My Pop Life #182 : Am I Wrong ? – Anderson .Paak ft. ScHoolboy Q

Am I Wrong ?    –   Anderson .Paak  ft. Schoolboy Q

Am I wrong to assume
If she can dance, then she can’t ooh?

I miss those teenage days when you would listen to an album back to back around and around and revel in each listen, purr with delight at each unfolding chord sequence, lie back and indulge in the slowly-becoming sweet familiarity of this new music.  Your new favourite record.  You just couldn’t get enough of it.  Sometimes you needed someone else to convert or share it with, but the experience was personal, deep, profound, special.  Why a record becomes personal and ‘favourited’ is a mysterious thing – it hits your sweet spot and refuses to budge.  First hearing is usually a delight, but it is possible that a favourite will creep up on you.  But once you’ve heard it three or four times, you then wonder if it will wear off – and your true favourites never ever do.  You simply always love it.  Each year I mentally compile my favourites of the year just gone, trying to be ruthlessly honest.  But as I get older, fewer and fewer albums or songs manage to penetrate me in the same way.  Thus is the golden age born.  I love nostalgia but I also love to hear new music, and I always have.  Perhaps growing up with the Top 40 every Sunday makes you ready to hear fresh music every week.  The new stuff would always get an airing for that huge audience, and often we would go out and buy one we liked.   I listen to music and read reviews online these days and seek out new stuff which might appeal to me.  Could be anything, usually is…

Last year, in mid-2016, The Guardian online had some kind of “what’s been good so far” music article with some stuff I’d heard (Skepta, Rihanna, Bowie) and some I hadn’t (Margo Price).  In the below-the-line discussion Cif (Comment Is Free) area, a place I usually avoid due to certain frothing at the mouth trolls and gits, were the usual types whinging about the Guardian or their own favourite band.  Anderson .Paak was mentioned four separate times by people simply saying “listen to this fella”.  It is usually a good indicator of something worth checking out.  Next minute I’m on Youtube listening to this brilliant LP Malibu which came out in February 2016.  I am immediately hooked and buy it on iTunes.  Each time I hear it after that it gets better.  And better.  Eventually I burn it onto a CD and give it to Tony Gerber, Lynn Nottage’s husband and my New York gig buddy and friend.  The people we see the most here, they’re about 20 blocks away in Boerum Hill.

Tony Gerber avec du vin blanc

We’ve seen Young Fathers, FKA Twigs, Kode9, I gave him my Run The Jewels tickets, we went to Stevie Wonder together.  Tony is a documentary director and runs his own company Market Road Films from an office in Gowanus near the canal.  Last year he went to Liberia, Congo, Iraq, Turkey, the UK and Kurdish Iraq making documentary films, mainly for Nat Geo.  He works all over the world often in dangerous spots and always dependent on a local fixer for his and his crew’s safety, interviewing militias in the Eastern Congo or Kurdish fighters about to go into battle with ISIS in Iraq.  Tony enjoys the buzz understandably and he knows what he is doing in terms of film-making.  He’s been all over the world.  Market Road Films has a small but eclectic staff and always has some younger trainees and interns from interesting places.  They throw a mean Halloween Party every year with an open mic for ‘moths’, plenty booze and food and a few intrepid types in fancy dress.  Jenny and I decided to indulge in fancy dress last year.   Sorry no pix.

