Friday, February 22, 2013


*Congrats to our friend RJ Smith, whose book The One: The Life and Music of James Brown was nominated as a finalist yesterday for the 2012 L.A. Times Book Prize. Check out the Beast's two-part interview with RJ here.

*This weekend at the Event Center in Compton will be a gala event surrounding the 28th anniversary of Life Is A Saxophone, S. Pearl Sharp's 1983 documentary about Leimert Park poet Kamau Daa'ood. Check out an excerpt from the film below:

*We just found this terrific clip of Bill Cosby on some TV set (complete with timecode at the bottom) talking about Lester Bowie:

*Aaaaand lastly but not leastly, Wilco's Solid Sound Festival 2013 lineup was recently announced. Check Out the preview below:

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Have We Been Down This Blogroll Before?


(The A.V. Club)

(Dangerous Minds)

(Mostly Music)


(A Blog Supreme)

(PopMatters Music)

(Flavorwire Music)


(Consequence of Sound)

(Brooklyn Vegan)

(Chicago Reader)

(Chicago Reader)

(L.A. Record)

(Dangerous Minds)


(Sound of the City)

(The Rumpus)

(Slicing Up Eyeballs)

(Burning Ambulance)

(New York Times)
(Pop + Hiss)

(Oliver Wang's Soul Sides)

(Pitchfork Media)

(Blu Notes)


(Point of Departure)
(Perfect Sound Forever)
(Indiana Public Media)
(The Gig)
(The Journal of Music)

Friday, February 15, 2013


Austin Peralta

The Beast has been remiss in posting this week, but we've been busy elsewhere. Here's our latest live reviews from the Los Angeles Magazine blog:


Charlie Haden

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Silkworm [UPDATED]


One of the final bits of wisdom in Searching for Sugar Man comes from one of Rodriguez's construction buddies, who compares him to a silkworm: "Someone who takes the raw material of life and transforms it into something beautiful, something transcendent, something eternal."

It reminded the Beast of a scene from the 2010 documentary Catfish, which Sugar Man somewhat resembles. In the former, the husband of a lonely, frustrated artist who has created curtains of internet-born mystery around herself compares her to the titular fish, which ships transporting cod from Asia to North America would throw into the tanks to keep the captive cod agile: "There are those people who are catfish in life, and they keep you on your toes, keep you guessing, keep you thinking, keep you fresh....and I thank god for the catfish because we'd be boring and dull if we didn't have someone nipping at our fins."

It's a definition which has now entered the modern lexicon thanks to the film's recent MTV spinoff. But the Beast thinks there's another type out there -- the Silkworm, someone who quietly transforms life into art in isolation from the mainstream. What's more, there's been a particular type of "Silkworm project" that we've noticed over the last decade or so -- and most of them are music documentaries. They usually involve tracking down an unappreciated or forgotten cult artist. Here's our top five Silkworm projects:

Jandek on Corwood (2003) Probably our favorite and the creepiest of the lot. This doc is notable for being about an experimental freak-folk artist from Texas so willfully obscure that he doesn't even appear in the film. (We only hear his voice from a lone phone interview.)

You Think You Really Know Me: The Gary Wilson Story (2005) Name-checked as an influence by Beck and the founders of Sub Pop Records, Gary Wilson recorded exactly one 1977 album of bizarre experimental cocktail jazz before dropping off the face of the earth. Probably the most similar to Sugar Man in structure.

Paul Williams Still Alive (2011) OK, this guy was pretty unavoidable in the '70s, when he wrote hit songs for The Carpenters, Helen Reddy, David Bowie (??) and Kermit the Frog. (Not to mention about 287 Tonight Show appearances.) But then he sort of disappeared into coke and alcohol addiction. Filmmaker Stephen Kessler charts his own cloying "search" for one of his heroes, who is now clean and sober and President of ASCAP.

In the Realms of the Unreal: The Mystery of Henry Darger (2004) Jessica Yu's gorgeous, disquieting and groundbreaking documentary uncovers the itinerant life of a disturbed Chicago artist who was an "outsider" in the most expansive sense of the term: The man lived his entire life in anonymity and his art was discovered only when they were cleaning out his one-room apartment.

Mingering Mike (2007) A joint book-art-film project centering around the album cover art of a fictional 1960's soul/funk singer named "Mingering Mike." A true inspiration to those of us who created album cover artwork for our own phantom music careers. (Guilty!) The amateur artist who created Mingering Mike has even released a full-length album called Super Gold Greatest Hits.

UPDATE (3/9/13): Wow, talk about "serendipity-doo," turns out there was an actual post-punk band from Chicago called Silkworm and there's a new documentary out about them with commentaries by Stephen Malkmus, Jeff Tweedy, Steve Albini, Clint Conley and more. We haven't seen it yet, but check out the trailer below:

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Music Detectives

The first sound we hear is a sharp, percussive acoustic guitar followed by a vaguely echoing voice that sounds like it's been leaked from the mists of time -- which as it turns out, it has. It's a sort of a cross between the folk-pop singer Jim Croce and a less-nasal Dylan, stark and soulful, like a light in a window by the dark sea. It begins to sing lyrics that are both gritty and mystical:

Lost my heart
When I found it
It had turned to dead, black coal
Silver magic ships, you carry
Jumpers, coke, sweet maryjane...
Sugar Man, you're the answer

The lyrics and music were composed in the late 1960's by a second-generation Mexican day laborer named Sixto Díaz Rodriguez, who had been busking around the anonymous taverns and dives of Detroit's bombed-out Wharfs Riverside district. He released just two nil-selling albums -- Cold Fact (1970) and Coming From Reality (1971) -- before being dropped by his label and, ostensibly, dropping off the face of the earth. Rumors of his demise were profligate and ugly: he blew his brains out onstage; no wait, he set himself on fire onstage; he died in prison; he succumbed to a drug overdose.

