Am I exaggerating in the headline? Maybe a little, but in watching Charles Burnett’s 1977 Killer of Sheep (IMDB link) last night I was extraordinarily moved throughout this strangely compelling and haunting film about life in mid-1970s Watts — equally so by the evocative music choices that complement it.
If the soundtrack is not available I’m going to hunt down the MP3s and make my own. Here’s a screensnap of the music involved (click to triplify):
Ya know, I’m down with this music festival whose name it shares with the valley where it takes place out there happening right now as it does every year. I know there’s a boatload of bands and it’s hot and bottles of water are $20 dollars and the porta-potties are filthy and there’s a whole buncha ancillary shit happening that’s now and wow and far too bitchin’ for someone in my middle-aged demographic to understand.
As such an old fart, you’ll just have to grin and fucking bear it when I beg and plead for everyone to just shut the hell up about it.Â I see one more front-row POV freezeframe of some apparently pixel -worthy musician I don’t know or recognize and I’m gonna hurl.Â Or worse: a turn-around snapshot of a vast audience in various stages of passing out and or appreciating said musician (98% of whom are far too wasted or dehydrated or both to not look like they’re dead and just don’t know it yet).
It’s a fucking concert. You’re there. I get it. Now put the camera down and enjoy the show before I get really mad.
It may look like I know what I’m doing but truth is I don’t play the guitar. Three years after getting this acoustic I know a few chords and the four-notes of the theme music to Monday Night Football and a simple version of the famous part of Beethoven’s 9th and not much else and usually end up just goofing around for awhile wondering why it’s physically impossible for me to transition smoothly between the G, E, C and D7 chords. I’m passably good with the first three, but the C to G7… Gah!
Despite those frustrations I still like to pluck and strum and pretend and one of my favorite places to do so is out on the front porch in the late afternoon with birds flying around and people walking up and down the street and the sun dropping down toward the Micheltorena ridge to the west and its rays filtering through the rustling leaves of neighbor’s big tree whose limbs reach far across the frontyard.
Ever since the time change a few weekends ago I’ve been wanting to take advantage of the lengthened day, but work or chores or laziness has conspired to keep me from it until finally yesterday afternoon after some backyard work was complete I looked out the front window and found conditions ideal for me to grab up my geetar and have a seat.
There’s been a lot of anger and frustration among country-western music fans over the sudden switch of their flagship station KZLA last week to a more contemporary urban dance music format. Even though I’ve never once in my life listened to the station I can certainly feel their pain and relate to their cries of protest. I also know that those protests are an entire waste of time.
Back in the summer of 1994 a station dawned at 101.9 on the dial called KSCA and it was immediately and mold-breakingly brilliant. Billed as “Southern California’s Album Alternative” (whatever that meant) the station offered as eclectic and compelling a mix of music as I’d ever heard over the airwaves. Nat King Cole would follow Concrete Blonde who would follow Pink Floyd who would follow Roy Orbison who would follow Nirvana who would follow the Bee Gees and so on. You never knew what your ears were in for when you tuned in, and in a lot of ways it was the precursor to the current and popular wave of the CDs-on-random format found in stations like JACK-FM at 93.1.
On a personal level KSCA meant much more to me because that first six months of its life coincided with the six months I spent recovering from my near-fatal motorcycle accident. Discovering the station after the two weeks I spent in the hospital I ended up listening to it almost constantly and its playlist’s regular ability to surprise and delight me was deeply therapeutic. With it on in the background day and night there were many times I’d be giving over to the rage and self-pity or waking up from some pretty hairy apocalyptic nightmares and then bang Gloria Gaynor would be playing or Gordon Lightfoot or Joe Williams or Ella Fitzgerald or Canned Heat and it would snap me out of my dark places. The “Oh no they’re not!” joy of all that unexpected incongruous music was an important factor in my psychological healing. No doubt.
Despite the buzz the station created it never stopped struggling to pull in listeners, and to be honest they even had a hard time keeping me after Jerry Garcia’s death in 1995 and the station at-large went into an over-extended period of mourning, rotating in waaaay too many Grateful Dead songs waaaay too often. Every time they’d play his “Touch of Gray” they’d drive me a little bit farther away.
Then, a year later rumors began circulating that the station’s owner, Gene Autry, was selling. Station protests and letter-writing campaigns ensued to keep KCSA golden, but it was all for naught and devolved into an inevitable deathwatch. By the beginning of 1997 the sale had been made to Univision and KSCA signed off to become the Spanish-language station La Nueva.
