On Rock and Roll Journalism
Frank Zappa is- sorry, sadly 'was', and I put this in quotes only because he has not yet crossed the particular synapse junction in my brain that categorizes him as expired- a peculiar man.
I don't mention him for any other reason than he laid down a fantastic line, one redolent of what just transpired in my own life.
"Rock Jourmalism is people who can't write interviewing people who can't talk for people who can't read."
I was assigned to Live-Blog the Harmony Festival in Santa Rosa. CA. I received a press pass, and was told to "Go wild." I'm too old to 'Go wild" at this point, but still, it was entertaining, this notion of music journalism...
IF ONLY FOOD WERE WIRELESS
It flabbergasts me, this wireless world.
First, let me welcome you to the live blog coverage of the Harmony Festival. I do not know if there are web-cams, if you are at home at your laptop, or even if you are watching yourself on your blackberry via live web-cam while concurrently reading about the festival you are ostensibly attending. Should you be any of the aforementioned, look for me- I’m the guy who looks like a Pakistani Shel Silverstein, although I probably am wearing what appears to be an abnormally large black dress sock on my head. Mosquitoes, you know. I’m probably over by the press tent. Look, I’m waving now.
OK, I am ,quite frankly, full of shit. It is 9:39 in the morning, and the festival doesn’t start for another 4 hours at least. I am at work. Still, though, wireless technology is astounding- I’m writing this entry now as a test sequence to send to a man I’ve never met and only known to me as “Inflata-Bill” so that he may upload the entry via email to multiple-author blog he’s created, which will then feed directly- via RSS or Atom platform- directly to the Harmony Website, which you are reading right now. Didn’t that sound fancy? I have no idea what I just said, but unless you are the ethereal and omnipotent Inflata-Bill, you will just have to take my word for it.
At any rate, I will likely be by the media tent, assuming they are providing free food. If not, find me over in the food court and say hello, chit-chat, give me your opinions on the food, the festival, the music, the food, the people and the food. We’ll stick it up on the blog. You can even watch me type it. I’ll sit below a web cam and train it on the screen, so you can dial up the Harmony site and watch me type it via your blackberry. Let us hope when we close that wireless loop, we don’t accidentally sever off a chunk of the universe and create a parallel ‘Harmony Festival Only’ feedback loop; while the festival promises to be a great amount of fun, if we tear ourselves off from the natural space/time continuum, the food would eventually run out and we will have no where to empty the port-o-potties. See you there!
VURTUAL BECOMES REALITY
It is actual, I am here, I have crawled my way backstage at the Harmony Festival. My blogging counterparts are here somewhere, including the elusive Inflata-Bill, and it feels covert and not just a little High Tech and Mission Impossible to be posting, considering I haven't a clue about what the people who hired me to do this look like.
On a complete aside, I have a confession to make. I am a corn-fed midwesterner, born and bred, and have only been in California less than a year. We of the Midwest always envisioned the West Coast to be an oasis of Ocean Pacific surf wear, bleach blond groovyness, and cops wearing Ponch-style sunglasses and beige uniforms.
Imagine my surprise to find out it was all true, exactly to form- even the CHP- CHiP’s really, still wear the type of motorcycle helmets redolent of The Great Gazoo on old Flintstone episodes. It's all a little surreal, the authentic hippies, the colorful tie-dye, and the big furry animal hats being sold by the vendors. Walking backstage, I came across- I kid you not- Wavy Gravy, the real deal, a person I should associate with his role as a Woodstock era activist, but sticks out most in my mind as a Ben and Jerry flavor. You know, the caramel swirls and such. He is carrying a stuffed platypus- a plush one mind you, not a real one- on a leash. For you born and bred on the West Coast, this may be part and parcel of life out here, but for we un-acclimated to the hippie vibe, it is thrilling.
So, I move now to a film presentation on another legendary West Coast staple, one that ranks among the foremost in the panacea of party-legend that circulates in the Great White Midwest- the Burning Man Festival. What an education I am getting.
THE DESIS ROCK: AMBIOTICA LOUNGE PART 1- Ali Khan
These are my people. Sort of.
I'm half Indian, the other half British, and when push comes to shove, I speak only Michigan. Still, though, if you haven't gleaned, my name really isn't Mr. Bean, it's a proper Indian to-do, a real Bengali mouthful, so you have to know I'm stoked to catch this fusion act, this dovetailing of East meets West so common in California. I speak of course of Ali Khan and his motley crew.
The band-leader- I assume this isAli himself- is adorned in a Wild Bill Hickock hat and rocking the harmonium, tablas kicking the backbeat- all while soundchecking. As he points out, it is typical Desi style- Desi being the Hindi word for 'Indian'- to be loose about this. And late. Desis are always late. I can't look at this man's hat without cracking up, this single manifestation of Cowboys and Indians.
Ali Khan and his crew will follow the Burning Man film, and they have left the stage, finished with the soundcheck, and a man with a heavy French accent is telling us all about the film he has made, all about Burning Man. He proceeds to show us his work.
