Amoeblog

May the Fourth -- A Look at Star Bars and Deep Space Discos

Posted by Eric Brightwell, May 4, 2015 11:27am | Post a Comment



The original Star Wars had a huge impact on pop culture. As a child, nothing in the film had more impact on me than the cantina scene -- and judging from the changes in dance music and imitations that followed I wasn't alone. What better occasion to reflect on the film's impact than May the Fourth, also celebrated as Star Wars Day.




***

Star Wars was released on 25 May 1977. I was probably three years old when I saw it in the theater because my fourth birthday followed a couple of weeks later and there were Star Wars dolls* emerging from the middle of a birthday bundt cake. After The Empire Strikes Back, George Lucas would increasingly strain to appeal directly to children by introducing cuddly aliens and increasingly relying on cartoonish CGI but for me and many other children, Star Wars was already deeply appealing, dark and sometimes frightening as it was. 


For comparative mythologist Joseph Campbell, the cantina scene was the "threshold crossing" in the "hero's journey." For me it was a bit like viewing an ethnographic bestiary -- or a Halloween party (in the 1970s, Halloween hadn't yet been hijacked by adults and turned into streetwalker cosplay). One of the cheif appeals of Star Wars was its mystery and world building -- something which the expansion of the franchise would later explain away with banal backstories -- but on full display in the cantina. Of all the characters, 
only
Greedo was addressed by a name. The rest of the assembled wore no pageant sashes, name tags, or hash tags and aside from the viewers' understandings of evolution there were few clues as to the conditions of their home worlds. 
 

The Star Wars cantina was what I wish Encounter in LAX's Theme Building had been, and what it will be if they get it right when it's re-opened. What the cantina wasn't was every lame, uninspired hive of pretense and conformity which bills itself (despite having a liquor license) as a "speakeasy."  It wasn't illuminated by Edison bulbs, the wines weren't listed on a chalk board, there was no unfinished wooden sign on the building's exterior describing it as an apothecary, and it was probably cash only. The bartender wasn't a lumbersexual and he didn't spend twenty minutes rubbing herbs on a mason jar in the name of "mixology."

 

Retro futuristic LAX Theme Building restaurant, as imagined in the 1990s
 
Before Star Wars, 1970s science-fiction works like Ark II, Logan's Run, The Starlost, Jodorowsky's Dune, Solaris, EolomeaStalker, or Zardoz attempted (and often failed) to exploit the genre, entertain, and elevate consciousness. There was little pretense to Star Wars though, which had less in common with contemporaneous science-fiction literature than to escapist science-fantasy of pop music.



In 1952, Ella Fitzgerald released "Two Little Men in a Flying Saucer." After her, Sun RaJoe MeekThe VenturesThe ByrdsPink FloydJimi HendrixDavid Bowie, Flaming YouthUFOYesT. RexHawkwindRoxy MusicGenesisFunkadelicElton JohnStevie WonderJobriathBrett SmileyKlaatuRocketsParliament, and Rush all pointed their creative telescopes toward the skies in search of inspiration and crafted -- even in the proggiest instances -- pop songs essentially about weird aliens and shiny robots.
















Star Wars, like it's pop music forebears, didn't appear to be any more thought provoking than Deep Purple's "Space Truckin'" or The Steve Miller Band's "Space Cowboy." It had less in common with the literary works of Arthur C. Clarke and Stanis?aw Lem than it did pulp magazines and Republic serials of the 1920s, and '30s. 



I can't help but wonder whether or not that had anything to do with Star Wars film scorer John Williams's decision to make the only diagetic music, the music played by the cantina band, sound like Artie ShawBenny Goodman, or Woody Herman where the rest of the score plumbed the works of Gustav HolstSergei Prokofiev, and Igor Stravinsky for inspiration.


Thankfully, the cantina band did not inspire a host of imitators and the universe would be spared from the horror of a so-called swing revival for two more decades. The music of the cantina band had little direct musicological influence on pop music, although its hedonistic multiculturalism did affect the dance floors of the world's discos.


