January 7, 2015

2014: a music list

2014 was a rollercoaster and I’m not a fan of rollercoasters. Fortunately, I had my earbuds in at all times. The biggest surprise, was my love affair with Against Me! which began when I saw them perform at the Ventura Theater. For me, this is the purest, most organic way to enter into relationship with a musical artist. Late to the party once more,  it was also the year I finally”got” the Smiths which along with Against Me! and Brian Jonestown Massacre were the soundtrack of my year. In between, were the records that I listened to repeatedly. There were several new records that deserve the accolades they are receiving, but just didn’t click for me. Among them were St. Vincent’s self-titled release.  My biggest disappointment was Ryan Adams’ Ryan Adams.  If I wanted to hear a Tom Petty record, I’d put on a Tom Petty record, not a Ryan Adams record. Come back, dude. We miss you.

The LIST (mostly in no particular order)

Against Me!Transgender Dysphoria Blues
No record this year strained my lungs and vocal chords as much as Transgender Dysphoria Blues. When bandleader Laura Jane Grace (the artist formerly known as a dude) came out about her transition in 2012, she took a massive artistic risk that resulted in some of her best songwriting to date as well as a potent antidote for self-loathing. “Drinking With the Jocks” (“There will always be a difference, between me and YOU!”) and “Black Me Out” are nourishing misfit anthems, while the title track beautifully crystallizes the pain of the transgender experience in one simple verse: “You want them to notice the ragged ends of your summer dress/You want them to see you like they see every other girl/They just see a faggot . . ..” A master work.


Lana Del ReyUltraviolence
Having filed this artist under “contrived/manufactured pabulum” based almost entirely on her name, I confess I did not give Lana Del Rey a fair shake until this year when I finally surrendered to Ultraviolence. Haunting vocals and lyrics that both betray this femme fatale’s dark side and belie her age are awash in a lush, moody production that makes for one seductive and hypnotic listening experience. Like a cat poised to bite the hand that strokes it, Del Rey shrouds her pathological love confessions in a girlish innocence that leaves us feeling a little dirty.

Sleaford ModsDivide and Exit
2014 was the year Sleaford Mods broke. One of those overnight sensations that was seven years in the making, the duo’s second release, Divide and Exit, made virtually every U.K. “best of 2014” list, though it hasn’t fully caught on in the U.S. Jason Williamson’s unrelenting flow of working-class laments set to Andrew Fearn’s simple groove-beats speak to and of the desperate bleakness of these times, especially for the have-nots. If it weren’t for the humor and shock that Williamson’s spitballs of discontent intermittently provoke, the material could be a tad depressing: “Three words: cage, wheel, hamster.” On the other hand, someone needs to tell it like it is, even if the particulars are Brit-centric. And Williamson does it with a confrontational, if peculiar zeal that gratifies.

Jenny Lewis, The Voyager
Black Angels, Clear Lake Forest
Foxygen, . . . And Star Power
Beck, Morning Phase
Bass Drum of Death, Rip This
Tears for Fears, Songs From the Big Chair remaster (just because)
Jason Cruz and Howl, Good Man’s Ruin 
Foo Fighters, Sonic Highways 

 

 

December 17, 2014

Hollywood Ending (Die Laughing)

hollywood ending meme

As mankind stares into the abyss, perhaps only moments (in Biblical time) away from the end of its reign over earth, it is not zombies, climate change, the big one or Ebola that will give us that final nudge. It’s Seth Rogen and James Franco. Can you think of a more fitting final exit? Could there be a more apropos farewell to our sorry stewardship of planet Earth than through an act of Hollywood?

November 26, 2014

What would Warhol do?

food-3

It’s Thanksgiving day and a handful of the great painters are in the chow line with blank plates. This is how artist Hannah Rothstein imagines they might plate their meal.  I find the Van Gogh especially appealing. Happy Thanksgiving, y’all!

November 17, 2014

do well

November 8, 2014

The List No. 3

It occurs to me that it’s high time I make a new list. I started the lists to share interesting cultural developments(usually) in Ventura County, stuff that currently impresses or moves me in some way. Here’s some stuff that has my attention at the moment.

