So last Sunday I got out of the house and saw a movie with my BFF. We’re both huge music fans, and have an intense interest in the stories of how the music got made, so it seemed logical for us to go to the Art Theatre in Long Beach and see the one and only showing of Sound City. What’s Sound City, you ask? Just one of the best music documentaries I’ve ever seen, about one of the great lost music landmarks of SoCal.
Sound City was a dumpy little industrial building in a dumpy little industrial section of Van Nuys, which is might as well not be on a cultural map of Southern California. But inside those unassuming walls, Rock & Roll history was made. From 1969 until 2011, Sound City was the birthplace of some of the greatest albums of all time. Rumours by Fleetwood Mac. Damn the Torpedoes by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. Nevermind by Nirvana. Music that shook the world and shaped the lives of entire generations. When the studio closed down a couple of years ago, Dave Grohl purchased the sound board from studio A, and installed it in his home studio. The board was one of the very few built by Rupert Neve, who is apparently a genius (I can’t be entirely sure about that, because I don’t know that much about technical stuff, but I’ll trust the sounds I hear that were recorded on his board). Grohl was so in love with the studio that helped make him a star, he decided not only to keep the sound alive, but to also tell the story of a time and place that is vanishing.
Thus was born the documentary, which is awesome and funny and heartbreaking. Grohl gets many of Sound City’s biggest recording stars and long time employees to talk about the place they called home for so many years. Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham owe their careers to Sound City. If they hadn’t recorded their unsuccessful debut there, they might never have come to the attention of Mick Fleetwood. Rick Springfield became a superstar because Joe Gottfried, one of the building’s owners, managed his career in the early 80s (they had a not-so-nice split, but made up before Gottfried’s death). In addition to the movie, Dave Grohl and friends made an album of new music called Real to Reel. There’s some great songs on there, so I highly recommend tracking down a copy. See the movie, too. It only had a limited release in theaters, but it’s available on video on demand from a lot of providers (we can get it from FIOS). It’s worth spending a couple of hours to see how many people loved that dumpy little building in Van Nuys, one that most people only heard of if they bothered to read the liner notes on . . . a pretty sizeable number of albums, it turns out.
I remember seeing commercials for Van Cliburn albums on TV sometime in the 1980s. Now, having been raised on a steady diet of commercials for K-Tel records and Zamfir, the Master of the Pan Flute, I had come to believe that any artist who got a commercial advertising his/her album on television had to be a joke. I mean, serious artists didn’t need to sell their records on TV, did they? And how could anyone with a name like Van Cliburn be taken seriously. (It must be remembered at this point that I was a tween and teen during the 80s, so my judgment was already pretty suspect.)
Of course, I didn’t know about this.
Van Cliburn shook up the music world at a time when the United States and the Soviet Union were locked in the Cold War–that seemingly innocent name given to the cultural, economic, and imperial battle for world domination. While the U.S. and U.S.S.R. never actually fired shots at each other, the Cold War sometimes got hot via proxy (we armed the Taliban so they could defeat Soviets invading Afghanistan in the 80s). The U.S.S.R. fired the first shot of the space race in 1957 when they launched Sputnik, so we Americans were feeling a little demoralized. Of course, then a young Texan went to a competition that was meant to showcase how brilliantly talented and culturally advanced the Soviets were . . . and won. He took First Prize in the Piano competition at the inaugural International Tchaikovsky Competition in 1958. He earned the prize, the lasting respect of the Soviets, and a ticker tape parade in New York City.
Cliburn continued to play to much acclaim for many years, but he’d faded from the spotlight by the 1980s, which was probably why I was seeing commercials for his music on TV. He was intense and talented, and he passed away today at 78. I’d rather not remember him as a pawn in the Cold War, but as young musician whose love for the piano and music poured out from him like sunshine on summer’s day.
Last week, rapper Kenny Clutch was killed in a fiery shooting-accident on the Las Vegas Strip, just across the street from Caesar’s Palace and not far from where Tupac Shakur was fatally shot in 1996. A cab driver and his passenger were also killed when Clutch’s Maserati flew uncontrolled through an intersection and smashed into the cab, causing it to burst into flames. The video of the scene is frightening. I’ve been to Vegas, and I know that the action–and the traffic–never really stops. Such a casual disregard for the lives of the probably hundreds of people on the street chills me to the bone.
