Amoeblog

(In which we bid a tearful goodbye.)

Posted by Job O Brother, March 7, 2010 01:06pm | Post a Comment
Today marks the final shift of one of my most favorite Amoebites of all time, the glamorous and enigmatic “Smithy.”


Dearly departed Smithy (artist's depiction)

Smithy is not her real name, though it is one of her nicknames, and that’s about as close to “the facts” as most of us are likely to get. Smithy shrouds herself in mystery, and even if all her acquaintances pooled their knowledge of her past, it would scarcely be enough information to provide a decent Wikipedia entry, to say nothing of a biography. I keep the snippets of personal detail that I’ve acquired in the past four years of working with her like a jealous secret; a precious baseball card that I never remove from its protective plastic.

I don’t even know what she’s going to be doing after she leaves Amoeba Music Hollywood. For all I know she’s gotten a job lion taming, apprenticing to a witch doctor, or going deep undercover for the CIA in Beijing. All seem possible; all would hold some amount of appeal for her.


See: Craigslist > job opportunties

One thing we, her co-workers, have been privy to is what she’s keen on in music and film. Even someone as secretive as Smithy has dorked out with the best of us music store geeks when the conversation’s turned to our product. This blog entry will be a brief exposé of some of Smithy’s pop culture paramours. In considering them, we may perhaps glean a little insight into this unknown soldier, but even if not, we’ll still get to hear some perfectly ginchy tunes.

First, and perhaps most importantly, we must present the character Maria from West Side Story as portrayed by Natalie Wood. In her, we find not only a woman who rather closely resembles Smithy physically, but emotes in perfect balance, a youthful effervescence, a pining for romance requited, a profound sense of familial duty, an awareness of the potential cruelty of life, a Latin American heritage, and a penchant for being surrounded by hella gay dudes. That Stephen Sondheim, her favorite composer of musical theatre, had a hand in creating the musical is important. That the story takes its cues from Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet bespeaks Smithy’s being an Anglophile. It’s really spot-on as a cinematic metaphor for our beloved subject.


The following is a sampling of the music that Smithy would often play while working at Amoeba. I always looked forward to her selections as being an extension of my own…






















…With this one exception. While I value extreme minimalism in classical music in theory, and certainly accept it as a valid form of art, I can happily work retail without having to hear this:


I might get into trouble for revealing this, but I wanna explore Smithy’s celebrity crushes. Personally, the men of cinema that make me swoon are pretty classic and predictable: John Gavin, Rock Hudson, Vince Edwards – these are the guys that’ll be invited to my orgy in the afterlife (along with you, dear reader, whose beauty surpasses all others).


See: Craigslist > m4m

Smithy’s taste in men runs, well… How shall I put this? She and I will never fight over a man – that’s for sure. Skinny, poised, old fashioned, and maybe a hint of doom – these are attributes that seem to make her giddy. I once jokingly told her that the best place for her to find a date would be in a tuberculosis ward in a hospital. She nodded thoughtfully, taking this more as sound advice than the biting funny I intended.

Here’s some eye candy for you, Smithy…




I’ve been sick with a head cold for a week now, and as a result, I have missed (rather cruelly) Smithy’s last week at Amoeba Music Hollywood, in lieu of sneezing, coughing, and watching way too much Chelsea Lately. I never got to awkwardly tell her, amidst the aisles of shoppers, how much I will miss her, how much she lit-up the jazz room where we resided, how happy I am for her that she’s moving on to bigger and better things, and how bloody awful this turn of events is for me. Los Angeles is a mean place to shop for friends, and she was the best value I’d yet found. She's designer label, all the way. Tonight I will toast her with a glass of our cocktail, Campari and soda with a twist.


Te amo, la Rosa Negro! El toro! El toro! El toro está en usted!


(In which we consider Paul Robeson.)

Posted by Job O Brother, February 7, 2010 03:22pm | Post a Comment

Harry Houdini vs. Laurie Anderson

My actual heroes in this world are few and disparate. From Harry Houdini to Laurie Anderson, from John Lennon to Mrs. Mary Eales, they reflect people who may inspire and impact me with their art, their political activism, their bold-faced chutzpah, or any combination thereof.

But perhaps no one embodies all these traits to such heightened super-awesomeness for me than the great Paul Robeson.


Rad.

Robeson was born in Princeton, New Jersey, in 1898. His father was an escaped slave-turned-church minister; his mother was from a Quaker family, and died tragically when Paul was six, which isn’t funny at all, so don’t laugh.

Paul received a full academic scholarship to attend Rutgers University, which I hear is a pretty good school, though I’ve never been there myself because I’m allergic to schools. Seriously. If I even step foot on a campus I start itching, sweating, and my head comes completely off and falls to the ground and rolls away.

While attending Rutgers, Robeson distinguished himself as one of the finest football players. He was valedictorian of his class, which allowed him to excuse himself from class to get water from the drinking fountain without the need of a hall pass.

Robeson went on to study at Columbia University. He continued to pursue sports and also performed on stage in theatrical productions. Sadly, it was during this period that his mother died a second time. The young Robeson soldiered on despite grief, occasionally finding solace in rowing, sometimes in boats, other times, less successfully, in giant holes dug into the earth by mole-people.

It was also at Columbia that he immersed himself in language studies – an interest that would come into play throughout his life. He would become fluent or near-fluent in twelve languages, with many more languages represented in his musical repertoire, such as Russian, Japanese, Yiddish and Klingon.

