From the catacombs of rock obscurity, The Wedding Present sings once more. British alt-rock band, The Wedding Present, formed in 1985 from the ashes of forgotten band, Lost Pandas. Their sound was an eminent mix of lovelorn self-pity and cynicism undoubtedly influenced by the Buzzcocks, Gang of Four, and Morrissey—whose romancing idleness rang popular at the time. Founded by Keith Gregory and David Gedge, the band’s only constant member amidst turbulent changeovers, The Wedding Present reached commercial success in 1989 with “Kennedy,” the band’s only top 40 hit (charting 33 on this list.)
Twenty years later, singer-songwriter Patrick Stump, of Fall Out Boy acclaim, covers The Wedding Present’s “My Favorite Dress” for the AV Club. Stump brings a wry, poppy, and earnest soul to the song—no doubt inspired by his latter day forays into production and remixing. It won’t be long before “My Favorite Dress” hits rock band upgrades near you.
The first few exits on the freeway, once entered, sprint by. Perhaps it’s the distractions of merging, or the performance rituals of driving in your mid-twenties (rolling down the window, finding the right music, ticking things off an unending to-do list), or maybe it’s the distance between where you are and where you are going—in both a metaphysical and geographical sense. In those brief few meters, I enjoy, if not intrinsically, the sensations of what it must be like to live in Los Angeles—its smoky wind, its autumnal sun, and its noise, welcomed, of course, to steal away precious years from my ignorant, youthful ear drums.
I came to Los Angeles by necessity—which is what I imagine a lot of people say when they don’t want to admit that they like it here. I don’t like LA. Its decay, its intolerable hatred of its own history, its meaninglessness leaves me for wont of inspiration and, at times, severely depressed. This is a dangerous state of being for someone who calls herself a writer, as I’m already tussling with the struggles of my own neuroses—let alone the shackles and sweaty desperation of making ends meet. My drug, if you will, the thing that pulls me up from the dregs, or perhaps in reality shoots me through an escape portal, is comedy. So, one fateful evening of too much light beer, I planned an all-day Steve Martin festival amongst friends. Let me pause to explain the subtleties behind the decision: it’s Steve Martin.
Waiting For the Light to Change
The festival was held at the apartment complex of my friends Matt and Amanda—both former film students, which means (if you, too, are in the industry) that they have probably called you, gotten you coffee, or shared a night with you in a sticky dive bar and judged as you complained about your unemployment check. They live in the valley, which for some reason is likened to a leper colony. As I waited at a light, somewhere near Van Nuys Blvd, I noticed a man in his sixties walking on a raised cement platform above the sidewalk. He was wearing Dockers, a cotton shirt that was too big for him, and, of course, the uniform watch that all men in their sixties wear. Eyeing the curb that separated his cement path and the sidewalk below with the youthful delight of someone three-quarters his age, the man, arms extended, balances himself and walks, placing his feet strategically. Then he tumbles. And the light turns greens. I drive past, having been the sole witness to the scene despite the seven bus patrons waiting at a nearby stop. Last I saw he was crawling on the sidewalk.
Capitalism: A Love Story
I arrive at the apartment an hour late, which in Los Angeles, of course, means I’m on time, and I find Matt and Amanda embroiled in Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story (the perfect appetizer for a night of comedy.) One more festival-goer was yet to come, the much-reputed Mike Birkhead—a friend of a friend whose exploits in comic books and
cynicism were larger than life. I wait, toying with Steve’s autobiography Born Standing Up (unwilling to give it back to Amanda who had let me borrow it a week or two before.) “I’m not sure what I meant, but I wanted to use the lingo and it was seductive to make these pronouncements,” I read. “Through the years, I have learned there is no harm in charging oneself up with delusions between moments of valid inspiration.” Genius. That Steve can pen such haunting prose makes him the Bob Dylan of fart joke peddlers. Mike arrives and breathes the first words I’d hear. Anticipation sets in—what will the demi-god say? “I’ll take a whiskey coke.” Genius.
