Wednesday, September 10, 2008

******ISAAC HAYES*******

Isaac Hayes

Obituary in LA RECORD.

L.A. RECORD’s Rena Kosnett conducted what may have been Isaac Hayes’ final interview for us last week. She sends the following obituary:

Isaac Hayes died today, Sunday August 10th, 2008. I had the great fortune to interview Isaac by phone while he was at his home in Memphis a little over a week ago in anticipation of his headlining spot on the upcoming Sunset Junction festival bill. I was ecstatic for the week leading up to the interview, and stayed ecstatic for the week following it, so not surprisingly I received 4 voicemails, 6 text messages, and 9 emails from people informing me of the sad news.

Isaac was a one-man messianic movement who spoke the gospel of groove and spread the sermon of soul throughout American culture. He served to liberate and advocate American funk and human sexuality the way Timothy Leary articulated acid, the way Hunter S. Thompson obliterated objectivism. I was asked frequently after the interview if I had questioned Isaac about South Park or Scientology, and the answer was ‘No.’ Not because I was afraid or felt he would be uncomfortable, but because what was most significant in Isaac’s life—what was most groundbreaking—was his music. For the few moments I had him, that’s what I wanted to stick to.

Isaac was self-taught. He was a visionary. He went to the recording studio dressed in gold chains and bright green suits when everyone else was wearing black turtlenecks and gray trouser socks. Isaac worked his way up from being a poor meat packer—even his obituary includes some innuendo!—in rural Tennessee to being the driving creative force behind Stax, which, alongside Motown and Sun, has been one of American music’s most critical labels.

His 1969 album Hot Buttered Soul changed how music was produced, opening soul and pop recordings to more interpretation and spoken interludes, and paving the way for Barry White’s and Millie Jackson’s silky mid-song eroticisms—now a staple, and indeed nearly a cliché, of R&B music. But even before Isaac’s throaty classics made it to the turntable, he was heard on the airwaves through the voices of Sam & Dave, Otis Redding, and Carla Thomas. Isaac, mainly with his creative partner David Porter, wrote the hits “Soul Man,” “Hold On, I’m Comin’,” “When Something is Wrong with My Baby”, and “Soul Sister Brown Sugar,” among others, and his orchestral, horn, organ, and bass scores inspired the soundtracks for countless films, blaxploitation and otherwise.

What struck me most during our interview, despite the clear struggles he was working through due to his 2006 stroke, was his exaltation. He was excited about playing the Sunset Junction, excited about his new album, and gracious with his laughter, time, and his unmatched ability to serenade. Even through a cell phone headset, hearing him sing made me swoon.

We have lost our Soul Man, our Black Moses, and his deep voice and deeper vitality will surely be missed.


Interview in LA RECORD, August 2008

L.A. RECORD’s Rena Kosnett interviewed Isaac Hayes last week in preparation for his performance later this month at Sunset Junction. We were saddened today to learn of his passing in Memphis. As far as we know, this is his final interview.

Rolling Stone named ‘Soul Man’ as one of the 500 greatest songs of all time. Do you think most people realize you and David Porter wrote that song?

Maybe, maybe not. Some people, they don’t connect it—they think it was Sam and Dave, because they made it well known.

You said previously that you wrote it in response to the the 12th Street Riots in Detroit—about ‘man’s struggle to rise above his present conditions’?

Yeah because, you know, the riots were going on and we were watching it happen on TV, and we saw that they had written on the walls of the black-owned stores ‘Soul Man.’ And I said, ‘“Soul Man,” that’s a good title.’ At that time in the ‘60s, there was all kindsa crazy stuff goin’ on. That’s why I wrote it, you know.

The Sunset Junction festival started as a way to bring the Latino community and gay community together in East L.A. after several instances of violence. Would you consider writing a ‘Soul Man’ type of song for the gay and Latino struggles?

Oh, um, I’m workin’ on that one. [laughing] I’ve been working on my new album. I’ll just tell you what, though—this new album that’s coming out, it’s good. It’s probably coming out next year.

Is it all new material?

Maybe some, and some is redone.

Any classics?

Lemme see. Maybe a song by the name of [breaking into a serenade] ‘Tonight’s the night, the tiiiime is right, the things I’ve waited for so long…’


That tune is good.

Many credit the musical influence you and David Porter had on Stax with saving the label, but some think your leaving almost killed them. Do you think these are fair judgments?

At that time, maybe so. At Stax, there were many things happening then—many struggles and complications. But my new album is coming out on Stax, so I’m still working good with them.

