Tuesday, April 20, 2010

I think I stood next to David Byrne on an elevator tonight!

The Broad Contemporary Art Museum Opening At LACMA

Tonight, I was riding the elevator in a older Chelsea building. Nothing special about that. I rarely look at the people who surround me on a crowded elevator, especially during "rush hour"--all I can think about is getting home on the subway in one piece. This night, of all nights, would prove to be different.

There were three people (including myself) waiting for the elevator to arrive: me, the "suit," and the man wearing a t-shirt. I remembered the t-shirt more than the suit. Not because I prefer cotton over polyester (which I do) but mainly because the man wearing the t-shirt was holding three shopping bags, including one which may have contained his dinner for the night.

When the elevator arrived, the suit walked on first (chivalry is dying) then I assume that the t-shirt will follow the suit. Instead, he motions over to me and insists that I walk on first (but not dead yet). The suit quickly hits "4," I stretched out from the back of the elevator to reach "8," and the t-shirt hits "7."

As we're slowly bumping up floor by floor, the t-shirt turns to the suit and says, "Wow, that is some strong, flavorful gum there." The suit laughs. I give a smirk on the outside, but I laugh hysterically in my head. "It's strawberry and lime," the suit replies to the t-shirt. "It really does smell like sugar-coated strawberries," I think to myself.

We arrive at "4" and the suit quickly leaves the elevator with great relief. Once the door closes, the t-shirt turns to me and says, "Boy, that was some strong gum, huh?"

"I can still smell it all over," I respond. I looked at him again after saying it. Despite the scruffy beard and the dark-framed eye wear, I recognized that face. I knew that I was familiar with that toothy grin and the spiky hair--despite its grey, near-white state. And then images of "the big suit" and the "Once In A Lifetime" video popped into my head. "This is David Byrne!! I'm sure of it!!" thinking to myself.

I never received confirmation of his "true" identity (didn't want to scare the man). Once the elevator made it to "7," we parted ways. "Have a good night," he says. "You do the same." And that's it.

Perhaps I should have said something "more real" to him. I wish I had told him that I was a writer or that I loved his music for years or asked about a Talking Heads reunion. I wish I could have talked more about the music that inspired him growing up and asked him what he thinks about the music industry today. But then I thought, just like me, he's also looking forward to enjoying his shopping bag filled with groceries, trying to put an end to another long day.

David Byrne, if you're out there and happen to read this, thank you for your music--and for proving that chivalry is not dead.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Ms. Badu returns to her roots

Erykah Badu's New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh) is a return to the roots that helped make her a star. With producers like ?uestlove (The Roots), James Poyser, and the late, great J Dilla, her latest effort is reminiscent of her 1997 debut, Baduizm, for it combines melodic flourishes, clever sampling (a combined reworking of both Sylvia Striplin and Notorious B.I.G. classics on "Turn Me Away (Get MuNNY)," and most importantly, live instrumentation. Badu's gifts as a vocalist doesn't lie in her ability to "sound pretty" or hold long, high notes like some of her contemporaries. She completely understands what her voice can actually do (with her playful "heys" and "ye-yos") and her ability to manipulate sounds, by combining inspired touches of Roy Ayers, Fela Kuti, and Dr. Dre throughout the album, is what makes her stand out from the rest. And the standout track on this album may also be her most personal, "Window Seat." She bares her soul on "Window Seat" (and bares all in the track's music video). It's a internal struggle between her desire to be just plain old "Erica Wright," left alone and inconspicuous, and the desire to be the artist the world knows and loves as "Erykah Badu." It's perhaps a familiar struggle that her fellow "Soulquarians" have struggled with (D'Angelo, most namely) who often chose the former rather than the latter. Ms. Badu may have replaced the head wraps and long gowns for top hats and humongous afros, but it's good to know that her desire to make music keeps her with us just a little while longer.

Corinne Bailey Rae: Love's Ebb and Flow

Although the album cover depicts Corinne Bailey Rae lying in the middle of a forest, surprisingly, her sophomore effort, The Sea, is aptly titled. The overall theme of The Sea is the ebb and flow of love. This album is a deeply emotional exploration of love--its ups and downs, ins and outs, and perhaps most evident, its "before and afters." Rae wrote songs for The Sea both prior to and after the death of her husband, saxophonist Jason Rae, in March 2008. On the surface, it's Rae's way of coping with the loss of her husband and trying to move forward. But after a close listen, The Sea is a wonderfully soulful hybrid of Rae's musical inspirations. The influence of the 1960s is evident on "Paper Dolls," from Leonard Cohen's instrumentation, the playful go-go sound of the British rock invasion and the rhythmic beat of Motown. "Closer" conjures up spirit of Marvin Gaye's I Want You and Let's Get It On respectively, in that she recreates his signature hallow, intimate sound with flourishes of keys, strings and horns. Lyrically (like Gaye), Rae wants to go to a deeper place with her lover, a place of intimacy not yet discovered: "I want you to journey with me/explore all the innocence/I don't mind us to build tension/but we've got to move in the same direction." Perhaps the most fleshed out work on The Sea is "I'd Do It All Again." It starts off gently with the calm sound of Rae's guitar, but then slowly turns into a lush, loud and soulful crescendo of her vocals, strings and drums (reminiscent of a Curtis Mayfield song) that will stir different emotions in you all at once. Lyrically, Rae also achieves a similar ebb and flow by first depicting love's hardships ("It's terrifying, life, through the darkness") and then ultimately proclaiming with pride that she would "do it all again." Alfred Lord Tennyson once said in a poem,"'Tis better to have loved and lost/Than never to have loved at all." Unsure if Rae fully agrees with Tennyson's now infamous words, but The Sea proves that despite a love lost, Corinne Bailey Rae is not afraid to fully explore it's ambiguities.

Sade: A Buffalo Soldier

Love is the message on Sade's latest album, hence the title, Soldier of Love. One might ask, well, isn't that the theme of pretty much any Sade song? And the answer would be a resounding YES. Throughout her nearly three decades in the music business, Sade's songs have examined love and its many facets--from the highs and joys ("Nothing Can Come Between Us"), the harrowing pain ("Smooth Operator" and "King of Sorrow") and the struggles to keep it going ("Hang on to Your Love"). But the lyrics on Soldier of Love are darker and possess a greater maturity that you haven't heard on her previous efforts. An "older and wiser" Sade if you will--even though she looks as young as she did when she first broke onto the scene in the early 1980s. Soldier of Love is more personal, perhaps even autobiographical, and it resonates with you from the first listen. "The Moon and The Sky" expresses the sorrow one feels over unrequited love and how easy it is for anyone to carry a torch for the one who hurt you the most. But the album's strongest song is the title track, "Soldier of Love." It is Sade at her best. The lyrics are insightful and the ebb and flow of love are evident in just the first few lines: "I've lost the use of my heart/But I'm still alive." Her vocals express both the deep ache and yearn for true love. With the almost futuristic sound of the military-style drums and guitar riffs, Sade paints such vivid images as desolately beautiful as a Sergio Leone western. Soldier of Love shows us that Sade will continue to fight perhaps life's greatest battle--the search for true love.