Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Top 5: Covers of R&B and Rap Songs

It's definitely not at all noteworthy for someone to say they love music. It's like saying you love to laugh or enjoy fun activities -- it's remarkable if you say you don't like it. But whatever, because that's pretty much what I'm getting at in this post. My love for music often manifests itself in making strange, unnecessary playlists -- they go beyond the run-of-the-mill tracks for showering, running errands or working out, and cover a range from the uncomfortably specific to selections eliciting certain moods (I don't just have a 'sad songs' playlist, I have multiple that relate to several gradations on sadness). I don't know, maybe everyone does this and I am not as precious or special as I'd like to believe. BUT what I'm getting at is that I love making mixes. I make mixes for pretty much everyone I know (if you would like one, drop me a line!) -- if you express even the vaguest of interest in an artist that I like, you can bet I will be making a best-of compilation for you. I've done music playlists in the past (like this one for V-Day 2013), but I want to do them with more frequency so that I can indulge my inherent need to make mix CDs. Which leads me to this post! (Ace transition, if I do say so myself.)
I have a deep affection for covers (which I have been told is weird considering how passionately angry I can get about film remakes, but I suppose that is an entirely different beast) -- particularly versions of songs done by artists with a markedly different sound than the original musician. There's a grand tradition of cross-genre covers: from the Beatles' love for the Shirelles in their early days to Johnny Cash's heartbreaking version of "Hurt" by Nine Inch Nails (no lie, I first saw the music video in the student center at my university and I WEPT OPENLY... in front of a lot of people ... for like a really long time). 
One of the reasons that I love the particular trend of translating rap and R&B songs into other musical styles is that there is an additional difficulty of it -- you can't just change the pace of it and have it remain intact. There is a particular rhythm to the songs in these genres that, if neglected, can cause the track to just fall apart. This process requires real innovation. Here are my favorite tracks that really get it right: 

Crazy in Love (Beyoncé) by Seyoncé

It's tough enough to do justice to a track by Queen B -- and when it's a song like "Crazy in Love," with cover versions by everyone from David Byrne to Emeli Sandé, the pressure is on a whole other level. But let me tell you, Seyoncé masters the track with aplomb. (WITH APLOMB, I SAY!) I was introduced to this video by my friend Hannah (of the amazing band The Dirty Boys -- check them out!!) and, let me tell you, it is glorious. The low voice, the moody sound and the fantastically odd and quite genius video, it's a profound obsession of mine. And the name. THE NAME. It's all perfection. I have been assured that there will be future releases from Seyoncé, so we can all rest easy. Honor your soul and watch this video.

Whatever You Like (T.I.) by Anya Marina

If there is one thing I love more than a cover of a rap song, it is a cover of a rap song done by a singer with breathy, delicate vocals. It's called intertextuality, and yeah it's very important. From Nina Gordon's acoustic take on "Straight Outta Compton" to Kanye's "Heartless" becoming an emotional ballad through the piano-charged stylings of Dia Frampton, there's something about the unexpectedness of the pairing that can create some real magic. I really dig Anya Marina's version of this song. So much so that I don't even care too much about admitting that I found it via Gossip Girl (2009 was a dark time for me).

Bitches Ain't Shit (Dr. Dre) by Ben Folds

This is one of the defining tracks of the admittedly niche genre of rap/R&B covers. There's not too much else I can say about it other than if you haven't heard it by now, you're doing yourself a disservice. The piano, the choral accompaniment, the whole vibe works so wonderfully that it is no surprise that countless other artists were inspired to have a go at translating their favorite R&B or rap song into a rock or alternative format after hearing this tune.

99 Problems (Jay-Z) by Hugo

This song is wildly good. Listen to it and you can't believe it works so well. Hugo is signed to Jay-Z's Roc National label, where he is described as "gangsta-rock" -- his bluegrass version of Hova's "99 Problems" solidified his position.