Tony, Wally and Lynn last summer in their garden

But usually Tony and I meet at his and Lynn’s house, a classic Brooklyn brownstone where her Dad Wally has the ground floor, and Tony & Lynn & their children the three floors above that, with the kitchen right at the top, bedrooms in the middle and living room by the front door which is up the stoop from the sidewalk.  Often when we visit there are other family members, friends, a convivial gathering including writers, film-makers, lawyers, policewomen, producers, United Nations employees, directors and real-estate brokers.  New Yorkers.  And what was very lovely about going round there last year in particular was Tony playing this CD I’d burned for him with regularity – and always pointing out to the assembled throng that I’d introduced him to Anderson .Paak.  Why ?  Because he actually loved it as much as me.  I should point out at this point that Tony and Lynn have two kids – Melkamu who is now 8 yrs old and Ruby who is in her first year at college aged 19.  So Ruby brings music too and now and again we would sit around and listen to this and that – hip hop, Drake, Princess Nokia.  One of the best gigs we went to last year was in the Music Hall in Williamsburg, a couple of miles north of where Jenny and I live.  Tony, Ruby and Ruby’s friend Isabel and I went to see LA producer laptop DJ genius Flying Lotus.  He joyously played Busta Rhymes ‘Gimme Some More’ (My Pop Life #42) in amongst his own songs, none of which broke the three minute mark.  Great gig.   I am currently grooving to his compadre – the bass player Thundercat‘s new album “Drunk” – the best thing of 2017 so far.  They are both part of a new young jazz/hip-hop collective based in Los Angeles which includes Kendrick Lamar on whose masterpiece album To Pimp A Butterfly they both appeared in 2015.

So in a father-daughter kind of dynamic Tony likes to introduce Ruby to new stuff as well, a two way street being better than one.  I reckon!

Anderson .Paak

Anderson .Paak is also from L.A. but further up the coast.  The countryside.  In fact if you’ve ever been to Los Angeles you’ve probably heard the local radio station KCRW, one of the best in the world, broadcasting out of Santa Monica and other transmitters including KCRU Oxnard Ventura, which gets called on the hour every hour.  Oxnard is an area north of Malibu, rural, coastal, rugged and beautiful and is where Anderson grew up.  His (half-Korean) mother had a strawberry farm there for years until it went bust.  His father disappeared after beating his mother in the street when Anderson (actual name Brandon) was very young.  He worked in a marijuana farm for a while after learning the drums in church and made his musical debut under the excellent name Breezy Lovejoy.  The first Anderson .Paak LP (the dot is a gimmick to attract attention) was Venice in 2014.  In 2015 he appeared on six tracks on Dr Dre‘s album Compton.  In 2016 he released Malibu and another record : Yes Lawd! with collaborator Knxwledge under the collective moniker Nx Worries.  He sings, he raps, he plays the drums, he grooves.  Boy he grooves.  The whole of Malibu is one groove after another, old skool style but fresh as a daisy.  It is an amazing record.  I’ve heard a few interviews with him and he hates the lazy designation ‘Urban Music’.  He is a country boy.   But this is disco funk.  This is soul music.

I waited for another record to beat it last year – a new Kendrick Lamar, Chance The Rapper, Solange, A Tribe Called Quest, Frank Ocean.  All excellent.  Beyoncé made her finest to date, Lemonade, which many felt was the album of 2016.  But to quote my own honesty from earlier, it wasn’t the record that I kept playing last year.  The one that I couldn’t get enough of.  The one that never went stale, every play enhancing my love for it.  The one Tony always put on when I went over there.  What a precious feeling.  To be young again !!

Anderson .Paak ‘playing’ on the Ellen show with his band The Free Nationals :

Advertisements

My Pop Life #142 : Gimme Some More – Busta Rhymes

Gimme Some More   –   Busta Rhymes

Yo Spliff where the weed at?
Gimme some more
I know ya’ll niggas need that
Gimme some more
Even though we getting money you can
Gimme some more
With the cars and the big crib
Gimme some more
Everybody spread love
Gimme some more
If you want it let me hear you say
Gimme some more

Got reminded of this TUNE last night at the Flying Lotus gig in the Music Hall of Williamsburg.  Went with Tony Gerber and his daughter Ruby and her friend Isobel, – the kids disappeared as soon as we got in there, like kids do.  Great great gig.  Halfway through FlyLo’s set the Bernard Herrmann strings from Psycho started up and the projections went psychedelic chopped black & white and then the unmistakable drumbeat heralded the mighty Busta Rhymes track Gimme Some More from late ’98 early 1999.  What a tune.  What a lyrical delight.  What a sample.  And what a flipmode flipping video (see below).  He was at the height of his powers on this track and this album Extinction Level Event, his third.  In early 99 this was the bomb with its jerky rhythms, sudden drops and verbal dexterity.  It felt about as fast as you could rap without tripping over your tongue.  I loved it.