St. Louis? No, Navin Johnson
One of the most intricate elements to Steve’s autobiography was the regretful, intimate, and romantic way he talks about the women who have graced, and truly they have, his life. (Ammunition, I imagine, that makes for a successful wanderlust.) “Mitzi was simply too alluring to be left alone in a foreign country,” he wrote, “and I was too hormonal to be left alone in Hollywood.”
As the festival commenced, with a showing of The Jerk, I learn that Mike, newly unemployed, intends to break up with the girl he has been dating—the girl he, and we, affectionately call ‘Mexican’t.’ Through the movie he wonders, aloud, if he should do this over the phone or in person:
SM: “Lord loves a workin’ man, don’t trust whitey, see a doctor and get rid of it.”
Matt: “Words to live by.”
Amanda: “So are you going to go?”
Mike: “I don’t know.”
Me: “Why are you breaking up with her?”
Mike: “Because I’m unemployed.”
Me: “Well, what if she says that that doesn’t matter?”
Mike: “I don’t give a fuck.”
Me: “Steve Martin has very dark hair.”
Matt: “What? He’s got the whitest hair I’ve ever seen.”
Me: “Well, he’s a silver fox. But, no, look at his body hair to hair ratio. It’s off.”
Mike: “He’s a silverback.”
The movie ends. The festival is off to a knock-kneed start, which I imagine gives it the righteous, comedic reputability it needs to be taken seriously. Mike absconds to Amanda’s room to break up with Mexican’t over the phone. Matt pours another round of whiskey for the festival-goers and puts a few pizzas in the oven (inspired by ‘Pizza in a Cup,’ naturally.) After five minutes, Mike returns to the festival space with the worn, but giddy look of a man who got away with murder. “Sixteenth girlfriend done,” he says, taking a sip from his replenished drink. I feel a pang of guilt for observing, and even promoting through my presence, trespasses unto my kind—which I reconcile through beverage and the comforting thought that this woman has been freed to find someone who wouldn’t break up with her over the phone. I am Susan B. Anthony once again.
Our festival continues in chronological order with The Man with Two Brains, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, My Blue Heaven, and LA Story. Drinks also continue with feverish propensity, which makes for a very uninteresting and improperly documented blog. Suffice it to say, the haze that was the next few movies, and tiresome hours, can only be recalled through the few notes scrawled into my notebook at the time:
Mike: “For Christmas my friends got me a sweater…but what I really wanted was a moaner and a screamer.”
Amanda: “Don’t do that. Wait until I swallow.”
Me: “Christ! Guys! Steve Martinis! How did we not think of this before?”
“Amanda has jungle fever. Mike also has jungle fever but insists it’s not gay…even though he has it for Isaiah Mustafa.”
Cocktail recipe: Scotch and apple juice
Steve Martin blog idea: Men who wear concealer (how deep.)
As the night tears on, I realize, or maybe it’s the self-deprecating writer-character I wear as an accessory who realizes, that I had not accomplished what I had hoped for in this festival. Having found recent employment outside Los Angeles, I suppose I had wanted Steve Martin night to be a valentine to the man who writes valentines to the city—avoiding the unpleasant reality that I might actually miss Los Angeles. Honoring by proxy. As with any moment with promise in meaning, all that I had hoped to infuse or extract that night floated effervescently around and through me.
Rules for a Sgt. Bilko Drinking Game:
Admittedly, our top five movie choices for the festival did not include Sgt. Bilko. It’s a rather lackluster Steve Martin film, despite its funny moments. Still, it was one of few selections available to us on short notice. And being the reckless, half-inebriated, post-collegiate group of adults who threw together a haphazard film night that we were, we decided to turn the viewing into a drinking game. The rules, as forged by us (since an internet search proved fruitless), include:
Drink whenever Steve Martin is in a robe
Drink whenever you find Steve Martin sexy
If Matt finds Steve Martin sexy drink twice (Matt must drink three times)
Drink whenever Chuck Berry is referenced
Drink whenever a military theme is referenced in the score
Drink whenever the unit dupes its superiors
Drink whenever you see Rita Robbins
There are a few missteps to this game. First, contrary to the film’s marketing, Steve Martin appears once in a robe through the duration of the film. Second, that we would punish Matt for his homosexual inclinations runs counter to our real political beliefs—and I’m pretty sure it trudges upon the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. (Mea Culpa, Matthew.) Third, my contribution to the game rules involving the film’s score was tragically underused (punishment for being a band geek.) Composer Alan Silvestri references themes used in other military-inspired movies, but does not directly reference military themes in his score. We got around this with incidental music like Taps and other such revelry.
