I have a tumblr now.
get at it.
"All my work is directed against those who are bent, through stupidity or design, on blowing up the planet and rendering it uninhabitable."
|Power marriage: Shane Goldsmith and Monica Granados are married outside City Hall by (at the time) L.A. City Council President Eric Garcetti, the couple's former boss in 2008. Image by Ted Soqui.|
Cricket is boring. Of course. It takes forever, the pace is excruciating, and the only action happens when the batsman (man at bat) manages to propel a tiny white ball past the bowler (pitcher), and it lands somewhere in the outfield, allowing the batsman to score. But it was this sport, with men in puffy white sweater-vests running back and forth between little metal wickets stuck in the ground, that allowed the West Indies, and much of the Caribbean, to develop an absolute gesture of resistance against colonial rule, physically and psychologically. Trinidadian writer and Marxist theorist C.L.R. James, in his 1963 book Beyond A Boundary, considered by sport enthusiasts to be one of the greatest books ever written about sports, let alone cricket, and considered by artists and political theorists to be a treatise on the importance of symbolic re-appropriation, wrote about how exactly this sport developed into a political minefield:
I haven't the slightest doubt that the clash of race, caste and class did not retard but stimulated West Indian cricket. I am equally certain that in those years social and political passions, denied normal outlets, expressed themselves so fiercely in cricket (and other games) precisely because they were games…The class and racial rivalries were too intense. They could be fought out without violence or much lost except pride and honor. Thus the cricket field was a stage on which selected individuals played representative roles, which were charged with social significance.
By mastering and indeed outplaying the team of England, the country where cricket was born and which brought cricket to the West Indies through a bloody, degrading and domineering colonial history, the people of Trinidad and the West Indies were able to develop a sense of pride, purpose, and self-determination. When C.L.R. James first started playing cricket in 1920’s Trinidad, he was forced to navigate a British-imposed system that divided and selected teams by class, race, and, most specifically, by skin tone; how light or dark your skin color was put you in one of 128 divisions, or shades, of miscegenation. But by the 1970’s, as seen in the 2010 stellar documentary Fire In Babylon, the great West Indies cricket team was a multi-national Caribbean team that dominated the world of cricket well into the 1980’s, and effected the West Indies specifically with its close, intertwined relationship with music, politics, and identity. In 1984, the West Indian team beat England so severely on British soil, with a 5-0 series record, that the typical term for this phenomenon, a “Whitewash” of victory, became very proudly referred to as a “Blackwash.”
In Beyond A Boundary, James wrote about a specific batsman gesture in cricket, called the “cut,” that was emblematic of cricket as a political stance, as well as a fine art. Discussing C.L.R. James’ ideas about the significance of cutting, Benjamin Graves of Brown University (1998) wrote:
The point is that the shot, the “cut,” is deliberately difficult--a gesture of mastery that serves little if any practical purpose. To James, the "cut" signifies a belligerent affront to the exigencies of colonial rule--a stylization of emancipatory ambitions. To "play it safe" is unthinkable to James, who considered such play the "welfare state of mind"... In other words, what makes cricket such a vital political instrument to James is its aesthetics, and not, for instance, an emphasis on winning or losing.
The act of cutting takes cricket out of the realm of winning and losing and puts it in the domain of aesthetics. For James, cricket is not “like” art, but rather “is” art. And, as with many artists, the political significance of autonomy and creation is inherent. For the West Indies, an autonomous control over their sport, and their art, was tantamount to a battlefield victory. Cricket is boring. But victory over former colonial masters with a national sport and the support of your countrymen is certainly not.
So what, then, can be said is the national sport of Puerto Rico? Some Puertorriqueños say baseball, of course! But then some will tell you it’s definitely politics, which is an interesting position—a reversal of the metaphor, with the political atmosphere taking on the climate of an engorged, pulsating and raucous athletics stadium, rather than the other way around. And if it indeed is politics, what is the “cut”? What is that gesture of resistance, which situates politics into the realm of autonomy and aesthetics? Does it exist? Some people of Viejo San Juan, many of them young and strong, who shall not be named here, won’t vote. Period. They won’t feed into a system they say is “just the same two-and-sometimes-three-headed snake profiting from the people of Puerto Rico year after year after year, while we all struggle.” Of course, to choose not to vote in a political election is still a political choice. But it is a choice outside the designated system put forth in ballots, behind small curtains. It does not move the “game” forward in any practical way, and therefore is a symbolic, although powerful, gesture. In this way, to abstain from voting does sound synonymous with the “cut” of cricket. A gesture of empowerment, that has more to do with aesthetics and autonomy, rather than a score against the other team in this never-ending match.
