Saturday, March 26, 2005

Matthew McConaughey: Revisits Sahara with CeeP (Q & A)

That screener I was heading to at Mann's Chinese was for the forthcoming feature Sahara starring Matthew McConaughey, Penélope Cruz and Steve Zahn (with William H. Macy, Delroy Lindo and Glynn E. Turman); the next day I went over to the Four Seasons for the press event and got a little face time with the film's cast; thought I'd post excerpts from the roundtable with McConaughey here...the film, directed by Breck Eisner and based on the novels written by Clive Cussler opens wide in the U.S. on April 8th...

Q: Talk about this Trailer you've been taking around the country to promote Sahara.

Matthew McConaughey: Yeah, it's my Airstream, 28 footer. I came up with this idea of wrapping up everything in the trailer and doing a grassroots, sort of, Rock 'n Roll door-to-door Sahara campaign across the United States -- it's mine, I'm driving the truck...6,000 miles in 32 days...just myself and my business partner.

Q: Why, with such a big movie and the promotional backing that that would entail?

Matthew: It was a big movie, true but I figured on a couple of things: 1.) I liked the movie, we'd made a good one and that feels good. I wouldn't be out selling it like this if it weren't. 2.) I'm the Executive Producer on it, my production company J.K. Livin' [is attached] to it. That gives me a lot of pride, a lot of honor to have that on there; that means something -- the first major motion picture that J.K. Livin' is on. So, I'm still on the clock. As the boss of me, I'm still on the clock and I've got some work to do to finish this thing off, so on the 8th of April when it opens, I can sit back, have my cocktail and say "man, there ain't nothing else I could've done." You know? For the last seven years, from getting the part, we all got together and filled out the script, we got the cast, we went over to Morocco and worked our butts off -- we had fun doing it -- Breck put together a great movie. We were happy with it, now we've got to finish it and sell it. We're coming out April 8th, Paramount's doing their job...come the 8th, we let it ride. [laughs]

Q: How was it working with such a young director, Breck Eisner was 27 when this went into production.

Matthew: Never really thought about age. I'm 35 but I don't really recognize 26-27, when someone asks me about back then I'm like, that was yesterday [laughs] No, the main thing was that the guy's talented. You sit down and you see if you're 'meeting minds' on what the tone of the story is. What the sense of humor is -- that was a very important thing to me, what the sense of the story is. I've found that if you can find somebody that you're working with, even in relationships, if you have a similar sense of humor or even if you don't but they recognize it and go: "that's not mine, but it's funny." That means a lot, especially in a movie like Sahara where the tone, the sense of humor and how seriously it it takes itself/ does not take itself is incredibly important -- if it takes itself too seriously, you'd be like..."come on, dude - that's bullshit." You just try to meet minds along the way and come up with some great of the cool things about making a film and collaborating is that great ideas come from all over the joint, they come from 3 in the morning from a PA, I learned that early on.

Q: Did you see a franchise a la James Bond/ Indiana Jones when you first looked at the script?

Matthew: That was the hope. That was the idea, not a hope to see a franchise but we saw a franchise...I think there's like 16 or so books already written and I'd been looking for a franchise character for 10 years and they were either too, you know, one character in an action/adventure franchise is either just about [getting the ] ass, you know and there's nothing else. Or there's the character that's always nice, clean and tight but never got his hands dirty. Dirk Pitt does both. He's a guy that takes these adventures, chases the unknown, chases down the commas in the history books -- I loved the adventure of going off to foreign, exotic lands and working it out. Getting myself in situations and seeing how well I could work out of them. Sometimes, especially when you don't speak the language, [communication] gets down to charades.

Q: What kind of scrapes did you get in while shooting in Africa?

Matthew: I got in quite a few. When you're walking a 14 mile hike each day to the next village, and it's the wet season but it hasn't rained in like 5 days and then one night you're sitting in your tent and it rains all night. The waters rise. You get up the next day and you walk your 5 miles until all of a sudden you get to, what used to be the day before just a creek, [what] is now a river of water about 50 yards wide. And as you're walking along you're looking at all the crocodiles and as you keep walking you still see the crocodiles and all of a sudden the road turns and goes right across that water and you stop. You're with your guide, who's a local, and he stops. You don't say a word but you both know exactly what the other one's thinking. So you wait there. You don't say a word -- and you know it's the only place that you can cross over to the other side of the river, you're not going to make it at any other point -- so you wait. Then, a woman from the village -- whose people's sacred [religious] animus is the crocodile -- walks out, she's got fruit on her head and she strolls out into the water. And all of a sudden, you [too] slowly start walking through it. I mean you're out there in the water and it's up to your neck and you're looking at crocs in the eyeball just 10-15 yards away: it's quite a look at your guide and go "what was that all about?"... If I would've been eaten, the news would've never made it back, nobody would've knew for a while because this was a place where there were no telephones, no electricity.You'd still be looking for me. but, I figure, if you're going to go in that kind of way, man , it's already written -- part of the food chain.

Q: What about the stunts, you do any of them yourself?

Matthew: All of them that I could. I got a great stunt man, Mark Nordby who does the stuff that I would call "foolish" -- I don't like getting lit on fire, he can do that. But most of them, that a fun part of making a movie like this for me. I like sports, I'm a decent athlete, so the stunts become "the athletic event of the day." You want 1.) to pull them off so when [the audience] sees the film, it sells. They go, "Yeah, Dirk Pitt did that" and 2.) to do all that without breaking a leg.

Q: What was your sport?

Matthew: Man, golf is really my sport but growing up I played whatever season with whatever ball. Whatever it was, I played it, from soccer to baseball to football to basketball. But I'm really getting back into baseball, I'm really excited about baseball right now.

Q: I spoke with Richard Linklater back when Before Sunset got released and he said he's planning on working with some of his old friends -- you getting together with him any time soon? He's on a roll, yo.

Matthew: I hope so. He is rolling -- he finish Bad News Bears yet?

Q: I think it's coming out this summer.

Matthew: He did the thing with Robert Downey, Jr and Woody [Harrelson] -- another animated thing [A Scanner Darkly]...We're always talking about things, he's got a comedy that's sort of a biography on Billy Carter -- President Jimmy Carter's brother -- that could be pretty carny...he's one of those guys where we don't say that much but we get each other and whatever it is he gets about me (as an actor), he doesn't have to tell me because what I get about him (as a director) I don't really have to share with's kind of cool.

Q: You got a favorite movie or role you've played like the one in Dazed and Confused or Palmer Joss in Contact? Any one in particular that sticks out in your mind?

Matthew: I'll be honest, I think this is the most fun I've had. And when I say "fun," I don't mean like "ahh, it's just all so easy." It was fun because I felt like I got to be more "me" in Sahara and just get into [shooting] it, he's a "J.K. Livin," dude, Dirk Pitt. When I say "J.K. Livin," I mean "just keep," he's saying "Yeah to life" at every single turn and if he gets in a hairy situation -- even if he knows that the situation's inevitable, even if he's fucked, he's probably going to laugh first...he's the kind of guy who can be like "I've lost my mind and I don't seem to miss it." That's just the way he'd look at it.

Q: You into history, anything like that?

Matthew: Not near as much as Dirk Pitt. I'd say I read more now than I ever did before I was 18 -- we couldn't watch TV when I was growing up in my place or really read because if there was daylight you had to be out doing something. So, I read a lot more now...I mean, I saw two movies before I was 16 -- Orca and King Kong. King Kong is still one of my favorites -- it introduced me to Jessica Lange. (starts singing) "We wear short-shorts." [laughs]...

...I've often noted that sometimes people take films way more seriously than they were intended to be, the latter became blaringly evident while I was watching Sahara at Mann's and talking to other journalists during down-time in the Four Seasons' hospitality suite...Like Sgt. Hulka in Stripes, I'd like to say: "Lighten up, Francis -- not every film holds the answers to life's burning enigmas." That said, I think Sahara will earn its keep on the back end, financially -- I've seen worse, much worse, faire come out of this town. (if this were the 80s it would do even better but the times have a-changed, yo) There's lots of action to be seen and the cast are clearly having fun but bear this in mind: it is a definitive popcorn movie, an adventurous escape, if you would. If you walk into the theater with that attitude, you'll find the funny plus, the director of photography wasn't no slouch either...FYI, I've a feature on Matthew's co-star, Penélope Cruz coming out in a small, I'll post a link to it on the sidebar when it hits the streets...if you plan on seeing Sahara, do yourself a favor and find out what a Tuareg really is...and no, they're not new-model Volkswagens....Laters...

Monday, March 21, 2005

Billy the Kiddo; Little 5 Points, Atlanta Pt. 1 (short story)

...written on the run but the ride was fun...

So I was over at my home-biscuit's crib the other night to co-pilot on a baby-sitting mission during which we started playing tunes and whatnot. In an effort to avoid having the neighbors scream "Hang the DJ," a la Morrissey, I discovered an LP that I hadn't heard in totality for over a decade: Hole's Live Through This. I hadn't checked that plate since I used to frequent The Euclid Avenue Yacht Club when I lived in a galaxy far, far away; Atlanta's Little 5 Points neighborhood back in the 90s.

