There are many transgressions I will abide at live hip-hop shows. I accept that I will be yelled at for not making enough noise. I know that I will be schooled on some arcane lyric I am supposed to repeat. I can hang with crowd-rocking clichés like left side vs. right side, I’m cool with rappers getting too excited and gruffly shouting their lyrics, and most of all, I have started to swallow my indignation at Serato.
But let’s say you’re People Under the Stairs. You’ve made seven full-lengths. You’ve got fresh beats for days. You’re one of the best throwback hip-hop acts in the country. The last thing you need to do is come out on stage and, before performing any song, try to get the crowd hyped by talking about your new sponsorship from Vans:
“This is a world premiere! Check out dubbayu dubbayu dubbayu dot VANS dot com, forward-slash, remix”—blah blah blah—”an’ if you win, Vans is gonna hook you up! Now San Francisco, are you with that?!!”
I was embarrassed for the Bay when the crowd actually cheered. No wonder the Dodgers are in the playoffs and the Giants are toast. L.A. plays us like a violin. Seriously—we’re such dumbshits that we cheer for a promotional Vans remix contest website URL?
My friend Matt quickly recalled Soul Strut hosting a PUTS remix contest, a couple years back. The prizes included having the winning remix pressed on vinyl, free records for the runner-up, and, for third place, a $10 Wendy’s Gift Card they probably found laying around (“for baked potato or baconator, yo choice”). That same idea co-opted by Vans, who make perfectly fine shoes but have an insidious penchant for swooping in and plastering their name on quality youth culture, is not a reason to throw your hands in the air.
So the starting line was set about 20 yards back, with a lot of catch-up to do. This ordinarily shouldn’t be hard to do for Double K and Thes One, given the enormous back catalog of PUTS jams. Obvious classics like “Hang Loose,” “San Francisco Nights,” “Tuxedo Rap,” “Up Your Spine” and “Acid Raindrops” were all played, but I dunno, something was off. A faded Thes One—one of my favorite producers, who dominates both The Price is Right and Will.i.am—kept messing around with the mic’s reverb by huffing his way through too many acapellas (“Time to Rock Our Shit” faded out, but never faded back in) and the lack of tight pacing showed.
People Under the Stairs play party jams and people love party jams, so there were no complaints from the dozens of girls pulled up on stage for “Hang Loose” (see Fig. 1A, above). Nonetheless, we walked back to the car in a weird daze—”It’s like their crowd changed from beatdiggers to douchebags,” we overheard someone say—and hoped it was just an off night. Carried Away, their new record that comes out next week, is as great as ever. How could it be bad, right? So anyway. Here’s to future days.
If you’re rooting out a jazz musician’s complete discography, Wikipedia is not the place to look. Thousands of contributors are willing to supply page content for, say, Roman Polanski (whose Wiki page is currently locked, natch) but that number dribbles down to almost zero for confirmed jazz heavyweights. How many albums has Sonny Rollins played on as a sideman? Nine, according to his Wikipedia page.
I listened to Reggie Workman last night twice and didn’t even realize it: Once, on the brilliant Takehiro Honda outing Jodo, a Japanese release, and again on the equally brilliant Booker Ervin album The Trance. If I’d have stayed up for another hour, I’m sure I’d have pulled another record from the shelf, randomly, that happened to feature Reggie Workman. How many albums has Reggie Workman played on as a sideman? Eleven, according to his Wikipedia page. (Here’s a work-in-progress discography that lists over 140.)
Trio 3, Workman’s impeccable group with Andrew Cyrille and Oliver Lake, is coming to Healdsburg for two tiny, intimate shows at Flying Goat Coffee on November 3 at 7pm and 9pm. When I profiled Healdsburg Jazz Festival founder and director Jessica Felix in 2008, she mentioned Trio 3 in passing among her favorite groups—and an example of the risk one might take with more obscure, avant-garde booking amongst wine-country tastes.