Although Giorgio Moroder and Donna Summer actually recorded the pulsing, Moog-driven "I Feel Love" in 1976,  it wasn't released until July of 1977, a couple of months after Star Wars. So although it wasn't influenced by Star Wars, it certainly moved disco from its soul and funk roots on earth into the future.


 

A more explicit connection between disco and space opera (and Star Wars in particular) came courtesy of Meco (Domenico Monardo), who released his disco-fied "Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band" which topped the American pop charts in October of 1977. Donna Summer, Giorgio Moroder, Meco, and Star Wars combined to spawn the short-lived space disco subgenre, which would produce several hits, primarily in 1977 and '78.




1977 was also the year that the Paradise Garage, Studio 54, and The Warehouse opened, which would not only be natural homes for space disco but spawn what came to be known as garage and house music. 1977 saw Kraftwerk go from from singing about radios, roads, and trains to space labs and mensch-maschines. It was the year that Space released "Magic Fly," Cerrone released "Supernature," and Droids released "(Do You Have) the Force."


 


In 1978 time kept on slipping into the future with Dee D. Jackson's "Automatic Lover," Sarah Brightman and Hot Gossip's "I Lost My Heart to a Starship Trooper," and Ganymed's "Saturn." 


 

Television shows like Space Academy and Jason of Star Command would never have happened were it not for Star Wars, but aimed exclusively at children as they were, there were no space discos to be found within three parsecs of them. 
 
 

The first appearance of a Star Wars cantina-like bar that I'm aware of was onThe Richard Pryor Show's debut in September 1977. There, the great 20th Century satirist played a bartender at "Star Bar" and had the impossible task of explaining the appeal of baseball to the unindoctrinated. 
 

Ralph McQuarrie artwork depicting Carillon, which is much better than the film version

The cantina was next an obvious inspiration for the "chancery" on Carillon that appeared on the Star Wars-indebted series Battlestar Galactica in "Saga of a Star World." The costuming, if not budget for writers, was sometimes impressive on Battlestar Galactica but the four-eyed, two-mouthed macrocephs which lured visitors into the Ovion's trap were as laughably clunky as the three-armed Martian and three-eye Venusian at the Hi-Way Café in the 1961 episode of The Twilight Zone titled "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?" On the other hand, the song, "It's Love Love Love" as performed by The Space Angels owed far more to space disco than it did anything by John Williams.



The original Star Wars cantina made another appearance of sorts on The Star Wars Holiday Special, which aired in November 1978. By then the bar was tended by Ackmena, played by the wonderful Bea Arthur who sings some Kurt Weill-esque number based on the original cantina theme. I've only seen the special once but although it's infamously unpopular with George Lucas (who has prevented its release or re-airing) I'm pretty sure that most audiences would find it any more challenging to enjoyment than The Ewok Adventure, Ewoks: Battle for Endor, The Phantom Menace, or Attack of the Clones.
 

Sadly, space disco proved to be short-lived and Sheila (and) B. Devotion's "Spacer," released in 1979, was one of the last exemplars of the scene. Electro-funk, Italo-disco, Hi-NRG, spacesynth, and techno in many ways all carried space disco's space torch but never had as much impact on pop culture as had disco.The space opera series Buck Rogers in the 25th Century appeared in 1979 and its theme song, although massive, was a Jobriath-esque ballad sung by Kipp Lennon rather than a pulsating futuristic ditty (click here to watch a video). The drugs had clearly changed, a fact perhaps underscored when Twiki approached Buck on the dancefloor and said, "We brought you some pills, Buck... it's a very strong relaxant. You mustn't take more than one at a time." 



Had Starstruck made it beyond the pilot, audiences would've been treated to another Star Wars cantina-inspired set. Starstruck was to be set on McCallister's Midway Inn, a tavern situated on a space station located "somewhere between Earth and Pluto," set in the 22nd Century, and broadcast by CBS. The fault, it seems, was not in the stars but in the writing... and perhaps in the fact that space disco was dead and Star Wars was, in pop culture terms, ancient history (although that didn't stop Mel Brooks from skewering it only eight years later, with Spaceballs). 
 

