of Bruce's new album has focused on its subtitle, The Seeger Sessions, probably because people are puzzled by what it all means. The song
selections don't seem nearly as political as their source, Pete Seeger. Yet four of the thirteen--"O Mary Don't You Weep," "Jacob's Ladder," "Eyes on the Prize" and "We Shall Overcome"--have at one time or another been used as "freedom songs." "Pay Me My Money Down" is that rare thing, a song that truly protests the situation it describes. "John Henry," "My Oklahoma Home," and "Mrs. McGrath" are explicitly about oppressed folk. That's almost two thirds of the thirteen song album.

One reason the album seems to avoid politics is "We Shall Overcome" itself. Springsteen's version downplays its spirit-rousing aspect; instead he sings it as one of his desperate love songs, even changing the chorus from "Deep in my heart" to "Darling, here in my heart." The result is a lovely ballad of two people against a hard world, and a violation of the collective spirit that the song stands for. He sings "Eyes on the Prize" in the same emotional mode, but it works a lot better.

The difference between the two is that on "Eyes on the Prize," Springsteen uses his band to build an arrangement that brings in voices and instruments to illustrate a community spirit taking shape out of the dark shadows inhabited by lonely isolated souls.

The music Springsteen makes with his biggest-ever band (thirteen members on the record, seventeen to twenty on stage) abandons much of what has defined his sound. In particular, the stiff rock beat has given way to syncopation. The instrumental focus is on the drums, with the melodic contributions emerging from fiddles and horns, rather than guitars and keyboards. The vocals, both his own and the multipart harmonies, are freer than anything he's recorded. After three albums of tragedy, the mood here swings toward joy. The album's tone is sometimes silly and once in a while fearful but it's never doomed.

Bruce wrote none of these songs yet We Shall Overcome is as personal as any of his records. For once on a studio recording, you can feel the unaffected pleasure he takes from making music, from working with other players and singers.

New Orleans right now is an eerie place, but not just because of the devastation. Abandoned cars and strewn rubble, even the scent of rot, are all over the place in Detroit and, for that matter, Asbury Park. What makes New Orleans different is that despite all the hype about reconstruction, nothing is being done. The housing projects are empty, looking more than ever like prisons. The upper Ninth Ward's population is decimated; the lower Ninth Ward's population is gone. But it's not just people that are missing. So are cranes, building equipment and construction site supplies, even as the courageous volunteers of Common Ground are hard at work in the Ninth, with a blue-roofed house in each part of the ward serving as a center for returning residents, for clean-up, and for visitors.

Musicians in particular are struggling right now, and one reason is that tourism--40 per cent of the pre-hurricane economy--has dwindled so badly. New Orleans does have a great indigenous music community, but the gigs that pay have long been played for outsiders.

The Jazz and Heritage Festival offers a lot of jobs for musicians but the most prominent and best-paying main stages, even the themed tents for jazz and gospel, mainly feature stars from far away. The splendid group of New Orleans icon Allen Toussaint appeared on the main stage right before Springsteen, but with Elvis Costello stepping in to sing several numbers.

Tourists will come to see, hear and eat the music and culture of New Orleans and the Louisiana swamplands. But to get enough of them to fill the huge Fairgrounds racetrack and gain national attention, not to mention lucrative corporate sponsorship, the promoters of Jazzfest need artists like Bob Dylan, Dave Matthews and Springsteen. (The festival is run by a nonprofit corporation, which doesn't mean a lot of money isn't being made.) This aspect of New Orleans may thrive--but it's hard to see how it will do much to change conditions there. It's equally hard to see how presenting a festival with a more local focus would help rebuild the city, either.

Music can do a lot of other things though. Above all, it can provide inspiration and foster connection. Springsteen's always been a man on a mission when it came to those to jobs, and changing bands and singing traditional songs didn't affect that. If anything, this is the strongest outreach he's made in years, stronger than The Rising because he's playing a species of dance music, designed to activate the ass and the mind. And in New Orleans, as backstreets.com noted, "Bruce wasn't preaching to the choir for the first time in a long time."

Springsteen was not only starting a new tour with a new band and new material, but he's Bruce Springsteen, the rock star who is supposed to rise to occasions. He needed a set that lived up to the drama of closing the first big event in New Orleans since the flood.

His big brass section added Crescent City flavor, and drummer Larry Eagle's fat, syncopated beats kept the cadence right. And Springsteen kept things focused. "Oh Mary Don't You Weep," the opening song, ends with: "God gave Noah the rainbow sign / No more water but fire next time." "Eyes on the Prize" with its recurrent "Hold on" also invoked an embattled spirit: "The only thing that we did right was the day we started to fight." But the show found its legs and definition with a sequence that began with the refugee anthem, "My Oklahoma Home Blowed Away," and ran through the Irish antiwar ballad "Mrs. McGrath" before peaking with the Depression-era anthem, "How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live."

Springsteen introduced it with a statement about how shocked, furious and ashamed he felt about what he'd seen since hitting town, then dedicated his rewritten version--"Them that's got, got out of town / And them that's not got left to drown"--to "President Bystander." After that, he had the crowd.

With his somber "We Shall Overcome," he gripped them tighter. By the end of that one, even violinist Soozie Tyrell turned to wipe back a tear. That wasn't the climax though. For the first encore Springsteen came out and began to sing "My City of Ruins." As he described that "blood red circle," then pleaded for us to "rise up," tens of thousands of fists raised in the air. Thousands of tears formed a new salty flood.

The concluding "When the Saints Go Marching In," also slowed down considerably, should have been anticlimactic. But Springsteen unearthed verses rarely sung, beginning the song with "We are traveling in the footsteps of those who've gone before." In the ruins of America's oldest big city, those words resonated like a midnight echo in an abandoned housing project.

But I left contemplating the last verse, sung by this tour's Bruce sidekick, Marc Anthony Johnson of Chocolate Genius. "Some say this world of trouble is the only one we need / But I'm waiting for that moment when the new world is revealed."

Those lines took my understanding of one of Springsteen's best lines--"Don't waste your time waiting" from "Badlands"--and turned it around. And that made me consider what it would mean to reveal a new world in this life.