For someone not yet indoctrinated to this, it is fascinating. The desert flats on the festival site are absurdly vacant, and the purveyors of the festival are driving what looks like a pimped out version of Mr. Skywalker's Land Speeder. By 1989, they had gathered only 300 people for the festival, whenst* it was still held next to the Bay. Watching what I will diplomatically call 'scantily clad' women** swinging fire around in huge arcs, years later in the narrative, I am enraptured, I need to go, I have to see this phenomena. I know it has become a little spoiled, to the point where the fool who prematurely Burned the Man made national news, but still, I've got to get it before it goes away. Maybe I can blog for that, too, though I doubt the desert will facilitate this. I'll have to ask Inflata-Bill. I'm sure he knows.
*I don't care if it's not a real word. I'm too fond of it to let it go. It is what I will call the Particular Past Participle of “when”, used when describing an event in the past tense that has gained a measure of notoriety and meme status. I'm going to use it as much as possible throughout the evening.
** And by ‘scantily clad’, I mean naked boobies. I know, I sound juvenile, but remember I’m from the Midwest- for 5 months out of the year, a good portion of dating etiquette revolves around what gender the person in the hermetically sealed Eskimo outfit is.
WAYLAID BY OUTLAWS
And by outlaws, I mean the Outlaw Dirvishes. They are on a side stage, and, like a raven or a small child, I am attracted by all the pretty spinning lights. I am soon treated to all the pretty spinning ladies, donned in, once again, rather scantily designed costumes.
The Outlaw Dirvishes apparently have an arrangement with these women, whose names are Spiral, Brigette, and something else I don't quite capture, but the band leader does point out the obvious. In his own words,
"These women are HOT!"
He’s right. They are hot. I don't want to come off as a greasy pervert, but you have no doubt realized that I am easily waylaid by scantily clad women. And it's fine it's great, we can say this here at the festival and not feel awkward.
Something about the conservative nature of the midwest -and often the east coast as well- prevents people from being open, from acknowledging the fact that sex exists, people are attractive, flirting is fun, and beautiful things are beautiful things, whether or not they are sanctioned by the Bible. It is wonderful , and I can't help but wonder if the Industrious North has lost something by not acknowledging and embracing this freedom, this outpouring of creative energy, replacing it with financially successful pig- packaging plants and monitored interest rates.
Still though, I must get back to the Ambiotica. Goodbye, attractive Hula-Hoop girls, dressed in gold lamay bikinis. Know that you are forever burned onto the silver-coated photo-plates of my visual consciousness.
In classical Indian musical tradition, particularly as the Tablas are concerned, drum strokes follow syllables. That is to say, as you learn Tabla, Ghatam, or any other drum technique, you learn an assortment of syllables that are directly correlated to specific drumstrokes. Ta Ki Na Ta Da sounds remarkably like Ta Ki Na Ta Da when you strike it on the drums.
Ali Khan and Co. are doing this now, calling out a series of drum patterns as the Tabla player hits them in real time. This linkage, this symbiotic relationship, this synergy- I can't conceive how they do it.
Still, though, I'm not entirely flabbergasted by what I'm seeing and hearing. Being a musician myself, I feel a need to be honest here, and the music and stage presence is just a touch on the pandering side. They are kicking a bhangra beat, which I'm always terribly fond of, and it's getting people on the dance floor- but I want more sick rhythms, complex syncopation, stuff that blows my mind simply because I can't understand it. Stuff I can file away in my brain for later, examine, tease apart like a 7th grade frog dissection. I know they can do it- they are clearly proficient and talented musicians, but I guess it is part and parcel of fusion- things change.
But this is a real time blog, and still again, they have shifted gears- they are doing a number in 7/8, my absolute favorite time signature. Heck, I'm in no position to complain about fusion- my life is defined by the word. They really are mixing it up, crossing and expanding phrases, and I am assuaged into a groovy state once again. It works with the audience as well, and suddenly it feels good to be on the same page as everyone else. The slim gentlemen shaking his booty on the dance floor is, I'm almost certain, wearing the the cowboy hat previously donned by the lead singer, as he now sports a Derby hat and a Punjabi style shirt. I am enjoying this flux, these ebbs and tides that the Harmony Festival is offering. Did I mention how astounding this education I 'm getting is?
I have strayed again, dear readers. I was sucked in by the artwork- labaryinths of intricate designs, canvases filled with patient colors and lines and detail, and it spit me out in, as the signs tell me, the Eco-village. Again the Inner Kid takes over, and I'm drawn like a moth to the pretty lights and sounds eminating from the cloth geodesic dome set up in the back.
It is also again the Desi music- this time around played by a dreadlocked crew of Caucasian hippies, and I'm not so concerned about the authenticity of it all- it just sounds good, and even the folks behind me are aping the peculiar strains of vocal modulation so characteristic of the Indian classical style. It's silly, these dudes behind my head, but heck, I learned how to cook a proper curry from an English woman named Isabel. They are even singing in proper form, a language I don't understand, as all I speak is Michigan. Mentioned before, know, but relevant.