I'll tell you, when I heard that opening to "Violet" I was instantly teleported out of Los Angeles and sitting at the long bar in the big room peering over the edge of my glass goblet at license plates from all over the country. <BAMF>, just like the X-Men's Nightcrawler and shite, yo. When Hole came out I was working as a lead cook at this Jamaico-Cuban joint called The Bridgetown Grill which was esconced smack-dab in the middle of an ecclectic assortment of head shops, record stores, vintage clothing boutiques, restaraunts and bars which lined the main pedestrian drag and park area that faced Euclid Avenue.

In those days "Hot-lanta" was immersed in an international charm offensive as the city had won the bid for the Olympics and people flowed in from all over the globe to set up shop; I'd just left school with the band I was in to stake our claim in the Jewel of the New South. Back in it's 90s-era heyday, the yokels who lived out in Marrietta, Cobb County and Stone Mountain would drive down to see the natives in their nose-ringed and graffiti-covered natural habitat...the weirdos...the street hustlers...the runaways...the artists...the outcasts...the people. This was back when the influence of the Seattle Sound and Gen X would reach the crest of their cultural prominence, soon to recede into a national mindset that would yield the culturally questionable times we now live in, Clinton was in office and this was way before Monica-gate and the Floridian coup de main of 2000 but I'm digressing so let's press FFWD.

The power of a song to bring memories and images (good & bad) has never been lost on me, I embrace it all and as I checked this Hole LP in my friend's crib in Pasadena, it was having its way with me in the forgotten memories department. By the time I got to "Doll Parts" I was sucked into the vortex of a full-blown episode of remeniscing, specifically about this chick I knew who used to tend bar at the Yacht Club, although we hoodrats called her Billie, her real name was Wilhemena which I found out later but I'm getting ahead of myself. Billie was a dead ringer for that chick Sarah Gilbert, who played Darlene, the wise-cracking, raven-haired daughter on Rosanne's sitcom, only taller, older and sexier in that "I'll-kick-your-ass-good-if-you-don't-whistle-in-the-weeds-to-my-liking" kind of way.

The kitchen staff at Bridgetown and the Y.C.'s bar crew had an unwritten quid pro quo arrangement -- we'd shoot over succulent meals of jerked ribs, chicken, salmon, tuna, ceviche, etc on the down-low and, once we clocked out, we'd slide up into the E.A.Y.C and get faded on their extensive list of libations- they didn't serve hard liquor at the Yacht but they did have one of the largest selection of beers, lagers and pilsners in the 404 area code. I should know, I've tried them all at least twice and that's no porkie-pie. Oat sodas from all over the planet, cute waitresses and a culturally diverse clientele; while sitting at the bar it wasn't impossible to witness a bearded biker next to a Rastaman, next to a laced up skinhead sitting next to a Native American traditional dancer (in full garb), next to an aging, obese three-toothed stripper (off duty from the Clairmont Lounge), all sucking their favorite flavors from beer steins while John Coltrane's "Love Supreme" oozed out of the speakers...suffice to say that on many a night after work the oceans roared and the waves crashed as glasses clinked together until we all saw the crack of Dawn's ass -- an inside joke at the Y.C.; Dawn was this petite Irish lass (lilting brogue, red hair, the whole bit) who worked the taps and could drink a 300lb man under his stool while simultaneously topping off mugs. When she had "a brick in her hat" towards the end of the night,however, she'd get a trifle randy and drop trou for "a poke in the whiskers" with whomever was left standing...hey, everybody needs a hobby and I'm not ashamed to admit that I know for a fact her carpet matched the drapes, so to speak.

As I listened to "Live Through This,," I recalled one particular Saturday night after going coast-to-coast on the grill; "coast-to-coast" was a term we cooks used for when we pulled a double at the stove which began when the doors opened at 9am and didn't end until the joint closed -- essentially a culinary hell (both literal and figurative) as you sweated gallons of perspiration through lunch, mid-day and dinner rushes, it took at least a half hour to wash the charred-food smell out of your hands with a toothbrush. All told, "coastin' " was a grueling 14 hour undertaking but lets just say we had our "means" of getting through those pesky physical limitations and leave it at that.

By the end of my day's forced march into the weeds, I was still coasting on the effects of the aforementioned alertness aid, so I went over to the Yacht to drown the lingering jitters in a vat of barley, hops and whatever the guy passed out on the floor had had. When I pushed open the big glass door and walked inside the club, Courtney Love was shrieking "Someday, you will ache like I ache," during the chorus of "Doll Parts." I quickly noted that Billie was tending bar or at least preparing to, as she quickly rolled straight past me from the direction of the walk-in fridge with six cases of Newcastle stacked on a dolly. She waved, parked the hand truck behind the bar and began to load up the reach-in coolers with "Yellow labels," her back to me as my eyes were drawn to her heart shaped back yard, a beatiful thing to behold; I filed that image in my "arse archives." I am a man, yo.

As I bellied up to my usual spot, towards the rear near the dart boards, Bill eventually made her way over to me and started chatting me up with the latest neighborhood gossip -- people tend to tell bartenders everything and that includes me. While conversing with Billie it was easy to see why so many had tried to pickpocket the pooty, she was fine. Her jet black Betty Page-do (cropped on top, long in back) and that little diamond nose-stud came together in that "I'm-cute-but-I'll-hurt-ya" way: every time I hear a person make noises about "the most dangerous animal on the planet being a human male," it tells me that they've never encountered a woman like Bill in their lives. She's the type that makes men leave their wives and families at the drop of a hat, blinded by that combination of aura and genetic blessings which is why I'd always intentionally kept our banter off of the prurient path, who needs that kind of rejection? According to the L5P wire, Tim Bodaggario -- this 6 ft tall dreadlocked Italian from Red Bank, NJ -- had finally finished his apprenticeship at the Sacred Heart Tattoo Parlor and he was given a chair to start inking his own clients. Ras Clay -- a skateboarding dread who preferred the long board decks-- and his hippy girlfriend Kelly had just had their baby, they named him Zion and Shuffles, this old street urchin who dug through the neighborhood dumpsters, had gotten into a knife-fight with some 'skins from the suburbs and a couple of people got hurt in the melee. Most of the skinheads in L5P were S.H.A.R.P.S. (Skin Heads Against Racial Prejudice), not racist National Front wannabes but the tale ended on the upbeat as Billie explained.

The 'skin poseurs didn't know that Shuffles was a neighborhood fixture (like Ossie Davis' character Da Mayor in Spike Lee's "Do the Right Thing") and when they started harassing him they kicked over his shopping cart/mobile home right in front of the Yacht Club which was packed with regulars who, consequently, poured outside to assist "Shuff" by handing the teenaged punks their asses. "Bikers, Dreads, Goths, everybody jumped was a sight to be seen," Billie trailed off as she smiled at the memory...*

*I wrote this while in transit on the subway as I headed to a screening at Mann's Chinese Theater in Hollywood - still on the quest for a new Bat-Mobile, kid. This tale's been nagging at me every since I left my homeboy's house so I pulled out the pen and made use of it. I thought I'd post what I have as the first part, don't know when I'll have time to finish...I'm pulling up to the Hollywood & Vine station which is right across the street from the Frolic Room. In the spirit of what's written above, (holding pinky to chin like Dr. Evil)... I think I'll ease on up in there for a smoke, a shot and a beer before I stroll it on down to Hollywood & Highland. Obviously, there's more to Billie the Kiddo...(put a spinning question mark here)...but for now, there's a pint with my name on it across the, is that a Starbucks next to Pantages?...Laters, CeeP.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

N.P.R. & Air America: Damn You Both to Hell!

After my local National Public Radio affiliate (KPCC) unceremoniously cut the Tavis Smiley show without warning, I'd lost faith in the programming director's proclivities. The TSS wasn't without its kinks, I'm certain, but somebody, somewhere opted to keep "The Splendid Table" (a weekly show for foodies, wine country savants and gourmandes) while giving Tavis the hook. That ain't right...and it typifies the slow shift toward a more conservative thrust that I'd been witnessing transpire in painless increments on NPR; it's apparently coming to fruition quicker than I'd anticipated.

Following that travesty of a hoax of a sham we called an "election" in 2004, NPR had one of their infamous pledge drives and when the smoke cleared, Tavis' show ceased to be heard. No fuss no muss. I found that disturbing; a deal breaker, if you would. I'd lost faith in NPR's copper-fastened pledge of fairness, it ceased to have as much importance in my life. But the "Tavis-ty" wasn't the first time KPCC pulled the old talk radio Three-card Monte on its listeners. This bullet-in-the-foot transformation began last year and I started tuning in less and less but I still didn't give up the ghost, at least not yet.

