Tuesday, March 30, 2010

RIP Jaime Escalante

Jaime Escalante, the East Los Angeles math teacher who inspired the movie "Stand and Deliver" has died. He was 79.
According to an Associated Press article posted on the New York Times official Web Site, Escalante had been undergoing treatment for bladder cancer. You can read the article at NYTimes.com.
Escalante's story made for a compelling and classic Chicano film, but his legacy as an educator and a believer in youth will last for ages. In these times when educators struggle to provide a good education to our nation's students, Escalante's story resonates more than ever.
RIP Jaime Escalante, a true American icon.

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Carmel's Jamielee Darley joins “Entourage ”cast in re-occuring role

Got an excited e-mail from the father of Carmel native Jamielee Darley. He announced that his daughter would be appearing in the upcoming season of HBO's “Entourage.”
A quick check of her Twitter page (@jamieleedarley) revealed this:
Booked Entourage? Yep, I did. Re-occuring role. Woo woo.
Congrats Jamielee!

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Friday, March 12, 2010

Interview transcript: Dr. Loco (Jose Cuellar) of Dr. Loco's Rockin' Jalapeno Band

A conversation with Jose Cuellar, better known as Dr. Loco of Dr. Loco's Rockin' Jalapeno Band. Que Viva La Raza!

I see you guys are performing at The Catalyst March 20. I hadn't heard anything from you in a while. What's been going on with you and the band?
Both evolving (laughs). Developing into other stages and phases. Musically, the band, we've been performing here and there once a month or so. Mostly, festivals, campus gigs, concerts, things like that. Community events. And I haven't done a commercial club for a decade, I guess.

Did you say a decade?
I'm pretty sure. It's been a long time since I've done a commercial venue like The Catalyst. We're really excited about it. It was just, for me, a lot easier to move the band around and to do things that we wanted to do. It wasn't really on the horizon. It's not something I was seeking, but when (The Catalyst) got me this opportunity to connect with my old Santa Cruz and environmental friends... It's been a couple of years now since we've connected down there. For a while, we were doing the Watsonville (Strawberry Festival). But it's been two years since I've had a chance to be down there in that area, musically.
So, I'm really excited about bringing the band down. The band, since the last time I was there, has changed significantly. Not that I didn't have some good players before, but I'm really blessed with a good crop of musicos that I'm working with right now. It will be exciting to bring them to The Catalyst.

Tell me, in your own words, a quick history of the band. Were you always conscious of having a strong Chicano identity associate with your music?
Musically, it was two things. When I was a full-time musician on the verge of becoming a full time student in the mid-60s, I became a community college student in 1966, my music was club music. Top 40's, whatever the audience demanded, and I would play with different bands. My schoolwork was evolving into the movimiento kind of both academically and in terms of the movement and in terms of the Chicano consciousness. That was another thing.
As it evolved into the '70s, when I was finishing my masters, I started working on my Ph.D. and started teaching at Pamona College. And there at Pamona College, in my class, was a guy named Francisco Gonzalez, who eventually became one of the founders of Los Lobos. He introduced me to David and Louie and Cesar, his next door neighbor. That group, and those musicians I met in 71, who evolved into a more Chicano consciousness, and eventually evolved into Los Lobos.
Bobby Navarrette, who eventually went to work with Tierra, and I, we were playing in another group called Two-Thirds Minority. It also involved (Los Angeles musician) Mike Archuleta.
So in LA, the Chicano consciousness in music was kind of where it was evolving, and I was getting ahead because I was interacting with these guys. All or part of different groups, guys like Ruben Guevara (of Ruben and the Jets)...
So all these cats were evolving or interacting with one another in LA. By 1977, I moved to Colorodo, and I dropped out of the music scene. I stopped playing. I became a professor, so the conscienca, the Chicano consciousnesses, that part continued. But musically, I put my horn away in 1977, and it wasn't until like 1984, 1985, that academic year at Stanford when I began to pick it up again. So I went into hiatu with the thinking that I used to be a musician, now I'm a professor.
Then, at Stanford, the context and environment of being multi-disciplinarian, and having a lot of students around me who were talented (musicians) kind of sparked the interest in playing my horn again. Fortunately I still had it. I didn't sell it and buy a computer like I was planning. I decided to keep it and play it.
Pretty soon, one thing led to another. Tony Burciaga wanted to do a Zoot Suit Night at Stanford. I had already started playing around with some of the folks in the community, and I put together a group of students there we called Dr. Loco's Original Corrido Boogie Band. We played around under that title for a while. Then in '89, we decided we should change the name to something that people can say (laughs), not just something that descriptive.
And I was thinking, what was my repertoire? What are we doing on the west coast? And in some ways it was evident to me that a lot of the music I was doing really represented the repertoire of one of my hometown radio station in San Antonio, KEDA, Radio Tierra, aka Radio Jalapeño. So I thought, my repertoire, what we play, this whole Chicano thing, is really reflected in the Jalapeño music of KEDA, So I thougt, that's cool, you know. Jalapeno, hot and picante, tasty, and then rockin'. So we changed the name to the Rockin' Jalapeño Band in 89, and began playing with the new name.
And that's been the musical thrust, you know, kind of taking away from my roots and my biography. There's this Tejano base, San Antonio specific, both in terms of R&B and the Chicano, Tejano style. And there's some Southern California, heavy influence from the '60s, when I moved to So-Cal to play here and those influences. Specifically, you could hear, I think, influences of Los Lobos and music that influences Los Lobos, like (music from) New Orleans. Because my music had a real distinct New Orleans influence. One because it was a mecca for me. When I was in middle school, that was a place I wanted go to.
So-Cal, New Orleans, and obviously the Bay Area, because that's when I re-emerged as a musician. I started playing again and you know, it's like learning to ride a bike again. I was a different saxophonist than I was before I quit. And more Bay Area influences, you could still hear the Tejano in my sax, the Texas tenor stuff. But musically, it was more Bay Area.
And the influences of the guys in the band, over the years, of different musicians who came through and played with me. The repertoire, the way the repertoire is interpreted, it has this base that I provide, but then the players come in and take it in different directions. Expand on it, improvise it, and in a way, it constantly keeps it fresh, even though I'm playing classics from experience and my personal favorites. I play what I want and I just hope the audience likes it.