They were also wholly inaccurate. As Malik Bendjelloul 's quietly startling documentary Searching For Sugar Man, reveals, Sixto Rodriguez is alive and well and living in the same small house in downtown Detroit that he's lived in for 40 years. He still cleans people's lawns, knocks down sheds, dabbles as a carpenter and construction worker. If he plays any music, it appears, it's by himself in a modest room that's heated with a wood-burning stove. Until 1998, he apparently remained completely unaware that half a planet away in South Africa, his two forgotten albums had made him, in the words of one giddy admirer, "bigger than Elvis."

There are many lucky coincidences and convergences in Searching for Sugar Man, which was justly nominated for Best Documentary Feature for this year's Academy Awards. If you set the remarkable set of circumstances and the Sherlock Holmes detective story shaped by the film aside, the whole project would not have worked had Rodriguez's music not stood the tests of time so well. Like his fellow Detroiters The Stooges, Rodriguez's music reflected the gritty harshness of urban life in America while not being directly about it. It carried grains of soul and R&B -- the label's founder was an ex-Motown executive -- and electric folk. ("Soul folk" might be a more accurate description.) Rodriguez's lyrics -- elliptical, metaphoric, removed, oblique -- unmoored the songs from any time capsule. Only the occasional syrupy string section, tinkle of a xylophone or bloat of easy-listening horns could enable one to nail it down as the early 1970s.

It was this quality that allowed Rodriguez's songs to float halfway across the earth and settle in bootleg form in the old vinyl shops in Cape Town, where they were memorized rallying cries for a generation of young, mostly white South Africans who were beginning to question to the inequalities of Apartheid. One of the pivotal players in Rodriguez's unlikely "comeback" -- a record-shop owner named Stephen Segerman, dubbed "Sugar" by his compatriots -- testifies that the song told him and his that "It was okay to be angry at your society." The P.W.Botha regime soon caught on and certain rabble-rousing tracks like "This Is Not A Song, It's An Outburst, Or: The Establishment Blues" were literary scratched with sharp tools to keep DJs from playing them on state-owned radio.

One of the rare gaps of Bendjelloul's film is that it never directly addresses why the radicalized generations who responded to Rodriguez's Aquarian-age protests seemed to be mostly white; they included including university students, journalists, aficionados and musicians who made up the subsequent "Afrikaners" music movement. It almost invites this query in shots of adoring crowds at Rodriguez's triumphant March 1998 "comeback" concert in Cape Town in March 1998, which show virtually no black faces. It's one of the rare gaps in the film that explains why this was, and it bodes the questions: Did any black South Africans respond to Rodriguez? (Follow-up: Does Charlize Theron like Rodriguez?)

But when the film showcases the music itself, often with intricate animation or foreboding shots of burnt-out Detroit, does it truly come alive. Suddenly, the subtle swell of French horns buoying the transcendent "Crucify Your Mind" or the bed of strings that uplift the devastating lyrics of "Cause" aren't cheesy reminders of a studio era best left in the past but lift these simple, skeletal songs to greatness. Everybody involved in this music at the outset -- the producers, the engineers, the musicians, the artist himself -- did everything right. We feel their confusion and heartbreak when the first album sold, by one estimation, six copies in America. Steve Rowland, who produced Coming From Reality, plays "Cause" and notes that Rodriguez's opening line "I lost my job two week before Christmas" wound up actually happening when A&M Records dropped him just before the holidays. "Nobody was even invested in listening to this," the baffled man says before practically breaking into tears at the rawness of the music. "How can that be?"

Surrounding the heartbroken and the jubilant alike is Rodriguez himself -- a little frailer, a little more bent, still dressed in all-black with dark sunglasses like some lost link between Johnny Cash and José Feliciano -- who despite his "resurrection" maintains a sort of monkish life of willful poverty and quietly busying himself in community politics that the filmmakers allude to as being almost Christlike. He cannot -- or will not -- reflect on his situation. "I don't know if it would have been better," he says after a question about how his life would have been different if he had been more famous with typical stoicism. "But it's certainly a thought." Even reporters notice his reticence when confronted with what to them is the ultimate question: The "miracle" of his final, long earned acceptance. ("Most of us die without ever having come anywhere close to that sort of magic," one marvels with typical overheatedness. "Home is acceptance.") The film alludes to something beyond this question, something that Sixto Rodriguez, in all his quiet reticence and deferential dry humor and gnostic life of simple things, may know but won't divulge. It was, after all, his hard-earned path. He lived silently amongst the filth and chaos for over 40 years without once picking up a gun and going postal on the rest of us.