I'd still listen to BBC broadcasts late night, after November '04, things just weren't the same. Alistair Cooke had died months earlier (like he knew what was forthcoming) so I couldn't hear any more of his Letters from America -- a real bummer, yo. Soon after Cooke "moved to the next town," the suits at National Public Radio pulled open the trap doors on Bob Edwards, host to the flagship A.M. show, Morning Edition and handed him his hat -- he was replaced by Renee Montagne (here in L.A.) and Steve Innskeep (in the D.C. studios), two younger correspondents who would share older audio-journalist's vacant post. Although Edwards was old, he did have an avuncular "guy-you-could-learn-something-from" vibe going on. He was summarily yanked from the airwaves in an effort to up the ante...sharpen the edges, maybe pull in a younger/ hipper audience and, in effect, increase the network's "bottom line" a term we're starting to hear more and more on the regular as we shift from a nation of citizens into a corporate-tocracy of shareholders which I find CRAP-tastic.

Based on the latter, I can't help but feel as though the people in charge at NPR have started "drinking the neo-conservative Kool-Aid" as I've witnessed the increase in the frequency of reportage from icy correspondents; frigid, patrician, stentorian types like the political analyst Mara "Cold Meiser" Liasson or Cokie " Frost-Bite" Roberts whose voice alone makes people my age wince in revulsion. My shift from NPR was also abetted by the invocation of Air America Radio which launched in Los Angeles' airspace on March 31, last year. I really hadn't realized how sick of NPR I'd become until ARR began transmitting shows like Morning Sedition, Randi Rhodes, The Majority Report, Mike Malloy...and some dude named Franken. It was like "the loaves and the fishes" to liberal-minded folks like myself. But after a couple of months it got yanked and replaced with a Mexican talk-radio station because of some financial S.N.A.F.U. -- just as the Presidential race started to heat up, no convenient. Consequently, I was then forced to listen to MRR via an audio internet feed that would often get clogged, so during the height of a great show/ political debate you'd get booted offline and when trying to log back on there'd be an annoying "Please tune back during broadcast hours" message which was infuriating because I was tuning in during broadcast hours. What a pain in the arse, keeping up with political discourse had gotten to be and the worst was yet to come.

After voting on November 2nd, sorting out the political 411 became played as I slid into a post election depression (for obvious reasons). I had to get all of that poly-sci shite out of my mind. I divested myself from listening to any talk radio. No Morning Sedition, no BBC World Service, no Prairie Home Companion -- hell, I even stopped tuning in to Terry Gross' Fresh Air just to be safe. I had to (like millions of other progressive thinkers) purge my system after the election circus came and went leaving me in its wake of crushed peanuts (read: promises) and elephant dung. (pun intended) I focused my energies on other endeavors like reading and my writing. The radio was just to be used for checking out Coltrane, Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Mose Allison CDs and all was good with my least for a while.

As I tried to elude the news, every once in a while I'd get hit with absurd news flashes from friends via e-mail with exclamatory subject lines like: "Dude, You won't even believe this!" or I'd get cryptic phone messages like "I know you're on your little Political Sabbatical but (place crazy news fiasco here) is too fuggin' crayzee to ignore!!" Turns out those "late breaking flashes" came and went, just as I'd anticipated. As I got into "the zone," I started losing interest in talk radio in its entirety but I got pulled back inna 2001 Space Odyssey stylee one Saturday morning by -- you're never going to believe this -- my radio itself..."I'm sorry CeeP, I can't allow that...."

I fell asleep reading with the remote on my bed and one morning, while "checking my eyelids for cracks," I rolled over on the remote and it clicked on "Car Talk" -- an instructional auto show where these two brothers, Tom and Ray Magliozzi, shoot the shite about all things cars; people call in with prognoses and these guys sort them out with advice on how to repair their automobiles. I was deep in REM sleep when "Click and Clack the Tappitt Bros." started talking to me with their thick New Englandese, corny jokes and braying laughter. All of this segued into one of those NPR top of the hour announcements wherein the chick on the radio said something like "following an extended absence on Los Angeles' airwaves, Air America Radio is relaunching on 1150 AM -KTLK on the following Monday," OUCH!!! After months of watering down my doses of political talk, they put the liberal equivalent of rock cocaine back out on the streets of radio land -- that 24 hour news cycle, it be calling you, yo.

I lasted about 12 hours into that Monday's re-launch without a hitch but when I got in from work my hand just automatically punched 1150 AM in: it was Randi Rhodes snapping off on some Bible Belt schnook who thought he had the juevos to grapple with Randi in the political arena. Hearing Randi's nails-on-chalkboard Brooklyn twang washed over me like a speedball, I relapsed instantly. Randi tore "Mr. Book of Revelations" and a few more phone-in clowns new arseholes, they don't call her "The Goddess" for nothing. After Randi, I mainlined a hit of Majority Report Radio, a show featuring Janeane Garofalo and Sam Seder wiggin' out on that day's neocon subterfuges...and I just kept on going. I'd fallen off the wagon but this time it was different. No, really, I'm going somewhere with this...

As totally fugged and out of the loop I may feel about the current state of political affairs or at what stage of the death spiral that American culture may seem to be in the throes of at any given moment, I'm just going to keep on keepin' on. In the future I'll continue to vote my mind and my conscience in equal parts. It seems that the reptillian side of my brain took control of the wheel back in Nov. '04 in an effort to avoid any more icebergs looming in the distant waters of government policy, conserving energies for the daily confrontations with self-destructive groupthinking and fraudulent claims of "democratic" processes writ large on the self image of our national brain trust. Both of these things work hand in hand to ensure that the status quo remains entrenched; the mob mentality previals while the illusion of rule by representatives selected by and for the people is relagated to a halcyon image or sentiment that never really existed in the first place. Just like time-worn photos of Model - T's rolling off assembly line or the capturing of Sitting Bull's spirit, the connection of the decisions we've recently made won't have any affect on this earth until just about the time we're going to be laid six feet deep inside of it. Damn, that's some dark shite, but it's the truth, Skippy.

Make no mistake, we're witnessing a decline, like that Pax Romana thang after Marcus Aurelius got dead and his son took over -- even Hollywood touched on this in the film Gladiator -- better sharpen up on that Stoicism because history is definitely in its repeat 'n rinse cycle, Sonny Jim. To be honest with you, the way earthly things are going, we're taking the HOV lane towards good old fashioned feudalism. Alexis de Tocqueville might've been all hot 'n bothered by Democracy in America but I don't think he had much to go on at the time, it being the 1800's and all (where in the fugg are those flying cars they've been talking about since the '50, anyway?) So, to all of the weeping and gnashing of teeth, I say, "why bother?" Have your fun (and plenty of it) while you can because the pigs are definitely out of the chute, so to speak.

When I launched this blog, I intentionally strove to keep away from the antics of government partisanship because that's just too much of a psychic undertaking. In for a penny, in for a pound; if you're gonna be a bear, be a FUGGIN' GRIZZLY, Stud Muffin! Sure I still do my own research for my personal enlightenment and although I slipped back into listening to those bahstuhs on talk radio, there's one vow that I'm keeping: "Never againg will I invest so much of myself into anything that I obviously have no control over"...same reason I don't watch TV and most stadium-based sporting events. I liken our current collective mindset on politics to what it must feel like to open the cockpit to the airplane (a la Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) only to discover that it's empty...and the plane's headed directly toward a sheer rockface, something like what the recently departed Hunter S. Thompson had to say when asked about the effects of "Alternative '60s Culture" on the world. "It's a generation of permanent cripples; failed seekers who never understood the fallacy of [said] Acid Culture. The desperate assumption that somebody or at least some force is tending to the light at the end of the tunnel" ...Damn that's DARK, son but at the same time, what a beautiful and prescient thing to say. I'm sure gonna miss that dude... Don't forget to kill your TV...Laters

Friday, March 18, 2005

Buck Owens & Johnny Cash: Gettin' Country Widdit, Yo

Growing up in the South in a family that saw no musical color lines, I listened to a lot of different kinds of shite, among them Country & Pop turned me on to it as he listened to it on the weekends...just in case you start trippin' bear in mind: the banjo is a West African instrument introduced to the American musical lexicon by black slaves but that's another story altogether: "that's another story"...some country is cool....

As I write this I'm listening to Buck Owens' "Act Naturally" (later covered by Ringo Starr, no less) and I'm envisioning how one night, while performing at some seedy honky tonk (old school C&W bar) in the mid to late '50's, Buck took the bold step onto a tiny stage littered with Bud bottles in Tacoma, WA and plugged in a Gibson Stratocaster (or Telecaster, I forget) and this act of innovation would aid in the cutting of a stylistic swath between what would be known among the cognescenti of "traditional," acoustic string-laden country" and what's called "modern." Owens went electric years before Bob Dylan would in Newport in 1965 -- the Bard had to have some inkling of the outrage he would wrought from Patchouli-drenched purists, because in in Owens' case, erstwhile boot scootin' country traditionalists hulked-out like a bunch of British soccer hooligans when the singer began performing what would become known as "The Bakersfield Sound," as in Bakersfield, CA where Owens eventually moved and set up shop once the hits kept on coming and he had the dollars to build a studio and establish a home base -- guess the wisacres on the whisper circuit were wiggin' out for no reason because all of that "weeping and gnashing of teeth" was quickly forgotten, so we can put all of that in the rearview mirror.

