Monday, November 17, 2008

California

Dear, sweet, California...

Teeth have been gnashed, guts have been wrenched, outlines have been drafted, crumpled up, thrown away, re-drafted, crossed out, re-written, destroyed, fished from the trash and flattened back out, and eventually settled on.

The point being, this is not accurate, and anybody who DOES come up with the accurate one band, one solo artist, and one honorable mention from the state of California is equally not accurate. California is the culmination of the best parts of New York city's punk scene, Boston's hard rock scene of the 70's, Detroit's MoTown records R&B, and is the undisputed champion of the 60's acid rock era. You could assemble a deserving list of solo artists and bands from any one of pop-music's infinite genres just from the California music scene. There is no right answer, but I have soldiered on with a conclusion built from my own personal musical taste. This is all I can muster.

First off, there is no 'California Music Scene'. The geography and population of California lead to several distinct music scenes all occurring at the same time in cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, Huntington Beach, San Diego, The San Fernando Valley, Berkley, Santa Cruz... Hell, even Bakersfield produced Merle Haggard and Buck Owens during Country & Westerns' heyday.

Enough of the love fest though. I've been pretty tough so far on the states that are not my own, so it's only fair to give the same treatment to the land in which I was born, raised, and have continued to live my whole life. California does after all, have PLENTY to be ashamed of...

We elected an actor as our governor...


TWICE...
The first one starred alongside a lab chimp in his most well known role, Bedtime for Bonzo, and the other made his acting debut as Arnold Strong in Hercules in New York and in said film, wrestled a bear. OK, it's really a dude in a bear suit. No WAY would California have elected him had it been a REAL bear... We CARE about animals...

I would love to say that time has lead to a smarter electorate here in California, but Arnie is the CURRENT governor...

We are responsible for the setting, and stereotypes found on television's cheesiest shows such as Melrose Place, Beverly Hills 90210, and The OC. It and of itself, this is almost forgivable, but we're also fully complicit in allowing The Hills to happen... Man... Look at that dead-behind-the-eyes vacant husk of a stare...

On behalf of all 37 million of us, we are very, very sorry...

In addition to liking our movie stars to govern, and out television to be horrid, we Californians also really, REALLY do not like to walk, or sit at stop lights... Leading to a myriad of California's worst contributions to American society...

- Freeways

- Sig Alerts

- Freeway Shootings

- Freeway Billboards


OK, so maybe LA Law didn't happen solely because of the existence of freeways, but I still think we should apologize for Harry Hamlin's hair, and for allowing Blair Underwood's career to be defined by something OTHER than Krush Groove...

It's not only glitz, glamour, and speeding tickets California needs to apologize for though... We're also responsible for Bigfoot.

All that aside, California's positives far outweigh it's negatives, especially when it comes to music. Consider, if you will, some of the artists that did NOT make the cut for the state's representatives, and also consider that even this is just the tip of the talent iceberg Cali has to offer...

- The Beach Boys

- The Mamas & The Papas

- Green Day

- The Offspring

- Spirit

-
Stone Temple Pilots

- The Doors

- Jefferson Airplane

- Buffalo Springfield

- The Grateful Dead

-
Bad Religion

- Social Distortion

- Black Flag

It's a who's who of rock royalty, all snubbed because California is just too damned packed with talent. Again, any of the above could very well make justifiable best-of choices on the lists of others, but I've come to a conclusion, and I'm sticking with it, because I had to pick somebody...

More to come on that momentarily, but before then, let us see what the fine folks at Wikipedia have to say about The Golden State:

- California is the most
populous state in the union, and the third largest by total land mass. Well, actually the 2nd since we traded away Alaska...

- Texas is bigger than California, but most of it sucks.

- In 1846, California broke away from Mexico and was officially ceded by the Mexican government to the US at the end of the Mexican American war, so California does not have a problem with illegal immigration, unless the American South also plans to deport anyone who still flies the Confederate Flag...

- California's 4 largest cities are Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, and San Jose.


- Yeah, totally... I'm just as surprised as you are... It's actually the 10th largest city in the entire country... I guess I should stop making fun of The Sharks...

- If you 'wanna pop', Head to Mt. Shasta...

- Trees in California are really effing old...

