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Au Revoir, Eartha Kitt

Posted by: on Dec 25, 2008 | Comments (2)

She was a bad-ass who didn’t complain very often but also didn’t take any shit. Fled the States. Demanded equal treatment for women in the industry. Got stuck with some industry-branded Cruella DeVille-type nympho image. An incomparable cabaret singer.

“There’s no cabaret around the world that I know of,” she said in a recent interview. “It’s all gone the way of business, too much business, therefore the soul of the business has gotten really very lost. Greed is so destructive. It destroys everything.”

She taught James Dean dance lessons. Stood up to Lyndon B. Johnson over Vietnam at the White House. Was spied on by the FBI. Orson Welles called her the most exciting woman in the world. When asked which records she’d want on a desert island, she always said her own.

Eartha Kitt died today, joining an esteemed list of other entertainers who shuffled off on Christmas Day: W.C. Fields, Charlie Chaplin, Dean Martin and James Brown. So long, sweetheart. We’ll spin “I Wanna Be Evil” over Tofurky and pumpkin pie tonight.

They Still Make Tapes

Posted by: on Dec 23, 2008 | Comments (9)

Imagine my absolute shock when the other night, coinciding perfectly with my article this week in the Bohemian about why I still make tapes, this collection of cassettes arrived wrapped up on my front porch, like an abandoned child in swaddling clothes:

No way! Now that’s some incredibly in-depth joke, I thought, figuring that someone had spent hours making fake cassette artwork for five local bands: The New Trust, Not To Reason Why, the Velvet Teen, Polar Bears, and my own band, Santiago. But it just got even more insane when I opened the cases.

That’s right: these are actual manufactured cassettes!

My jaw dropped. Yes, these are complete albums on tape, and what’s more, the Warner Bros. style sheet for cassettes is adhered to down to the tiniest detail in the artwork: the black-bar cover, the block font on the spine, the timestamp on either side of the shell, the Dolby logo everywhere. Unbelievable. There are liner notes inside, and the catalog numbers even reference the old “-4” suffix, applicable to cassettes.

It’s like something I never thought I’d ever see. Holding something in your hand that surely couldn’t exist. Like a hallucination come true. Like the most retardedly beautiful Christmas present ever.

I called the usual suspects, Josh Drake and Josh Staples, and they proudly admitted to the feat. Those guys have done some absolutely stupid, bonkers-ass, unnecessary bullshit in their time, but this is by far my favorite thing they’ve pulled off. How did they do it? It turns out that there’s a place in Petaluma, Kaba Audio, that still takes orders for cassettes. Totally crazy.

I’ve been assured that there’s only 100 copies of these cassettes out there, which considering the demand for cassettes these days is probably about 97 copies too many. They come packaged in a $10 5-Pack, boasting “Now With Compromised Fidelity!” Those wanting in on this extremely short run can find it at the Last Record Store in Santa Rosa.

I got an overwhelming response to the article on cassette tapes, incidentally, which proves that you can’t kill a medium that’s been a part of people’s lives for decades. I even got some phone calls from people who rattled their cassettes into the phone, proving that they, too, still love tapes. The sad thing is that there’s still a market for cassettes (anyone who works at a record store can attest to repeated inquiries for tapes), but it’s just not profitable for the already-fledgling record companies.

The last actual manufactured cassette I saw domestically from a major label was Common’s Be, issued with a stock font, a chintzy black-and-white spine and no j-card at all. The last actual manufactured cassette I bought, though, was Green Day’s American Idiot, with a full-color fold-out j-card and official Warner Bros. packaging. It came from a seller in Malaysia, where cassettes are still relevant and where major labels actually order legitimate pressings of tapes there. Recently, they’ve made Metallica’s Death Magnetic, Kanye West’s The College Dropout, Weezer’s Make Believe, Against Me’s New Wave, and many, many more titles on cassette in Malaysia, all in short runs of about 200 or so.

The best way to find Malaysian titles on cassette is on eBay; type “Malaysia” into a cassette search and hundreds of titles pop up. There’s a long and strange dissection of complex Malaysian copyright laws here that might shed some light on why Malaysia is the dominant producer of new cassettes. And some incredible-looking Malaysian cassette manufacturing equipment is for sale here, which hopefully does not spell the end of cassettes entirely. Here’s a sample image of how they do it in Malaysia:

Music Twitterings Hither and Yon

Posted by: on Dec 20, 2008 | Comments (3)

Woke up yesterday and groaned at Pitchfork’s top albums, unsurprising since they lost all credibility with The Knife in 2006. Read about the recording industry’s strange new stance on downloading, which is to rely on Internet providers to do their dirty work for them. Was amused at the Phoenix Theater announcing the banning of hyphy shows, which is a brilliant maneuver, on par with announcing the banning of raves.