I read a story that says a suspect has been named. He was the guy police claim was driving the black Range Rover with paper plates and opened fire on Clutch’s car. I half suspect they’ll catch him eventually, but I’m not holding my breath. The police don’t have a really good track record catching the killers of young, up and coming rappers. After all, Tupac’s killer has never been caught. Neither has the murderer of Biggie Smalls, known as The Notorious B.I.G., who was shot to death less than a year after Shakur. I remember when all of it went down. All the talk of the East Coast-West Coast rivalry. The Crips and Suge Knight and Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs. There was a feeling of violence in the air back then, that bullets would start raining down at any moment. It was shocking, and it still is. Suspects have been identified, most either cleared or never arrested because of lack of evidence. Considering that these men were shot in crowded public places, I am both confused and not surprised by that. Confused because someone must have seen something, must have witnessed the single moment that would provide police with irrefutable proof. Not surprised because it’s probably really easy to lose crucial physical evidence in such a chaotic scene. The murder of Kenny Clutch and two innocent bystanders is just another bloody chapter in a tragic book.
The one that hit home most for me was the murder of Run DMC’s Jam Master Jay (born Jason Mizell) in 2002. A shooter walked into a Queens recording studio, shot Jay and another person, and walked out. While there have been suspects named, no arrest has been made to this day. Mizell’s death didn’t have the immediate breaking news impact of the other deaths because Run DMC had disbanded and faded from the spotlight, but he was a member of the first rap group I ever listened to.
Rap music has gotten a bad rap because of such incidents. These young men feel obligated for some reason to portray themselves as criminals and thugs, even if they come from comfortably middle-class backgrounds. It’s an image that sells, so I’m sure there’s plenty of external pressure to continue the image. But even though rap has become inextricably associated with violence and crime, that’s not what this music is about. I don’t pretend for a moment that I understand the cultural milieu surrounding rap, or that I am part of its audience. But I know that this music can be as transformative and brilliant as any other genre. I know that these men and women aren’t always like the personas they create to sell records. I know that what happened last week, what happened 11 years ago, what happened 17 years ago–those were aberrations. I refuse to believe that violence is inherent in rap music. The music itself can be violent (and sexist and homophobic and racist, not to mention shallow and materialistic). But that’s art. And while art does not exist in a vacuum, there’s no reason to believe that this is the reality of an entire industry.
A special thanks goes out to Dan for inspiring this post. His musings and ponderings and lessons always seem to coincide with whatever I happen to be struggling with at the moment. And it’s always nice to have a fellow traveler on the road of life.
I’m not alone in this world when I say that there are things I don’t always like about myself. At some point, we all wish for something we don’t have–or less of something we have too much of. We might want to be taller, or skinnier, or have more money. We might wonder why [insert deity here] has burdened us with poor health or personal problems. We’re all occasionally ashamed of how we behave. Sometimes, we’re all the last person we want to be around.
These feelings are only a problem if we let them control our lives. Because with certain exceptions, most of the things we don’t like about ourselves can be changed. And if they can’t be changed, our attitude towards these perceived imperfections can be. I have been blessed with good health, a roof over my head, and the luxury of cable television and Internet access. There are many more things I’m grateful for, and that I know I’m lucky to have. And when I’m really down on myself, sometimes it helps to remember those things. But there are always times when I can’t pull myself out of the mental abyss, when my fear and worry and insecurity get the better of me. Times when it feels like nothing will ever change no matter what I do, so I might as well give up.
That’s when I get myself a little shot of green.
I’ve known this song since I was knee-high to a grasshopper, but it didn’t really make sense until I was an adult. Kermit’s theme song is about finding the beauty in who you are, whatever that is, even though “it seems you blend in with so many other ordinary things.” The hardest thing any of us ever have to accept is ourselves, warts and all. But accepting yourself is the first step to . . . everything. It gives you the strength to overcome and handle whatever life throws at you. Love yourself. Know yourself. And for goodness sakes, stop being so hard on yourself.
“When green is all there is to be, it could make you wonder why, but why wonder. Why wonder? I’m green, and it’ll do fine. It’s beautiful, and I think it’s what I want to be.”
Kind of a half-assed post way to early in the day for me. (Seriously, who decided days should start in the morning?) Between seeing a movie with BFF and tonight’s family Oscar party, I’m going to just a bit busy. So you might say you got shafted today.
I present today’s song, Isaac Hayes’ “Theme from Shaft” with all the aplomb this funky classic movie tune deserves. Because it is funky, if a little cheesy. Okay; it’s a lot cheesy. But it’s also the Oscar winner from 1972 for Best Original Song. I wish I could’ve found a clip of Hayes performing it at the awards show, because it was unbelievably cheesy. And awesome. This was before advertisers and East Coast residents who didn’t like staying up past their bedtimes on a Sunday forced all the life out of the show. There are rumors that this year’s program will be more entertaining, but I’m not holding my breath.