- California has the largest minority population in all of the United States, with 57% of the population identifying themselves as a member of a minority group. Our pot is extra-melty...

Alright, alright... enough stalling... On to The Selections:

Solo Artist:
Danny Elfman
As a traveling circus minstrel in France, an expat bumming around the African continent, and the celluloid embodiment of Satan in the 1980 avant-schlock flick Forbidden Zone Danny Elfman led a life worthy of a tell-all unauthorized biography before even achieving fame in the two roles he is best known for.

- Front Man for Oingo Boingo
Started in 1976 as The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo, shortening their name after appearing in the above mentioned Forbidden Zone, (also Elfman's first foray into composing a soundtrack) Oingo Boingo was a hugely popular Los Angeles area band garnering repeated airplay on local indie-rock station KROQ. However it wasn't until Boingo's inclusion on film soundtracks that they gained any kind of following outside of the local LA second-wave scene.

Oingo Boingo's Dead Man's Party
featured in the 1986 Rodney Dangerfield film Back to School is anecdotally considered to be the band's biggest hit in the US, although the song was never released as a single. Their biggest chart maker was the 1985 release Weird Science, which was also the theme song of the film of the same name, another film scored by Elfman.

My personal opinion is that you will not find a better swan song that Boingo's final studio release (recorded under the shortened 'Boingo' moniker), 1994's Boingo. I'm a sucker for long songs, but the album's final track Change clocking in at 2 clicks shy of sixteen minutes is worthy of repeated listenings regardless of length, as are Insanity and Pedestrian Wolves

and

- Soundtrack Composer for every movie Tim Burton has ever directed, or even seen

Elfman's
soundtrack work is where he is best known, composing for projects as varied as Cameron Crowe's Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Peewee's Big Adventure, over a dozen Tim Burton features, and memorable television theme songs for The Simsons and Desperate Housewives. A full cataloging of Elfman's impressive and varied soundtrack work can be found on his Wikipedia entry.

Aside from these two huge contributions to life as we know it, Danny Elfman has most recently furthered his iconic status by wedding one of my all time biggest teenage crushes, ever since seeing Cameron Crowe's Singles, (Mental note, Crowe needs his own blog post on this page) Bridget Fonda. If all of us could spend just one hour living the life of Danny Elfman, then... well... more people would enjoy the film Darkman...

Roughly no one is going to agree with this selection. The thing is, the only thing keeping Counting Crows out of my all-time-top-five artists is a self imposed technicality. I simply cannot ignore the band currently balancing as my #6 when selecting the best band from their home state. Ultimately, I justify my decision with the following declaration: This is my blog, my list, and I'm open to being cajoled via the comments section.

To explain the technicality,
in order to qualify as a top-five all time artist on the OCKerouac scale, the absolute minimum qualification is 100 separate commercially available tracks. Counting up the deluxe edition releases, the previously unreleased tracks on their greatest hits CD, and even the 'posthumous' demo release available from the 'original' Crows, The Himalayans, the best I can do is 89 total tracks. I'm already pushing the boundaries of my own qualification by including a release under a different artist name, I cannot justify adding in their two-disc live release Live:Across a Wire or their recent Live from Soho iTunes exclusive release to drop them into the 5 spot, but suffice it to say, as soon as they follow up this year's Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings with another studio release, they'll be bumping Genesis out of the #5 spot.

There's something
ranging from visceral to automatic about my enjoyment of Counting Crows. Be it from repeated exposure, or because I was put on this earth in part to experience this music, I can put on the August and Everything After album, sing along to the whole thing, and get to the final bars of A Murder of One before I even realize I've been singing along. There's a comfort level there that not many records can bring me, and certainly not many full albums, track by track, for 45 minutes...

It doesn't end with August though. I know that a lot of casual 90's alt-rock fans know the August album as well as I do, but the feeling in my stomach that accompanied first working my way through Recovering the Satellites is like the blinding anguish that accompanies a school yard crush as it transforms into full blown love. I connected with this album in a way that I never have even with August. When Duritz flames through Have You Seen Me Lately growling out 'I was out on the radio starting to change, somewhere out in America it's starting to rain. Could you tell me things you remember about me, and have you seen me lately?' I am at once positive that Duritz and the Crows are playing only for me, and at the same time am acutely aware that EVERYONE feels it.