NCC-1701-D's Ten Forward

Filmmakers continued to attempt to mine cinematic gold, or at least the box office variety, with films like Battle Beyond the Stars and Flash Gordon (both 1980), Ice Pirates (1984), and Starchaser: The Legend of Orin (1985), but no star bars would make any sort of impact until 1988, when Ten Forward appeared on season 2 of Star Trek: The Next Generation. However, although it appeared to be perfectly suited to a calm, civil game of strategema over snytheholic drinks, it makes some public libraries that I've been to look like raves in comparison. Not long after, in 1990, a book called Cowboy Feng's Space Bar and Grille was published, which my brother assured me was amazing but which I never read. The next time anything with anything appeared with a scene at all resembling that of Star Wars' cantina was on another Star Trek series, 
Star Trek: Deep Space 9.

The Las Vegas version of Quark's

Deep Space 9 debuted in 1990. Where the concept of the original Star Trek was described "Wagon Train in space,"  Deep Space 9 was intended to be analogous to "The Rifleman in space." Instead of exploring all corners of space, Deep Space 9 would instead depict visitors arriving from them... and where better to congregate than in a public house and casino over a game of dabo, tongo, or darts. Whereas Ten Forward was run by a sage Guinan Goldberg, the proprietor of Quark's was a Ferengi and petty criminal. As much as star bars attempt might seem to imagine the future, they're also one of the space opera's most obvious echoes of the saloons, taverns, and inns that are such key settings in the westerns, samurai, and fantasy fictions from which they space opera's draw most of their inspiration. Unlike Ten Forward, Quark's actually inspired a real bar too at Star Trek: The Experience, one of the only things that I liked in Las Vegas but which closed in 2008.

I'm sure there have been more examples in the decades since, but the only obvious nod to the Star Wars cantina that know of in remotely recent years was in a 2010 episode of Doctor Who, "The End of Time (Part 2)." I actually haven't seen that episode but from the looks of it was a pretty overt homage. If there are any others, please let me know in the comments!


*action figures are dolls


*****

Follow me at ericbrigthwell.com

Tim & Eric Present: To Live and Deejay LA

Posted by Eric Brightwell, April 27, 2015 10:54am | Post a Comment


Tim "Modern Brit" Shimbles
(Amoeba employee and frequent traveling companion on California Fool's Gold) and yours truly are going to DJ a set of "locals only" music called To Live and Deejay LA on 12 May at the Melody Lounge in Chinatown. (Click here to join the Facebook event page). 



Los Angeles is a big place... bigger than the island of Jamaica in fact. It's home to an estimated 10,116,705 people, making it by far the most populous county in the USA (and home to more people than 43 entire states). The Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim census area is also the mostly densely-populated region in the country. I've had a long and hard think, aided by suggestions, trying to come up with a great list of Angeleno musical acts (and no, I didn't forget Red Hot Chili Peppers). Just for the occasion* I painted a huge map of every community in the county and every neighborhood in Los Angeles which has helped stoke the memory. 


Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's Map of Los Angeles Communities and Neighborhoods



Attendees can expect to hear some, if not all (it's taking place from 10pm until 1:45am) of the following Angeleno acts: Abstract Rude, Aceyalone, Allah-Las, The Amplifiers, The And ActionsThe Angry Samoans, The AntarcticansArabian Prince, Armored Saint, Art Pepper, AshesThe Association, Autolux, The BallroomThe Bangles, The Beach Boys, Beachwood SparksThe Beat, The BeesThe Belairs, Best Coast, Bill Perkins, Black Flag, The Blasters, The Blendells, Blood on the Saddle, Bloods & Crips, Bob MarkleyBoo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E.The Bourbon Saints, Boyce & HartBread

Buddy Collette, Buffalo Springfield, The Byrds, The Cadets, Cambalache, Canned Heat, Cannibal & the Headhunters, Captain Beefheart, The CarpentersChico Hamilton, The Chymes,  Circle Jerks, The Common ColdCongo Norvell, Cruzados, Darlene LoveDavid Crosby, Dead Angle, Death Valley Girls, Deepest Blue (The Doves), Dengue Fever, Dennis Wilson, Destruct, The Devil Bats, The Dickies, The DilsDino, Desi & BillyDJ Quik, DokkenThe Doors, Dramarama, The Dream Syndicate,