I applaud the risk, and can guarantee that the opportunity to see these three titans of jazz (collectively, they’ve played with John Coltrane, Art Blakey, Mary Lou Williams, Cecil Taylor, the World Saxophone Quartet, Wayne Shorter, Peter Brotzmann and many, many others Wikipedia does not list) will be $25 well-spent. Add the close ambiance of Flying Goat, and the choice is a no-brainer. While they last, get tickets here.
This week’s Bohemian feature is on Heavy Mental Music, a very amazing, strange record made in 1981 by David Petri and the developmentally disabled clients of the Manual Skills Training Center in Santa Rosa. Pictured above is the “deluxe edition,” with a T-shirt, two posters, three stickers, a photocopied booklet, a notepad and two copies of the record, all housed in a hand-designed box. According to Petri, only 50 of these “kits” were made (most copies of the record were sold alone, or given out to strangers on the bus), and at one point, what you see above actually sat on the desk in the Oval Office.
What strikes me most about this record is that it’s completely ahead of its time, both in concept and presentation. Colored-vinyl 7″s, stenciled T-shirts, photocopied lyric booklets and paper Kinko’s stickers didn’t start showing up en masse until around 1991, and the acceptance of incorporating the developmentally disabled into pop culture—the Kids of Widney High, or How’s Your News?—was years away.
The heartbreaking part of the story, for me, is Petri being accused of using the mentally retarded clients of the Manual Skills Training Center to advance his own agenda. In the time I spent with Petri, he seemed like a sincere, caring person who patiently taught the clients how to play drums and keyboards and who happened to be attracted to the aesthetic of artists like Todd Rundgren and Salvador Dalí. Shades of that aesthetic color Heavy Mental Music, and something tells me that if Petri had recorded campfire folk songs like “This Land is Your Land” instead, it wouldn’t have been an issue.
Anyway, without further ado, here’s “Heavy Mental Music,” written by Jim Weber and performed by the developmentally disabled clients of the Manual Skills Training Center on Lomitas Ave. in Santa Rosa in 1981:
Click the second file above to hear the obscure but no less compelling B-side,”Tour.”
Okay, folks. It’s serious.
The Phoenix Theater in Petaluma is in such a severe financial crisis that Tom Gaffey has been laid off. You might not have noticed, because he’s still working there every day, but it’s true—he’s been taken off the payroll.
“I need to be back on in about a month,” Gaffey told me yesterday, “or I’m gonna be in trouble. “
On the phone last week, Tom tried to downplay the situation, saying that he’s been through thin times before, back when the Phoenix was a smaller operation. “If I could cover the rent, the PG&E and the insurance, then we were golden,” he says. “But now we’ve got some other things going, and the fact of the matter is that stuff is so cool. The music school, the clinic, the art programs, all the extra stuff we do is just so important and so valid. When you see the clinic on Thursdays, it’s absolutely full, a good long line of people waiting to get in. You can’t deny this is a great program.”
To that end, the only paid employee at the Phoenix right now is music program director Gio Benedetti, and even he’s been cut down to half-pay. Executive director Amber Faur, like Gaffey, has also been officially laid off. Bruce Hagen, board president, explains that both are still working at the Phoenix in a volunteer position, and “they’re working as hard as they ever did, God bless ‘em.”
It just doesn’t make sense. Say the name “Tom Gaffey” anywhere in Sonoma County and an air of beloved reverence is instantly conjured. This is a guy who’s given decades of encouragement to teens who didn’t get support from their schools, their families, their social circles. Who’s said yes to starting a band, painting a mural or realizing some other potential when every other adult has said no. Who’s given years of sincere advice in place of nagging, and provided wide-ranging opportunities to kids who’ve only known closed doors.
So how could something like this happen?
For years, the Phoenix used to be run by Gaffey alone, who in addition to booking shows also oversaw a bunch of kids who hung out after school, played guitar, made art, put on plays, edited films, skated and helped each other with homework. When the theater was saved from being turned into an office building in 1999 by a group of dot-com benefactors, it slowly eased into the Phoenix Theater of today—a nonprofit model where all those extracurricular activities are now official programs eligible for grant funding.
