“The Sky is Black and the Asphalt Blue”: Placing El Monte in the Early LA Punk Scene

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The suburban sprawl 30 minutes east of Hollywood called El Monte doesn’t usually get included in the genesis story of the Los Angeles punk scene. During the 1970s, El Monte was still transforming from a semi-agrarian citrus town to a concrete-washed suburb so typical of the San Gabriel Valley. Recently, punk culture has seen a revival of the mythical “East LA Renaissance” scene that took off in 1980 when Willie Herron (ASCO, Los Illegals) and Sister Karen, a radical Chicana nun involved with Self-Help Graphics and Catholic Youth Organization, founded East LA’s first punk venue, The Vex. This revival, specifically among LA’s Chicano and Latino working-class punk youth, has begun pushing the … [Read more...]

The Reagan Revolution Part I: Popular Music, Ronald Reagan, and Protest: Punk, Hardcore, and Post Punk, a Primer, 1980-2010

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Editor's note: This week we kick off a series of posts on punk in the 1980s and 1990s with special focus on the SoCal communities of El Monte and South El Monte (EM/SEM). First, however, we begin with the briefest of primers focusing on the "rockist" response - punk, hardcore, postpunk,  southern/heartland rock - over the last 30 years to the Reagan Revolution. Be sure to check back on Tuesday and Thursday for SEMAP's continuing series East of East and its reflections on punk and hardcore during the same period in EM/SEM. Few presidents in recent memory receive as much deference as one Ronald Reagan. Political figures from Newt Gingrich to Barack Obama have lauded the nation's former … [Read more...]

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

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[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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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...]

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