The Great White Hope
Everyone's heard the old song about New York -- if you can make it there, you'll make it anywhere, etc. -- but here in the collective support group known as San Francisco, things are different. If you can make it here, often it's because you can't make it anywhere else.
One group of musicians that understands and wants to avoid the local music trap, Little White Radio, already is looking past the claustrophobic and ever-diminishing local club scene to Los Angeles and beyond. You might say this optimism smells of champagne wishes and caviar dreams -- the group has been playing together just five weeks -- but its members have the chops to back up big ambition, having slogged it out in the trenches with groups like Broun Fellinis, Consolidated, Flower S.F., and the Beatnigs. And after listening to a Little White Radio tape nonstop the past few weeks, I had to go watch a rehearsal.
LWR practice in one of those crowded, rehearsal-space warehouses that, depending on your level of cynicism, could be viewed either as a cathedral of potential or a tenement of mediocrity. The band's particular rehearsing chamber is located at 19th Street and Florida, next door to the ACT scene shop. Walking down paint-splattered hallways, past the pay phone and dubious-looking sink, I hear the noises of various bands and meet a pink-faced cabbie who's wandering aimlessly, knocking on doors, searching for his fare.
Inside LWR's sanctuary, Hendrix posters and Jackie Chan photos share the walls with Christmas lights and someone's shirt and slacks, hanging from a steam pipe. The group rents the space with other bands (Angry Newts, Mutual Benefit Life, and "some blues band"), so the room is packed with amps, pianos, congas, bicycles, and a ratty sofa, where I sit with a notepad, fully aware of the tension I'm creating by just being here.
Two things are immediately apparent: These guys are too ambitious and experienced to waste time with the music biz cliches; and they sneer at the trendy techno-dweebs who splice together dance tunes using computer boxes like the RB338 Steinberg Micro Composer.
Drummer Kevin agrees: "They look at music like it's a desktop."
Eschewing computers and keyboards, LWR stick with vocals, drums, bass, and two cherry guitars, a GNL model Telecaster made by Leo Fender, and a hollowbody Gibson ES 295. All the sounds are very tight and pro, but it takes more than tasty licks and nice equipment to make the grade in rock 'n' roll. So why should anyone sit in on this band?
One good reason is the approach: These musicians are endearing in their stubborn refusal to just jump into the pond with everyone else. In just over a month, they have created 15 songs and a self-produced CD, but they've canceled every gig they've booked. They decided they weren't ready to play live.
The music is full of complex, catchy hooks -- influences from ska, Pretenders power chords, soul, jazz, hip hop, grunge, and country blues -- and Troy's tart, racially loaded lyrics are juxtaposed with toe-tapping melodies. Songs like "Niggas Hangin' From Trees" steer miles away from typical pop-song topics:
"Now, I look at you, my mind wanders far, you eat in yuppie restaurants, you drive fancy cars ... Now, step on back a minute and you look at me, still tryin' to get over niggas hangin' from trees."
Even the band's name invites controversy -- Little White Radio is a band made up primarily of African-Americans. And what does that mean?
"That's what it's about," laughs Troy, during a cigarette break. He then admits that maybe the name is also based on a radio he listened to as a kid. Patrick, one of the guitarists, cuts in to offer a third explanation: When the band first started playing, members taped themselves on the cassette recorder contained in a little white radio.
As we speak, Michael, the other guitarist, starts strumming the chords of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody," and everyone immediately bursts into a sing-along with one of the whiter songs to grace mainstream radio in the past 25 years. To get attention from record labels, LWR are threatening to write a phony rock opera, titled Jesus Christ Another Brick in the Bohemian Superstar Rhapsody.
"Don't talk about it too much," someone says. "We might actually have to do it."
Princess Di Update
Another sleazy book from Kitty Kelley just isn't enough; the royal family tragedy wouldn't be complete in our hearts without a few sick jokes. Among those currently in circulation: Bessie Barnes asks, What's the difference between Princess Di and Tiger Woods? Woods has a better driver. And Lance Gould checks in with Diana's last words: "Cheese!"
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