Monday, February 28, 2005

Down to Pedro

Some time back, one of my siblings asked if it was true that their neighbor George Hurley used to be a rock star. The name was familiar, more so when cross-referenced with their San Pedro address--“sure was! in the Minutemen!” But never having been able to penetrate that band's dense, masculine curtain, there wasn't much more I could say. I felt like I was letting the kids down; they expect more pop culture awareness from their 'zine-editing big sis. So when I heard that a new documentary on the Minutemen, We Jam Econo, was debuting at San Pedro's classic Warner Grand Theater on Friday night, I suggested the Cooper Family attend. Yet somehow, none of the kids seemed to understand that they were being invited to a movie starring George--I guess “documentary” isn't an SAT word. But my dad was interested, both in the film and in a rare chance to get out of the house for something other than a peewee sporting event.

First, though, I was treated to a guided city tour in Pop's wood-paneled station wagon--the one my brother Dylan requested be stopped around the corner from the Boys & Girls Club so no one would see him climb out of it. We circled downtown with its taco stands, skateboarders darting in front of cars, rough-looking bars and coin laundries… then down to the cruise ship harbor, where a fancy boardwalk is being laid, to the eventual destruction of the corny Ports O' Call restaurants and gift shoppes… then out onto the bluffs where the Korean Bell stands black against the sunset. My dad says he doesn't especially care that Pedro-resident / L.A. Mayor Hahn is demonstrably dirty, because so many nice projects have been started around Pedro since he began his term. Well, it's 2005 and, had he lived, D. Boon might well be a San Pedro homeowner with an eye on property values and school ratings, too.

Down at the theater, it's cross-demographic punk rock central, a long line of 20+ year fans, high school classmates, L.A. scenesters and historically-minded adolescents. The house is packed; we grab a pair of seats in the balcony. I'm a little worried my dad won't dig the movie, as his musical tastes run more to folk and world music than aggro poli-punk-heck, me, too. I don't worry for long. We Jam Econo may be packed with performance footage (regrettably unsubtitled), but those short-short tunes are interspersed with interview footage that keeps us giggling as Mike Watt tools around Pedro in his banged-up old van, recalling the days when he thought guitar strings had tuning pegs because some guys like their strings loose, some like them tight.

The story that's told--through contemporary interviews with Watt, Hurley and a large cast of family members, rock crits, musicians and neighbors, plus a section of vintage band interview footage presumably shot in an orchard near where the Minutemen were (pardon the expression) crashing on tour--is one of nerdy, provincial buddies who empower each other to create, express themselves and ultimately matter to thousands of people. Watt's mom comes across as a heroine, letting the boys bash out songs in her apartment, going to shows and just believing in them. It's perhaps crass to suggest that a band that ended so sadly was lucky, but how else to describe their stumbling into playing a hometown show with Black Flag, BF's label releasing their debut as SST-2, and the passionate affection stirred up by this odd, spiky assemblage with the hefty, hyperactive leader and abstract, politicized lyrics?

When the story gets to D. Boon's death, the mood of the room turns raw. It'd be sad anywhere, but in the Warner Grand, where (Watt reminds us later) the band members used to come and watch horror movies, surrounded by folks who loved him, it's especially moving. And it's a skillfully made film, feeling like a complete narrative, despite the suddeness of the band's end. Everyone seemed to really enjoy it.

The filmmakers and surviving Minutemen sit onstage post-screening, taking questions and mash-note praise, and then the tribes filter out into the art deco lobby, where the generations linger in animated rings.

The Minutemen's music is still too angular to spend much time inside my head, but I walked out of the film with a fresh respect for their creativity, energy and daring, and with a much better sense of how to explain George's history next time one of my siblings asks. But I'm kind of hoping dad will fill them in. -Kim Cooper

We Jam Econo: The Story of the Minutemen (2005) was directed by Tim Irwin, and includes interviews with D. Boon, Mike Watt, George Hurley, Brendan Mullen, Byron Coley, Carlos Guitarlos, Chris Morris, Colin Newman, Dave Markey, Dez Cadena, Flea, Greg Ginn, Henry Rollins, Ian Mackaye, J Mascis, Jack Brewer, Jello Biafra, Joe Carducci, John Doe, Keith Morris, Kira Roessler, Milo Auckerman, Nels Cline, Raymond Pettibon, Richard Hell, Richard Meltzer, Thurston Moore, Tom Watson, and others. More info is at

