The Cooper Do-nuts Uprising - LGBT Heritage Month

Posted by Eric Brightwell, June 17, 2013 12:08pm | Post a Comment

Cooper Do-nuts sign (image source: Stephen Seemayer and Pamela Wilson's film, Young Turks (1982)

May 1959: Seven years before Silver Lake's Black Cat Riot and ten before New York's Stonewall riots, a group of drag queens and hustlers clashed with LAPD officers at Cooper Do-nuts (also often referred to as Cooper's Doughnuts or Cooper's Donuts) usually considered to be the first gay uprising in modern history.

Before nearby Broadway arose as Los Angeles's premier theater district (around the 1920s), most of the nickelodeons and theaters were along Main Street -- two blocks east. In the 1930s and '40s, Downtown declined when Jews -- shunned from the downtown protestant establishment, moved their residences, businesses and investments to Hollywood, Midtown, and the Westside. Other "not-quite-whites" moved east and to the Valley when the exclusionary definition of all important "whiteness" grew slightly broader.

In the 1950s, the mainstream view was that Downtown was dead. The reality was rather different. Bunker Hill continued to bustle with life. Thousands of the city's poor continued to sleep on the streets and in residential hotels around Skid Row and the Historic Core. Latinos turned Broadway into a busy shopping street and foreign cinema scene. Gays and other "subversives" found a degree of refuge in "seedy" city center. 


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The Doo-Wop Challenge

Posted by Eric Brightwell, March 15, 2013 09:24pm | Post a Comment

Some years ago, my then-roommate and friend Seth and I dreamt up the Doo-Wop Challenge. I don't exactly remember what the impetus was although the catalyst was undoubtedly cannabinoid. The challenge in question was primarily a test of almost pointless endurance and stubbornness, like a quiet contest. Who can go the longest only ever listening to Doo-Wop when playing music. But we were both genuine fans too, not masochists. I, for one, always got excited when a Doo-Wop act would appear at the no longer extant Be-Bop Battlin' Ball held at the no longer extant Rudolpho's in Silver Lake.

The Moonglows - I Knew from the Start

Of course music is inescapable and a participant in the challenge would hardly be expected to leave a party, movie theater, restaurant, &c just because something other than Doo-Wop wasn't playing. But what would happen if every time you put a dime in the jukebox, chose an mp3 or sang a tune it was Doo-Wop? Would you start dressing differently, speaking differently, being differently? In Jeannot Szwarc's Somewhere in Time (1980), doesn't focusing thoughts on a penny allow for Christopher Reeve's character to travel through time to stalk his fetish?


The Chords - Sh-Boom

It was about sixty years ago that the first Doo-Wop song, "Sh-Boom," reached the Top Ten on the pop charts. It was written and performed by The Chords, a Doo-Wop group that featured Carl Feaster (lead), Claude Feaster (baritone), Jimmy Keyes (first tenor), Floyd "Buddy" McRae (second tenor) and William "Ricky" Edwards. The formed in The Bronx in 1951 and were discovered performing in a subway station. They recorded their only hit with Atlantic Records' Cat Records label.


The Larks - Shadrack

For the uninitiated, Doo-wop is a vocal-driven but not a cappella style of Rhythm & Blues. The earliest confirmed usage of the term "Doo-Wop" to describe the music (it was a common scat phrase in the music, thus its usage) is from 1961 although the music's heyday was in the 1940s and '50s and its roots trace back considerably further. Doo-Wop groups often took their names from birds and/or sounded like makes of cars and the name "doo-wop" refers to one of the many wordless vocal sounds sung by these performers who are still the highlight of many a PBS fundraising special.

The Titans - So Hard To Laugh, So Easy to Cry

At least as early as the 1860s vocal formed and soulfully harmonized spirituals, folk songs and pop songs like those written by Stephen Foster. The first line-up of The Fisk Jubilee Singers formed in 1871. There were Barbershop hit versions of Tin Pan Alley pop songs like Richard H. Gerard and Harry Armstrong,'s 1903 hit, "(You're the Flower of My Heart,) Sweet Adeline" and Nora Bayes and Jack Norworth's 1908 hit, "Shine On, Harvest Moon" during barbershop's golden age of the 1900s and 1910s. The most obvious direct antecedents of Doo-Wop were the vocal groups The Mills Brothers and The Ink Spots, who formed in 1928 and 1934 respectively. Both groups were usually quite mellow and perhaps Doo-Wop is unfairly characterized as an exclusively mellow music. Not every Doo-Wop song was as mellow (not to mention lovely and atmospheric) as The Flamingos' "I Only Have Eyes For You." 

The Clovers - Lovey Dovey

Doo-Wop first emerged in East Coast black communities in the 1940s although it quickly found a foothold in Italian and Puerto Rican neighborhoods as well as far off places like Compton and El Monte, California. Doo-Wop continued to chart into the early 1960s when it largely was absorbed by the more commercial soul acts coming out of Motown, surf-pop harmonizers like The Beach Boys and Jan & Dean, and baroque 'n' rollers like The Left Banke, The Merry-Go-Round, and The Zombies.