Where are you teaching at right now?
I just retired (from teaching) full-time at San Francisco State University. I'm teaching part-time a couple of classes at (San Francisco) City College. I'm teaching a Chicano history class and a Latino history class.

What has the connection been with your students knowing that you're Dr. Loco? Are there any funny stories about seeing students at shows, or anything where your music career has spilled over to your teaching career?
It's happened, in a funny way, that I interject music more into my teaching now than ever. As time goes by, I use more music examples in the history class. I use more music in the Latino diaspora class, to look at the impact of different cultures. So using music more and more, whereas before, I didn't use it at all. And then when I began to use it, I taught a class that I started teaching at SF State 20 years ago, my music folklore class. So, it was there that my academic and musical life came together in that class.
Now that I'm not teaching at SF State anymore, I'm teaching at City College, I'm finding ways to introduce music (into the lesson plan)and I find myself saying ‘Oh wow, this is another way of teaching, another way of underscoring a point.’ I'm finding that I wish I had done this earlier.

I can tell you from my personal experience, whenever your name was mentioned in reference to the band, it was always said with that added caveat "Oh he really is a doctor" Talk about that aspect of your identity and how you've carried it with yourself and used it to spread a message that education is important in the Chicano community.
It's pretty interesting how, I have to admit, it wasn't my intent to do that. It wasn't my intent like ‘Sabes que, this is going to be my message.’ That wasn't my intent. When we first started (talking about the band's academic background), the first time it happened when we began to notice this, it was a specific event when I miscalculated a set. We were playing at the SF Fourth of July and I miscalculated the timing of my set. And so I said to myself ‘Oh, I have some time. I don't want to keep playing La Bamba, I'll introduce the band.’
I said, Ok, I'm going to talk about where they're from. And at the time, it was early '90s,the band, most of them had just graduated from Stanford or Berkeley and were in graduate programs. So I began to introduce them. ‘He just graduated from Stanford with a degree in biology. He's going to medical school. And Chuey just graduated from Berkeley with a BA in Chicano studies and music.‘ And I took up my time and I got to myself, and I still had a lot of time, so I gave them my whole biography.
So I did that long introduction of all the players and at the end, the audience just reacted in a way that it was obvious to me that they liked the music, but this last punchline was really resonating.
Afterwards, people came up to me, Latinos and non-Latinos, and talked about how impressed they were with the band. It was clear on two levels — on a musical level, people never think that musicians have degrees. They just don't think about it. A lot of musicians have degrees. They have degrees in music or in other areas and they're also musicians. But people don't think about it because they get introduced just as the bass player or so and so, but they never talk about the academic background.
So after this San Francisco show, people came up to me saying ‘Oh, we're so impressed. Thank you so much for promoting education.’ And I didn't realize that just by introducing these guys, people would be so impressed. So I just made a point of emphasizing that.
It's really interesting how the audience, when I do the introduction, this becomes something that people take away from our presentation. Now I do it consciously knowing that when I introduce these guys, people are going to be impressed and hear the promotion of education.
At first, I was so impressed by how quickly the audience interpreted it that way. But then musicians began to come up to me and say ‘Hey, do I have to have a degree to play with you? Because you know, I have one. I just want you to know that I do have a masters.’
That was the other thing, to realize there's a lot of cats with degrees who play music, but you just don't realize it. But that's how it started, and later on I realized it does have an impact, so I just kept it up.
I've had women come up to me, and I'm speaking specifically of some mujeres who come up to me and said ‘You know, I went and got my GED and now I'm going to community college.‘ And then I'd come back for another show and the same girls would come up and say ‘I finished my AA degree and now I'm going to (State college), and I'm all ‘Like that?’ I have people come up and report to me how they get motivated (by us) and it's a trip. But it does have that effect.

