We just got twelve awesome DVDs in! Expect more details on these tomorrow, but for now here’s their call numbers.
Glenn Gould on Television anthology: DVD 150-159
Stravinsky: DVD 100
Ornette… Made In America: DVD 126
Here comes another DC-related DVD review for y’all! But while its subject shares a hometown with the punk stars of our last review, that’s about it. In Search of Blind Joe Death follows the life of the enigmatic, eccentric and iconoclastic guitarist John Fahey. Fahey, who invented a style of richly harmonic, fingerpicked folk guitar dubbed “American primitive” in its day, reinvented the sound of American acoustic guitar in a transcendent way.
In Search is a documentary on Fahey’s life, from childhood to his death in 2001. Fahey was born in D.C. and grew up in the neighborhood of Takoma Park. As a child, he was inspired by the verdant, sylvan forests that surrounded his home. His search for musical expression began in the District, inspired by the sounds of the old Delta Blues of the American South. Fahey, who began playing guitar at a young age, quickly formed his own musical vocabulary, equally informed by these old bluesmen and the harmonic compositions of Stravinsky and Bartok. He began to release recordings on a label he founded, named Takoma Records after his hometown.
After graduating from American University (once an Eagle, you know the rest), Fahey moved to California, where he continued recording as well as finding new (old) artists to release on Takoma. The documentary describes his unique sleuthing process of tracking down old Delta Blues artists and recording new material with them for Takoma.
Once he was done with school, Fahey began touring and his eccentricities began to bubble up to the surface. He would disappear for long periods of time, turning up after a point in a random location (such as Tasmania). He began uncalled-for, one-sided rivalries with other musicians, and his alcoholism became a problem. After a time, a doctor prescribed him sleeping medication, which he began to abuse in alcohol’s stead (along with heavy Coca-Cola drinking).
As he aged (rather quickly thanks to his various indulgences) he became more and more eccentric, as did his music. He ditched the acoustic guitar for the electric, creating strange, experimental music influenced by the noise-rock of the ’80s. He also took up painting. Meanwhile, he had relocated to a motel room in the middle of nowhere, Oregon, where he spent the remainder of his days selling thrift shop records to collectors. He died at 61. His music lived on, its echoes audible everywhere from Nick Drake to Sonic Youth to Led Zeppelin to Beck. Essentially, any artist wrenching more than simple open chords out of an acoustic guitar can thank Fahey for the idea.
This DVD does a great job of revealing the many sides of John Fahey, with the guitar master’s hauntingly beautiful music providing the perfect soundtrack. It includes interviews with many who knew him well, and many acolytes, from deranged Maryland record collector Joe Bussard to rock superstar Pete Townshend. It also features several performances of his works, as well as the type that influenced him, by a parade of musicians such as Bussard (playing with a screwdriver!) and George Winston, as well as members of the Decemberists and Calexico and good-natured rival Stefan Grossman. There are also a couple of rare performance and interview videos with Fahey himself from the late ’90s.
I’d recommend In Search of Blind Joe Death to any Fahey fan, as well as any fan of folk music and the guitar. It’s a close look at somebody who redefined the language of the instrument, drawing from a deeply ingrained musical culture but emerging with something 100% original. There is also rich inspiration to be found in the life of Fahey itself, in his virtues and vices the embodiment of a truly American musician. And if you like it, check out some choice Fahey CDs from us, your loyal Music Library!
Attention jazz heads and space freaks! Your icon and idol, Sun Ra, will be featured at this week’s UDC JAZZalive event. It’s part of an ongoing series of exhibitions, discussion forums, presentations and concerts hosted by UDC that will extend into the spring and likely the distant future as well!
While we sadly cannot attend an actual Sun Ra concert, this event still promises to be a great one for fans of the psych-jazz master. Funk scholar Thomas Stanley, who teaches sound art and sonic culture at George Mason U, has put together a monograph called The Execution of Sun Ra, which “is an attempt to bore into the late jazz oracle’s remarkable ideas about history and human development.”