 

make

1. MAKE Ventura

Once referred to as hacker spaces, maker spaces are community-centered, membership-driven industrial environments for nerdy creatives and other people who like to get their hands dirty and their minds expanded. Members of MAKE Ventura are afforded rare access to a variety of industrial tools and machinery related to woodworking, jewelry making, mold making and metalsmithing, including a 3-D printer, laser cutter and vinyl cutter in a cooperative setting. Sharing of tools, methods, ideas etc. is central to the ethos of these collaborative spaces that draw inspiration from the open source movement. MAKE Ventura is open to the public on First Fridays. Visit it online to learn more, or drop by.

hud

 

 

 

 

2. The HUD

A newish art gallery with resident artists and an in-house graphic design studio, the HUD is a cavernous showplace for up and coming regional artists. New artists are showcased every month during a First Friday reception but the venue is slowly incorporating other events such as a juried exhibition on Nov. 15. I especially like the street-inspired contemporary works I’ve seen and purchased there, but the curating is truly eclectic. Run, don’t walk.

butterflys

 

 

 

 

3. Sanctuary of Butterflies

There are 28 days left to raise $64,000 in crowdfunding for this massive film project spearheaded by photographer Cole Smothers and musician/artist Luis Perez. Smothers, who is directing the musical documentary “Sanctuary of Butterflies,” will shadow Perez as he travels way off the beaten path in Mexico’s back country to explore, document and ultimately preserve indigenous art forms that are on the path to extinction. Though the proliferation of crowdfunding campaigns has made many of us weary, this one is truly worth a few of our hard-earned dollars.

michele serros

 

 

 

 

 

4. Michele Serros

Oxnard native and literary wunderkind Michele Serros has been a little under the weather lately. Actually, she’s been quite heroically beating the hell out of cancer, with the undying support of her beloved husband and loyal fans. Despite her cultural influence, the author of the critically acclaimed Chicana Falsa and Other Stories of Death Identity and Oxnard as well as How to be a Chicana Role Model, is by no means rich and the cost of medicine, allopathic and alternative, is almost unfathomable for an extraordinary female from a city most famous for Nardcore the sugar beet and her. It’s not easy to ask people to pitch in on your healthcare, but she’s done so with her characteristic grace and humor. So maybe buy a book, throw a few dollars in the hat and help a sister out. A Latina en Lucha Needs You Mucha!

5. Linda Ronstadt

Early in my journalism career, I regretfully referred to her as part of the Holy Trinity of Trite (which included the Eagles and Jackson Brown). I made a friend out of that faux pas and I learned a lesson about shooting my pen off. Fifteen years later, I caught  the Eagles documentary on Netflix and found myself mesmerized by Ronstadt’s charm and talent. Sadly, she’s suffering from Parkinson’s and no longer able to sing, but wow hers is a voice for the ages.

October 25, 2014

John Coltrane, Bono and the return of the record

670px-paolo_steffan_portrait_of_john_coltrane_-_2007

There’s been quite a bit of discussion recently about record sales, or the lack thereof. While overall, sales of music are down, the humble record, the physical manifestation of untold hours of toil and trouble is making a comeback. Of course, for some of us, records never went away. In the same week that we learned the number of records to reach platinum status in 2014 is ZERO (for the first time ever), we also learned that when there is no option but a physical copy to purchase, and especially when the artist is a legend–even if the release is posthumous–well, records sell. Lots. And when you give something away, as we just saw with U2, you devalue yourself, your talent and your industry.

Footnote: In yet another example of the age of the amateur and the decline of quality in pretty much everything, the MTV story I linked here has glaring grammatical errors. But who needs professional writers and editors, right?

September 18, 2014

Best of Ventura County 2014

VCReporter’s most popular issue of the year is now on stands and online. Traditionally, those of us on staff as well as freelancers create our own categories. These are called Editor’s Picks. This year, one of my picks didn’t make the final cut due to space allowance, so I decided to post it here.