You guys kind of carry the vanguard of the Chicano Movimiento musico legacy through the generations, from the 80s to the 90s and now we're here in 2010. Do you see yourselves as the torch bearers for musicians who are associated with the movimiento?
There's still (others). The Danny Valdez's and Chunky Sanchez's up and down California. Up here, Danny Valdez continues to do it.
But you know, the way I see us is playing this particular, this southwestern borderlands Chicano (music), because it's a Mexican, Anglo-cized, Mexican-ized, Afro-cized kind of everything. As new groups come up with their new grooves, you get groups specialized out of the southland. Like Los Pochos or The Fabulocos. They're California Tex-Mex groups, and then you have Los Lonely Boys, who are also a part of that. And then you have the next generation that is coming, and the next one after that is already here, the 15 and 16 years olds. Who know s what they're going to come up with. They're the ones that are next, the post hip-hop generation, right?
We've already had like two hip hop generations that were after me, twice after me. The funk (generation) after the 70s, and then the the hip hop's the 80s and '90s. Now we're into this whole new, who knows what is going to emerge in the next couple of years. It will be something radically different.
But until then, we have the Ozomatli's and bands like that. And when they bring it, they bring the energy of youth, right? And the fun and excitement. And what we're trying to do, and I'm doing it, we're keeping this old school transition. So there's a musical transition that's still contextualizing itself. And what I see is the transition between the Lalo Guerreros, who just passed, and that generation. The Cesar Loez's and that generation right before me. My generation was like Little Joe, those of us who are in our 60's. And then theres the guys in their 50's, 40's, 30's and 20's, and now their teens. It's this whole new musical layer, with all of us evolving, musically within our own context and as individual musicians.
I think what we're all trying to do, regardless of our age or generation, is trying to be as creative as possible and kind of involving ourselves as best we can in our circumstances as musicians.
We play the repertoire we like and hope that people like it and have a groove with it and enjoy it. So what we play tends to have people go ‘Oh wow, that's cool. You took a soul tune and gave it this vibe, that was fun.’ Or they say ‘God I haven't heard that song in a long time,’ or ‘That was my dad's favorite tune.’ You know what I mean? Like that. And that's what we bring. We're not a true cover group, but a group that plays the classics with kind of the sabor musicians that I have played with. That's what I bring to the table. That's what we do.
To me, it's fun, because these cats are always evolving and I'm trying hard to stay on top of my game.

How old are you now?
I'm going to be 69 next month, two weeks after I play The Catalyst. I'm gonna give a lecture at Harvard, then I'm going to turn 69.

What are you lecturing On?
Chicano borderland music.

What else, right?
Yeah, what else. That's what they wanted. I told them ‘What do you want me to do?’ And that's what they wanted me to do.

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Tuesday, March 09, 2010

RIP Notorious B.I.G.

It's been 13 years since the murder of Biggie Smalls. I don't know if I'll ever get over it. Even though I didn't know the guy personally or ever even got to see him perform live, I've always been a fan, and a follower, and a believer in his legacy. Brooklyn, please stand up for the best that ever did it.

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Kim Kardashian coming to Salinas April 30 @ Banker's Casino

Looks like Reggie Bush's girlfriend is coming to town. The dashing Kim Kardashian is throwing a party April 30 at Bankers Casino in Salinas. Interesting development. We'll try and get more details as they become available.

