Archive for December, 2007

A Song I Like: "Chnam oun Dop-Pramp Muy (I’m Sixteen)" by Ros Sereysothea

Tuesday, December 18th, 2007

So I got another song stuck in my head, and I figure it might be an interesting case to present to y’all. This one is a garage stomper from sixties Cambodia. I was first exposed to Cambodian garage rock this year when I saw the LA group Dengue Fever open up for Man Man at a McCarren Park Pool Party out in Brooklyn. My reactions were as followed: 1) that lead singer is quite foxy 2) that is a very impressive beard on the bassist (I think it is the bassist with the insane beard) 3) this is some of the most far-out shit I’ve heard in a while, and I’ve heard what I would consider to be a fair amount of far-out shit 4) it’s also quite good and danceable. Cambodian garage rock is sort of like combining salsa and eggs, not necessarily intuitive, but it makes a whole bunch of sense when you taste it. Khmer has a very odd sound palate to my ears, full of spat out, short words with a whole bunch of vowels, and the vocal delivery tends to have a reverberating, lingering quality reminiscent of say, Bollywood. And then you back it with drums, fuzzy organs and guitars that reverb so heavily they sound half broken. It doesn’t sound like it should make sense, but all of a sudden, you’ll be dancing, and you won’t have time to think about it.

I liked Dengue Fever a good deal, but then I forgot about them and Cambodian rock for a while until I read this post on the famed and feared WFMU blog. Remembering Dengue Fever, I downloaded a few of those MP3s and woah, totally blown away. First of all, the musicianship and just plain fierceness of these tracks is beyond belief. The guitar solos in “I’m Sixteen” might give Hendrix a run for his money. Or maybe not, but hyperbole aside, it’s the kind of brutish, passionate axe-work that brings an instant guitar face to any male who has ever been an adolescent. The drums are steady but dependable, and they just don’t quit. And then there’s that sneaky, deliriously fuzzy organ, working its way in the back, so you almost don’t hear it gloriously rocking its way through the song. And then of course, the vocals. Ros Sereysothea was once officially honored by the King of Cambodia as the “Golden Voice of Cambodia”. Her voice is clear and melodic, songbird-like. You could tune to that voice. She blasts her way through the song, but keeps it expressive. You can hear the tease in her voice, and you know what the song is about without needing to understand any of the lyrics. This is what rock music is supposed to be, thuggish, crude and sexual. Except it’s from Cambodia.

So the balls-out rock music will lure you in, and make you play it again and again as you cram for finals, and as you drink after finals. But what has me listening to it on repeat is the haunted quality of the song. Like the Ethiopiques collection, this song is a glimpse of an alternate universe. The vibrant Cambodian scene came to an abrupt end when the Khmer Rouge came to power in ’75. The “Golden Voice” of Cambodia was sent to the Killing Fields. The more I listen to the track, the more I hear a ghost, Ros’ voice haunting ithe music. In the same way, sometimes when I listen to the Ethiopiques collection, I can hear the footsteps of the Derg not far behind. We, the residents of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, have the eerie experience of being able to listen to recordings of people who have not only died, but whose whole worlds have died. I think there are some tracks, even fun ones like “I’m Sixteen”, where the musty old past crawls inside and entwines itself with the music itself. Listening to songs like these, we have the terrible burden of dramatic irony. We know how the story ends, and where these people will go. These recordings are tragedy itself, an inexorable path that the listener cannot change. Listening to haunted songs like these, I have become increasingly convinced that history is what LP dust is made out of.

Here’s a link to a documentary about the Cambodian scene of the sixties, with some sound samples (including “I’m Sixteen”)

RFT Writes to Jeff Tweedy

Monday, December 17th, 2007

If you haven’t already, check out what the RFT did. It’s a letter to Jeff Tweedy about how he’s been forgetting his roots here in St. Louis. Even if you don’t like Wilco, you have to admit that the RFT is doing a good job of trying to make St. Louis a better place.

shame on you, spade cooley/tales from the sleazy underbelly of the golden age of western swing/country music in los angeles

