Sunday, July 26, 2009

Sunday Music: The Fiery Furnaces

I missed Pitchfork this year, mostly due to getting the mother of all sinusitus headaches that weekend. I'm glad I was at least able to catch a performance by The Fiery Furnaces in Millennium Park. The band, fronted by siblings Matthew and Eleanor Friedberger, just released their eighth album, "I'm Going Away," with Chicago's Thrill Jockey label. I wanted to include something from the new album, but quite frankly don't like the most recent single/video. So instead, here's "Duplexes of the Dead," from 2007.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Sunday Music: Spirit

A recent New Yorker carried a few paragraphs on the closing of Manny's Music,located on 48th street. For over 60 years, the store was a mandatory stop for visiting guitarists, who congregated there to try out the latest axe.

It was at Manny's, in 1966, that (not-yet-famous) Jimi Hendrix met a teenager named Randy Wolfe, a recent transplant from Los Angeles. After hearing the boy play, Hendrix recruited him for his band, Jimmy James & The Blue Flames. Since there was already a Randy in the band, Hendrix dubbed him "Randy California." He played with Hendrix until a touring opportunity in England appeared, and Randy's parents wouldn't allow him to cut school to follow the band.

For the most part, Wolfe/California's family encouraged his musical career. His mother Beatrice had been the co-owner of The Ash Grove, one of the earliest folk, jazz and blues venues in Los Angeles. His stepfather was Ed Cassidy, a drummer who had played with artists as diverse as Cannonball Adderly and Ry Cooder. The Cassidys moved to New York for Ed to pursue some regular work. One neighbor in their Long Island apartment building was future Steely Dan founder Walter Becker, who later credited Randy with teaching him how to play guitar. California briefly played with Becker's band The Tangerine Puppets, along with John Cummings and Tommy Erdelyi, who found later notoriety as Johnny and Tommy Ramone.

The family returned to Los Angeles in 1968, and stepfather and son formed the band Spirit. Their debut album was a mild underground success, but the first single "I Got A Line On You," shot up the pop charts. Cassidy was in his mid-40s when the band was formed. Concerned that his age might negatively impact the "hipness" of the band's image, he shaved his head, wore dark shades and black motorcycle jackets, and was intentionally coy when asked about his past. Publicity photos of the band showed four hairy hippy-fabulous young dudes and a ghostly-looking character straight out of a Warhol short film. It was strangely compelling. Cassidy's nickname "Mr. Skin" became the title of another hit for Spirit on the album Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus, in 1970.

The band broke up and reformed repeatedly. California went off the grid in Molokai, Hawaii for a couple of years. Spirit had a final long, successful tour in the early 1990s. In 1997, Randy California was surfing with his young son when they were caught in a dangerous undertow. Randy saved the boy, but was unable to swim to safety himself. His body was never recovered.

I wanted to save the video of "I Got A Line On You" for last. Hearing it will, for me, forever evoke sitting on my downstairs neighbor's threadbare couch, facing two monumental speakers thudding with California's nimble Hendrix-like licks. Some herbs might have been involved.

The sound quality is terrible, but seeing the the band riding in a hooptie down Sunset Boulevard is the opposite of terrible.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

N.E. Road Trip

Like I said, it's summer and all, and computing is not on the top of my list. I was out of town for a week, driving in a huge triangle with points in Boston, northern VT and the Hudson valley in NY, while visiting friends and family. The pic above is with my lovely niece, who is getting her M.A. in writing from Emerson. It was taken at her place of employment, a bookstore within walking distance of Harvard University.

The Boston/Cambridge area is crazy with bookstores, a number of them specializing in a particular genre, like the Grolier Poetry Bookshop. Poetry-only bookstore = We're not in Kansas, anymore. In fact, there are eighty indie book stores in the state of Massachusetts, according to the American Booksellers Association directory. I couldn't help but wonder if a recent report by the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation, which ranked Massachusetts as having the lowest rate of obesity in the United States, could be correlated with the number of independent bookstores. The "fattest" state, Mississippi, has only eleven members in the ABA directory. See?--books make you thin.

Abbott Memorial Library, jahfool (Creative Commons)

On the way to northern Vermont, I stayed in Woodstock overnight. Even though it was after 5:00, the long summer light afforded me an opportunity to drive high up into the mountains near town. Before heading back, I stopped in the crossroads of Teago, which technically is part of South Pomfret. It was late, but the lights were on in the pretty little library located on one of the two roads, named appropriately enough, "Library Street." I tried the front door--it was open! An elderly Pekinese waddled up to me and wuffed once or twice. "Hellooo..?" called out a woman's voice from a back room. I had walked into the library board meeting. They were struggling to write a mission statement. I stayed and chatted a while, mostly about libraries and mission statements, and then headed back to Woodstock for dinner.

Some of the vacation was spent hanging out with my former CCAD classmates Grant and Roger. Grant, who lives near Burlington, started illustrating catalogs for an outdoor shoe company. He now diagrams and designs prototypes of the same. As we made our way up Mt. Philo, Grant was able to identify some of his shoes on fellow hikers. This is a pic of him in his home studio with his (shoe-crazy) lab Mavis. This is only about a third of the shoes and boots in his studio. Behind him is a portrait of young Grant by our classmate Jean, and his delightful Halloween troll costume, made with a gray sweatshirt and a ton of ingenuity.

Grant's wife Hope is a talented quilter, and recently won the Governor's Award at the VT Quilt Festival for "Honey, I'm Home" (scroll down).

Roger is a sculpture technician in the Fine Arts program at SUNY. That means he maintains equipment and materials needed for sculpture, and trains and advises students on techniques, like pouring in the foundry, for example. A big part of his job is maintaining safety. Nearly every sculpture technique looks like it could potentially kill or maim--at least to me. I remember my freshman year 3-D Design class, and my terror of the power tools. Upperclassmen enjoyed telling us tales like the one about the girl who let her long hair drop into the belt sander. That one may have been apocryphal.

Anyway, I digress. Above is Roger and and his partner Robin. She is a painter, and her work focuses on images of pets, toys and our emotional projections thereon. They have a home in a beautiful wooded glen near New Paltz. There's a few celebrity summer people in New Paltz; Roger once saw Robert De Niro at the grocery store, looking so unassuming as to be nearly unrecognizable. It was the tall, fiercely Teutonic-looking woman standing next to De Niro who initially caught his attention. Uma Thurman? I'm jealous; all we have here is Oprah. I once was in the checkout line behind Lester Holt when he was still a local anchor. He was buying canned green beans, for god's sake.

Good people, good trip, many lessons learned (e.g. do not eat clams in Vermont).