Taking a Bowfinger
Twelve hours, a package of veggie dogs for me and hot dogs for my compatriots (a reference to Father of the Bride), and Reese’s peanut butter cups (a reference to The Three Amigos) later, we rounded the corner to our final film: Bowfinger.
“You know she’s supposed to be Anne Heche,” Amanda tells me of Heather Graham’s character. As the plot unfolds, and we see young Heather, or Anne as it were, take feminism (as it is imagined by Steve Martin) down a few pegs, a noticeable, heavy weight is placed on the viewers. We’re disinterested, tired, and sober—waiting for the film to end. (Sorry to spit upon everyone in Matt and Amanda’s industry who worked on the film. Sometimes art consumption is as troublesome as art-making.) The movie ends. I manage my goodbyes and drive home.
It takes me a couple days to navigate my feelings on the experience—jostled, too, by more pending deadlines and the insufferable pings of an ice cream truck playing demonically below my window. “Twopence halfpenny and a Joey-twopence halfpenny,” I think, referencing Orwell. “His mind was sticky with boredom. He couldn’t cope with rhymes and adjectives. You can’t, with only twopence halfpenny in your pocket.”
I recreate the drive home in my mind. It is a dazed, blinding, twinkling whir of city lights (easily ignored by the speed in which I moved—both metaphysically and geographically.) My quick year residency has finally given into a fine layer of spiritual calluses. It prevents me from seeing the absurdity, the glamour, and the chaos of Los Angeles at night. My drive happens around me. And I think, “Thanks a yahoo. I’m getting out of this town.”
There was a grey malaise on top of the usual dense, smog-filled morning I have learned to enjoy since moving to Los Angeles. Some call it ‘June Gloom,’ but since it is neither June nor do I reside in the vicinity of a marine layer, I had to grind my wheels towards a different conclusion. Could it be the unemployment? The depression-filled days squandered by lack of interesting things upon which to report? Is it because I ran out of coffee yesterday?
No. This undulating, everlasting nothing was the warning shots for what I would discover with my morning cup of PG Tips: the Right Network.
Now, owning a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science adorns you with a certain amount of sensitivity, humor, and stomach for the more absurd things that come out of the political spectrum. After all, mine is a generation that grew up with Dan Quayle and hocked Bill Clinton as its patron saint.
Nevertheless, when viewing the following advertisement for this independently-owned media company, launching this summer, I found I had a visceral reaction to the news:
Maybe it was my liberal upbringing. Maybe it was the way in which Fraiser Kelsey Grammer adopted Tim Gunn’s snarky attitude and used it against a leftist agenda. Or maybe because amongst the things Grammer listed as ‘wrong with the world,’ baby carrots and bailouts for billionaires were fundamentally equated, while cotton-ribbed thermals paired with a suit and tennis shoes were entirely forgotten.
Liberal cheap shots aside, I still found this move towards the clever, flavored, and cool discomforting. While I appreciate the sense of humor and down-to-earth mission behind the video, I can’t help but feel a little distrustful. Is this the right-wing’s way of hipping Sarah Palin into our ballots come 2012? Or is this a way of wooing back the younger, middle-class breed of would-be conservatives by rebranding the right-wing image as one chic, stylish, and hip (enlisting a growing number of bohemians who have a little more money to spend or what California calls ‘fiscal conservatives’).
Take a quintessential right-wing Hollywood ‘smart guy’ (in this case Dennis Miller must have been busy), leave out the typical icons of Americana (Chevy trucks, Budweiser Clydesdales, tractors), add a dash of charisma and suddenly you have the new Republican Party.