Flipped on the radio for Face the Music with Scott Mitchell and Frank Hayhurst, on KRSH. Laughed at the end of the show, when Frank presented Scott with a golden kazoo, since, alas, Scott is headed over to BOB-FM and will soon be replaced by Brian Griffith as the morning guy on the KRSH. Brian’ll be good and Scott’s been good, but man. I still miss Doug Smith.

Went to the downtown Post Office, where the holiday season has brought radio privileges for the counter staff. Was glad that instead of “Wonderful Christmastime” or “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”, the clerks were stamping packages to “A Simple Twist of Fate,” by Bob Dylan. Dodged a car driving by playing the Youngbloodz-Procol Harum portion of Girl Talk’s Feed the Animals.

Got to work and read this wonderful piece of writing, regarding Leon Russell, by my friend John Beck. Felt the best kind of jealousy—I suspect that John is much more bound to editorial direction than myself, occasionally forced to write about music that he can’t personally get that excited about, and I love examining how he navigates total cowshit and turns it time and again into flowers. He’s good at it.

Read about the heavy metal singer who stabbed her guitarist for messing up a solo. Downloaded DJ Malarkey’s new Holiday mix to listen to while scouring club listings for New Years’ Eve information. Came across this lovely Christmas video of a drunk family partying their asses off around the tree, circa 1962, set to June Christy’s “The Merriest”:

(If you’re looking for a fantastic jazzy album of non-religious Christmas originals, call your local record store and pick up June Christy’s This Time of Year, just reissued a couple years ago.)

Had lunch at Hang Ah Dim Sum with the Love Level crew. Thought about Chinese opera and talked about Darker than Blue: Soul From Jamdown. Was reminded, by Mark and Gary, about KOME-FM and their street-sign stickers. Chatted about Backdoor Records. Thought about the late KPLS-FM and their even later cowboy-hat VW Bug.

Came back to work and gawked at the amazing Kate Wolf Festival 2009 lineup, with Emmylou Harris, Dave Alvin, Richard Thompson, Patty Griffin, Mavis Staples, and the Blind Boys of Alabama. Wrote a little bit about Adam Theis and his upcoming SFJAZZ show, whose excellent Spring season was also announced this week: McCoy Tyner, Allen Toussaint, Bill Frisell, Kenny Barron, James Carter, Tinariwen, Roy Hargrove, Chris Potter, Brad Mehldau, Mariza, Kenny Burrell, Michael Feinstein and Branford Marsalis, among others.

Went to dinner at Fitch Mountain Eddie’s with my dad, where Richelle Hart and John Youngblood performed songs like “Summertime” and “Women Be Wise.” Talked a lot of shit about Ticketmaster, only to have the guy at the next table introduce himself as a guy who works for Ticketmaster. Wished him luck with that whole massive-debt-and-getting-dumped-by-Live-Nation thing.

Then: headed to the Raven Theater for the Bobs, who were as entertaining and awe-inspiring as they were when I last saw them at the Raven Theater in 1989. Was billed as the “Sleigh Bobs Ring” holiday show, containing plenty of Christmas numbers—”Christmas in L.A.,” “Christmas in Jail,” and an insane new song sung from the point of view of the Virgin Mary, “What Is This Thing Inside Me?”

Old chestnuts were dusted off, like “My, I’m Large” and “Boy Around the Corner,” and all the new ones like “Get Your Monkey off My Dog,” “Title of the Song,” “Imaginary Tuba” sounded great. Closed with “Christmastime is Here,” which I’m glad is becoming a holiday classic. Haven’t paid much attention to the Bobs in the last 20 years, but I was simultaneously buckled over with laugher, googly-eyed with amazement, and heartened that they still hang out in the lobby afterwards, chatting with all their weird fans. Thanks for keeping it up, guys.

Came home and listened to Booker Ervin, Madlib, No Age and Lucy Ann Polk. (Not Van Morrison, like grouchy Joel Selvin.) Wondered if real life was more important than music, or if the two are actually the same thing. Opted for the latter. Did the dishes and hummed Frank Sinatra. Went to bed.

