Amoeblog

a year in music

Posted by Whitmore, January 16, 2009 04:59pm | Post a Comment
Since the first of the New Year I’ve been trying to decide on what music releases might have been my favorites of 2008. But as I rifled through my addled opinions, I suddenly realized I was shockingly unaware of anything going on in music in ‘08. This goes to show you how much attention I pay to the goings on around me at Amoeba. I think I need to get out of the used 45 room a bit more, though it’s hard to do … it’s like a record geek Shangri-la in there!
 
Between my obsession with the Presidential election, the Dodgers pennant hopes, a Top Chef / Project Runway fixation, and just being wrapped up in my own primitive world, most of my information came by way of an occasional obituary, never ending music-celeb scandal sheet fodder or random music pouring from some car pulling up alongside me at a red light. I guess I can list my favorite old 45’s I discovered this past year, but they have little to do with ’08, let alone this century. I only bought a handful of CD’s last year. A few that come to mind are the Antony and the Johnson’s CD, a Mighty Hannibal collection, and Baden Powell’s Canto on Guitar but none of them were released in 2008. I didn’t download any new music either and though I probably bought some 30 DVD’s and maybe as many as 40 books last year; once again, I’m not sure if any of those titles were actually released or published in 2008.
 
So then I started thinking about all the gigs and concerts I went to … and once again I drew a blank. There are years that fly by, and then there was 2008 which seemed to last only about 37 and a half hours … and I must have slept through most of it.
 
Then again I did have two great adventures last year. A three week tour in Italy where we played some great gigs, but more notably I ate some incredibly delicious food. And a two week vacation in Paris, which I wrote laboriously about over the holidays, where once again it was all about the food. However, during both trips there were two unusually great musical moments that came out of nowhere. Unfortunately both events are probably knee deep in that “you had to be there” category, but what the hell …
 
In Florence after playing a show, we were all invited to stay at a friend of a friend’s 15th century farmhouse in the hills of Tuscany, about a half an hour away. But first we had to meet our host at a club not far down the road, located in an old, abandoned Catholic church. From the outside it looked like most any other 600 year old building, inside some of the original religious elements were still intact, not many, but enough to realize that this used to be a place of worship. What really surprised me was the music; tangos and only tangos. It was a tango club. On the dance floor were the most perfectly attired, gorgeous collection of people I think I’ve ever seen gathered in one room in my life; and I looked like hell. Most of dancers moved in the traditional Argentinean or Uruguayan steps of “the forbidden dance,” and a few other couples who hadn’t yet perfected the tango just playfully toyed with the chest to chest embrace, spinning hip to hip, tearing it up in their own way. The music selection was perfect; the volume was nice and low so the conversations around us were lively and intimate. The room was pretty brightly lit so you could see the pick-ups and make-out romances at the tables along the walls. Dozens, and I mean dozens, of wine bottles were strewn around the perimeter of the dance floor. There was one helluva sensual vibe in the room. And I don’t mean that last-call-desperate-to-get-laid kind of vibe either. Anyway, I’ve always been fascinated by Tango music, from the early songs of Carlos Gardel, to the orchestras of Juan D'Arienzo, to the Nuevo Tango of Ástor Piazzolla. That night with a bottle of wine in my hand, I just sat in the corner --but not too far from the heat of the dancers -- listening to the rhythms and I was at home!
 
If you’ve ever taken the Metro in Paris, chances are you’ve been accosted by a musician performing on the subway train. More often than not, what the captive audience gets is a mediocre accordion or bandoneón player or some guy with a guitar singing some song you’ve heard way too many times and never need hear again, let alone a sorry ass rendition. Rarely does the music stir anything except irritation. But on this last visit to Paris we were riding on the number 8 Metro, towards Alfortville, to see some friends. An accordion player stepped on board, and instantly a slight frown appeared on practically every face but the musician’s. He stood in the center of our train, started playing, and something came alive. People perked up, turned around and actually looked him in the eyes. He was masterful. Playing a couple of jazz standards which I should know the titles of but I can never remember, his tone was insanely beautiful, simply faultless. He improvised fluidly and soulfully, without that annoying bravado street musicians might shove down your throat in order to be noticed. In a matter of moments he made something happen, an intangible skill few musicians possess no matter how trained and studied they might be. This portly, unattractive accordion player with a bad haircut had the musical equivalent of “it!" After a couple of minutes he gathered a few coins from his audience and moved forward to the next train car.
 


Serge in Paris

Posted by Whitmore, January 11, 2009 08:59pm | Post a Comment

There are four major cemeteries in Paris, and each has their big name resident bringing tens of thousand of visitors each year. The largest cemetery is in the eastern part of Paris, Pere-Lachaise, and the biggest draw there is probably Jim Morrison, Isadora Duncan, Oscar Wilde and Chopin. In the north, the 18th arrondissement section of the city is Montmartre Cemetery where the great dancer Vaslav Nijinsky is buried and the "Beethoven of the Guitar" Fernando Sor. Passy Cemetery in the 16th arrondissement is where Claude Debussy is interred and, for you silent movie buffs, Pearl White, the star of The Perils of Pauline serial. And finally there is the Montparnasse Cemetery in the south. There you can find the graves of playwrights Samuel Beckett and Eugène Ionesco, Dadaists Man Ray and Tristan Tzara and probably the most visited and garlanded grave in all of Paris: Serge Gainsbourg. His grave site is forever covered in flowers, cigarettes, metro tickets, personal notes and odd little objects that derive their significance from his lyrics. Earlier this week we spent two nights in our favorite fleabag-Henry Miller-down and out kind of hotel around the corner from Montparnasse. I stopped by one morning in the snow, said hello to Serge, took a couple of pictures and had a very respectful snowball fight with my son. This may sound more macabre then intended, but there’s nothing like a cemetery blanketed in snow.


