1 de des. 2005

Pop vs. autoindulgencia

Adjunto un estupendo artículo sobre la división ético-estética entre los grupos pop de Los Ángeles y los de San Francisco a mediados y finales de los 60. Una gran disección de, por un lado, el mira-ombliguismo y la futilidad de lo hippy, y por el otro de la atemporalidad, el show-biz, el color y el encanto de todos esos grupos de LA que tanto nos gustan.
El artículo, cómo no, ha sido publicado en Tangents. Y está en inglés.

Expecting To Fly

I really dig LA, really a lot ... A crowd together really has no mind. Individually everybody does. They all have bitchin' minds. Like I bet there's more philosophy in some 16-year old chick's mind that you ever dreamed of in your whole cigarette. Some of those letters to those fan magazines are really lonely and deep and open. Some I read really knocked me out, really open and sincere.
Jim Morrison, Summer 1968 speaking to the LA Free Press

One test of whether a type of music or record can stand the test of time is how it sounds removed from the hyperbolic memories of those who experienced the time in which it was created. And this criteria is just one of many in which the Southern California bands of the 1960's, predominantly centered in Los Angeles, beat their Northern California counterparts hands down. So many of the records made by bands such as the Byrds, the Buffalo Springfield, The Beach Boys, Love, The Doors, The Seeds, Captain Beefheart, The Turtles, Johnny Rivers, Mamas and the Papas, Ricky Nelson and the Monkees continue to amaze, to sound fresh, and exciting even today. Though you may hear people who lived in Northern California raving, (in fact conspicuously you will for the most part only find people who were there raving) about how incredible the bands of San Francisco and the Bay area were, LA's Northern California contemporaries today sound dated, confused and ultimately dull. It makes sense though because those Northern California sounds were reinforcing and reflecting a then burgeoning lifestyle, creating a sort of closed circuit, a feedback loop and so are irretrievably caught up in the sort of communal hippie movement that was going on at the time. And I guess they still blow the minds of those who were there.
But now they sound relevant only, and really not even too much then, in the context of the time. When removed from the milieu they existed and thrived in; the hippie lifestyle, that sense of purpose and forward movement and of course the drugs, they sound simply boring or annoying, dead and buried in the time that birthed it. Put Anthem of the Sun or Electric Music for the Body and Mind on your turntable and though you might hear little flashes here and there, overall it just doesn't stand up when removed from the heady memories of those who were there. In fact it reeks so heavily of patchouli, of unwashed, acid fried minds and the ultimate delusions of that generation of near do wells that it sinks under the weight of its own unworthy import and the bloated, misguided associations of better living through communal shanties, chemicals and group think. The music of Northern California by and large, (as always there are a few exceptions like Moby Grapes' first album, CCR and the Beau Brummels), sank underneath its failed promise and self righteous pretense.
It's strange too because the LA bands tend to conjure up a time and place of their own as well, but like the illusions created by Hollywood, the magic doesn't appear to be centered in any fixed reality that existed then or now. Rather than just evoking a single time and place it inspires new fantasies and new worlds. It's a place in your head, your heart and is always fresh when revisited, a welcome place for all, no matter the age. The LA of my mind is a beautiful sun kissed place where surfers opened up by acid and grass write songs about their girls drowning in the moonlight, being lost, cutting their long hair or coming in colors. Its music that mixed Kurt Weil, R&B, Surf Music, Herb Albert's Tijuana Brass, Pop Art, the Occult, Avant-Garde and Hollywood Film, even Johnny Mathis and came out with some amazingly potent hybrids. I can hear the waves lapping in the background, the sunny days, the cool nights, the hills of Hollywood filled with innocent kids just starting to experiment with life and new sensibilities, hair growing out in that Byrds/Brian Jones style with sunlight highlights, wearing a little bit of suede and lots of corduroy, all caught up in POP Culture; drive-ins, motorbikes, scooters, Big Daddy Roth's customized cars, Marvel comic books, movie stars, and a joint or two. Making it on the strip, chasing all the beautiful legs.
I close my eyes while listening to 5D and see the Byrds playing at Peter Fonda's birthday party; Sal Mineo, Jack Nicholson and Dennis Hopper mingling amiably with the new pop stars of LA. I listen to Johnny Rivers and can see Steve McQueen scribbling liner notes for Johnny's album after doing the frug to his band at the Whiskey a Go-Go. I hear 'River Deep, Mountain High' and can picture Phil Spector as an evil twisted dwarf, glaring behind his shades while wringing every last bit of emotion out of a stripped down to her bra Tina Turner. Everybody high on their own potential, big ideas, big plans. Everybody on their own trip, trying to get their own head together, trying to realize their own dream. It's that American Individualism, the pioneer spirit, manifest destiny reached the end of the continent. And right beside it, underneath it perhaps, is the dark occult pull, the seamy side, the terrors of the abyss, and the unlimited potentiality of everything; the subconscious mind so aptly represented by the depths of the Pacific Ocean itself. The Evil and Glorious West Coast centered in Los Angeles, the town of illusions, and broken dreams that Raymond Chandler and Nathanael West wrote so elegantly about, and the "end of land sadness, end of the world gladness" immortalized by Kerouac. All those LA people; the kids, the bands, the writers, the technicians and stars seemed to share these intuitions and contradictions and knew better than to get too self self-righteous about it.
The LA bands were all so much cleaner than their Northern California counterparts, in all ways; their way of life, stylistically, sartorially, in presentation, and sound. It feels healthier. All the supposed criticisms of LA bands are actually their best attributes and saving graces: the plasticity, professionalism, the business sense, the dependency on technology and recording studios, catering to teeny boppers, show business roots showing. All this when seen in the clear light of present day are strengths and a large part of the reasons those records still sound amazing today! In short, it wasn't lost up its own ass, sacrificed to self righteous smugness. Instead it was opened up to all the world and assimilating a wealth of influences at an amazingly rapid rate and if a buck was made in the process, well, lets be honest, its nice to live comfortably. I'll meet you by the pool on another beautiful LA day; we'll share a smoke and brainstorm our next movie, our next LP or single.
It was pop music, pop culture mixed with the experimental avant-garde, and so experimentation that still at the same time kept an eye on things like brevity, wit, hooks, style, packaging, and presentation. Being LA it also inherited a genuine weirdness that was pioneered by Hollywood oddballs like Orson Welles, Robert Mitchum, Marlon Brando, Monty Clift, and James Dean.
And so we have these LA bands of the 1960's awash in contradictions, and simply embracing or accepting them; the plastic and the genuine; commerce and art, the experimental and the commercial, white and black, soul and exploitation, beauty and ugliness, sex and love. And naturally the resulting music is lovely, both of a time and timeless, a time outside of real-time and so immortally fresh.
© 2005 William Crain