We need patience to wait for the new world to reveal itself, that's true. But we mustn't waste that time merely waiting, because only struggle and refusal to surrender can bring that new world forth.

Music can't change the world. But sometimes, it delivers some pretty great marching orders.-D.M.

www.rockrap.com

(Thanks, Dave)
 
 
the place described as the incubator. and the historic narrative

meanwhile, in berkeley, california, was a place that came to be known only as the fish house. (not the folk club, the rooming house)
 
 
I found a sentence that said, "Pete Sears is collaborating with Andreas Nottbohm on a Music and Visual Art Project."

(And the beat goes on)

Finding that first sentence led me to another:

"People say the soul cannot be seen. These are souls that can be seen; and seen as profoundly as the viewer's soul will allow his eyes to see."

Muldoon Elder; Founder, The Vorpal Gallery
 
Wednesday, May 24, 2006
 
Now, here's another story about a jazz bass player and decades of discord. The only commonality with the post below is a similar timeframe, jazz bass, and a disappearing act that could be regarded as mysterious. As reported in today's major press.

For some reason, this article reminded me in a negative inverse way of the swoony article below that started off being about Frank Zappa and segued into Yehudi's relatives being in geographic vicinity (and chasing a hat, and a bunch of other extraneous stuff strung in a line, the way garrulous old people sometimes recount history). Still, it was published, babelfished, and takes up a lot of space and was written by a self confessed bohemian.
 
 
I'll share something that has been concealed to you, the casual reader, until now. Of all the internet searches for information about a musician, the most often queried request that directs to this site is for Beverly Bivens. And now that I have provided that link, you now know at least as much as I do regarding where she might have been or her whereabouts.

Just by way of background history, here's a piece about the invention of light shows

And a performance group called Light Sound Dimensions

And as was typical of the time, there were some handbills and posters passed about inviting people to their performance

Which was presented to the public again a decade or so ago.
 
Monday, May 22, 2006
 
OH BOY!!

Will Friedwald in the NY Sun broke through like the clear light of day ... he's written "Rhythm Pioneer", a review looking at the new Fats Domino book ... that actually talks about the MUSIC .... where it came from .... and how it sounds ... and what it does .... and what it says .... and how it relates ... Major props!
 
Sunday, May 21, 2006
 
Sunday reading room

Another book alert (and review), this biography on Fats Domino.
 
 
Book alert: Coming in May to a book store near you ...

"I'll Sleep When I'm Dead : The Dirty Life and Times of Warren Zevon" by Crystal Zevon

"The story of one of rock music’s true originals is narrated by Zevon’s ex-wife, Crystal, and told through the words of fellow musicians, friends and lovers. (Ecco)"

(via Columbia Dispatch)
 
 
Piano

This is a fascinating peek into an instructor's mind, "The Value of Teaching from a Racist Classic."
 
 
This has been happening for some time, though a friend has been keeping me apprised now and again over the years.

The art of writing ghazal dying due to lack of knowledge
 
 
If I need a header for this morning's wake-up call, I'd have to call it Woman of the Dunes. I saw that as an art house movie in Los Angeles in the very year of its release. The aura of the film and its natural symbolism impacted every one who saw it, which was probably just about everybody, and that geographic metaphor wormed its way into many films of the era, great and small. I knew or met a few people who participated even tangentially in some these. John Fahey provided the soundtrack for that "terribly long and horrible skinflick" ("Zabriski Point"), while others found their spot near the tufa in "Shoot the Whale" (which I have never seen).

Those were the darts of memory beginning to jab about here and there. Actually, my first thoughts were about my encounter a few years back with a woman who was once a part of the found art movement around Los Angeles. Her husband had made his reputation as an artist, and they were also part of the colony (made up of artists and jazz musicians and other types) who lived out on the sand dunes (roughly about the same timeframe as when the Japanese movie was released). She, like the lady with the Romany Marie's circle I told you about once and the guy I just read about with his baby books, had kept letters, poetry, and notebooks off and on throughout all those years. When I met her, she told me she had pretty much burned them all. I believe her.
 
 
the notion of fair reporting on what could be controversy, allowing the reader to see both sides. you know, compare and contrast.


and this, on the appeal of an iconoclast:

"He learned the value of making this kind of life from his earliest musical mentor, the composer Henry Cowell, who in San Francisco in the mid-1930s advised him to listen to music from around the world, look to found objects for new sounds and refuse to depend on the musical establishment for opportunities to perform. It was important to create one's own group of friends with whom to interact creatively."

(he'd kept the family baby books intact all those years ...
 
Friday, May 19, 2006
 
White Bicycles, Joe Boyd's memoir, has hit the stands.

First spotted nestled in the rack, Simon Reynolds in Time Out: White Bicycles

Michael Faber for the Guardian, Listening for a Living - White Bicycles: Making Music in the 1960s

"And the title of the memoir? It’s an emblem, explains Boyd, for all those ‘lovely ideas of the 1960s’ that didn’t quite work out. It specifically refers to the Dutch Provos scheme of distributing white bicycles around Amsterdam for people to use for free – a utopian plan that worked fine for a while, ‘until by the end of 1967 people started stealing the bikes and repainting them’."
 
Thursday, May 18, 2006
 
Mon singer forced to sing Burmese song at gunpoint

IMNA
May 17, 2006

In a bizarre situation a famous Mon singer was forced to belt out a Burmese song at gunpoint by a military officer at a stage show during a social event last month, according to sources close to the singer.

Captain Aung Myeit Myo from Infantry Battalion No (31) pointed a gun at Nai Zahan Mon, a leader of Mon Music Bank called Gita Mon during the state's show, the Pagoda festival in Kawzar town, southern Mon State, Burma.

“If you do not sing the song, you will have to bring all women musicians to meet me,” Aung Myeit Myo told Nai Zahan Mon during the show.

Zahan Mon refused to let the captain meet the women singers, and sang the Burmese song instead in the final round although he apologized many times for not singing the Burmese song earlier.

“We musicians felt sad that they frightened us with a gun and forced us to sing a Burmese song. We sang in tears,” Jae Toi Nai, a video director said.