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Monday, March 08, 2010

Interview: Andrew Nack of Cali Nation (transcript)

A chat with Andrew Nack of Cali Nation.

Tell me about your studio, Z-Minor Sounds. How long have you been here?

I've been here about a year. I needed a place to rehearse with my band and record my music. I moved into this place to record my friend's bands and my band. Just help, I guess, just do some, you could call it cultural documentation or archiving, I guess you could call it. From a musical standpoint and a performance standpoint.
I've accumulated this recording gear over the last few years with along with (recording) knowledge, and I wanted to put it to use. We brought this place about, Z-Minor Sound. Z-Minor was an imaginary key that we came up with while jamming with Dubwize. They were like ‘Pick a key to play. Okay, Z-minor. Okay!’ It stuck.
So far, Cali Nation is in the middle of doing 14 songs. The Mid-Tones have 10 songs tracked. Wasted Noise has 10 songs. We're supposed to be doing
Dubwize at some point. Whenever they're ready. And I got this other band from south county we've been recording here, called Los Diablos Desperados. They practice up in the hills near Lockwood. Cool guys. They have some cool punk rock music.

Talk about the new lineup.
Cali Nation, it's newest formation, I guess you could call it the three-headed monster. It's myself, Moni Lujan, and James Moore. It's a very tight knit unit. It's been exciting recording with these guys because they're on par. James is like a meter, a metronome, on drums. Moni is a very talented bass player, amongst other instruments. So getting to play music with these guys is easy.

How long have you been performing with this lineup and how did you all come together.
What's interesting is the same way I met you, is the same way I met Moni, at The Grassy Knoll. Years prior to that, The Grassy Knoll was the Music Zone, where I originally met James Moore. So it all ties back to the 200 block of Old Town Salinas, which is pretty trippy.
Initially, Cali Nation was on hiatus. My other musicians were unavailable at the time. A mutual friend I had recorded with on another project, said ‘Hey, this guy named James who I know is looking for you. He's a drummer. He said he wasn't to jam with you.’ I said to myself, the only James I know is James Moore. I called up James and started jamming with him.
I'd been playing with Moni in Dubwize and the Mid-Tones, so one day I said ‘Hey, do you want to play bass with Cali Nation?’ He said yeah. We all sat in and it clicked, and here we are trying to get another album out and start hitting the streets to get out the sound.

Can you give a little rundown on the band's history? This is the second or third incarnation of Cali Nation. Can you give a history of the group and what it means to you and why you've kept it together this long?
To me, it's my musical vision. As far as philosophy, lifestyle, just living the best you can. Not as far as monetary and material things go, but just the best mentality you can have. Be thankful and forgiving and loving, which are crucial elements in enjoying a good, fruitful life. The musical message, it's not so much a message for the people, not as much as I wish I could say it is. But it's a message to myself, a reminder to myself, you know. It's almost a mantra to live well, and by singing these things and singing about my trials, it's therapy. Music is therapy. I'm sure you can relate to that.
So keeping Cali Nation going, from 12 years ago, or so, through different names. — the band's gone through in the beginning, we started out as a little garage band and we wanted to record an album. Of course, I brought you in and other vocalists in to share the stage and hype up the vibe because it's all love. But it seems to work best as three elements. Almost earth, wind and fire, you know. The least amount of people you need to rely on to make it click, the better. The more people you need to rely on, the more difficult the task becomes. If you could get by on a 3 legged table, why build a 4 or 5 legged table? So I've stuck to (having three band members). But of course, always leaving the table open for decoration on top. There's always room for somebody else to come in and share their gift, if that makes sense.
As far as keeping it going, I'm a musician. A singer and a song writer. As long as I'm breathing, I'm going to be playing music and Cali Nation is that vehicle.

Tell me about the album.
Between having to work a full-time job, being a father of a 10 year old and trying to keep this place open, it's gone through various stages. I wish I had the luxury of being able to come in and have engineers and have a real luxurious recording studio to do it, but the reality is I'm doing it all myself. It's all based on time that I have to be able to do it. As far as whether it's actually happening, if you don't believe me, I can sit down and show you all the tracks we've got. If you need some reassurance thta there's a Cali Nation album on its way, I can sit down and play you the tunes. Not all of them have my final vocal track or guitar track, but the bass and drums are in line for everything and there's a scratch guitar and scratch vocal on there.
What it is for me, this recording, it's like looking at yourself in the mirror. You're going to see flaws, because there's no lying in recording. Unless you are using some tricks of the trade. Pitch correction can fix flaws, but that's not my philosophy for recording. I want to capture the real deal. I'm not trying to change the real deal after I capture it. If anything, as far as embellishing it, I'm just going to polish it up, but that doesn't involve any modification. That's just adding volume and acoustic properties to it.
I wish I could say it's an easy process to record an album, but it's not. That's why there are a lot of bands who have a great regional following but don't have any real recordings to show for it, because it's a battle. As far as the time frame has gone, it's based on my time, so I'm not in a hurry to get it out just to say I got it out. But it will be out (laughs).