Saturday, February 26, 2005

a David Lynch morning

Thanks to a last-second invite from Chris Nichols, most exalted King of L.A. Modernism, Nathan Marsak and I spent the day crawling three of downtown's most impressive historic theaters. The open house began in the fanciful French Renaissance Tower (802 S. Broadway), where Marc Wannamaker from Bison Archives presented a slide lecture on the forgotten role of downtown in the early history of L.A. filmmaking. In addition to stunning images of rural Hollywood Blvd., the back side of the Gates of Babylon and the Sennet Studios from the Silverlake hills, he shared a great shot of the old Lincoln Park Selig Zoo entryway, with its ring of trumpeting cement pachyderms, presently being replicated for the Griffith Park Zoo. As Marc finished, our host Jon Olivan introduced Rebekah Del Rio, who stepped up onto the Tower's low stage and revived her a capella performance of Roy Orbison's "Crying" en espanol from Mulholland Drive. Jon had mentioned the theater ghost Helen who lives, or rather stays, in the basement, but Ms. Del Rio's song was so deliciously spooky that I lost all desire to hunt haunts. We then visited the owner-restored Orpheum (842 S. Broadway) for a guided tour through the stops of the pipe organ, which can replicate bird song, pounding surf, a 1920s car horn and numerous percussion insruments that are actually being played with air-powered hammers, nothing to do with the pipes at all. But these fine theaters pale beside the memory of the Los Angeles Theater (615 S. Broadway), which opened seemingly all its secret doors today. Highlights included the glassed-in crying rooms where mothers could take their squalling brats, the ladies toilets with each stall clad in a different colored marble (though Nathan was more enraptured with the stinky mens room and its intact rows of scarce green fixtures), the elegant children's playroom with tasteful, circa 1930 circus-themed wall paintings and an astonishing tent-shaped ceiling crowned by a ring of carved animal heads, the crystal chandelier-style fountain with its monstrous marble flanking fish and the figural curtain peopled with three-dimensional sewn silk courtiers and ladies. King Kukelele should be spanked for ending our outing by pointing out a stone plaque on another downtown building that said it had been "erected" by so 'n so, then hooting. Way to spoil the mood, uke-boy! -Kim Cooper

Thursday, February 24, 2005

The United States of America - S/T CD (Sundazed)

The USA was entirely unique in the late sixties music scene: a guitarless psychedelic rock band led by a cranky academic openly more interested in Ives, Cage and Terry Riley than the Rolling Stones and teenage girls, featuring symbolist lyrics about deadly blossoms and conformist death, given voice by a woman whose blend of ice and cream is among the most gorgeous ever recorded. At its best, the USA was astonishing--this best being the half-rotted, Baudelaire-inspired “The Garden of Earthly Delights” and the authentic acid-narrative “Coming Down.” It's not just that these two songs have the poppiest melodies and most effective uses of voice and electronic instrumentation, but that their themes--erotic disgust and psychic disintegration--are especially powerful. While there are many cool, weird effects throughout the album, it's just harder to be drawn in by wacky collaged song cycles about suburban infidelity. But don't let that discourage you from exploring the USA, whose sole album is expanded here with ten intriguing outtakes, among them several which suggest an alternate version of the band that longed for Top 40 acceptance. Add candid recollections from singer Dorothy Moskowitz and leader Joseph Byrd, and this is as three dimensional a portrait of the USA as we're likely to get.-Kim Cooper

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

The Deep - Psychedelic Moods: A Mind Expanding Phenomena CD (Radioactive)

This was one of the first self-referentially psychedelic releases (Cameo-Parkway, 1966), and you can hear the band trying to figure out exactly where garage rock stops and portentous lunacy begins. The results sometimes sound like the Seeds on bad rye bread, elsewhere like Jack Jones down the rabbit hole, but rarely like people who have actually had their minds expanded. (Maybe stretched a little.) While promo man Neil Bogart stamped “not recommended for children” all over the album jacket, it's doubtful anyone was scared by the Deep. Still, that's some nice phasing on “Your Choice to Choose,” and “On Off - Off On” is an interesting old timey bubblegum antecedent--perhaps not coincidentally, since Mark “Banana Splits” Barkan was one of the stretchy minds behind this disc. -Kim Cooper

Monday, February 21, 2005

Great Roosters of the P.P.I.E.