Like Ray Charles (who would backtrack into C&W, himself when he left Atlantic for ABC) Owens figured out early on that it was economically disingenuous for an artist to relenquish all publishing rights of songs they'd written to their labels when signing up, so he got the zap on his head and secured the rights to his tunes early, proving that (contrary to how goofy he looked in all those pictures from the early days) he was "Nobody's Fool." Mind you, Owens wasn't the only one to step up to the proverbial plate with innovative ideas in country music but he did contribute immensely to the genre in ways that many people don't know about. The same bears true with Johnny Cash -- the Man in Black who was simultaneously doing "something different" on the other side of the country back East, in Memphis.

When Johnny Cash rose to prominence, he did so like most great talents stuck in clouds of "this-is-how-it-works miasma," he did it slowly. Cash and the Tennessee Two (Luther Perkins and Marshall Grant) went in another direction than Buck Owens did when they dropped the "four on the floor" template (bass, drum, lead guitar and singer) and stripped everything down while recording for Sam Phillips' Sun Records, to which they'd gotten signed in the mid-50s. Practically from the word go, and after getting doors slammed in his face for pitching himself as a gospel artist, Cash eschewed that corn pone 'n collards, "aw shucks ma'am" country persona in his songwriting and took the darker path that Hank Williams had strode down years before him.

One of the things that was so innovative about JC is that he was infusing the swagger of the (then) new-fangled Rock 'n Roll posture which the crew-cuts who overran the country circuit didn't cotton to in the first. You'd be hard pressed now to find a fan of the music who doesn't dig John Boy but if you look back, you'll find that the mainstream (read: white) audiences at the time thought rock was "nigger bop," to quote this horn-rimmed, dyed-in-the-wool cracker I saw on an archival newsreel back in high school -- and who's sickening display of ignorant, blue collar racism has remained lodged in my mind two decades later. Why? Because this budding "musical eugenicist" was being filmed during a '50s-era record burning (ah, the good old days) at which "the good, church going white folks" were protesting this inexplicably popular new performer who, "all the kids loved" and was getting their daughters, wives, sisters and cousins moist on the regular, his name: Elvis. That's right, yo, the Big E.

Johnny Cash's "greaser-at-the-sock-hop" baritone and F-U stance got the gas-face from the folks over at The Grand Ole Opry, in Nashville. I visited the Grand Old Opry House while cutting a record with the band I was in a few years back and it still retained that "a lot of historic shite transpired on this spot" veneer that is present in certain places all over the South like little geysers of context spewing up from the past -- The Opry was essentially the MTV/Clear Channel of its day vis-a-vis country music. Country artists from all over the place vied to get heard on "The Opry" because, ostensibly, if you got to perform a tune or two on its stage then you were made, at least for a minute. Remember, this was before there were TV's in every room of the house; radio programs were still riding tall in the saddle and an artist could make his bones or his career could be broken based on whether he was heard on a popular radio show or not (this process wasn't rendered moot until "video killed the radio star" in the '80s).As far as the taste-makers at the Opry were concerned, Cash was slotted to be in the "not heard" category -- the heroic often eat their breakfasts alone.

John got no dap at The Grand Ole Opry. Dude couldn't get arrested in Nashville initially but once he signed to Sun, the recording dollars started rolling in and his popularity expanded, the Opry Peeps had decisions to make and so, after years of player hatin' on JC they let him kick it live at "The Big Red Barn" (it's actually smaller, in reality, than it appears in pictures). Once he got onstage John did, in fact, kick both figuratively and literally.

First he tore the roof off the joint with his set and secondly by kicking out the footlights on the stage because he thought they were too bright, as press releases have stated since -- or was it a thinly veiled "Bollocks to the lot of you, here's the magic finger" act of defiance directed at the Opry-ites who had seemingly conspired to keep him off of their hallowed stage by boneheaded fiat? I tend to lean towards the latter, it's a juicer angle than a bunch of hayseed ass-clowns lacking the foresight to accept ch-ch-ch changes. In either case, it makes me shriek what BALLS, dawg!!!

The countless small innovations/ acts of rebellion made by the trailblazers of music genres that seem long gone and/or diluted by subgenres that the masses are force fed by the suits these days gets lost in the sauce -- yet another instance where country and hip hop converge in similarity...don't even get me started on Rock 'n Roll (is that Jimi Hendrix on the blower?) besides, I'm a firm believer in the biological definition of entropy* as it applies to life but I digress.

Taking a walk on the wild side is no longer a lifestyle but a flaccid career choice, where your skill set as a publicity slut trumps, experience and experimentation -- oh yeah, and the ability to actually know how to play a fuckin' instrument or carry a note -- how achey Paula Cole once sang: where the fuck have all the cowboys gone?

*Entropy: en·tro·py;Pronunciation: 'en-tr&-pE'
a: the degradation of the matter and energy in the universe to an ultimate state of inert uniformity
b : a process of degradation or running down or a trend to disorder

Yippie Kie-Yay MOFO! Needless to say I dig on Cash's tunes from periods early and late big time and although he had a couple of slips during his "I Gotta Return to My Gospel Roots episodes" all of that is forgiveable, Stiffler. What? Got something to say? Think you got the minerals to have four, count 'em, four comebacks?...Just keep "walkin' the line," son and get back to me in 50 years or so...while I wait for your, no doubt successful, reply/ recollection half a century from now, take a few pointers on how it's done and hit the JC trail...How's this for longevity, kid:


1955 >> Sam Phillips at Sun Records releases the single "Cry! Cry! Cry!" which enters at #14 on the country charts and leads to an in-house slot on the Louisiana Hayride, a popular program featuring established and budding country performers.

1956 >> Cash's follow-up recording, "Folsom Prison Blues," cracks the C&W Top 5 (#4). Later in the year, the release of "I Walk The Line" galvanizes the public's attention to the rising star. It goes to #1 C&W and crosses over onto the pop charts, peaking at #17.

1957 >> Cash and the Tennessee Two make their debut at the Grand Ole Opry. Cash also becomes the first Sun artist to record and release a long play album.

1958 >> Still rolling on the success of the previous year's album, Johnny Cash With His Hot And Blue Guitar, and the slew of hit singles it yielded, Cash wants to record a gospel album but Phillips refuses. The label head also says no to the artist's request for a raise in royalties, pushing Cash to sign with Columbia.

1963 >> The Man in Black makes a comeback after years of hard living that had eventually seeped into the creative aspects of his career. In a career slump, the release of "Ring Of Fire" (#1 C&W, #17 pop, 1963) resuscitates his troubled career.

1966 >> After Cash's wife files for divorce, in light of his addiction to the amphetamines he uses to keep up with his rigorous tour schedule and his appetite for drinking, he moves from California to Nashville.

1967 >> Johnny Cash and June Carter win the Grammy for Best Country & Western Performance, Duet Trio or Group for their work on "Jackson."

1968 >> Johnny Cash records and releases the hit album Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison, which yields the crossover single "Folsom Prison Blues" (#1 C&W, #32 pop). He goes on to win two Grammys for the album: Best Country Vocal Performance and Best Album Notes.

1969 >> The follow-up to the critically acclaimed Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison is Johnny Cash At San Quentin, which yields the single "A Boy Named Sue" ( #1 C&W, #2 Pop). Cash also aids Bob Dylan's foray into the country genre on the folk rocker's Nashville Skyline album. His live record wins a Grammy-Best Country Vocal Performance, "A Boy Named Sue"-as does his work with Dylan-Best Album Notes for the liner notes on Bob Dylan's Nashville Skyline. Cash also stars in The Johnny Cash Show, which offers viewers an eclectic mixture of artists unheard of at this point in the history of televised music. It runs with much critical praise for two years.

1980 >> Cash is inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame

1982 >> Regrouping with Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis, Cash records Survivors Live with old Sun alums.

1985 >> Cash plugs in with C&W vets Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings, and Willie Nelson to create the side project The Highwaymen. They release a successful album, Highwayman. The title track goes to #1 C&W and "Desperados Waiting For A Train" peaks at #15 as well.

1986 >> Along with Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Sam Phillips, Rick Nelson, and Chips Moman, Cash receives a best spoken word or non-musical Grammy for Interviews From The Class Of '55 Recording Sessions. Cash then leaves Columbia for Mercury Nashville.

1990 >> The Highwaymen reunite for Highwayman 2, yielding "Silver Stallion," which peaks at #25 on the Country charts.

1993 >> After a few years of bickering with his label over artistic direction, Cash signs on with Rick Rubin and American Records. His debut, American Recordings, not only introduces him to a new audience but the bare-bones acoustic/vocal formula wins him critical accolades. He also collaborates with the Irish rock band U2 for the concept album Zooropa, adding a solo track, "The Wanderer."