Talk about the loyalty of the fans. People have really stuck by you guys.
I guess I could say A) I'm lucky, or B), I think what it is is that when I get on the stage and I pour my heart out through my songs, I expose myself. And I think people can relate to that. I don't think I sing about things that are too far fetched. I think I sing about things that people can relate to on a personal level. Anytime people can lock into something they can relate to, and bob their heads to at the same time and party to it, it all culminates in good vibes. I think people need that in their lives, after the monotony of going to work, or going to school, being unemployed. It's about breaking up that monotony.
I can't say that I can to go any town and do that just yet, but that's something you build upon. I've been able to build in this community. Throughout the years word has spread, and I think having the first CD really helped as far as people getting to know our material. Having the platform for people to grasp it is essential for building a fan base, and (if you do that) people will come out to support you and be loyal to you.
I think the other element is showing love to people. Being grateful that they're there and understanding that they're there because they love the music and you do to, so that's the common ground.

Talk to me about the Salinas scene, or is it a lack thereof?
I don't think there's a lack thereof. I mean, I've been very impressed actually, that there actually is somewhat of a nightlife now. Whereas 10 years ago, there wasn't a single bar in town for a band to play at. There were no venues whatsoever. So places like Casa Sorrento, Chapala's, Banker's Casino, and even in years past, you had Grassy Knoll and the Cherry Bean and other off the wall venues that helped as stepping stones to where we are at now. It's possible that Salinas can be a cultural epicenter for media and entertainment.
Because we do have a very distinct environment that has a lot of suffering. I think the poverty here relates to that. As far as world problems go, poverty is the problem that effects people th most, and with the level of poverty in Salinas and the polar opposite of the rich people (who live in town also), the upper crust of people here, that's a clash. Whenever there is suffering, in that element is where art can be produced the best.
Flowers have to be in manure to grow, and so does art. Art has to be involved in suffering and desperation and struggle to really thrive. Otherwise, you look at bands where the suffering stops. They got it, and all of a sudden, the quality of the art usually stops. It just becomes fluffy.
In order to continue to produce art, there has to be a certain amount of suffering. And I think Salinas has a somewhat miserable element to it. I love it here. I don't plan on going anywhere. I'll buy a house here, and probably die here. But it's not Disneyland. It's not the happiest place on earth.
But it's what's in your heart that you can make it the happiest place on earth. When you go to your home (or) you're with your friends, it's when you're sharing that love with other people, your little microcosm of an environment becomes a happy place.
You could be in hell, but as long as you're there with a good mind, it's possible to be in a happy place and an unhappy place. If that's not a paradox, I don't know what is.
Salinas though, I'm happy to see there's a local scene that's blooming. I hope that it continues to bloom. I'd say it's better off than it was. I just hope it keeps getting better. We have the means and the way, we have the capability of recording sounds, as long as bands realize the value of capturing that and releasing it. Whether it takes 10 years, 10 months, 10 weeks, or 10 days, it's important to put music out there for the people. And I don't know, but I think Salinas can do it.

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Sunday, March 07, 2010

Best Pictures Oscar Picks, ranked from 5-1

Part Two of my Top 10 list, this one from 5-1
5. “Inglorious Basterds”: r My top five marks the field of serious contenders. “Inglorious Basterds” has been getting a late push for the big award. I wouldn't be surprised if it leapfrogs the competition. Still, in comparison to that other war film (“The Hurt Locker”) in contention, Quentin Tarantino's World War II revenge flick gets shot down.