Sinking into the self-deprecating abyss that is my faithlessness in humanity and its inability to wade through bullshit, I sought out more information on this Right Network and found this advertisement, geared to, I assume, the ‘less cynical, slightly-more-right-of-center’ Right-wing class:
I wheezed a belabored sigh of relief (yes, another joke about Central LA). The topsy-turvy of the morning had settled and clouds parted to reveal the same musty sunlight.
Trudging up from a stint at SXSW 2010, psyche-goth band, The Growlers, make their way to the Detroit Bar this weekend. With the drowsy charm of The Kinks, the gristle and clinking beer bottle sound of The Doors—and at times the nihilism of The Smiths—this band has created an altogether haunting, new, and resilient sound for southern California. Champions of the delay effect, which seeps into songs like a stream of cigarette smoke into a clean bar room, garners the band wheezing, bluesy, and carnival-esq hits like “Something Someone Jr.,” “Swallowed Whole,” and “Old Cold River.” The Growlers play with The Entrance Band this Sunday, June 27, at 9pm. Visit www.detroitbar.com for more information.
Indomitably funny, sprite, and at times extraordinarily bombastic for such a small woman, Marion Verbruggen presented a recorder masterclass that was educational and entertaining for the trained musician and aficionado alike.
Part of the charm of Verbruggen’s tutelage was watching the precision in which she excised her students’ performances—teasing out an ornamental and quite alive reading of what is often drudged and static. Navigating the space wrought from Verbruggen’s encouragement, students were free to be, and performances were transformed like trepidatious cats—stretching and breathing in their new found freedom.
This was not a class for traditionalists. In fact, at times, some of Verbruggen’s more liberal suggestions—her incessant devotion to the French, for example—made for a worthy squirm or two. “I know Bach was a Calvinist, but at the same time he liked partying,” she evinced.
While there is something nice in the application of theory and interpretation relegated to music beyond the Baroque era, something quaint about a deep and expressionistic reading of music whose lofty reputation often distances its listener, there is something to be said for the exactness of a piece of early music when it is pallid and regimented. After all, an artist can still be emotive and concise while upholding the tenants of tone and tempo. Too liberal a reading of early music will discount its upbringing under the rigid, parental guidance of the church and monarchy in the hopes of making the music accessible again.
“It doesn’t mean you have to behave,” Verbruggen chided a student, ironically, as she stood under the austere precipice of Loper Chapel’s cold, brass cross and stained menagerie like a disobedient child convincing her friend to try cigarettes for the first time. Perhaps this is why Verbruggen’s masterclass was such a delight—don’t we all like misbehaving once in awhile?
“We’re just counting spaces to see how much room is left,” recorder player Judith Linsenberg shouted over the growing attendance line standing outside the Berkeley City Club venue where her ensemble, Musica Pacifica, was to play. Seating was so tight, in fact, that I, in an ill-advised decision that harkened to my days in arts administration, chose to review the concert from a standing position to allow my neighbors the opportunity of enjoying their concert experience sur la place. As physiology slowly outweighed circumstance—shaking arms, broken concentration, downtrodden spirit—I was forced to break concert-going’s cardinal rule and left. To those affected by my actions and to the performers especially: mea culpa, mea culpa.
Despite the close quarters, Musica Pacifica’s performance was a delightful and well-formed romp through the Irish, Scottish, and English dance and folk music collection that makes up their upcoming album, Dancing in the Isles (set for release October 2010). This was another mid-afternoon concert whose programming instilled temporary amnesia from things like heat, proximity, and for others, physiology; favoring the finer, sedate, and sometimes witty spectacle of 17th and 18th music. Dripping viols and powerful rhythmic precision guided the group on less a dance through the Isles and more a Viennese—though geographically and chronologically improbable—nevertheless, a romantic traipse through the subtleties and sonorities of music revisited. Some may have found Musica Pacifica’s penchant for broadminded recreation alarming, but the group’s proud adornment of change, as if fighting a Suffragette movement, credits them deserved respect. (Linsenberg on the absence of contrapuntal lines: “We’ve moved on since then.”) With the flock of dance followers herded tightly into City Club on Saturday, Musica Pacifica’s soul train proves one to board.
