Lyn Jensen's Blog: Manga, Music, and Politics

My Photo
Location: Anaheim, California, United States

Regular contributor ("Carson City Limits" and other content) for Random Lengths (circulation 56,000) in San Pedro, CA, 2001-present. Manga reviewer: LA Alternative (circulation 150,000), 2005-2006. Some manga reviews also ran in NY Press around this time. Entertainment reporting: Music Connection (circulation 75,000), 1983-1906. Travel writing: Oakland Tribune (1998) and Life After 50 (2006). Other bylines: Goldmine, Star Hits, Los Angeles Reader, Los Angeles Times, Long Beach Press Telegram, Blade, BAM, Daily Breeze, LA Weekly. Specializations include community news reporting, writing reviews (book, theater, concert, film, music), copywriting, resumes, editing, travel writing, publicity, screenwriting, lecturing, and content development. Education: B. A. Theater Arts, UCLA. Post-grad work, Education, Chapman University.

Friday, November 21, 2014

X Plays Folk Fiasco: 7/30/81 at the Whiskey

Here's a slice of what the seventies-eighties Los Angeles music scene was like in all its goodness, badness, and ugliness—mostly its badness and ugliness.  In 1981 I sent this review (of Los Angeles punkers playing unplugged, billed as a "folk night" at the Whiskey on Sunset) to BAM. (Remember that paper?) It stood for Bay Area Music but covered Los Angeles, too.) The editor didn't get it. He sent it back with snide remarks written all over it, and I didn't write for BAM as long as that editor was around. I still think it's hilarious, though. Critical language is best when it's critical!

Good ideas should make a good show. The line-up and idea at the Whiskey on July 30 (1981) looked good. The bill said Phranc (the 'female Tom Robinson"), Tito Larriva (leader of the Plugz), and Exene and John Doe (who lead X) were getting together for an acoustic "folk music night."

How nice to see punk-rockers going back to folk! In this era it sometimes seems all music has to be amped-up and "original," like a song written by somebody else is no good. Maybe I'm too old (as in out of college) but I remember what folk shows were like in the pre-Beatle sixties. 

To me, a folk show means jamming, improvising, surprises, solos, duos, trios, and songs that have survived decades and even centuries. I don't think I was expecting too much.  I don't think anything could have prepared me for what the Whiskey passed off as a show.

For the first hour after the billed start time, nothing happened except projections of old TV commercials that appeared to be courtesy of someone's Beta Max. If I wanted to watch TV, I'd have stayed home. 

I didn't catch the name of the first guy that (finally) got on the stage and I don't think we need to publicize his appearance by publishing his name, anyway. I have nothing against sexy literature but what this guy read was the definition of "utterly without redeeming social value." It was just certain four-letter words thrown together for shock value. It wasn't poetry or literature--it had no rhyme, no rhythm, not even any expression or emotion. If a little kid wrote or said these things, he'd be spanked and sent to his room. Somebody allowed this grown man to get on a legit stage and say these things. If I want this kind of entertainment, I'll read the Whiskey's bathroom walls. 

Then came another interminable, inexcusable break for more Beta Max viewing--like anybody who wants to watch Beta Max is going to pay good money to come down to the Whiskey to do it.  Finally someone who was introduced only as “Hal” showed up with a guitar, looking like a prom-going extra from the TV show Happy Days (more TV that we left the house to get away from). 

“Hal” sang three of his own songs (I guess that’s what they were because I sure didn’t recognize them) and “Swing Low Sweet Chariot.”  He left.  Another break that must have lasted an hour—and this time, instead of a Beta Max, was a recording of a squawking woman telling racy jokes to a shrieking audience. If I want to hear squawking and shrieking, I’ll stay home and watch my parents fight.

Tito Larriva finally showed up, but it was a different image from the Larriva with flashing dark eyes and glistening good hair. He wasn’t anything like that Larriva that leads the Plugz through hard-rocking swinging music.  This Larriva wore a suit and his hair was greased, and he barely looked up as he sang his signature song “La Bamba” and two other songs in Spanish. He acted like his guitar wasn’t plugged in meant he wasn’t alive.

He left after being on-stage for perhaps ten minutes. Listen, I’m glad he performs songs from his Hispanic heritage, that’s all well and great, more power to him—but he wasn’t singing to a Hispanic audience. Would it have killed him to stay around an extra three minutes and sing a song in a language his audience could understand?

At this point we were three hours past the billed starting time and we’d seen maybe a half-hour total of anyone doing anything on-stage. Finally three-quarters of X—John Doe, Exene, and Billy Zoom—plus a guy on bass fiddle gave us a faint glimmer of what we’d expected—but only with four songs. 