4. “Up In The Air”: Talk about perfect timing. “Up In The Air,” a film about professional corporate hatchet men (and the women who love/use them) arrived in movie theaters on the heels of a reeling economy and public distrust of anything big business. It also might be the smartest movie in the field.
George Clooney is golden as Ryan Bingham, a man who has turned firing people into an art form. The film's light touch is the only thing preventing it from being a lock for Oscar gold.
3. “Avatar”: r I have to qualify this ranking because I did not watch “Avatar” in IMAX 3-D, as it was intended. This is all subjective anyway, so I'll just say why it doesn't deserve the win.
For all the people calling Best Picture a two-horse race, I understand. “Avatar” was one of those cultural watershed moments, something you had to see for yourself. That's important in film making. And it's a great film, with tremendous acting, beautiful visuals and a nice message.
However, I felt short-changed on the storyline, a by-the-numbers fairy tale taken straight from a Disney flick (“Pocahontas” is the one I keep hearing in reference). Maybe it's a bit much to ask for a more sophisticated script from a film with blue aliens, but this is the Best Picture category we're talking about.
2. “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”: r "Damn." Watching “Precious,” you can't help but utter that word to yourself at least once. Be it shock, or pity, or hope, director Lee Daniels' film about an abused Harlem teenage girl is the most emotionally riveting and brutal film of the year, with extraordinary acting performances galore.
Mariah Carey (Mariah friggin' Carey!) edges out Bullock for the most surprising performance of the year. She got snubbed for a best supporting actress nomination.
Gabourey Sidibe delivers an astonishing, best actress-nominated performance in her first professional acting job. Ever.
But this film is defined by Mo'Nique as Mary Jones, one of the most savage characters introduced to film in years. What's most incredible (and disheartening) is the empathy you wind up feeling for Mo'Nique's character by the end of the film, which will have you uttering that word I mentioned.
1. “The Hurt Locker”: Is this a perfect movie? Probably not. But watching “The Hurt Locker” leaves you satisfied with an active appreciation for the art of filmmaking.
In this year's best picture field, nothing is more intense than director Kathryn Bigelow's vision of the Iraq War, told from the perspective of an explosive ordinance disposal (EOD) unit. Jeremy Renner is perfect as Staff Sergeant William James, a cowboy adrenaline junkie who specializes in bomb disarmament. His role is likely to inspire a generation of soldiers to come.
Everything else shines, from the film's Middle East setting (mostly shot in Jordan) to Barry Ackroyd's sweaty cinematography to Mark Boal's powerful script.
Perhaps it's not a perfect movie, but “The Hurt Locker” is a perfect choice for this year's Best Picture award.

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Saturday, March 06, 2010

Best Pictures Oscar Picks, ranked from 10 to 6.

T en movies are up for best picture at this year's Academy Awards.
That basically screams for a top 10 list.
Watching all 10 best picture nominees became a nice little mission for me. While I'm no film critic, I do love making lists.
So here is my ranking, (10 to 5 today, then 5-1 tomorrow)of the best picture nominees, with No. 1 standing as my prediction as the big winner for tonight's Academy Awards ceremony.
10. “A Serious Man”: r Joel and Ethan Coen are masters at tone and setting, and this drama about a Jewish family in early ’70s-era Minnesota captures the period and mood with excellence. Lead actor Michael Stuhlbarg is great as a nervous, put-upon patriarch. The ultra-slow pace mixed with a few too many Coen Brothers embellishments (meandering dialogue, crackpot caricature) keep “A Serious Man” from being a more serious contender. (more after the jump)

9. “An Education”: r Another period piece, this one set in ’60s-era England. Best actress nominee Carey Mulligan lives up to the hype as Jenny, a dashing, whip-smart school girl rebelling against strict parents and school officials. Peter Sarsgaard oozes with British charm as the older-age hustler who sweeps both Jenny and her parents off their feet. Not even an ultra cool soundtrack can help “An Education” stack up against the more potent best picture nominees.
8. “District 9”: r That other CGI sci-fi flick nominated for best picture, “District 9,” is a victim of post-“Avatar” backlash. Wherein “District 9” features a terrific story and gooey-great aliens, it simply pales in comparison to James Cameron's monsterpiece.
7. “Up”: r This deserves to win the Best Animated Feature Film Oscar. But if it wasn't for the expanded best picture field, “Up” probably wouldn't be here. Still, for all of its silly characters and pixelated production, “Up” is a moving and often sad film that proves just how effective computer-animated storytelling can be. And who can resist a film that features dogs playing poker?
6. “The Blind Side”: r Perhaps the biggest surprise of the field, “The Blind Side” is a good old fashion Hollywood story of uplift and redemption. Sandra Bullock glows as the ultimate do-good Christian mom. Her even-keeled performance works as she carries the movie and the cast. It's a good sign when a football movie with hardly any football action still makes you cheer.