1994 >> Cash wins Best Contemporary Folk Album Grammy for American Recordings.

1996 >> Cash receives the esteemed Kennedy Center Award for his contribution to American culture and releases his sophomore American release Unchained. The album is a collection of songs that his mother sang to him as a child. It features artists like Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and Marty Stuart.

1997 >> Cash wins the Best Country album Grammy for Unchained, which was produced by Def Jam cofounder Rick Rubin. Cash also announces that he has been diagnosed with a rare strain of Parkinson's disease.

2003 >> Four months after the death of his wife June Carter, Johnny dies of diabetic complications in Nashville, TN at the age of 71.


-After leaving the Air Force, Cash formed a country trio with guitarist Luther Perkins and bassist Marshall Grant. After playing at local radio stations, they secured an audition at Sun Records in Memphis with the label's founder, Sam Phillips.

-Cash approached Phillips as a gospel singer and was promptly turned away. He was told to come back with a "commercial-friendly" approach. Cash, Perkins, and Grant soon returned with fresher material that caught Phillips' ear, and they were signed.

-An impromptu jam session at Sun Studios in 1956 included Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, and Cash. After the subsequent recordings were made, the freestyling musicians were dubbed "the million dollar quartet." The recording was unceremoniously shelved soon after but rediscovered and released in the late '80s.

-At Cash's Opry debut, he stood out even before he went onstage. While the other artists were decked in the typical gaudy rhinestone 'n fringes style, Cash stepped into "the house that country music built" dressed in black from head to toe.

-In 1959 Cash added drummer W. S. Holland and changed his backup band's name to the Tennessee Three. His performance schedule rose to over 300 shows per year. " "Ring Of Fire" was penned by June Carter, the wife of Carl Smith (one of Cash's drinking partners). Ironically, Cash left California for Tennessee following an arrest for starting a forest fire, and the song itself implicated the direction that the singers' relationship was headed long before Carter divorced Smith. Cash and Carter would soon marry. " In 1965 the Man in Black was living up to the image projected by the protagonists of his tunes. He was arrested at the El Paso/Mexican border for trying to smuggle amphetamines inside his guitar case, and in another instance, the Grand Ole Opry would not let Cash perform because of his alleged incapacity to do so. Cash went off and started destroying light fixtures on the soundstage.

-On The Johnny Cash Show (ABC 1969-'71), Cash sought to shorten the chasm between the generations and cultures in America. He featured artists as diverse as Bob Dylan, Louis Armstrong, Merle Haggard, Stevie Wonder, Neil Young, Charley Pride, and Patti Page. He also spoke out on domestic social issues like prison reform and the foreign policies of the Vietnam War that was still dragging on, all of which seemed light years ahead of the programming of those times.

-Johnny Cash has charted more hit pop singles than Billy Joel, the Supremes, Elton John, Marvin Gaye, Jerry Lee Lewis, David Bowie, Michael Jackson, Kenny Rogers, and the combined total of Art Garfunkel, Paul Simon, and Simon & Garfunkel. In 1969, Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison and Johnny Cash At San Quentin outsold The Beatles.

-Cash placed at least two singles on the C&W charts for 38 years consecutively. Additionally, he has recorded over 1500 songs on roughly 500 albums. As of this writing, the only C&W performer who has more crossover hits than Johnny Cash (52) is Elvis (61).

-Carl "Blue Suede Shoes" Perkins was a member of Cash's touring band from 1965 to 1975.

-By the mid-'80s, country radio programming, in efforts to commercialize the genre, stopped airing Johnny Cash's newer releases. The Man in Black complained in an interview he'd been "purged from Nashville and replaced by 'hat' bands." Later he dryly added, "the airplay might have slowed, but the tour bus never did." When he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, he noted that the risk-takers would blaze a trail in the future of country music.

-Déjà vu over and over again: In 1996 after Johnny's daughter (country star Rosanne Cash) sang "I Walk The Line," she noted that her father played that song in nearly every mid-'50s performance.

-Johnny Cash is the only artist to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Country Music Hall of Fame, and the Songwriters Hall of Fame at the same time.

...see you in FITTY...Laters, CeeP

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

A Few Words from Uncle George...Carlin

...What up, yo? Me? Feeling "CRAP-tacular" (cough, cough). While I marched onto the front lines yesterday, I woke up today feelin' like I called Commissioner Gordon's big red phone at the Halls of Just-Us and told him to 'get Batman on the blower, I'll be back in tomorrow.' Click, dialtone...think I caught that standing up 24-hour walking flu thing. At any rate, I couldn't face the "day-joy" today, so I stayed in the cave..."Day Joy" started out as a typo but fits -- when I'm being a sassy little fancypants, that is...whatever's clever, dude...anyhoozle, while trawling around cyberspace today I found this screed written by George Carlin, I think he wrote it after his wife of many years Lily Tomlin once said "No matter how cynical you get, it is impossible to keep up." Reading this from the King of Cynical comics bodes well in my book...italics, mine...

"The paradox of our time in history is that we have taller buildings but shorter tempers, wider freeways, but narrower viewpoints. We spend more, but have less, we buy more, but enjoy less. We have bigger houses and smaller families, more conveniences, but less time. We have more degrees but less sense, more knowledge, but less judgment, more experts, yet more problems, more medicine, but less wellness.We drink too much, smoke too much, spend too recklessly, laugh too little, drive too fast, get too angry, stay up too late, get up too tired, read too little, watch TV too much, and pray too seldom. We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values.

We talk too much, love too seldom, and hate too often.We've learned how to make a living, but not a life. We've added years to life not life to years. We've been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet a new neighbor. We conquered outer space but not inner space. We've done larger things, but not better things. We've cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul. We've conquered the atom, but not our prejudice. We write more, but learn less.We plan more, but accomplish less. We've learned to rush, but not to wait. We build more computers to hold more information, to produce more copies than ever, but we communicate less and less.

These are the times of fast foods and slow digestion, big men and small character, steep profits and shallow relationships. These are the days of two incomes but more divorce, fancier houses, but broken homes.These are days of quick trips, disposable diapers, throwaway morality, one night stands, overweight bodies, and pills that do everything from cheer, to quiet, to kill. It is a time when there is much in the showroom window and nothing in the stockroom. A time when technology can bring this letter to you, and a time when you can choose either to share this insight, or to just hit delete.Remember, spend some time with your loved ones, because they are not going to be around forever. Remember, say a kind word to someone who looks up to you in awe, because that little person soon will grow up and leave your side. Remember, to give a warm hug to the one next to you,because that is the only treasure you can give with your heart and it doesn’t cost a cent.

Remember, to say, "I love you" to your partner and your loved ones, but most of all mean it. A kiss and an embrace will mend hurt when it comes from deep inside of you. Remember to hold hands and cherish the moment for someday that person will not be there again. Give time to love, give time to speak, and give time to share the precious thoughts in your mind.Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away. Can you think of any?"

...Can I get a witness? Lates, C...

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Fugly Babies vs. Cardinal Richlieu (short story)

SUP? Just got back in from another "free-wheelin-like-Bob Dylan"side trip...I never give up the chance to stop toe-ing the line of the normal and dive right into life. I was afforded the opportunity yesterday. I saw the light by reading the signs in baby-spit....not nearly as repulsive as it's what went down...

Went over to a friend's house to meet some others with whom we'd go out and shoot pool with. "The Others" were a couple of dudes we'll call, "Riche" and "Thibault," two French-Canucks who'd moved down to L.A. a couple of years ago -- my homie used to work with them. Upon learning the latter, I was prepared for the worst.

This brings me to homeboy's crumb-snatcher. Such a cherub. A cutie in every way. Dude's girlfriend, Faith, is a colleague too and their baby's picture is prominently posted in at leat 50 cubicles at our work which tells me that I'm not the only one to accept said cuteness. What is it about babies? Just looking at this particular chipmunk-cheeker reminds me of what's great about the human race...all the potential, unknowable benign humanity that their 8lbs,8oz vessels might hold gives me hope as I trip through the daisies of possibilities in my "mi-mi-mi-mi-mind" -- I liken it to that guitar line in Crosby, Stills and Nash's "Marrakesh Express. "All aboard the train!

Tiny little Terra -- when holding her I also think of that string-laden opening of Copeland's "Our Town" -- hope she susses out early that cool parents are an underrated commodity and girlfriend's got two of 'em, yo. (that's not 'anal-lingus, either). Workplace aside, I'd vowed long ago to lay the cards on the table/ keep it real, objective-like and I thoroughly enjoy hanging/ conversing with these folks. There are few things in life worse than looking at a "fugly" (Fuckin Ugly) baby because it forces one to FFWD to what difficulties said "fugliness" will wreak on the child in question plus you gotta lie to the parents (it's just misanthropic to point out the obvious in that instance). Such is not the case with my homies' rugrat or "Miss T" as I call her...

