Monday, December 27, 2010

R.I.P. Lady T

Mary Christine Brockert, better known as R&B/funk diva Teena Marie, passed away yesterday at her California home. She was 54. Her 1979 debut album Wild and Peaceful, purposefully did not include a photo of the white singer, and as a result, many listeners (my mom included) and DJs believed the singer to be black.

Teena Marie, a protegee of the late Rick James and "Motown's first white act"* is not only one of the greatest funk vocalists, but a multi-instrumentalist (she played guitar, congas and keys) and a producer and arranger who was also responsible for what is known as "The Brockert Initiative," a landmark music law that made it illegal for a record company to keep an artist under contract without releasing any new material. The law, which arose from a legal battle Marie was fighting with Berry Gordy and Motown, helped other Motown acts like Mary Jane Girls and Luther Vandross leave the company and seek out supportive labels to work with.

After an almost 15 year hiatus, the creator of amazing funk love anthems like "Lovergirl," "Fire and Desire" (one of her duets with James), "Ooo La La La" (which was of course sampled by the Fugees) and the gorgeous multi-layered "Portuguese Love" reemerged with the Grammy nominated La Doña in 2004, and continued to release music up until her passing, with last year's Congo Square, her 13th album. A true diva, innovator, and soul filled legend, she will be missed, but somewhere in Heaven, she and Rick are having a ball.

* not technically true, as Rare Earth preceded her and the little known rock act The Rustix, who provided no hits for the label preceded them

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Open Post: Dam-Funk Has Always Been Cooler Than You.

So, this "new" (the tracks were all made between the years 1988-1992) album came out a short while ago, and it is the only thing I want to listen to, ever. I already have been obsessing over Dam-Funk for some time now, but when I copped this at Reckless Records over Thanksgiving I pretty much stopped caring about anything else. Toeachizown is a flawless synth masterpiece, but this record, Adolescent Funk, is truly special because he made it while most of his peers were gang banging, drug selling and jerking off.

When I think back to my high school years, I remember getting high and listening to MF Doom and failing trigonometry. But Dam was killing it and making bedroom funk synth symphonies in his actual bedroom. I mean, fuck. It's not like I have ever tried or wanted to play a Casio SK-1, but still. I listen to this record and I think, "I was never, and will never be this cool. Deal with it." Just look at the cover photo: Jesus. Why wasn't he my high school boyfriend? Whoever that adorable piece in the cut out black dress and patterned nylons is knows what I'm talking about. She's looking at the camera like, yeah, we're in love. And yeah, we will have amazing 16 year-old sex to the sounds of Mtume and Kleeer. And yes, I will be keeping these hoops on. What a dreamboat.

All 14 tracks on this album are contagiously slinky and amazing, but my favorite is Side D which contains the kiss off "I Don't Love U" and the insanely repeatable "Attitude," a warning to any and all moody ladies out there. Dam does NOT think that shit is cute and he will ignore your pages. Young Dam is an introspective lover, a gentle genius who just wants to love you and treat you right, all night, but has no problem breaking hearts if need be ("I Don't Want U" and the love triangle jam "When I'm With U I Think Of Her"). All he asks is that you chill out on the drama and wear those tight spandex pants ("I Like Your Big Azz (Girl)"). Totally reasonable, I think.

The outro at the end of the album is my favorite end to this funk odyssey: a young heartbroken lady (perhaps one of the ones from the front or back cover art? There are several hot young things from Dam's seminal high school days featured, including the star of the show in the aforementioned backless number) apologizes for her nasty sass and admits that not only was she in the wrong, but that she deserved to be dumped and will use this experience in her future relationships. She also hopes they can still be friends. And loves him very much. I don't care if that message is genuinely from a resident of Dam's Heartbreak Hotel or is just his cousin doing the recording for him as a favor for $5 and a bag of Cheetos, it is the best use of an answering machine since the intro on Biggie's "One More Chance."