Does Aretha Franklin Make Up For Rick Warren?

Posted by: on Dec 17, 2008 | Comments (1)

This is what we’ve been waiting for. Forget the Cabinet picks. The real question has been: Who will Obama pick to perform at his inauguration?

The inauguration schedule is in, and the winner is Aretha Franklin.

Does the Queen of Soul make up for Obama’s pick for the ceremonial invocation? Rick Warren, anti-gay, pro-life, co-conspirator in the fake “cone of silence” debate? No, it doesn’t. Picking one of the greatest singers ever to live (the greatest, if you read Rolling Stone) to sing at the inauguration is a classy move, but Rick Warren? Wha th’ fu?

Also performing are Itzhak Perlman, Yo-Yo Ma, Gabriela Montero, and the usual collection of military bands and childrens’ choruses. Full schedule here.

Thorns of Life to Play at Gilman on Jan. 31

Posted by: on Dec 10, 2008 | Comments (1)

It’s official: According to whispers in the wind this last week and now confirmed on Gilman’s booking calendar, Thorns of Life are playing Gilman on January 31. The full lineup includes Thorns of Life, Hunx & His Punx, the Revolts, and Off With Their Heads as part of Punk Rock Joel’s Birthday Bash. 8pm. $7, plus a $2 membership card if you ain’t already got one. Get there early.

Aaron Cometbus has been on the West Coast for the last week or so; you can hear an excellent interview with him on WFMU (with ex-KALX DJ and hip-hop fanatic Billy Jam) by clicking here. He talks about his fantastic new issue of Cometbus, the reasons why he doesn’t dwell on the past, the possibility that most bands only have one good 7″ in them, and gives evasive answers to anything Internet-related. Even Jesse Luscious gets on the line for a while! Aaron also talks a bit about Thorns of Life:

“Well, there’s some inter-band dispute about the name of the band. So let’s keep it… I’m not… we’re not sure about the name yet. I always feel like music is basically a war or a romance between a guitarist and a drummer—with the bassist as sort of collateral damage—and me and the guitarist are still deciding about the name, we’ll just put it that way.”

I agree. The name doesn’t fit. Sorry, Shelly.

As for shows, Aaron says “we will be playing as many as possible. But we’re kind of avoiding the clubs, and just playing odd spots—houses, restaurants, readings, whatever—just to keep it kind of low-key, and avoid the doormen, and the IDs, and what not. But we are planning on recording either in the middle of this winter or in the early spring. We already have a bunch of songs.”

There’s a short interview here with bassist Daniela Sea, where she confirms that Thorns of Life are going on tour. And it’s unrelated to the band, but if you haven’t seen it yet, Blake Schwarzenbach’s Rate My Professor Profile from his students at Hunter College is totally entertaining. Now all we need are some lyrics, and we’re set. I’ve gotten a few speculations from friends. So far, the winner is “O denigrated hue of glass-lipped Huggies / I ask, hast thou prometheated veins?”

My full and completely speculative take on the band is here, and Gilman is one of the greatest and most amazing places in the world. Stoked.

Blue Note Reissues LPs With CDs Inside

Posted by: on Nov 29, 2008 | Comments (6)

In an all-caps explanation about “YOUNGER, MORE ECLECTIC-MINDED POP CULTURE FANS” so crazy over Penguin shirts and Amy Winehouse that they’re “DELVING INTO ALL THINGS RETRO,” Blue Note records has announced the reissue of twelve best-selling titles on vinyl with a bonus CD inside.

Titles include: Cannonball Adderly, Somethin’ Else; Kenny Burrell, Midnight Blue; Dexter Gordon, Go!; Joe Henderson, Page One; Lee Morgan, The Sidewinder; Horace Silver, Song for my Father; Art Blakey, Moanin’; John Coltrane, Blue Train; Herbie Hancock, Maiden Voyage; Hank Mobley, Soul Station; Wayne Shorter, Speak No Evil; and McCoy Tyner, The Real McCoy.

(No Out to Lunch? Tsk.)

The titles run about $20. Truly an idea whose time has come. Oh wait—it already did. Get with it, Impulse!

Live Review: Marnie Stern’s Kissing Booth

Posted by: on Nov 15, 2008 | Comments (41)

I had heard about Marnie Stern’s Kissing Booth idea a couple hours before tonight’s show with Gang Gang Dance in San Francisco, and sure enough, when we arrived at Bimbo’s, we discovered this sign at the merch stand:

Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about!

