What to download to your iPod -- or where to take your iPod.
Yes indeed, the holidays are right around the corner, which means it’s time to start thinking about gifts for the music fan in your life. Here are a few ideas.
In 1956 the great jazz saxophonist John Coltrane was back in Philadelphia—his home city from 1943 until 1958—trying to kick his heroin habit after being kicked out of the Miles Davis Quintet. For nearly two years, he worked as a session musician under contract with Prestige Records, playing with the likes of Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins, Red Garland, Tadd Dameron and others. This excellent five-CD set spotlights his 18-month period as a sideman. Side Steps is a fascinating listen all the way through, not only to note Coltrane’s development as a player but to hear the way he melds with each of the various ensembles, often deferring to other musicians and avoiding the temptation to show off (even if his distinctive style and skill can’t help but frequently command attention).
When F. Scott Fitzgerald famously claimed that “there are no second acts in American lives,” he clearly had no idea that Coolio—yes, that Coolio—would come along to blow that notion out of the water. While the rapper formerly known as Artis Ivey Jr. hasn’t had much of a music career since the ’90s, he recently reinvented himself as the self-proclaimed “Ghetto Gourmet” with a piss-your-pants hysterical (and super-profane) online cooking show called Cookin’ With Coolio . In this brand-new and equally hilarious companion cookbook, Coolio teaches you how to make “Tricked Out Westside Tilapia” and “Chicken Lettuce Blunts”; introduces you to such food fusion as “Blasian” (black Asian) and Ghettalian (ghetto Italian); and drops nuggets that you’ll never hear from Emeril or Rachael Ray, like “fall-off-the-bone chicken is the quickest way to guarantee fall-off-the-girl clothes.”
Two heads are better than one, especially when you’re walking down the street wearing a hoodie with the life-sized head of Kanye West, Elvis, Michael Jackson, President Obama and many others printed on the side of the hood in a way that can definitely generate double-takes. HeadHoods is the brainchild of visual artist and musician Clinton Van Gemert, who designs and hand-prints each hoodie in his Brooklyn studio. Note: Because they’re handmade, there is an approximately two-week turnaround, so you’ll need to order one quickly to get it by the holidays. See all the designs at headhoods.com.
Electric guitars are easy and cool to carry around in a case or strapped to your back, but lugging a big ol’ amplifier around is nothing but a pain in the ass, especially when you’re trying to find that perfect Center City location to busk for change (hey, in this economy you do what you gotta do). Making life a lot easier is this new line of mini-guitar amps—each a mere three-and-a-half inches wide—that are modeled after vintage VOX amps (including the desirable VOX AC30), plug right into your guitar, and sound pretty good (and loud), simulating that old tube-amp tone on just two AAA batteries. Get ’em at thinkgeek.com.
Girls wanna rock just as much as boys, and noted music/cultural critic (and part-time musician) Jessica Hopper penned this excellent, comprehensive and joyfully written handbook for tween and teen girls that details everything from choosing the right instruments and musical gear to finding bandmates, writing lyrics, recording songs, soundproofing a bedroom, putting on shows, dealing with stage-fright, touring and a whole lot more. “I remember [being 16 and] sitting on my bed having this phone conversation with the girl who was playing drums in the band I was in at the time, and I said, ‘I wish there was a book for us, I wish there was a book that would explain how to do this,’” Hopper recently told me. Thanks to her, now there is.
Twice a year, head honcho Sean Agnew and his pals at R5 Productions—Philly’s long-running and proudly independent concert promoter that puts on all-ages shows at First Unitarian Church and other venues around the city—throw a Punk Rock Flea Market to help with the various costs of keeping those shows a reality. Browsing the many dozens of vendor tables yields plenty of gift ideas, but one of the things regularly offered at the R5 table is a $100 pass that provides entry into any 10 R5 shows the holder likes over the course of a year (a pretty good deal considering tickets for some gigs can be $12-$15 or higher). This year’s holiday PRFM happens December 19-20 at the Starlight Ballroom—perfect for you last-minute shoppers.
Although I was a big fan of Bleach and the then-new single “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” I had the misfortune of seeing Nirvana live at City Gardens in Trenton back in 1991. “Misfortune?” you say, “but they were one of the greatest bands of all time!” Maybe so, but they were absolutely horrendous that night, clearing out two-thirds of the room before it was over (we only stayed because the bartender was giving us free beer). Funny enough, former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl now says that the band’s 1992 performance at England’s Reading Festival looked like it would be a similar disaster because of poor rehearsals and Kurt Cobain’s crippling drug problems. But as it turned out, and as you can see and hear on this new CD/DVD set, the show was phenomenal—definitive, even—with Kurt being wheeled onstage in a hospital gown and wig, acting sickly at first, and then leaping up to lead the band through a savage, inspired and rapturously received 90-minute set. ■
The future is upon us. We'll soon be walking around with cybernetic body parts. What better way to prepare your friends and family to participate in this evolutionary milestone than with totally bitchin’, high-tech gizmos?
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Letters to the Editor