T's a quiet baby, although that doesn't jibe with the Gucci bags under her parents' eyes -- I just visit the spot, yo -- but as far as I know, she doesn't report anything unless there's something to report ie: she's hungry, tucked up too tight in her rocker or she needs a new nappy; otherwise, she's busy. She's got things to do, see, taste and slobber all over. She's checking shite out which tells me she's a thinker (a great sign)...I'm rotating crops of mental maize in the fallow fields of my mind right now, in preparation for the copious amounts of popcorn I'm gonna consume while sitting in the peanut gallery of the heated arguments that I'm more than certain are going to erupt when Terra becomes a teenager and sallies forth by questioning "Ma and Pa"...the friends...I look forward to the day. She's got that spark in her eyes...that "chispa," as the Spaniards would have it -- "La manzana nunca cae lejos d'el arbol" - the apple never falls far from the tree. Prepare yourselves dude & dudette...

This brings me to Riche, the French Canuck I've dubbed "Cardinal Richlieu." His reputation preceeded him --I was told "he's eccentric, snooty and opinionated-- but I'd dated a chick or two from France so I had 'parle vou'd a little Francais in my day," if you will...they're certainly different but once you get past all the cynicism tatooed on their DNA you'll find some really funny shite to talk about to friends/on your blog...

After Miss T left with her mama to the local ice cream parlor with Cris, the wife of another homey, I shot over to The Brass Elephant with her "Pa" and Cris' husband, Enrico -- a mutual friend and colleague. At 'the Brass' We shot some pool, threw quarters in the juke and sucked down more than few shots of Absolut/pitchers of Heffeweissen during which Riche and Thibault showed up and joined the fray. After all this, we left to reconvene over at "E's" crib. to really cut loose. The night was just a baby but the El Monte Fuzz don't play around, son.

"The highway's jammed with broken heroes on a last chance power drive.."*

Once we arrived, E charged up the "que" while everyone else got loose, so to speak. As our embibements fully took control of the evening, Riche's humor became more and more cutting...but man was he funny. A real-live Lenny Bruce typa mofo. (tip your waitresses, I'm here all week, folks). I figured out that the French sense of funny is just as humorous as the American one. You just got to open up the joke properly, skip over the middle - which almost never translates well from French to English, then cut directly to the punchline: laughs around the corner.Americans tend to focus on the gritty trip, not the witty arrival -- that's the key.

...BTW, the term "Freedom Fries" was a huge joke to everyone. We laughed and laughed and laughed every time somebody said it. This circles back to that "potential humaness thing." While I was holding baby Terra on my lap, as her momma negotiated hooking up a new stroller, I realized how cool we all were when we were young...we had to work at becoming the adult assholes that we are and by all means Riche is an arsehole, sometimes (we smell our own) BUT like it was said (albeit in French) about the Cardinal Richlieu (click header for link), who was harder than a coffin nail " either like him or you hate him..." whatever, dude. Laters, CeeP.

*...Oh yeah, that quote's from Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run" which I was listening to at the time and thought fit snugly into the thrust of this story. Late, C.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

RUN D.M.C. or The Beatles?

Whenever you hear one of those cats like Keith Richards or Rod Stewart smartin' off with shite about hip-hop artists "stealing musicians' music in samples" always bear in mind that "groundbreaking" British groups in the '60's & '70's like the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, the Stones, to name a few, and 'guitar-wank' soloists like Eric Clapton and Paul Butterfield were biting moves and sounds from Black American bluesmen like Blind Lemon Jefferson, Muddy Waters, Lightin' Hopkins, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, B.B. King and (even) Ike Turner which is, in layman's terms, a form of sampling. So -- as Flavor Flav once groused on Public Enemy's seminal LP It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back: "don't believe the hype" because every musician is a thief (to quote U2's "Fly on the Wall"/ Bono)...As of this writing, hip-hop has come a long way since Sugar Hill's "Rapper's Delight," yet it still remains ensnared in the musicolgy melee titled: Is Hip Hop A Lasting Music or Not?

Cuts like T-LA Rock's "It's Yours" and albums like X-Clan's To the East Blackwards rank up there with Claude Bizet's 'Carmen Suite' and Beethoven's Syphony No. 5," and are equally nutritious for the musical diets of all. Good music it GOOD MUSIC, yo. But you already know this -- guess I'm preaching to the choir again and digressing. I wrote the piece below about 2 years ago and never used it -- before Jam Master Jay (Jason Mizell) had been murdered but long after hip-hop had been commodified by the taste makers on video channels and fashion rags. After JMJ was slain, the current state of affairs in the hip hop culture and the NPR piece jogged my memory. I'd forgotten that I'd written the piece but just because you don't get published by others doesn't mean you can't do it yourself.. I thought I'd post-up the story here because, hey, the story must be told somewhere...

One night in 2004, I fell asleep while listening to a review of 50 Cents' (then) new LP 'Get Rich or Die Trying' on NPR. As I drifted off I thought, "Dayum, hip-hop releases getting coverage on National Public Radio; what's next, dogs and cats living together?" Mind you, this wasn't the first time that I'd heard a rap review on Terry Gross' "Fresh Air" but this particular segment struck a chord within me. It made me think about my own first encounter with hip-hop and how far the genre has come since, now that it's "officially" a quarter of a century old.

Fade back to the South, Virginia to be exact. I was twelve years old back in 1983 and although the radio stations in town didn't play rap on the regular, it was sometimes possible to pick up DJ Redd Alert's Saturday night broadcasts pumping out of NYC on KISS FM. Needless to say, many of the kids my age were checking regionally unheard of cuts like "PSK" by Philadelphia's Schoolly-D (the first real gangsta-rapper), Grand Master Flash, Africa Bambaataa & The Soulsonic Force, Kool Kyle & Billy Bill and this trio of side-burned, leather-clad young brothers who called themselves Run-DMC (Joseph Simmons, Daryll McDaniels and Mizell, respectively). My friends and I would que up or hand-held tape recorders and get mixes straight out of the woofer to tide us over until the next week's broadcast that we prayed would trickle down to us while listening below the Mason Dixon line -- this was decades before cell phones, CDs were only found in banks and if you mentioned downloading streams online, you were starring in the latest George Lucas flick while storm troopers chased you around a Death Star.

The music, language and feel was unlike anything we were hearing on the airwaves at the time and everyone in my crew just knew that we were on to something fresh. I'd never felt so alive as I basked in the acoustic glow of this new sound -- these artists were opening up our young minds in ways we couldn't have begun to fathom. To our amazement (and chagrin) 0% of these sounds were played on the local "urban" stations that we were accustomed to listening to. Disco was still gasping its death rattle and groups who are now the usual suspects on "WAVE" and Lite Pop stations were at the height of their creative and financial powers.

We continued to filch our funk from the Big Apple and put out an APB on this "new music." We didn't even know what to call it. One day my best friend Earl called me and shrieked "Turn on the radio, turn on the radio!" The local "MAGIC" affiliate was playing "The Message" (with the bleep at the "people pissing on the stage" part firmly intact) and we just stood there on either end listening and cheering; we soaked up every drop of rap's debut on our city's airspace and all was good with the world.

Soon, rap records started to appear on store shelves down in VA and whenever I had enough grip from saved allowances set aside, I'd stop downtown at Bohannon's Record Store on Broad and 1st Streets to buy 12 inches of the newest wax. One fateful day I walked into the store and got hit by a ton of bricks when I saw "Daryll and Joe" pointing at me from the cover of "Run-DMC," the group's eponymous full-length debut LP. My pants were dancing with figs; I couldn't believe it! Suffice to say, I scooped up the new LP ($8 and change, thank-you-very-much), caught the #41 Churchill bus home, ran to my room and slapped that jammy on my Flintstone-era component set.

I cranked Run-DMC at a Nigel Tufnel-esque "11" for hours and pored over every scratch, beat, cut, cross fade and , above all else, the lyrics. I don't think there's a brown man in America, who listened to rap in the early 80's -- and is in my age bracket -- who can't recite every lyric from that album verbatim. Dig it: "The beat is big, it's kind of large and we're on the mic, we're in charge"..."For all you sucker MC's perpetrating a fraud. Your rap is cold whack, you leave the crowd so bored..." or "J-A-Y are the letters of his name. Cuttin' and scratching are the aspects of his game..." or better still: "Run: One thing I know is that life is short. DMC: So listen up homeboy -- give this a thought. Run: The next time someone's teaching, why don't you get taught...Together: It's like that! AND THAT'S THE WAY IT IS!"

