Thursday, June 25, 2009

In memoriam: Michael Jackson dead at 50

August 19, 1984. The Pontiac Silverdome, just outside of Detroit. The last night of the Jacksons Victory Tour stop in the area. Some kid I barely knew, but he had a car, some money in his pocket and like me, the desire to say the hell with it and just go.

The show was completely sold out, but we were able to find someone in the parking lot that would actually sell a couple of kids obstructed view tickets and not just rip them off.

Once inside, we found a spot on the first balcony near the side of the stage where no one seemed to mind that we stand (including the bouncers).

We both stood there in awe as the Jacksons ran through their litany of hits. But it was the MJ's solo encore of "Billie Jean" and "Beat It" back-to-back that will be forever burned in my brain. At one point there was a magical illusion, and Michael "disappeared" for the stage, to reappear on a riser high above the crowd. It was one of the coolest and most magical concert moments of my life.

Yeah, Mike had some issues. Who doesn't? But if you grew up in that household and went on to become what he became (The king of flipping Pop), you'd be more than a little tweaked yourself.

I don't know, I've met all kinds of artists that are just such assholes (you'd be surprised) that the public at large love and think the world of. I never had the privilege of meeting MJ, but I'm sure he was a decent-enough guy trying to make sense of pure insanity.

What I do know is that I grew up listening to his music. By the time he hit his stride with "Off The Wall" and "Thriller" (I'll never forget sitting on the floor of teen club Spanky's in Waterford with a large crush of kids to watch the debut of the "Thriller" video on the big screen before they started the music for the night), his influence on not just music but pop culture at large was overwhelming.

Wow, I'm just remembering when a good friend with a button-maker and I made a killing selling Michael Jackson pins we made out of magazines. We did have to refund one girl's money though. In a frenzy, she'd bought a pin of Michael after his hair caught on fire, laying on a stretcher all bandaged up. I felt bad and gave her a much better one of him wearing a yellow sweater vest and matching bowtie. She was so happy she squealed.

Michael Jackson, spreading joy all over the world. Rest in peace, brother. You've earned it.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Kids: Still alright

Last night I went to the Roxy on Sunset to cover the opening night of “Spin The Bottle,” a new all-ages weekly happening there on Monday nights.

While I could go on about what I saw there forever, I’ll spare you and just direct you to the “official” story I wrote for the L.A. Times.

But I do want to mention Ike and Manny Adler, the teenaged promoters of the event. The younger bros of Roxy owner Nic Adler (and sons to the legendary Lou), they were both really genuine, cool kids that seem to have their acts together in spite of, well, everything (Lord knows if my dad sat next to Jack Nicholson at Lakers home games and there were pictures of Rod Stewart mugging for the camera around the hearth at the holidays in the family photo album, I’d be nothing less than a holy terror).

I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for teen clubs (Spanky’s represent!). They pretty much saved me from a life of Dungeons & Dragons and general hopeless nerdery back in the day, that’s for sure.

If you’re in L.A. and have a restless teen in your world, do them (and yourself) a favor and give ‘em a lift to this teen spirit rally. The kids just wanna dance, y’all.

Monday, June 22, 2009

A bizarre reminder that people do still read

I write a lot. I write about all kinds of different things. Among my journalistic beats is the constantly evolving world of L.A. bars and clubs.

It’s a very far-reaching landscape, especially considering that I’m writing about them for the L.A. Times.

Anyway, last week I profiled a new Santa Monica bar. The piece can be seen here.

Pretty innocuous, if you ask me.

But then, I receive this response in my email box:

Sent: Friday, June 19, 2009 6:47 PM To: Sterling, Scott Subject: LANYC question to you boyo are you a native of LA? No? Huh? If you are why do you ever let some smart ass naw yawker dictate the conversation i.e. "We're very much against the whole flash-in-the-pan phenomenon that seems to rule out here," Lieberman says. "Places seem to change every couple of years in L.A. We're New Yorkers, where bars have been there for 50 or 60 years. There are only a few I can think of like that out here in L.A." What the hell does that mean? Why not fire back 'What happened? You couldn't make it in NOLA or 'naw yawk'? No instead you roll over like countless others have to these braying self-centered ego maniacs because you declined to 'connect the dots'. Nothing has changed since 1958 when O'Malley came here with his thieving eyes on Chavez Ravine. If you want to truly be a great writer ask what most reporters won't ask i.e. become a writer instead of a flunkey for those who have nothing but contempt for the greatest city in the world - Los Angeles. Considering where those two located their 'bar' (Santa Monica) all they're going to attract is more like themselves - ex clowns from anywhere but Los Angeles.

OK, I get it. The L.A. native has taken offense at what the bar owner said about his hometown. But seriously? Now I’m supposed to attack bar owners with the ferocity of Woodward and Bernstein uncovering the Watergate scandal? Um, I think not.