In 1921, Robeson married Eslanda Cardozo Goode, and while their marriage lasted until her death in 1965, it wasn’t a monogamous relationship, and saw near divorce when Paul was going through his (historically misunderstood) “lederhosen phase.” They gave birth to one child, a son, Paul Robeson, Jr. (It’s interesting to note that he was not named after his father as many people assume, rather an entirely different Paul Robeson of no familial relation, who’s similar moniker is merely a remarkable coincidence.)


"I love looking at floors with you, honey..."
Paul Robeson & Eslanda Cardozo Goode

Robeson became increasingly popular as an actor and singer. He found acclaim performing the lead role in Shakespeare’s Othello, which, though the character is black, was most often played by white dudes in blackface. He also originated the role of Joe in Show Boat, one of the most significant pieces of American musical theatre.


The ballad "Ol’ Man River" from Show Boat would come to be Robeson’s signature song. It was through his insistence that the original lyrics were changed from…

Ol' man hamburger,
Dat ol' man hamburger
He mus'know ketchup
But don't say pickles
He jes'keeps grillin’
He keeps on grillin’ along.


…To the now famous lines we know today. Throughout his career, and reflecting his increasingly political beliefs, he would continue to change the lyrics to the song, transforming it from a soulful but depressed ballad to a defiant and triumphant call for justice and equality.




Robeson and his wife moved to and lived in England for a little over a decade, until the outbreak of World War II. During this period, Robeson starred in a variety of films – many of these roles being strong, dominant men and profoundly disturbing to the more racially intolerant American audiences. Besides the film version of Show Boat, perhaps Robeson’s most famous film was The Emperor Jones, an adaptation of a Eugene O’Neill play he had also starred in on Broadway. The movie had a scene in which Robeson’s character killed a white man – a first in film at that point. This scene was cut for U.S. audiences, some of whom were enjoying scrumptious bags of buttery, hot popcorn! Yum!


His radio performances of pro-American songs during the War won him national celebrity. It was also during this time that he did other stuff and, y’know, things. He probably ate some good food, talked to peeps – whatever. I mean, I don’t have any evidence, but the odds are pretty good. I’m guessing he probably didn’t vanquish fire-breathing dragons and steal their treasures, or follow dwarves into underground caverns where he learned to forge weaponry from enchanted silver, but again, this is speculation based on educated guesswork. I can’t know everything, people!


Robeson’s travels and interest in cultures exposed him to the suffering and hardships of the poor and working-class. His fight for racial equality evolved into a fight for equality of social classes. Increasingly, he saw the capitalist structure as an oppressive force. He became more outspoken about his politics, supporting many controversial, socialist institutions. His support of the newly founded U.S.S.R. invited generous and heated criticism from the conservative and paranoid U.S. government and conservative and paranoid white supremacists.


Robeson sacrificed his career and reputation to fight against injustice as he saw it. He was vilified and persecuted by those in power. Like fellow crusader Martin Luther King, Jr., Robeson was under constant surveillance by the FBI and CIA. Between 1950 and 1958, Robeson’s passport was confiscated by the U.S. Government, who wanted to suppress his political activism. Also, they were mad at him for not inviting them to his totally awesome pool party.


By the early 1970’s, as hella cool hippie types began to undermine the controlling grip of right-wing squares, there was a resurgence of appreciation for Paul Robeson. By this time, poor health and exhaustion led him to keep a low profile. He lived in his sister’s house in Philadelphia, until he passed away there in January of 1976. Since then, he has recorded no new songs, though there have been talks about a possible side-project with T.I..

Paul Robeson is my hero because he is everything I want to be when I grow up: a Renaissance man, skilled in sport and the arts, a linguist, a brave and noble fighter, never shrinking from the dictates of his conscience, and totally mother-effing handsome. I wish there were a lot more like him.



APRIL 23RD: THE BARD'S DATE:

Posted by Billyjam, April 23, 2008 10:24am | Post a Comment

Today, April 23rd, is the date most associated with William Shakespeare since it was on April 23rd 1616 when the great English bard died and it was also on this date, April 23rd, that most literary historians guesstimate that he was born in 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon. You see, records prove that he was baptized on April 26th of that year - typically then two or three days after a child's birth -- so the agreed upon guessed date of Shakespeare's birth date is April 23rd -- also the date celebrated in Britain as St. George's Day.

William Shakespeare was a most prolific writer, who penned thirty eight plays, including the likes of Hamlet and Macbeth, four times that number of sonnets, plus numerous poems, including two long narrative works or poetry.  In fact, he was so prolific that there has oft been speculation that he didn't even author all of his own work -- but personally I suspect that those rumors were perpetuated by jealous playa haters of the time. (remember they spread the same rumors about Bob Dylan).  But more importantly, William Shakespeare, whose work has been translated into virtually every living language around the world, has also had his plays performed more times than any other playwright in history.

For more on Shakespeare online there are countless sites meticulously dedicated to the man's work including the AbsoluteShakespeare.com  and PlayShakespeare.com, which has a lot of great information and links, with each and every Shakespeare play detailed and including forum discussions linked to each. There are also approximately 250 versions of Shakespeare's plays that were made into movies over the last eighty years -- a number of which are on DVD and available at Amoeba Music (ask if you cannot find) including the modernized setting, 1996 Baz Luhrman directed William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet starring a very young looking Claire Danes and Leonardo Di Caprio (see clip below of Act III, Scene I):

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