Vernon Davis, a professional American football player for the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers, just had quite a season. During a playoff game against the New Orleans Saints, he made a touchdown catch so miraculous, it was dubbed in NFL history forever as “The Grab.” Davis could be seen running to the sidelines overcome with tears and emotion, throwing his arms around his team’s father figure, Jim Harbaugh, almost falling if not for the strength and spine of his coach holding him up. I watched this clip over and over. I couldn’t believe, and was so moved by, the fact that this huge, manly, 28-year-old tight end was relieved to the point of tears by his own ability. And after his cry, he looked exhausted. Turns out, Vernon Davis was a Fine Art major in college. He grew up loving to paint portraits and still-lifes, but he had to hide it. As a young man growing up in inner city Washington D.C., he ended up stifling his interest in art because it wasn't the manly thing to do. According to Davis, “You either played sports or sold drugs.” Now that he’s a living legend and a role model, he runs a charity organization, the Davis Family Foundation, specifically geared towards inner city youth, to promote the arts in poorer and more neglected neighborhoods of the US. It encourages creativity and the fulfillment of a life in arts for young people who might otherwise feel embarrassed, if not for the financial and emotional backing of someone much bigger, stronger, manlier, and more powerful than them as well as the people who would judge them. That is Vernon Davis’ way of circumnavigating the system of his youth. That is his “cut.” His gesture of resistance. And his way, in a direct sense, of turning his athletic career and success into quite literally aesthetics—and, very powerfully, artistic encouragement.
MARLON JACKSON'S NIGERIAN SHRINE TO JACKSON 5 AND/OR SLAVERY. UM, WHAT?
Tuesday, Feb. 17 2009 @ 10:24AM
By Rena Kosnett in news
The Jacksons are a family that keeps on giving, at least for those in the tabloid and psychology professions, what with Michael Jackson's upcoming Neverland auction, and the recent news that older brother Marlon is working on a deal to erect a history of slavery theme park/Jackson 5 museum/luxury resort complex in the Nigerian port city of Badagry. Apparently slavery tourism is big business, and developers, who reportedly include Haim Saban, creator of the hit 90s TV show Power Rangers, are capitalizing on it.
But let's take a few steps back and look at this news. Isn't the inclination to erect a museum dedicated to yourself, um, a little insane? (This is what makes me suspicious of Senator Roland Burris: he chisels everything he does into the walls of a stone mausoleum. It's creepy.) And then to pair a celebration of your family alongside a memorial for something as abhorrent and emotional as the history of slavery, and to make that memorial a theme park, and then to top it off with a five star resort replete with golf course and swimming pool, effectively multiples this crazy pill into a full bottle overdose. Historians and community leaders have been decrying the "capitalistic exploitation of our tragedy" blues, but aren't mentioning the shining display of Freudian psychology in this
project. One reading: Marlon Jackson is placing a history of slavery alongside, literally, a history of the Jackson 5, whose notoriously rigid father, Joseph, was a notorious abuser; this wonderland has got "Fuck you, Dad," written all over it.
Download his new EP, Ground Trouble Jaw, for free Here
Richard Swift. Photograph from the album Richard Swift As Onasis.
RICHARD SWIFT'S ONE-MAN GENREThe prolific singer, whose music defies categorization, creates music in his own, Swiftian style.
Fans of Harry Nilsson know that there is only one genre under which his varied catalog can be properly filed: the “Harry Nilsson” genre. Take, for example, his 1971 album Son of Schmilsson: He jumps from Christmas song to droning love story to McCartney-esque pop number to a theatrical number about a spaceman. Nilsson’s bemusing and eclectic tendencies warrant their own category.
The same can be said of Minnesota-born Richard Swift. Like Nilsson, Swift glides fluidly among divergent styles, groups together bold tunes like a clothing designer mixing polka dots and stripes. The evidence is everywhere, from his instrumental album Music From the Films of R/Swift (released under the moniker Instruments of Science and Technology) to his recent Richard Swift as Onasis double EP and his newest, the five-song Ground Trouble Jaw.
Released as a free download in August, Ground Trouble Jaw opens with “Would You,” an airy, warm tune that suggests the Penguins’ doo-wop classic “Earth Angel” — kind of like the Mothers of Invention on their 1968 album Cruising With Ruben & the Jets. Swift continues this mood on the second track, “Lady Luck,” but the tone shifts with the intro of “The Bully,” a funny, monotone spoken-word song in the style of Nilsson’s ironic love song “Joy” or the Modern Lovers’ “I’m Straight.” The final two tracks, “The Original Thought” and “A Song for Milton Feher” (about the famed dance instructor and relaxation coach), channel White Album joviality and Nilsson quirkiness. Swift spoke with L.A. Weekly recently, via telephone from his Oregon home.
L.A. Weekly: Was there a strategic purpose, or a goal, in releasing Ground Trouble Jaw for free?
Richard Swift: I think it was void of either of those two things. I was trying to get around the business of releasing a record. Dressed Up for the Letdown [released February 2007] was finished about a year and a half before it was even released because I was going through negotiations with Polydor the whole time. I grew so tired of waiting around for all these records to be released, you know? Polydor was this major-label situation, always asking you to change stuff on your records, which I was definitely uncomfortable with. I feel really fortunate I was able to get out of my contract with Polydor and have Secretly Canadian put out my records. It made me feel happy about making music again.
With the digital release, I was just trying to break... not the mold with the industry, but to break my mold, to try to do something exciting and last-minute, and not have this big record buildup, like [in a deep, movie-trailer-guy voice] “You just wait until February ’08, when this record drops, it’s gonna change your world.”
There’s something really disarming about just being able to say, “Oh, hey, I’m putting out a record tomorrow.” It deflates the romance of rock and roll, which I appreciate because I’m not a big rock and roll romantic.