I read in Peter Guralnick’s book Sweet Soul Music that David Porter tried to sell you life insurance when you first met him. Did you buy any?

I didn’t buy any insurance, but he did try to sell me some. He gave me a good deal. I met David long before I started at Stax. I was singing with a group called the Del Reels, and he sang with the King Tones. And we both played for a talent contest in Memphis.

Who won?

I won it one week and then he won it the next week, and we started working together after that.

Do you remember what song you sang in the talent contest?

I think it was ‘Looking Back,’ by Nat King Cole.

Your first Stax session was playing keyboard for Otis Redding. Was it an easy process to develop songs with him?

Well, Otis had a way of doing things—he would write the songs at the same time he was singing them. He would start going [breaking into song and imitating Otis Redding] ‘Na na na na, you got to, got to got to…’ and he was writing the songs at the same time. With me and David… there was an understanding we had between us. With ‘Soul Man,’ he said, ‘Look, man, let’s just do it.’ He said, ‘Let’s write something.’ And we did. That’s just how it worked.

Do you have a favorite Burt Bacharach tune?

I did a lot of songs by Bacharach and Hal David. ‘Walk On By’ was a good one. And ‘The Windows of the World.’

Most of the early Stax records were produced communally. Was it a big transition at the label to start thinking about music as a product?

When we started getting credit for the things we did, I thought that was good, because the songs had a lot of personal meaning. Now, they’re just rapping and all that stuff…

You don’t like current hip-hop music?

I like Alicia Keyes. Mary J. Blige.

You like the ladies.

Well, yeeeah. Anthony Hamilton is also good. I like him too.

Who should really be called ‘Black Moses’: you, Harriet Tubman, or Marcus Garvey? There can’t be three, can there?

I got my name as ‘Black Moses’ from Dino Woodward, a pastor at Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York [and one-time Stax executive]. He called me Moses, and I said, ‘Hey, that’s sacrilegious, baby!’ But he just kept up with it, so I was like, ‘OK, I get it.’ I finally gave in.

For the cover photo of Juicy Fruit, did you and the six ladies go home after the shoot or did you stay in the pool and make fruit salad?

Those ladies split.

They didn’t stay and hang with you?

You know… [starts singing lines from ‘Juicy Fruit’] ‘Watching girls come and go, juicy fruit, jump suit…’ It was cool, but you know, they went home.

Did Barry White, may he rest in peace, ever thank you for giving him a career?

No. No, he didn’t thank me. We did an album together, though, because they wanted to call us the ‘Deep Throat Brothers.’

Does anyone understand you ‘cept your woman?

Just my woman. My fourth wife, Adjowa. The kids are something else—that’s a different kind of understanding.

What kind of special treatment do you receive when you visit Ghana?

In Ghana, I’m an honorary king there. They have a big parade. They feed me all kinds of good stuff. They gave me my own island! It takes about an hour to circumnavigate it. Don’t know what I want to call it yet. I was last there about two years ago.

Have you ever dated a Jewish girl?

Yeah, I’ve dated all kinds of girls.

Of course you have. I’m a Jewish girl.

Oh yeah?

Do you think if I went black I’d ever go back?

There were no complaints from my Jewish girls. So from my perspective, you wouldn’t be goin’ back. No way.

BRIAN BRESS short interview

Video artist Brian Bress talks about the music video he made for Wounded Lion, LA Weekly

Wounded Lion- Pony People

Wounded Lion "Pony People" video, directed by Brain Bress
by Rena Kosnett
July 9, 2008 2:49 PM

The young L.A. band Wounded Lion has put up a new music video online for their song “Pony People,” ahead of the release of their first single on S-S Records. The video was directed by Brian Bress, who just finished a stint at the Getty as part of the “California Video” exhibition. Considering Bress and the Wounded Lion members Brad Eberhard and Raffi Kalenderian are all LA Weekly Biennial alums, and the video has the clear patterned, repetitive, and disorienting imprint of Bress’ other fine art work, the video skirts that gray area between music video and video art, like Target Video, also in the Getty exhibit, and Michael Reich’s Videothing (you can read more about Videothing here: Bress answered a few of my questions about the video today.

LA Weekly: You know Wounded Lion through college?

Brian Bress: I know Raffi through UCLA—he was in undergrad while I was in grad school there. I went to undergrad at RISD.

Ok Go commissioned you to make their “Television Television” wallpaper video. Did Wounded Lion commission you to make the “Pony People” video?

No, we had been discussing collaborating on a video for a while when I saw them around at parties and stuff. It wasn’t a commission, it was a pro bono thing. Ok Go had a budget—a small budget, but there was a budget. The “Pony People” video was made more like I make my other videos—very much on a shoe-string budget.

