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LIFE OF BRIAN: ‘Goodbye Surfing, Hello God’

May 29th, 2015

brian_wilson-3654-num102

 

SLATE: Smile, the Beach Boys’ famously scrapped project, is the most celebrated album never made. Recorded in late 1966 and early 1967 on the heels of the critically lauded album Pet Sounds and the follow-up smash single “Good Vibrations,” Smile was being billed as a significant turning point in popular music well before the public had heard a single note of it. One of the album’s earliest champions was the writer Jules Siegel, whose magazine, the Saturday Evening Post, had commissioned him to write an article on its making. Siegel, blown away by what he heard during his interviews with Wilson, turned in a rhapsodic profile; the Post chided him for abandoning his journalistic objectivity and summarily killed it. Upon hearing one song being readied for the album, the coyly titled epic “Surfs Up,” Leonard Bernstein described it as “too complex to get all of the first time around … poetic, beautiful, even in its obscurity.” By Beach Boys With A Surfboardthis point, Wilson had taken to calling Smile his “teenage symphony to God” and gamely (mis)quoting the American psychiatric pioneer Karl Menninger, signifying that in the four short years since the Beach Boys had risen to the top of the charts with carefree anthems like “Surfin’ Safari,” Wilson had finally and permanently abandoned the tropes of fun in favor of something far more complicated. In doing so, he had safely guided the Beach Boys out of the square wilderness into the realm of the hip—governed at the time by the Revolver-era John Lennon and Paul McCartney, who were said to be working on a new album that was even more daring.

The story of how Smile came not to be has, over time, taken on the aura of parable: It’s the story of the emotionally fragile genius beset by knaves, forced to abandon his magnum opus rather than allow it to be compromised. In this oversimplified version of events, the heavy is usually played by Beach Boy Mike Love (Wilson’s cousin), who openly objected to the experimental, and arguably uncommercial, direction in which the group was apparently headed. A pivotal moment took place during the recording of ” Cabinessence,” when Love was asked to sing one of the more esoteric lines penned by Van Dyke Parks, a Los Angeles folk-scene wunderkind whom Wilson had hired to produce suitable lyrics. Parks’ elliptical, impressionistic poetry conjured a surreal vista punctuated by sturdy emblems of Americana: divine visitations, the building of the railroads, decadent opera-goers, Old West tableaux, agrarian idylls—more libretto than pop lyric. Love finally agreed to sing the line (“Over and over/ The crow cries, ‘Uncover the cornfield’ “) after an angry protest, but his vote of no-confidence alienated Parks, who ended up walking away from the project. Meanwhile, Wilson’s LSD-addled mood, already mercurial, hardened into a full-fledged bipolarity, marked by bursts of obsessive tweaking alternating with long periods of sulky inaction. He was acutely aware that with the release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the Beatles were about to lay irrefutable claim to the title of Pop’s Reigning Geniuses, and he was despondent at having lost the race to usher in the “new sound.” By the time Sgt. Pepper came out, it was already sadly evident that Smile probably never would. MORE

The+Beach+Boys+Lets+Go+Away+for+Awhile

 
CHEETAH MAGAZINE, 1967: It was just another day of greatness at Gold Star Recording Studios on Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood. In the morning four long-haired kids had knocked out two hours of sound for a record plugger who was trying to curry favor with a disk jockey friend of theirs in San Jose. Nobody knew it at the moment, but out of that two hours there were about three minutes that would hit the top of the charts in a few weeks, and the record plugger, the disk jockey and the kids would all be hailed as geniuses, but geniuses with a very small g.

Now, however, in the very same studio a Genius with a very large capital G was going to produce a hit. There was no doubt it would be a hit because this Genius was Brian Wilson. In four years of recording for Capitol Records, he and his group, the Beach Boys, had made surfing music a national craze, sold 16 million singles and earned gold records for 10 of their 12 albums.

Not only was Brian going to produce a hit, but also, one gathered, he was going to show everybody in the music business exactly where it was at; and where it was at, it seemed, was that Brian Wilson was not merely a Genius—which is to say a steady commercial success—but rather, like Bob Dylan and John Lennon, a GENIUS—which is to say a steady commercial success and hip besides.

Until now, though, there were not too many hip people who would have considered Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys hip, even though he had produced one very hip record, “Good Vibrations,” Brian Eating Recordwhich had sold more than a million copies, and a super-hit album, Pet Sounds, which didn’t do very well at all—by previous Beach Boys sales standards. Among the hip people he was still on trial, and the question discussed earnestly among the recognized authorities on what is and what is not hip was whether or not Brian Wilson was hip, semi-hip or square.

But walking into the control room with the answers to all questions such as this was Brian Wilson himself, wearing a competition-stripe surfer’s T-shirt, tight white duck pants, pale green bowling shoes and a red plastic fireman’s helmet. Everybody was wearing identical red plastic toy fireman’s helmets. Brian’s cousin and production assistant, Steve Korthoff was wearing one; his wife, Marilyn, and her sister, Diane Rovelle—Brian’s secretary—were also wearing them, and so was a once-dignified writer from The Saturday Evening Post who had been following Brian around for two months.

Out in the studio, the musicians for the session were unpacking their instruments. In sport shirts and slacks, they looked like insurance salesmen and used-car dealers, except for one blond female percussionist who might have been stamped out by a special machine that supplied plastic mannequin housewives for detergent commercials.

Controlled, a little bored after 20 years or so of nicely paid anonymity, these were the professionals of the popular music business, hired guns who did their jobs expertly and efficiently and then went home to the suburbs. If you wanted swing, they gave you swing. A little movie-track lushness? Fine, here comes movie-track lushness. Now it’s rock and roll? Perfect rock and roll, down the chute.

“Steve,” Brian called out, “where are the rest of those fire hats? I want everybody to wear fire hats. Brian Eating RecordWe’ve really got to get into this thing.” Out to the Rolls-Royce went Steve and within a few minutes all of the musicians were wearing fire hats, silly grins beginning to crack their professional dignity.