No Diggity (Blackstreet) by Chet Faker

The original track by Blackstreet also featured fellow list-maker Dr. Dre and a collaboration from Queen Pen, and is not only one of the defining songs of the 1990s, but is one of the BEST SONGS OF ALL TIME. (This is not at all a biased opinion. It is a truth universally acknowledged that "No Diggity" is the best.) Klaxons also have a stellar cover of this song, but I love this version of the song for it's almost ambient sound and lounge-y quality. There's a very chilled out atmosphere to this song, due in part to the sound and Chet's particular vocal style (which manages to capture a degree of the intimacy and unpolished texture of the name he pays homage to with his name: Chet Baker). In his hands, "No Diggity" becomes something entirely different.

Are there any rap/R&B covers that you love that you think should make the list? Let me know in the comments!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Shop It to Me: Brian Jones, Pretty in Pink

I’ve never been one to wear tons of pinks – being blonde, I always felt wearing the color would give off immediate Barbie connotations. I’ve always loved dark, earthy tones – deep reds, plums, emeralds … shades that evoke darkness, witchiness, general badassery. Wearing something soft and pink was always on the opposite end of the style spectrum for me. But this photo of Brian Jones might be enough to change it all for me.
This is one of my favorite photos of the Stones founder – I actually have a print hanging on the wall in my bedroom. He somehow makes a precious outfit look kind of super badass – I mean, who other than Brian could make a pink cable-knit sweater and boa look sexy? The man is such a mystery to me – yin-yang exemplified in human form: the darkness of his drug addition and womanizing and the lightness of his obsession with trains, storybooks and Winnie the Pooh. How could these extremes of innocence and cruelty ever be reconcilable in one person? But on a strict style basis, these two opposites came together for a really stellar look.
Granted, I don’t have the pageboy haircut to complete this look but I kind of want to give this outfit a try:

First, start with a pink cable-knit sweater like this one, which is currently on sale (all the better!). I went for a slightly darker shade of pink because I’m not sure if I’m quite up for the ballerina vibes I get from Brian’s super-pale sweater. Pair it with a feather boa – I LOVE this one from Groupie Couture so much (I even included it in my holiday gift round-up last year), I am constantly strategizing ways to wear it in outfits. Since most people don’t have many options for purple pants in their wardrobes (another cause of my great sadness for my generation), I suggest investing in a versatile pair of colored denim, like these True Religion skinnies. So at this point, this outfit is very girlish and sweet – but the accessories give the look a supreme edge worthy of a rock star. Brian is wearing some really amazing jewelry – I love his beaded tassel necklace, which I found a modern version of here, and his stone jewelry. I firmly believe big cuff bracelets and statement rings are absolute must-haves for anyone’s wardrobe. Obviously, he must have picked his goods on his travels, but I found a pretty groovy multi-colored cuff from ASOS. Finish off the look with a super sixties pair of round frame sunglasses and I swear, Anita Pallenberg would take one look at you and want to date you. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