Peanut Butter Wolf put this gem together after listening to some of Dam's work from his formative years. He originally intended to release a couple 7-inches, but after his wife cried while listening to "It's My Life!" (really) he decided it all was too good to choose just two tracks. Dam told him to pick the songs, the artwork, (that must have been just as hard as picking the song selection, actually) and that he didn't want to see the project until it was complete. And here we are. Dam-Funk, to quote your exquisite poetry, "I Wanna Thank You for (Steppin Into My Life)."

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Bucket List Achievements: Ann Powers Knows Who I Am

My heart feels so full and wonderful right now, like it's a freshly blown balloon made out of hopes, dreams and the lifelong desire to become relevant in the field that matters to you.

Quick back story: I haven't been writing. At all. For those who care, or accidentally stumble upon TDOS, my last written expression is a half paragraph about the okayafrica festival. To put this into perspective, I have written more impassioned and thought provoking Trader Joe's grocery lists since then. (The Candy Cane JoJo's ice cream is really quite something.) At Thanksgiving, my mom, various cousins and friends all asked why I had stopped writing. My brother recently told me it made him sad to know that I no longer did the one thing that I had done for myself, regardless of whether or not I had a job (or even an internship) at a respected publication or had people reading my work, period. I have been told that it doesn't matter if I am blogging, scratching away on a napkin, or jotting down thoughts in a Lisa Frank notebook; I should be writing. Doesn't matter if it's good, if it's bad, or if it is documented proof that I am slowly going insane from hanging out with children all day (and there is the simplest reason for my lack of inspiration or willingness to create; cash does, in fact, rule everything around me, and being a nanny, while fulfilling and lucrative, wears the FUCK out of you). I moved to New York to someday be Touré. The white, Jewish, female Touré. Because I love soul music. Because I love R&B. Because I can happily produce 1,000 words on why I still, at the age of almost 25, can relate, in a completely not ironic way, to a Mariah Carey song. Because, after a satisfying, successful and resume building college career at Boston's best entertainment weekly, after running the best damn soul, R&B and slow jams radio program this side of the Mississippi, and after managing a staff of writers and photographers for one of the best college radio station's websites in the country, I knew I had something to offer. I had sat with legends, face to face, and asked them what made them tick, I had spoken to my heroes across time zones and oceans on the telephone, picking their brains and trying my best not to embarrass myself, and most importantly, I had learned from the best mentors, editors and writers around. I had, at the young age of 22, accomplished things I never thought I could. I had taken every opportunity thrown my way, worked ungodly hours, utilized the tools given me, and spent every waking minute working, and loving it.

And since then, I haven't done a fraction of any of that. Part of it is circumstance, I graduated at one of the worst times ever to try and find a job, of any kind, the industry in which I wanted to go into isn't what it used to be, I have an ego, but not that big of an ego to pursue music criticism, the music I care about isn't as fairly represented as it should be, I don't want to compromise my tastes, I'm a cry baby, I'm a girl and the only people I know who are successfully being published in this field are boys, boys that once were under my editorship in college, who I would like to say, I am so very proud of, and I mean that from the bottom of my heart, I'm too busy, I need money, I am not good enough, I am only one in a million. And of course, and most importantly, I gave up.

I admit this. And I will also admit that I have made plenty of excuses, reasons and justifications over the past year and a half too, but this is the first time I have said (or typed) out loud that I gave up. Threw in the towel. Blew it. Dropped any and all balls. But that's OK. Because I knew that someday my desire to talk shit, spout my unwanted and unwarranted opinions (which are totally right, by the way) and to blast superfluous blog posts about Charlie Wilson and Crystal Waters into the void of the internet would come back. I knew it would. My family and friends did too. Because the only thing that matches the amount of indignant self righteous taste making bullshit I have within me, is the support of my loved ones. No sarcasm, no jokes, no goofs. It's true. And I am grateful.

The only thing was, I didn't know how or when it would come back. But that's the whole crux of the biscuit isn't it? Writer's block, periods of depression, bird flu and Athlete's foot all have their own time tables, and no amount of tough love, Target brand foot cream or naps will make it end. I knew this, so I waited. I abandoned TDOS (I'm sorry to like, 2 people), I stopped applying for writing industry jobs, stopped networking, and waited. I waited almost a year. And then, one day (yesterday actually), the switch flipped.