“All right, let’s go,” said Brian. Then, using a variety of techniques ranging from vocal demonstration to actually playing the instruments, he taught each musician his part. A gigantic fire howled out of the massive studio speakers in a pounding crash of pictorial music that summoned up visions of roaring, windstorm flames, falling timbers, mournful sirens and sweating firemen, building into a peak and crackling off into fading embers as a single drum turned into a collapsing wall and the fire-engine cellos dissolved and disappeared.

“When did he write this?” asked an astonished pop music producer who had wandered into the studio. “This is really fantastic! Man, this is unbelievable! How long has he been working on it?”

“About an hour,” answered one of Brian’s friends.

“I don’t believe it. I just can’t believe what I’m hearing,” said the producer and fell into a stone glazed silence as the fire music began again.

For the next three hours, Brian Wilson recorded and re-recorded, take after take, changing the sound balance, adding echo, experimenting with a sound effects track of a real fire.

“Let me hear that again.” “Drums, I think you’re a little slow in that last part. Let’s get right on it.” “That was really good. Now, one more time, the whole thing.” “All right, let me hear the cellos alone.” “Great. Really great. Now let’s do it!”

With 23 takes on tape and the entire operation responding to his touch like the black knobs on the control board, sweat glistening down his long, reddish hair onto his freckled face, the control room a litter of dead cigarette butts, Chicken Delight boxes, crumpled napkins, Coke bottles and all the accumulated trash of the physical end of the creative process, Brian stood at the board as the four speakers blasted the music into the room.

For the 24th time, the drum crashed and the sound effects crackle faded and stopped.

Brian Eating Record

“Thank you,” said Brian into the control room mic. “Let me hear that back.” Feet shifting, his body still, eyes closed, head moving seal-like to his music, he stood under the speakers and listened. “Let me hear that one more time.” Again the fire roared. “Everybody come out and listen to this,” Brian said to the musicians. They came into the room and listened to what they had made.

“What do you think?” Brian asked.

“It’s incredible, incredible,” whispered one of the musicians, a man in his fifties wearing a Hawaiian shirt and iridescent trousers and pointed black Italian shoes. “Absolutely incredible.”

“Yeah,” said Brian on the way home, an acetate trial copy or “dub” of the tape in his hands, the red plastic fire helmet still on his head. “Yeah, I’m going to call this ‘Mrs. O’Leary’s Fire’ and I think it might just scare a whole lot of people.”

As it turns out, however, Brian Wilson’s magic fire music is not going to scare anybody—because nobody other than the few people who heard it in the studio will ever get to listen to it. A few days after the record was finished, a building across the street from the studio burned down and, according to Brian, there was also an unusually large number of fires in Los Angeles. Afraid that his music might in fact turn out to be magic fire music, Wilson destroyed the master.  MORE

JULES SIEGEL: Although Turrentine correctly reports that the Saturday Evening Post killed my story, it was later published Brian Eating Recordin Cheetah magazine, October, 1967, as “Goodbye Surfing, Hello God!–the Religious Conversion of the Beach Boys.” It’s been anthologized in at least four books, most recently in Library of America’s Writing Los Angeles.

Without any false humility, I can say that I was one of the people who invented rock journalism. Journalists such as Al Aronowitz, Richard Goldstein and I were among the first to write about rock in mainstream media without being condescending or demeaning. Nonetheless, I never thought of “Goodbye Surfing, Hello God!” as rock journalism. It was a pretty far-out piece even for regular journalism at the time. I don’t think many celebrity pieces before or since have ever gotten that close to a subject and been written about it.

Brian was quite upset about it. I heard that the Beach Boys were still complaining about it a few years later in Tom Nolan’s Rolling Stone interview. Maybe now he’s got some more distance on it and can see that “Goodbye Surfing, Hello God!” was a principal force in creating the myth of Smile. I know that others did write about it at the time, but some of them talked to me first. Other than David Oppenheimer, I was the only one in the major media who took Brian seriously, and even David talked with me at great length while he was making his documentary.

In reading over my story 37 years later, I see some rather awkward moments. At the time, Saturday Evening Post writers did not usually mention themselves in stories. I wanted to do this story exactly as I would have written a short story or a segment of a novel. In order to get around my adherence to the convention of impersonality, I had to describe myself as a “Saturday Evening Post writer” and a “friend.” Both were true, but these days I would just use “I” or “me.” Some of the writing is a little too self-consciously jazzy, but I was young then.

Despite these minor flaws, I’m still very happy with the story, and I am even happier that Brian has finally achieved his dream. He was a giant then and he is a giant now. All of us who struggle against the mainstream currents can take heart in this outcome. For once, a good guy wins. God bless Brian Wilson! God bless all artists who try and fail, and try again and fail again, ad infinitum, but never give up. MORE

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CINEMA: To Live And Die In Twin Peaks

May 29th, 2015

THE ADVOCATE: A Brooklyn, N.Y., filmmaker who previously told the story of a teen obsessed with porn is teaming up with the creator of the otherworldly film Tarnation to tell a strange story of a teen whose life revolved around the show Twin Peaks. But they need your help to do it.Travis Blue’s childhood in a small Washington town was turned upside down one day when he stumbled across a film crew shooting Northwest Passage, as the show was then called. Fascinated by the transformation of his hometown into a fictional world, Blue skipped school to watch the filming of the iconic scene in which Laura Palmer’s body is discovered wrapped in plastic. He couldn’t have known then how his life would come to mirror Laura’s, but before long Blue found himself descending into a world of drug abuse and homelessness in an attempt to escape abuse and deal with his emerging sexuality. Throughout it all, he fixated on Twin Peaks as a model for his life, idolizing the character of Laura. MORE