There’s some contemporary history with overlap in music videos and video art—Target Video in the Getty exhibit and Videothing’s work, among others. How does this video configure into that crossover?

If I had to, I would put it in a music video category. But it’s funny that you ask that, because one of the first things video art teachers will tell you is, “Don’t make music videos.” When I’m working, one of the first things I’ll do on set is make a music video, just to warm up. Not even to show to people—just to introduce music into the process. But I don’t often end up making music videos. I think I made a remake of the “Rock Your Body” video.

That process is tangible because your videos “Under Cover” and “Over and Over” have musical elements.

It’s true they do. What I consider a music video is a situation where the music couldn’t change—if the music is the lead and the video is there to serve the music. Music is important to me, but when defining the difference, it’s more about which is the focus. The imagery in “Pony People” is meant to go along with the song—the picture was the supporting cast member while the song was the primary element. Hopefully the imagery doesn’t overpower it.

But at the same time, the “Pony People” video was collaborative. I felt responsible to the band to make an image which reflected what I interpret the band to be about. I couldn’t just pause the song midway and put a segment of me dunking my head in water or something like that. An art video, just like any fine art, wouldn’t need a set purpose. The goal doesn’t need to be so clear.

Why did your teachers tell you not to make music videos?

I think their logic is that music is someone else's art, and it’s pretty powerful. You could take the same shot of a baby crying, and you could put it over heavy metal music, and then you could put it over classical music, and the meaning will change drastically. When starting out with video art, it’s tempting to use music to smooth over your images, to use like a handy cap, when you really should be focusing on the picture. I think my teachers were thinking we would do better to develop work without music for that reason.

Do you feel more comfortable making music videos now that you’ve exhibited your fine art?

I’ve always thought it was okay to make music videos. Even if it were the first video I’d ever made, before the Getty show, before all that, it would be okay. Obviously there’s overlap aesthetically about the way the videos are put together. If I was listing videos I’ve made that have the most personal resonance, I wouldn’t put the “Pony People” video in there, but some of the imagery is very personal. There are images of people who are close to me that aren’t in the band: the two dancing girls are close friends of mine. When I shot some of the earlier footage, when the set up was still in the forest, before we shot in the studio, I didn’t even know that content would be used for a Wounded Lion video. But as soon as I put the band in stripes I knew I had to use it.

Check out more of Brian Bress' videos here.


Filmmaker Michael Reich and Videothing feature, LA Weekly

Also: Target Video, TV Party, and video art vs. the music video

Converse and a camera: A still from an online arbiter. Photo by Rena Kosnett

TV party tonight: Michael Reich's Captures the Essence of L.A.'s Underground

Wednesday, June 4, 2008 - 3:15 pm

There’s something funny you notice when first visiting, the Web site for filmmaker Michael Reich’s local music project, Videothing: Nothing is for sale. Reich’s brief, sharply edited, somewhat scripted but mostly spontaneous films of music performances, band interviews, tour clips and general eccentricities, such as a Health and AIDS Wolf at the Smell, Matt Fishbeck playing his Omnichord over a toilet, and a rambling Jamai-can’t-accented speech about reggae from Ari Up, are laid out in two clean, colorful, user-friendly columns down the length of Videothing’s home page.

This is an inkling of what sets Videothing apart from the recently launched, or Vice’s year-old online channel, VBS TV. In all cases, the content is free, immediate and accessible; but Videothing’s sole objective is to get you to watch the content. Not to buy an album, a festival ticket or the latest T-shirt style from American Apparel.

This puts Videothing more in the realm of an anarcho-punk zine than that of MTV.’s block colors and dark background took cues from the covers of Soul Jazz Records’ New York Noise compilations of experimental no-wave punk music that originally came out on small DIY labels from 1978 to 1988. The same East Coast music and art scene birthed another of Reich’s major artistic inspirations: Glenn O’Brien’s quasi-political New York cable-access show TV Party, which had the tag line, “TV Party is the show that’s a cocktail party but which could also be a political party.” TV Party ran from 1978 to 1982 and made regular guests of Debbie Harry, Mick Jones and Jean-Michel Basquiat. The scratchy Xerox aesthetic of the VHS and cassette-tape faces on is Reich’s inspirational reference to this era of nonproprietary art making, a moment that was more about the sharing of ideas than the copyright of a song. Says Reich: “In that scene, people would make homemade VHS tapes to trade like video zines, but now we get that kind of accessibility on the Internet.”