L.A. Weekly: I find myself missing the accompanying artwork with this EP. The visual material with your other records is so interesting.
Richard Swift: I do miss that. I mainly just listen to LPs, so you’ve always got this 12-inch object to look at; but there are the Ground Trouble Jaw films, and I do feel like the films are the moving artwork for the EP. Maybe it’s goofy of me to put out footage of me fucking around with a theremin and drinking beer with my buddies, but it’s also somewhat therapeutic — there’s a fondness there. The cover for the new Swift record, which will be titled The Atlantic Ocean, is going to be the most involved album artwork that [video artist] Lance [Troxel] and I have ever done.
L.A. Weekly: One of the tracks on GTJ is “A Song for Milton Feher.” I’m wondering about your connection to him, because my mother was listening to that relaxation record of his while she was going through menopause. Some of his quotes are really nice and meditative: “Feel yourself pressed into the earth,” “Feel the earth holding you up,” “Make contact with the ground.”
Richard Swift: Strangely enough, Milton’s a friend of mine. He’s 96, 97 years old. He is genuinely one of the most amazing human beings I’ve ever been able to hang out with. How we met is phenomenal. You can never write this kind of shit. After my father heard the first record I ever made in L.A., he’s this Spanish guy, and he said [with a Spanish accent], “Oh, Richard, this sounds like you’re walking without trying too hard.” And I was, like, “Well, that makes sense, because I’m going to name the record Walking Without Effort.” Then, probably a week after I finished Walking Without Effort, I was doing my regular thing, flipping through record bins, and I came across this Milton Feher album, Relaxing Body and Mind (1962). I turned it over to look at the back, and one of the audio chapters was titled “Walking Without Effort,” and I was, like, “What!” So I bought the record, took it home, and about a month after that, I started having a dark period of panic attacks. So I started listening to that record in a different light, hoping it would help me to relax my broken mind.
I wanted to sample Milton’s voice for an Instruments of Science and Technology track, so I had to call him to clear the rights for that, and we started talking quite a bit, and we’ve been chatting on the phone ever since. And just this last year, we finally met up. He lives in New York, and I was there recording with Mark Ronson, so before the session started, I was, like, “Oh, I gotta call Milton and let him know I’m here.” Turned out I was staying two blocks away from his apartment! So we met, and I had about a six to seven-hour session with him. I can’t begin to explain how a connection like that works. It seemed life-altering just to be able to talk to him regularly, but to be able to spend a considerable amount of time together. If you wrote that in a movie, no one would ever imagine that it could be true.
L.A. Weekly: Was it a surprise that Stereolab asked you to tour with them?
Richard Swift: Yeah, it was, I have no idea how I got on their radar. I am a big fan of their music, so I feel really fortunate that they asked me to be on their tour. In the last couple of years, I’ve been able to tour with a lot of bands that I have a lot of respect for, and Stereolab’s definitely up there. It started a year ago touring with Wilco, and recording at their loft, making my little documentary films there, and now a year later touring with Stereolab. It’s surreal.
L.A. Weekly: Did you and Jeff Tweedy have a personal connection before he asked you to tour with Wilco?
Richard Swift: There’s a show in England called "Later With Jools Holland," and I was on the show when Wilco was on the show, and so was LCD Soundsystem, and a couple other English bands whose names I am not going to mention. Before I sang my song, Pat [Sansone] from Wilco came over and was like, “Hey Swift, I have your record and I really like it. I’m really happy that you’re here.” So we did our songs and were waiting around, because after the show the bands have the opportunity to re-record their song if they want. So this specific English band tried re-recording their song like five times, it was awful to begin with. So the Wilco guys and I were sitting around really annoyed, and Jeff and I were able to be old sarcastic American curmudgeons together, just like, “Oh, these young kids,” blah blah blah, and we had a couple beers- well, Jeff didn’t have any, he had diet cokes, but I had a couple beers. And we shot the shit, and I just chocked it up to being a cool experience, but five days later it was set that I would go on a month long tour with them across the states. Jeff was aware of my situation—at that point, I had been on the road for two or three years—so it was encouraging of him to ask me to come record at his studio. To have somebody I respect believe in what I was doing—it was a huge shot in the arm.
L.A. Weekly: Why did you decide to drop the "Ochoa" from your name?
Richard Swift: It has to do with me never being completely comfortable with that last name… It gets more into personal family stuff. But Swift is my middle name and my mother’s maiden name, and it was what my mother wanted my first name to be. I was raised, for a large part of my life, by my grandfather Clifford Swift, and he was quite a phenomenal piano player when he was younger. But his family got sick of him practicing all the time, and kind of crushed his spirit and told him not to play anymore, so part of me feels like I’m carrying on that legacy for him, doing something he would’ve liked to do but never had the chance.
L.A. Weekly: What are the differences between the music you make under the Instruments of Science and Technology name and the Richard Swift name, and the older Dicky Ochoa and Company music?
Richard Swift: Ultimately, the old Dicky Ochoa and Company stuff was me trying to pay my rent. I didn’t feel like I was really involved. I felt like I was a studio musician on my own record. The Instruments, and Swift as Onasis music is what I care about. There are definite stylistic differences—there are different elements and experimentations with each project. To me, it wouldn’t make sense to mix Instruments and Swift music or Onasis and Instruments music. In retrospect, though, I think a lot of people were getting annoyed that I was putting out all these side projects.