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Thursday, March 04, 2010

Oscar Countdown: 8.5 down, 1.5 to go

My quest to watch all 10 Best Picture nominees for the 2010 Academy Awards is down to the wire. So far, I've watched “Precious,” “Up In The Air,” “Avatar,” “An Education,” “A Serious Man,” “The Blind Side,” “Inglorious Bastards,” “Up,” and one-half of “The Hurt Locker.” I still have to watch “District 9.”
Tonight I will wrap up my campaign and with a double bill of “The Hurt Locker” followed by “District 9.” Then I must write!
I really, really, really wish they would have left it at five nominees this year. This is just too many movies to watch. It's getting ridiculous!

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Interview transcript: Alex Lee of Le Vice.

Talking with Alex Lee of Le Vice is always a treat. She is as focused and talented an artist as I've come across during my five years of writing this blog. Simply put, ya girl is freshtadef.
This convo centered around her latest project, the self-titled debut from Le Vice. As she's come into her own as a well-rounded artist, Lee has opened up different sides of her personality in her music. Sometimes sultry, sometimes contemplative, often confident.
Below is a transcript of our talk, with more after the jump. Le Vice performs an acoustic set at 7:30 p.m. Saturday night at The Alternative Cafe in Seaside. For more info, visit www.levicemusic.com.

Tell me about the musical direction on the Le Vice album, but also, for you personally. You tapped into an emotional vein on this album, talking a lot about relationships, not that you haven't before. You're touching on personal emotions and they seemed to fit in well with the mood of the music the band produced.
The music on this record, I wouldn't call this record like a hip-hop record. It clearly had hip-hop elements. I rap, so it's going to have hip-hop elements, but for the most part, that's the only thing hip-hop about it, besides any parts DJ Traps had to do with. So cuts and scratches and DJing and rapping (are there).
This record, I wouldn't classify it as a hip-hop record at all. What that says is that the music that's there is music.
It's not rap. It's not strictly about swagger, or strictly this and that and just about me in general, or whatever you might think of that correlates with hip-hop music. And even though I've made a lot of conscious hip-hop music too, it's not just about save the world, this and that. It's music, and the music brought out feelings in me.
I wrote this record a lot differently than I've written in the past. I tried to just let whatever came out flow and not force anything. Whatever I was feeling, whatever direction that something took me, I just went with it and that's what came out.
Something I've been really trying to work on is ... just letting whatever comes out naturally come out, you know what I mean? This record, the more relationship oriented songs or whatever, those are some of the last songs I put on the record. To be honest, they were some of the easiest songs to do.
Don't get me wrong. For the most part, everything I wrote always has some type of exaggeration to it. I generally don't write songs to the exact truth, you know? It's music. It's entertainment or whatever.
I might put things together that might be taken from different relationships or stories or whatever and make it into one song. Or I might take what I see in other people's relationships and things that they feel that I feel I can connect with, things that involve the same kind of feelings, and put that into a song.
When you have something real that you can write about, its' that much easier and truer. And it feels better, you know what I mean? Relationships are good to write about (laughs), you know. What can I say? They give you lots and lots of material.

One thing that I noticed about you on your last solo record, “Headphone Heroes,” was that you hadn't revealed a lot of your personality. I feel like on this one, steering away from hip-hop and getting more in tune with the band's sound, it almost brought out a whole different side of your personality.
Everything I do, every project, every song I write, it's growth. I'm 24, you know, I'm not 20. I'm not 16. I'm 24, and I can't help but want to express things that are more natural for me as a 24 year old to come out.
I don't know if I've ever told you this before. I used to make conscious music, and it's really weird because I have steered away from that for the most part, and in a weird way I feel that's a growing thing. Because when I was 17, 18, 19, 20, I wanted to save the world, and I thought I could do it.
Don't get me wrong. I still want to save the world and everything, but I have to worry about me. I have to save my world every day. I have to write what's true to me. While saving the world is always an aspiration and it should be to everybody, I have to worry about myself and I have issues in my own life that take precedence to saving the world.
So that has a lot to do with things. I have to realize things for myself. What are my issues? My faults? Another reason why I steered away from conscious music is because I'm fuckin' hella not perfect. I'm not perfect, and to rap about the perfect world, when I'm not even perfect? What can I do? When I realized that, I started writing about my faults a little more. Not writing directly about them, but just not afraid to seek them out. Whether it be different issues, relationship issues, or like lusty things or whatever, things that aren't' so positive about my life. I feel that a lot of people can really relate to that
I kind of changed a lot of what I've been writing about. To be honest, it feels realer and it feels truer and it feels good, you know.