KICKSTARTER: Ours is the first film to explore the impact of David Lynch’s cult masterpiece Twin Peaks using one superfan’s incredible true story. As a child, Travis Blue looked for an escape from cruelty and abuse he endured, and he soon found it the day he came across David Lynch and his crew filming Twin Peaks – then titled Northwest Passage – in his own hometown. Travis became fascinated with the idea that his world could be transformed into a fictional place as weird and wondrous as Twin Peaks.Travis formed a connection with Laura Palmer, the tragic, mysterious figure at Twin Peaks‘ core. His obsession with the series took him to the Twin Peaks Fan Festivals, where he had wild adventures and found friends. But as he entered his teenage years and his sexuality began to surface, Travis turned to Laura – who wielded power over the men in Twin Peaks – as a role model, and he began to do the things she did – from using drugs to sex work – which drew him closer and closer to the show’s darker side and put him at risk of suffering Laura’s tragic fate. Our film begins with Travis’ earliest memories of the show’s production, then traces his 12-year-journey to come to terms with the traumatic experiences in his life and figure out who he really was. MORE

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DUMB ANGEL: Smile, Brian Wilson’s Rosebud

May 28th, 2015

Smile surfboard

 

BY JONATHAN VALANIA Teenage symphonies to God. That’s the phrase Beach Boys auteur Brian Wilson used to describe the a heartbreaking works of staggering genius he was creating in the mid-’60s, when his compositional powers were achieving miraculous states of beauty and innovation even as his fevered faculties skirted the fringes of madness. With the 1966 release of Pet Sounds, Beach Boys With A SurfboardThe Beach Boy’s orchestral-pop opus of ocean-blue melancholia, Brian clinched his status as teen America’s Mozart-on-the-beach in the cosmology of modern pop music.

Less than a year later, he would fall off the edge of his mind, abandoning his ambitious LSD-inspired follow-up, an album with the working title Dumb Angel later changed to Smile, which many who were privy to the recording sessions claimed would change the course of music history. Instead, it was The Beatles who would, as the history books tell us, assume the mantle of culture-shifting visionaries with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, released a few months after Wilson pulled the plug on Smile. Meanwhile, Wilson sank into a decades-long downward spiral of darkness, exiling himself to a bedroom hermitage of terrifying hallucinations, debilitating paranoia, Herculean drug abuse and morbid obesity. While he would later recover some measure of his sanity, he would never again craft a work of such overarching majesty.

In the wake of all the breathless hype for an album that was never finished, Smile took on mythical status, and a cult of Wilsonian acolytes sprang up as fellow musicians and super-fans tried to connect the dots into constellations and piece together a completed album from the bootlegs of recording session outtakes that have leaked out over the years. For decades, Wilson maintained a Sphinx-like silence, unwilling or unable to talk about the project, which only amped up the mystery surrounding the project. But given its central role in his precipitous downfall, it’s no wonder Wilson refused to even discuss Smile in interviews, let alone entertain repeated entreaties to finish and release it. Furthermore, he no longer had the Beach Boys’ golden throats to carry his tunes — brothers Carl and Dennis are deceased and his relationship with cousin Mike Love has devolved into acrimony and six-figure litigation.

Meanwhile, even with Wilson‘s protracted absence from the music scene, the dark legend of Smile was passed down via oral tradition and backroom-traded bootlegs to succeeding generations of pop obsessives, scholars and composers and hailed by many as the enigmatic “Rosebud” of popular music. Selected tracks from the Smile sessions — spectral, spooky, ineffably beautiful — released with 1994′s Good Vibrations box set only fanned the flames of obsession and lurid speculation. Like the mysterious leopard found frozen to death near the summit of the mountain in Hemingway’s “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” everyone wanted to know how Wilson got that high and what exactly he was looking for up there.

Aided by the radical interventions of psychiatrists and a cornucopia of mood-altering and anti-psychotic medications — not to mention an empathetic support network of friends, family and business associates — Brian has staged an impressive comeback despite that fact that he remains a very damaged soul. For the last decade, he has delivered moving concert performances with an exceptionally fluent 10-piece band of new-school L.A. scenesters that is capable of replicating the sunbeam glories of those Beach Boys harmonies and recreating the orchestral pop glories of Pet Sounds down to the last ornate sonic detail.

The, in 2004, Brian shocked the music world with the announcement that he had finally completed his lost masterpiece with the aid of this crack touring band, re-recording the vocals and backing tracks and completing, with the help of his Smile-era lyricist Van Dyke Parks, the project’s half-finished songs. As welcome as news of this development was to Smile buffs, the end result was somehow less-than-completely-satisfying, like visiting a replica of an historic artifact in a museum (Not the actual bed that George Washington slept in, but an incredible facsimile!) The critical response was fawning, but smacked of the over-praise usually reserved for special Olympians, and as such ultimately fleeting.Which is why the five CD box set The Smile Sessions will be the final word on Smile, separating once and for all rumor from fact, solving old mysteries, cracking the riddles of incompletion and providing closure for those that have pondered and puzzled over Smile’s tragicomic legend for the last 44 years. Relying on cutting edge digital technology to assemble, assess and edit together the best and brightest moments buried in the more than 30 hours of Smile work tapes — which was a fool’s errand in the razor-and-scotch-tape analog era — and using the 2004 re-do as a guide for song selection and sequence, engineers Mark Linnett and Alan Boyd have assembled the closest we will ever come to a completed Smile on Disc One.

Discs Two, Three and Four assembles rehearsal work tapes, embryonic early takes and alternate versions of the songs on Disc One. These outtakes are fascinating for the range of experimentation and innovation attempted here, as well the telling snippets of dialogue (“Are you guys feeling the acid yet?” Brian asks during an early run through the Gregorian chant of “Our Prayer”). Disc 5 contains 24 versions of “Good Vibrations,” enabling the listener to hear its evolution from quasi-R&B stomper to the trippy pocket-sized symphony that plays in perpetuity on oldies radio. Recorded over the course of nine months in three studios at a cost of $40,000 the song was at the time the most expensive single ever made. Serving as a bridge between Pet Sounds and Smile, “Good Vibrations” marks the beginning of Brian’s use of the modular composition technique that made the song both a deathless classic and an intimation of Smile’s impending doom. Instead of tracking songs from beginning to end as he did on Pet Sounds, Brian recorded and re-recorded an endless series of interchangeable sonic segments that would be jigsawed together at the end. This technique would prove doable but daunting in the digital era — where point-and-click technology enabled the engineers to time travel back and forth across hours and hours of recording sessions in mere seconds  and edit together otherwise incongruent musical passages with relative ease — but epic, laborious and, quite literally, crazy-making in the low-tech analog era of the late 1960s. In that sense, Smile was way ahead of its time, as Brian and his acolytes always claimed, if only because the technology needed to complete it simply didn’t exist in 1967.

