Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Rachel Kushner and Laura Owens

RECENTLY I spoke to novelist Rachel Kushner, whose The Flamethrowers is far and away among the most celebrated novels of the year, and artist Laura Owens, whose recent show of recent paintings in her own Boyle Heights space reminds us why she became the youngest artist to have a career retrospective at the MOCA.

The two -- longtime friends and aesthetic allies -- talked about their own work, their respect for each other, and their hopes for the future. The story, HERE, is from Pasadena magazine, now helmed by my former LA Times editor, the mighty Maria Russo.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Futurebirds Take Flight

ONE of our favorite newish bands, here at The Misread City's sleekly refurbed listening room, is Futurebirds, from Athens, Ga. Some listeners compare them to My Morning Jacket and Crazy Horse -- I certainly here that, too. But to me they're a mix between the two great chapters of Athens music -- the southern shamble of early R.E.M. (especially the echoey Fables-era band) and the neo-psych Elephant 6 bands like Olivia Tremor Control.

Photo Jason Thrasher

Of course, a lot of groups have smart influences. But these guys have the songs as well, complete with great melodies and hooks.

Here's their song, Virginia Slims, from their record Baba Yaga (Fat Possum). It takes a minute to build, but ends up in power-pop heaven.

Catch Futurebirds at the Echo this Tuesday night.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Cable TV and the Niche-ing of America

TODAY I have a story in Salon looking at the golden age of cable TV post-Sopranos, and contrasting this with the economic/technological forces in the culture right now.

And I ask: If HBO, or AMC, can find a profitable quality niche -- and stay in business -- can a jazz club? A book publisher? Theater company? I also look at the world of indie rock labels.

I speak to the authors of two new books, Brett Martin, of television chronicle Difficult Men, and producer Lynda Obst, of Sleepless in Hollywood.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Glory of Big Star

THEY were nearly invisible -- barely even a memory -- during most of my formative years, and you'd never hear 'em on the "classic rock" stations that dominated radio programming in most of America. But when various indie rockers started to sing this band's praises, they became a legend, at least among a passionate few.

And that mix of injustice, lost opportunity, creative isolation, cult passion and eventual rebirth is all part of the story told in the new documentary Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me, which opens today. It's our favorite movie about rock music in many moons.

Big Star, of course, was born in early '70s Memphis, and led by former Box Tops singer Alex Chilton and the troubled/ brilliant Chris Bell. They sang timeless pop songs like September Gurls, Thirteen, the Ballad of El Goodo and In the Street, and made a very complex/ deep/ troubled third album called Sister Lovers. (Strangely, they were signed to Stax, the soul label.) They captured a far wider range of emotions than almost any '70s band I can think of.

Musicians like the Replacements began to talk them up in the late '80s; the doc shows a bit of their wonderful song Alex Chilton, and includes testimonials by Ira Kaplan of Yo La Tengo, Norman Blake of Teenage Fanclub, Chris Stamey of the dB's and Bobby Gillespie of Primal Scream. And who knew the photographer William Eggleston, one of the pioneers of color photography, was a fellow traveler, and played piano on one of their records?

The band's music been remastered or something; it's never sounded better.

For what it's worth, I lead a very impassioned but strictly amateur band in my garage, the Subterraneans, devoted to early indie rock and its roots. We play a lot of VU, Neil Young, early R.E.M., Replacements, and so on. Most nights we kick off with the heavenly chime of September Gurls.

Tonight, you'll hear that one for sure.