We all feel lost inside our own skin from time to time, yet so few of us can succinctly articulate the feeling, and then record it for the masses. Counting Crows can wax pathetic and co-op misery in a way that somehow we all come out the other end feeling more secure and ready to accept the next inevitable rejection. THAT is a gift...

Additional Crows coolness?
CSD Julie and I were at this show

I could easily devote
a 'where was I when' personal journey style blog post about each and every Crows album track, and Einstein on the Beach, but this thing is already getting obsessively long, so onward and upward...

Honorable Mention: Dead Kennedys
The left coast managed to produce it's fair share of liquor soaked, un-bathed, rotting, creeping, tooth-spitting punk hooligans in the heyday of punk rock, and was the hotbed & home for the 1990's ska-core and neo-punk explosions that rocked college campuses up and down the US of A. Notably included in the former, and keenly responsible for the latter were the San Francisco Bay four piece outfit known as Dead Kennedys.

It's hard to say that DK broke any ground of their own, instead choosing to stand on the shoulders of punk/hardcore giants The Ramones, The Clash, The Sex Pistols, Black Flag and Minor Threat, but the Kennedy's did something else. While perched atop the accomplishments of those who came before, their reverie turned to anger, and they began to stomp, mangle and bloody their ties to the 'Godfathers' of their genre, and when the dust settled, emerged clad in pelts made from equal parts of each member of the punk hierarchy.

They managed to implement tone and tempo, absent from most other hardcore recordings, taking after The Ramones. They managed a 'we don't care, but you should' attitude reticent of The Pistols, they screamed, thrashed and abused themselves, their instruments, and their audience a'la Flag and Threat, and added in a layer of folk-music-esque political commentary, oft described as the stand-out quality of The Clash.

The boys of DK also managed something that is oddly missing from not just punk acts throughout history, but most rock acts spanning all subgenres. They managed to encapsulate every part of themselves in multiple tracks, across multiple albums. Dead Kennedys did not go through 'phases' in which they displayed one quality on one album, and another on the next. Instead, everything you need to know about Dead Kennedys can be found in tracks like California Uber Alles, Holiday in Cambodia, their infamous live recording Pull My Strings, the classic Nazi Punks Fuck Off and their lone and brilliant love song Too Drunk to Fuck.

Behind the punk posturing to Dead Kennedys, lies a mind of true left wing anarchy fueled virtue known as Jello Biafra. Aside from fronting the influenced, and influencial Kennedys, Biafra has furthered his fame through spoken word political albums, and even made a run at the Green Party's presidential nomination, falling behind Ralph Nader for the nod in the year 2000...

That's right
, had things gone differently, Jello Biafra could have been the one diverting the votes that lead to the George W Bush presidency... Alas, that's all in the past... or... it will be in roughly 64 days.

Well,
that's about that... aside from possibly New York, I doubt any entry with match the length, and difficulty of decision making that California did. Comments are active, so lambaste away...

Next time:
We continue our alphabetic tour toward Wyoming with the unenviable task of following up the California post... We'll get Rocky Mountain High with the great state of Colorado, and mock John Denver for being born in New Mexico... But then we'll feel bad about it because he's dead...

4 comments:

OCKerouac said...

A thousand pardons for the spastic spacing. Blogger is being an A-Hole...

phil said...

I was going to suggest that you at least divide California into two states. There are only a couple of states that could hang with either SF or LA as far as the music scene. And both SoCal and NoCal would be happy to be free of the other.

But I think the pressure got to you. Counting Crows? Consider yourself mocked for that one. And as much as I love the DK's, they are minor compared to others on the list. But it is your blog.

OCKerouac said...

I may have to do a California series about 45 states or so from now...

I fully accept my mocking about the Crows, and the Kennedys were actually a last minute change. I was waffling between Green Day, Offspring, and Stone Temple Pilots, and what I came up with is that none of the three would have happened without DK...

Then again, would there have been a DK without Black Flag?

Justification is a beeotch...

CSD Julie said...

My two cents:
Bad Religion, Offspring, Social Distortion, Save Ferris, Green Day, Blink 182, No Doubt, Gwen Stefani

Honorable Mentions: Reel Big Fish, Slapstick, Go Betty Go, Skankin' Pickle