Showing posts with label rock'n'roll. Show all posts
Showing posts with label rock'n'roll. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

"It Might Get Loud" review: for fans of U2, Led Zeppelin, Jack White and the guitar

Gods of the Guitar: Jack White, the Edge and Jimmy Page

I know I'm all about getting girls and women to play rock music (and music in general), but that absolutely doesn't mean I don't become a total fan girl when I get to see Jimmy Page, the Edge and Jack White sit around together to chat and play music together.

"It Might Get Loud" (2008) is a brilliant twist on the documentary, bouncing three lives, stories, personalities and techniques off one other. The result is three different ways to tell the same story: the love of the guitar.

I love how these guys represent three different generations of music, yet the film focuses on their drive to be equally musically innovative. Each musician has had something to overcome, whether it be the crappy pop music of the time or political turmoil. Each also has their own musical drive. Jack White has a fierce desire to replicate as close as possible the blues of the 30s. The Edge grapples with peddles and wires and effects trying to replicate sound qualities in his head. Jimmy Page, a former session musician who freaked out when he realized how little creativity he had in the job, pushes himself to innovate, innovate, innovate.

It's incredibly charming to watch these guys jam to each others songs. But the moment that takes the cake, is the smiles on the faces of the other two when Page busts out with "Whole Lotta Love." Being the senior member of the group, Page obviously holds a certain position among the three. But, interestingly enough, this is the only moment when his position is completely evident in the film. Otherwise, the three are shown in equal light, with equal contributions.

Watch the moment below, and add "It Might Get Loud" to your Neflix queue.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

'The Runaways': have women in rock music really come very far?

The Twilight girls aren't as bad as you might have been worried they would be...

The Runaways is a testament to how far women in the media and in the music industry have come and yet how far we have to go. There is no denying the importance of Joan Jett and Cherie Currie. Without them, there would be no Madonna, Lady Gaga, the Donnas or the Gossip. But watching a middle-aged man encourage female teenagers to flaunt their sexuality makes my skin crawl a little. You have to believe that these young women wanted to, let me paraphrase Kim Fowley, “dangle their sex in front of men and then snatch it away.” But it really seems like they had to do that just so that they could play rock and roll.

Watching rock stars get too far into sex and drugs on film is nothing new, but watching a 15-year old girl who’s thin enough to break in half get strung out on cocaine and booze is, well, a little weird. During the movie I kept thinking, “where were these girl’s parents? Would this happen today?” Sadly, it does indeed happen today, it’s just packaged a little differently. Also, and luckily for this, minors have more protection. One can only hope that their parents are guardians help to make good decisions for them.


What did you think of the film?

Girl in a Coma perform The Runaways hit "Cherry Bomb" with special guest Cherie Currie of The Runaways at SXSW March 19, 2010.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Girl in a Coma bringing back the spirit of rock'n'roll, one fan at a time

Girl in a Coma is probably the most inspiring band I've come across in awhile. Hailing from San Antonio, these three Latinas have already taken over Texas. Now they're off to conquer the country. And right now they're on their way to the west coast!

I find Girl in a Coma extra inspiring since they are supporters of Girls Rock Camp Austin, Texas, where I first saw them perform.  They have won the respect of Joan Jett, who signed them to her label Blackheart Records and Morrissey, who they toured with last year. To me they embody everything that Girls Rock Camp represents: talented female musicians playing straight up, hard rocking music while being true to themselves and having fun.

Girl in a Coma is sisters Nina (vocals/guitars) and Phanie Diaz (drums) and friend Jenn Alva (bass). Phanie and Jenn played together in high school and were always looking for that last link.  Little did they know that the last link was Phanie's 12 year old sister Nina.  Now almost a decade later, Girl in a Coma has just released their second studio album Trio B.C.  named after the Diaz sisters grandfather's tejano band.  

I had a chance to catch Nina over the phone while the band was on their way to Philadelphia. I wanted to know what it was like being in a band that represented so much sexually and politically while being a straight up for-the-love-of-the music band. Here are some of the highlights of our chat:

Monday, July 6, 2009

Girls Rock Camp: celebrating and encouraging women in music: past, present & future

Why girls? Why a Girls Rock Camp?

Someone has actually asked me that.


Have you ever watched Mtv? (Especially now that it only schedules reality television.) Have you seen the dozens of blatant sexualized covers of RollingStone Magazine?

Why are there so many more men in popular music than women? And why are most of the women in popular music singers? Where are all the female instrumentalists?

Do you want to see more women on TV being real women rather than over sexed school girls?

Aretha Franklin, Wanda Jackson, Joan Jett, Sleater Kinney, Queen Latifah, and Bjork: these are someof the famous woman that Girls Rock Camp (GRC) uses as role models. But GRC also seeks to shine the light on every day role models: our cool sisters, the girl next door and the band that plays in that small club on Fridays.