Dum Dum Girls
, E. Coli, Eazy-E, Eddie & The Showmen, The Egyptian Lover, El Chicano, The Electric Prunes, Emily's Sassy Lime, Emitt RhodesThe EmperorsEric DolphyThe Everpresent Fullness
The Exiles, Faster Pussycat, Father Yod, Fatlip, Fear, The 5th Dimension, fIREHOSE, Fishbone, The Flesh Eaters, 45 Grave, Freestyle Fellowship, The Friends of DistinctionThe Full Treatment, Funkdoobiest, FurtherThe Garden Club

Gary Lewis & the PlayboysThe Generators, The Geraldine Fibbers, Germs, Giant Drag, The Go-Go's, The Grass RootsGreat White, The Groop, The Grown-Ups, The Gun Club, Guns N' Roses, Gwenmars, Hearts and FlowersHeidecker & Wood, Herb AlpertHexHollywood Rose, The Hondells, Ice Cube, The Jaguars, Jan & Dean, Jane's Addiction, Jay Rock, Jenni Rivera, Jesse Lee KincaidJoe Byrd & the Field Hippies, Johnny Horton, Joint Effort, Just Too MuchKaleidoscope, Kendrick Lamar,

Kim FowleyKing Tee, The Knack (1960s), The Knack (1970s), The Knights of DayL.A. Dream Team, L.A. Guns, The LA UntouchablesThe Lamp of Childhood, Las Cafeteras, The Last, Lavender Diamond, The Lazy Cowgirls, The Leaves, Lee Harvey (Lee Jones), LemonaLena Park, Lifter, Lone Justice, The Long Ryders, Longstocking, Los AbandonedLos Lobos, Love, Lowell George & The FactoryThe Manson Family, Marvin & Johnny, Mary Jane Girls, Mary's Danish, MellowHype,

The Merry-Go-Round, Midnight Movies, Mike G, The Millennium, Minutemen, The MixersThe Monkees, The MoonMötley CrüeThe Motorcycle AbelineMoving UnitsThe Music MachineMyka 9, N.W.A., Nate DoggThe Nerves, Nino Tempo & April StevensThe Nitty Gritty Dirt BandNo Solution, October County, The OdysseyOingo Boingo, Opal, Opus 1, The Others, The Palace GuardThe Pandoras, The Partridge FamilyPasternak Progress, Patsy, The Peanut Butter Conspiracy

The Penguins, The Penny ArkadePenny Dreadfuls, The Pharcyde, PidgeonPleasure featuring Billy Elder, The Plimsouls, Poco, Poison, Possum DixonThe Preachers, The Premiers, Pretty Boy Floyd, Puro Instinct, The Quick, Quiet Riot, Radio Vago, Rain ParadeRandy Newman Ratt, Redd Kross, René & Angela, Rising SonsRitchie Valens, Rodney-O & DJ Joe Cooley, Roger Nichols TrioThe Romancers (The Smoke Rings), The Rose Garden,  Rose RoyceThe Runaways, The Safaris,

Sagittarius, 2nd II None, The Seeds, ShakeThe Sharp Ease, Silver Needle, SISU, Snap-Her, Snoop Dogg, Sonny & CherThe Sounds of Sunshine, Sparks, Spirit, The Standells, The Stone Poneys, Strawberry Alarm Clock, The Sugarplastic, Suicidal Tendencies, The Sunshine Company, The Surfaris, Sweater GirlsThe Sylvers, Sylvester, T.S.O.L., The Tartans, The Teddy BearsTex & the Horseheads, Thee MidnitersThorinshieldThe Three O'Clock, Things To ComeTierraTom Russell,