L.A. Weekly: Who was getting annoyed?
Richard Swift: Well, people would send me press clippings that would say, ‘I don’t know, Instruments Of Science and Technology, and Richard Swift as Onasis aren’t as good as Richard Swift records.’ Well, you know what, fuckers, all of these are Richard Swift records. I’m so surprised at press sometimes, or even blogs, because we live in a day and age when everyone has an iPod or iPod shuffle, myself included, and to think that an artist would only put out one type of record in their career is very narrow. I think most artists should be held to a standard of really pushing themselves to try all sorts of things.
If you look at artists like John Lennon and Neil Young, they made their weird electronic records and '50s records, and the critics panned them, but they had the backbone to push themselves, and to fight boredom. When you put out records, you’re automatically creating a stereotype—from that first record, you become a cartoon. So I find it very inspiring when I can see these musicians trying to develop new music after such long-term careers.
Bob Dylan’s had a recent resurgence, but in the '80s nobody gave a shit about Bob Dylan. If you talked to people about Bob Dylan, they would say, “Oh, his old records were good but his new records are shit. He’s never gonna put out another good record.” But now, he’s making some fantastic music.
L.A. Weekly: Did having kids change the way you approach music?
Richard Swift: I don’t know. I would never walk up to the mic and say, “I wrote this one for my daughter.” But in “The Songs Of National Freedom” there’s a line that says “I’m alive, I’m alive, I’m alive/So tell my daughters not to cry,” and that’s not just about having kids but it’s also about understanding generational differences, and similarities. I have a lot of respect for guys who play rock n’ roll and then go home and have BBQs with their neighbors and spend time with their kids. Having a family is amazing, and really good for me because I do tend to be self-destructive and they keep me in check. Tom Waits is a family man, and he’s making phenomenal records.
L.A. Weekly: And he’s written a lot of music with his wife.
Richard Swift: That’s so cool. I wish my wife was even remotely musically inclined. She paints, though. There are a lot of guys making music now, living the rock n’ roll lifestyle and they act like pricks to everyone they know, and I just don’t want to be involved in that. It’s not appealing to me at all. I don’t give a fuck about Sid and Nancy or any of that. What’s appealing to me is living in a small town, and being with some really fine people, and being with my special lady friend.
L.A. RECORD’s Rena Kosnett conducted what may have been Isaac Hayes’ final interview for us last week. She sends the following obituary:
Isaac Hayes died today, Sunday August 10th, 2008. I had the great fortune to interview Isaac by phone while he was at his home in Memphis a little over a week ago in anticipation of his headlining spot on the upcoming Sunset Junction festival bill. I was ecstatic for the week leading up to the interview, and stayed ecstatic for the week following it, so not surprisingly I received 4 voicemails, 6 text messages, and 9 emails from people informing me of the sad news.
Isaac was a one-man messianic movement who spoke the gospel of groove and spread the sermon of soul throughout American culture. He served to liberate and advocate American funk and human sexuality the way Timothy Leary articulated acid, the way Hunter S. Thompson obliterated objectivism. I was asked frequently after the interview if I had questioned Isaac about South Park or Scientology, and the answer was ‘No.’ Not because I was afraid or felt he would be uncomfortable, but because what was most significant in Isaac’s life—what was most groundbreaking—was his music. For the few moments I had him, that’s what I wanted to stick to.
Isaac was self-taught. He was a visionary. He went to the recording studio dressed in gold chains and bright green suits when everyone else was wearing black turtlenecks and gray trouser socks. Isaac worked his way up from being a poor meat packer—even his obituary includes some innuendo!—in rural Tennessee to being the driving creative force behind Stax, which, alongside Motown and Sun, has been one of American music’s most critical labels.
His 1969 album Hot Buttered Soul changed how music was produced, opening soul and pop recordings to more interpretation and spoken interludes, and paving the way for Barry White’s and Millie Jackson’s silky mid-song eroticisms—now a staple, and indeed nearly a cliché, of R&B music. But even before Isaac’s throaty classics made it to the turntable, he was heard on the airwaves through the voices of Sam & Dave, Otis Redding, and Carla Thomas. Isaac, mainly with his creative partner David Porter, wrote the hits “Soul Man,” “Hold On, I’m Comin’,” “When Something is Wrong with My Baby”, and “Soul Sister Brown Sugar,” among others, and his orchestral, horn, organ, and bass scores inspired the soundtracks for countless films, blaxploitation and otherwise.
What struck me most during our interview, despite the clear struggles he was working through due to his 2006 stroke, was his exaltation. He was excited about playing the Sunset Junction, excited about his new album, and gracious with his laughter, time, and his unmatched ability to serenade. Even through a cell phone headset, hearing him sing made me swoon.We have lost our Soul Man, our Black Moses, and his deep voice and deeper vitality will surely be missed.
Interview in LA RECORD, August 2008
L.A. RECORD’s Rena Kosnett interviewed Isaac Hayes last week in preparation for his performance later this month at Sunset Junction. We were saddened today to learn of his passing in Memphis. As far as we know, this is his final interview.
