Must’ve been the spicy food. I had a whole bunch of weird dreams the other morning, vivid psychedelic dreams. In one, I was told by a sidewalk psychic that my dog was in danger of being sliced up by an expert swordsman lurking nearby, but not to worry; a moment later, the swordsman materialized, but the dog danced around the attacker and his swinging blade, repeatedly lunging up and chewing his face off in the process. We left the fool’s shredded body in the gutter, covered with a black blanket.
In another part of the dream, I was walking through a video gamescape, like an early Renaissance European city, and I wandered off the main course to examine a glint in the shadows. Next to a huge set of double doors, like a cathedral entrance, was a sparkly beggar, an Easter egg in the game, and when I reached out to touch him, the prize added to my inventory was a “magic porno carpet.” Suddenly I was airborne, naked, en flagrante delicto on a flying carpet, ravenously and gleefully humping away with a beautiful genie while, below, a Merrie Melodies version of the cityscape from The Thief of Baghdad whizzed by. Then I found myself back before the double doors, and where the beggar had been was a huge glowing gold cross like the ones on the sails of Columbus’ ships, which I touched, and the doors opened, and a glorious, luminous cathedral beckoned me in. “Not my time to go yet, San Pedro,” I said, then I shambled off down the road, looking for the next glint from the shadows.
I wish I had a magic porno carpet. Gosh darn, I’d settle for a simple old magic carpet sometimes, if it would give me temporary escape from this town. Not that I want to leave this town, mind you; I like it, and I like the sense of community here, and the friends I have and the people I know, but there are times when I have what are impolitely called “WTF moments,” and I wonder what it is that keeps me here, and why the hell I just don’t pack up what little I have and try for better luck somewhere else.
Case in point: There’s a nightclub up the street from where I type this, Azukar Lounge, which caters to the kind of oontz-oontz Hummer-limo crowd that, well, it just isn’t my thing. It’s the kind of joint that I really dig in principle, because its clientele is pan-ethnic and out to have a funky good time, a place where the mooks and mookettes from Jersey Shore might land if they deigned to host a Chicken Cutlet Guido Fist-Pump Night in our fair city (which just might motivate me into visiting Azukar if I could get by their stringent-for-hippies dress-code enforcers, but that’s another story). Azukar, perhaps Sacramento’s shining exponent of the Maloof aesthetic, recently got into a bit of a messy tête-à-tête with some skanky subterranean nightclub booking agency over a scheduled appearance by the spectacularly multi-talented Kim Kardashian, whose non-derriere-related assets somehow escape me, although I’m sure they’re there somewhere. I mean, when Spencer Pratt wants you to be the first non-Heidi artist signed to Heidi Montag Records, you know you’ve got some stellar assets, right?
So apparently Azukar thought they’d booked the spectacularly talented Quim Lardassian for an extra-special appearance on April 29, but there was some kind of mix-up, and Ms. Kardashian will not be there to recreate the golden scenes from her famous video masterwork with former boyfriend Ray J, brother of actress-singer Brandy. Now, Mr. Ray J himself is no stranger to Azukar; having appeared there last November. No report on whether he displayed any of the talents demonstrated in his screen debut with Ms Quim.
I guess if there’s some factor of butthurt on my part related to a local nightclub booking someone who’s claim to fame is that she was a demonstratively lousy lay in a celebrity sex tape — and I use the term celebrity loosely, because she seems to lack that iconic status of a Charles Nelson Reilly or a Jaye P. Morgan, both of whom actually did something other than going shopping and getting peed on by some rapper to merit their fame — it’s that Azukar was willing to pay her $11,000, plus hotel suites for her entourage and black Escalades to ferry them about, to make an appearance in their club. To me, that marks Sacramento as a monumental embarrassment in the milieu of popular culture.
Okay, it is a weird little world we live in, and I guess I’m having trouble living in a city that will pony up eleven grand to some Los Angeles turboshopper with a large ass and putatively not large brains, but can’t seem to support an original local music scene. Yes, apples and oranges; the people who go pay for overpriced drinks in oontz-oontz joints are not the same people who go out to see live music, and the people who go out to see live music are sitting around watching Lost and talking about their J.J. Abrams is a genius fixations. Or maybe they’re just not interested in the current crop of local musicians, or they don’t know about them, or whatever.
I have a vested interest in this, because even at the ripe old age of 55, I’ve discovered that what most I want to do is play and sing the songs I’ve written in front of people, and go into the studio and record the songs I’ve written, and generally just make a little joyful music. The world may disagree, or at least feign indifference, but I think I write some pretty good tunes. One of these days, I’ll finally push that boulder uphill far enough that I will release an album of my songs. Maybe I will find some people to back me up so I can get bookings outside of the solo singer-songwriter ghetto. I’m gonna keep at it, because for me to give up, I’d probably die a little too much inside, and I’ve already relived large parts of the Old Testament Book of Job over the past few years, and, dammit, I don’t want to give up. I would like to avoid moving to Los Angeles, or Portland, or Austin, or somewhere that might recognize and respond to what I have to offer. But I will, if I get to that point where I realize that trying to make it in Sacramento is an exercise in futility. Some days, I think I’ve arrived at that place.
If you’re reading this as a humble call for some kind of help, you’re probably right. —Jackson Griffith
Last weekend I went to Old Ironsides, a fine old bar in downtown Sacramento, to see DoomBird, a new band that’s been making some seriously wonderful noise in these parts. I’d seen the last three or four songs in a set by the same band a week before, at Luigi’s Fun Garden, which left enough of an aftertaste that I made it a big priority to get down to Old I on Saturday. And having a copy of the the band’s unreleased album really helped convince me of the wisdom of that decision.