Last time we talked, you told me about steering away from hip-hop. I know from our last conversation that you've been more into the indie rock scene. Why is it important to make that move and distinction to fans that follow you music? Is it important that you steer clear of the hip-hop tag?
To be honest, it's not that I really want to steer clear of the hip-hop tag, or that was even an intention. It just happened. I haven't been listening to a lot of hip-hop. It's become a bit repetitive for me. Just for the time being or whatever. I ventured out my little ears and started listening to other music.
Not to mention that being in a band with these guys who have very different musical backgrounds and listen to a lot of different stuff, it was bound to rub off on me at some point. So some of the music that they might listen to that I might not have been up on, they put me up on. I know Shawn put me up on a lot of stuff.
And then I had my little Sirius/XM Radio and I had this indie rock station. I never knew any of the (bands that they played on the station). Sure the names came up, but like, all the songs are kind of similar to me. I hate to sound like that. It's like how people that don't' listen to rap, they say it all sounds the same. But there was a lot that I grabbed from that and I liked it.
I needed something different that inspired me to make music, and hip-hop in general wasn't doing it for me. None of my favorite people were putting out much music in general or putting out exactly what I was feeling at the time.
That's just where I'm at right now, and not to mention, talking about the Le Vice record, there's a lot of different musical influences from the entire band. I want to naturally fit into whatever type of music is there that they're playing. You can't write this hard ass rap to some super melodical, if that's even a word, music. The band is not just mine. Sure, it started off as mine, but it's not just mine anymore, and I'm happy.
So now Le Vice is something that I do, something that I'm a part of. Sure it's one of my babies, but it's not just mine and I'm happy to share in the creative process with everybody. I don't want to overpower what is created by all the different, talented musicians in the band.
With that said, it's like, the solo record isn't super hip-hoppy either. It's not like what I'm doing with Le Vice. Maybe the next Le Vice record I'm gonna put more input in and be like let's make it more hip-hop. Who knows? Maybe my next (solo) record will go back to being a straight hip-hop record. It just depends where I'm at. It's whatever I'm feeling. Whatever inspires me will be the direction I go. If I feel I can go that direction safely (laughs), without making a fool of myself or without going too off course that it just doesn't work.

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The Cranks perform live in Salnas March 12.

My boys The Cranks perform March 12 at The Pizza Factory in Salinas. $10 cover. All ages. Rock on.
If y'all don't like The Cranks, then y'all don't like life. That is all.

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Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Young MC & The Oscars 2010: Forever linked?

I've been trying to watch all 10 of the Best Movie Oscar nominees (six down, four more to go). One thing struck me this weekend after watching "The Blind Side" and "Up In The Air" - both movies have pivotal scenes that involve Young MC's "Bust A Move."
In "Up in the Air" Young MC (real name Marvin Young) appears briefly performing the song during a corporate party scene. In "The Blind Side," the movie's main character Michael Oher sings along to the song prior to a traumatic incident.
Not sure what any of it means, but it's kind of fun to see the song relevant 20 years after its release.
And it's further proof that man, I am so old!

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Update: Guru undergoes successful surgery, full recovery expected.

Rapper Guru of Gang Starr underwent successful surgery after a massive heart attack left him in a coma over the weekend.
Several media sources, including AllHipHop.com and HipHopDX.com, cited unnamed sources saying the 43-year-old veteran MC (real name Keith Elam) wax expected to make a full recovery.
You can read the AllHopHop.com story here. The HipHopDX.com story can be viewed here.
More updates as they arrive throughout the day.

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Monday, March 01, 2010

Report: Guru of Gangstarr suffers heart attack, in coma.

Guru of Gangstarr, an influential MC whose voice was one of the most easily recognized in hip-hop, has reportedly suffered a heart attack and is in a coma.
HipHop DX has been updating the story all evening. You can read it here.
Word of Guru's (real name Keith Elam) condition reverberated throughout Twitter Sunday evening. Artists including Busta Rhymes, Questlove, Just Blaze, and Jay Electronica all made comments.
DJ Eclipse, who hosts a show on Sirius XM, spoke with DJ Premier and shared this:
Spoke to Premier off air as he wasn't up for speaking publicly yet. He spoke with Guru's family. Confirmed the rumors. Send + energy!!
More news to come as the story develops. Thoughts and prayers to the brother known as Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal.

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