Championing the most iconic instrument of the early music period is not an easy task. Add the sweltering heat of mid-June and the small, dry-wall design of the Loper Chapel and soon what promised to be an intimate lute-focused concert, In the Garden So Green felt more restrictive and unsettled—lute as it decries its own worth and relevance in the 21st century.
This was an unexpected effect, given the concert’s impressive turnout, and perhaps the work of its commander, David Tayler. Tayler’s mastery over the instrument at Saturday’s Fringe event etched a blend of Scottish sounds—seasoned, admittedly, with instances of the harp—with more decor than what might have been intended by the composers themselves. Other times, his flourishes and Spanish-like ornamentation insolently turned the instrumentalist from wandering troubadour to early music’s version of redneck minstrel. The pieces flirted with being too metallic, too thwacking, too twangy; and left the sonorous aftertaste one might have hearing a tuning tool as it slowly drops inside a piano: pretty, robust, but a little odd.
But this review is a positive one. Despite it all, Tayler created the intimate setting demanded of a post-lunch lute concert and captivated his audience to such a degree that it willing sat in closed and silent session while temperatures rose to the point of intrusion. And there were some inviting surprises in interpretations of Fortune My Foe, Lachrimae Antiquae Pavan, and other such Dowlanditties. Tayler’s battle between sensibility and sensation, old and modern, revered and popular mirrored much of the early music era itself. Romance, expressiveness, and new muted by the unseen force of tradition. If his lute be a woman: “She was stronger alone; and her own good sense so well supported her, that her firmness was as unshaken, her appearance of cheerfulness as invariable, as, with regrets so poignant and so fresh, it was possible for them to be.”
“They start at the morning, then go on through noon, and end at night,” a San Francisco Early Music Society volunteer usher recounted of this year’s devoted Fringe concert audience. “Really they do! They’re exhausted!”
Concert attendees flocked to the Berkeley Festival and Exhibition’s 60 Fringe events in droves—a welcomed development for SFEMS, whose latter-day struggle with festival organization and depleted funding motivated the organization’s turn toward community-based programming. Though attendance statistics have yet to be tabulated while the festival continues, Harvey Malloy, SFEMS Executive Director, claimed that most Fringe concerts had been at almost full capacity: “They have been extremely well-received…they’ve been filling the house every night.”
“The concept of the festival as we conceived it,” Malloy explained, “[encouraged] a lot of equal participation from the community.” While SFEMS served as this year’s clearinghouse for festival promotion, most Fringe concerts were self-produced. Artists provided their own box office, ticket pricing, program books, and venue space.
Despite the collaboration with partner arts ensembles formed the cornerstone for Fringe concert success, Malloy avoided comment on the scope and strategy of future festivals. “I think it’s premature to say at the moment. Every festival we have brings early music up;” he explained, “[but] there will be a festival in 2012.”
Ralph Berberch, a SFEMS member and long-time patron of the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, circled the festival’s exhibition room. Dazed from his two-week post as an on-call volunteer, one of the 80 members whose responsibilities ran the gamut from feeding musicians to moving instruments, Berberch regrets he could not attend most of the festival’s Fringe events. Of the sole festival event he had attended, last week’s Galax Quartet concert Bach’s Art of Fugue, Berberch unfalteringly quipped, “it’s great to hear such devoted musicians playing [this] incredible music.” “I’ll make it up!” Berberch promised as he continued his on-call duties—winking knowingly.
A bustling and unending cavalcade of enthusiasts echoed through the assembly rooms of the First Congregational Church—vying to see the exhibition showcase at the two-week long Berkeley Festival and Exhibition. Crowded into this unique venue were early music publishers, instrument builders, service organizations, universities, and other visiting practitioners. Free and open to the public, the exhibition was presented by Early Music America.