King Princess’s Contagious Freedom


“Freedom is contagious,” St. Vincent said at the ASCAP Expo Panel I moderated May 7. It was her lovely, evocative way of answering my question about what it was like to make an album with David Byrne, which she did in 2012, on Love This Giant. In three words, this gifted musician summarized the spirit of artistic collaboration, of two souls open to innovation and communication bouncing ideas off each other, emailing each other bits of sounds and bobs of lyrics, not being afraid to fail in front of each other or to embarrass themselves. I want this saying on a T-shirt: FREEDOM IS CONTAGIOUS. Let’s catch it.

It was an honor to share the stage with St. Vincent, and a pleasant surprise to be there with King Princess, a new artist who is already blowing up on YouTube. My first question was to point out that not only do they both have stage/pen names that denote a high sense of self-esteem, but they are also identities that are at least partially masculine: What kind of freedom does such a put-on persona give them? Both pointed out that their given names — Annie Clark and Mikaela Straus — don’t exactly shout “rock star!” Clark said her given name sounds like a “stoner babysitter from 1985.” “King Princess is like an attitude,” Mikaela explained. “I take comfort in it as kind of a shield to exist in, where I can make cohesive art.

HOLLYWOOD, CA – MAY 07:St. Vincent, Evelyn McDonnell and King Princess attend The 2018 ASCAP “I Create Music” EXPO at Loews Hollywood Hotel on May 7, 2018 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Lester Cohen/Getty Images for ASCAP)

Her Holiness and Her Majesty were both articulate, engaging, empowering. I loved the way they spoke to each other, sharing their experiences of being college dropouts (St. Vincent, from Berklee School of Music, King Princess from USC) and urging audience members, especially women, to take advantage of the cheap and easy affordances of such gear as Apogee. But their personal styles were so different. Clark sat straight in her chair, looking elegant and poised in a long dress she had gotten that morning, while Straus lounged in hers, all comfy in a long shirt, pants, and track shoes.

At just 19, King Princess is already a fledgling online celebrity. She has earned her followers not just because she has a strong, vulnerable, warbling voice (think Regina Spektor, kd lang, Amy Winehouse, Lorde) but also because she writes melody-driven songs about longing and loss, aimed unabashedly at female love interests. In interviews and at the Expo panel, she is candid and open about her sexuality. Her song “1950” is an ode to queer history, specifically the book The Price of Salt. She just released her latest song and video. Like “1950,” “Talia” is a song about a lost lover, represented by an inflatable love doll in the video. Watch it here:

 

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Gray Days

Photo by Tim Maxeiner

The news of Space X building its big effing rocket in San Pedro has gone national, global even. It, along with some hot property deals, also led to the predictable headlines about an “upturn for San Pedro.” Maybe, maybe not. As “Marina del Pedro,” an info-rich exhibit currently at the Angels Gate Cultural Center, shows, the efforts to develop this community are as old as the port itself. Curator and artist Tim Maxeiner (discloser: he’s a friend) turned to both historical archives and the contemporary local community to tell the tale of the Port of Los Angeles’s push and pull relationship to nature, industry, people, and business. The German-born egalitarian pulls work from both teens he taught at the Boys and Girls Club and such local artists as Phoebe Barnum and Beth Elliott. I even wrote an essay for it, about waterfront adventures in this whale of a town. The exhibit closes Saturday, with festivities from 3 to 6 p.m. Below is my essay, which will also be in the catalog, available this weekend.

Gray Days

By Evelyn McDonnell

I live on the edge of a forest. It’s five acres large, a potential home to 700 species, and it thrives in winter, when its trunks and leaves stretch high to the sky, swaying back and forth in the ocean currents. Animals feed and hide here in the Giant Kelp: mammals as big as you, who will swim up to your kayak and look you straight in the eye or roll in the water underneath, showing off, or maybe even nursing their young. Schools of fish — sardines or Spanish mackerels — flash silver in the sun, and bright orange garibaldi dart nervously around rock outcroppings, having been pushed out of their nests by crustacean bullies: armored lobsters and their sideway cousins, the crabs.

