Riff Raff

The Sultan of Rap Sometimes you're just laying down some soulful grooves at your favorite local club and a prince walks in, or very nearly. Last winter, Manifest Yesterday -- the funky groove collective that last week released a self-titled album -- was playing at Blues when Alawi Q. Zawawi dropped by. The 29-year-old son of the deputy prime minister of Oman was so impressed by the group that he offered to fly them to the United Arab Emirates. There, they would take up a two-week residency at the Blue Marlin, one of Zawawi's supper clubs in the maritime Sultanate of Oman. Far be it for Manifest frontman Lance B. Freeman to turn down a near royal request. "It was paradise," says Freeman, who recently returned to the States. "I recommend [Oman] to anyone who can go." During their stay, the band was housed in condos on Zawawi's palace grounds, with a staff of servants and a fleet of cars at their disposal. By day, they jet skied and drove across sand dunes in Zawawi's Hummer; by night, they entertained the Oman elite. Nice work if you can get it. "The 'Prince,' " as Freeman calls Mr. Zawawi, "is just a regular guy. He's extremely well-educated and born into incredible wealth, but we hung out with him and watched Beavis and Butt-head." Zawawi has asked Manifest Yesterday to return to Oman one day, which isn't a bad offer when you're playing gigs at local bars. Says Freeman, "A person could definitely do worse." (S.T.)

Selvin Watch: And Justice for All ... Last summer, when the Chronicle's Joel Selvin took a six-week vacation, an eager James Sullivan stepped in to cover for the top crit. Sullivan did his job and Selvin's, ably and accurately covering both music made in the last two decades and Selvin's stable of tired warhorses. When Sullivan took a three-day working vacation two weeks ago, Selvin couldn't return the favor. God knows that Young James wouldn't have botched the scene report on the Metallica MTV special recorded at a SOMA sound stage on March 21. We'll just address the mistakes as they cascaded from Selvin's word processor. First, the chuckleheaded MTV host is Matt Pinfield, not Mark. Second, someone in the audience asked for "Fade to Black," but the band did not honor the request, much less "whip out" or "ride off into the sunset" with it, as Selvin wrote. (The band actually closed with an expletive-laden cover of the Anti-Nowhere League's "So What," which, coincidentally, MTV chose to censor out of the taped broadcast.) Onward into a flurry of minor boo-boos: Jason Newsted became Jason Newstad. Selvin was stingy with the T's in Kirk Hammett's name, but paradoxically flamboyant with S's, putting an extra one on the end of "Low Man's Lyric," and moving another on the most idiomatic of all Metallica titles, "For Whom the Bell Tolls," rendering it "For Whom the Bells Toll." They tolls for thee, Joel. Speaking of which, in other, bigger Selvin news, Riff Raff hears that the man is leaving for a one-year writing sabbatical in New York. We shudder at the thought of one more addition to the Selvin library, but we're quite happy that the Chron will have to hire another writer in the interim. (Note: Riff Raff doesn't have anything against Selvin or his paper; we just like reading well-thought [and accurate] stories about pop music.) We tried to find out if the Chron would be spending two years finding a fill-in, the amount of time it took to hire Sullivan, but Entertainment Editor Liz Lufkin didn't deign us worthy of a return phone call. (Something we said?) Anyway, more on this story later. (J.S.)

One Setback Last week Riff Raff marveled at the New York Times' new weekly arts columnist, Berkeley's Greil Marcus. We're distressed to hear that the column was summarily canceled late last week. Marcus is in Europe, and the Times editors we called didn't get back to us. Details as we hear 'em. (B.W.)

Frank Zappa Should Be Alive for This Another conservative attack on rock and rap fired up last Wednesday when Assemblyman Keith Olberg (R-Victorville) held a special hearing on his bill AB 2357, which would prohibit California's $130 billion Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) pension fund from owning stocks of companies that sell "lewd" music. Olberg's argument: Rock, punk, and rap make kids act violently, and the state shouldn't invest in the practice. If enacted, the bill would require PERS to dump over $1.9 billion in music-related stocks. PERS isn't happy about the proposition. Its board opposes the bill because it will hamper its ability to invest its funds in the most profitable places. "It would be a bad precedent," says PERS spokesperson Patricia Macht. She says that the state's Constitution requires PERS to get the best possible return on its investments, not to engage in morality plays. Concerned about First Amendment issues, and maybe just a little bit about their stock prices, the music and movie industries are fighting back. They argue that Olberg's bill is a back-door attack on free expression. "It is unfair to try to chill the speech of American performing artists," testified Hilary Rosen, president and CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America. Opponents say the bill's definition of proscribed music is so broad that it would include songs that merely describe acts of violence, drug use, and other street realities. Furthermore, Assemblyman Kevin Murray (D-Los Angeles) says the legislation unfairly targets rap music, which is of course mostly recorded by African-American and Latino artists. White rockers, he notes, have gotten away with violent lyrics for decades: "Now that some black guys are doing this, it's a horrible thing." (Philip Dawdy)

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