The leader of Gita Mon Nai Zahan Mon was terrorized into singing a Burmese song and all the people who watched the show were dissatisfied. The Gita Mon singers sang two Burmese songs on the show to overcome the problem.

The SPDC recognizes that southern Burma is a black area so there is no law and the Burmese troops can do what they want.
 
Wednesday, May 17, 2006
 
In today's blogs, Far Queue provides some personal reflections on the impact Sixto Rodriquez had on South Africa (and more recently, in Jolly Old). A slice of history I had never heard anything about before ... "I Opened the Window to Listen to the News"
 
 
In today's news, "A newspaper as a community arts patron: Too Much of a Good Thing?"

"' ... the name of the game for a corporation, for a newspaper, is not to see how much you can give, but to see how little you can give and not look like a pariah in the community.' "

But have the Davidsons done wrong with a different giving philosophy? And how would unjustified arts spending factor into a fair value price?
 
Sunday, May 14, 2006
 
From today's People's Daily: A book on Tibetan music and history just published.
 
 
I must apologize about bringing negative considerations into what was once warm and fuzzy memoryscapes. It’s just that the little old lady who every one loves is the smiling and gracious 100-year old who doesn’t have a single bad thing to say about anyone she knew in the Algonquin Circle. Everyone is recalled in a generous, warm, and loving manner.

Well, good for her! Maybe I can reach that point myself in another fifty years or so. In the meantime, here is Nick Kent.

What a drag

Serge Gainsbourg is remembered as a celebrated lover, wit and songwriter. But when Nick Kent spent a week with him, the crumbling deity was a death-fixated raging alcoholic
 
 
I'm having a few flashes of memory this morning, I doubt it's the pancakes, but I even have an offhand memory that is tangentially related to music critic Greil Marcus about a music group he breathed into life from the pages of Rolling Stone.

In one dizzying moment, I remembered a performance art piece that a group called the Masked Marauders put on in 1969. Maybe I can tell this story now, even though it's all so far in the past as to have lost nearly all significance. One member of that group that performed onstage as I recall was drawn from H.P. Lovecraft, which was one of the first bands to recognize the writing talents of a guy in LA named Randy Newman. People from different bands and troupes known about Berkeley, some of them still under contract to other record companies, decided to appear in new form, wearing masks and singing tunes penned and performed in a style reminiscent of the groups that had made them famous. They named themselves after a fictional band that Marcus had invented: the Masked Marauders. The one song, well the only memorable song, that came to mind for me was the parody of the Rolling Stones’s "Satisfaction." They were new lyrics based on a completely different melody but all combined to hint at an imitation of Mick singing his complaint, "I Can’t Get No Nookie." It can all be reduced to such a simple mock sometimes.

The Masked Marauders had their first and probably last personal appearance at a club I worked for regularly in table-swabbing, beer-pulling, and cheap wine-sloshing capacity. But after Commander Cody's resounding success (witness only my narrative of their Telegraph Avenue audition many years back and their subsequent shot to stardom), my eye for talent was seldom questioned.

The Masked Marauders donned marks to perform that night, which I thought absolutely wonderful because their choice of disguise reminded me of the time Mario Savio had reappeared on the Berkeley campus from which he had been banned permanently. He showed up to deliver a speech to the anti-war protestors wearing a lone ranger mask which was handily available at the Halloween outfitter store next to where he was attending bartender’s school on University Avenue. That little mask had a price tag of 49 cents as it lay in the basket on the glass counter, and Mario went on to have so much fun with it. Only reminded me at the time ... because the lead singer that evening wore a long fringed scarf with eyeholes cut out as his mask.

This is a true story, likely the kind even your mother won't tell you, and not even the names have been changed to protect the innocent. You music scholars who thought the Masked Marauders to be a fiction, or that they existed only on a concept album made by a group assembled for the occasion. Wow, man, I actually saw them perform onstage once (and once only; in fact, perhaps the only time they ever performed in public, for all times, ever again). That is to say, they might be a memory now, but they were real enough to me.
 
 
Crazy unconscious. Looking for a quote about "rarified environment" led me to a reflection on Mother's Day!

Mother's Day: Zappas, Menuhins, and Muthas

"... there was little rarified about the environment."

I remembered that quote and searched it out. You see, I took exception to this phrase though I understood what the writer meant. Comparitively speaking, not raised in a rarified environment. But the surrounding atmosphere sometimes blew a valve and seeped out into the stories around town, stories which everyone heard.

The village in which I was raised had a little of everything. There was a foundation of inherited wealth and assumed privilege with most of the people I knew. Nonetheless, some came from troubled families. I heard for instance of a wealthy neighbor who in a drunken fit smashed his wife’s heirloom, a genuine Stradivarius, against the stones of the fireplace. You don’t often get to hear a story like that!

That was then, a long time ago. A few years back, I made the mistake of revisiting Precious Village. Now, the inhabitants are surrounded by artesian metaphysics and twenty-seven dollar bottles of assorted Balsamic vinegars.
 
 
I haven't a clue where this really came from, except on a feeling level. This is a note to myself after meeting up with people I once shared a small bit of history with. I embarked tenuously believing I was reconnecting with people who I sometimes had regarded as fellow travelers, but never regarded as old friends who had become famous. In part because of the experiences they had accrued while we were apart and the stature they currently bestowed upon themselves, they treated our visit together and resulting conversation as an interview. I never regarded them as old friends who had become famous, and if I had, and I were younger or more impressionable, this might have been heartbreaking rather than what it was, just another predictable evolution.

(I honestly do not know where this came from. I didn't write this, but it is in my handwriting, and it described the situation perfectly, but not my general unease.)

"The remainder of her conversation was a series of disconnects, always turning the conversation back to her most important topic, herself. To merely say each of her sentences was a non sequitur hardly describes her conversation, an unrelenting string of statements to which no answer ever seemed reasonable or appropriate, but seemed indicative or symptomatic of a deterioration of some kind, and would do nothing to outline how completely and encompassing her self-absorption presented itself."

(I kept this around as a reminder of the importance of self-editing, and also as a question: these days, are interviewers or historians with a familiarity with some of the historic personalities allowed to bring themselves out of the emotional background and really make themselves a part of the general conversation? I also kept it as a reminder there are certain types of people who do not age well.)
 