But a few listens to the songs on Disc One would cause any neutral observer with a functioning pair functioning pair of ears to conclude that this music was way ahead its time sonically and thematically — a cinematic travelogue narrated by a psychedelic barbershop quartet fronting a cosmic Salvation Army Band, mapping the birth of a nation, the westward expansion of manifest destiny from Plymouth Rock to blue Hawaii, evoking all the weirdness and whimsy, the laughter and the tears, the triumph and tragedy in between — because it still sounds thoroughly modern, and for that matter altogether mind blowing, 44 years after its stillborn inception.

The Beach Boys: Good Vibrations from DERTV on Vimeo.

This piece originally appeared in the November 2011 issue of MAGNET MAGAZINE

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NPR 4 THE DEAF: We Hear It Even When U Can’t

May 28th, 2015

Daniel Oyelowo

 

FRESH AIR: If actor David Oyelowo projects a regal air, it’s one he comes by naturally. Born in England to Nigerian parents, Oyelowo’s father had always told him that theirs was a royal family, a claim the actor initially discounted. “I was like, ‘Yeah, whatever,’ ” Oyelowo tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross. But then the family moved back to Nigeria where they lived on a street named after his family and the actor realized that his father had not been joking. Oyelowo says that his family’s royal heritage did not come with financial or “positional” benefits, but it did convey a “sense of self that has enabled me, as I’ve gone into my life in the West, to carry myself in a way that flies in the face of the world in which I live.” At the age of 24, Oyelowo brought his regal bearing to the stage, where he became the first black actor to portray a king in a Royal Shakespeare Company production. More recently, he has made a name for himself by taking on American film roles. He played Martin Luther King Jr. in the film Selma, a civil rights activist in The Butler and a member of the Tuskeegee Airmen in Red Tails. His most recent film, HBO’s Nightingale, is a single-character drama in which Oyelowo portrays an American veteran who is having a mental breakdown. Oyelowo is open to playing many different types of characters, but he says there are a few roles he will not consider: “Don’t send me your script if you want me to play the black best friend. I just won’t do that. You can feel when it’s literally an afterthought; you can feel when it’s like, ‘Oh quick, let’s get some color in here.’ That I won’t do because it’s disrespectful and, for me, I’m either part of the solution or I’m part of the problem.” MORE

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WORTH REPEATING: Being Bernie Sanders

May 28th, 2015

Anonymous-Bernie-Sanders1

 

MOTHER JONES: Not long after graduating from the University of Chicago, and fresh from a stint on an Israeli kibbutz, Sanders arrived in Vermont in the late 1960s on the crest of a wave. The state’s population jumped 31 percent in the 1960s and ’70s, due largely to an infusion of over 30,000 hippies who had come to the state seeking peace, freedom, and cheap land. Sanders and his then-wife bought 85 acres in rural Vermont for $2,500. The only building on the property was an old maple-sugar house without electricity or running water, which Sanders converted into a cabin.

Free-range hair and sandals notwithstanding, Sanders never quite fit the mold of the back-to-the-landers he joined. “I don’t think Bernie was particularly into growing vegetables,” one friend put it. Nor was he much into smoking them. “He described himself once in my hearing as ‘the only person who did not get high in the ’60s,'” recalls Greg Guma, a writer and activist who traveled in the same circles as Sanders in Burlington. “He didn’t even like rock music—he likes country music.” (Sanders did say in a 1972 interview that he had tried marijuana.) “He’s not a hippie, never was a hippie,” Sugarman says. “But he was always a little bit on the suburbs of society.” […]

In those early years, Sanders, a member of the Young People’s Socialist League at the University of Chicago, was a true believer in what might be called small-s socialism, and had little patience for lukewarm allies. He believed in the need for a united front of anti-capitalist activists marching in step against the corrupt establishment. […] “I once asked him Young Berniewhat he meant by calling himself a ‘socialist,’ and he referred to an article that was already a touchstone of mine, which was Albert Einstein’s ‘Why Socialism?‘” says Sanders’ friend Jim Rader. “I think that Bernie’s basic idea of socialism was just about as simple as Einstein’s formulation.” (In short, according to the physicist, capitalism is a soul-sucking construct that corrodes society.) MORE

SALON: Most news articles about Bernie Sanders in the mainstream media include the phrase “avowed socialist” or “avowed democratic socialist.” The phrase has become hackneyed to the point that one struggles to remember when “avowed” was used to describe anything other than Bernie Sanders’ left-wing politics. If nothing else, Sanders’ campaign for president, which he (re)announced in Burlington, Vermont, on Tuesday, will forever link the word “avowed” with the words “democratic) socialist Bernie Sanders” in the minds of political junkies, much like fans of “The Simpsons” can no longer hear the words “dental plan” without immediately thinking “Lisa needs braces!”

The use of “avowed” connotes a taboo. That Sanders would avow his belief in socialism, or democratic socialism, or anything containing the term “socialism,” is a sly way for reporters to imply that he has zero chance of appealing to red-blooded Americans. It is equal to, if not worse than, being an avowed worshipper of Satan or the New York Yankees. Labels are fun. But what things does Bernie Sanders believe? Are they things that some other Americans might believe? And where do they fit within the confines of the Democratic Party, of which Sanders is not a member but will be competing for its presidential nomination?