Ultimately, I’m kind of impressed with myself. I have to take pride in the fact that this basic piece about a guy opening a bar has a reader all twisted up to the point that he’s spending precious time ranting at me over email instead of, oh, I don’t know, having an ice cream cone or taking a walk on a lovely L.A. day.

But still. I just have to laugh. The power of the pen is no joke, y’all. Even when it is. Like Ice-T so eloquently said back in the day, “Freedom of Speech…just watch what you say.”

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Miike Snow: Swedish pop savants face 2009

Separately, the members of Miike Snow have enviable day jobs. Swedes Christian Karlsson and Pontus Winnberg are also known as production duo Bloodshy & Avant, who’ve spent the better part of the last decade crafting tracks for pop royalty like Madonna and Kylie Minogue. But their crowning achievement is writing Britney Spears’ finest recorded moment to date, “Toxic,” which earned them the best dance recording Grammy in 2005.
American Andrew Wyatt is a producer in his own right, earning his wings in the studios of the hip Downtown Music label (Santigold, Brett Dennen) and working alongside Mark Ronson on the latest Daniel Merriweather album.
As Miike Snow (many stories exist regarding the extra “i,” but more than anything it seems to serve as a most effective Google tool), the three have crafted a cool collection of ornate pop melodrama with a penchant for classic rock. Combining accomplished songwriting skills with relentlessly contemporary production values, the band’s eponymous debut is poised to be the melancholy comedown album of the summer. It’s the ideal morning-after remedy to the sunshine pop of “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix.”
“The live shows have been a huge relief,” admits Wyatt as the band sweats it out at the Canadian border en route to a show in Vancouver. “We’ve realized that we can actually pull it off and not use anything canned. Every sound you hear onstage is being manufactured by a person.”
The trio utilize three additional musicians in concert. “The best thing about playing live is that it’s a little bit dangerous, and it could go terribly wrong at any moment,” Wyatt says.
“We want to be as far from the whole laptop show as possible,” adds Karlsson wryly.
It’s a point well taken listening to their recent live session on KCRW’s “Morning Becomes Eclectic,” where already expansive songs like “Silvia” are stretched out into epic, digital jam sessions. Show host Jason Bentlely was even forced to basically cut the band off as their extended version of “In Search Of” pulsated onward.
“We’re into bands like Pink Floyd and Kraftwerk, artists with a strong cult of persona that always put the music first,” elaborates Winnberg in reference to the band keeping their individual identities under wraps when they first emerged with singles like the deceptively bouncy and reggae-tinged “Animal” and the moody, emotional “Burial.”
The band struggles when asked to define their sound, eventually pointing at “something special” that happens when the three of them get together to make music.
“None of this was really planned. It all just kind of happened,” says Karlsson sheepishly.
“We did this pretty much for ourselves, for fun,” adds Wyatt. “We were just going to release songs on Myspace. We didn’t stress about how people would interpret it. We made something we find interesting and fresh, that’s all.”
The album bears out their claims, built on sturdy, piano-based songs given flight on the wings of endless dreamy synthesizer tones, as if the Alan Parsons Project and Steve Miller Band’s “Fly Like an Eagle” served as sonic muses. The lush sounds and subtle electronic flourishes make it all thoroughly modern, thick with a tactile atmosphere similar to Depeche Mode’s “Violator” album.
When speaking on the downbeat quality of the album’s lyrics, primary wordsmith Wyatt admits that a lot of the words are more than a little personal. “They may describe why I’m single at the moment,” he deadpans as the rest of the band snicker in the background.
The band plans on keeping their all-the-way-live electronic road show on tour through the end of the year, sighing in unison when asked what exactly it is they’re shooting for as the latest pop savants on the block.
“Continuing to develop the live show is our mission right now, and that will probably never change,” says Karlsson finally. “Right now, it’s really interesting to see how far we can stretch it, and how we can build on what we’ve done so far.”
-- Scott T. Sterling
Miike Snow perform tonight, June 16, with Art Brut and Golden Years at Spaceland, 1717 Silver Lake Blvd., $15, 21 and up
Photo credit: Magnus Magnusson
(Originally published in the L.A. Times)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Best Tweet Ever

In response to Charles Hamilton's recent stupidity (he said something about naming Jay Dilla as the Executive Producer on his new album or some ish), Dilla's mother "Ma Dukes" sent out this Tweet:

@MaDukesYancey No family members know who this Charles Hamilton character is. Get your shit straight. Don't make Ma Dukes get ghetto on your ass!

Quite simply, the best Tweet ever.

Bless you, Ma Dukes. Detroit has got your back, even all the way out here in Los Angeles...

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

June Gloom