Total ChaosThe Turtles, Ty Karim, The TydeTyler, the Creator, Union 13, The United States of America, The UVs, Van Halen, Van Stone, Very Be Careful, W.A.S.P.The W.C. Fields Memorial Electric String Band (aka ESB aka Fields)The Walker Brothers, Wall of Voodoo, 王力宏, War, The Warlocks, Warren GThe Watts Prophets, Wax, The Weirdos, The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, World Class Wreckin' Cru, The Yellow BalloonThe Yellow PaygesX, ZipcodeZolar X, Zoot Sims 

...and more if you've got suggestions*

*****

Follow me at ericbrightwell.com


*****

*not really
**Sorry, no Eagles

The Top 10 Shoegaze Bands of All Time, or, The Godlike Genius of Shoegaze

Posted by Eric Brightwell, April 20, 2015 06:11pm | Post a Comment
I'm still buzzing from the Ride show at the Warfield. "Cool Your Boots" has been running through my head non-stop for a week (although there was a break, at least in my sleep, when I had a dream which involved listening to Cedric Im Brooks). Since the show I've been listening to a lot of shoegaze (and a little chimp rock -- anyone remember that?).

Long sleeves, stripes, and androgyny -- the alternative was San Diego Sizzler Chic

I've also met a couple of people since getting back from San Francisco with whom the subject of music arose. Two of them were on their way from Coachella to Brokechella and were talking about "soul" (in the sense that Maroon 5 are soul, I suppose) act, Fitz & the Tantrums. No one had heard of Ride or had the haziest notion of what shoegaze means. When I told them that Ride had played at Coachella they looked incredulous. 

I realize that twenty years ago is forever when you're in your twenties but if you'd mentioned Led Zeppelin, The Doors, or psychedelia to a college kid in the 1980s they would've been familiar with them at least as concepts. Maybe even if your favorite pretendie bands are all signed to the world's largest corporate music label you still might have have at least heard of Creation Records. Seriously, they were fine -- but I wouldn't at all be surprised if after I dropped these kids off in the Arts District if they immediately took to Twitter, stating "OMG idk wat is Ride and wat is shoo gays LOL?" 

Whether one is a fan of shoegaze or not, is that it was that last moment in rock's history when something happened that was both significantly different from what had come before but still recognizable rock music. Shoegazers pushed the boundaries of rock with ethereal ambiance and post-psychedelic noise; beyond those boundaries lay Metal Machine Music or Ambient 1: Music for Airports -- which whatever you think them have little to do musically with the rock 'n' roll of Jackie Brenston, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, and the like. 

Ride rolls into the Warfield -- and their thirteen most massive tunes

Posted by Eric Brightwell, April 13, 2015 10:42am | Post a Comment
I'm currently down in San Francisco (well, Richmond actually) to see Ride play. Ride, for those keeping score, were the best of a crop of bands known way back in the early 1990s as shoegazers. Like most British bands that survived into those dark years of the mid-1990s, when a collective craze for slow motion guitar solos and untucked shirts overcome white Britannia, Ride too went horribly wrong (i.e. Britpop) in the end before calling it a day in 1996. They only released one bad album (and it was awful) but then Andy Bell formed Hurricane #1, a truly horrendous (way) sub-Seahorses audition for Oasis. Bell went on to play in Oasis and then that other Liam Gallagher band who can't have been all bad as they covered World of Twist's "Sons of the Stage." 





This is all a roundabout way of saying that the prospect of a Ride reunion made me, understandably I think, rather nervous. They released a clutch of fantastic EPs, three great albums, and only one steaming, stinker -- but it was their final album, and a direction Bell pursued with his following bands so would he insist that Tarantula haters like myself got it wrong and try to prove his point by subjecting audiences to "The Dawn Patrol" and "Starlight Motel" or worse, "Just Another Illusion"? All of my fears were put to rest when I listened to them play a short set on KCRW's "Morning Becomes Eclectic," which included five songs from their brilliant debut, Nowhere, and its equally classic follow-up, Going Blank Again. They sounded great. I meant to dust off my old Ride T-shirt with the mud stains and holes but perhaps wisely forgot (it's really holey).