Rolling Stone named ‘Soul Man’ as one of the 500 greatest songs of all time. Do you think most people realize you and David Porter wrote that song?
Maybe, maybe not. Some people, they don’t connect it—they think it was Sam and Dave, because they made it well known.
You said previously that you wrote it in response to the the 12th Street Riots in Detroit—about ‘man’s struggle to rise above his present conditions’?
Yeah because, you know, the riots were going on and we were watching it happen on TV, and we saw that they had written on the walls of the black-owned stores ‘Soul Man.’ And I said, ‘“Soul Man,” that’s a good title.’ At that time in the ‘60s, there was all kindsa crazy stuff goin’ on. That’s why I wrote it, you know.
The Sunset Junction festival started as a way to bring the Latino community and gay community together in East L.A. after several instances of violence. Would you consider writing a ‘Soul Man’ type of song for the gay and Latino struggles?
Oh, um, I’m workin’ on that one. [laughing] I’ve been working on my new album. I’ll just tell you what, though—this new album that’s coming out, it’s good. It’s probably coming out next year.
Is it all new material?
Maybe some, and some is redone.
Lemme see. Maybe a song by the name of [breaking into a serenade] ‘Tonight’s the night, the tiiiime is right, the things I’ve waited for so long…’
That tune is good.
Many credit the musical influence you and David Porter had on Stax with saving the label, but some think your leaving almost killed them. Do you think these are fair judgments?
At that time, maybe so. At Stax, there were many things happening then—many struggles and complications. But my new album is coming out on Stax, so I’m still working good with them.
I read in Peter Guralnick’s book Sweet Soul Music that David Porter tried to sell you life insurance when you first met him. Did you buy any?
I didn’t buy any insurance, but he did try to sell me some. He gave me a good deal. I met David long before I started at Stax. I was singing with a group called the Del Reels, and he sang with the King Tones. And we both played for a talent contest in Memphis.
I won it one week and then he won it the next week, and we started working together after that.
Do you remember what song you sang in the talent contest?
I think it was ‘Looking Back,’ by Nat King Cole.
Your first Stax session was playing keyboard for Otis Redding. Was it an easy process to develop songs with him?
Well, Otis had a way of doing things—he would write the songs at the same time he was singing them. He would start going [breaking into song and imitating Otis Redding] ‘Na na na na, you got to, got to got to…’ and he was writing the songs at the same time. With me and David… there was an understanding we had between us. With ‘Soul Man,’ he said, ‘Look, man, let’s just do it.’ He said, ‘Let’s write something.’ And we did. That’s just how it worked.
Do you have a favorite Burt Bacharach tune?
I did a lot of songs by Bacharach and Hal David. ‘Walk On By’ was a good one. And ‘The Windows of the World.’
Most of the early Stax records were produced communally. Was it a big transition at the label to start thinking about music as a product?
When we started getting credit for the things we did, I thought that was good, because the songs had a lot of personal meaning. Now, they’re just rapping and all that stuff…
You don’t like current hip-hop music?
I like Alicia Keyes. Mary J. Blige.
You like the ladies.
Well, yeeeah. Anthony Hamilton is also good. I like him too.
Who should really be called ‘Black Moses’: you, Harriet Tubman, or Marcus Garvey? There can’t be three, can there?
I got my name as ‘Black Moses’ from Dino Woodward, a pastor at Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York [and one-time Stax executive]. He called me Moses, and I said, ‘Hey, that’s sacrilegious, baby!’ But he just kept up with it, so I was like, ‘OK, I get it.’ I finally gave in.
For the cover photo of Juicy Fruit, did you and the six ladies go home after the shoot or did you stay in the pool and make fruit salad?
Those ladies split.
They didn’t stay and hang with you?
You know… [starts singing lines from ‘Juicy Fruit’] ‘Watching girls come and go, juicy fruit, jump suit…’ It was cool, but you know, they went home.
Did Barry White, may he rest in peace, ever thank you for giving him a career?
No. No, he didn’t thank me. We did an album together, though, because they wanted to call us the ‘Deep Throat Brothers.’
Does anyone understand you ‘cept your woman?
Just my woman. My fourth wife, Adjowa. The kids are something else—that’s a different kind of understanding.
What kind of special treatment do you receive when you visit Ghana?
In Ghana, I’m an honorary king there. They have a big parade. They feed me all kinds of good stuff. They gave me my own island! It takes about an hour to circumnavigate it. Don’t know what I want to call it yet. I was last there about two years ago.
Have you ever dated a Jewish girl?
Yeah, I’ve dated all kinds of girls.
Of course you have. I’m a Jewish girl.
Do you think if I went black I’d ever go back?
There were no complaints from my Jewish girls. So from my perspective, you wouldn’t be goin’ back. No way.