Ahead of his campaign launch, Sanders gave an interview with the underground left-wing pamphlet CNBC, outlining one of the basic premises of his campaign: that he’ll advocate for the very things that mainstream Democrats for decades have been insisting they don’t believe, like so-called redistribution of wealth.

SANDERS: What is my dream? My dream is, do we live in a country where 70 percent, 80 percent, 90 percent of the people vote? Where we have serious discourse on media rather than political gossip, by the way? Where we’re debating trade policy, we’re debating foreign policy, we’re debating economic policy, where the American people actually know what’s going on in Congress? Ninety-nine percent of all new income generated today goes to the top 1 percent. Top one-tenth of 1 percent owns as much as wealth as the bottom 90 percent. Does anybody think that that is the kind of economy this country should have? Do we think it’s moral? So to my mind, if you have seen a massive transfer of wealth from the middle class to the top one-tenth of 1 percent, you know what, we’ve got to transfer that back if we’re going to have a vibrant middle class. And you do that in a lot of ways. Certainly one way is tax policy. MORE

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INCOMING: Maximum Bump N’ Grind

May 28th, 2015

Philadelphia Burlesque Fest

 

Burlesque is to stripping is what a Betty Boop cartoon is to a David Lee Roth video, what grindhouse is to grindcore, what slap and tickle is to reverse cowgirl. Retro, cool and stylish, burlesque is about sociology not gynecology. We, meaning you, should know. From The Trocadero’s days as a burlesque theater to The Peek-A-Boo Revue, burlesque has a long rich  history in Philadelphia. Today, burlesque is alive and well in Philly with troupes like Broad St. Burlesque and the aforementioned Peek-A-Boo Revue keepin’ it real. Popular venues PhilaMOCA, Underground Arts, World Cafe Live, Johnny Brenda’s and Bourbon & Branch continue to host burlesque events in the city. “Philadelphia’s burlesque scene has grown so much over the past eight years, exponentially so in last few,” says Broad St. Burlesque Productions’ Liberty Rose. “Across the city there are so many troupes, variety shows and monthly installments, weekly burlesque battles, shows in dive bars, shows in beautiful theatres, and so much more,” says Hattie Harlow, Broad St. Burlesque. And so the Philadelphia Burlesque Festival – two days of burlesque performances, burlesque classes, ice cream socials and before and after parties — was born, says Harlow and Rose, co-creators (along with Dottie Riot) of the newly-minted bump n’ grind fest. The main showcases will take place at Plays and Players Theatre, 17th and Delancey street, on Friday and Saturday. “The festival is something, I think, that can draw all of those people together into one uniting force,” says Harlow. Things start rolling tonight with a kick-off party for the Burlesque Festival at Underground Arts hosted by Scott Johnston, of Peek-A-Boo Revue and The Roddenberries fame, featuring performances by Bunny Bedford, Holly Ween, Tesla Tease and Sven Inches. And if all that isn’t enough, on Sunday the festival’s closing party at Silk City will feature performers gyrating to live music by Bill Tayoun, Joey Tayoun and Drew Nugent. It will surely be a weekend-long extravaganza of glitter, glamour, tassels and ta-tas. Let the wild rumpus begin. -- TATIANA SWEDEK

THE PHILADELPHIA BURLESQUE FESTIVAL RUNS FROM MAY 29TH-30TH @ PLAYS AND PLAYERS THEATER, 17TH & DELANCEY ST., PHILADELPHIA

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MIKE LOVE NOT WAR: Q&A With A Beach Boy

May 27th, 2015


!NOTE: This picture comes from a photo-sharing site where it was posted without attribution but with the caption ‘My mom backstage’

BY JONATHAN VALANIA In the psychedelic American fairy tale that is The Beach Boys — who play Camden on Saturday as part of a tour celebrating 50 years of endless summer –  Mike Love is invariably cast as the villain. The pre-maturely balding Philistine. The counter-revolutionary company man. The sexist greed head who saw the band as little more than a singing ATM machine. The one who blanched at any and all attempts to move the band past past the well-trod thematic terrain of hot dogs,Beach Boys With A Surfboard hot rods and surfboards. The one who killed Smile because it was ‘too weird and druggy”  (read: not commercial enough). The one who sued Brian Wilson for co-songwriting credits and milked his cousin for $13 million. The one who brought John Stamos and his congas on board the good ship Beach Boys. All true, to a certain extent. But let it be said that Mr. Love lived up to his surname when he called Phawker last week from the Green Room at Leno for a pre-arranged phone interview. He was charming, well-spoken and completely candid — to his credit he never shied away from even the hardest questions that were asked of him. Discussed: Killing Smile, LSD, Brian’s mental illness, Pet Sounds, Charles Manson, going to India with the Beatles, Van Dyke Parks, Transcendental Meditation, yogic flying, Ronald Reagan and the ghosts of Fourth of Julys past in Philly.

PHAKWER: Hello?

MIKE LOVE: Hello, this is Mike Love.

PHAWKER: I have been waiting 30 years for you to call.

MIKE LOVE: [laughs]

PHAWKER: Can you just say hello again so I can get a [recording] level?

MIKE LOVE:
Sure. This is Mike Love calling Jonathan Valania.

PHAWKER: Nice.

MIKE LOVE: I guess people are making me call you or you’re forced to talk to me because we are playing in Camden. Am I right?

PHAWKER: Correct. First things first, congratulations on the new record and 50 years being The Beach Boys. It’s good to hear you guys making music together again. But I wanted to go back and ask some things I always wanted to ask over the years. First thing is “Good Vibrations” lyrics. I’ve recently come to the conclusion that “Good Vibrations” is the greatest song of the 1960s out of all of them, and enduringly so. It still blows my mind when I hear it come on the radio, and my mind is not easily blown by things I hear on the radio. I wanted to ask you a little bit about writing the lyrics for it because the lyrics are really strong.