I live next to one of the busiest ports in the world. Ships laden with containers slip in and out of Angels Gate, like multi-colored skyscrapers moving sideways across the sea. Towering cranes await them, a forest of metal redwoods silhouetted against the mountains, ready to pluck the rectangular boxes off the cargo decks like so many toothpicks hundreds of feet in the air, then stack them neatly on the dock, where they’ll continue their voyage via trains, or trucks — the atoms of the neoliberal capitalist organism continuing their global orbit. Refineries belch smoke in the background, processing the crude black oil pumped up from the bottom of the ocean by the rigs that loom like watchtowers on the southern most edge of my view — the rigs are the south poles, the refineries the north. Between them lie the kelp and the commerce, the dolphins and the dock workers, the whales and the freighters — the urban wild landscape of San Pedro, my adopted home.

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Liz Phair to the Rescue!

Liz Phair is sitting in the Rose Café, a well-loved Venice, California, eatery where tech-industry entrepreneurs munch quinoa alongside music-biz hipsters sipping lattes. The critically adored singer-songwriter does not look like 25 years – sufficient time for her to conceive, deliver, raise and send a son off to college – have intervened since her debut album, Exile in Guyville, made her the Rolling Stone cover girl for third-wave feminism. She ignores her matcha until a foul odor of burning oil wafts over from the kitchen – a peril of open-air design. Phair coughs. Once, twice, repeatedly. It’s as if something heavy and toxic has seeped into this bastion of urban chic, landed in her sensitive lungs, and has to be expelled, forcibly and immediately. She perseveres, telling me about how the book she has written was compelled by the election of Donald Trump, her voice cracking under siege. Then I begin coughing.

“It’s affecting you too,” our canary in the coal mine exclaims. “Sorry, I’m going to save you.” She flags down a server and we move beverages and recorder to the bar, far from noxious fumes.

Liz Phair does not suffer irritants quietly. And lately, irritants abound. Once again, men are excluding women from power, reducing them to sexual objects, and shutting down or demeaning their modes of expression. It’s Guyville redux, only this time, it’s not just faux-alternative hipsters in the indie-rock scene of Chicago in the early 1990s. It’s the top dog in the White House.

I caught up with Phair recently for The Guardian, one of the world’s greatest newspapers. I have to admit I was heavily influenced by the great interview Allison Wolfe did with her for Women Who Rock. Read my interview with Liz here: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2018/may/03/liz-phair-trump-change-her-music-exile-in-guyville-25-years

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Herman Dune’s Love Cat Blues — A Premiere

I first heard David Ivar sing at House 1002, a store where folks seek and discover odd treasures, on Pacific Avenue in San Pedro, CA, the Los Angeles neighborhood David and I both call home. Amid House’s cavernous space crammed with anchors and old tools and bamboo couches and vintage chandeliers, he sang Leonard Cohen, Lou Reed, and Tom Waits in a gentle loving tone, not an imitation of those rough-edged troubadours but a heartfull tribute. Pacific runs from the end of the Harbor Freeway to Sunken City, the off-limits tumble of asphalt and palm trees where seven decades ago, a housing development slipped into the sea. Until a damn 7-11 opened a few years ago, there were no chain stores on Pacific, just mom-and-pop ventures like House. This port town is a community of independent businesses and immigrants – a perfect spot for a French-Swedish anti-folk anti-hero to lay his Greek fisherman hat.

Inspired by the words of Mr. San Pedro, Mike Watt, at a show – “Release your own stuff! Put out your own music!” – David, under his musical name Herman Dune (other stage names include Black Yaya), is releasing his latest, 13th album on his own on May 17. Sweet Thursday is named after a John Steinbeck novel and is also inspired by Pedro’s monthly art walk on the first Thursday of every month. Along with Brett Sullivan of the band American Anymen, David has made a video for each song. He’s releasing one video every Thursday.

Today, I have the honor of premiering “Love Cat Blues,” because, you know, I’m a cat lady. The video shows David driving around Long Beach, the South Bay, and Pedro in his old blue Toyota, lovelorn and seeking. From his awkward Southern twang in the spoken intro, to the road map background, to the Steinbeckian title, to the Americana groove, the album is a tribute to his adopted hometown and homeland, delivered at a time when immigrants are not always honored.

For more info about David and Herman Dune, and to buy limited edition copies of the album and of his art work, visit http://www.davidivar.com/. You can watch the video below, or at https://youtu.be/Qs28WdgoOmE, where you can also see his other videos as they are revealed over the next month.