Snowman in Paris

Posted by Whitmore, January 11, 2009 08:19am | Post a Comment

I’m back in Los Angeles and it’s sunny and warm. I’m overjoyed -- and somewhat warped, yes -- knowing that those are my dirty dishes in the sink and that’s my cat box that needs cleaning. I understand most of what I hear on television. And except for a dream that was apparently about the 1919 Flu pandemic (who knows where that came from?), the rediscovery of sleep in my own bed is just short of a mystical experience.
 
There were two things which surprised the holy hell out of me during my two weeks in Paris. First of all, how cheap it was for a doctor to make a house call on my behalf under the French healthcare system … yeah I think I’m dying, but who isn’t … Secondly, and truly the most unusual event, was that it actually snowed in the city of Paris for the first time in years. Its not everyday your six year old son can make a snowman in Luxembourg Gardens, or throw snowballs next to Serge Gainsbourg's grave, or make snow angels alongside Boulevard du Montparnasse. The morning after I flew out of Charles de Gaulle Airport it was 16 degrees Fahrenheit in Paris. I’m not sure what the temperature was here in LA but I walked down to Albertsons in my T-shirt.

The Bat Cave In Paris

Posted by Whitmore, January 4, 2009 01:13am | Post a Comment

Perhaps it is due to the holidays, possibly because we’re in Paris, but we seem to be constantly raising our wine goblets high, toasting to a helluva lot of people, places and things. Needless to say, we’ve also been drinking a lot of wine, very good wine. Inevitably during the course of a meal, especially a holiday meal, several choice bottles are opened, glasses refilled and then refilled again.
 
Three of the four residences of our French extended-faux-step-mock-families we’ve had the pleasure of dining with have a wine cellar of some sort. These people take their wine seriously; I’m not looking forward to going home to LA, opening my kitchen cupboard above the refrigerator and yanking down a bottle of Two Buck Chuck after all this. Sadly that’s all we’ll be able to afford after spending these few weeks living semi-large in France. These photos are from my quasi-once-removed-half brother-in-law’s newly built ‘bat cave,’ finished in April of 2007. His initial wine collection consisted of about 200 bottles; today he suspects that there are close to a 1000 bottles of wine and champagne stored down yonder under lock and key. That’s gold in that cave!
 
Anyway, here are, as far as I can figure, the top three toasts we’ve heard this Holiday season.
 
#3- Bonne Année (to the New Year)
#2- A la Santé (to health)
#1- Barack Obama
 
By the way, we have yet to toast Nicolas Sarkozy.
Chin! Chin!” 

Godzilla in Paris

Posted by Whitmore, January 2, 2009 11:13am | Post a Comment

The conversation at dinner last night bounced between French and English and began with the announcement that we were having rabbit for dinner, much to the shock of my six year old son. But then it was quickly re-announced that there was a mistake in translation, we were in fact eating chicken. My son was relieved, he likes chicken. He’ll eat chicken. Our host then served the rabbit with a Roquefort cheese sauce. From there the conversation went on to my son’s great love for animals and how at the age of two he learned the truth about chicken. To his absolute horror he discovered that the thing we ate called chicken was the exact same thing that clucked, flew badly, laid eggs and hatched cute baby chicks. (It was a dark day for the boy. Since then he’s adjusted well; chicken nuggets were a huge influence on his decision to eat meat.) Our dinner conversation then went on to vegetarians, veterinarians, ostrich meat, wine, medieval life in Burgundy, torture, science and reason, Kansas, the lack of reason, and we talked about how my French quasi-mock-faux-step father-in-law was a research scientist who studied magnetism (and something else about solids and mass, but I didn’t quite get the gist of the French conversation there -- just another spot where I got lost). The subject briefly switched to piano lessons, downloading music, and how the internet, phone and cable television works here in France. Also mentioned was the odd fact that everyone we have stayed with on this vacation has the ability to call the good ol’ U.S. of A. for free. Again the nuance of the French explanation was lost to me. The subject briefly stepped into American sci-fi films, I tried to shove the chat in the direction of 1950’s red scare style sci-fi but nobody took the bait. Instead the tête-à-tête went east to Japan and 1950’s Godzilla movies. And then the moment! One of our friends mentioned Bambi Meets Godzilla, and how while tooling around on YouTube one cold Parisian night, he found the classic, primitively animated film from 1969. I hadn’t seen it in decades! So here it is. A little walk down memory lane, my New Years gift from France.

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