Each film’s length is determined by Reich’s self-proclaimed attention-deficit disorder, which, he says, is also the reason for his sharp editing style. Most likely because of his background in 2-D art, the power of suggestion — which is commonly expounded upon by figure-drawing and painting teachers — plays largely into Reich’s editing. In the “Crystal Antlers Go to Texas” video, which was shot during the first day of Reich’s hitching a ride to SXSW with the Long Beach band, quick sequential loading-gear/getting-gas/ Mom-closing-the-van-door clips are followed by hand-scribbled titles shot over a few seconds of Dylan and the Band’s “This Wheel’s on Fire.” Besides the British Absolutely Fabulous characters Patsy and Edina, “This Wheel’s on Fire” has become an archetypal song for the struggling on-the-road musician, in part, because of its lyrics about packing, waiting and rolling down the road, but also because of Levon Helm’s autobiography of the same name — and it just happened to be on the mix Crystal Antlers vocalist Jonny Bell made for the trip.

These are the kinds of circumstantial subtleties that make Videothing special. Reich, who also achieved a small level of fame without showing his face as “Hero Robot No. 2” in Daft Punk’s Electroma, is keen to his surroundings and can capture interesting moments without having to dwell on them. A quick toss of room service trays onto a hotel room carpet in Austin, Texas, is all the viewer needs in order to understand Reich’s mood at the beginning of his “On a Bridge” SXSW video: underslept, aggressive and juvenile. Not surprisingly, that particular video is even more clipped than usual, includes a (mild) confrontation with the police, and ends after a few seconds of No Age’s playing, when a crowd surfer slams into the camera lens.

Getting kicked in the face while holding video equipment was also a favorite pastime of filmmaker Joe Rees. With his San Francisco–based operation, Target Video, Rees was the West Coast’s answer to TV Party, bringing punk groups into his studio or orchestrating bizarre shows, the most oft-talked-about being 1978’s The Cramps: Live at Napa State Mental Hospital, during which female patients swarm around Lux Interior as he croons, “Somebody told me you people are crazy, but I’m not so sure about that.”

This year, Target Video was officially snuggled into the bosom of a fine-art institution when it was included in the Getty’s “California Video” exhibition, a generous group show that traced the significant developments of video art in California, and included heavyweights Eleanor Antin, Mike Kelley, John Baldessari, Martin Kersels and eccentric tag team Harry Dodge and Stanya Kahn. The valley that separates video art and promotional music videos is vast — the former started in the 1960s as a way for artists to use time as a canvas, while the latter, despite the creativity of directors like Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry, are promotional tools. But the resurfacing of music-video art has allowed for crossover between the two genres and can lead to strong differences of opinion. (Getty curator Glenn Phillips believes that Joe Rees’ Target Video has artistic merit, while L. A. Weekly art critic Doug Harvey does not: “... Conspicuous in its absence, especially considering the inclusion of such nonartsy material as the S.F. punk archives of Target Video ...”)

At its core, though, intent is what divides music video art from the music video, which Reich understands. As a paying gig, Reich directs full-production music videos (for, among others, the Shins, Bad Religion and the Brazilian Girls) for Draw Pictures, a commercial film agency with offices in London and Los Angeles. With client-based work, Reich is employed to help sell a product; with Videothing, he is trying to increase awareness of a culture and contextualize the live music within the realm of the club, or toilet, or bus. He’s making it not just for the band but for the people who were there, for the people who couldn’t make it and for his own enjoyment. “We’re all in this together,” he says. “That’s why I never get when bands give me a hard time about doing a five-minute interview. This one night, I waited until 3 or 4 a.m. to get an interview with Japanther. I ended up having to help them load up their gear, which I didn’t mind. But then this one guy in the band said, ‘If we’re gonna do this, you have to go get us some water.’ So I had to drop what I was doing to go find a liquor store and buy them bottled water. Later, though, they e-mailed me to say thank you.”

Because Reich makes these cool little films as his own project, Videothing’s recognizable cardboard signs and duct-tape labels were the handiest way to assemble a portable film set on the cheap. Also, it is just more realistic to carry around a backpack full of poster board signs and vinyl letters while roaming the streets of Austin and Los Angeles rather than a suitcase full of the props he originally used, like the large stuffed tigers he bought for the “Lady Tigre” video. “Basically, the signs came from Bob Dylan and not having enough money, and the desire to make 2-D art again,” Reich explains. The London alley in which D.A. Pennebaker shot a young Dylan dropping paper signs to the beat of “Subterranean Homesick Blues” does look like it could be along the entrance to the Smell, if beats Allen Ginsberg and Bob Neuwirth were replaced with Daniel, downtown L.A.’s most famous bum-security guard.

