Loosely related quotes and musings on justice and Labi Siffre

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor” — Desmond Tutu

“He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it” — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.” — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.” ― Elie Wiesel, The Night Trilogy: Night, Dawn, the Accident

“If we will make the right choice, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our world into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.” — Martin Luther King, Jr., Beyond Vietnam — A Time to Break Silence

“The insistence that one should be “ethnic” is endemic, irritating and insulting.” Labi Siffre on the music business’ support of black British musicians. 

This may have nothing to do with anything for you, but please indulge me a moment as I try to bring you in. I’m just heading down an obsessive rabbit hole into Labi Siffre’s music. Apparently he’s kind of famous, but I’d never heard of him until a song, “Watch Me,” featured on the TV show “This is Us” caught my ear. Then I realized he was the guy who wrote one of my favorite 80’s songs, Madness’ “It Must Be Love.” When I was being told I was kind of like the new version or male version of whatever black acoustic guitar player someone had seen before as I started my career, I’m now surprised that I never heard his name. Maybe it was because of his attitude towards the music business was “The insistence that one should be “ethnic” is endemic, irritating and insulting,” and if people are trying to label you as the “black” anything, they’re not trying to align you with that sort of slippery resistant stance. I, however, would have loved to have been guided in his direction as a spiritual and musical forefather. Glad I’m discovering him now though.

I’m on the side of the undocumented, the lovers of love, the historically and enduringly oppressed. I feel no responsibility to be the representative of anyone. And I often love the opportunity to be the bridge that facilitates an opening to lovingly honest conversations between and within the communities which have nourished me and that can be as small as a simple friendship or romantic relationship. And in the end I’m grateful, even when it’s painful, for the challenges that plunge me deeper and ask me to reveal that which I might shelter.

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La La Land

La La Land PosterLast summer I had the pleasure of being in a band with Ryan Gosling… Well, I mimed guitar for a scene in “La La Land” which opens on Friday in Los Angeles and New York, and nationwide on December 16.

Last night I saw the film for the first time at the dance and music team screening. First, that experience was great…I love dancers just as a culture! And the film itself is great! It really captures what film maker Damien Chazelle describes in a piece on his favorite musicals in Sunday’s LA Times, saying that musicals “favor emotions over logic. They’re not a literal reflection of life — they’re about how life feels.” Sure it’s only a slice of how some lives feel, but for me seeing streets I drive often, especially by the 101 and Vine, it felt like some joyous and heartbreaking aspects of my life as a performing artist in LA.

Actually getting this job lines up with that for me. This was actually my first “sidelining” gig. Sidelining is when they hire professional musicians to mime playing pre-recorded music for a film to ensure authenticity when you see the hands move, basically. So we’re playing the songs, it’s just not us that you hear on the soundtrack necessarily. My girlfriend had told me to submit to an agency for this sort of thing a while back and I thought, “What the heck?”

Anyway, I get the gig based on a a couple photos they’ve seen, I guess, and I’m called for wardrobe. I drive out to Burbank or somewhere, make a wrong turn and end up in a cemetery. I finally make it to the studio and I’m guided to a room with a couple look boards leaning against the wall. I’m alone, so I walk over to give them a closer look. I see John Legend and others in sort of neo-soul looking clothes. I think, “Okay, I get the look they’re going for….” Then I pull out the second board which was behind and see photos of A Flock of Seagulls. “Yikes! I’d hate to be those guys…”

“So we’re going for a sort of authentic 80s look….” says the costume director.

Probably only a few of you would know this, but when I was a young teenager, my band was booked to open for A Flock of Seagulls. We thought it was going to be our big break. KROQ was the sponsor. We had the posters. This was going to be our big break out of Irvine. Then, a week or two before the show, the venue closed and we weren’t rescheduled. A Flock of Seagulls is kryptonite.

But the shoot was good. Ryan Gosling was a good guy, joining us in trying to come up with ridiculous band names, all of which I’ve forgotten now. And I won’t give any spoilers, but I’m curious to hear your feedback on my “luck” after seeing the film.

And the feeling of heartbreak to triumph is seeing this film in a room filled with amazing talent, knowing that it’s getting Oscar buzz, and loving the finished product. It’s a nice result for fun work on a 100º summer’s day (which plays for spring in the film).

I’m very visible in the scene, early in the film, behind my sunglasses. And if you see the trailer, I’m visible at the very end — if you don’t blink… and you know I’m there!

Blink and you'll miss it, but this still is from the end of the trailer.

Blink and you’ll miss it, but this still is from the end of the trailer.

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“Bird on a Wire” – Thank You, Leonard Cohen

It’s nice to hear all the different musicians sharing tributes today. Sometimes the best way to honor our heroes is to participate in the act that gave us the inspiration. This felt good. I’ve always listened to Leonard Cohen in times when I needed to be reminded that a contemplative world was possible, that we were free to experience life in intimate and liberating ways. He’s inspired me to write. A few of you have heard a song of mine called, “(Please Don’t Play) Hallelujah.” That was inspired by his pursuit of excellence, not as a diss to the song, but I wanted to shake people out of covering the obvious, and encourage people to write their own “Hallelujah.” I look forward to sharing that song on an upcoming release. But for now, here’s a moment from last night trying to engage and give gratitude to the gift of Leonard Cohen’s art. (I’d never sung it before other than to myself, so please excuse the mistakes…)

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Month of Recording, Day 25

Well, today I put out some live show feelers after another day of midi experimentation…mixed with car registration. It’s a glamorous life! More soon!