This Saturday, July 11 at 2pm at the Metro Oakland Opera House you will be able to see the 70 or so girls perform their original songs that they will write with their bands this week. Whether or not they ever pick up these instruments again, GRC hopes to inspire each and every one of them to be powerful and true to themselves. I highly recommend that you pencil this show into your weekend. You will not regret it. I usually spend the whole two hours smiling with tears in my eyes. It's amazing what these kids can do in a week.

Read more of my Article here

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Bay Area Ladies Rock Camp: Day 1

Day 1: Intros, band formation, instrument instruction, songwriting workshop, practice, practice, practice, and play rock band!

So far I am loving this.

I was a little worried going into this about several things: what would the other campers be like? Would I be able to sing? Would my band suck? How terrible would I be at playing the bass? Would my musical background be an advantage or a disadvantage?

Everyone has been so great. I love my band. We have two guitarists and TWO bass players. And you know what? it's perfect.  I can sing and play guitar just fine, but sing and play bass at the same time? I think so! 

Our song is great (it's a little AC/DC-esque) and our band name is going to be nerdy and awesome (let me just say that a certain social networking site is going to get a shout out).  It's so interesting how I can't write a song by myself to save my life, but as soon as I have other people's ideas around me, it becomes so easy.

There are 24 women of all ages signed up: moms, aunts, and girls right out of college.  There are a couple women in from Southern California and even from the East Coast. Everyone is so excited to be there and we are all having a ball. Tomorrow is going to be tiring, but I'm super excited about it. 

I'm very inspired by these women to keep it up after this weekend and maybe try getting a band together. 

Maybe I'll even learn another key.

Our showcase is this Sunday May 3 at the Starry Plough in Berkeley at 3pm. 3101 Shattuck Ave Berkeley, CA 94705 

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Smart Girls at the Party and Care Bears on Fire

Amy Poehler's new webproject "Smart Girls at the Party" recently featured the New York based band Care Bear's on Fire

Smart Girls at the Party "celebrate girls who are changing the world by being themselves" much like Girls Rock Camp. (Read my previous post about GRC here

Now junior high students, Care Bears on Fire have been playing together since 2005. Check out Amy's interviews with them on "Smart Girls at the Party."

Part 1

And also their spot on NPR.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Young @ Heart: the sweetest movie I've seen in a long time

It is possible to age gracefully.
It is possible to grow old without growing boring.
You'll laugh at how adorable these people are. You'll cry at how full of life they are. Please add Young @ Heart to your netflix queue.  I feel like calling my Grandmother and telling her how much I love her.

Founded in 1982, The Young @ Heart Chorus is a group of elderly folks (average age of 81) who have toured the world singing rock'n'roll songs from Sonic Youth to Jimi Hendrix. The film follows chorus members and director Bob Cilman through rehearsals, performances, illnesses and deaths.  One of the performances is at a Massachusetts prison and the other is at a sold out theater as final send off before traveling to Europe.

Yes, yes; we know the movie is celebration of life, music and spirit. These people have the most amazing energy and love of singing.  But I am moved by the originality of musical interpretation and how when these folks sing, you know they really, really, really mean it.

It's amazing how well-written songs can take on completely different meanings depending on who's singing them and how they are being sung.  When you hear a 80-year-old full of aching bones and muscles sing James Brown's  "I Feel Good," it takes on a brand new meaning. What about when a 83-year-old in a nursing home wheel chair sings the Ramone's "I Wanna Be Sedated"?  (This is a video you cannot miss, there are no words to describe it.) Here you'll get a certain perspective, wisdom and humor that missing from the original. This is not a bad-boy punk song anymore, but an old man who needs his pills!

Watch this video of "Fix You" by Coldplay.  This is Fred Knittle.  He passed away in early January 2009, but in the film, he's been asked to return to the chorus after a prolonged illness.  This song was supposed to be a duet, but his partner Bob Salvini died several weeks before.  Forget how much you hate Coldplay and leave your expectations at the door. In a voice reminiscent of Johnny Cash, Knittle sings of friendship, life, death, redemption, and brings me to tears in a way Chris Martin can't.  It's gorgeous.

These are some of the most unique cover songs I have ever heard.   Many of the vocals are rough and off-key, the blend is mostly non-existent, but the vocal phrasing is exquisite and the arrangements are terrific. The soloists make up their own melodies and rhythm and sing from life experience and age. These people don't have a personal history with the songs (born in the 20s and 30s, they are too old to identify the songs with their youth) but can identify with the words. Cilman has chosen each song carefully (You'll never listen to "I Will Survive" the same again).

One thing thing that Cilman says at the beginning of the film is that "you can always understand the words when this group sings them." As some of you might know, making the words understandable is one of the hardest things to do with a choir. Getting clear diction is very difficult.

The film doesn't really address how the songs change meaning because of who is singing them. Mortality, of course, comes up in many different ways like when the chorus members express their desire to continue singing after the death of Joe Benoit, a fellow chiorister. 