John Doe sang “God Made Me, He Made a Travellin’ Man” and “Rock Island Line.” Then it was Exene’s turn, and she, dressed humorously like a Dust Bowl Okie, sang “Broken-hearted Me.” They sang a duet of “Jackson” (the duet Johnny Cash and June Carter did in the sixties). Exene danced. Billy Zoom actually looked at the audience and smiled as he played rockabilly guitar.

Did they continue?  Did they introduce the acoustic bass guy or give Billy a solo spot or call back Tito for a guest vocal?  Are you kidding?

Back to another interminable inexcusable delay—and nearly midnight. In four hours we’d seen perhaps 45 minutes of live music, and Phranc still hadn’t shown. This writer gave up and went home.

So many questions! How many people will never go to a show billed as “folk music” ever again after this exercise in audience masochism? This was a folk show—an acoustic show—no big tech demands, so why on earth were the breaks so long and the sets so short? Lastly, who’s responsible for (dis)organizing this fiasco? If he/she’s planning another one, it better be called “Boredom Night” or someone’s likely to charge false advertising.   

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Concert Review: Flashback to the Eighties With Paul Young

We're going through another wave of totally eighties flashback fever, with a retro World Series on the way. (The baseball broadcasters are getting out their MTV-era music.)  Here's a previously unpublished review of Paul Young in concert that I wrote in 1985.  OMG I loved his voice (and looks).  For what Young's doing now see his official Web site:

Atrocious stage lighting and a restless audience couldn't stop Paul Young from giving a superior performance at the Wiltern on June 12 [1985].  Half the show was below average (by Young's standards), but "Love of the Common People" and a string of other songs clicked and the distractions suddenly weren't so distracting anymore.

In England Young's status is right up on the charts with the likes of Culture Club.  In this country he may be best-known as the guy that sings before Boy George on the Band Aid record but he's got the basics to be a major star here as well.  He's got a classic bluesy voice, virile build and big dark soulful eyes, but he couldn't tour last year so was unable to capitalize on the success of his No Parlez album. 

This tour can't afford a bad part, and tonight Young's voice began as rough and incomprehensible--not in good voice, along with that miserable spotty lighting.  Then his a capella rendition of Sam Cooke's "Cupid" changed everything.  He went through his best songs (penned by Los Angeles music vet Jack Lee), "Come Back and Stay" and "Sex" (that included a verse of FGTH's hit "Relax" thrown in).  Here he hit notes beautifully, throwing himself and his mike stand at the female portion of the audience--and of course graciously accepting their flowers and teddy bears.  It was a seductive and sexy (but not tacky) finale.  The momentum built up and carried him through his encores, "Broken Man" and his current single, "Every Time You go Away," which could be his much-needed breakout American hit.

One of the reasons the momentum picked up was that Young's backing band, The Royal Family, was finished showcasing themselves.  They're no match for Young's showmanship and they amounted to just one more distraction.

As for those other distractions--some restless members of the audience apparently insisted on standing (not even dancing, not even watching) for The Royal Family and made anyone with a seat behind them wish for comfortable shoes (or that the idiots would sit down).  However, the award for Egomaniac of the Evening goes to that atrocious visual lighting crew, who must have had fun flashing powerful spotlights directly into the audience's eyes all evening long.  Next time you guys want to light up the audience--turn the house lights on!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Style and Effect in A HARD DAY'S NIGHT

In observance of the fiftieth anniversary of the Beatles' pioneering rock movie, A Hard Day's Night (1964), I've reached into my archives for an academic paper I wrote about it for UCLA film school circa 1979--I couldn't just review the film, I had to analyze its cinematic style. 

The professor and teaching assistant hated it and gave it a bad grade and wrote condescending negative comments all over it.  I guess it wasn't full of enough Marxist-Freudian film-school terminology for them, or something.  However, it represented my thoughts on the movie (as well as my development as a rock journalist) at that time. 

 Since the entire paper runs more than 2700 words, I've posted it in my portfolio.  Here's the abstract/introduction:

A Hard Day’s Night (1964) owes its effect to a film style characteristic of the 1960’s.  In it rock music and British New Wave cinema combine to create a high-energy, relentlessly compelling, and hilarious docu-drama (actually, docu-comedy).  The Beatles—and their music—match the high-energy style that grips the viewer’s attention.  As often, the British New Wave cinematic style gave the feeling of a documentary, and here the effect is enhanced by what goes on in front of the camera.  When the film deviates from a documentary style, it’s to provide a higher level of energetic rock ‘n’ roll excitement.  In turn involving viewers in this high level of creative energy is entirely appropriate to a film starring the Beatles, who were part of the changing times and the musical counter-culture of the sixties.

A Hard Day’s Night remains important because it functions as a contemporary viewpoint that tells a story about some of the most influential musicians of this century—early rock stars when the genre was still being created.  The movie remains contemporary, not an artificially backwards look.  (Artificially backwards looks are provided in the sixties-set period pieces Stardust and I Wanna Hold Your Hand, for example.)