Video artist Brian Bress talks about the music video he made for Wounded Lion, LA Weekly
Wounded Lion- Pony People
Wounded Lion "Pony People" video, directed by Brain Bress
by Rena Kosnett
July 9, 2008 2:49 PM
The young L.A. band Wounded Lion has put up a new music video online for their song “Pony People,” ahead of the release of their first single on S-S Records. The video was directed by Brian Bress, who just finished a stint at the Getty as part of the “California Video” exhibition. Considering Bress and the Wounded Lion members Brad Eberhard and Raffi Kalenderian are all LA Weekly Biennial alums, and the video has the clear patterned, repetitive, and disorienting imprint of Bress’ other fine art work, the video skirts that gray area between music video and video art, like Target Video, also in the Getty exhibit, and Michael Reich’s Videothing (you can read more about Videothing here: http://www.laweekly.com/music/music/michael-reichs-videothingcom-captures-the-essence-of-las-underground/19032/). Bress answered a few of my questions about the video today.
LA Weekly: You know Wounded Lion through college?
Brian Bress: I know Raffi through UCLA—he was in undergrad while I was in grad school there. I went to undergrad at RISD.
Ok Go commissioned you to make their “Television Television” wallpaper video. Did Wounded Lion commission you to make the “Pony People” video?
No, we had been discussing collaborating on a video for a while when I saw them around at parties and stuff. It wasn’t a commission, it was a pro bono thing. Ok Go had a budget—a small budget, but there was a budget. The “Pony People” video was made more like I make my other videos—very much on a shoe-string budget.
There’s some contemporary history with overlap in music videos and video art—Target Video in the Getty exhibit and Videothing’s work, among others. How does this video configure into that crossover?
If I had to, I would put it in a music video category. But it’s funny that you ask that, because one of the first things video art teachers will tell you is, “Don’t make music videos.” When I’m working, one of the first things I’ll do on set is make a music video, just to warm up. Not even to show to people—just to introduce music into the process. But I don’t often end up making music videos. I think I made a remake of the “Rock Your Body” video.
That process is tangible because your videos “Under Cover” and “Over and Over” have musical elements.
It’s true they do. What I consider a music video is a situation where the music couldn’t change—if the music is the lead and the video is there to serve the music. Music is important to me, but when defining the difference, it’s more about which is the focus. The imagery in “Pony People” is meant to go along with the song—the picture was the supporting cast member while the song was the primary element. Hopefully the imagery doesn’t overpower it.
But at the same time, the “Pony People” video was collaborative. I felt responsible to the band to make an image which reflected what I interpret the band to be about. I couldn’t just pause the song midway and put a segment of me dunking my head in water or something like that. An art video, just like any fine art, wouldn’t need a set purpose. The goal doesn’t need to be so clear.
Why did your teachers tell you not to make music videos?
I think their logic is that music is someone else's art, and it’s pretty powerful. You could take the same shot of a baby crying, and you could put it over heavy metal music, and then you could put it over classical music, and the meaning will change drastically. When starting out with video art, it’s tempting to use music to smooth over your images, to use like a handy cap, when you really should be focusing on the picture. I think my teachers were thinking we would do better to develop work without music for that reason.
Do you feel more comfortable making music videos now that you’ve exhibited your fine art?
I’ve always thought it was okay to make music videos. Even if it were the first video I’d ever made, before the Getty show, before all that, it would be okay. Obviously there’s overlap aesthetically about the way the videos are put together. If I was listing videos I’ve made that have the most personal resonance, I wouldn’t put the “Pony People” video in there, but some of the imagery is very personal. There are images of people who are close to me that aren’t in the band: the two dancing girls are close friends of mine. When I shot some of the earlier footage, when the set up was still in the forest, before we shot in the studio, I didn’t even know that content would be used for a Wounded Lion video. But as soon as I put the band in stripes I knew I had to use it.
Check out more of Brian Bress' videos here.
Filmmaker Michael Reich and Videothing feature, LA Weekly
Also: Target Video, TV Party, and video art vs. the music video
Converse and a camera: A still from an online arbiter. Photo by Rena Kosnett
TV party tonight: Michael Reich's Videothing.com Captures the Essence of L.A.'s Underground
By RENA KOSNETT
Wednesday, June 4, 2008 - 3:15 pm
There’s something funny you notice when first visiting videothing.com, the Web site for filmmaker Michael Reich’s local music project, Videothing: Nothing is for sale. Reich’s brief, sharply edited, somewhat scripted but mostly spontaneous films of music performances, band interviews, tour clips and general eccentricities, such as a Health and AIDS Wolf at the Smell, Matt Fishbeck playing his Omnichord over a toilet, and a rambling Jamai-can’t-accented speech about reggae from Ari Up, are laid out in two clean, colorful, user-friendly columns down the length of Videothing’s home page.
This is an inkling of what sets Videothing apart from the recently launched Pitchfork.tv, or Vice’s year-old online channel, VBS TV. In all cases, the content is free, immediate and accessible; but Videothing’s sole objective is to get you to watch the content. Not to buy an album, a festival ticket or the latest T-shirt style from American Apparel.
This puts Videothing more in the realm of an anarcho-punk zine than that of MTV. Videothing.com’s block colors and dark background took cues from the covers of Soul Jazz Records’ New York Noise compilations of experimental no-wave punk music that originally came out on small DIY labels from 1978 to 1988. The same East Coast music and art scene birthed another of Reich’s major artistic inspirations: Glenn O’Brien’s quasi-political New York cable-access show TV Party, which had the tag line, “TV Party is the show that’s a cocktail party but which could also be a political party.” TV Party ran from 1978 to 1982 and made regular guests of Debbie Harry, Mick Jones and Jean-Michel Basquiat. The scratchy Xerox aesthetic of the VHS and cassette-tape faces on Videothing.com is Reich’s inspirational reference to this era of nonproprietary art making, a moment that was more about the sharing of ideas than the copyright of a song. Says Reich: “In that scene, people would make homemade VHS tapes to trade like video zines, but now we get that kind of accessibility on the Internet.”