Target Video screens at MOCA on June 7, and Videothing can be seen in action, out and about, on most nights in Los Angeles, and on the Web site

AIDS Wolf in London by Videothing

The Cramps at Napa State Mental Hospital by Target Video

David Byrne on TV Party


Tuesday, September 9, 2008


Short write-ups as part of the 2008 F Yeah Fest feature, LA WEEKLY

F Yeah: Frickin' Yes in the Summertime
This weekend's fest offers a glimpse into the future of rock & roll

By L.A. Weekly Music Critics
Published on August 28, 2008

Crystal Antlers

2008 has been a stellar year for Long Beach's Crystal Antlers. They've released a new EP, gained scores of fans with their fantastic live shows, and signed to the respected Touch and Go Records, where they join the prestigious ranks of Black Heart Procession, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and TV on the Radio. The California-cool guitar stylings of Andrew King, shirtless knock-around drumsticks of Kevin Stuart, psychedelic octaves of organist Victor Rodriguez, passion percussion employed by Sexual Chocolate, and Jonny Bell's full-fisted bass and voice have merged to form an L.A. County classic. (Rena Kosnett)

Graham Forest

Rumor has it that Graham Forest sits cross-legged on the ground while entertaining Native American children, strumming his guitar and spinning tall tales. It's also suggested that Graham Forest lives in a trailer in the forests of, um, Fresno, and his quarters are overrun with marionette parts, leatherworking tools and ancient mortar holes. Graham Forest, it is said, hones his powers from the Indian burial ground and nonworking satellite dish that his backyard comprises. Whether all this is true or not, the mostly unknown yet easily embraced Central Valley Neil Diamond known as Graham Forest possesses a wholesome goodness that is greatly appreciated amid much of the F Yeah Fest's chaos. (RK)

Really lovely and cute video of Graham Forest in Fresno, by Videothing


Record Review, LA WEEKLY

Record Reviews: Inara George and Van Dyke Parks, Darker My Love

Also, Hawthorne Heights, the Starlite Desperation

By L.A. Weekly Music Critics
Published on August 28, 2008

The Starlite Desperation |Take It Personally| Infrasonic
Los Angeles trio the Starlite Desperation have accumulated a laundry list of career variations, including: label changes — GSL, Flapping Jet, Cold Sweat, Capitol; locale changes — San Francisco, Detroit, Los Angeles; band-name transformations — Starlite Desperation, Lost Kids, Spirit Army; and a lead singer whose own moniker changes just as frequently — Dante White, Dante Aliano, Dante Adrian, Dante Adrian White. But their music is consistently recognizable, mainly due to Adrian's delicate and sophisticated vocals, which contrast and cut through Jeff Ehrenberg's garage-punk drumming. The high timbre and loose, experimental feel of Take It Personally, their fourth, is most reminiscent of Starlite's first album, 2001's Show You What a Baby Won't. Both have an on-edge intensity and reach their greatest potential with the simpler pop tracks. New songs "Spirit Army," "My Favorite Place" and "I Love This!" accomplish much while remaining deceptively simple, invoking feelings of "Sweet Cherry Wine"–era Tommy James in Starlite's capacity to deliver catchy, dynamic songs by working and reworking accessible pop formulas — and then throwing in a little unexpected texture to shake those formulas up. Take It Personallyis a showcase for what Starlite Desperation do best — writing great garage/pop tunes that stick in your head for days and days and days. —Rena Kosnett


The art collective I work with, From Here To There, put up a public installation in an empty private lot on the corner of Micheltorena and Sunset, on Friday, September 12th.

By Sunday, it had been taken down.

But here is a blog that commemorates the process and the show.

It was a beautiful installation, and may it rest in peace.

3434 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles

From Here to There presents 3434 Sunset Blvd. Los Angeles, a guerrilla art show in the empty lot at the corner of Sunset Blvd. and Micheltorena in Silver Lake. The installation consists of 10 mounted images placed in the lot and visible from the street. Our intention is to utilize a space that is currently unused and in transition to display art. The images included present our interpretations of what it means to occupy land while making a public space personal.

thoughts: Hugging & Empathy

Hugs are good. And chimps feel empathy.

BBC News

Monday, September 8, 2008

thoughts: The Olympics

Opening ceremonies in Beijing: beautiful, yes. But...

What kind of society is it, that can afford to make patterns out of people?

-Anthony Lane, The New Yorker

Good question, Mr. Lane.

1936, Berlin Olympics

Olympic swimming pool after the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin.
IOC Olympic Museum/Allsport/Getty Images