The Pirates of Los Angeles: Music, Technology, and Counterculture in Southern California


[Editor's note: this article originally appeared in the Intersections column on the KCET Departures website, June 27, 2013.] In 1978, with a new album on the way and a growing popularity that had started among the Hell's Angels in Southern California, the Doobie Brothers made an unlikely guest appearance on the television show "What's Happening!!" Set in Watts, the popular series focused on the comic tragedies that befell its three main characters (apologies to Dee) Raj, Dwayne, and Rerun. In a February episode, the Doobie Brothers planned to hold a fundraiser for the Watts High School music program, a show all three boys hoped to attend. However, as these things go, tickets proved … [Read more...]

Bootlegging as Material Culture

Bob Dylan - Front

Long before "cassette culture" and DIY, there was a distinct culture of homemade media: bootleg records.  Even with the technological limitations of shellac and vinyl, pirates, collectors, and music fans figured out how to reproduce sound.  In doing so, they also invented a unique aesthetic of piracy in the form of the sleeves and liner notes of illicit (or at least unauthorized) records.  Due to a loophole in copyright that left sound recordings unprotected in the United States until 1971, bootleggers could at least claim that they operated in a realm of quasi-legality (though that claim was often disputed, as I explore in my book Democracy of Sound).  Legal hijinks notwithstanding, bootleg … [Read more...]

I’d Know Where to Find You: Art Laboe’s Charmed Life On Air

1957 DANCE El Monte Legion Stadium

Oldies stations are one of the most tried and true formats on the FM radio dial, seemingly ubiquitous if often absorbed subconsciously. Whether heard in the produce aisle at the local supermarket, planting an earworm for days, or while driving on the interstate through an unfamiliar city, “great hits of the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s, etc.” can reliably be found – or find you. Depending on the depth of a station’s playlist, a warm, nostalgic doo-wop track by the Penguins (featuring Cleve Duncan) might float past. Over the same stately chords as the Penguins’ best-known hit, “Earth Angel,” Duncan sings of lost love and happier times: “I'm all alone,/ Feeling so blue,/ Thinking about you,/ And the … [Read more...]

13 of Our Favorite Posts from 2013

ToM Best of 2013 image 2

2013 was Tropics of Meta's biggest year yet, as we welcomed numerous new contributors (hello LG, Brian, Mark, Jimmy et al) and continued our collaboration with South El Monte Arts Posse, most notably with the East of East community mapping project.  Some of our pieces traveled far and wide online, such as Clement Lime's spirited defense of Howard Zinn.  Ryan's Minutemen piece got tweeted by Mike Watt, who is now our bestie (not really).  In any case, let's take a look back at some of the most interesting writing from the fourth installment of a five-year plan that just can't fail.  (When have five-year plans ever gone wrong?) The Spanish Roots of the 99% Jeffrey Lawrence explores the … [Read more...]

Chance the Rapper Bum Rushes the Mainstream with a Fistful of Acid


ToM Best of 2013 Did any album capture the contradictions of 2013 better than Acid Rap? The second release by 20-year-old Chicagoan wunderkind Chance the Rapper landed on numerous lists of the best albums of the year, despite being a freely released digital download that fits uneasily alongside more traditional releases like Vampire Weekend’s (admittedly excellent) Modern Vampires of the City.  It arrived in a year when new technologies (such as Netflix and its acclaimed original productions like House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black) upset the old-line media and showed what could be done through new channels of distribution. But Chance’s mixtape also tapped into the euphoria and … [Read more...]

Notably Decent Indie Rock: Meet the Counterfactuals

counterfactuals minimally decent people

ToM Best of 2013 There’s something very charming about the thought of a band of philosopher-musicians. Enter the Counterfactuals, a band whose members hail from Carleton and St. Olaf Colleges in Northfield, Minnesota. Songwriter, vocalist, and rhythm guitarist Daniel Groll specializes in normative and biomedical ethics at Carleton. Lead guitarist and Carleton philosopher Jason Decker may be most entertainingly described in his own words: “After refusing to vacate his office, he was hired as a tenure track professor, starting in the fall of 2008.” Drummer Mike Fuerstein teaches at St. Olaf, where he tackles epistemological issues in politics and the sciences and makes time to take American … [Read more...]

How Much Have We Got Left? Jason Isbell’s Southeastern


To close out another banner year at ToM, we asked several of our contributors to write about their favorite fiction, music, history, film, or TV of 2013.  This is the first in our series, from Middle Tennessee State University historian Brian Ingrassia. Jason Isbell’s Southeastern is about sobering up and finding love.  But it is also about growing old and seeking satisfaction in life before mortality sets in.  This is an album about dues paying and hard lessons learned—an album that many of us can understand all too well as we rehab from the binge-and-hangover years of the last decade. The third track on Southeastern is “Traveling Alone,” a haunting tune punctuated by the plaintive … [Read more...]

Too Much to Choose From: Searching for Inspiration in Asheville

local is the new black poster

Asheville is an Appalachian Shangri-La. This year-round resort town, tucked between the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains, draws a funky mix of New Agers, fleece-clad mountain bikers, antiques lovers and old-time farmers. And what's there not to like? Charming yet surprisingly cosmopolitan for a town of about 73,000, Asheville has a Southern appeal all its own. There are lazy cafes and buzzing bistros, Art Deco skyscrapers and arcades reminiscent of Paris, kayaking and biodiesel cooperatives and one of the world's largest private homes — the Biltmore Estate, a French Renaissance-style mansion with 250 rooms. No wonder so many locals first started out as tourists. -- New York Times “Freak … [Read more...]

Filtering Music through a ToM Lens


"Starting with the affirmation of man/ I work myself backwards using cynicism," Mike Watt sings on the Minutemen's classic track "The Glory of Man." "I live sweat, I dream light years/ I am the tide - the rise and fall." For many of our writers individuals like Mike Watt and bands like the Shins or rap groups like Das Racist have served as a means to connect and filter our understanding of late 20th  and early 21st century culture and history. Needless to say it was a veritable red letter day when Watt tweeted at ToM regarding an article we had written about the band.  Undoubtedly, Watt remains a testament to the ethos of the hardcore punk movement—"Punk rock is an idea, not a musical … [Read more...]

Making Place: Mapping South El Monte and El Monte

PowerPoint Presentation

South El Monte Arts Posse’s upcoming project “East of East: Mapping Community Narratives in South El Monte and El Monte” will use interdisciplinary workshops to create a digital archive. Our hope is that our archive will be accessible to community members, journalists, and scholars and thus produce more written and other forms of cultural production about El Monte and South El Monte. Ultimately, we hope this will produce a better sense of place. Over a four-week period (Jan to Feb 2014) we will be bringing a range of professionals from Mexico City to work in South El Monte and El Monte with community members. Together, we will create a range of primary sources--oral histories, creative … [Read more...]


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