 
Musical Muscle (a brief look at Muscle Shoals Studio. Alabama backwater has produced some of America's greatest sounds, while "Hell bent for Fame".
 
 
Crazed Thinking: Why Smart People Fall for Fads (new book by Joel Best).
 
 
A look (or two or three) at the artificial construct known as celebrity

Films Examine The Cult - And Cost - Of Celebrity

"It seems to be human nature to want something far removed from your own world, and to romanticize that want beyond any reasonable proportion, to look up to someone or something for inspiration," Boles says.

Yes, ok.

T is for Talent, which is generally a good Thing.

But there's a destructive side to Talent

Talent is a complex question, but watch that old movie, "All About Eve." That was the only one I had to go by. The main character (granted, it’s Bette Davis) is an actress. In her personal life, the Bette Davis character Margo is full of foibles, wild mood swings, and antisocial behavior. Yet, she is surrounded by people who are willing to put up with all of that because they have their own agendas. These are the playwrights, the producers, the people that have something to gain from her talent who are also her friends -- because they are around her they are her friends, as they will put up with her because of her talent and ability to entertain.

In the world of real people, if you’re open and generous you naturally want to help a person that has talent. But to expect rewards of any sort, even a basic gratitude, is almost expecting too much. The artist is innundated with adulation, and over decades of adulation they lose their ability to relate on that level. Because of the adulation factor, they learn to expect adoration and recognize they receive it because of their talent. The talent is how they’re recognized in the first place. They give nothing back but their talent, and humans need more than talent to maintain a human relationship. To expect more is to expect more than they are capable of giving and that’s unrealistic. Especially with time and the adulation factor, it becomes almost impossible for them to relate to any one other than through their talent, or to do anything other than mine their own talent. Or they learn to mine others.

While they might be grateful in the beginning for a boost when they’re starting out, they lose their ability to express gratitude over time. They rise because of their own talent and their talent has nothing to do with anyone else or what anyone else might have done. It’s a loss of innocence on both sides. Restrict your magnanimity to younger, more innocent artists. Actually, that’s easy to do because who really wants to help someone who already has everything and who can’t be appreciative?

After a show, the entertainer is usually showered with praise, compliments, and of course adulation. Such a response might be absolutely true. Everyone tends to behave appropriately and make remarks suitable for the occasion, which might be a true and honest recognition and admiration of that particular trait. Nobody comes up to an entertainer after a show and makes an observation that might be every bit as true, "You're a selfish son of a bitch" or "What an egomaniac!"

The talent is a magnet and attracts any number of reputable and disreputable people hoping to use the talent for their own gain, so of course artists become wary of people. They’ve been burned, and truthfully so have some of the people who helped originally. They’re not so inclined to help any one ever again.

As for me, if I go to a show now, I go to be entertained. I watch the show, and then I go home. And never (or hardly) give any of them another thought. I don’t hang around because I’m not obliged to. Actually, it usually makes me glad to return home to my cats after going to see a "talented" person.
 
Friday, May 12, 2006
 
L.A. Times, CalendarLive.com, May 7, 2006
Book Review: California dreaming
Laurel Canyon The Inside Story of Rock-and-Roll's Legendary Neighborhood
Michael Walker

Faber & Faber: 278 pp., $25

By Mark Rozzo, Mark Rozzo is an arts writer living in New York.


UP Laurel Canyon Boulevard at the corner of Lookout Mountain there sits a walled-in postage stamp of lawn and trees. It's a primo slice of real estate, curiously empty. There's no aging Craftsman bungalow, no rustic-mod hideaway, no latter-day McMansion to glower down upon the snaking progression of BMWs, Hummers and Mini Coopers traversing between Hollywood and the Valley. It's as barely conspicuous as it is unremarkable, the kind of thing you drive by all the time without a second thought.

Yet the property in question was once the site of a massive log cabin retreat built by silent-western star Tom Mix. Then, for a brief spell in the latter half of the 1960s, the storied old pile was the home of Frank Zappa and his wife, Gail: a gathering place for all order of Sunset Strip freaks; the unofficial clubhouse of the GTOs, that whimsical band of gypsy groupies (led by Pamela Des Barres) whose Zappa-bestowed moniker stood for Girls Together Outrageously; the creative nexus for Zappa's assorted projects, laced, as they were, with satire, virtuosity and a generous helping of in-your-face ambition; and, thanks to the Zappas' tireless sociability, the very epicenter of the Laurel Canyon scene, a flowering of creative energy that Michael Walker, in this gossipy and overdue account, likens to Greenwich Village, to swinging London, to Paris in the 1920s and '30s, to Bloomsbury, even to fin-de-siècle Vienna.

While the notion that the canyon ever produced an artist of the magnitude of Jackson Pollock, the Beatles, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Virginia Woolf or Gustav Klimt is a bit dubious, the winding byways that trace the Kirkwood Bowl and its environs did give birth to wave upon wave of hit records. Starting with the Byrds, America's first supergroup and, for a time, worthy rivals of the Fab Four, Laurel Canyon went on to become the nursery for what could be called the greening of postwar pop. It was along thoroughfares like Ridpath Drive and, most famously, Lookout Mountain — where Graham Nash and Joni Mitchell set up their sandalwood-perfumed love nest, depicted by Nash in that durable baby boomer chestnut "Our House" — that the roster of '60s and '70s American rock royalty sprouted.

Besides the Byrds and Zappa and Mitchell, there were the Mamas and the Papas; the Turtles; Buffalo Springfield; Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young; Jackson Browne; Carole King; and, later, the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac, those 1970s behemoths whose immoderate and unprecedented album sales — "Rumours," for instance, has sold more than 18 million copies — forever refocused the recording industry on the bottom line. As Walker describes this enchanted sylvan hotbed, where candles dripped over Mateus bottles and joints smoldered while money was virtually minted: "It was Brigadoon meets the Brill Building."