The new ownership wasted no time ingloating and rubbing salt in the wounds of the KSCA faithful. For a full 24-hours after the switch, the only thing the new owners aired was a looped track of people uproariously and raucously laughing. It was a disgusting gesture that compounded the heartbreak. The ultimate ouch is that it didn’t take long for La Neuva to rocket up to the top of the radio ratings. And they’ve been there pretty much ever since
So in a way, the fans of the old KZLA got off easy. One moment they’re listening to Shania Twain or Faith Hill or whoever and the next song is The Black-Eyed Peas and the L.A. market is now without a dedicated country-western radio station. Poof! With the rug apparently so quickly and quietly pulled out from under them they had no time to mount any kind of concerted “Save KZLA” campaign â€” not that it would’ve made any difference. And in a way I’m a bit envious of such a seamless transition. Sure it left listeners WTF-ing and scrambling in the aftermath of a done deal to fight the power, but at least they won’t have to suffer getting mocked by laughter I can still hear.
Since the word count on my last freelance gig generated me a few additional ducats, iRewarded myself with an iPod Shuffle and the wonder is what took me so long. Part of the reason is that recently they went from above a hundie down to around sixty bucks. The other part is that it’s not like we’re iPod deficient; we have two in the house already. There’s a second-generation 20-gig model that actually still works quite nicely. And as a wedding present mom bought us a 60-gig iPod Photo last year.
With the exception off using the latter to store our digital photos on vacation in Africa in ’05 and on our roadtrip vacation last month, both units pretty much spend their time in my desk drawer because frankly the prime time for me to utilize them in the music delivery realm is while riding my bike or walking the dog… nd as space and weight are at something of a premium on my bike (plus iWorry about dropping or jarring them), most of the time they stay put.
Thus iWent and iGot me me this new one. No hard drive surfaces to damage, no screens to scratch and a reported 12 hours of battery functionality. At an almost ridiculous few ounces and less than the size of a pack of gum I just drop it in my pocket like of gum and ride. Plus the minimal instrumentation means it’s operable sight unseen through the fabric of my clothes. No muss, no fuss.
It went for its inaugural spin during the trip to last night’s bike ride and it worked great… but clearly my desk is another venue for its use and iAm obviously too capable making a fool of myself with it there:
Coming back home from Costco this afternoon I tuned to KPCC and Terry Gross’ Fresh Air program was in progress. I was immediately drawn to the weary-wise voice of whoever her straight-ahead country gentleman guest was and I soon found out she was talking with a fella the name of James Hand, who seems to have led quite a life and at 53 years old has just released his debut album titled The Truth Will Set You Free.
She asked him how small the town was that he grew up in and in answer he said, “Everybody that lives in it can tear the phonebook in half.” He went on to describe the place as “Itâ€™s like anyplace. Thereâ€™s always going to be roses and thereâ€™s going to be rose fertilizer and when you walk through the fertilizer you hope you donâ€™t track any in on the carpet.” And he called Terry “ma’am” ever chance he got.
I fell in love with him, right away. He had me at fertilizer.
He said things that made me love him even more:
“Well ma’am… if I were a scriptwriter, which I’m not, I think the life I’ve lived would lend itself to the back of any country album although I’m not proud of the life I’ve lived. I don’t think one should talk about the bad over the good but you’re right I have done a lot of things. At this point of my life I explain to people that this is what I’ve got to do. It’s not what I’ve got to do because I can’t do anything else. It’s just what I feel like that I can do better than anything else I can do â€” not the best that someone else can do… the best thing that I can do. Because it keeps me from going crazy. Literally.”
And he said a couple things that choked me up a little bit:
“You know they say a rut is nothing but a grave with both ends kicked out of it and you stay in it long enough and it’ll get kicked in on you.”
“Well, you know a fella gets down sometimes and you just really grow ashamed of yourself. The best way to overcome it is don’t let nobody see you. And hopefully when you come back out of the woods you’ll look better than when you went in.”
Anyway, you can hear the entire interview over here on the NPR website. Me? I’m hoping his CD arrives ffrom Amazon before Susan and I split for Montana at the end of next week, because I’d love to bring him along for the ride and can’t think of anything I’d rather listen to than his real-deal country music on our road-tripping way through Wherever, USA.
In the meantime I’m contenting myself with this here sample of his Shadows Where The Magic Was.
I finally got goofing with Apple’s GarageBand application in the initial hope of creating an inaugural podcast… but at this microcosm of my life I find I have nothing to say, important or otherwise. So instead I started playing around with the program’s rich melody creation features and if I’m not careful I could become seriously addicted to this shit.
As proof not of any musicality so much as my ability to compose simplistic inconsequential tunes, I offer up the following 40 seconds of earsugar in the form of my first GarageBand goof-around, which I appropriately call: Lil Ditty.