 

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Don’t Follow Him, He’s Lost Too

Words to live by from Amy Rigby: “I write my own story, thank you.”

Diary Of Amy Rigby

Nine pm on a Saturday night in an English seaside town, Eric and I eat in Harry Ramsden’s fish and chips restaurant across from the seafront. We’re just like the other couples sipping large glasses of wine (the English equivalent of a “small glass” is a half pint) and tucking into their cod and chips and mushy peas, only Eric doesn’t drink, and told the waitress “no mushy peas”. (I tried the mushy peas and agree they belong only in a color photo or black and white film.) We’re just like the other couples making occasional conversation while the overhead speakers dotted in among the modest chandeliers play the type of music good old Harry would have liked back in the day.

“And he gave it all up for a girl – from Pittsburgh Pennsylvania” a male and female ensemble croon in a chorus repeated often enough to sound like…

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Pussy Riot Rally Review

This is not a concert review.

Pussy Riot did not play a show at the Los Angeles club Echo Saturday night.

Pussy Riot are artivists who don’t believe in the commercial practice of concerts. As they say in a press release, “Events that we organize are political rallies, not concerts.”

Pussy Riot held a rally at the Echo Saturday. It cost $25 in advance to take part in this rally, $28 day of show rally. They also rallied Sunday night, and will do it one more time tonight.

I saw a really good rally at the Echo Saturday night.


Pussy Riot has changed a great deal since they first grabbed the world’s attention after they were arrested, prosecuted, and jailed for performing “A Punk Prayer” at Russia’s sacred Orthodox cathedral. The Pussy Riot that led Saturday’s rally was not an all-woman anarchist punk collective, but a coed techno/rap duo. The only recognizable member of Pussy Riot on stage at the Echo was Nadya Tolokonnikova, and by recognizable, I mean that even though her face was covered by a balaclava, everyone knew it was Nadya – she has the most famous musical lips since Mick Jagger. There was also a DJ/programmer, a man who goes by Chaika – every rally needs a DJ – and a woman who occasionally bounced around and shouted (every rally needs a gogo dancer/hype person too). It was unclear if we would have recognized these two even if their faces hadn’t been covered by cloth. “Anyone can be Pussy Riot,” Tolokonnikova said Saturday, a claim the group has always made. Still, it was a bit weird to see a guy on the mike. Aesthetically, Chaika seems like a good collaborator for Tolokonnikova. But is this what people want when they see Pussy Riot?

Tolokonnikova has become a skilled MC. Her word flows sound particularly mesmerizing with a Russian trill; she also raps in English, especially when it’s subject appropriate, as in the Trump takedown “Make America Great Again.” Chaika’s beats propelled the tracks into climactic explosions; the rally became a rave. Their songs remain provocations, with infectious agit-prop hooks: Nadya led the audience in chanting, “Pussy is the new dick!”

Pussy Riot are deft visual as well as musical propagandists. They performed rallied Saturday in front of stunning videos, including visuals by jailed Russian artist Oleg Navalny for “Election,” their timely commentary upon the recent “win” by Vladimir Putin.


Make no mistake, protest was the running theme of Saturday’s event, along with coalition building. Pussy Riot have invited community members to join them on all the stops of their current tour. Saturday, Fat Tony took the stage before Pussy Riot with a set that fused bass-heavy hip-hop with not one but two Ramones songs. In the music journalism biz, we used to call this “an opening act” – I’m not sure what the rally equivalent is. Pussy Riot seem to be particularly reaching out to black American artivists, a tactic that reminds me of the Clash.

I don’t really care if you call what I saw Saturday a rally or a concert, but then again, I got in free as press. It was cool to see Nadya hanging out in the audience of the tiny Echo and not acting like the kind of rock star she deserves to be; after all, how many other musicians have spent time in the gulag for their art? I’ve always said that the quality of Pussy Riot’s music tends to get eclipsed by the impact of their message, and I feel like that more than ever now. I’d pay money to see Tolokonnikova in concert, and she wouldn’t even have to call herself Pussy Riot.

 

 

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Dolores O’Riordan and Feminist Magazine

I talked about the death of Dolores O’Riordan, and the recent spate of deaths of musicians of her era, with the great Lynn Ballen on her Feminist Magazine show on KPFK. You can hear it here:

https://app.stitcher.com/splayer/f/40348/53003344

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