Shoegazers were sometimes criticized for hiding their lack of songs behind walls of feedback... but listening to "Morning Becomes Eclectic" for the first time in fifteen years as I waited for Ride to play I was treated to a barrage of forgettable, tuneless, garblers in Native American headdresses singing whoa-oh-oh-y car insurance jingles (or at least that's what it sounded like to me). You know, Coachellacore or the stuff that plays during Spotify ads when sensible users remove their earbuds. Ride, on the other hand, wrote some of the tightest (I'll never use that word again to describe music, I promise) melodies, sang the pretties harmonies, channeled The Byrds, Love, and Buffalo Springfield, and then added a healthy squall of guitar noise that make me wonder why all the "nu-gazers" are so bland and limp (...oh yeah, Slowdive). 
Ride played at Coachella the other night, apparently. They're playing at the Warfield tonight. They're playing in Pomona at the Fox Theater tomorrow. 


*****
Now allow me to get all listicle and give you the Top 13 Ride Songs:
“Vapour Trail” from Nowhere (1990) 


I first heard this on WMNF in 1990 when a DJ played the entire record. I later taped the video onto a VHS cassette when it was played on City Limits (Much Music) and it inspired my brother to go into graphic design.

“Taste”  — form the Fall EP (1990) 

 

Sounds like a poppier My Bloody Valentine, right? A pretty terrible video, though, although Mark's hair inspired me to grow out my bowl. Also, I did a sketch of him four our high school literary journal -- ha!


“All I Can See” — from the Ride EP (1989)

When the Smile compilation came out I played that record so much that it immediately conjures up the harsh winter of my freshman year in the dorm.

“Cool Your Boots” — from Going Blank Again (1992)


Going Blank Again was the first record I bought without having heard anything off of it. I was on a ski trip in Colorado and I didn't even know Ride had a new album out so I had to grab it before I returned to rural Iowa, where I'd be screwed. I was not disappointed. Bonus points for Withnail & I samples.

“Crown of Creation” — from Carnival of Light (1994)


I'd suspected from the beginning that Ride were Byrds fans. Carnival of Light would seem to be pretty strong evidence for that suspicion. This song title comes from a Jefferson Airplane album, the album also included a Creation cover, and a photo of Andy Bell showed him wearing a Buffalo Springfield shirt. Still, 1968 was a much more forward looking year than 1995 would turn out to be.


“Twisterella” — from Going Blank Again



“Only Now" — from Carnival of Light




“1000 Miles” — from Carnival of Light 




“Close My Eyes” — from the Ride EP


Bonus points for mentioning the band's name in the song.


“Dreams Burn Down” — from the Fall EP 



“Leave Them All Behind” — from Going Blank Again



“Like a Daydream” — from the Play EP (1990)


Long-sleeve T-shirts and early hints at Byrds love

“Sennen” -- from Today Forever EP (1991)


It sounds completely like Robert Plant's "I'm in the Mood," which is kind of amazing.

*****

Follow me at ericbrightwell.com

Dancing About Architecture -- Architecture, Urbanism, and the Cinema

Posted by Eric Brightwell, April 6, 2015 07:36pm | Post a Comment
April is National Landscape Architecture Month. This got me thinking about an idea for a piece but, as often happens, I found myself tumbling down a rabbit hole of research tangents and decided I’d start with a post about architecture of the non-landscape variety. Apparently there is no "National Architecture Month" and Los Angles proclaimed October "Architecture Month" but, well, whatever.



I’m sure that lots of kids played with blocks, in sandboxes, had 
Erector sets, &c but I don't recall every hearing anyone speak of architects with the same reverence they did pop stars, actors, and professional athletes. My siblings and I enjoyed construction toys like CapselaLincoln Logs, Legos, and I had some sort of castle building brick set too. I also used to also draw blue prints for imaginary dream homes.  I dug a moat for Castle Greyskull near the gully because it seemed like a better setting than the floor of the family room. My sister and I built a plantation out of dresser drawers for two Easter bunny decorations to live within. We even built a crude hut in the woods out of sticks that my brother destroyed. For his part he built a “fort” out of chairs, sheets and cushions. When I asked him what it was called it he replied, “Mitch.”

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