There’s an adage in publishing circles that goes “novelists are born at 40.” In music, however, most rock stars are dead at 40, or at least their best creative years are behind them. San Francisco Bay Area-based Static People, however, are writing their own rules and in their book, 40 is the new “shut-the-fuck-up-about-our-age-already.” It does beg the question, however, “why this band, why now?”
“I feel like I’ve been kicking off since I moved to San Francisco in 1992,” says Dmitra Smith, whose multi-octave range and keen sense of the dramatic bring a rousing energy to the act, which also features guitarist Pascal Faivre and drummer Ken Shelf as well as a coterie of auxiliary members, who are brought in as projects require. “I started dreaming the ‘self’ that I’m becoming now when I was 14, but I had a hard time hanging my ass in the wind in public.”
My 3-year-old son and I have a nightly jam session ? he on guitar, me on bongos. When we switch instruments the results are actual music, but it?s somehow more musical when he bangs the guitar and I strum the drum. It must have something to do with anarchic spirit of children and how this can animate something primal and transcendent that completely sidesteps my studious years as a six-string samurai.
Is the boy a better musician than me? No, he?s 3. He?s not even sure if he?s right- or left-handed (or both), let alone destined to be the Eddie Van Halen of his preschool class. Could he be better than me? Seems likely. There?s a twist of DNA that winds through our family?s genes like a musical staff. I?ve got a small piece of it, which allows me to self-accompany a credible croon without too much embarrassment. My brother scored the complete box set of musical genes, which led to major label record deals and a recent turn scoring ?Dora the Explorer? among other commercial triumphs in the ?jingles trade.?
My brother was no prodigy, however, nor I suspect is my son, at least not in the strictest sense of the word. Sure, he’s a gifted child. They all are, aren’t they? But given his druthers, there are days he?d surely smash the guitar over the coffee table in some Who-infused Pete Townsend tantrum. ?And that?s ?Who? as in ?My G-G-Generation? not Whoville, you know, where the Grinch lives. I?ve learned that with certain cultural nuances, it?s important to clarify, lest mine and the child?s worlds unhappily collide. Continue reading “Gifted Child Marches to the Same Drum”
Stroll the streets of Sonoma and one can hear many sounds – the hustle and bustle of traffic, café chatter and caterwauling kids in the Plaza. But no tunes. Not a single note of live, outdoor music to warm one’s wintry ears.
Besides the occasional appearance of Arias Beardsely and his infernal fiddle, which haunt the vaulted hall of the Sebastiani Theatre, Sonoma hasn’t much of a street music scene. Is it illegal? Perhaps – most city legislatures are savvy enough to build a Blue Meanie-sized trapdoor into their noise ordinances to shoo away the strumming and bumming types should they prove a nuisance.
This occurs, I presume, when the “musician” in question is merely rattling a fistful of change in a paper cup and calling it a maraca. Is this any worse than the din produced by those poor souls with the bells and buckets outside the grocery store? Not nearly but neither are producing music. What I’m concerned about is our apparent lack of classically-trained instrumentalists and self-taught virtuosos who provide civic soundtracks in seemingly every city but ours.
Is it the cold weather or the often chillier reception such musicians receive? “Busking” as it’s called in every English-speaking country but ours, refers to all manner of public performance, including music, miming, sword swallowing and any other display of talent that might get money being thrown at you. There’s even an app for that – specifically, “Seline HD” for the iPad, which transforms the tablet device into a ready-made busking machine. And people do busk with it. And people give them money. Why isn’t WiredSonoma on top of this? We should have an iPad orchestra playing carols in the Plaza by now.
To remedy the situation, perhaps Sonoma should host a street music festival (paging J.M. Berry!); a loose, no-frills affair sans band-battles, recondite registration rituals and (gasp!) money. This is a forum for those who wish to hear or be heard. Should a musician’s hat brim with currency at the end of a set is a perquisite not a prerequisite.
Or, if there is an overwhelming desire to produce paperwork, I suggest Sonoma look east to New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which annually auditions musicians for its “Music Under New York” program subway troubadours. Given Sonoma’s glaring lack of public transportation (there are more tour busses than public busses – can’t we work a deal? Or would that just result in drunk commuters? I bet they’d sing.), we may have to substitute wine caves for subways. The acoustics might be similar but if the buskers are anything like the musicians with whom I’ve played, playing for tips will turn to “playing for tipsy” before you can hide the wine thief.
Of course, there should some tacit rules for Sonoma’s street musicians. For example, if you’re a soloist, stay solo. There’s nothing worse than divvying up tips after your “pitch” gets overrun with fellow noodlers. It’s like doing the bill after an evening at Maya’s, invariably, someone doesn’t fess up to the extra margaritas, then expect you to pay for Vern’s Taxi as well.
Percussionists – yes. Drum circles – no. Why? Drum circles are like malignant music tumors. Once they metastasize to, say, three-bearded guys reeking of weed and b.o., they continue to spread until entire public spaces get filled, at which point radical treatment is necessary. This usually comes in the form of cops, who bring their own drumsticks. And beat goes on.
Also, it should be posted somewhere that street musicians are not human jukeboxes. Constraint should be used when making “requests.” Otherwise, you’re simply reminding them about all the vastly more successful musicians whose music you prefer. Also, don’t smoke around horn players. In the abstract, they’re inhaling air to produce music by exhaling it through a pipe, which is far easier a notion to grasp than willfully polluting oneself and the surrounding airspace with the agents of cancer. If you want to die sooner, consider ashing in the bell of a horn player’s brass. It’ll come right quick, mate.
Musicians: Consider creating means of receiving tips other than cash. Who carries cash these days anyway? In this age when one can “text” donations to any cause du jour, might street musicians consider doing the same? There are plenty of turnkey solutions in this arena whereby someone can texts a code with their mobile phone and the charge appears on the phone bill while you pocket the cash. Receive payments via PayPal, all you need is an e-mail address, a bank account and a song in your heart. And possibly and iPad.
Sonoma Valley?s most secretive music endeavor, Static People will release a self-titled five track CD, 9 p.m., Friday, May 28 at Sonoma?s Moose Lodge, 20580 Broadway, Sonoma.
Static People, comprised of vocalist Dmitra Smith, guitarist Pascal Faivre, percussionist Mundo Murguia and bassist Daedalus Howell (c’est moi) formed as a secret project last September when the four working artists discovered they all lived within blocks of each other in Boyes Hot Springs.
Since then, the band has diligently honed a ?indie art-rock? sound at a Sonoma warehouse in the shadow of a 19th century iron and stone gate that once contained the inmates of a French insane asylum (Faivre imports such curiosities for his design business). Under the guidance of multi-platinum producer Jason Carmer (Third Eye Blind, The Donnas, Run DMC, Kimya Dawson, Chumbawamba and Korn), Static People have made occasional appearances such as at the recent Sonoma International Film Festival where they played to a capacity crowd.
The 21 and over gig is open to the public. Tickets, available at the door, are $10. Doors open at 9 p.m., Moose Lodge, 20580 Broadway, Sonoma. An optional pasta feed is an additional $8. Static People CDs are $6.