Via BoingBoing today, I learned about the online Cabinet of Curiosities that Trish Gaylord is launching, and submitted a treasure. The competition looks pretty stiff for inclusion, so I reckon I'll share it here, too.

This is a scan of a prized magazine, American Poultry World for January 1916. There used to be two guys at the Pasadena City College flea market who sold magazines spread on blanket for $1 each. I never asked, but assumed they emptied old or dead people's garages. Mainly I bought their '50s scandal mags, but fell in love with this elegant rooster, identified as "FRISCO," first prize Cockerel and Champion S.C. White Leghorn at the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition. The magazine is packed with gorgeous, weird ads for brooding machines and disinfectant solutions, and many more handsome rooster porn pin-ups. -Kim Cooper

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Dino Valente - S/T CD (RPM)

This one's been on my “guess I'd kinda like to hear it” list for a lot of years, for Dino Valenti's (Epic misspelled his stage name on the 1968 LP) Byrds associations and stake in the “Hey Joe” songwriting competition, but now I'm wishing I tracked it down long ago. Recorded after a stay in the federal pen and before he rejoined Quicksilver Messenger Service, Dino Valente is a solo troubadour's meander larded over with orchestration (applied without the artist's approval) by producer Bob Johnston. It's not back porch authentic, but the arrangements are tasteful enough, with Dino's crisp, swirling acoustic guitar usually in the fore. By the time he made this record, he'd had exhausted the possibilities of the Greenwich Village folk scene, scoped out the Sunset Strip and the Haight, San Quentin and Folsom, and (if his colorful biographical claims are to be believed) toured the carny circuit with his folks. There's certainly a mature, haunted quality to the semi-improvisational songs and the singing, a beautiful, ragged authority. Really great, and unexpectedly so. -Kim Cooper

Friday, February 18, 2005

Linda Perhacs website

If you've picked up a recent issue of Scram, you won't need an introduction to Linda Perhacs, the dental hygienist cum psychedelic songstress, whose Parallelograms LP (Kapp, 1970) is among the most inexplicably lovely rediscoveries of recent years. Last January, Ron Garmon and I had the opportunity to spend a few hours talking with Linda about her music, her life and the spiritual thinkers and experiences that inspired her. This conversation--the first interview Linda had ever given--appeared in Scram #19. In the next issue, we ran the transcript of a dinnertable conversation between Linda and Devendra Banhart, the neo-folk artist who makes a point of mentioning his love of Parallelograms in nearly every interview he gives.

The latest news is that I'm working with Linda to develop her official website, which is at In addition to links to MP3s of her music hosted on the Lost in the Grooves website, we're featuring a message board with an "Ask Linda" section, t-shirts and posters and record totes, my Lost in the Grooves essay on the album, never-before-seen photos and links to some of the books, music, places and people who Linda loves. Do drop by if you'd like to learn more about a remarkable artist. -Kim Cooper

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

The Troll - Animated Music CD (Radioactive)

Released in 1968 on Mercury offshoot Smash (home of the Walker Brothers and Jerry Lee), these freaky Dunwich stable Chicagoans are much better playing it poppy-straight ala the American Breed (“Everybody's Child”) than when trying to out-psych the weirdo Brits, though there's inevitably some goofball pleasure in silliness like “Professor Pott's Pornographic Projector” and the surprisingly tuff “Werewolf and Witchbreath.” -Kim Cooper

The Rolling Scabs

Recommended reading on the WFMU blog, Mike Lupica on elusive kinder-punk Gilman Street weirdos The Rolling Scabs , whose leader may or may not have died elevator surfing after getting shipped off to prep school in Connecticut. - Kim Cooper

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Sunday Nights: The Songs of Junior Kimbrough CD (Fat Possum)