The Platters - The Great Pretender

Doo-Wop never went away completely, however. Its echoes can be heard in Sha Na Na, ShowaddywaddyDavid Bowie's "Drive-In Saturday," the soundtracks to Rocky Horror Picture Show and Phantom of the Paradise, Elton John's "Crocodile Rock," and Billy Joel's "For the Longest Time." Whether or not you allow yourself to listen to these and others like them during your Doo-Wop Challenge is up to you. When you're done, share how long you lasted and what, if any, effect it had on you. Thanks!

The Cadillacs - Jaywalker


Pan-American Blues -- Black Country

Posted by Eric Brightwell, February 27, 2013 06:32pm | Post a Comment

If one listens to a “hillbilly” record like, say, Jimmie Rodgers’s “Blue Yodel” back-to-back with a “race” record like Lead Belly’s “Cow Cow Yiki” it should become immediately clear to the listener that often the distinction between these two genres has for many years been (and continues to be) more of an industry marketing rather than musicological one. After decades of segregation, one needn’t watch the CMT Music Awards to know that Country music has for a long time been almost totally dominated by white performers. However, there have always been black country musicians and more continue to emerge. Whether or not they're embraced by the Nashville industry or public is another question.


To Americans for whom there are only two coasts (the East and West), the South is with tiresome regularity portrayed and imagined to be a homogeneous region populated entirely by menacing, toothless, racist rednecks (whereas the North is totally free of racists, naturally). If these regionalist haters ever bothered to explore the South they’d likely be surprised by the physical and cultural variety of the Appalachians, the Delta, the Deep South, the Old South, the Ozarks, the Piedmont, the Upper South, the cities and countryside and so on. It would probably surprise many of them to learn that almost every single county in the country with a majority black population is located in the South since they imagine everyone there to be a white Republican.

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Proto-rap -- a look at black soul and jazz poetry for Black History Month

Posted by Eric Brightwell, February 4, 2013 05:10pm | Post a Comment


in my freshman year of college I remember being hipped to the Last Poets by another temporary housing refugee. He basically told me that they were rap music before rap music. This was back in 1992, a year after CERN released the World-Wide Web and when most music was shared via cassette tapes or compact discs. There was no Napster or YouTube and in Iowa, there weren’t a lot of copies of obscure, 1970s, militant, black spoken word records floating around so for years I could only wonder what they and other soul and jazz poets sounded like. Today there’s no reason anyone with access to a computer can’t check them out so for Black History Month, here’s a brief introduction to the ones that I’m familiar with. (If there are others, please let me know in the comment section).

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Piko Piko - A look at Picopop on the 34th birthday of Yellow Magic Orchestra's debut

Posted by Eric Brightwell, November 25, 2012 12:44pm | Post a Comment

Back in 1978, on 25 November, pioneering Japanese group, Yellow Magic Orchestra released their influential, eponymous, debut full-length. The album and group are widely credited with being very influential on the development of several music genres, including ambient, chiptune, electrohip hop, house, J-pop, synthpop, and techno, to name a few. 

The band (also known as YMO) were also on influence on another Japanese scene that emerged around the dawn of the 21st Century, picopop (or ピコポップ). Bands and performers such as EeL, Hi-Posi, Motocompo, Plus-tech Squeeze Box, Sonic Coaster Pop, and Strawberry Machine updated the shibuya-kei (渋谷系) style popularized in the 1990s by Cibo MattoCorneliusFlipper's Guitar, Pizzicato Five, and Original Love by adding some good, old fashioned, electro elements with a sensibility that often recalls YMO.

Capsule in shibuya-kei mode --> Capsule in picopop mode

Shibuya-kei had initially drawn largely on bossa novajazz, lounge, and yé-yé. In the late 1990s and early 2000s it began to evolve into "picopop" for for the "piko" sounds of classic game sound effects and scores.  Some acts, like Capsule (カプセル), began their careers making shibuya-kei before thoroughly transitioning into picopop. Others, like Yukari Fresh Colorful System, combine elements of both closely associated scenes.


Usagi Chang (Little Bunny) Records is the label most associated with pico pop although Motocompo's Shibuya-based label, Poplot and Columbia Nippon's J-Pop branch, Heat Wave, also released popular picopop albums. In the past few years, abcdefg* have released (and re-released) picopop recordings.

The amount of electro elements vary from performer to performer and often song to song. Perhaps the sometimes ridiculously twee, kawaii, visual aspect is almost as important as the music. Judge for yourself by sampling the following picopop videos and happy birthday Yellow Magic Orchestra!

Plus-Tech Squeeze Box


Cubismo Grafico

The Aprils

Macdonald Duck Eclair

Hazel Nuts Chocolate


Strawberry Machine 




naivepop or petitfool


Laugh &


Other artists to check out for those so inclined include: ColtemonikhaMisswonda, EeLSonic Coast PopNagisa Cosmetic, and Copter4016882. Ja!

Update: In 2013 American singer from San Gabriel, Joanna Wang, released an album (Galaxy Crisis: The Strangest Midnight Broadcast) that marks a stylistic shift into Picopop -- probably one of the first Americans to work in the genre.

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