Each film’s length is determined by Reich’s self-proclaimed attention-deficit disorder, which, he says, is also the reason for his sharp editing style. Most likely because of his background in 2-D art, the power of suggestion — which is commonly expounded upon by figure-drawing and painting teachers — plays largely into Reich’s editing. In the “Crystal Antlers Go to Texas” video, which was shot during the first day of Reich’s hitching a ride to SXSW with the Long Beach band, quick sequential loading-gear/getting-gas/ Mom-closing-the-van-door clips are followed by hand-scribbled titles shot over a few seconds of Dylan and the Band’s “This Wheel’s on Fire.” Besides the British Absolutely Fabulous characters Patsy and Edina, “This Wheel’s on Fire” has become an archetypal song for the struggling on-the-road musician, in part, because of its lyrics about packing, waiting and rolling down the road, but also because of Levon Helm’s autobiography of the same name — and it just happened to be on the mix Crystal Antlers vocalist Jonny Bell made for the trip.
These are the kinds of circumstantial subtleties that make Videothing special. Reich, who also achieved a small level of fame without showing his face as “Hero Robot No. 2” in Daft Punk’s Electroma, is keen to his surroundings and can capture interesting moments without having to dwell on them. A quick toss of room service trays onto a hotel room carpet in Austin, Texas, is all the viewer needs in order to understand Reich’s mood at the beginning of his “On a Bridge” SXSW video: underslept, aggressive and juvenile. Not surprisingly, that particular video is even more clipped than usual, includes a (mild) confrontation with the police, and ends after a few seconds of No Age’s playing, when a crowd surfer slams into the camera lens.
Getting kicked in the face while holding video equipment was also a favorite pastime of filmmaker Joe Rees. With his San Francisco–based operation, Target Video, Rees was the West Coast’s answer to TV Party, bringing punk groups into his studio or orchestrating bizarre shows, the most oft-talked-about being 1978’s The Cramps: Live at Napa State Mental Hospital, during which female patients swarm around Lux Interior as he croons, “Somebody told me you people are crazy, but I’m not so sure about that.”
This year, Target Video was officially snuggled into the bosom of a fine-art institution when it was included in the Getty’s “California Video” exhibition, a generous group show that traced the significant developments of video art in California, and included heavyweights Eleanor Antin, Mike Kelley, John Baldessari, Martin Kersels and eccentric tag team Harry Dodge and Stanya Kahn. The valley that separates video art and promotional music videos is vast — the former started in the 1960s as a way for artists to use time as a canvas, while the latter, despite the creativity of directors like Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry, are promotional tools. But the resurfacing of music-video art has allowed for crossover between the two genres and can lead to strong differences of opinion. (Getty curator Glenn Phillips believes that Joe Rees’ Target Video has artistic merit, while L. A. Weekly art critic Doug Harvey does not: “... Conspicuous in its absence, especially considering the inclusion of such nonartsy material as the S.F. punk archives of Target Video ...”)
At its core, though, intent is what divides music video art from the music video, which Reich understands. As a paying gig, Reich directs full-production music videos (for, among others, the Shins, Bad Religion and the Brazilian Girls) for Draw Pictures, a commercial film agency with offices in London and Los Angeles. With client-based work, Reich is employed to help sell a product; with Videothing, he is trying to increase awareness of a culture and contextualize the live music within the realm of the club, or toilet, or bus. He’s making it not just for the band but for the people who were there, for the people who couldn’t make it and for his own enjoyment. “We’re all in this together,” he says. “That’s why I never get when bands give me a hard time about doing a five-minute interview. This one night, I waited until 3 or 4 a.m. to get an interview with Japanther. I ended up having to help them load up their gear, which I didn’t mind. But then this one guy in the band said, ‘If we’re gonna do this, you have to go get us some water.’ So I had to drop what I was doing to go find a liquor store and buy them bottled water. Later, though, they e-mailed me to say thank you.”
Because Reich makes these cool little films as his own project, Videothing’s recognizable cardboard signs and duct-tape labels were the handiest way to assemble a portable film set on the cheap. Also, it is just more realistic to carry around a backpack full of poster board signs and vinyl letters while roaming the streets of Austin and Los Angeles rather than a suitcase full of the props he originally used, like the large stuffed tigers he bought for the “Lady Tigre” video. “Basically, the signs came from Bob Dylan and not having enough money, and the desire to make 2-D art again,” Reich explains. The London alley in which D.A. Pennebaker shot a young Dylan dropping paper signs to the beat of “Subterranean Homesick Blues” does look like it could be along the entrance to the Smell, if beats Allen Ginsberg and Bob Neuwirth were replaced with Daniel, downtown L.A.’s most famous bum-security guard.
Target Video screens at MOCA on June 7, and Videothing can be seen in action, out and about, on most nights in Los Angeles, and on the Web site www.videothing.com.