I still love it.  It felt different then though.  Everything felt different then.  The pre-millennial tension.  The excitement.  The fear.  The imminence of – what ?  We didn’t know.  This song seemed for the moment, jittery, greedy, consumptive and utterly mental.  The whole of 1999 had a party atmosphere thanks to Prince and the calendar, or perhaps a delayed gratification repeat meme, because if you weren’t at a party you damn well knew you were going to be at one soon.  And then, in a slightly hysterical but rather fantastic way, you would party like it was 1999, because you’d never get another chance.

Gimme Some More

The dirtiest sexiest most indulgent party we ever had was surely that year, on Valentine’s night February 14th.  Not sure what day of the week it was – an Asperger’s question – and it doesn’t matter, but it wasn’t the weekend.  The gang were invited, in particular single people, and Jenny and I provided space, music, drugs and cake, or Eton Mess ie meringue, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and cream.  We also had bowls full of sweets of all different types and on the kitchen table was a large bowl full of grass, by which I mean marijuana, all nicely shredded and ready to smoke.  There were papers and pipes and there was drink.   Bubbles.  Beers.  Wines.  Spirits.

Who came ?  Brighton people.  Let’s see.  Jo.  Andy.   Josh.   Soriya.  Kerry and Selena who both got very stoned.  The Stomp crew Jo, Luke, Loretta and Steve.  Keith and Yarra.   Mandy.   Millie.  Others.  Who didn’t ?  Mark Williams.  Amanda.  Lucy.  But really?  I can’t remember.  Truly.  The party was too good to be actually remembered. Patrick and Emma?  Jeanne and Laurie?  Fraser ?   It was pre-Brighton Beach Boys so none of that crowd.  No one came down from London like they usually did for our parties (except Mandy).  We had another one later that year for the actual millennium, sometime in December to combine with Jen’s birthday;  in the house as usual, bring your own drugs as usual, Catherine Wearing came down to that one, Paulette, Beverley, Sharon Henry, Eamonn & Sandra, quite a few Londoners.  Jenny and I would take it in turns to DJ, no one else would really get a look-in.  Jenny knew how to get the girls dancing, always critical for a good houseparty.  She had her top playlist – Whitney, TLC, Anita Baker, Deborah Cox, Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye…  We would dance in two and threes or crazy ones, until dawn or later if necessary.  As long and until you felt like you had been at a party.  The last one was in 2003, then we stopped them abruptly and grew up.  Finally got the wallpaper up.  No more parties.  I remember the Valentine’s Party as the most indulgent of them all – midweek, no one’s birthday, mary-jane in a bowl, champagne and chocolate.  We didn’t really do cocaine, didn’t like the effect it had on people, and didn’t take it, but other people sure did and it wasn’t a big deal.

Busta Rhymes aka Trevor Tahiem Smith, Jr. was born in Brooklyn, raised on Long Island and after high school attended George Westinghouse High School in downtown Brooklyn, some six blocks from where I’m writing this blog, alongside Jay-Z, The Notorious B.I.G and DMX.  The story goes that Jay-Z and Trevor had a rap battle in the school canteen one lunchtime, and Busta lost.

