On Behalf of the Defense
December 14, 2009, 11:27 pm
Filed under: Chicano, L.A., Latinos, Los Angeles, Photos | Tags: , , , ,

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, news came of Alice McGrath’s passing.  Luis Valdez dramatized her work as an activist in the Sleepy Lagoon defense in his play Zoot Suit. Her L.A. Times obiturary is here.

Information on the photo from Calisphere below:

Title: Alice Greenfield McGrath, portrait, Alice Greenfield McGrath, back in the Bradbury building, where her work on Sleepy Lagoon defense began

Creator/Contributor: Los Angeles Times (Firm), Publisher; Barnard, Tony, Photographer

Date: May 2, 1978

Contributing Institution: Dept of Special Collections/UCLA Library, A1713 Charles E. Young Research Library, 405 Hilgard Ave, Box 951575, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1575


Notes on Stacy Peralta’s Crips and Bloods: Made in America

While caught onto relatively late here at tirado/thrown, we were moved by Baron Davis’s and Stacy Peralta’s astounding documentary Crips and Bloods: Made in America.  What we first thought to be a historical reappraisal of urban unrest in Los Angeles unfolded into as comprehensive a survey of L.A. gang violence in South Central that a two-hour documentary could offer.  

Immediately, the film took us back to the Los Angeles that we grew up beside and had a tangential relationship to:  Sundays with family at the Slauson Swap Meet, occasional forays into South Central to visit friends, the sensationalized coverage of gang life that frightened the affluent but did not do any justice to the daily tales of suffering, tragedy, and strife in afflicted neighborhoods.  The civil disturbances in 1992 in the wake of the Rodney King acquittals were pivotal events that could not escape the attention of any Angeleno living there at the time.  Crips and Bloods captured the parts of the southland that at times felt so removed from the San Fernando Valley or even Hollywood.

Part of what makes this film noteworthy was that Peralta, the creator of Dogtown and Z-Boys and the Bones Brigade videos, stepped outside of making lifestyle films about surfing or skating to produce what is probably the most profound treatment on the creation of the most noted street gangs in contemporary American life.  

Or is it that much of a stretch?  If the 80s and 90s showed us anything, it was that gang bangers in the city and skater kids in the suburbs, beaches, and valleys were near-simultaneous occurrences of group cultures at the margins of institutional life: the family, education, workforce, church, and state.  While the stakes of their activities could not be any more disparate, they would each have a profound impact on American cultural expression in late capitalism. **

Peralta’s documentary potently cites racism (institutional and otherwise), post-war demographic shifts, police brutality, economic stagnation, geographic isolation, and outright state repression as the sources of social arrangements that have wrought uncounted amounts of human tragedy.

The film’s most lucid insight grasped the relationship of gang violence to a hegemonic state, one where those who stand to most to lose from oppression perform the work of oppression, acting out and generating an exponentially vacuous cycle.  Multiple commentators in the documentary noted how the disruption of community building and self-determination on the part of authorities, the introduction of a cheap and highly addictive narcotic, mass incarceration, and a social climate bereft of economic opportunity generated the perfect environment for a self-destruction that folded very readily with hegemony’s maintenance of social immobility.  It performed a task more effectively than state repression was able to perform, since it did not require the National Guard to perform the violence it did in quelling the Watts rebellion.   Bloods and Crips shows how these broader lines and vectors intersect in the existence of gang members themselves, their families, and community activists.  It deftly demonstrates the human toll exacted by a complex interaction of personal actions, social situations, and psychological exigence.

Among the documentary’s most distressing scenes were aerial shots of the L.A. basin, with its districts, neighborhoods, and development tracts- not so much for the scattering and dispersion of peoples it implied, but for the way that those distributions of space resembled camps organizing life into some form.  If anything, the helicopter shots give occasion to reflect on the thesis that the camp is the biopolitical law of modernity.   They lead to ask how similar or different are cities than concentration camps?  In certain parts of LA, simply responding the question of where one is from can easily be the cipher encoding one’s life or death.

Peralta’s film left us wondering, however: who will tell the stories of the Latino gangs that have developed since the 1930s?    Who will tell of how clicks and maras such as 18th Street, White Fence, Florencia, and the Mara Salvatrucha were born and mutated in response to multiple waves of immigration, how they continue to be shaped by the forces of globalization and political upheaval in Mexico, Central America, and the United States?   Such a sequel would be worth the wait.