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Month of Recording, Days 22-24

I’m obsessed with string arranging. That’s about all I can say. I haven’t been extremely happy with my voice the past few days, so it’s good to have something to get excited about. Plugging along. When not feeling excited about string arrangements, I’m feeling a little Charlie Brown.charlie-brown-pic-y6hlo6-clipart



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Month of Recording, Days 18-21

Today I got really excited about a string arrangement. I started to do a little video for “Mask & Cape” last night, but was still worn out from the two days of “other work” on Thursday and Friday to really feel good about it. (I drove a total of 440 miles and did six 45 minute shows between 4am Thursday and 1pm Friday! Yikes! But the tasks weren’t finished….) But this morning I listened to it before my hike and started to hear all sorts of other things.

When I first started thinking about this project last year, my goal was to do it totally different than my last few records, to do it with an outside producer and the musicians. Now I’ve come back to just me in the studio following my bliss, with a lot of guitar ideas. But I’m feeling now like the guitar should be less featured. That may not happen, because playing is about my favorite thing in the world. But I’m not married to one way of doing things. I guess that’s probably not interesting to most, but for me it’s liberation. So today I started to hear some sort of McCoy Tyner meets Burt Bacharach thing which I tried to replicate this evening. It’s painstaking. But it’s so much fun to try! I love this learning.



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Month of Recording, Day 17

I allowed two days a week for that job that pays the bills so the next couple days I’ll be out of commission. But I’ll probably get to play for about 1500 kids, so that’ll be fun.

Today I got some new gear and got caught up in that. So nothing exciting to report. Hopefully more good stuff soon. 

Peace and love. We need it. 

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Month of Recording, Days 14 & 15

I did touch the studio yesterday, but only for a moment. Every year for I don’t know how long I’ve helped a filmmaker friend, Dawn Westlake, with her website. I got into that business out of a moment of necessity back when I put out Arrogance Procrastination Fear Humility and needed a website. As most things in my life, I just figured out a way to do it. It turned out well enough that people started asking me to do sites for them which began business in which I was pretty involved for a good decade. Dawn and I met at film festival, through our love of basketball. Huh? Well, I used to sit a couple rows behind Clipper Darryl (site) with my sister who had season tickets, so we were on the jumbotron whenever he’d get going. Dawn had a film at the Artivist Film Festival and I had scored a short for Greenpeace that was also scheduled to appear. One of the things that happen when you have season tickets for pro sports is that you create a community with your seat mates and create imaginary life stories for the people that habitually end up on the jumbotron. Dawn and her husband had done that for us, they named us modern man and woman, because we represented the browning of humanity! (This was pre-Obama…) And within a few minutes of our meeting she, 1) told me that funny story, and 2) we became fast friends.

What does this has to do with a recording blog? Well, it explains the absence to a degree. But even more importantly, it’s to share that Dawn writes and produces a short every year. And they end up in festivals literally all over the world. I think they may have even had a screening once in Antartica. So it’s DIY inspiration to hang out and help others who are keeping productive.

But it did take a little more time than I had hoped prepping stuff for her so I never got back to the studio after my short morning visit. Then we went to see a great play at the Geffen Playhouse, called “Barbecue,” which, though I’ve linked a couple things here, the less you know of it the more amazing it will be to see. It turns racial and class stereotypes upside down and inside out with a very surprising structure. That sort of audaciousness is inspiring.

So today was really about finishing up Dawn’s site and this afternoon I worked on setting up the vocal that I’ll be sending off to my producer friend, Steve, in England in the next couple days for him to mix and to get me focused on a sonic scheme for the majority of these recordings. I’m excited for tomorrow.

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Month of Recording, Day 13

Breezy, breezy…. I actually backed out of all commitments and stayed in the studio a good part of today. Despite the desire to “have a weekend” something got lost in the discipline of this month and I needed to stay true to my commitment to focus on creating. It’s one of those things. And especially after getting my mind blown with all the studio knowledge my friend gave me yesterday, I needed time to digest and set-up some new environments. It was actually a hard reality after such a blissful day yesterday. But that’s life.

I think I promised some ups and downs when I started this daily working and writing task. It’s not so bad, I kind of realized that what I like to to is take life’s vulnerabilities and turn them into liberating joy. So if I look or sound like a fool sometimes, I know my job is to laugh with myself in the aftermath and get across the idea that if I can do it, you can, too. I also give you permission to be down some days. Ha, weren’t you waiting for that!? But sometimes it seems like the world doesn’t want you to be down. If maybe a guitar player in LA can say it, that drops a welcomed ray of sunshine on a dull day.

While we’re on the topic, the other day when I put out a little Facebook update about being deliriously in love with life, I got a few responses from friends who weren’t. I’d just read a few days before about longevity and happiness, so I sent a couple friends this article about showing up for your emotions being the key. The best advice given is advice taken.

So I worked on beats and “That New Day” again today. Not a lot of progress, but the thinking and writing lifted me. Hope your day is great.

Oh, and ironically, I just discovered that Gil Scott-Heron’s recent posthumous release is called, “Nothing New!”

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