Much like the mythic village and New York's legendary musicians' mecca (and like the Zappa house, which later burned to the ground), the canyon scene flickered for an incandescent moment and then faded away. Even so, its offerings continue to clog the playlists of classic-rock stations, not to mention iPods: "Eight Miles High," "California Dreamin'," "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes," "Take It Easy," "Hotel California." If you include the extended family of L.A. musicians who drifted in and out, you could add to the list "Good Vibrations," "Light My Fire," "I'm a Believer," "Cinnamon Girl" and even Alice Cooper's schlock anthem "School's Out."

Except for the Byrds and Neil Young (and, perhaps, Love and the Flying Burrito Brothers, iconic bands loosely associated with the canyon), what Walker refers to as the former "musical capital of the world" doesn't have the cachet of, say, the Memphis of Sun and Stax records or New York in the CBGB era. But there is something eternally golden about the canyon's idyll of "writing a song on a redwood deck on Monday, recording it on Saturday, and having it hit the top of the charts six weeks later."

Between the release of the Byrds' "Mr. Tambourine Man" in 1965 and the Eagles' swan song, "The Long Run," in 1979, the canyon generated no end of mythology, charted here with breezy affection by Walker, a longtime denizen (and a former editor at the Los Angeles Times Sunday Magazine) enthralled by the kinds of tales you still overhear in the aisles of the Canyon Country Store: a Byrds-era David Crosby roaring down Laurel Canyon on a Triumph given to him by Peter Fonda, his Hobbity cape flying behind him; Mama Cass Elliot, the ultimate Jewish Earth Mother, providing sympathy in the form of cold cuts and introducing Nash to Crosby and his friend Stephen Stills of Buffalo Springfield; assorted run-ins with Charles Manson and his "family," a social unit that eerily resembled a rock star and his groupie retinue; Brian Wilson showing up and doing one kooky thing or another; endless binges and orgies and freakouts; and heady Hollywood nights down at the Troubadour, where a young Elton John first wowed the canyon's hippest in 1970, John Lennon rampaged through his sodden "lost weekend" with a Kotex taped to his forehead and a denim-clad dude from Texas named Don Henley arrived to encounter Linda Ronstadt in a Daisy Mae dress, barefoot and scratching her backside: "I thought, 'I've made it,' " Henley recalls. " 'I'm here. I'm in heaven.' "

It was a heaven that couldn't last. By the mid-1970s, the promise of the canyon — a jasmine-scented Valhalla where rock bands could smoke as much weed as their brethren up in Haight-Ashbury and yet make music that was more cogent, appealing and lasting — had been buried under what Walker calls a "great fluffy pile": Cocaine and the canyon became so synonymous that locals drove cars emblazoned with bumper stickers declaring "My Other Car Is Up My Nose." (Stills, Walker reports, nearly perished from the effects of a cocaine-related "mucus mass.") For a scene already skewed toward deadly self-involvement — achingly earnest singer-songwriters plucking 12-string guitars and proclaiming, as CSN did in "Carry On," that "Love is coming to us all" — the coke avalanche covered the lords and ladies of the canyon in further layers of narcissism and paranoia and unseemly ambition. As Walker notes, the "juggernaut plowed on with songs about peaceful, easy feelings and romantic succor, even as the songwriters stayed up till dawn with fifty-dollar bills shoved up their nostrils."

There were other bummers too: the Manson killings, Altamont and, in 1981, the Wonderland murders. At some point in the last 20 years, a proposition must have passed making it unlawful not to hang your L.A. narrative on these horrors. Walker's prominent placement of them feels rote, an effort to load pop-historical ballast onto a story about a bunch of great pop records — many of them relegated to the irony bin after the rise of punk rock in the late 1970s. (Perhaps this is why canyon music has lately reemerged as a forgotten treasure, receiving benediction from artists like Beck, Matthew Sweet, the Thrills, and the Autumn Defense. And rumor has it that Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne and James Iha of the Smashing Pumpkins will produce a comeback album by the group America.)

You wonder, at times, why Walker doesn't explore the recriminations coming from within the canyon scene itself; take, for instance, Young in "Revolution Blues" (1974): "Well, I hear that Laurel Canyon / is full of famous stars / But I hate them worse than lepers / and I'll kill them / in their cars." And Walker remains oddly incurious about the links between the canyon's music scene — that Bloomsbury, that Paris in the '20s — and other creative milieus from L.A.'s golden moment: the gallery world (Ed Kienholz was a neighbor of the Byrds' Chris Hillman), young Hollywood (didn't Fonda drop acid with the Byrds and the Beatles?) and writers like Joan Didion (who famously chronicled her quality time with onetime Rothdell Trail resident Jim Morrison).

If we yearn for first-hand accounts from such heavy hitters as Mitchell, Young and Roger McGuinn (the book suffers from a troubling lack of access), Walker makes up for it with a vivid cast of unsung hangers-on sprawling around the booths at Ben Frank's or getting up to no good at the Continental Hyatt House, the notorious rock hotel on Sunset where bands like Led Zeppelin tossed water balloons and televisions out the windows. There's Morgana Welch, the ringleader of the "L.A. queens," a clique of Beverly Hills high schoolers who offered their bodies to '70s British rockers; Kim Fowley, the Ichabod Crane-like scenester and sometime producer, a font of withering sarcasm and sleaze; and a kid roadie named Marlowe Brien West, who became a kind of all-purpose Laurel Canyon mascot and fixture at the Zappa pad.

By the end of Walker's wistful narrative you begin to wish that the old log cabin at Laurel Canyon and Lookout Mountain would rise again, Brigadoon-like, in this dire era of "American Idol" and Clear Channel. But even so, the next time you pass that leafy crossroads, just fiddle with the FM dial: A quick scan of the airwaves — still redolent of jingle-jangle mornings, riders on the storm and yesterdays gone — suggests that you can check out of the canyon any time you like, but you can never leave.

(via Bob Sarles)
 
 
My favorite anecdote of the day in these "cross-generational" times is from Bettye LaVette (BluesWax, May 4, 2006)

BL: Well, I'm just saying that it's true; I don't think young people, including me, are really proficient. Usually when they are, they're called geniuses. And geniuses are not a dime a dozen.