Apparently, in addition to the speeding tickets, some seatbelt violations were involved as well, which can get pretty expensive (“Michigan, man,” said Stern). Discriminating kissers will note the detailed price breakdown: $3 for a peck on the cheek, $10 for full lips, and $100 for the big-spender French kiss.

So — were there any takers?

At the end of Marnie Stern’s set, a sizable group of people crowded around her side of the stage, declaring their love and asking for hugs. But to my dismay, I went out in the lobby later on and witnessed a similar group of people just, uh, standing around. And though the kissing offer was literally on the table, they were just, uh, awkwardly talking to Marnie Stern. And, um, buying a shirt, I guess. And, do you. . . think I could have another hug?

It was excruciating. Goddamn indie hipsters are a bunch of pansy-ass Holden Caulfields who can’t get over their own imagined degradation of giving a girl $10 for a kiss, I grumbled to myself. Whatever happened to all the fun in the world?!

But after about 10 minutes, a good sign walked into the room. To be precise: a tall mid-20s boy, with a slender face and large eyes. Lanky, plaid shirt. He approached the table and conspicuously pointed to the sign.

“Is the kissing booth open?” he asked.

Finally! Marnie Stern jumped up, pointed her arms in the air and let out a “whoo-hoo!” while doing a small, excited dance. A customer!

The boy pointed to the “lips” option, and handed a $10 bill to Stern, who was more than willing to deliver the goods. Boy, did he get his money’s worth:

Yowza!

I chased him down afterwards. “I had to,” he told me. “She’s beautiful, you know? It was awesome.” He was beaming from ear to ear.

Please, indie rock nation: more kissing booths!

Schwarzenbach, Cometbus, and the Thorns of Life

Posted by: on Nov 14, 2008 | Comments (15)

Well, shit, here we go: Blake Schwarzenbach has started a band with Aaron Elliott and Daniela Sea called the Thorns of Life. No joke. There’s photos posted here from the band’s grand debut at the Jerk House in Brooklyn this past weekend.

What does the band sound like? According to a recent punknews.org post, Blake is said to have written via Facebook that “I can say only that it’s loud and tender and we’re called the Thorns Of Life. whether it’s more Jetsesque or Breaker-like I honestly don’t know; It sounds like a storehouse of fond hatred from the last few years and in the now.”

It’s tempting to pessimistically predict that they’ll play three more house shows, record a 7″ and then break up; however, in a message to fans recently, Blake said he looked forward to coming “to a town near you.”

Needless to say, this is exciting news.

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UPDATE, 11/15: Thorns of Life played again last night at another house show in Brooklyn. There’s three videos below. More on the band by clicking here.

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UPDATE, 1/31: My interview with Blake regarding the band is here.

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Free Tickets: No Age in San Francisco

Posted by: on Nov 13, 2008 | Comments (0)

This just in: No Age is playing a launch party for Shockhound on Thursday, Dec. 4 at the Rickshaw Stop, and tickets for the show are FREE.

All you have to do is click here, fill out a simple form with your name and email, and you’re on the list +1.

Are you down? I’m down. Everybody’s Down.

I’ll keep this post up for as long as tickets seem available.

Everybody is a Star

Posted by: on Oct 29, 2008 | Comments (0)

Even Joe the Plumber, who just announced he’s signing a recording deal with Aaron Tippin. Can he sing his way out of a paper bag? No. Can he play guitar? No. No big deal. Nothing ProTools can’t fix.

I can see it now. The album, called Unlicensed to Ill, will feature such songs as “Lyin’ to Obama In Order to Not Really Prove a Point,” “Wow, I’m an Expert on Israel All of a Sudden,” “Maybe I’ll Make Over $250,000 From This Song,” “Back Taxes Suck and I Hate Payin’ Em,” and “Don’t Take My Word For It, But Wait, Actually, Maybe You Should, Even Though I Don’t Know Anything, So Don’t Ask Me Who I’m Voting For, It’s Private, Wait a Minute, Where Are You Going, Don’t Go Anywhere, I’m Gonna Endorse McCain, as if That’s News to Anyone Who Has Half a Brain and Hasn’t Figured Out That I Was Hella Lying and Being Antagonizing to Obama All Along, Please Keep Me in the Spotlight, Please, So I Don’t Have to Actually Get My Plumber’s License.”