In Defense of Bebe Buell, 'Groupies' and Women in Music

I’ve been a bit touch-and-go with this site for a while now – a combination of moving to a new city, starting a job, trying to figure out how to live a life that makes me happy (all that super pleasant quarterlife crisis stuff!) – but my love for the women I write about and for the gorgeous dolls who read this site has never wavered. I keep your energy and passion with me always, mixing in my heart with everything I’ve loved and admired about the great muses of yesteryear. Because of this, I take it intensely personal when someone tries to slag off on someone I adore. I’m used to it to a certain extent – there are loads of people who criticize these women, calling them ‘groupies’ (as though that’s a bad thing!) and worthless, and basically throw some sort of moral assessment on them that ignores everything else about their amazing lives other than whose arm they were photographed on forty years ago.
I was looking through my comments feed today and found a comment left about a month ago on a post about Bebe Buell. Bebe is a bit of a controversial subject for many in the classic rock fandom. Many moons ago on this site, I mentioned that I liked I’m With the Band better than Rebel Heart purely because Miss Pamela was so forthcoming with the nerdiest facts of her life (I mean, the fart list anyone?) whereas Bebe, who was always a dreamer (something I admire and relate to her about immensely), also has this supreme self-confidence and assuredness in herself that intimidated me when first read her book when I was fourteen and thought I was the foulest creature to ever roam the planet. In my pubescent mind, Bebe was not only on a different level than myself – she was in a different plane of existence.
My little innocuous comment led to a GIANT blowup in the comments section. Bebe’s fans are passionately dedicated to her and will not stand for anyone speaking ill of her, but in that case I was mortified because I always considered myself one of her fans – but in someone else’s eyes I was the enemy!
In the time between that debacle and now, I’ve written about Bebe extensively. Most feedback I’ve seen on these posts are positive comments from people who admire her, love her music, find her infinitely sweet (and she is! She is one of the few people who loves to interact directly with her fans). But the comment I want to discuss came from a post I did over two years ago called “How to be like Bebe Buell.” This is one of my favorite types of posts to do – half serious, half fun, it allows me to indulge in my obsessive behavior about muses and icons. The comment that caught my eye this morning was only two lines and sent by an anonymous poster (what bravery it takes to comment anonymously on the internet!):
I was struck by the ludicrousness of this comment for multiple reasons. Firstly, I like that this person thought I had never heard the term ‘star-fucker’ before. Yes, in my many years being obsessed with groupies I had never once heard them dismissed in a derogatory way with this term. I am enlightened now! I can only imagine the anonymous commenter somehow being led to this site, leaving their snarky comment, and then being horrified by literally EVERY SINGLE OTHER POST on this blog.  
Secondly, the commenter ignores every other aspect of Bebe’s life that makes up her “great legacy” (which I use sarcasm-free). Apparently, a career as a top model, a writer and a recording artist as well as being a single mother and surviving an abusive marriage can be negated if you dated Jimmy Page for a few months when you were nineteen.
But what troubles me most is that this is yet another example of women being shamed for their sexual behavior. I am reminded of a recent piece on xoJane that discusses the public’s tendency to dismiss women due to their romantic pasts. In the article, the author cites the attacks against Mia and Dylan Farrow from defenders of Woody Allen as well as the recent treatment Joyce Maynard has experienced surrounding the release of the film adaptation of her novel Labor Day. For those who don’t know, Maynard had an eleven-month long relationship with J.D. Salinger when she was 18 and the author was 53, and that fact has been exploited by several critics to dismiss her work and her legitimacy as an artist in her own right.
I do not speak for Bebe, but I do speak for myself. For all that we have advanced in terms of a woman’s rights to her body, her sexuality and her identity, there is still a thriving pocket of humanity that thinks that a woman’s romantic choices are acceptable points of argument against her professional legitimacy. I cannot even articulate how troublesome this culture is to me. I feel like in recent months there has been a more open dialogue about female sexuality and the slut-shaming phenomenon – as well as the nature of feminism in general – and I am extremely thankful for that. I just hope that something comes of all this talk and people begin to change their minds and behavior.
I’d like to point out for the record that I know Bebe herself doesn’t consider herself a groupie – she has distanced herself from that term, especially in recent years, because of the loaded connotations of that tag. To close this post, I’ll include an excerpt of a quote from Bebe that was in Miss Pamela’s book Let's Spend the Night Together, from a conversation that revolved around the infamous G-word:
“I’m not upset about the actual word. I would be an idiot to say that I never hung around a rock band, didn’t date a rock star, or marry one, or see a lot of music in my life. Because it’s who I am, that’s part of me. But I’m not going to let somebody call me stupid, judgmental names either. […] Everybody’s a little bit of a groupie anyway. We’re all fans of something.” 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

the being known as wonder girl

It's an odd thing, mourning the loss of someone you never knew -- and yet so much of our culture revolves around it. We grieve for those whose worlds never intersected with our own, and yet our lives were touched by their very existence. Samantha Juste was one of the girls who really ignited within me a passion for the culture of the 1960s. Early on in my teenage years, I would pour over photographs of her and try to mimic her dolly eye makeup, in hopes of capturing some of her magic. I cannot even count the number of biographies I've read -- about countless musicians -- that mention Samantha, how she influenced the culture of the 1960s and how she cared for and protected artists. In her modeling photos, she had an infectious energy that elevated simple magazine editorials into a whole happening. She truly was "the being known as wonder girl."

