(East Bay documentary filmmaker Les Blank died at his home in Berkeley yesterday at age 77.)
Les is more. Useless to try to compile a “greatest hits” for a man who virtually invented the up-close, impressionistic, roots-music biopic. But here are a few unforgettable favorite riffs from the career of a filmmaking, music-loving, life-embracing son of a gun:
On Oakland's northernmost stretch of Telegraph Avenue there's a record store called Stranded. On the Berkeley side of that stretch, in 1978, Greil Marcus — San Francisco-born music critic, Cal grad, and Rolling Stone's first reviews editor — wrote the introduction to Stranded: Rock and Roll for a Desert Island. Last night, at Stranded, Greil Marcus read from Stranded, a book of essays by twenty rock writers who share their experiences with the albums they'd each take if stranded on a desert island.
The reading, presented by the cramped store and the apparently thriving Rock 'n' Roll Book Club, was followed by audience questions — questions whose answers were insightful anecdotes about Lester Bangs, Bob Dylan's recording of “Like A Rolling Stone,” and a companion book called Marooned: The Next Generation of Desert Island Discs, for which Marcus also wrote the introduction — but, while browsing through the record store's finely curated selection beforehand, I asked Marcus some questions of my own:
Pretty damn gay, at least according to the Advocate, which published its annual list of
clickbait America's gayest cities yesterday and ranked Oakland at #11 — a full six spots, NB, above San Francisco:
Looking for the motivation to vote? To exercise? To meet new people? Oakland's Matthew Szymankowski has plenty to go around.
Say hi to Szymankowski in Temescal, between the 48th and 51st block of Telegraph Avenue, where he sets up his stationary bike in the evenings and rides to remind people to vote in tomorrow's election.
It was a tough call, but after much quibbling and hand-wringing, a distinguished jury from the East Bay Express art department plucked one winner from more than a dozen "Best of the East Bay" cover design submissions. The honor went to 24 year-old Ben Peck, whose portrait combined elements of Emanuel Leutze's iconic 1851 oil painting, Washington Crossing the Delaware, with familiar tropes from East Bay culture. Instead of showing a famed general and several mariners braced for their surprise ambush on the Hessians, Peck drew an aged Hells Angel (or East Bay Rat), an A's fan, a barrista, a protester, a cop, a guy with giant headphones, and a few other contemporary local archetypes.
Never underestimate the brain power of UC Berkeley's undergraduate class, or the size of its ambitions. Case in point: freshman Derek Low, who got his first star turn in the blogosphere after transforming his dorm room into the ultimate party pad. No, really. Low, who clearly has a bright future in the tech industry should he choose to go that route, has tricked out his room with motion detectors that part the curtains as soon as he walks in; lamps that operate via wireless remote; appliances that respond to voice commands for "sleep mode," "party mode," and "romantic mode"; and even a voice-operated disco ball. The room, appropriately rechristened "Berkeley Ridiculously Automated Dorm" (or BRAD), even garnered accolades from culture blogger Angry Asian Man. Check it out:
We were deeply saddened to hear about the passing of local trumpeter Khalil Shaheed, who died Friday after a long battle with lung cancer. Raised in Chicago, Shaheed - who was born Tommy Hall - came to California in the Seventies, started gigging in the funk, Latin, and jazz scenes, and quickly consolidated his career as both a leader and sideman. Shaheed rechristened himself after converting to Islam in the Eighties; he also adopted a more ascetic lifestyle and began devoting himself wholeheartedly to community service. In 1994 he founded the music education program Oaktown Jazz Workshops, through which he taught kids how to improvise and perform in a live setting. The program endured for decades as Shaheed continued performing and hosting jam sessions at such now-defunct local clubs as Bluesville and First Stop (so named because it was the first stop in after the Amtrak station, he once told me). He also formed the Mo'Rockin' Project, a world music group that fused Moroccan styles with American jazz.
Whether by naming her crew "The White Girl Mob," launching Twitter beefs with Rick Ross, or blithely condoning her friend V-Nasty's use of the N word, Oakland-born rapper Kreayshawn seems hell-bent on ruining her own reputation. But yesterday she found herself at the center of a new scandal that might not have been her fault. Kreayshawn blames trolls for the spate of racist tweets that were attributed to her yesterday, with such lines as "Sometimes I wish slavery was still goin' on," etc. Not surprisingly, the tweets instantly went viral, and Kreayshawn's critics rushed to pronounce her career dead. This morning hip-hop sites showed the rapper issuing a feeble apology, claiming she'd been usurped. Granted, the apology looks fake, too:
Update: A previous version of this post said that Kreayshawn had been hacked. In fact, she was a victim of fake retweets.
If you didn't get condoms as a Valentine's gift, here's your chance. Tomorrow a 53-foot, 18-wheel "Condom Nation" semi-truck will roll into Oakland's Frank Ogawa Plaza, coincidentally the site of other sexy happenings like the gay porn caper Occupy My Throat. Staff from the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, La Clinica Raza, and Get Screened Oakland will hand out condoms from 3-7 p.m., in addition to hosting a DJ dance party (courtesy of 106 KMEL and Wild 94.9 FM) and free HIV screenings. The organizations argue that, with a reported 48,000 new HIV infections and 19 million new STD infections in the US each year, you can't underestimate the importance of a free rubber.
Conscious Daughters rapper Karryl Smith (aka Special One), who was the subject of a 2004 East Bay Express cover story on female emcees, passed away this weekend. She was found dead in her apartment on Saturday, MTV News reported, though at this point, the cause of her death is unknown. Conscious Daughters were part of an early-Nineties West Coast hip-hop renaissance, known both for their fleet rap style and hardcore lyrics — which distinguished them from other women in the genre. They signed to Paris' label Scarface Records in 1993, released their debut album, Ear to the Street, the following year, and cut a deal with Priority/EMI for their 1996 album, Gamers. Their singles "Fonky Expedition (Something to Ride to)" and "We Roll Deep" are recognized as classics in the hip-hop canon. Special One will be widely mourned and missed in the hip-hop community, particularly by her longtime best friend and rap partner Carla Green, aka CMG.