Woody and Michael, ’77

Studio 54

Back in 1977, Woody Allen and Michael Jackson rubbed elbows at a fund raiser Allen threw at Studio 54 in support of a run for New York City Council president by Carter Burden–who was described in his 1996 Times obit as a “handsome, witty, pipe-smoking political figure in the Kennedy mold.” Aside from being a poor man’s Kennedy, Burden is notable for having owned The Village Voice, the nation’s first alternative weekly–which he sold, eyebrow-raisingly, to Rupert Murdoch in 1976. 

Woody’s famous sartorial disregard is on display here, as is MJ’s knack for coordinating coif and clothes. It doesn’t seem a stretch to assume that Woody and Michael’s costumes are reflective of their moods. You know Jackson is just dying to be on stage killing this New York City crowd–while Allen can’t wait for all of these smiling people he’s invited to just go away and stop making him hold this ridiculous sign that some jerk printed upside-down.

The Modern California Cool of Camp Bud and Joshua Barnhart

Camp Bud, Joshua Barnhart Flyer

Camp Bud is fronted by Sterling Schlegel, guitar-and-bass-playing sideman in a number of San Francisco bands–including Assateague, Indianna Hale, and fpodbpod. Singer-songwriter Joshua Barnhart is a drummer in a well-known Bay Area band, Zeb Zaitz (formerly known as Sparrows Gate). 

 

Sterling Schlegel and  Joshua Barnhart sing with a deadpan cool that has deep roots in rock-and-roll and beyond. Ever since the deeply uncool outsized performance techniques of Al Jolson were jettisoned by arch-modernist Louis Armstrong (whose lead was quickly taken by the crooners–Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra chief among them), it has been recognized that, in the singing of popular song–as in literature and visual art–understatement and obliquity (the hallmarks of modernism) hit harder than cloying histrionics. The exemplars of vocal cool in art-rock are too numerous to name but include greats like Nick Drake, J.J. Cale, every singer in Sonic Youth, and David Berman of Silver Jews.

While Schlegel and Barnhart share a cool vocal approach, they are different in affect and effect. To reference sixties analogues (clearly the era these two have the strongest affinity with), Barnhart is a tenor Fred Neil (stately and controlled, an entity unto himself, though inseparable from the music as a whole), and Schlegel is a gruff Lou Reed (intimately conversational and joyfully erratic—a homey, casually confessional singer).

While Schlegel is earthy and Barnhart pristine, they are both intrinsically and self-consciously connected to a singer-songwriter tradition that has deep roots in their Bay Area home. They are making music that connects them with forbears like Jerry Garcia, Robert Hunter, and Van Morrison (Morrison lived in the Bay Area in the early 70s, and he and the area affected one another reciprocally). They are walking down the same streets that those guys did, and they are listening to songs that those guys recorded about those streets–like the bleakly transcendent “Mission in the Rain” and the abstractly hopeful “Saint Dominic’s Preview”–and they are romanticizing the past like those guys did. We look back to look forward–forgetting the putative linearity of time when we are inside of a great song. Schlegel and Barnhart write great songs. And, like all great songs, their songs contain echoes of great songs of the past.

The Camp Bud song featured here is called “Over You.” The Joshua Barnhart song featured here is called “Hidden Sound.”