Notes on the music scene

6078f8620a1b73f2c173eb81cfc9404fI drove my daughter and her friend to the Shoreline Ampitheatre last night to see the young female rage, Lana Del Rey. If you don’t listen too hard to the lyrics you can get easily swept into her beautiful, ethereal and trancy voice. Very romantic themes, but also too much talk of drugs, violence and drugs…well, that’s what the kids are into, right? Listen to her.

Do not ever go to the Shoreline: 10,000 people on the lawn with possibly two exits. 8000 cars in the parking lot with maybe one driveway. Never again. Waiting, waiting, waiting…for hours to hear Lana. Fortunately she was fantastic. She reminds me, in a way, of Joni Mitchell. They both share a romanticism and unique brand of feminism, which they both might deny. Neither of them sexualize their bodies on stage, at least Lana didn’t do that last night…which I appreciate. Still no good news about Joni’s illness and current hospitalization. There is a great tribute to her in Hayes Valley, near my office and across from the SF Jazz Center. She just turned 70.

Joni5Listen to Joni sing Carey.

On a different note, I saw Phillip Glass in March playing his piano etudes at Davies Symphony Hall, along with two other pianists playing his work. The concert was fantastic: the concert hall was full, and all eyes were on Phillip. Listen to Maki Namekawa, who was there, playing a section of an etude.  I first discovered Phillip Glass while watching the film  Koyaanisqatsi in 1982. The title is Hopi for ‘life out of balance’. If you haven’t seen it here is a clip. Phillip Glass is a modern American classical composer famous for minimal music. He is extremely prolific and has collaborated with many popular artists like Paul Simon, Suzanne Vega, and Mick Jagger. He also did the soundtrack for one of my favorite movies The Hours.

Glass-PhotoNow I am reading his memoir Words Without Music. Not only is he a world class composer, but he is an excellent writer. In it he describes in detail how he went about inventing his own new musical language. He also describes the arts scene in the 50s and 60s in New York and around the world, as well as his immersion in Indian culture, yoga and meditation, all which led up to writing his opera Satyagraha, based on the life of Mahatma Ghandi.

For most of 2015 I have been inspired by my daughter’s guitar playing and picked up the guitar again for the third or fourth time in life. I started out in high school with the Joan Baez and Bob Dylan songbooks and immersed myself in the folk song world…in my bedroom and occasionally with other kids in my town. I sang the anti-war folk song The Cruel War at my high school’s annual revue. (Little did I know there was a cross-dressing theme to the song…kind of like Mulan.) Now I’m working on alot of the same songs and have added some doo-wop, such as Silhouettes, Blue Moon, Angel Baby, You Belong to Me. And a little Hank Williams thrown in there too. Got my callouses!




God Help the Child by Toni Morrison

imagesToni Morrison’s latest novel, God Help the Child, is riveting. It may be my favorite Toni Morrison novel yet…and it’s hard for me to even have a favorite Toni Morrison novel. I enjoy entertainment…the high arts of existential drama and the low arts of tv sitcom. Toni Morrison doesn’t do entertainment…she said so when she received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993. There is a reason why she is the Nobel prize winner. She’s brilliant.

As always, Morrison’s theme is the experience of African-Americans, particularly women. She has a way of interweaving mythic and poetic themes into her novels. This story is about the journey of a woman born too black, unloved by her mother, trying to become a woman herself, the path that led her on and the mistakes she made because of it all. It is a triumphal story of Lula Ann, who changes her name to Bride, and her story of neglect and child abuse. It’s also about perseverance and the lies we tell ourselves to justify our actions. Kara Walker, of the New York Times calls it a “modern-­day fairy tale with shades of the Brothers Grimm: imaginative cruelties visited on children; a journey into the woods; a handsome, vanished lover; witchy older women and a blunt moral —What you do to children matters. And they might never forget.” And it is that and much more. The witchy older woman, Queen, who plays a transformative role in Bride’s life, may actually be a stand-in for Morrison herself. If you have read any of Morrison’s books you know that her writing can be brutal. This one is not…it’s very grounded and cohesive. The novel is less than 200 pages and the prose is poetic. Highly recommended.

Watch: Kumu Hina on Monday, May 4


Get your DVR ready to record Independent Lens on Monday, May 4 to see the extraordinary documentary film ‘Kumu Hina‘.  The film chronicles the life of a Hawaiian transgendered woman named Hina Wong-Kalu. She is a “kumu,” means “teacher” in the native Hawaiian tongue. A hula dancer since she was a young man, Hina passes down her skills to students at a school that seeks to preserve Hawaiian traditions. One of her students is a young tomboy named Ho’onani, who leads the male hula troupe. It is an excellent film about an extraordinary woman. I saw it at the Frameline Film Festival in 2013, and will never forget it. I will be watching it again on Monday…with all of you.

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