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Waiting on Michael Jackson

Posted by: on Jun 25, 2009 | Comments (0)

As I write this, TMZ is reporting that Michael Jackson has died.

While I, like the rest of the world, keep refreshing the New York Times and CNN for a more reputable confirmation, I share a piece of my discussion with Kate, the Bohemian calendar editor.

“What if,” I posited, “he wasn’t actually dead? I think that’d be crazier than him actually dying—if TMZ jumped the gun and got it wrong.”

“Yeah, right,” Kate replied. “Like, wouldn’t it be awesome for Michael Jackson if he actually wasn’t dead?”

She paused. “I mean, other than he’d get to be alive?”

(Update: He’s Gone.)

Just Give In

Posted by: on Apr 21, 2009 | Comments (1)

On the downside, it’s Trident gum commercializing the flash mob concept (it was bound to happen) by paying participants to advertise for an upcoming Beyoncé cross-promotion.

On the upside: It’s 100 girls doing the “Single Ladies” dance in Piccadilly Circus. What’s not to love?

Open House at The MYC

Posted by: on Mar 8, 2009 | Comments (2)

Halfway through “Swagga Like Us,” Torman Jahi hopped on stage at the MYC, got the people on their feet, and then passed the mic one by one to a group of young rappers for a full-on all-ages posse cut. Some of ‘em killed it, some of ‘em rapped the alphabet, and some essentially trainwrecked, but all of ‘em got cheered. Come to think of it, the guy who trainwrecked got cheered the loudest.

This is the philosophy of the MYC, or Marin Youth Center, in San Rafael. Everyone gets a shot, and everyone gets support no matter what. This would be laudable enough by teen center standards, but there’s the extra added benefit that the shit happening at the MYC is actually completely cool. Forget cookies and punch; over the last two years, they’ve been hosting jazz groups, school-of-rock band camps, hip-hop sessions, recording workshops, acapella groups, art programs, breakdance troupes, cooking classes and far, far more.

On Friday night, the MYC opened the doors in downtown San Rafael and invited the public for an open house. It’s got that Emeryville loft thing goin’ on, with exposed rafters and ducts in the main performance room. Elsewhere, the walls boast posters of Malcolm X, bulletin boards warning of the dangers of smoking, a framed certificate for the current champion of the pool table, and tons of photos chronicling the varied activity that takes place here. It’s a new building, with a tinge of the municipal. That feel will surely and eventually lose out to the very communal and cutting-edge spirit of the place.

The band, from the Oakland School of the Arts, was ruling it. Three female singers with stellar pipes, all still in high school. Three guys on bass, drums and keys, layin’ it down on covers of “American Boy” and “Crazy in Love.” To close the night, ‘Til Dawn, an acapella group who rehearses at the MYC, took the stage. They sang “Tell Me Something Good,” “Steal My Kisses” and “Something to Talk About”—and were great. As I left my too-brief visit, kids with cameras ran back to the high-tech studio to edit their video footage while visitors and young staff were clustered around a pool game, dancing and singing “Ms. Jackson.”

I know it must be a common reaction, but where was this place when I was a kid?

More photos below.

Farewell to Yma Sumac

Posted by: on Nov 3, 2008 | Comments (0)

She died over the weekend in Los Angeles. A recluse. Fixated on the 1950s.

There’s plenty of great Yma Sumac records to remember her by—Voice of the Xtbay and Legend of the Sun Virgin are her more famous—but to hear Yma Sumac’s 1971 hard rock album Miracles is to know the true melting pot of America: a Peruvian-born singer with a five octave range singing for a heavy metal band arranged by Les Baxter. It’s one of those once-in-a-lifetime albums; there’s nothing else like it, and in a way, Sumac’s piercing wails amount to what Rob Halford and so many other heavy metal singers tried to achieve afterwards.

There’s a pretty good representation of what Yma Sumac was all about in this video. Unfortunately, no videos of the Miracles era seem to exist online, so I dug out my copy of the LP for your listening, uh, “pleasure.” Here’s the first song, “Remember”:

Ralph Stanley for Obama

Posted by: on Oct 10, 2008 | Comments (9)

There’s a million musicians out there lending their support for Obama, but for some reason, this radio ad recorded by Ralph Stanley touches me the most. The ad is currently playing in Stanley’s home state of Virginia, where McCain and Obama are in a dead heat.

Most folks know Ralph Stanley from his haunting solo “O Death,” featured prominently on the O Brother, Where Art Thou soundtrack.

Take the time to listen to an 81-year-old legend endorse our future president:

The Rock-a-Fire Explosion

Posted by: on Aug 18, 2008 | Comments (0)

I’ve been holding back on this one, waiting for a Monday morning. Nothing to erase the beginning-of-the-week doldrums like an animatronic pizza parlor band doing a spot-on Usher jam. Right?

Warning: pretty much NSFW. No boobs or anything, but you probably don’t want your co-workers to see you losing your shit to a bunch of rapping muppets.

There’s more, including the Arcade Fire, 2 Live Crew, and the White Stripes, over here.

This Is The Greatest Day of My Life

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

I actually let out a loud, high-pitched scream when this arrived in the mail today.

Vinyl, Mp3s, Sermons, Reissues

Posted by: on Mar 10, 2008 | Comments (0)

While researching my Bohemian article on the independent music industry phenomenon of including free mp3 download coupons inside of vinyl LPs, I had the pleasure of talking to a number of labels whose records I’ve listened to and loved for half my life. Vinyl comes and goes pretty quickly these days, and there’s a lot of records that everyone owned at one point but somehow sold, lost, or loaned out for good. So it was exciting to find out during my interview that Merge Records will soon be introducing a “Merge Classic Reissues” series, revisiting out-of-print or previously-unavailable-on-vinyl titles and repressing them on LP. Matador did this with the first three Pavement records recently, and it’s fucking awesome that Merge is starting it too.

The first three titles to be reissued: A Series of Sneaks and Girls Can Tell by Spoon, and The Charm of the Highway Strip by Magnetic Fields, all elegantly pressed on 180-gram vinyl. Here’s hoping they press 69 Love Songs and Red Devil Dawn, which have criminally never been on vinyl, and No Pocky For Kitty, which is just a damn great record, in the near future.

Also, Jon Collins over at Dropcards was telling me about all the various projects they’ve worked on, including a Hannah Montana card for Disney and a huge promotion for Vitamin Water. I asked him what the weirdest project they’ve done, and he told me about a Southern baptist preacher who ordered an mp3 of his sermon on a bunch of Dropcards so he could hand them out to his congregation. Crazy.

Collins also used to work at an independent record distributor in Philadelphia, and I think it’s pretty cool that a guy who now does business with Kelly Clarkson,  Red Bull and SnoCap has a record collection that looks like this.

Hooked on Campaign Songs

Posted by: on Feb 27, 2008 | Comments (0)