Monday, December 17th, 2007

Spade Cooley would have been 97 today, had he not died some years ago of a heart attack, backstage during intermission of his famous (final) governor reagan approved, pre-prison parole concert.
A little, half-indian, classically-trained violinist from Oklahoma, Cooley was probably one of the most bizarre and megalomaniacal C&W stars ever, this during the era when the W in countrynwestern still meant something–he the self-proclaimed King of Western Swing (though the general consensus of history would later crown Bob Wills with that title).
Spade first entered the western bizniss as a Roy Rogers stand-in but gained fame (and notoriety) for his swing band – a hit of the then-hip Santa Monica Pier clubs. Far slicker than the hard, jazzy, honky tonk-influenced western swing of the esteemed Mr. Wills, Cooley’s true talents (along with his own top-notch fiddlin’) lay in his orchestration and arrangements, with a penchant for fairly eclectic takes on standards (or soon-to-be standards).
This somewhat bizarre clip (I wonder what it’s from, besides the obvious answer of TCM) I think somewhat illustrates that, showcasing a famous incarnation of his band(members rotated fairly often, given how quick Spade was to fire on a whim), with Tex Williams singing around the campfire and some really, really, really intense yodeling from a gal whose name I can’t recall (check the comments). The last number demonstrates his eclecticism expertly with an expanded band, replete with a cowboy harpist (not blues harp, hon, he got an orchestral harpist), two string basses, a jazz drummer with a fuller kit than Wills’ Texas Playboy for sure and like a buttload of other stuff too.
Although it’s hip to equate classic country with a bare-bones approach these days, this is clearly not always the case, and Spade’s band exemplifies that fact. Too Hollywood for some, but I dig it.
Anyway, as Cooley’s arrangements got increasingly baroque and his alcoholism worsened, the Western Swing trend just happened to die down and Spade was not gonna go quietly. Bizarre comeback attempts like a new all-female group and a Western theme park (this just after Disneyland was a big success) drained his money and it became difficult for him to maintain his rockstar lifestyle (he kept a mansion to himself and his groupies and housed his wife and daughter in a secluded rural ranch, forbidding them to leave the property).
Becoming increasingly and more bizarrely jealous of his wife and convinced that she was involved in a sex cult along with his two business partners in the failed theme park bid–he spot their limp-wrists miles away, he claimed–Spade became violent, especially when he caught word that his wife had confessed to a galpal a decades-old, brief affair with old chum Roy Rogers (though Rogers was apparently confused to hear this and many suspect she invented it out of guilt, weary of Spade’s accusations).
So he beats the shit out of her and stomps her to death with his cowboy boots in front of their fourteen year old daughter.
His questionable and confusing behavior (he was clearly out of his mind) during the trial, I think, insured against a death sentence, and he almost got out of his life sentence after a couple decades on good behavior, instead dying of a heart attack at the pre-parole announcement concert the state had awarded him the opportunity of performing. The whole sordid affair aside, he played a mean fiddle and although the scandal tainted his legacy, no western swing fan could deny his place in the history of that tradition.
Happy Birthday, Spade!

Ike Turner 1931-2007

Friday, December 14th, 2007

KWUR favorite Ike Turner died yesterday from unannounced causes, although the musician was reported to have emphysema. Turner has been a fixture in the Rock and Roll, Blues and Soul genres for over 50 years. Turner and his “Kings of Rhythm” are credited for recording the first ever rock and roll song (though this designation is highly disputed). The song, Rocket 88, was released by Sun Studios of Memphis in 1951, under the name Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats. Turner’s extensive discography includes rock and roll, R&B, blues, soul and funk, and somehow he manages to be prolific in all of these genres.

He is most famous for his work with his ex-wife, Tina (Turner claims he has been married 14 times, although only four are officially documented). The two released numerous recording together over their 16 year relationship. Turner’s solo work, however, is nothing to scoff at. For an excellent example check out 1969s “A Black Man’s Soul.” Released while still together with Tina, the album is one of the first albums ever that you could call “funk,” though released before the genre was even considered as such .

Though Turner could be considered a musical chameleon, one thing has remained constant throughout his long career: a turbulent personal life. Turner started abusing drugs heavily in the early sixties and it is not clear if he ever stopped. He spent 4 years in jail in the mid sixties after being caught with large amounts of cocaine. His marriage to Tina is remembered in the popular consciousness more for his purported domestic abuse than for their musical collaborations. Often demonized by the press, Turner’s musical career was seriously hurt by his abuse of Tina and his output of new albums slowed significantly after their 1976 divorce.

Most recently, Turner won a Grammy for his 2001 album “Here and Now” and has been working on various collaborations. He played keyboard for the Gorillaz album “Demon Days” and even toured with the group. Prior to his death he was working on a collaboration with The Black Keys, which was supposed to be released next year.

Ike Turner, one of the most underrated musicians and songwriters of our generation will be sorely missed.

Keep on rockin’ it on the other side, Ike!!

Subversive Cinema: Jim Henson’s Time Piece

Sunday, December 9th, 2007

Maybe it’s not that surprising that Jim Henson (of Muppet fame) was an accomplished experimental animator and film maker.

In addition to forever changing the worlds of puppetry and children’s television, he frequently made experimental shorts on the side. These included an experimental television piece titled The Cube.

However, his masterpiece in the experimental arena is undoubtedly 1965’s Time Piece. The 9 minute film debuted at the Museum of Modern Art and had a short arthouse/festival run. In 1967 the film was nominated for an Academy Award in “Best Short Subject, Live Action Subjects”. Recently the film has been preserved by the Academy Film Archive.

“Dislocation in time, time signatures, time as a philosophical concept, and slavery to time are some of the themes touched upon in this nine-minute, experimental film”

I think this brilliant film proves once and for all that Jim Henson truly was a visionary.