The emotions evoked defied description in my young mind's eye but it was real and it was edifying; like I was given a key of some sort. Unlike most of the R&B and Rock artists that I also listened to -- including bands on that "new" Music Television channel -- I could actually relate to these rappers in a palpable way. They were just like me. The gritty stories that they'd tell didn't evoke cartoonish images of over-the-hill freaks in platforms and diapers or androgynous boy-men or New-Wave Technicolor pompodours (which were all cool, creatively speaking, for other reasons in hindsight). These were young black brothers dressed in track suits, Cazal glasses, shell-toe Adidas, Dobbs fedoras and Triple-Fat Gooses ( down jackets) -- in essence, my uncles and older heads who lived in my neighborhood. It transformed me, like I had been years earlier when I was re-introduced to Rock'n Roll by my uncle Duck, who put the Rock in my bones with "Frampton Comes Alive," -- that's not a typo,yo.

Later, when my uncle Duck threw on a copy of Blowfly's "Rap Dirty" I knew it was all over. As mentioned above, he'd introduced me to guitar-Rock at an early age with Peter Frampton and Dick Hungate's 8PM show on XL102. I thank him for doing so to this day. Pressing FFWD, I think another reason that Run-DMC's debut set got me so souped up is that even though they were a black group, producers Russell Simmons (now a hip-hop/fashion mogul) and Rick Rubin (currently a super-producer credited with introducing Johnny Cash to the Nine Inch Nails set) were infusing the "street sound" with other textures most significantly being John "Jellybean" Benitez' guitaring on "Rock Box" which helped force the electric blues shred to re-direct itself and circle back towards a younger listening audience who'd eschewed it for synthesizers and drum machines -- people like me who were old enough to know what was played out but too young to know how far back the wiry arms of black music's influence stretched.

Good music never dies. After biding its time, it rises like a phoenix from the most unlikeliest of places. Run-D.M.C.'s debut album, itself, became the first rap LP to yield gold sales ("Rapper's Delight" was a single). These boys were on fire yet still flying below the radar screens of the mainstream audience -- a'la The Wailers before Eric "Slowhand" Clapton copped a version of "I Shot the Sheriff -- but all that was about to change.

In 1985, Run-D.M.C. issued the crossover breakthrough album King of Rock that held the hit title track as well as cuts like, "You're Blind," "Can You Rock It Like This" and, my personal fave, "Daryll & Joe" but another significant thing occurred as well. It is here that the trio collaborated with an artist outside of the "traditional" hip-hop canon when they cut "Roots, Rap, Reggae" with the Jamaican dub toaster (King) Yellowman -- bridging an older genre of Black sound with this newer one. The masses finally began to embrace the newly christened hip-hop genre and even MTV started steadily broadcasting "The King of Rock" video to an ever-expanding suburban demographic. In the proceeding year Profile Records -- co-run by Russell Simmons - a man unheard of at the time on the mainstream celebrity circuit, and Joseph "Run" Simmons' big brother-- issued the group's third effort Raising Hell and it did just that.

The first cut I heard from the group's tertiary set was "Peter Piper" which I caught snippets of while walking down the street as a tricked out Fleetwood bearing New York City plates noisily sped past as I strolled it home from the bus stop one day after school. I stood there on the pavement in a daze feeling like I'd missed the boat. I knew those voices from listening to their previous albums non-stop for hours on end. It was them! They were back without warning. That's how I found out that Run-D.M.C's new joint had been released. After I secured the $crilla, I shot over to Bohannon's scooped the LP. I wasn't disappointed in the least.

The album held slices like "My Addidas," "Raising Hell" and, of course, "Peter Piper." The group was coming into its own; their flow was top-shelf and their ideas were oozing forth in a major way and in thus un-tried directions. The R&B radio successes of the tunes on Raising Hell mentioned earlier were wholly eclipsed by "Walk This Way," a tune that opened a door through which forthcoming acts like Urban Dance Squad, 311, Rage Against the Machine and still later, Linkin Park would be able to easily walk through and onto the national stage.

"Walk This Way" was recorded with Boston's Aerosmith, who were missing in action for years on the rock-n-roll battlefields by that time, read: classic rock has-beens. Not only did "WTW" defibrillate the public's interest in Steven Tyler's caterpillar-lipped stage persona and band, it pointed hip-hop toward "rap-rock" clearer than any of Run-DMC's rock'n'rap hybrids ever had. This single was a watermark both both artistically and commercially and, as such, was heavily rotated on the airwaves and became a hit. But with all this success, a fall was in the offing: enter Hollywood.

Back in '85, Run-DMC had appeared in their first feature film, 'Krush Groove' which was more or less one of the first rap-related movies on the mainstream market -- it was quickly followed by flicks like 'Breakin' and 'Beat Street.' In 1987 the rappers starred in their very own feature vehicle called 'Tougher than Leather' which quickly sank without a trace. The next year they issued an LP with the same title that held cuts like "Beats to the Rhyme," "Run's House," "Together Forever" (which I'd scooped two years earlier from a Madison Square Garden concert simulcast on, you guessed it, that KISS station back in NYC) and "Mary, Mary" which was their rap-rock take on the Monkees' version.

I was still peripherally interested in what was happening with Run-D.M.C. and Jam Master Jay but by the time I got to university there were bigger fish to fry when I formed a band of my own called Full Stop. Sometimes I'd pay tribute during a show and slide in a "Run Rhyme" which felt cool.But for all intents and purposes the group had already accomplished what they were put here to do in my book. The trio issued a handful of albums in the years that followed but had become merely one of the many fish that swam in the seas of rap that had become available to the mainstream public.

By the early 90's hip-hop had taken on a life of its own spawning an array of of sub-genres while the pop culture massive began to mine every single nook and cranny it could access. Rap was used to sell everything from soda pop to automobiles to haute couture; it was diligently sold as something much larger than the grass roots musical movement that it had been just five years prior. Run-D.M.C. had a big hand in that. I think the success of "My Adidas" came back to haunt them in ways that were unforseeable. These guys were the first rap act to play Madison Square Garden -- there are popular rock acts that are still trying to book that gig and, of course, fill the place up.

When asked about Run-D.M.C.'s beginnings I can't help but feel like I was there from day one; like I had a hand in their discovery, and eminent downfall. They definitely played a part in expanding my world view of what the possibilities were, like the big brothers I never had -- for that I'll always feel like I was in the right place and time to witness something extremely cool and unique unfold right in front of my eyes which is something every generation has in common. Most people my age can remember a time when there was just no hip-hop at all and then, almost overnight it seems, hip hop was everywhere you looked-- now, it has almost reached the point of critical mass.

After hearing that Jason Mizell was gunned down last year in cold blood following a recording session, I felt that his killing marked the end of an era. Jay was like hip-hop's John Lennon. Even though he didn't host sleep ins or wed a performance artist who'd have a hand in scattering the group to the four winds, the similarities in the way that both were taken away from us is a stark reminder of how we really don't appreciate what we have until it's taken away from us.

Jason had been working with the rapper 50 cent during studio sessions just prior to his slaying and had taken the younger artist under his wing. After the DJ's passing was official the remaining members of the trio (Simmons and McDaniels) announced that they wouldn't perform again without Mizell which was a major bummer to the 2nd power. I recall how outraged I was a few years ago when reading an article featuring one of those geriatric dandies like Rod Stewart orKeith Richards insouciantly pouting about "the current state of the recording industry" and how it got me thinking about the dinosaurs who are now caged in the rigidly formatted petting zoos of classic/noodle-rock radio stations and then about the original "Kings from Queens" and what they meant to me and I recall their popular declaration from fifteen years ago: "Every jam we play, we break two needles. There's three of us but we're not the Beatles!" No fellas, you weren't. But you always will be the Queensborough firebrands that "took the beat from the streets and put it on TV," and that's something that can never be denied...'cause it's like that and that's the way it is...Laters, CeeP.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

The Biggest Man That You Ever did See....

...Been busy the past few days; coupla deadlines, junkets, etc and now I'm drinkin' brew for breakfast but "Rudie Can't Fail"...

Sending this from Manhattan Beach as I went back down to see my "homie" who lives down here and I just woke up to lookit the beach...Ahhh, I love the smell of California surf in the morning...looking out @ those huge ships out in the misty distance reminds me why I love living close to the water, something about the briny exspanse that pulls your coat in a manner that says unequivocally, "dude, the world you live on is large and you are small, oh so small; but a flea on the tick of the tail of the cosmic scale...and there's nothing wrong with that, nothing at all if you can accept it without all of the anthropomorphic hubris acrued over 10,000 years vs. 5 billion -- everything will inevitably be "Kool & the Gang"...Having said that, I still feel like I'm returning to the scene of a crime [see "Cuckold Cocked"] but this time there wasn't a saucy little minx spoiling to make an arse out of me with the three card monte of poon...just a couple of us taking shots, drinking "oat sodas"...and shootin' the shite, all of which conforms to the way that this last week has gone by: I've had a few setbacks but they've all been offset by really positive happenstances that quantifiy one of cornerstones of my secular stoic-humanist beliefs: the karmic croupier always adds to the just got to stay in the game long enough to see the rewards of maintaining an unflinching poker face while staring into the molten red eyes of adversity...I think we're all gonna shoot over to Korea Town for a Dim Sum brunch and a couple more laughs...this is definitely not over but in the spirit of the now, here's some other guys' words that come to mind when thinking of last night while I watch the waves crash on the shores down below, laters.