AIDS Wolf in London by Videothing
The Cramps at Napa State Mental Hospital by Target Video
David Byrne on TV Party
Short write-ups as part of the 2008 F Yeah Fest feature, LA WEEKLY
2008 has been a stellar year for Long Beach's Crystal Antlers. They've released a new EP, gained scores of fans with their fantastic live shows, and signed to the respected Touch and Go Records, where they join the prestigious ranks of Black Heart Procession, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and TV on the Radio. The California-cool guitar stylings of Andrew King, shirtless knock-around drumsticks of Kevin Stuart, psychedelic octaves of organist Victor Rodriguez, passion percussion employed by Sexual Chocolate, and Jonny Bell's full-fisted bass and voice have merged to form an L.A. County classic. (Rena Kosnett)
Record Review, LA WEEKLY
By L.A. Weekly Music Critics
Record Reviews: Inara George and Van Dyke Parks, Darker My Love
Also, Hawthorne Heights, the Starlite Desperation
The art collective I work with, From Here To There, put up a public installation in an empty private lot on the corner of Micheltorena and Sunset, on Friday, September 12th.
By Sunday, it had been taken down.
But here is a blog that commemorates the process and the show.
It was a beautiful installation, and may it rest in peace.
From Here to There presents 3434 Sunset Blvd. Los Angeles, a guerrilla art show in the empty lot at the corner of Sunset Blvd. and Micheltorena in Silver Lake. The installation consists of 10 mounted images placed in the lot and visible from the street. Our intention is to utilize a space that is currently unused and in transition to display art. The images included present our interpretations of what it means to occupy land while making a public space personal.
New documentary about punk and rock music in China's capital screening in Don't Knock the Rock music/film festival, LA Weekly
Beijing Bubbles screening at Cinefamily 7.24.08
by Rena Kosnett
July 25, 2008 9:09 AM
Beijing Bubbles, a new documentary about punk and rock music in Beijing, screened Thursday night at Cinefamily as part of the Don’t Knock The Rock movie line-up. The filmmakers, based in Berlin, both have long-standing connections to the music industry in Germany; George Lindt and Susanne Messmer have been involved in independent record production and music journalism for many years, so it was with a clear passion that they went to Beijing to find “punk rock visions at the other side of the world.” The film follows five bands, which were each introduced with taglines that read as entries in the punk-rock encyclopedia. Joyside, the popular indie punk band: “There is no use to be a hard-working man.” Hang On The Box, the experimental girl band: “We need a quiet mood to think about music.” New Pants, the shaggy-haired skinny boys: “We are still underground.” T9, the hermit throat-singer: “I have isolated myself since a long time.” Sha Zi, the bluesy duo: “We don’t want to be a part of that society.”
In the online synopsis, it says the musicians, although stylistically diverse, have all “retired from the world in which they have grown up.” And that’s exactly it. There are no options for these people: they have retired, at the ripe-old-age of twenty-something. Aside from one band member in New Pants who owns his own toy store, the cameras followed around these musicians doing absolutely NOTHING—they stroll, they browse, they sit, they talk. Some of them have had stints in the accepted “subculture” commodity position of record store and used clothing store clerk; the film makes it clear that, by choosing to pursue a life devoted to Western music, their only choice is to stay at home all day.
But Beijing Bubbles didn’t go in to WHY that is their fate. Why do these girls and boys have no income, no creative jobs, no art collectives, no home made music fanzines? The answer points plainly towards their government, their societal constraints, their country’s fear of independent thought. But you have to come to those conclusions yourself. Perhaps the filmmakers were too timid to ask "Why?" Or maybe they did, but the youngsters were too scared (or drunk) to answer.
With scarcely any cultural context (the absence of which makes the Bubbles in the title seem exceedingly appropriate), the lives of the musicians played out as banal, broke, stay-home-all-day subjects; and while that seems to be the point of their lives--this deviation from an acceptable routine--the monotony didn't have to be the point of the movie. Amidst the looming Beijing Olympics, and the recent violence against Tibetans and their supporters, including journalists, I would have loved to see the filmmakers connect to the root of their subjects’ disenfranchisement. What we got instead was a litany of clichéd catch-phrases: “We are living in a subculture,” “Depression helps me make music,” “All I want to do is sing, drink, and fuck,” etc., etc., etc. Joyside’s new album was even titled Drunk Is Beautiful.
The “Humai” throat-singing feats of T9’s singer Yiliqi, who is the son of a Mongol and a Manchurian, were a delightful inclusion that worked like a shot of espresso, although he doesn’t appear on-screen until the last fifteen minutes. The closest the film came to addressing the larger imprint of the Chinese culture was with two comments made by Sha Zi singer Liu Donghong. In the first, Liu was talking about the proliferation of prostitution in bars during a stroll with his girlfriend, and he asks the crucial question, “Where have all the girls gone?” An interesting societal dilemma with an interesting answer. No time here, but anyone familiar with the One Child law can start to imagine the fate of many baby girls born in China. And the second was during a stroll in Tiananmen Square. Liu looks up at the ominous Great Hall of the People legislative building along the western perimeter, and says simply, “They have many meetings here. They come here, and they make decisions. And then they come out with bad ideas.”
For more info visit www.beijing-bubbles.com