rewind: wantu mazuri

SINCE WE HAVE the button on the rewind, this too: On the eve of African American History Month — we’ve come a long way . . .


"one more/ weekend/of lights and evening faces/fast food/living nostalgia"

THAT’S BOWIE ABOVE, but this whole thing started not with him or this riff, but with an old friend trolling for information on Facebook last week. Touchstones : music, fashion, memories — that would locate him back in 1977 for a young adult novel he is writing. And so we all have been digging deep, back into “the breezeways of our youth,” I teased. This, coincidentally, coincided with the death of J.D. Salinger. I read The Catcher in the Rye that year for the first serious time. I have a tendency as a reader to remember not just the book, but where I was when I was reading it, so this news then placed me in one of Culver City Jr. High School’s sunlight-flooded classrooms, sunk into a sofa sulking at the rear, with that maroon paperback in my hands. 1977. Culver City. Integrating. We were all pushing up against one another. It wasn’t angry, though sometimes it had an edge — racially speaking. I think most of us were simply curious. Fights happened over space, lunch tables, what music could or should be playing at nutrition or lunch — those things are touchstones themselves.

WE LIVED so close to the water that that was a distraction and device itself. Surf culture for us was so different than in the “Gidget” movies or Beach Boys songs. The beaches were dirtier by then and felt just as urban as that grove of new skyscrapers that were springing up downtown but those surf tribes made their way down to the water daily and brought with them young men mostly of various ethnicities and background: an image that won’t go away: Erik Lopez in a baja, his brown, wavy hair down nearly, but not quite, to his hips, “riding” the aisle on the #5 bus as if conquering a wave.

The Asian kids were the Earth, Wind and Fire fans — more vocal and loyal than us black kids and after a certain point, you had to just let them have them.

It was difficult to be possessive about music; it was free-floating. But you had to be sure not to be too “out there” with your preferences that served to separate. Slippery slope. By then, I was listening up-and-down the dial — interant, aural thrill seeker. I wanted to *know.* I brought Stevie Wonder with me from another time, place, neighborhood. I carried him everywhere. He never went away.

But I was curious about all of these new sounds — even some of the noise. Stations whose call-letters don’t exist anymore — KPOL, KBCA, KDAY, KGFJ, KMET — still clutter my consciousness, my memories of growing up in Southern California before it became so completely plastic and difficult to not just navigate but permeate.

Then you could slide from one style, mood, declaration from another. Not that you could own it, but you could sample it, could feel it, take a little with you.

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA, in that moment was still fetching. A goal for some, a impetus to flee for others. Growing up between those two moments — the rustic wildness diminishing, the temples to what those thought it should be climbing up from the flatness, made life feel otherworldly at times, like you were part of some strange slip-stream.


Surprisingly, the film that articulated that for me more than others was “The Lords of Dogtown.” The opening scene when the boys (see top photo) are out before dawn surfing in that dirty muck of the Pacific Ocean I knew well at that time. Surfing among those hovering ruins of the the pier, but not minding the ruins, in fact, remaking them as something else. All of this too, this week, since this is way-back machine, 1970s week to be thinking about the Eagles of all bands. But this report on NPR got me thinking about again, the long arms of SoCal. A DJ in Port au Prince, Haiti, apparently had been playing the Eagles’ bombshell hit “Hotel California” at the moment the quake struck. He had the presence of mind to hit the “replay” button and so that eerie entreaty: “Welcome to the Hotel California” played over and over and over as the frail city fell. Again, it came in a flash — the air, the tension, the shifts of the terrain — impermanence. It came in waves.

"Poets are always taking the weather so personally…"

They are always sticking their emotions in things that have no emotion.”
— J.D. Salinger

AS A RECUPERATIVE move, I had planned to spend the day in bed with a book. But on the return ride home with my soups and juices; teas and fruits and other easy-to-prepare sustenance, I heard the news of J.D. Salinger’s passing. 91-years-old. Still it struck me as a surprise. Even though there hadn’t been much of anything — even a hint of anything– for decades. He was just *there* in that comforting back-space. We’d all become used to that silence interrupted with only the periodic hoax or scandal (eg. Joyce Maynard). I guess for that reason, my memories of reading Salinger feel protected — like a plastic library cover on sheilding an old favorite book. I immediately came home and pulled out my hardcover copy of “Nine Stories” and went for “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” to fish out a sentence to post among my friends’ quotable memories of Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye. That book fell into my hands while I was very young. My mother the English teacher had, of course, multiple copies on the shelf at home. I loved Holden’s voice. The words, “lousy,” “crummy,” “crap,” and “phony” are ones that I will forever associate with the experience of knocking around in Holden’s fed-up, impatient head. I later re-encountered the book in ninth grade. I had an English teacher who frequently lost control of his classroom — I think that was where I began to really understand the definition of pandemonium. So for much the entire school year, I sat in the back of that class on a broken sofa reading, among other transgressive things, Rolling Stone and Lou Reed LP lyric sheets and Salinger — in a way that chaos a perfect backdrop. Franny and Zooey came next, Nine Stories after that. And it was the latter, that stayed with me, Mrs. Glass putting lacquer on her nails. “See More Glass” charming the little girl by the sea shore before putting certain punctuation on a ragged, uncertain trajectory. Perfect-pitch dialogue, tone, tension. Salinger observed small details that spoke across the chasm of time, generation, gender etc. I’d been saving Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters & Seymour an Introduction for reasons/habit too complicated to go into here — and now that even makes it harder to do so…RIP J.D. Thanks for the look into your personal weather.

San Patricios

THIS was my little history lesson for 2009/beginning of 2010. New project due out March 9th highlighting the hidden history of the San Patricios. This project had been living inside of Chieftains leader, Paddy Moloney’s head for decades. Moloney calls it a “tone poem.” And it is a mix of sounds, language, genres, cultures and the stories of a band of Irish soldiers who fled the potato famine only to find themselves conscripted in the U.S. Army fighting Mexico. Something about the war felt unpleasantly familiar: “the neighbor that never went home,” as Moloney says in the interview I conducted with him last month. Many of the men desereted, some swam across the Rio Grande and joined the Mexican Army. This album is their story. You’ll find the rest here.

"The Wet Stuff"

WOKE UP THIS morning to find a police cruiser and a news van parked at the end of the block. Even by big city standards of expected activity, that sort of thing raises the hair at the back of the neck. Considering I’m so close to the foothills, I first thought, “Well, it’s gotta be the rain.” All those weather people gushing on and on about “the wet stuff.” Later, received a phone call from the PD that relayed information that there had been an abduction one street away from me. Jeesh. I lived in E.P. for more than a decade and, well, nothing quite like that for whatever its worth.
Block’s quiet now. It’s rained and thundered and lightning was featured against the sky for most of the day — a big silver scribble. The foothills are in trouble above. That gives us all pause, sadly, though, we need this rain. And more. As night falls — calm. Sliver of moon discernible in the sky.