"In this life, in this life, in this life. In this, oh sweet life:We're coming in from the cold.

It's you. It's you. It's you I'm talkin' to. Well, you, you, you I'm talking to now...

Why do you look so sad and forsaken? When one door is closed, don't you know another is opened?

Would you let the system make you kill your brotherman? (No, Dread, no!) Would you make the system make you kill your brother, man? (No, Dread, no!) Would you make the system get on top of your head again? (No, Dread, no!) Well, the biggest man you ever did see was - was just a baby in this life.

In this oh sweet life: Coming in from the cold.

[Because] It's life, it's life, it's life, it's life it' YEAH!
We're coming in from the cold..."

Bob Marley & the Wailers -- "Coming in from the Cold" (Uprising LP)

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Ride the Sexy Beast (short story)

Here's what happened just after the press junket but before the Biggest Man you ever did see thing...

I'd just gotten in from a press junket that took about as long as the movie itself to get through and I was dead tired. As soon has I poured myself a stiff Cape Cod and kicked my dogs up, the phone was Charlotte (we'll say) and it was also 7:00. She called me from El Segundo, wanted to hook up for a few drinks and a couple of laughs and I was carless in Pasadena; I had decisions to make.

"I'll sleep when I'm dead," I muttered to myself after agreeing to link up and formed plans with the lady on the other end of the phone line. I hung up, took a huge slug of my cocktail and plotted my course for my new mission. I shot over to Olde Town in a taxi, to await the next L.A. bound train that slithered toward Union Station.
I slid onto the Gold Line and began my odyssey. If you're new to town, it won't take long to notice that the trains out here are really, well, talkative. Upon boarding a subway car an automated voice tells you everything it feels you need to know in a barrage of declarative pronouncements. Not only are you told about the proceeding station (which admittedly is cool the first 6,000 times but the harping robot on the speakers goes on to admonish you for eating and drinking while in transit. You're told not to put your grimy shoes on the erstwhile pristine benches and then you're forbidden to take a smoke -- in the journey that takes place between each and every stop. Soon your eyes glaze over as all of this becomes annoying and seems to continue endlessly.

After reaching Union Station, I ran to jump on the Red Line, got off at 7th Street (Metro Center) -- waited for 20 minutes for the Blue Line train to pull off while listening to Rahsaan Roland Kirk -- and caught the Green Line at the Imperial Boulevard concourse to meet this chick at LAX. All told, it was a 2.5 hour undertaking and I shudder to think of what special kind of hell it must be to do that on the regular, everyday and what havoc that that commute must wreak on the senses. When given a choice between the latter and a chainsaw enema I'd understand why L.A. strap hangers would momentarily pause to weigh their options.

When you're beholden to the Los Angeles MTA as your primary source of gettin' around, it's akin to dating an emotionally abusive lover whose only reliable trait is his/her unreliability; the only constant is inconsistency. The MTA rail system is that animal, definitively -- Having lived in NYC, DC and Atlanta, I call it the Sexy Beast of the mass transportation world [click on the header to see the true size of this monstrosity]. For $3 you can leave the San Gabriel foothills and (eventually) get dropped off literally a stone's throw from the California coastline to behold a SoCal sunset in-the-flesh on the Pacific Ocean which is extremely appealing in that Robert Frost kind of way because "it makes all the difference."

Be all of that as it may, the stress of getting to said sandy locales without a hitch is another matter because it entails riding in conveyances that more or less feel like being stacked in cattle cars with some of Los Angeles' more unsavory characters and sometimes it can get ugly - they rarely show this shite in movies and TV shows, to be sure.

When the big automobile barons lobbied and had all of L.A.'s then extensive network of streetcar tracking removed to make way for the glorious automobile, they forced this city to become umbilically tied to the cars in it -- irrevocably...By the time I got to LAX, it was 10 and change which means I'd spent upwards of 8 hours on a train/bus and/or waiting for one -- more than a full day's work of sucking on diesel fumes and stale armpits, neither being a pleasurable enterprise. Thank goodness the rendezvous turned out to be worth it and that's all I'm going to say about that...BUT, there's always a "but," in hindisight 20/20 I've learned to embrace the finer shadings of a saying my granny used to say: "ain't nobody gonna shit, shave or bathe until some changes are made."

The die have been cast, the Rubicon's crossed and all bets are off. The last vestiges of being a "street-walking East coast transplant" has gone the way of the platform shoe and the Sans-a-Belt pant hand has been forced; come hell or high water, I'm getting me a set of wheels, where in the hell is that Craig's List?...Laters.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Joan Cusack: Ice Queen? (Q & A)

Working the L.A. entertainment beat can be fun but sometimes you don't get the one on one interview and have to sit through roundtables with various and sundry journalists of varying talent asking "the burning enigmas" that would suit their respective reading audiences and that's fine. Last weekend I participated in the junket for "The Ice Princess" over in Century City and got a little face time with the film's cast which included Joan Cusack, very nice. If you're in my age bracket then you've seen her in something, yo. While I'm gonna use parts the transcript for pending pieces elsewhere, I thought I'd post the shite I'm not using on here -- WTF?. I thought Joan had some cool things to say about parenting that wouldn't play elsewhere but was worth a gander nonetheless. I've parsed throught the whole thing after transcribing it, because sometimes the schnooks overran the perimeter with "what's your favorite color" kinda ,questions. That said, I've culled a couple of replies from John Cusack's big sister and no, I didn't find out what her hue of preference the way, your epidermis is showing...Laters. CeeP.

Q: In light of all of the hipper roles you've portrayed in the past and being a mother of two, was it a stretch to play the uptight mother for a change?

Joan: You know, I can understand that. I remember like, right after I gave birth to my son and they were taking him to print his feet and I was like 'No!' You just feel protective and you want the best for your kid, you know? And the stage mom is the worst scenario [laughter] but as a single mom in this part I could [relate] It's such a huge, big part of your life. The most meaningful and important part is that you only want the very best that you can get for your child...that's definitely, what you want...I think that it's a good message. It's not about making a little mini-you, it's about bringing out the best potential person that they can be. Not imposing your will on them which, I think, is hard for parents, hell yeah. But it's not going to be [difficult] every have to enjoy it.

Q: Was there something in the script that really appealed to you? Something that stood out initially that made you want to take the role? Did the fact that it was close to Chicago shooting in Toronto have any bearing on your decision?

Joan: Yeah it was definitely that, I'm a really big (does finger quotes) 'parenting person' -- way into it. I love it, I mean it's so hard and, I liked that the role involved that (parenting).

Q: What's the most challenging about being a parent?

Joan: About parenting? Do you have kids?

Q: No [burst of laughter]

Joan: It's pretty evident. [laughing] You know, it's 24-7. Kids are passionate and you have to get in their midst and you have to be strong and you have to do what's [for them] best in the long run and you have to separate your SELF out of the equation. It's not about being a friend to them or having them like you [all the time]. You know, there's a million challenges, I think, and they're all a part of it. But you're also helping give someone tools to be a happy person in the world. That's so great. You enjoy them as you see them [grow as people].

Q: Are any of your kids inclined to follow in the family business?

Joan: You know, my oldest son is an extrovert...he reminds me, a little, of my dad. But I think a lot of kids are like that, you know, they're not inhibited. If they're that kind of kid who is not shy, I mean that would be, for me, like the "ice skating, Harvard thing" [the bone of contention she has with her daughter in The Ice Princess]. Being an ice skater/ athlete is such a hard life.

Q: So would you discourage or encourage such a decision made by your real-life offspring?

Joan: I would discourage because it's a very difficult lifestyle; even if you're really successful at it, sometimes moreso. Because it's like insanity and it's so unstable but if that's what they wanted to do then I'd have to figure it out...

Q: Did you base any part of this character on yourself and your experiences at all or did you just go with what was given to you in the script? I thought Joan was a like that lady in School of Rock but at home with a kid

Joan: Well, yeah. A lot of it was just the way that the director wanted it to be and the way that the script was. But then, also, I grew up with a very feminist mom, I had that [to draw from] and then some of it is putting yourself in that particular situation, you know, you have regrets about your own life and you don't want to pass that on to your kid. You have your own passions, your take on stuff but I definitely could see with how going to Harvard [compared] to ice definitely makes more sense to go to Harvard. I think it's a little bit sad, with those ice skating girls whose parents push them so musch. They don't have a life outside of it. I just think 'my God, they're just little girls,' that's not right.

Q: What was your favorite moment and your least favorite moment while shooting this film?

Joan: My brother always says, "The best day is when you get the part and the worst day is when you get the part" and then you have to go and do it. [laughter]...

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

A Writing Tip from Hemingway

When asked if he had any advice for aspiring writers trapped in the creative cul de sac called writer's block, Ernest Hemingway said this: "If you don't have anything to write about, try hanging yourself. If you succeed, then your worries are over. If you fail, then you have something to write about."