Thursday, January 9, 2014

i got a woman, stay drunk all the time

In honor of my unwavering LUV (in the full Shangri-Las sense of the word) for Led Zeppelin, I wanted to put up a tribute for Jimmy Page on his birthday about the great love affair of his life. No, it wasn't Miss Pamela or Lori Lightning. It wasn't even a girl at all. It was -- plot twist! -- Jack Daniels.

I have an intense love for photos of rock stars drinking copious amounts of booze. Yeah, sure, there's a level of badassery to them -- evidence of the hard-partying world of rock'n'roll that I can't help but dream at night about joining. But frankly I just love seeing famous people shitfaced. In the name of SERIOUS JOURNALISM I took the liberty of scouring through the internet to find photos of Jimmy Page living out Ke$ha lyrics with his bottle of Jack. Of the famous image of Jimmy with his head back chugging from the bottle, Neal Preston (the lucky photographer who captured the image in 1975, top row center of the above collage) said: "The bottle stayed up in the air for what seemed like eternity. Normally I would have shot a whole motor-drive sequence of photos, but I only took one frame. I guess that photo says a lot."

Title: "Hey Hey What Can I Do" (Led Zeppelin)

Sunday, December 29, 2013

i guess she kept those vagabond ways

Today is the birthday of the legendary Marianne Faithfull, my personal hero. Though lots of names have been thrust upon her -- Miss X, Mick Jagger's moll, the Girl on a Motorcycle, the survivor of rock'n'roll, the Godmother of Punk -- there are not enough words to describe her incredible artistry and spirit. Her story and experiences span many lifetimes, and her recording history and film roles are awe-inducing. A feature I used to do way, way back in DRG history was called "Through the Years," where I'd do a sort of biography of a person through photos and personal quotes. This will be an abbreviated version of that -- just some of my favorite photos of Marianne and her always-incredible quotes, because the only way to appreciate the glory of MF is to revel in her genius. 

"At a time when my life as a grown-up should have begun, I was still very much a child. And everything that has happened to me, it's as if it happened to a child. All my attempts at growing up were really no more than a child's playing make believe."

"One of the hazards of reforming your evil ways is that some people won't let go of their mind's eye of you as a wild thing."

"Maybe the most that you can expect from a relationship that goes bad is to come out of it with a few good songs."

"Between the ages of 17 and 19 I shed any number of old lives and grew new ones overnight without them seeming quite real to me; I discarded them as cavalierly as a child who moves from one game to another. Pursued in interest, any one of these might have led to a reasonably happy life. But then again, I wasn't interested in happiness. I was looking for the Holy Grail."

"The sixties was a great motley cast of characters in an ongoing operetta with multi-hued costumes to match. What I remember most is how beautiful everybody was, and, of course, the beautiful clothes: we dressed up like medieval damsels and princes, pre-Raphaelite Madonnas, popes, hussars, mad hatters and creatures visiting from other planets."

"They asked me to star in a Mars Bar ad. I told them to fuck off." 

"Suicidal urges come out like commands. It's not like any other urge, like I'd like a pizza."

"The voice of God, if you must know, is Aretha Franklin's."

"We lived these lives a thousand years ago as courtesans, as opium-eaters at the court of the Kubla Khan. We had drunk of the milk of Paradise and its transforming liquidity made us all quite porous. There were no boundaries where Alph the sacred river ran. No genders, no time and space. We simply sparkled and vibrated. We were all pulsating little Bodhisattvas. I was in love with everybody. Actually, I was everybody."

"I never trusted anybody at all. I don't know why it was so hard, I just didn't."

"I think drugs were used by me as a way of suppressing my natural spirit."

"Never apologize, never explain -- didn't we always say that? Well, I haven't and I don't."