rock trivia

Best place to prove your metal: Music Trivia Night at Bombay Bar

Think you’re the biggest Beatles fan? Who was the third Beatle to tie the knot? Consider yourself well-versed in ’90s radio hits? Guess what artist spent 60 weeks at the No. 1 position on the charts and had 14 No. 1 singles?  Sure, your skull may be teeming with music-related minutiae, but do you know which George Jones love song is often referred to as the best country song of all time? For about the last year or so, every other Wednesday night (give or take a week) a motley crew of music nerds have been filing into Bombay Bar’s back room to answer these and other burning questions for the chance to win cash money and laugh at stoners trying to remember stuff.  Hosted by local rock band Rubberneck Lions, the questions range from fairly obvious to nearly impossible and cover a spectrum of genres, eras and categories. Teams of 3-4 with names like Jalapeno Face, Pollos Hermanos, Bono Sucks and Ice-T Baggers toss $20 in the pot and the winner takes all. Teams have 30 seconds to write their answers on mini white boards until the final round when the top two teams face-off with a bell. Everyone is welcome, and you never know who you might be competing against, but when it’s the bass player for a popular metal band who also happens to work at a record store, be prepared to lose. — Michel Miller

September 16, 2014

Eyes Wide (open)

I’ve heard the theory that Stanley Kubrick was hired by the U.S. government to fake the Apollo moon landings, but I never knew that during his youth, Kubrick was a crack photographer. (If you were born later than 1970, you probably don’t understand the previous sentence. That’s OK. You have Google.) Turns out the great director of such seminal films as A Clockwork Orange, 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Shining, was a staff photographer for LOOK magazine in the 1940s. You can buy the book, buy me the book, and/or peruse some of them here. I’m particularly fond of this one:

10365_66cm_ 008

August 20, 2014

Jay Adams 1961-2014

VCR_dogtown cover

100 Percent Skateboarder (forever)

Last week, while doing my morning social media rounds,  I noticed a photo posted on  Facebook by actor and punk singer Brandon Cruz of himself with legendary skater Jay Adams. I didn’t think twice.  Adams has been on my friends list for years and tends to either post or get tagged in photos on a regular basis. Soon enough, though, I found out it wasn’t a normal day. At least not on Facebook, not in Southern California, probably not in Hawaii and definitely not in skating circles.  Adams had passed away from a heart attack. He was only 53.

Only 53. The same age as my mom when she died. The same age I will be in two years. The older you get, the more death you encounter. The more death you encounter, the more you tend to think about your own mortality.

In 2002, I wrote an article for VCReporter about some discord among the ranks involved with Stacy Peralta’s documentary film Dogtown and Z-Boys.  It was a complicated situation involving big money, old wounds and differing opinions.  I had exclusive access, and three days to get it to press.

Intense as it was,  the story remains a career highlight for me. Of all the people I spoke with at length (I imagine I logged at least 20 hours of interview time), Jay Adams was by far my favorite. He was working at Black Flys  in Hawaii, , and had to periodically put me on hold to help customers. What struck me most about him was his authenticity which was immediately noticeable. He really didn’t want to talk to me, but he knew his input was important. He was probably the only one who DIDN’T have an agenda.  His humility and candor were refreshing. There was no bullshit with him. No ulterior motive.

I was not a stranger to skating culture and had spent a good amount of time with some of the old school pioneers, most notably Tony Alva (after the story published and went viral, Thrasher magazine incorrectly referred to me as an “Alva confidante”), but for some reason I’d never met Jay, so it was especially exciting to have a chance to speak to the enigmatic, notorious and baddest of the Dogtown bad boys. For all his woes, his battles with drugs, time spent in prison, broken relationships, etc., there was an innocence about  him. He was a good man dealing with the consequences of bad decisions and hard living. He didn’t have the best start in life, but he became a champion and a hero—on and off the pavement, in and out of the water.

I can’t claim to have really known Jay Adams, yet I miss him. He was a one in a million man in a world that needs a new kind of math. But, for all the tragedy he endured (and some that he undoubtedly caused), his death is not tragic. Granted, he was relatively young, but life was really, really good. He was sober, he was strong in his faith, he was deeply in love with his wife, solid with his kids and riding the best waves of his entire life in Mexico. It’s all any of us can hope for in the end.

Nearly a week later, stories, condolences, photos and memories continue to flood his Facebook page, and when I see the updates in my feed, it seems like he’s still here posting messages of hope and candid pics of his lovely wife. Then I remember.

There might not ever be another Jay Adams, but there is plenty of room for more champions and heroes.

To quote the many who knew and loved him: “Rip in peace, Jay boy.”

 

 

July 20, 2014

THIS.

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