When I was sixteen, I could not control my singing, the songs controlled me. I had a lot of power, I had a big bootie, I was unusual because I was so young, and that worked.

Now, though, if I walked into a room with a kid...another good example: one night I was in Smalls' Paradise, where I worked with Don Gardner and Dee Dee Ford for almost two years. And I was just runnin' Smalls', honey. Everyone would say, "Oh, she's here!" and I had my little show I was doing. I was just fabulous.

Honey, Big Maybelle got out of jail one night. Out of JAIL! And came to Smalls in some paper slippers from the psych ward, she came in there with a blanket wrapped around her in the most stupidest hat I'd ever seen. I'd heard about her my all of my career. I knew she was old and that I was fabulous and young! And girlfriend came in . . . her hands and feet were all swollen because she was strung out on the heroin. And I laughed; I looked so cute in my little gown. Honey, girlfriend went up on the stage and when she got finished, I couldn't even get up on the stage. They couldn't even find me! That is what a grown woman will do to a kid. [Laughter]
 
 
Music Critic Take Down

Today in music journalism, Rob Horning takes a deep look at "Poptimism", shares his thoughts, and sparks discussion.
 
Wednesday, May 10, 2006
 
Thought for the day: "The artist is not a reporter, but a Great Teacher. It is not his business to depict the world as it is, but as it ought to be."

(Who said that? "Criticism of Criticism of Criticism")
 
Tuesday, May 09, 2006
 
Good grief, a longer than usual, non-frivolous contemplation on the steady state theory, I mean the current state of the universe in music criticism:

Does hating rock make you a music critic?
(by Jody Rosen, in Slate)
 
Thursday, May 04, 2006
 
Rob Horning, pondering in his always sterling way on Marginal Utility, ponders at length on the wonder that is Ghost Radio in Arizona. (The phenomenon has appeared on the radar of major media now, like the LA Times; just a few years ago, the apparition was only thought to be sighted here and there. Bob Sarles first whispered to me and a few hundred other close and intimate friends on a public forum of its possible existence and I confess I scarely slept a wink that night ... wondering in spite of myself if such a thing could really exist even in the shadows of the night much less in the clear light of day).
 
 
"Yes, but is the record any good?"

this has nothing to do with music, but a post on another group that is dedicated to music about the current whereabouts of lily tomlin and everyone's instant association with her ernestine character reminded me ... (in a swirling way ... that hits me sometimes ... sometimes harder than others but this is just a little bip!) that

i once lived on an estate in the berkeley hills, which sounds splendrous or magnificent, i know, but it was not then nearly so grand as it once was nor as the description 'an estate in the berkeley hills' might first sound. i mean to say that place was weird by any standards. there were little cottages and houses on the acreage, and the large mansion at the top of the hill was inhabited by the owner of place. he communed regularly with flying saucers and space beings by going into a trance and singing to them, squandering his family’s corn fortunes running an unsuccessful candidacy for president on the ufo ticket. the cottages, separated by ferny paths and pyrocanthus bushes, were inhabited by an an actor, a jazz trumpeter, a geneticist, a professional muscle builder, Dr. Hip (an icon then in the Bay Area), and me, i was there, too, under the ballet studio, down the stairs, just slightly past the abandoned tennis court.

the large studio space above the geneticist was used as a rehearsal hall by a theatre troupe, and sometimes things being what they are, everything combined in a strange way, and the theatre group would produce and perform a play about flying saucers. or the theatre troupe would perform guerilla political skits in an effort to entertain and educate the public. i was invited to the premier performance of one of those plays. that drama seemed to be about the right of free speech all mixed up somehow with a social commentary on ma bell’s monopolism changing into a demand for not so much nationalization but free communications. fidel, after all, had provided free telephone service in cuba, at least for the local island calls. oh, yeah, this is the sixties now we're talking about.

i stood in the park (yes, provo park) watching the play right along with every one else. irritatingly, because my friend the actor/writer liked doing odd versions of this is your life, the protagonist in that play had the same nickname as i carried in my youth, back when i worked in my first nine to five (or seven to three) $1.63 an hour job for The Phone Company. the skit raced to its conclusion, and the heroine, a long distance operator, was revealed as a bureaucrat with a heart of gold in a pivotal scene. the characters on stage were a hippie guy trying to use a phony credit card number to make a long distance call to his political friends in chicago. the operator informed him she could not put that call through. she politely declined, "i’m sorry, sir, the telephone company credit card number you gave me is not a valid credit card number." he pleaded, he cajoled, and he finally broke down and said he just wanted to talk to his friend who was in trouble and he didn't have any money for the call. she went on to say, "i’m sorry, sir, if you wish to place a long distance call using a telephone company credit card, you must use a valid telephone company credit card number, and that number is ...." and she’d give out a a series of numbers that sounded like a real telephone credit card number for people to use to, well, maybe even call their political friends in chicago.

but, being a morality play, the actors playing the police or the f.b.i. would show up on stage and arrest her and there was a funny political commentary as a conclusion. at the end of the premier, after applause, the cast came on stage, holding hands and doing a theatrical bow. the play was over, but one of the actors went on to announce in a conspiratorial stage whisper that (and he used the protagonist’s name) was in reality a real long distance operator. so if ever you need help, just dial o for operator and you’ll get (and he used my name). then he went on to announce in the manner of an excited tv host handing out the door prize that (and he used my name) was in the audience.

the actors spilled off the stage and out into the crowd, while he teased the audience in ways i don’t remember as i was in a state of shock, and looking for an easy path through the crowd to make my exit. as the actors moved about the audience waving their open palms over the heads of different spectators while the actor on stage teased, and the other actors would shout out "Minnesota" which would prompt the actors to move elsewhere, hopefully getting warmer. Onstage, the emmcee continued pumping the crowd with "and the real (and he used my name) is in the audience ..." so they all eventually ended up circled around me and it was pretty funny when the actors turned to each other and began applauding each other. so i clapped, too, it was funny!

as my friend said to me at the time as we left, "don’t you love dell arte sometimes? it allows people to bring out the inner clown."

you can kind of guess what happened, can't you? the real f.b.i. came to a performance and one actually went onstage to arrest the actress. they provided real drama when the play was at that instant was timed for comedic relief.

well, it's all six degrees from nowhere, really, you see. what started this memory was my friend used to write for lily tomlin, but his humor was too angry and political for her tastes, so he moved on elsewhere to try to find work. my only claim to any reflected albedo kind of being in the vicinity fame was attending a class that robert altman was in some way associated with and going to one of his plays. so altman finally got an oscar ... i don't know what else to say. you know, i probably should have gone to a concert tonight (there was a good one in town) instead of wasting my time writing about any of this. that skit in the park, though, that was funny. and the weird street theater event that followed with the real gendarmes, well, i guess we can all laugh about it now.
 