**Strangely enough, The Serach for Animal Chin takes up as leitmotifs the creation narrative of skateboarding, its co-opting by commercial interests, and a marginalized community whose members are bound by their affinity for skateboarding’s originary ethos.


The Rain Parade
May 25, 2008, 6:43 pm
Filed under: L.A., Latinos, Music, Rock | Tags: , , , ,

Sorry for the recent absence from blogging. I spent late April working on completing a class and early May preparing for an important event at work. Then there’s the bout of writer’s block that I’m in the process of shaking off.

This May is loaded with memories. Among the most fleeting yet memorable is that of seeing Ben Knight (of Beachwood Sparks and The Tyde) pull Rain Parade records out of his bag to spin on Mirrored Audio Parkways, a show he co-hosted with Brandt Larson from 1995(?) to 1999 at 7:00 p.m. on Fridays at KXLU in Los Angeles. What stood out were the covers: Emergency Third Rail Power Trip showed colored balloons set against a purple-and grey tinged scene from late-19th or early-20th century; Beyond the Sunset had three neon-colored parakeets perched against a brilliant orange and blue background. Beyond seeing those covers and remembering the band’s name, the Rain Parade didn’t get much of a fair chance with me. It took me years to pick up anything by the band. But lack of means, scarcity, and memory slowly combined to make me want to find out more about those incomplete traces I had come across earlier. Perhaps I just wasn’t ready to listen until a few years ago, when I came upon a live recording of the Rain Parade from 1984, Perfume River, and was promptly taken in by what they were doing.

Their live recordings match up (and sometimes surpass) what you would hear on the original albums. That’s the case with “This Can’t Be Today”, which is why it’s worthwhile to pick up one of their live albums. A video follows, replete with carnival rides (with that amazing rocket/bobsled ride at the beginning), photography, L.A., childhood, dreamscapes, and the band dressed up with fuzzy animal heads (a la Animal Collective, avant la letre).

Alan McGee also seems to have made a visit to the past in his blog at the Guardian, where he wrote of the manner in which The Rain Parade’s approach helped verify his instinct that punk could extend itself into broader musical territory. For McGee, that meant slicing psychedelic rock with a punk rock blade, the impetus for his founding Creation Records. What resulted with the Rain Parade and their Paisley Underground cohorts was a way of introducing psych rock sensibilities of ease and melody into tight, disciplined punk song structures.

If there was any strand of punk rock that The Rain Parade seemed to have had any affinity for, it was the one cast out by Television. It’s a debt the L.A.-based group acknowledges on Perfume River, when they cover “Ain’t That Nothin'” in the middle of their set. They treat Television by softening the abrasive surfaces of Verlaine and Lloyd’s arrangements and allowing the song to take on an ease that the original version lacks. In the end, the cover brings Television a little closer to their own stated influences (Buffalo Springfield, Love) with this cover than in the original version, while respecting the spare economy that Television gives its song. But while the Rain Parade was a major part of a post-punk movement taking root in Los Angeles in the early 80s, their songs hold up well twenty-five years later.

A side-note: A node in the Rain Parade’s extended family is one Hope Sandoval, a Mexican-American from the outskirts of L.A.’s east side who in 1986 made the acquaintance of David Roback (who founded Rain Parade with his brother Steven and guitarist Matt Piucci) through his bandmate Kendra Smith. At that point, Roback had been estranged from the Rain Parade for two years. He had been working on Opal, a project with Smith, who had previously played bass with Dream Syndicate. Roback produced an unreleased record for Sandoval’s band, Going Home. Shortly after, Going Home dissolved and Sandoval joined Opal in a backup role. Kendra Smith’s sudden departure from the band after the release of Happy Nightmare Baby launched Hope Sandoval to a more visible role as lead singer. Opal’s collapse in 1989 resulted in Roback and Sandoval becoming Mazzy Star, a band whose run met with an unforeseen success that McGee succinctly summarizes in his post. No history of Chicanas and Latinos in rock is complete without Hope Sandoval. Jimmy Mendiola, please take note.

Here’s footage of Hope Sandoval fronting Opal in 1988, where the music sounds like a cross between the Rain Parade’s more straightforward material, with hints of the ethereal and reverb-bathed guitar work that would become Mazzy Star’s trademark a few years later.