At the time A Hard Day’s Night was made, rock was still considered a type of non-music—no history, no theory, no culture.  [Note:  If you disagree, I suggest you read the first American reviews of the Beatles’ music.  Perhaps one critic wrote something positive but that had nothing to do with the collective social  and cultural attitudes of the time.]  The Beatles—partly because of this movie—changed that—along with being a part of so many other changes in the sixties.  This film was not made with any magic insight into the future—no film is.  Instead it records and presents a spirit that nurtured rock into an entire counter-culture movement, into one of the basic ingredients of what made the sixties what they were.

Here's the link:

Monday, August 25, 2014

When George Michael Was in Wham!

Remember when George was half of Wham! and Andrew Ridgeley was the other half? Here's my never-before-published review of one of their music video collections. I never quite understood why publications seldom reviewed long-form music videos back in the eighties.  Maybe the video manufacturers didn't curry favor with the press, or something.

You're not supposed to take Wham! as contributors to a great art form--their music is meant to be light entertainment.  (The name is Wham! because another group was Wham.)  Their long-form VHS cassette, Wham! The Video (CBS Fox) presents an almost complete collection of their clips.  Unfortunately one of their best, "Young Guns," is missing while "Last Christmas," doesn't truly belong here (it's for the holidays, yeah) but it's included anyway.

What these individual clips demonstrate is that the duo's early punk-like raps remain their best works.  They're fairly well conceptualized and edited, exuding youthful energy.  The later videos and songs (with a few exceptions) lack the proper blend of musical and visual artistry.  George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley apparently don't conceive their own videos, so they're at the mercy of their directors--who many not have an artistic eye for matching visuals with the music.  Best of the more recent songs is "Club Tropicana," and it gets an appropriate setting, with the Wham! boys and their back-up singers, Shirlee and Pepsi, eyeing each other at a posh tropical resort.  By contrast, "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" and "Everything She Wants" are great songs but the videos are very poorly crafted.  Couldn't somebody have come up with anything better?

Wham! routinely gets slammed for appealing to young girls, (So what's wrong with that?)  This package shows there's more to their best work than just good looks.  Even with flaws, here's the kind of fun you can unwind with at the end of a long working day.  

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Review: Adam Ant, Strip (1983)

All the writing I did about Adam Ant--only a small portion of it was ever published in the eighties. My review of his 1983 album Strip never was, so I'm posting it here for my fellow Ant people.

What Adam Ant needs right now is an album with three potential hits the size of "Goody Two Shoes."  This isn't that album, and it may be a sign he's more interested in videos, films and touring than putting new material on vinyl right now.

Adam simply sounds like he's been listening to Prince too much--maybe his record company pressured him to make an album for the Prince crowd?  The sound here isn't beat-oriented Ant music for Sex people, it's more like disco/MOR-oriented synth-pop even without any synthesizers being credited.  Not long ago, this guy had a line in a song about, "Your body should be yours, and sharing it sublime."  Now he's delivered an entire album about "get down, get off" and girls in sports cars.

The only two tracks worth singling out are the ones Phil Collins produced, where something that remotely sounds like rock or New Wave comes through.  One is "Strip," a decent hit and decently risqué song.  The other is "Puss in Boots" which owes its catchy style more to Collins' drumming than anything else. 

Otherwise forget about enjoying Adam's vocals or lyrics--his great voice is done no favors by the arrangements, and the lyrics aren't worth fighting though the retro-disco beat to pick out. The remainder of songs are all imitation Prince--even including an ode to Prince's much-favored T&A support act, Vanity.  "Montreal" is about sexual excess but it's nothing "Lady Marmalade" and La Belle didn't do better last decade (so 1974).  "Playboy" at least handles humorously what the rest of the album takes far too seriously.

Overall Strip isn't very sexy and not much of a musical tribute to anything but trash.  Out of ten songs, at least seven come off as slapped-together filler vainly attempting to cash in on Prince's sexy success--like Adam Ant needs to imitate any other musical artist's turf.  Prince did a song about "Sister," so "Navel to Neck" could be about keeping it in the family, too.  "Amazon" could have been a good Adam Ant song--but as performed here, it's just another pathetic attempt to cash in on something like what Prince might do.

It makes me wonder what kind of compromises between artist and record company were made so the company would have product to push until the artist gets around to pleasing his fans.  The come-hither cover photo sets up classic romance for a female audience--but the songs appear aimed at macho male Playboy readers.  Rock fans won't like this record, and neither will the dance-pop crowd.  They'll stick with the real Prince, not an imitation. 

Saddest is that we Ant people must wait at least another year before we may finally get the blockbuster three-hit album that we know Adam Ant's capable of.  We'll wait but the momentum that "Goody Two Shoes" built is going to go away, and less serious fans will move on to rival romantic pop heroes.