 
Listen to This

By Kiera Butler

Recently, the legendary Village Voice rock critic Robert Christgau told me one of his favorite facts about the music industry today: there are more hours of music recorded in a single year than there are hours in a year; it is literally impossible for one person to listen to everything. Even the most obsessive music zealots couldn’t come close, but it’s funny to picture them trying — a nation of rock-nerd zombies joylessly trolling the MP3 blogs, night after waking night. Nick Hornby meets The Twilight Zone.


(read more here at the Columbia Journalism Review)
 
 
Music and War (via rockrap confidential), or
"War and poetry have long been comrades"


From today's Capital Times:

Exploring music soundtrack of Vietnam

By Bill Dunn
March 28, 2006
The music of the Vietnam War era left deep imprints on the more than 8
million American troops who were actively engaged in the decade-long war.

A book being written by two Madison men examines that impact. Its
working title is "We Gotta Get Outa This Place: Music and the
Experience of the Vietnam War."

Craig Werner is a music historian and teaches Afro-American studies at
UW-Madison. Doug Bradley is university relations director of
communications for the UW System and an Army draftee who served in
Long Binh, Vietnam, in 1970-71 as an information specialist.

They've interviewed dozens of Vietnam vets, mostly male, and some
musicians, with more interviews in the works. The men answered
questions from The Capital Times about their book. (See related link
for more about the book.)

Why this book at this particular time?

CRAIG: Because America still hasn't dealt honestly with Vietnam. We
have sound bites and ideology, lots of sound and fury about hawks and
doves. But the real story of Vietnam, from the vets' perspective,
hasn't been put together in quite the way we're doing it.

While we have our politics, we're contacting people from all over the
spectrum, male and female, early Vietnam and late Vietnam, Central
Highlands and Mekong Delta, black, Chicano, white, Native American.
And there's obviously a need for figuring out more honest ways to deal
with war and the experience of returning vets now that Iraq is
providing so many eerie echoes.

DOUG: All I would add is that this book and, hopefully, some of the
insight, understanding and healing it will provide should have
happened a long time ago. America still hasn't dealt honestly with
Vietnam.

How do you find vets to interview? Are they eager or reluctant to talk?

CRAIG: We tap every network we can find. Vets are much more eager to
talk about the music than they are about Vietnam when asked directly.
We really find the music opens up stories and memories and emotions
that have been locked up.

A lot of our interviews are set up on the "someone tells someone about
what we're doing" and they have a story they want to put in the mix.
For me, students' parents and uncles, and now grandparents, are a
piece of it. Doug does a lot of vets' network stuff.

DOUG: Oftentimes, they find us (like reading this article and
contacting us). Trust is a very, very critical element in this veteran
relationship and once you build/establish it, the vets will open up,
especially about the songs!

Do vets tend to look at the era's music differently from nonveterans?
What about male and female vets?

CRAIG: Definitely. One interesting thing is vets tend to put a lot
less emphasis on the explicitly political, '60s soundtrack stuff and a
lot more on songs that remind them of home and their desire to go
home: "Detroit City," "Sloop John B," "(Sittin' on) The Dock of the
Bay," songs that don't look like war songs from outside, but were
deeply involved in the experience.

Other songs, like "Purple Haze" and "Chain of Fools," simply had
different meanings for vets. Purple smoke, the chain of command,
images just read differently sometimes.

DOUG: Curiously, we all had a shared "top 20" back in those days
(pre-hippy FM radio and narrowcasting), so most vets are familiar with
many of the same songs. But your perspective was shaped, as a soldier,
from where you were in Vietnam, when you were there and what you did.

Is there an overall theme in the songs that resonated with vets?

CRAIG: Yep, this place is profoundly screwed up, followed immediately
by I want to be anywhere else, preferably home.

DOUG: For those who remember the songs from being in Vietnam, it was
to keep yourself and your buddies alive and get the hell back to the
USA. For those who remember the songs more as vets back home, it's a
sense of "why didn't anybody listen to these songs (like 'What's Going
On?' and 'Born in the U.S.A.') and understand what the hell we had to
endure?"

What's the hardest part about writing this book? What goes easier?
What's the division of labor?

CRAIG: Time. We work beautifully together (I don't think Doug will
disagree), but we both have day jobs and it's damn difficult to find
the time to do the interviews, much less process the results.

DOUG: Definitely having the time to do it. We both have demanding
full-time jobs, families, community work, etc. Craig's right, we're a
great team!

What's been your main finding and how is it relevant to Iraq vets?

CRAIG: Music opens up the complexity of experience in ways that
politics and conscious thought can't. It can help people find
themselves when they're lost and come back home. It's not the whole
answer, but it's a big piece.

DOUG: Music connects us in ways we can't explain, but we feel. It
is/can be the same for people any place, anywhere, especially when
they're under stressful situations.

There's nothing more stressful than war, and there was nothing more
distressing than Vietnam.


xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Rapping straight outta Iraq

Marines returning from the war go into the studio to deliver raw insights from the front.
By Tony Perry, LA Times Staff Writer
April 28, 2006

CAMP PENDLETON: War and poetry have long been comrades, and for the war in Iraq, much of the verse is rap.

For Marine Cpl. Michael Watts Jr., whose rapper name is Pyro, the creative muse struck while he was riding an assault vehicle back to a base camp after an exhausting 72-hour combat operation in Najaf.

For the 21-year-old from Benham, Texas, it was an experience unlike any other — one that cried out to be captured in a rap.