At this lecture he will speak on his findings. This should be an incredibly interesting experience, considering the intellectual depth and strangeness that defined Sun Ra’s view of our species. The event is tomorrow night (Wednesday the 22nd) at 7pm. It will be held in the Recital Hall of the Felix E. Grant Jazz Archives, on UDC’s Van Ness Campus (4200 Connecticut Ave). It is free and open to the public, and books will be available for sale at the event.
Also, if this talk engenders a deep interest in Sun Ra in you, the reader, take the time to stream some of his albums online or, highly suggested, check out his Space is the Place DVD- sure to be a trip!
Hello all, Jesse here, music library bloggist. If you remember, I reviewed one of Media Services’ many music-related DVDs, 20 Feet From Stardom, last semester. Starting with this post, I will be reviewing about three Media Services DVDs a month. The idea is first to cover all of our D.C. music-related DVDs and then branch out into the larger variety of music DVDs that Media Services offers. Welcome to the Epic DVD Review.
Anyways, when many hear the phrase “D.C. music scene,” a prominent thought is the D.C. hardcore punk scene of the 1980s. Led by bands such as Bad Brains, Void and the Faith, D.C.’s punk scene epitomized the intensity and wild spirit of the American punk subculture. Because D.C. bars allow all ages (minors just get ye olde X on the hands), punk bands could hold shows in legitimate establishments and this helped the scene thrive.
Of course, the scene was taken to a new level when Ian Mackaye and his crew showed up. Out of the ashes of Teen Idles, Mackaye and drummer Jeff Nelson recruited guitarist Lyle Preslar and bassist Brian Baker to form Minor Threat, a band that would become the champions of the D.C. scene, building it along with their own fanbase. They were Mackaye’s first platform to introduce his punk ideals to the masses, including the importance of an independent music scene and the idea of the straight-edge lifestyle (abstaining from alcohol and drugs). Their insanely fast and angry sound, coupled with Mackaye’s wild stage presence and shouted vocals, were a major influence to just about every hardcore punk band that followed them.
Minor Threat only lasted four years but the impact they had on their scene and genre was enormous. Luckily, some prescient camera people were able to capture some great moments of their hometown performances, and three such performances are collected on our Minor Threat DVD.
The first, a short set in a second floor gallery above a D.C. jazz club, is nearly mythical: in extremely grainy black and white footage, the strikingly young band (including a not-yet-bald Mackaye, gripping a soda can) plays to a small group of spirited fans whose moshing bodies often jostle the camera or block its view of the band, giving you a feeling of participation.
The second set, two years later at Buff Hall, is filmed in better quality (still not quite prime but at least it’s in color!) and shows the effect of the band on a larger crowd. After a surprise funky intro, the band explodes into full rage, and fans who were sitting onstage begin jumping into each other and off the stage with wild abandon. Mackaye, head swollen from a car accident earlier that day (what a champ) sings into the faces of the crowd, and a second microphone is set up stageside for a group of fans to sing along in.
The final set captures Minor Threat at the height of their powers, performing a set at the 9:30 club in 1983. Mackaye begins the set with a goofy monologue while the rest of the band set up, giving the sensation of a room full of friends. Throughout the set the crowd’s energy is explosive, something I’ve never seen at the 9:30 club. The audio/video quality of this set, meant for a documentary that never was finished, is the best- Jeff Nelson’s brutal drumming benefits most. At the end, an exhausted MacKaye leaves the audience with a heartwarming comment: “Nobody sings like DC.”
Finally, the DVD includes a quick interview with Ian MacKaye after the show. Awkwardly divided into question-only and answer-only sections by the makers of the DVD, it is nonetheless worth the watch. Sitting in front of a piano, the frontman fields questions from an interviewer who seems to be very ignorant of the scene. However, his responses are very enlightening, revealing his strong views on the punk scene, scenes in general, straight edge, stagediving and moshing, and organized religion. When the interviewer compares punk to another youth movement, the hippies, he acknowledges the similarities but implies that while the hippie movement faded away, punk will be longer lasting.