MIKE LOVE: I came up with the part ‘I’m picking up good vibrations/ Shes giving me excitations’ which kind of goes around with the bass line that Brian came up with. Brian did the track and I did the lyrics. But I came up with that musical line for the chorus. And I wrote the words because it was 1966 when I recorded that song. The psychedelic music was going on, the flower power thing was going on, and the Summer of Love was about to go on. That influence was really heavy in the West Coast, more so in San Francisco but still plenty of it in the LA area, particularly with musicians. So I wrote those words. Actually on the way to the studio I dictated a poem to my then wife Suzanne and we were driving down the road to the studio and I just dictated the words to her. Basically it was just a flowery poem. Kind of almost like ‘If you’re going to San Francisco be sure to wear flowers in your hair.’ So that was the influence at the time and the track that Brian came up with was so avant garde, so unique. I always say its non-derivative, meaning so many songs that you listen to or hear on the radio or whatever are what I call derivative. They sound like a compilation or something borrowed from this song or that song or the other song or this artist or that artist and they all sound like they’re just a recycled kind of something. You know what I mean? And there’s all different type of music of course but nonetheless there are so many pop songs that sound derivative, is the word I use. But with “Good Vibrations”, it’s so unique it doesn’t sound like anything ever before or since. People ask me what is my favorite song; I kind of got to say that “Good Vibrations” is my favorite in terms of its uniqueness, its creativity, and the fact that it was successful as well. You can be creative and unique and a commercial failure as well but in this particular instance “Good Vibrations” was our biggest hit of the 60s. We had some pretty big ones and it was so unique. I think someone at Rolling Stone magazine many years ago said it was the single of the century, so it kind of goes along with what you’re saying about it.

PHAWKER: I will go that far. I will go that far as well. It’s definitely in the top 2 or 3 moments of 20th century popular music if not number one.

MIKE LOVE:
When we do it on stage, they’ll tell you with the audience coming and seeing us all together, it gets quite an ovation. Quite an extended amount of applause. It’s definitely got weight.

PHAWKER:
I’m sure. Now I never understood this dispute about “Hang on to Your Ego”/“I Know There’s an Answer.” What was your objection to singing ‘hang on to your ego’ in the chorus? Can you explain to me what that was all about?

MIKE LOVE:
“Hang On To Your Ego” has to do with LSD and its effect on the mind. And “I Know There’s An Answer” is a less LSD influenced lyric. That was my view.

PHAWKER: And you were anti LSD? Was that the thing?

MIKE LOVE: I was not into it. The thing that was most disturbing to me was that in 1966, ‘67 there were so many drugs being done not only by some of the group members but a lot of musicians, you know it was so cool and everything but the problem is just like with alcohol. Some people can drink and be fine but other people are alcoholics, they drink and it just destroys your life. Same with drugs. Some people can take LSD and function okay after it wore off; other people it pushes them into like a psychosis. I had an issue with too much LSD whether it be in lyrics or life.
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CHEERS ELEPHANT: Airliner

May 27th, 2015

Cheers Elephant, the Philly-turned-LA progenitors of so-called “chew it up, spit it out, rock and roll” spat out a new song last Friday called “Airliner.” The new song comes on the heels of “Speak Think,” released a month ago, and is one more reason to believe that a new album is in the offing. “Airliner” — like most Cheers Elephant songs, boasts an uber-catchy melody, slammin’ beat and freaky-chill vocal harmonies — is right in line with the Elephants’ recent trend of getting greater with every song they release. Hard to say what it’s all about beyond the fact that they came up with a way to turn the word ‘airliner’ into an earworm. Truth be told, it’s hard to tell if their name check of the City Of Brotherly Love is pimping our ride or throwing shade: “I’m gonna tell you what it’s like Philadelphia/I aint got no path, I’ve got no dreams Cinderella/
Yeah, I’ve got no line in my silverlining.” An oblique reference to our beloved Rocky Cinderella story/creation myth? Or the 700 Level-style Upper Darby-ness of Silver Linings Playbook? No matter, every time I hear them sing ‘aiiiiiiiiiiirliiiiiiiiin-ER’ all is forgiven. –TOM BECK

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The Duggar Family Has 19 Reasons & Counting For Electing Rick Santorum President Of The USA

May 27th, 2015

From 2012 and never more relevant.

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LIFE OF BRIAN: A Q&A w/ The Beach Boys Auteur

May 26th, 2015

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: A version of this Q&A originally published on October 10th, 2013

BY JONATHAN VALANIA Teenage symphonies to God. That’s the phrase Beach Boys auteur Brian Wilson used to describe the heartbreaking works of staggering genius he was creating in the mid-’60s, when his compositional powers were achieving miraculous states of beauty and innovation even as his fevered faculties skirted the fringes of madness. With the 1966 release of Pet Sounds, The Beach Boy’s orchestral-pop opus of ocean-blue melancholia, Brian clinched his status as teen America’s Mozart-on-the-beach in the cosmology of modern pop music.

Less than a year later, he would fall off the edge of his mind, abandoning his ambitious LSD-inspired follow-up, an album with the working title Dumb Angel later changed to Smile, which many Beach Boys With A Surfboardwho were privy to the recording sessions claimed would change the course of music history. Instead, it was The Beatles who would, as the history books tell us, assume the mantle of culture-shifting visionaries with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, released a few months after Wilson pulled the plug on Smile. Meanwhile, Wilson sank into a decades-long downward spiral of darkness, exiling himself to a bedroom hermitage of terrifying hallucinations, debilitating paranoia, Herculean drug abuse and morbid obesity. While he would later recover some measure of his sanity, he would never again craft a work of such overarching majesty.

These days an interview with Brian Wilson is what they call in the journalism biz a ‘talking dog story’ — i.e. it’s not so much what the dog said it’s that he talked at all. Even in his prime, Brian never had much to say — verbally, anyway — which is why he worked with lyricists like Tony Asher (Pet Sounds) and Van Dyke Parks (Smile) — and let’s face it, at 71 his prime was a long time ago. When you interview Brian these days you pretty much get well-rehearsed and oft-repeated responses. Listening to the Four Freshmen gave him his uncanny ear for harmony. Studying Phil Spector’s production techniques informed his gift for wedding songs about girls and hot rods to lush, expansive orchestral arrangements. “Be My Baby” is his favorite song of all time. Mike Love’s not really an asshole, he just plays one off-stage and in litigation. After 50-plus years of battling mental illness, drug addiction, and Mike Love, Brian sounds tired, like he’d be happy just to kick back and watch Jeopardy. But alas, he is a legend, and like rust, legends never sleep.