My dear friend, co-blogger and music soul mate Ben sent me this email last night, at 6:30 PM:

Uh, your This Is It piece is in the other notable music writing appendix of BMW '10!!!! did you know that?! Congratulations! We need to celebrate this.

Hope all else is well by you.

Of course I did not know that. At that exact moment, I was watching Scooby-Doo with a five year-old. I had completely forgotten, that sometime last year I had in fact, in a bout of inspiration, submitted a few of my pieces to Daphne Carr and the gang at Best Music Writing for 2010 consideration. They politely let me know that they got my submissions, and thanked me. Quite frankly, I was just happy I got an email back from them. I then promptly forgot about all of it. (In fact, our good friend Kyle, who designed our lovely site, was the reason Ben found out in the first place. He just happened to be skimming through the list in the appendix and found me. Just like that. I probably wouldn't have known until I bought the book myself.)

I didn't believe it. I made Ben text me a picture of my name in the appendix. I then tried to Google my name and the book together, but all that came up was my LinkedIn profile. Trife. And when I just tried searching for a list of pieces included in this year's appendix, I came across this:

NYC Thanksgiving Week Double Header

Let's hear it for New York! While there is always a large number of critics in NYC who make it into the pages of BMW*, this is a true banner year for New Yorkers in the book. So, we have an extra special two day extravaganza of writers, henceforth named The Best Music Writing 2010 Thanksgiving Week Double Header:

Monday, November 22, 2010
7pm, Housing Works Cafe
126 Crosby Street New York, NY 1001
Free (please bring used books to donate)

Hosted by Guest Editor Ann Powers and Series Editor Daphne Carr
Readings by 2010 Contributors: Raquel Cepeda, Robert Christgau, Sasha Frere-Jones, Lola Ogunnaike, Starrene Rhett, Jody Rosen, Alex Ross, and Greg Tate

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Free, 7pm, SouthPaw
125 Fifth Ave. Brooklyn, NY 11217
Hosted by Guest Editor Ann Powers and Series Editor Daphne Carr
Readings by 2010 Contributors: Nitsuh Abebe, Jon Caramanica, Jason Fine, Maura Johnston, Evie Nagy, Tavia Nyong’o, Christopher R. Weingarten

GOD FUCKING DAMN IT. Talk about being oblivious. Instead of being in a car for 14 hours on the way to Chicago, I could have been hobnobbing with Robert Christgau and Sasha Frere-Jones. Thanksgiving dinner this year was good, but not that good (with respect to my aunt's ginger cheesecake that she made just for me, of course). To be fair, they didn't contact me to let me know I was selected, and I assume this is because I wasn't published in the book, only included in the appendix. Which is totally fine, I just wish I wasn't a bonehead and had followed up.

The Best Music Writing series, for those of you philistines out there, is to put it simply, the truth. I have been pouring over these anthologies for years. It's like Christmas. Each piece in the book is a new gift to unwrap and all of them are worth unwrapping. The guest editors are some of my heroes, and the contributors are people I would be honored to share a Twix bar with, let alone an appendix. So now, Isabelle Davis, and her "notable" (!!!!!!!!!) blog post "That Really Was It: Michael Jackson's THIS IS IT" are hanging out on page 318 nestled between people like Rob Harvilla of the Village Voice, Jess Harvell of Idolator, NICK FUCKING HORNBY, GREIL MARCUS, KELEFA SENNEH, DANYEL SMITH, ROB SHEFFIELD and MY PERSONAL HERO, Touré. Touré. Fucking Touré.

My name is in a book. My name, and the title of a piece I wrote, and believed in, is mentioned among a list of luminaries and recommended reading. Now allow me to be self indulgent and congratulatory for one quick, all caps second: SOMETHING I WROTE IS CONSIDERED NOTABLE BY PEOPLE WHO MATTER. I AM LISTED AS SOMETHING WORTH READING, ALONG WITH PEOPLE WHO SHOULD BE REQUIRED READING. I AM MENTIONED IN A BOOK ABOUT THINGS BEING GOOD. A BOOK WITH THE WORD "BEST" IN THE TITLE.

Now if you'll excuse me, I am going to celebrate.