Busta Rhymes came up via Leaders Of The New School who would support Long Island crew Public Enemy at early gigs.  Chuck D gave him his moniker after NFL wide receiver George ‘Buster’ Rhymes.  Soon Busta’s verbal dexterity earned him guest slots with New York acts A Tribe Called QuestThe Notorious B.I.G., Mary J. Blige and Big Daddy Kane among others.  He started recording his first album The Coming in 1995 with its startling lead single Woo Hah! (Got You All In Check).  He is undeniably one of hip-hop’s leading exponents thanks to his verbal skills which are second only to Rakim, Biggie and one or two others.  You may argue that among yourselves.  It’s customary for me to learn the lyrics of my favourite raps so that I can spit them at unconventional and unlikely moments.  This particular rap contains so many uses of Nigga and is so fast and difficult to perform that it rarely gets an outing.   The track was produced by Busta’s regular collaborator DJ Scratch.

stills from the video for Gimme Some More

The video is a work of genius.  Opening with the strange pop myth :

As a shorty, playing in the front yard of the crib
Fell down, and I bumped my head
Somebody helped me up and asked me if I bumped my head
I said “Yeah”


So then they said “Oh so that mean we gon, you gon switch it on em’?”
I said “Yeah, Flipmode, Flipmode is the greatest”
Knowing as a shorty, I was always told
That if I ain’t gon’ be part of the greatest
I gotta be the greatest myself !

This over the strings from Psycho and a cartoon day-glo kids TV-world scene.  As the drumbeat kicks in, the video develops with more fish-eye lens angles, strange characters and demonic figures, Busta himself usually shot from the top down like a cartoon of Deputy Dawg.  The effect reminds me of some of Missy Elliott’s pumped-up visuals which were also superb, disturbing and funny all at the same time.

Enjoy.

  Everybody spread love.

for those who like to follow the lyrics :

My Pop Life #130 : America – Simon & Garfunkel

America   –   Simon & Garfunkel

Let us be lovers we’ll marry our fortunes together

I’ve got some real estate here in my bag

So we bought a pack of cigarettes

and Mrs Wagner pies

and walked off to look for America…

It was some time in early 2015 when I became aware of the two Swedish sisters Johanna & Klara Söderberg who call themselves First Aid Kit covering this evergreen classic.  Clear, bright, bel canto voices with a precise harmonic shiver  : the song lived again in their youthful rendition.   It marked our first year living in New York City, two English actors who’d packed two suitcases and one cat each and upped and flown to the Big Apple on a whim in February 2014.   My wife Jenny and I had moved six times by the time I heard this cover of Simon & Garfunkel‘s song, from Harlem in the snow, to the top floor of a brownstone in Washington Avenue in Brooklyn in the deeper snow (and an encounter with fairy godmother Johanna), across the street to a sublet in an apartment block, to the Village in Manhattan, then Air Bob in Bed-Stuy, to Hall St in Clinton Hill, now next door in Fort Greene.  It was our third major stint looking for America.  First – 1992 Los Angeles for three years, Venice, West Hollywood and Green Cards.  Next – 2002 Los Angeles for another two years – Los Feliz.  Now New York.  Coming up for two years as I write this.

My first experience of America was in 1976 when my best friend Simon Korner and I hitch-hiked from New York to Los Angeles to Vancouver to Cape Cod.  It was our gap year – though it was called “a year off” back then.  We’d done our A-levels, got our University places sorted – him at Cambridge, me at LSE.  I’d then left home and gone to work in Laughton Lodge as a Nursing Assistant, a period I outlined briefly in My Pop Life #58.

Essentially I was required to keep an eye on a ward-full of 30 men of differing shapes and sizes, but all classified in 1975 as ‘Mentally Subnormal’.  Some of them were dangerous.  Some were catatonic.  Now they would be called clients with a learning difficulty.  All this for a later blog, but I mention it in passing.  I worked there from October through to April 1975, saving money to fly to New York with Simon, to go and look for America.

It was terribly exciting, we were 18 going on 19 and from a small Sussex town called Lewes.  Seeing the skyscrapers of Manhattan, the Smithsonian, the wide open prairies of Nebraska, the Rocky Mountains, Monument Valley and the Arizona desert was an unparalleled experience for two young men, and it changed and bonded us both.    Paul Simon did a similar trip with Kathy Chitty in 1964.   I kept a diary of the trip and at one point in New Mexico wrote a kind of Ode :

America ! America ! The skies all seem to say !

Or are they saying something else, like : “Let’s be on our way” ?