Title: from "Vagabond Ways" (Marianne Faithfull)

Friday, December 20, 2013

DRG Holiday Wish List

Can anyone believe how fast this past year has gone by? It's astounding to me that in less than two weeks 2013 will be over. December is always a massive blur to me -- as a December baby (and a child of two Sags as well), the month is a nonstop train of birthday wishes and holiday parties. But still, what a wonderful, wonderful time of year! Though many people dread the process of finding gifts for people -- and yes, I do agree it is an oftentimes impossible task to find the perfect thing for someone! -- I love the hunt. Giving someone something that is so fantastically bizarre or genuinely on-point to their personality is seriously the BEST THING! As much as I adore giving serious gifts, I love having someone unwrap a gift and being completely bewildered by its seeming randomness. (Quite honestly, everything I buy people is rooted in something we've either discussed in depth or in passing -- it's never entirely random!) 
During the holiday shopping process to find perfect gifts for everyone I know, I inevitably ending up mentally shopping for myself in equal measure. I've compiled a list of goodies that I wouldn't mind Santa (or anyone else, wink wink!) putting under the tree this year. Here are my top ten obsessions (clockwise from the top left):
What can I say about Groupie Couture? I am so, SO fond of Miss Pamela's line! I've ordered from it several times and I am always struck by the love and care that so obviously goes into every aspect of the GC experience: the design, the packaging, the lovely little notes that come attached! I have two of the beaded necklaces and I swear that some groupie magic is in these beads because I always have the most magical musical luck when I wear them. This boa is the most fantastically fun addition that I NEED for my wardrobe. 
I am so jealous of the girls who model for the site -- tell me, what can I do to become a GC doll?! 

No offense to the other Zodiac signs, but I am oh so glad to be a Sagittarius -- as Keith Richards rightly put it, we're half-man, half-horse, with a license to shit in the streets. But even just from a visual standpoint, Sags are pretty awesome. The Wild Unknown always offers the MOST beautiful designs (I have their tarot deck and each card is a work of art), and I inevitably want every single thing they come out with. Seriously, I scroll through their Instagram page daily for design inspiration and I can already envisioned this Zodiac work framed in my apartment. 

This Etsy design duo has been on my radar for quite a while -- their handmade velvet bell bottoms are the best I've seen by any designer, period. Unlike other takes on the design, they don't skimp on the bell part of the bottom, making each step look assuredly dramatic and dreamily 70s. My new mission is to accumulate every single piece on their site, but of course I want to start with every variation on their incredible Hells Bells!

4. Pamela Love Pentagram Ring and Serpent Ring
I can never get enough of Pamela Love's fabulous designs -- they're so layered in different cultural traditions and histories, they transcend the realm of fashionable accessories and become works of art (and in that regard, I am VERY HAPPILY a museum to PL's art). Both rings are intricately detailed and packed with meaning. Of the Pentagram ring, Love's site explains, "the circle symbolizes eternity, the cycles of life and nature. The circle touching all 5 points indicates that the spirit, earth, air, water and fire are all connected." How lovely! And I have a bit of a collection of snake jewelry that I've accumulated over the years, so I need to add this rattlesnake piece pronto. 

Obviously, this bag -- which retails for over one thousand dollars -- is a MAJOR wishlist item, but if Santa feels particularly generous, I certainly wouldn't object. The bullet bag has long been my favorite shape for its versatility (it can be worn as a crossbody purse, an oversized wristlet or backpack!), and I love the Egyptian symbology that adorns the base of this braided leather bag. 

My reading list is a neverending queue of books that I can never hope to accomplish in my lifetime, but currently at the top of that list is this splendid new release from Taschen. The book details the legendary relationship of Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg, a duo notorious the world over and legendary in the decades since they parted ways. Though photographers detailed every aspect of their relationship, it was rarely as intimate as this. Jane's brother Andrew photographed the couple in private times, capturing moments when they were a loving family in addition to musical hellraisers and artists. A really astounding portrait of two people we thought we knew everything about. 

When I look at this dress, I envision myself spinning in circles, Stevie Nicks style! The mix of tassels, lace and all other goodness is a hippie dream. 