It's like working in an elderly home, death is a common visitor to this group and they keep on singing in celebration of life.  And as the founder of this group, Cilman never comments on how it affects him personally, he just keeps trying to get these fabulous people to learn and remember their words.  I'm so grateful for people like him who make it their business to bring joy to the elderly, it's incredible. (Shout out to Music Therapist Froman!)

As one of the audience members says after seeing a performance of the Young @ Heart Choir, "I'm never going to complain about being too old or too tired again!" 

Here's the trailer:

Here's the official film website and chorus website. And an interview with Cilman. 

Please, do yourself a favor and watch this movie. It's terrific.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Tequila!: The Champs, Danny Flores and Pee-wee

The scene is classic, the song: immortalized. And after a raucous New Year's Eve in 2001, I will never touch tequila again...

In 1957, a random grouping of musicians gathered in Los Angeles to record a group of songs for Gene Autry's record label Challenge Records. Pictured above Joe Burnas on bass, Dale Norris on lead guitar, Dave Burgess on rhythm guitar, Gene Alden on drums and Chuck Rio (born Danny Flores, the son of Mexican American fieldworkers) on vocals and sax.

"Tequila" was recorded last, and was composed on the spot based on a "raunchy" latin tinged saxophone solo written by Flores, the "God Father of Mexican Rock." The song was released as the B-side for "Train to Nowhere" but skyrocketed up the charts to reach #1 in March of 1958.

This group of musicians went on to become the Champs named after Gene Autry's horse, Champion. In 1959, "Tequila" won a Grammy Award for Best Rhythm and Blues Recording. Flores parted ways with the band soon after due to inter-band feuding and went onto form the surf band, the Persuaders.

Even though he signed the rights away to most of his royalty earnings on the song, Flores has been immortalized by his cry of "tequila!" They played it at his funeral in 2006. His wife Sharee said he never got tired of playing it.

In 1986, the song appeared in Pee-wee's Big Adventure when Pee-wee dances his way out of certain death in a biker bar after knocking over dozens of bikes. He finds "Tequila" on the jukebox and borrows a busboy's ridiculous white platform shoes to rock this scene.


Thursday, October 23, 2008

"Cadillac Records": Chess Records Biopic

I know a lot of people are sick and tired of biopics, but I love them.  Especially the musical ones.  

Lucky for me, Yahoo! News just reported that Beyonce gained 15 lbs to play Etta James in "Cadillac Records," a movie about Chess Records. She still looks thin to me, but whatever, this article alerted me to it's holiday release and I can't wait.  

Check out this cast: Adrien Brody as Leonard Chess, Beyonce as Etta James, Cedric the Entertainer as Willie Dixon and Mos Def to play Chuck Berry.

Chess Records has always held a special place in my heart.  To begin with, Chess was of course the home of some of the most talented and innovative pioneers of rock'n'roll, R&B, blues and early soul: Chuck Berry, Etta James, Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Bo Diddley, John Lee Hooker, Little Walter, Koko Taylor and Big Bill Broonzy just to name a few.  

Without Chess Records and Leonard and Phil Chess, I would argue that American music today would not be the same.  I'd imagine that many of these artists would have been signed by other labels, but the Chess brothers had insight into African American music that proved to be spot on.  They created an insular environment of competition and creativity among their Chicagoan cliental. (There are great stories about the friendly rivalry between Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf and the Chess brothers milking it for every penny.)

Although the relationships between the Chess brothers and their artists were problematic in many ways, they knew their artists and their artists appreciated them.  In her inspiring autobiography "Rage to Survive"  Etta James speaks of how she owes the survival of her career and the mere fact that she is alive today to Leonard Chess and the support he provided her.  Chess stood by and supported her through years and years of substance abuse and wreckless living.  She was even able to keep her house in Los Angeles because part of it was in his name, a move otherwise thought to be against ones best interests.

Chess Records also embodies a small but important corner of American Music history that I have thought long and hard about- the Jewish American and African American musical partnership (a possible future dissertation topic if my life ever blows that way).  Sure, the Chess brothers were the business men and the artists were African American, and the relationships were problematic in many ways as many business partnerships are, but, they were for the most part successful relationships. The relationships between Jews and African Americans in the music industry were, and still are, very important. Gnarls Barkley, anyone?  

The book "The Record Men: The Chess Brothers and the Birth of Rock & Roll" by Rich Cohen tells the story of Chess Records in many of Leonard Chess' own words, and he was a crass, blunt, all-business SOB.  And I hope Adrien Brody plays him that way, because it's pretty hysterical. 

Like this Leonard Chess quote:
"Schmucko! Why do for others what you can do for yourself! If you spend a buck, make sure you back a buck and a half."
Personally I can't wait to see Mos Def rock out as Chuck Berry and watch Beyonce wail as Etta James.  When Beyonce wants to blow, people step back.

I've added a couple of my favorite Chess Record tracks to my playlist. Enjoy.