Hagen says the theater had banked on getting some significant foundation grants and major donor grants, “but the word we’re getting is ‘You guys look like a great program, you have a pretty solid organization, but we’re not taking anybody on right now.”
The shows haven’t been doing too well, either. Up to half of the theater’s income once came from door receipts, but the Phoenix was forced last year to be overly cautious about booking rap shows, “and as troublesome as those sometimes were,” says Hagen, “they were very profitable for the Phoenix.” (The long-running series of Super Hyphy shows usually brought in at least $2,000 per month.)
All told, the Phoenix needs about $20,000 a month to stay afloat. In addition to funding, the theater is in need of energetic board members, reliable volunteers and “people with skills in administering a nonprofit,” Hagen says. “Ten years ago, we had a situation where the Phoenix couldn’t exist on the model that it had. And now, we’re in a similar situation where in this economy, we can’t get by unless we have a greater level of support from the community.”
Those interested in volunteering time or skills can get in touch with Hagen directly by emailing him here. As for Gaffey? “I’m fine for a little while longer,” he told me, “but I may have to go out and find a job here real quick.”
For those who’ve been inspired or supported in any way by Tom Gaffey and the Phoenix Theater, helping out is as easy as clicking here and making either a one-time or monthly donation. They’re a 501(c)(3) now, so it’s tax-deductible. Now is the time to help out. Countless people have seen firsthand the benefits to having Tom Gaffey at the Phoenix Theater. If enough of us pitch in, we can rescue one of the worthiest causes in Sonoma County. Every bit helps.
I just got off the phone with Adam Theis, who’s still flying high. Christ, he’s got every right to be. On Saturday night, in the middle of his set with Supertaster at a very tiny and very new club called Coda in the Mission District, someone whispered into his ear that Stevie Wonder had just walked into the room. “The rest of the band soon found out,” he recounted, “and we were all looking at each other like, what the fuck?!”
It’s no small thing, Stevie Wonder walking into the room, especially when you’re a band who’s made a habit out of playing dozens of Stevie Wonder songs. It’s no small thing, either, when at the end of your set, Stevie Wonder starts making his way up to the stage with his bodyguard.
You know the rest: Stevie Wonder got up and sang two songs with the Jazz Mafia at a tiny little club in the Mission District. I mean, after Stevie Wonder sits in with your band, what else is there? Does Theis ever need to play another show in his life? “It kinda feels like that, actually,” he jokes.
Here’s an excerpt of Theis’ written recollection of events:
We chatted with him for 5 seconds and decided on the tune “All Day Sucker” which is a tune we used to play a lot in Supertaster and also with Realistic Orchestra for the annual Stevie Wonder Birthday Tribute that we put on. I have to say that when he started singing the song it was beyond goosebumps…the crowd was going completely insane yet being very respectful, the band was playing better than ever and we honestly had no idea that Stevie would even want to sing with us. He did what I felt like was my favorite version of that song ever. As the tune was nearing a stopping point, I leaned over to Bagale and suggested testing the water by playing the riff from “Can’t Help It,” the hit song he wrote for Michael Jackson. Joe gave me a huge smile and head nod.
It was a little weird when I merged into the bass line from “Can’t Help It,” Stevie was still singing “All Day,” and he kinda froze for a second to get his bearings – I was kinda freaked out because I felt like, “I just cut off Stevie Wonder!!” Crap!!” But it took him literally 2 seconds and BAM! one of my favorite songs EVER came to life on stage live.
After it was all over, Stevie hung around the club, taking pictures and chatting with the band, which was both exciting and nerve-wracking. “You’ve got five minutes to hang out with your idol,” Theis explains. “What do you talk about?” By all accounts, though, Stevie seemed genuinely interested in the band, in the San Francisco scene, and in Theis’ recent masterwork Brass, Bows and Beats. And right before he left, he called the whole group together.