I’d recommend this DVD to any Minor Threat fan, any fan of hardcore or punk and anybody interested in musical subcultures in general. If you’re not a punk fan, the performances may get a bit repetitive, but the interview with MacKaye holds significance far beyond the genre of punk. Even if you don’t like punk, it’s still worth it to see the dynamic devotion of the band’s fans, and to witness the beginnings of an essential DC scene. Check it out (again, DVD 4394), and if you like it, come listen to their complete discography at the Music Library!
20 Feet, released in 2013, is a documentary delving into the history, psychology and philosophy of background singing. Unique for focusing on background talents rather than the usual camera fodder (the stars), it won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in March, giving director Morgan Neville his first Oscar!
The film follows the careers of several background singers who have performed and recorded with a jaw-dropping amount of famous artists and helped shape the sound of popular music, often without realizing it. Singers such as Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer and quite a few more have spent their entire lives in the industry, and the documentary weaves their stories into the fabric of American music history. Judith Hill, a contemporary singer who represents a new generation of background singers, is also heavily featured.
In using the singers’ lives as a narrative, 20 Feet reveals a great amount of intensity. These are stories of a constant struggle with identity; the ups and downs of the industry, the conflict between simply surviving and striving for art, and the ramifications of trying to break out as a solo artist. I was surprised at how emotional it got when the singers spoke about their highest highs, lowest lows and the love of their art that kept them going.
While the idea behind 20 Feet is great, its execution is tremendous. The film features interviews with dozens of background singers, as well as with stars such as Bruce Springsteen, Mick Jagger and Stevie Wonder. It mixes these interviews with incredible archival footage of the likes of Ray Charles, Phil Spector, David Bowie, George Harrison, Talking Heads and many more. And, in perhaps my favorite aspect of the film, the featured singers were brought into L.A.’s legendary Ocean Way studios to sing together, and the footage of their recording sessions is downright inspiring.
Anyways, I’m gushing here. If you’re passionate about singing, music, or pop culture in general, then you should be rushing towards Media Services as I type, student ID in hand. 20 Feet From Stardom will scratch that itch in the best of ways.
Hello everyone! We’re introducing yet another new column to our blog. You may be familiar with our usual practice of listing our new arrivals on this page. However, this column, “Sweet New Arrivals,” will focus on a specific new item that we consider to be a true catch. This week’s Sweet New Arrival is a very special DVD: Dave Grohl’s documentary Sound City.
Sound City tells the story of a legendary recording studio in Los Angeles’s San Fernando Valley (this staff contributor’s homeland!). Founded in 1969, its combination of divine room tone and a one-of-four-in-the-world Neve console led to scores of incredible recordings. Some of the best rock/pop albums of all time, including Neil Young’s After The Goldrush, Fleetwood Mac’s self-titled album, and Nirvana’s Nevermind, were recorded there, the latter two in particular sporting incredible drum sounds.
Foo Fighters frontman/Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl, who of course experienced the studio firsthand when recording Nevermind there, fell in love with it. When the studio closed its doors to commercial business in 2011, Grohl decided to immortalize it in a documentary, and thus was born Sound City, a highly emotional retrospective of the studio’s career, featuring interviews with legendary musicians (Paul McCartney, Neil Young, Kurt Cobain (Archival), Stevie Nicks) and producers (Rick Rubin, Butch Vig) and a soundtrack featuring collaborations of many other musicians who once recorded at Sound City. All in all, Sound City a very exciting arrival for anybody interested in the recording industry, and for anyone who wants to know a little more about the history of modern rock n’ roll recording.
Also, the soundtrack features a song composed and performed by the surviving members of Nirvana alongside Paul McCartney. Strange, huh?
Come check them out TODAY!