 It’s rather hard to tell because it’s cloudy out today

But Ralph and Sigh don’t mind because they’re IN THE USA !!

Fairly safe to say there wasn’t a budding Paul Simon hiding within at that point.   It’s more of a Soviet Farm Song satire.

Perhaps not surprisingly this song always makes me feel emotional for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on.  The ultimate line : “…counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike, they’ve all come to look for America…” is so simple and ordinary yet it has a poetic magic that lifts the song into a mythical hymn for the soul.  Of all those people searching for their best life on this vast continent.  Plenty wrong with the USA of course which I won’t rehearse here.  this is about the other side of the coin.   The optimism of America, constantly encouraging, constantly asking you to make the very best of yourself.  The reason why we keep coming back.    The hope.  The interior yearning made physical reality.

We had Simon & Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits in our house all through childhood, Mum must have bought it.  This song didn’t stand out to me at the age of ten or eleven, I was hooked on Sound Of Silence, Parsley Sage Rosemary & Thyme, Homeward Bound.  But it must have crept under my skin because it has become one of my favourite songs of all time.  Again, I’m not sure why, but it has a strange ineffable power : unusually there is no rhyme at all in the lyrics, and the chorus is just one line, slightly altered each time “…look for America”.    Paul Simon evidently knows that from the specific and the individual experience comes the universal : the details of the Greyhound Bus trip from Pittsburgh which had started as a hitch-hiking journey from Saginaw, Michigan, the cigarettes, the jokes, the youthful joy which turns to melancholy in the last verse :

Kathy I’m lost” I said, though I knew she was sleeping..I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why

the reference to smoking pot “some real estate here in my bag” and the the space between the two voices above all lend this three-minute masterpiece a unique power.  In particular the middle verse :

So I looked at the scenery, she read her magazine and the moon rose over an open field..”

has no equal in pop writing for me.  There is just so much space in the song, and the listener fills it with their own fantasies, desires and feelings.  But mainly with their own bruised optimism.

graffitti on an abandoned building in Saginaw

I thought I would post the First Aid Kit version because I became rather obsessed with it, but after a few months of listening to hip hop and electronica I went back to it.  It still sounds bright and beautiful, but it is in the end a cover of a classic.  There are technical issues – chopped bar lines and other things I won’t bore you with, Paul Simon’s song is best served in the end by Art Garfunkel and himself, some acoustic guitars, a wandering soprano saxophone and a melodic bassline.  Larry Knechtel on Hammond organ and Hal Blaine on the drums join them on this recording, but essentially the space created between all of these elements is where the song’s beauty lies, which the Swedish sisters have understood so well.  David Bowie made a similar empty echoing version immediately after 9/11 which I post below.

My other memory of this song is the film Almost Famous of course, a film about music with one of the finer soundtracks I can remember.  The closing credits roll over The Beach Boys’ “Feel Flows“the closing song on their 1971 LP Surf’s Up and well outside the 20 Golden Greats arena.   Simon & Garfunkel’s song accompanies the young hero leaving home, looking for America.  One of those cliches that always lands.

Simon & Garfunkel 1966

Paul Simon is of course one of the finest songwriters of any era.  I sang his solo praises in My Pop Life #89 .  The combination he had with Art Garfunkel was immaculate though and unlikely to be bettered as a vehicle for his amazing songs.  I think they fell out probably – and unspoken issues kept them apart aside from one remarkable song My Little Town and a concert in Central Park in 1981 when they tried to heal the rift to no avail.