I’ll make no bones about my love for Baroque pop music. Brian Wilson is still my number-one guy in the record-making department, with the Beach Boys’ 1966 masterpiece Pet Sounds, along with Smile, which Wilson reconstituted from a cancelled 1967 Beach Boys release. Van Dyke Parks’ 1968 album Song Cycle is another favorite, along with Randy Newman’s skein of Reprise albums in the late 1960s and early ’70s. And I love all those Jimmy Webb songs that people like Glen Campbell were covering. Not to mention more obscure SoCal Baroque sides like “My World Fell Down” by Sagittarius.
So, well, I just have to go on and on with how completely knocked out and bowled over by this 10-song album from DoomBird that someone passed my way, which I’m presuming is self-titled. This is a great album. To nick what David Watts Barton said a year ago about Christian Kiefer, Jefferson Pitcher and Matthew Gherkin’s sprawling song cycle about the American presidents, Of Great and Mortal Men, I think this may be the greatest thing to ever come out of this town, musically speaking. I don’t like to blather with the hyperbole like a dog slobbering over a nearby steak dinner, but homina homina, this thing is fucking brilliant.
The album opens with a bit of plainsong, songwriter Kris Anaya singing over a fingerpicked acoustic guitar figure juxtaposed with an electric on “Crooked Heart,” with cellos and flutes. Very Beatle-like, with sweet little dissonances popping up for nice flavoring. “Naked” follows, a stunning track that rides on a shimmering wave of orchestration anchored by a piano, with oscillating instruments out of the Steve Reich or Philip Glass playbook rolling under the incredibly catchy “Too many mistakes have ripped off all of my clothes” chorus. Jeebus, two songs in and I’m thoroughly enamored. It’s like Animal Collective meets Smile. A trippy instrumental figure in the middle, a fake fade, and then the chorus comes back in. Third song is “Petty Lies,” which lopes along like Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon,” with acoustic guitar, with angelic backup vocals. The song stops and starts, with a simple orchestral interlude that’s Van Dyke Parks meets Ennio Morricone, and then the guitar and organ: “There’s no place for me in your life/ I can’t beg you for mercy/ You told me not to try.” Fuck. Devastating. “Sick of Fighting” has an andante pizzicato thrust, driven by what sounds like a harpsichord. “If the candle burns at both ends, which flame will burn out?” Anaya asks. “Are you running scared?” There’s a lot of space in the track, which coalesces into heaviness on the chorus, and there’s more of that Sergio Leone-movie guitar and organ. I really love what follows: “Mood Ring” opens with cello and flute, which flower into a string quartet, an effect that’s beautiful and dreamlike. “I would walk for miles to hear you sing,” Anaya sings in a gentle melodic figure that soars upward in Wilsonesque fashion. But it’s the way the track finishes that’s truly jaw-dropping; after a very nice, sailing-into-the-sunset melodic vocal tag comes a string arrangement that rises from the ocean like Botticelli’s Venus.
So that’s the end of what would be side one; side two begins with “Receive,” a slow-moving track that stops and starts like a throwaway from David Bowie’s Hunky Dory, then bursts into an atmospheric stomp toward the end. Again, a simple figure rendered profound: “We can grow if we receive,” Anaya sings. A bass clarinet signals an imaginative brass and percussion arrangement on “Meant to Be,” a fairly short track that moves slowly beneath Anaya singing his wishes for a bucolic existence. Very Randy Newman. Dunno if the next track is called “Loose Fur” or “Lucifer,” but it’s a dreamlike waltz that’s been rattling around in my head for a week, until I finally realized its melody reminded me of Grant Lee Buffalo, or the kind of John Lennon-meets-early Elton John thing Grant-Lee Phillips might write. Then, “Shape of Hearts,” a dirge with a plaintive, minor-key, almost Japanese melody and a spare but exotic arrangement. “I don’t want to beg for you, I can’t hold my promise/ I don’t want to beg for you, I can’t hold my pride,” Anaya sings. Incandescent. That song segues into the closer, “Cruel Mistake,” which makes for a pretty transcendent way to go out: gentle guitar, a little organ, Anaya’s voice singing one of the record’s most winning melodies. Then the track builds, with background vocals. “Just give me a little sign/ I’ll leave myself behind.” Then, the fade. Beautiful.
It’s a short record, clocking in at a little over 35 minutes for 10 songs. But with music this good, who says you need a double album with a die-cut gatefold cover to make your point? And while I never caught the bug of An Angle, Anaya’s previous band, I’m going to have to revisit everything that band did as a result of this one. And one more point: Anaya’s a brilliant songwriter, but I’m told Joe Davancens did the arrangements, which are nothing short of masterful. He’s like Ben Mink to Anaya’s k.d. lang, a comment that will make sense if you’ve ever heard lang’s 1990 album Ingenue.
I think I can confidently say that this gets my vote for the best album of 2010, by anybody, anywhere. I can’t imagine anyone topping this, and if they do, it will be a very, very good year for music. It’s the kind of record I wish I could walk into Lenny Waronker’s and Mo Ostin’s office at the Warner/Reprise ski chalet circa 1975, lay this on their desks and say, “Lads, have you had your massive musical boners today? Because, boy, do I have a treat for you. Here.”
I do hope this comes out for public consumption, and soon. Because you’re just going to melt. —Jackson Griffith