I can't get over- and my Chicagoan friends will slay me for this, as they consume their pork-tubes and check their interest rates- the peaceful vibes of this whole endeavor. I can't believe I just used the phrase 'peaceful vibes' - from whenst* and where I originated- it was a cardinal sin to use anything even vaguely resembling 'hippie talk'- But I just plain feel comfortable, soothed, not in the least constructing a mental protection zone, wherein I have to worry about being jumped, extra-drunkness and associated behavior, violence in any fashion. It sounds silly and odd, I'm sure, but it is an indulgence, this vibe here at the festival. I don't really want to go home.
*OK, not so ‘meme-ish”, my origins, but I did promise I’d work it in.
NOTES ON PRESS PASSES AND GEORGE CLINTON
Get one. A press pass. They are astounding.
I should admit that I may have talked myself into something I didn't deserve- at the Will Call booth, I put on my most Official Face and Expressed My Concerns about stage accessibility- all I know is that I'm wearing a leopard printed wristband, one that seems to be a 'go everywhere' pass- every door is open. I'm now sitting feet from the main stage at the George Clinton show, behind the fencing, where the Fancy People sit.
It's a little asinine, I know, to feel privileged to sit on a cold stone floor no different from the main floor- even a little lamer because of the lack of great fun that is clearly washing over the audience- but still, the notion of VIP-ness is cool. To sit and blog so close to the action is a thrill.
Mr. Clinton is a Midwesterner. Perhaps not by origin, sure, but he does- or at least did- live outside of Ann Arbor, MI, where I spent my formative years, and we would see him in the music stores, all blazing neon hair extensions, flowing robes, every rock and roll inch of him in full force. You know how funky he looks on stage? He leaves the house to buy eggs and a carton of milk in the same uniform.
The music here in the Pavilion is full force as well- Massive screens are set up, people are screaming, George's clipped up dreads like a dandelion behind his head, as he spits, and I quote:
"Skeet skeet skeet, skoo skoo, to the walls to the the floor, to the shake............Awww S***.....Are you ready to party? All that is good......is nasty..........."
In fine form tonight, my Funkadelic Mr. Man.
ON FUNNY HATS
I'm harping on the Midwest thing, I know, but bear with me. Before a three-week long cold snap in Chicago that had us playing rock/paper/scissors for who had to go get the mail, we would just bundle up and trounce around the city oblivious to cold. After the three-week cold snap, I finally got fed up enough to move out here. But there is one thing I do miss about the chilly climes- the freedom to wear funny hats in the name of warmth. You could perch a dead wolverine on your head, and no one would bat an eyelash, as long as it looked snug and toasty.
In front of the Ambiotica Lounge, there is a charming young lass selling some of the funniest hats I've seen in years. They put me in mind of furbies, the fetishists who dress up like animals before they...uh...well, I won't speculate on what they do, but the hats are tremendous. They are all fur-lined, reversible-including the ears- and they are some of the most comfortable items I've ever slapped on my head. I don't recall the name of this woman's business- something like 'Foxy Hats' or "Sexy Foxy Hats' or perhaps "Hat-Wearing Sexy Foxes" - whatever, the point is, after chatting with her a bit I find that THIS IS WHAT SHE DOES FOR A LIVING. She travels from festival to festival selling her wares, and she must do a good turn of business, because I'm seeing them all over the fairgrounds. At $65 bucks a pop, they may be a bit pricey for something you might not wear on your morning commute- this not being the frigid Great White North, but I'm tickled that she makes this work for her. God, I love California.
AT THE AMBIOTICA PART 2: LATE NIGHT
I don't know how I missed this- Ok I do, I got caught up with the stars and flash of a press pass+George Clinton- but this latin groove is the most authentic stuff I've heard all evening. By authentic, I don't mean pure to form, exact adherence to recipe, an unflinching fossilization of the 'proper' tradition- quite the opposite. These cats are free, having the kind of fun that only middleman can. They aren't famous, there is only a small but dedicated crowd present- notably the man with the cowboy hat is still shaking his stuff religiously- and it's all about late night freeform booty-scootin'.
It's the looks on their faces whilst and whenst* they play- there are gleeful wagging tongues, eyes wide open and showing the whites of their eyes, on par with seeing chicken eggs, a local feel, an acknowledgement from the musicians and the crowd that this is the best music happening anywhere in the world at just this moment. The clave player moves his cowbell to different levels, just for effect, and the crowd eats it up. The keys player bumps up and down on his stool, acting like he is trying to escape from a powerful magnet encased in his butt. It is clearly the after-party to be at, and I'm thankful that I have found my way back to my assignment, finally relaxing after many pleasant distractions. If you are here at the festival, or just watching via web cam, look for this spot. I'll help you out- after I press the 'publish' button on this post, look around- I'll be the one waving, saying, "Come in, come here- this is the Place to Be."
* Come on. Cut me a break. Everyone needs a hobby.