Carousel Singers at the Unitarian Church Brighton 2013

Towards the end of my Brighton period, around 2013 I suppose, I joined a group run by Julia Roberts called The Carousel Singers.  I was suggested by ace percussionist Paul Gunter who played for a while with The Brighton Beach Boys and is a senior graduate of Stomp – because Carousel – or rather Julia – were looking for a pianist who could accompany a choir of learning-disabled adults.  My year with Carousel was extraordinary, funny, moving and occasionally sad.  We’d meet every Wednesday evening in the Unitarian Church on New Road in the centre of Brighton.  Julia, Paul, another musician Gabrielle, graduate Karis and me.  My instinct was always to push the singers further, assume that they could do things that perhaps they hadn’t been asked to do before, stretch them out a bit.  And we used to write songs together, as a group.  In particular the choir members would come up with the lyrics, and I would supply some kind of tune and chords to go with them.  The first time we did this, for a song we called Song For Iain,  I used a simple descending F to C bassline which pleases the ear and sounds very POP, but for the second song I just couldn’t get ‘America’ out of my brain, and blatantly lifted chunks of melody for the choir to sing.  Fran in particular got it, and always remembered the tune from one week to the next.  Others joined her.  Others again could scarcely talk let alone sing, but it was a group which looked out for each other and didn’t judge, but always supported each other.  I learned a huge amount from working with these people, who just 40 years earlier would have been on a locked ward in a Mental Hospital being dosed-up with various drugs.   The Carousel Singers all have a level of independence, and a huge reservoir of compassion combined with a lack of judgement of other people’s ability and capability.  It was extraordinarily moving.  I do believe that we could learn a great deal from adults and children with learning difficulties.

Meanwhile I’m still looking for America.  Wish me luck.

Simon & Garfunkel :

First Aid Kit get an ovation from Paul Simon :

the David Bowie video isn’t the 9/11 one but hey !

My Pop Life #27 : Concerto in F (allegro) – Gershwin

Featured image

Concerto In F  (Allegro)   –   Gershwin

Music has given me many perfect moments in my life.   At concerts, on trains, in cars, in rehearsal, even on stage.  Often through headphones.   I just had a perfect moment on my front door stoop in Brooklyn on ipod shuffle.   A positive rush of joy where the music – Gershwin’s Concerto in F – matched my thoughts and feelings precisely in a rush of connection.

We all know Rhapsody In Blue.   Manhattan.   Used as the soundtrack to Woody Allen’s film.   But had been the soundtrack of the city since 1924.   The brilliant use of jazz in a classical score has not been bettered, except perhaps by Miles Davis’ Sketches Of Spain.   It has an amazing section two thirds of the way through which Brian Wilson transposed into a vocal opening for his “Gershwin” LP a few years ago.  I’ve toyed with getting those four bars of music tattooed onto my left arm, below the butterfly, the Jenny symbol and Chester’s pawprint.   It’s an iconic piece of music.   I’ve seen it live in concert, at the Dome in Brighton, and seen that great musician Leonard Bernstein conduct it in New York, on youtube of course.   But this piece is less well-known, certainly by me.   Due diligence reveals that it was written a year after Rhapsody In Blue premiered, in 1925.   It’s more classical in form than the more famous piece, but has echoes of it nonetheless.   My “well-trained ear” (this is a joke) immediately finds astonishing beauty in it.

Today was a bit nothing.   Cold and rainy, I went out at five to try and make something happen – maybe buy a chest of drawers, get the dry cleaning delivered because it’s too heavy to carry down the road, buy some of Jenny’s favourite beer Negro Modela.   All failures.  I did manage to buy cheese eggs and milk at Trader Joe’s.   Jenny was on a long Facetime.   When she came off it she cooked us both an amazing stew.   We don’t cook much, so it was a treat.   I helped a couple of young people make a connection in “this business we call show”, and was rewarded by a Twitter follower explaining to me how I could embed videos onto this blog.   What goes around comes around said Leonard Kravitz.   I had some puff, went downstairs onto the stoop for a Benson & Hedges with my ipod on, and this slice of unknown New York music came on random shuffle.   It was beautiful.   Life is good suddenly.

Featured image

It wouldn’t be my pop life without random shuffle now would it?   As serenity flowed through me (mingling with the pleasant effects of marijuana) I felt lucky, satisfied and happy with myself.   It’s been a bad day but it can end well even so.   Fleeting moments of joy that I welcome and hold close for a second.   Then decide to write it down.  My Pop Life.   It’s almost live.