"There's a big difference between staying up for three days making music and being in Iraq for three days straight getting shot at," said Watts.

From those kinds of experiences in Iraq, Watts and eight other Marines and soldiers have created "Voices From the Frontline," a rap CD released this week in which troops use the lyrical word to explain the death, boredom, joy, fear and brotherhood of the war in Iraq.

The compilation is the brainchild of Joel Spielman, 33, president of the punk label Crosscheck Records. He put out a call on Internet chat rooms frequented by military rappers and picked the best submissions for re-recording in a Hollywood studio. The performers (some of whom have already returned to Iraq) will share in the royalties, and 5% will go to Operation AC, a nonprofit group supporting troops in Iraq with CARE-style packages.

Spielman calls the CD "an audio documentary" containing real, uncensored voices. "It was important for them to share their experiences and important for the public to hear what it's really like there," he said.

The language is direct but, by rap standards, not particularly shocking. The f-word, the patois of both rap and military life, is present but not in overabundance. The media take a beating for misunderstanding the war, but the songs are not anti-military.

Sometimes poignant, sometimes laced with bravado, the lyrics capture the apprehension and tension of the ongoing violence directed at American troops and Iraqis alike.

In "First Time," Watts and Navy corpsman Quentin Givens (called Q as a rapper) explain the stomach-tightening uncertainty of deployment to Iraq.



Well we going to Iraq for the first time

I can't explain exactly what's on my mind

So many thoughts runnin' all through my head

Will I come back alive

Or will I come back dead.



The apprehension begins with the convoy from Kuwait:



I see a lot of muzzles of these M16s

While we're in a convoy with a 100-plus Marines

Iraqis lookin' at us with that fear in their eyes

Cause they know in the palm of my hands

Is their lives

So please realize I don't really want to die

And you need to hear the voices

Coming from the front lines.



For Cpl. Kisha Pollard (Miss Flame), rapping about her experiences in Fallouja was only natural. Iraq is the perfect place to rap, said the 21-year-old Nashville resident.

"The reason people freestyle in Iraq or a war zone is to take their mind off a lot of things," she said. "Any chance I got, on patrol, or with other Marines, or by myself, I'm freestyling, I'm hooking and jabbing."

In "Girl at War," she raps about the daily dread of convoys through streets infested with improvised explosive devices, called IEDs, and insurgents armed with rocket-propelled grenades, called RPGs:



Step one, set up for the convoy

Get the brief

Float up in the Humvee now

We're rolling on the streets

And now hopefully it won't end in a beef

Cause if we do, it could possible be a IED

Things are getting hasty, my body feeling nervous

Iraq is shooting at us

RPGs is what they serve us

Stay cool and confident, air support is right above us.

And now we're shooting back

that what you get for ------ with us.



If there is anger and fear in many of the songs, there is also sorrow, at the injuries inflicted on innocent Iraqis in fighting between insurgents and U.S. forces.

Witness Cpl. Anthony Alvin Hodge (Amp) in "Condolence":



I see the light in this war

nobody wins...

I've committed many sins

And I'm far from perfect.

I can't word it any better

But to tell you this

If it was up to me

It never would have came to this

But it ain't so I gotta keep my

Feet in the paint. If I had

A wish I wish I had never seen

Those tanks.

And they say a bullet don't got a name on it.

When the bullets hit the kids, who

They gonna blame for it?



There is a kind of desperation among the rappers that unless they tell their story the truth will never be known.

"I just want the message out, not the way TV has it, the real way," said Watts.

"People need to know what it's like when you live with mortars going off and your friends dying," said Pollard.

Music is a way out of the drudgery and danger of a war seemingly without end.

"In "Don't Understand," Pyro, Amp and Q tell of the divide between the civilian and military communities. Like several other songs, it explains that troops fight to protect their buddies, not necessarily out of support for U.S. foreign policy.



Don't try to play us down

Cause you don't know what we're about

So alpha company open your eyes, never despise

And realize

It's not only the training

But it's the brotherhood

That keeps us alive,

So we need to stay together and

Combined as one

And you need to keep trying till your enlistment is done.



The song titles speak of the intensity of the Iraqi experience: "Do the Damn Thing," "Some Make It, Some Don't," "Ain't the Same." Army Staff Sgt. Devon Perrymon, a.k.a. Deacon, who's been writing poetry since his teen years, wants the public to know the reality of Iraq from the perspective of the individual soldiers, not the generals in Washington or the reporters. In Iraq, he turned to rap, in the company of other rappers in uniform.

"We're putting it out there for everyone in a way they can relate to," said Perrymon, 25, who grew up in the Crenshaw district and will soon return to Reseda as a recruiter. "When it's in rhyme, they remember it."

In "Five Days in the Wakeup!" Perrymon sings of the anxiety of the short-timer, ready to go home, changed forever.



I see the storm over the horizon in Iraq

Mad people dying

Family getting a folded flag and they're crying

I'm not denying the fact I've changed

I just don't think people are ready for the change

I'm seeing faces in the rain --

I'm tired of seeing comrades getting slain.


(via rock rap confidential. Thanks, Dave)
 
 
For any of you interested in history, here's a little more background:

(From The Far Queue): "Reality Czech"

"People will agree with you only if they already agree with you. You do not change people's minds. "
-Frank Zappa 1940-1993


[via Boing Boing, Frank Zappa's anti-censorship letter]

[Boing Boing also searched out that the scanned letter, including its hand-addressed envelope, is available on Flickr. ]
 
Monday, May 01, 2006
 
May Day has a lotta history attached to it, and music played a part:

Let Havel Walk on the Wild Side Demanded Activists
 
 
Music Journalism roulette --

In scouring the innanet, which unbelievably (judging from the increasing paucity of material posted here), I do nearly every day to unearth any interesting or significant writing about music, these are the first two articles I came up with today in the exact order they appeared:

The first, a good older piece by Devon Powers, agonizing: "Is Music Journalism Dead?"

And then, and then .... Pete Seeger: A Teaspoon at a Time

I'll stop here with Pete for right now.
 
Compiling the best online articles about music so there will be more of both in the future. In periods of drought, the reader will be innundated by my own blogs on the matters.

Archives
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