PHAWKER: Tell me what is a typical day in the life of Brian Wilson these days? Tell me what’s your routine like? You get up in the morning and then what?

BRIAN WILSON
: I exercise all day at a park ten minutes from here, and I also play the piano a lot, and I watch a lot of television.

PHAWKER: Do you have favorite TV shows?

BRIAN WILSON: Yeah I like Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune.

PHAWKER: And can you tell me a little bit about how you write songs these days? Do you just sit down at the piano and tinkle around until something comes?

BRIAN WILSON: Well what I do is: I sit down at the piano with my collaborator, Joe Thomas, and we play chords and the melody starts to come after we hear the chords and then after the melody the lyrics start to happen!

PHAWKER: Is there a song that you wish…a famous song that you did not write that you wish you had…that you love so much that you wish you had written.

BRIAN WILSON: “Be My Baby.”

PHAWKER: So I don’t know if you remember but I came to your house back in 1999. You probably don’t remember this because you meet so many people. But you were living in Beverly Hills at the time next door to Shaquille O’Neal. I don’t know if you still live in that same house. But anyway, I brought along some Smile bootlegs and sort of made you sit down and listen to them with me, and you were sort of reluctant at first, but then you got into it and you were kind of nodding your head in time to the music and smiling and eventually you were just like, “yeah this music’s pretty good!” And I told you, “yeah it’s great, Brian.” And a few years later you finished Smile and you released it. Now I would like to take all the credit for having you finally finishing Smile. I’m kind of joking here, Brian. But would that be okay with you if I took all the credit for getting Smile finished?

BRIAN WILSON: Noooooo, noooooo.

PHAWKER: Alright, we’ll leave it with you. Now listen, I know we’re not supposed to talk about Mike Love, but I didn’t know that before I’d written up all my questions and a lot of them are about…Well let me ask you this, do you think the surviving Beach Boys members will ever perform again?

BRIAN WILSON: It’s very doubtful if we will, yeah.

PHAWKER: And can I ask you this one last question? And maybe you can explain this to me because I just don’t understand it: why is Mike Love such an asshole.

BRIAN WILSON: He’s not an asshole; he’s just a hard guy to get along with, you know?

PHAWKER: Well, where I come from that’s the definition of an asshole, but I admire your graciousness. Well I think that’s all the questions I have for you, Brian. I wish you the best of luck, as always. I’m very glad to see…you know I do have just one last question for you! When I see you on stage – I have seen you perform a number of times – sometimes I get the feeling that you don’t really want to be there and I’m not alone in thinking that. I know other people who have said the same thing. By question is: do you enjoy performing live? Or is it sort of something you kind of have to do these days at this point in your career to keep the lights on, so to speak, and pay the bills.

BRIAN WILSON: Well I don’t know. I like to perform. Sometimes I feel a little scared to perform, you know. But I do my best to perform. At my age, it’s getting a little rougher to perform.

PHAWKER: How old are you now, Brian?

BRIAN WILSON: 71.

PHAWKER: At 71, if you could go back to your younger self, when you were in your 20s, what would you do differently? What would you have done differently knowing what you know now?

BRIAN WILSON: I wouldn’t have taken so many drugs, that’s what I would have done.

PHAWKER: Well, let that be a lesson to young people when they read this. Brian, again, I want to thank you for the taking the time to speak to me. I’m a huge fan, and on behalf of the people of planet Earth, thank you very much for all the music. I’ll say goodbye to you and wish you peace and love and good vibrations. Sail on, sailor

BRIAN WILSON: Thank you very much.

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RIP: Philadelphia Native Mary Ellen Mark, Unflinching-Eyed Photojournalist, Dead At 75

May 26th, 2015

Gypsy Camp Mary Mark Ellen

Photo by MARY MARK ELLEN

NEW YORK TIMES: She brings to all her photographs an unflinching yet compassionate eye. In the midst of exotica or on the fringes of society, where she often chooses to be, she does not exaggerate the unavoidably alien, freakish qualities a less complex photographer would emphasize, but tries to find clues to what is familiar and human. Thus a picture of three Indian prostitutes solemnly, uncomfortably awaiting a man’s decision becomes a poignant, harsher version of young girls at a dance. Mark says that ”Falkland Road,” her 1981 book on the Bombay brothels ”was meant almost as a metaphor for entrapment, for how difficult it is to be a woman.”

Her subject matter raises an old question about photojournalism: Do photographers exploit those less fortunate than themselves for the sake of their art? Mark herself simply asks whether the poor should be ignored; many have eagerly posed for her, she says, precisely because they wished to be noticed at last. And as Richard B. Stolley, who as managing editor of Life magazine assigned to Mark many of her most important stories, puts it, ”If she weren’t such a good photographer, the charge would never arise.” […]Mary Mark Ellen

Yet at a time when magazines are cutting back on photo essays in favor of twinkling pictures of media stars and token illustrations in text pieces, outlets for photojournalism are steadily diminishing. Mary Ellen Mark is one of the few photographers today whose stories have regularly appeared in such publications as Life, The Sunday Times of London, The New York Times Magazine, Rolling Stone, Paris-Match, Stern and Time. And in a magazine forum that sometimes seems to be split between hardship and glitz, she has an offbeat and distinctive vision of both. She does essays on Ethiopian refugees or the elderly in Miami; then, to earn a living, she takes advertising and publicity stills for films and countless celebrity portraits.