I've been eyeing this for quite a while and this weekend I finally bought it for myself as a little birthday present. The scent is incredible -- composed of incense, Turkish rose and pencil shavings. I wouldn't mind receiving a few for Christmas and stocking up on what I'm sure will be my new signature scent!

Ever since doing a post on Karen Umphrey and including her note about her "super spacey" look on the cover of Star Magazine, I've been wanting to have something super shiny and metallic all my own! I love this because it can be worn as a daring maxi skirt with a slit up the side, or worn with a slip underneath and belted as a strapless dress. Something versatile and positively va-va-voom? Yes please!

Child of Wild is a recent discovery of mine -- and everything on their site is perfection! Sourced from all over the world, the site offers the MOST incredible selection of jewelry, headpieces and home goods such as wooden boxes, jewel-encrusted skulls and this colorful cotton blanket. For the past few months, I've been decorating my first real adult apartment and been on the lookout for incredible things to decorate it with. This blanket will be the perfect addition!

These are my top holiday wishes -- so if Santa is out there, please put these under my tree this December 25th! What is on the top of your holiday wish list? 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Shop It to Me: John Bonham, Unlikely Fashionista

On the short list of things John Bonham was known for, ‘style icon’ doesn’t usually come to mind. Master drummer, champion drinker, seafood enthusiast (ALLEGEDLY), possessor of a cool nickname, yeah, but he’s not really known for his style. Even within Led Zeppelin, eyes were usually on Jimmy Page’s astral-occult outfits and Robert Plant’s golden mane and chest-baring floral blouses.
But I am really into this outfit he wore to his 24th birthday party at the legendary Rainbow Bar & Grill (even though it’s credited in some places as being the English Disco, my trusted sources (aka anonymous people on the internet) say that it’s the Rainbow Bar). According to my calculations – which entailed me taking the year of his birth (1948) and adding 24 to it – the year is 1972, so of course Lori Maddox is on his arm. She was with Jimmy then, but much like the unanswerable question of a tree in the woods, if Led Zeppelin was in L.A. in ’72 and Lori Lightning wasn’t around, were they actually even there?
It’s a rather basic outfit, but he makes it look SO COOL. I looked around at a couple of my favorite online destinations to recreate this birthday suit (bad pun!):
Start with a basic striped tank top, like this unisex tank from American Apparel. Add a pair of your comfiest, most broken-in jeans and tuck the tank in and top with a belt. At this point, I know you all are rolling your eyes because I’m basically describing the least creative outfit in the history of existence. Hey, here’s an idea everyone: wear a shirt AND pants! It’s fashion! C’est magnifique!
But be quiet, folks! It’s about to get interesting. Bonzo jazzes these wardrobe staples up a bit with a velvet blazer. I am fond of any use of velvet, but I was particularly struck by this crushed velvet number from Nasty Gal. He is also wearing a killer wide brim hat, and manages to wear it at night and indoors without looking like a fool – it’s quite a feat. I wish more people wore hats. It would make the world a bit hipper.
To up his awesome factor to OFF THE CHARTS, he ties on a neckerchief. I wholeheartedly support this, because I don’t understand why neckerchiefs ever fell out of fashion – seriously, why isn’t everyone wearing one everyday? NECKERCHIEFS ARE SEXY. Any square of fabric – from a Levi’s bandana to an Hermès silk scarf – will do, but I found this black one for super cheap. And it’s on Amazon, so if you Amazon Prime that shizz then you’ll have a groovy throat-cover for less than $15!
I couldn’t find any photos that included what kind of shoes he was wearing, but I assume because he was a boy that his shoes were boring. So instead of suggesting you wear a pair of black boots or whatever he was probably wearing, I suggest something SPARKLY like these fancy ankle boots from Free People – I like these because the metallic is a bit cracked and imperfect, so they don’t look too precious.
There you go – the coolest, chillest outfit you’ll ever wear. And we’ve got Bonzo to thank, who woulda thunk it?!