Elliott Smith remains unquestionably one of my favorite songwriters of all time, though I don't listen to him much these days.
Way back in 1998, when I did not live in a major city and was just barely in college, I somehow felt like I was the only person in the world listening to Elliott Smith. This was before Hot Topic, just before emo went mainstream, and before irony had so massively crushed sincerity in an epic battle of wits. In these early-ish days of the internet, I managed to contact someone through a fansite and get my hands on a tape of a film about Elliott, Strange Parallel, made by the idiosyncratic Steve Hanft. I don't think I had ever seen footage of Elliott at the time.
When I put the tape in my VCR and the film unfolded before me, I remember laughing aloud all by myself at the sight of it: I was completely overwhelmed by the fact that there was Elliott, live and onscreen, wearing his Bocephus shirt and digging a hole in the woods, out of which came a guitar. In my isolation, I somehow felt like he and Steve had made this film just for me. It was stunning. At the same time, I also was tickled by the greater idea that someone had made this film, thinking that many other people would watch and enjoy it -- who were these people?! This film pointed the way toward the world beyond just myself, a world of people who maybe thought a least a little like me, especially when it came to music. I would eventually have to move to San Francisco to find them en masse.
Strange Parallel clearly shows Elliott's genius and highlights his sense of humor as well. I think it is one of my favorite things ever. In the 10 years since this film was made, information and odd, detached connections are so much more quickly at our fingertips, and Smith has gained noteriety for so many things, mostly and unfotunately outside his music, but perhaps this footage and the songs within it will be a revelation for you as well.
AMOEBA MUSIC SAN FRANCISCO HIP-HOP TOP FIVE: 03:13:09
1) Brother Ali The Truth Is Here (Rhymesayers CD & DVD)
2) Keeley & Zaire Ridin High (WYXMusicLabel)
3) Camp Lo Stone and Rob Caught on Tape (Soulfever Inc.)
4) Messy Marv Cake & Ice Cream Mixtape Vol. 2 (SIccness)
5) K'NAAN Troubadour (A&M/Octone Records)
Thanks to Luis at Amoeba Music San Francisco for this week's Hip-Hop Top Five of new hip-hop sellers with the Rhymesayers' Brother Ali in the top slot. His latest CD & DVD combo pack The Truth Is Here is a nine track CD plus a full-length DVD. The first official release in two years from the mid west emcee since he dropped his acclaimed The Undisputed Truth is meant to tide fans over until his official full-length album (produced by Ant of Atmosphere fame) drops in the Fall.
The nine tracks on The Truth Is Here include two sought after Brother Ali B-sides plus seven new & previously unreleased songs including the stellar track "Philistine David" and also "The Believer" -- a collaboration with Slug from Atmosphere. Meanwhile, the full length DVD part of the new package is concert footage of the artist's sold-out homecoming performance on June 7th, 2007 during The Undisputed Truth Tour at Minneapolis' First Avenue nightclub, as well as interviews, the music videos for "Take Me Home" and "Uncle Sam Goddamn," plus commentary by the artist himself.
Since its beginning, rock music has been a male dominated affair. Women, such as Wanda Jackson, were not just anomalies but curiosities. By the '60s there were plenty of girl groups, female soul singers and a few female-fronted rock bands, but the few actually female-dominated rock bands like Ace of Cups, Fanny, The Girls, Goldie & the Gingerbreads (the first all female rock band to sign to a major label) and even the Shaggs aren't exactly household names. That seemed to change in the '70s, when Suzi Quattro and The Runaways seemed to lessen the shock of seeing girls wielding instruments. Whether he was joking or not, Roger Ebert took credit for the girl rock revolution by creating the Carrie Nations in his screenplay for Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. Things really began to change with onset of the new wave of the late '70s. Not only were there female-fronted bands like Siouxise & the Banshees and Blondie, but there were also bands integrated in various ways, like Talking Heads and later The Mekons, Gang of Four, &c. Now, although you could still listen to the radio for a year without hearing an all-female rock band, it's not entirely out of the question. These bands aren't all entirely comprised of women, but they definitely broke the mold.
The Au Pairs "Come Again"
The Bloods "Button Up" (audio only)
Nevada City native Alela Diane has already made quite a splash with her just-released album, To Be Still. The record was released on her new label, Rough Trade Records and she was written up in the illustrious Mojo as one to watch in 2009. Alela's music sounds fresh and true and it rings with evocative references to nature, life and love. Her voice commands attention with its bold and warbling tones and her songs intertwine tales of days new and old. To read my review of Alela's album, click here, and for images from her Amoeba instore back in 2007, click here. For our recent chat, read on.
Miss Ess: Was there a lightning bolt moment when you were young and you realized how important music was for you? What albums/artists were important to you during that time?
Alela Diane: I think I always knew I loved song and melody. I remember being small and hearing my dad’s guitar through the wall as I fell asleep. I’d crash out on random couches as my folks finished up band practice. I remember listening to Patsy Cline with my mom, singing along… always singing along. As I got older I branched out into more ‘popular’ music of the time and went through my preteen obsession with Hanson: I was not completely sheltered from pop culture, as it turns out. I began to write songs & play the guitar at 19. And shortly thereafter, when I was working at a breakfast café in Nevada City, I realized I was a lot better at singing than I was at filling water and coffee-- so I stuck to it.