When you do a zine, you get comps, comps, comps, 8 zillion CDs with twenty songs each by no-name, no-hope bands, each one praying that a sensitive critic will spot their brilliance from among the dross. It's daunting and a great responsibility, one which I honor by hiding all such releases behind a pile of dirty pajamas in the corner of my bedroom. This is not one of those comps.. Kicking off with the revived Iggy & the Stooges howling about rape and submission, this disc honors late bluesman Kimbrough--covered in the Lost in the Grooves book in a short 'n' sweet essay by Matthew Smith--and his stark, elemental tunes, featuring classy-yet-still-raunchy interpretations from the likes of Spiritualized, the Blues Explosion, Pete Yorn w/ Cat Power, the Ponys, Jack Oblivion and yet more Stooges to close the door. Highlights: thee Shams stirring up a harp-drenched storm on “Release Me” and the aforementioned Iggy, chortling like a horn toad about how there's a “whole lotta rapin' goin' on!” -Kim Cooper

Friday, February 11, 2005

Beat of the Earth - self-titled CD (Radioactive)

Semi-legendary improvisational 1967 psychedelic disc that fuses oriental drones with Velvetty feedback, amusing asides about beatniks and a declamatory vocal style that's somewhere between their Sunset Strip contemporaries the Doors and West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band and any given girl-hatin' teen garage combo. That this intense side-long weirdness (produced as a college class assignment!) came out of square Orange County makes the record even more intriguing. While at the time leaving scant impression beyond the hitchhikers who were its main mode of distribution, a nineties remaster stirred up deserved interest in BOTE, reclusive band leader Phil Pearlman, and his projects Phil & the Flakes (1964) and Relatively Clean Rivers (1976). -Kim Cooper

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Bart Davenport - Maroon Cacoon CD (Antenna Farm)

Davenport used to play snotty garage rock with the Loved Ones and the Kinetics, but now he sits home alone making pretty, tuneful, one-man pop with a lazy bossa nova feel. Maroon Cacoon sounds like Thursdays in 1973, and that sounds very nice indeed. -Kim Cooper

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Jimmy Webb - The Moon's a Harsh Mistress 5 CD box set (Rhino Handmade)

Teen genius Webb came to L.A. with an expansive, oddly middle-aged vision forged in Oklahoma church halls; it was completed, knitted neatly as a Beverly Drive surgeon's stitch, with the sight and scent of once-endless orange groves, now falling beneath the tide of dingbat apartments and touchless car wash shrines. As a hit-maker, you know the drill, up up and away to MacArthur Park and the yard goes on forever. But it's as a solo artist that Webb reached his weirdest, sweetest heights, over a series of five under-spun albums on patient Warner Bros affiliates. Every tunesmith needs a lucky coin, and Webb's was Little Feat's Fred Tackett, who could play all the instruments JW couldn't, and brought the maestro's fantasies out of the ether. If you're assuming the results were schlock, assume again. Yes, Webb's music is grand, ambitious, emotional, raw, honest and occasionally makes you squirm, but it's rarely mawkish (though some of the bonus tracks on disc 4 could've stayed buried). Take “Crying in My Sleep,” from 1974's Land's End--a break up ballad with the perfect blend of heartsick and mundane detail, the singer's rhythms suggesting the compulsive hysterical emotion of a man who's very nearly succeeded in getting numb. Or “Campo de Encino,” the funny-lovely centerpiece of Letters (1972)--one of my picks in the Lost in the Grooves book--which posits the San Fernando Valley as a source for deeper longings than ever arise in hipper Hollywood. His voice starts somewhat unschooled, but the ambition, inventiveness, nerve and wit make the earliest tracks among the most fascinating. Among these are “Laspitch” and “Highpockets,” character studies that become less cryptic when revealed in Ben Edmonds' fine notes to be from an unproduced musical. So many gorgeous moments: Webb's original “Galveston,” with a keening, Buckleyesque performance… the haunting reincarnation cycle of “The Highwayman… both versions of “P.F.Sloan”… dueting with sister Susan and an out-of-his-mind Harry Nilsson. The final disc's an unreleased London concert, raw around the edges but full of humor and cool to hear. With a handsome, foldout package, lots of pics and history, vintage radio spots and tunes to break your heart, this box is a knockout, and well worth the Saturday date price tag. Heck, throw in Friday night, too.

Posted by Kim Cooper