“We got in this kind of a huddle, just the musicians, and is voice lowered a little bit,” Theis says. “It was really cool and intimate. He said he liked what we were doing, playing a lot of different styles and taking a lot of chances. He said keep doing it. Do not give up. He said this thing that we did tonight—we did, he said—is really, really important. That it’s what culture is all about.”
Here’s to the Jazz Mafia, to Supertaster and to Coda. And for Theis, a former Santa Rosan who’s done nothing but make a name for himself since he left town, I know he’s on Cloud Nine and probably will be for the next year. “Someone would have to come back from the dead, actually,” he says, “for it to be better than Stevie Wonder.”
Here’s the video:
“He wasn’t one of those people who were the center of attention, but was always one of those people others were drawn to. You know, talented, athletic, funny, compassionate,” says Allen Sudduth. “Bruce was always one of the best and the brightest.”
Sudduth would know. He first met Bruce Barclay in the mid ’60s at Santa Rosa Junior High, and with Sudduth on drums and Barclay on bass, the two locked in step with each other both as lifelong friends and musical partners. Both had known each other in junior symphony and other school programs, but through a series of garage bands with names like the Third Foundation and the Worthy Cause, the two played nonstop at school dances and local venues—even opening for the Buffalo Springfield in Santa Rosa at the Fairgrounds in 1967.
Sadly, Barclay died last year, the result of complications from an auto accident 15 years ago. This Friday, Sept. 25, people from all over the country are flying in—either alumni of Santa Rosa High School or those with a personal connection to Barclay—to participate in a special memorial concert for Bruce reflecting his dual love of classical and rock music, “from the sacred to the profane,” as Sudduth calls it. The first set is classical-oriented with works by Vivaldi, Schumann, Bellini, Grieg, and others; while the second set features songs by Jelly Roll Morton, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Steely Dan, Jimi Hendrix, and yes, a few originals by Bruce Barclay.
“He was a phenomenal, phenomenal bass player,” says Sudduth. “We listen to these tapes that we did in the ’70s and ’80s and we’re just stunned at how good he played. And we kinda took it for granted, I guess. But he was always the rock. He was the guy you could always count on. He played better than anybody.”
The Bruce Barclay Memorial Concert is this Friday, Sept. 25, at Santa Rosa High School. 8pm. $20; all proceeds go to SRHS music programs. For more information, click here.
Last night, for the first time in my life, I watched an episode of Beverly Hills 90210. The daily bulletin announcer at West Beverly High School kept trying to get MC Hammer on the phone, which seemed amusingly out of date until special guest Debbie Gibson showed up at the end. At least Hammer is playing Hardly Strictly for the second year in a row; the last time I saw Debbie was at a Cubs game, leading the crowd singalong of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”
There was a scene in the show where Brandon is hot for this girl of really vague Hispanic descent, so she takes him to a Hispanic Cultural Center to test his mettle in the hard ghetto or whatever. (“She’s a straight-A student,” says her friend, “but it’s tough you know, with the gangs, and the drugs.” I believe this show was screenwritten by Lassie.) Some terrible 101.7-FM hard rock music is blaring, and everyone is jazz-dancing in sync, like they’re in Cats. I enjoyed Mick LaSalle’s response in today’s pink section to this guy who questioned plausibility in movies, but this took the cake.
Anthony Williams, a.k.a. DJ Roc Raida, has died. Even if you are not a fan of DJing, watch the clip below to see what the world has lost. I was amazed when the X-Ecutioners came to Future Primitive in S.F. and blew everyone’s mind with their choreographed acrobatics. Lots of people on the West Coast dismissed ‘em as “trick DJs,” and that’s legitimate, but tricks are entertaining and they were entertaining as hell. Rest in peace, Raida.