I’m in a funky mood right now, kind of random. My brain hasn’t been too willing to settle in any one place. This happens to me a lot, and if I planned more posts ahead of time, I wouldn’t be flying by the seat of my pants right now. But I kind of like flying by the seat of my pants. It’s not really a good plan for job interviews, but it seems to work well in every other aspect of my life. Mostly.
I’ve always kind of felt that Los Lobos is the kind of band that flies by the seat of their collective pants. Musically, they’re all over the map: rock, folk, traditional Mexican, country, jazz–they’ve got a little bit of everything in their repertoire. That’s what makes them so great. It’s also kind of what makes them one of the most Californian of all the California Bands; they’ve captured in their style the diversity of this place. (Fair warning: California music might be becoming something of theme here. I’ve got a post about the Eagles brewing.) They’re also the kind of band that would seem at home anywhere, from a huge music festival to their own backyards. They’re a fusion of everything.
Of course their best album is also their weirdest. 1992’s Kiko was a fascinating dreamscape, rooted in the realities of life and love. These are stories of heartbreak and loneliness, of a life lived through a cracked rearview mirror. Hindsight might be 20/20, but that doesn’t mean you’re happy about seeing things clearly. It’s also one of the most complete realizations of their style. It’s haunting and beautiful–and you can dance to a lot of it.
Both these clips are taken from the DVD included in the Shout! Factory’s 20th anniversary release of Kiko (which I don’t own yet, but plan on getting as soon as I can manage). Los Lobos might not be the household name they deserve to be (thus making them Criminally Underrated), but they’re worth the effort. Grab some tacos and pull up a chair on the back porch. You won’t be sorry.
SPECIAL NOTE!!!! Please Read: The link to the video herein contains potentially offensive or triggering material. Do NOT click the link unless you are an adult who is able to view it objectively. I could’ve chosen one of the other clips for this song, but I felt this was actually something important to address. Remember, you were warned!
Okay, this one’s a little too freaky, even for me. I’m certainly not going to throw stones about anyone’s personal preferences or peccadilloes. Whatever consenting adults do in the privacy of their own homes is fine with me. Don’t tell me about, don’t show me pictures. I really don’t like anyone that much. And I don’t condemn pornography–as long as everyone is an adult, willing, and well-compensated participant. I don’t particularly like pornography. The misogyny and objectification of the whole enterprise makes me extremely uncomfortable (not to mention that my very limited experience with porn makes me think that it’s mostly boring and poorly done). But I’m certainly not going to infringe on anyone else’s right to consume what is a legal, if somewhat icky, medium. (And I’ll admit to reading some pretty porny fanfiction over the years.)
Perhaps consume is an unfortunate choice of words, considering the turn the video for “Sex Dwarf” by Soft Cell takes. Since this is a really, really freaky video, I’m only going to link to it. I always found this song kind of funny before I watched the video. The song itself is a perverse little romp through a perverse little mind that is, quite frankly, kind of difficult to take seriously. Singer Marc Almond does his best to sound all sexy and threatening, but mostly he just sounds like he’s trying not to laugh. There’s some juvenile sound effects, and lots of lyrics about “luring disco dollies” and a “dumb chauffeur.” It’s like a Harlequin Romance version of an S&M club.
The video is another matter altogether. It’s easy to see why this one didn’t make it into heavy rotation on MTV. It’s an orgy of violence that strongly implies rape, murder, and cannibalism. That’s a far cry from the seamy nightclub life depicted in the song. The video actually makes the song seem a lot more threatening. I don’t like it–which is another reason I’ve only linked to it; I don’t want anyone to think I endorse this kind of imagery. I’m sure everyone involved with making this video felt very transgressive and naughty, but they just come off like amoral creeps. According to Wikipedia, the video was actually seized by the police and censored. And not to preach or lecture, but this is exactly the kind of stuff that makes it so easy for society to ignore or dismiss violence against women or sexual violence of any sort. I’m not going to stop anyone from looking at it, but I am going to make sure everyone knows how potentially damaging video like this is. This is the bad sort of freakiness.
Which prompts me to ask, what do you all think of it? Do you think it’s just some harmless, somewhat weird fun? Or do you find it unpleasant and/or offensive? Inquiring minds want to know.