Among photographers she admires, Mark mentions Bruce Davidson, Robert Frank, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Helmut Newton, the fashion photographer who helped raise decadence to couturier status. But she mentions Diane Arbus most often. ”No matter who Arbus photographed,” Mark says, ”she could somehow make them look a bit odd, which is nice. I like that,” To call Arbus’s images ”a bit odd” is rather like calling Dali’s a trifle neurotic; she does add that she’s fascinated by Arbus’s ”freaks, misfits, monsters.” Mark is no slouch at discerning oddity in her own work, but her photographs have never been infected by Arbus’s profound and contagious malice. MORE

ml_Mary-Ellen-Mark_02_1080

Photo by MARY MARK ELLEN

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LIFE OF BRIAN: Welcome To Beach Boys Week!

May 26th, 2015

beacho

 

To celebrate the June 5th release of Love & Mercy, the shockingly great and unexpectedly avant garde Brian Wilson biopic, and the arrival of summer, we’ve designated this week Beach Boys Week. Tell all your little friends. We’ll music, videos, essays, surfboards, hot rods, bikini babes, LSD, teenage symphonies to God, fat kids, skinny kids, even kids with Chicken Pox. You know, the usual. Plus, we’ll have an exclusive brand spanking new Q&A with Beach Boys mastermind Brian Wilson talking about the making of Love & Mercy! Look for it all this week on a Phawker near you!

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COMMENTARY: Once Upon A Time In America

May 26th, 2015

obama_corporatism

 

Theodore-RooseveltBY WILLIAM C. HENRY What now seems like forever ago on a flood-lit Chicago stage in front of a world-wide audience of hundreds of millions of adoring soon-to-be constituents, a relatively young, bright, optimistic, ostensibly eager-to-act-upon-a-promised-forward-thinking-agenda black President-elect lifted the hopes and dreams of young, old and in between, black, white and tan, liberals and progressives, idealists and dreamers, the down-trodden and the forgotten, Untold legions cheered and wept with joy. And then … well … a number of unexpected and not so funny things happened on the way to the end of the next eight years.

If you considered yourself anywhere among the aforementioned “lifted,” you’re no doubt already painfully aware of the POTUS’ promises that have been broken or are likely to become so. It’s not a pretty picture. What I want to discuss here is yet another seeming reversal of character and principle for the Obama Presidency. I’m speaking of the TPP or Trans-Pacific Partnership, a massive 12-country trade agreement written and negotiated in secret — with the explicit approval and encouragement of the Obama administration — exclusively by the barons of tpp-shipping-jobs-away_0business, industry and commerce who stand to reap BILLION$ in rewards through its implementation while leaving the very middle and lower working class constituency Barak claims to represent choking in its dust. Again, so much for promises.

In fact, we should already be familiar with the kinds of the lies, pretense, phoniness and blatant greed surrounding the TPP. They’ve become firmly embedded in our culture by way of that famous Randall Terry aphorism: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” The “once,” of course, is/was NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) or as Ross Perot so nobly and accurately referred to it, “that giant sucking sound going south.” The only difference this time around is that the “giant sucking sound” is going to be coming from a roaring pacific ocean vortex headed west! Believe me, America’s middle and lower classes won’t be needing a weatherman to tell them which way the tradewinds are blowing!

So why then is Obama squeezing so hard to get this rotten egg down our gullets? After all, surely he knows as well as we do that the only ones who benefit from these so-called “free trade” arrangements are the already obscenely wealthy, politically connected TPP architects, and the willing-to-throw-anyone-and-anything-under-the-bus-for-enough-CitizensUnited/McCutcheon-money-to-maintain-their-exercise-of-power-addiction politicians who keep these quid pro quo “dog and pony shows” churning. Well, right off the bat I’m pretty sure I’ve just semi-identified one of the primary reasons why a majority of Americans should be extremely skeptical of the TPP: Obama and congressional Republicans are TPPon the same wavelength regarding its approval! And, if you think that the best interests of America’s working class are at the top of the GOP’s — and apparently Obama’s — list of priorities, I’ve got some sub-prime mortgages I’d like to bundle up and solicit you to buy!

Anyway, my honest answer to the previous question is, in fact, “I really don’t know.” Perhaps it’s simply true that Obama isn’t nearly the liberal we initially gave him credit for being. On the other hand, I think he’s already pretty much proven that point. Maybe it really is just a “legacy” thing pure and simple. The trouble with that guesswork, though, is that it leaves a whole lot of room in either direction, and Obama has never struck me as much of a crapshooter. Maybe, shmaybe. We can speculate ’till the cows come home, but until we actually read the TPP treaty ourselves, who knows? Mr. Wikileaks, Julian Assange, says, “If you read, write, publish, think, listen, dance, sing or invent; if you farm or consume food; if you’re ill now or one day be ill, the TPP has you in its crosshairs.” Well, if any or all of that proves to be true, Barak will have plenty to answer for.

In the meantime let’s not get too carried away with all the extraneous stuff — and God knows, there may plenty wrong with the TPP in wl-tpp-cartooneach of its realms. At its heart the Trans-Pacific Partnership is a jobs and wages treaty — at least it sure as hell ought to be — and as such here’s the bottom line question you absolutely must ask yourself when it comes to the reality rather than the “promises” of international free trade: Why would ANY manufacturer of ANYTHING produce a product in this country if he can “freely” do so at a LOWER COST elsewhere and SHIP said product back here and still sell it for LESS while realizing a HIGHER profit margin than had he produced it here? Given a basic understanding of the capitalist system, when you can provide an alternative to “he wouldn’t” in answer to that question we can start a civilized, reasoned discussion of the matter. In the meantime, Clinton damn well should have known better and so now should Obama, Congress and you.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Fed up early stage septuagenarian who has actually been most of there and done most of that. Born and raised in the picturesque Pocono Mountains. Quite well educated. Very lucky to have been born into a well-schooled and somewhat prosperous family. Long divorced. One beautiful, brilliant daughter. Two far above average grandsons. Semi-retired (how does anyone manage to do it completely these days?) and fully-tired of bullshit. Uncle of the Editor-In-Chief.

TPP-relaced

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