I look back in weird ways, I guess. I have a compulsive need to chronicle the past, and assemble tidbits, and remind myself that it happened. To remind myself that bands existed. I collect flyers, set lists, broken drum sticks, drawings, strange notes between band members, letters, practice tapes, broken strings. I sometimes present these items to their originators years later, like a mom bringing out the third grade report card again. “See?” I implore, “You ripped this Paxton Quiggly sticker off your bass in the middle of your set at the Highway 12 house in 1995, and you threw it on the floor, and you thought you’d never see it again, but look, here it is! And look, you got an ‘S’ in reading, and your teacher wrote ‘Is attracted to the books of Judy Blume’!”
It’s fine and dandy to be reminded of third grade, but it’d be downright ridiculous to actually go to your third grade classroom again, and cram into the tiny wooden desk seats with all the others you went to school with, and attempt to re-create the magic of watching “Riki Tiki Tavi” for the first time on the 16mm projector. This is how I feel about band reunions. Know your past, and build on it, but don’t rehash old moves.
So. Pavement is reuniting for a tour in 2010. Pavement is one of the greatest bands of the last 20 years, and we should by rights be shitting our pants about this, but how excited can even a diehard fan be with dead weight of Malkmus’ mediocre solo career and Spiral Stairs’ failures in the 10-year interim? Does context not bog down the grandeur of “Stop Breathing”? If the band smiles while playing “Major Leagues,” is it because they love the song, or because they’re getting paid? Is it unfair to read too much into an ex-band’s good time?
There is no concerted band-reunion backlash. This is the summer of nostalgia. Michael Jackson, Woodstock. Pastel-colored T-shirts with white blazers. Reissues, repackages, reunions, retracing. Bands performing classic albums in their entirety. Everyone clawing back ceaselessly into the past, avoiding whatever it is they’re scared of facing. I can understand needing a warm familiar place to reside say, during the Bush administration, but why now? Look around. Now is when we have a smart president and we have these weird artistic opportunities because of the depression and we have this gung-ho spirit of change and hope and possibility, and the best we can do is help the Pixies sell out three shows of a no-surprises song-for-song set of Doolittle, a very good and very old album they recorded over 20 years ago.
Next week’s Bohemian column is on a stellar book coming out on September 29, Gimme Something Better: The Profound, Progressive, and Occasionally Pointless History of Bay Area Punk from Dead Kennedys to Green Day. It’s a collected oral history of a very special time in many people’s lives, my own included, told by over a hundred band members, scenesters, zine editors, promoters, volunteers and old friends who save things like set lists and practice tapes. A mammoth work at 500 pages, it will have an impact on the Bay Area in ways we can only prognosticate, except for one. “Are you ready for the bickering to begin?” I asked authors Jack Boulware and Silke Tudor yesterday. “Oh, it’s already started,” Tudor said. “It started when we began interviewing people.”
I’m a champion of history, which shouldn’t be confused with nostalgia; history is telling stories about an old flyer, while nostalgia is trying to book the same show with the same bands at the same venue all over again. History can also be unsettling, and having events close to one’s life wrapped up neatly into book form sometimes gives the eerie feeling of mummification. I mentioned this to Boulware, and asked, “Why write about all this stuff now? Isn’t it a little too early?” He laughed.
“When you’re too young, you don’t really have a perspective on it, as much as when you’re older,” he explained of most of the book’s interview subjects. “When you’re in your 30s, you’re embarrassed of the stuff you did in your 20s, and you don’t wanna talk about it. But when you’re in your 40s, and you’re talking about something that happened in your 20s, you have a little bit of distance on it.”
In other words, if Boulware and Tudor hadn’t tracked these people down now, who knows what stories they’d have been unable to share? Lots of writers have tackled the Bay Area punk scene and failed; by handing the book’s voice over to the people involved, Gimme Something Better is like being homesick without leaving home, and an epic chronicle that people will be talking about for years to come. I can’t say as much for the average band’s sad-sack reunion tour, where the prevailing feeling is that of watching overgrown children dance for Grandma.