[Editor's note: Longtime Weekly scribe Jeff Weiss's new column, “Bizarre Ride,” begins today. You can find it on West Coast Sound every Wednesday.]
The L.A. cliché is a war of shadow and light: fallen stars gone to seed, saccharine pop and gangsta rap. But this is 2012 and Dr. Dre is a headphone guru; the city's musical landscape is better illustrated as a game show of closed doors waiting to be opened. It's this column's intent to find and peer inside as many of these doors as possible — to tell stories not just of superstars but of side players, those at the summit and at the low ebb. The city as it struts and slouches.
As for me, I'm a third-generation native, with an inherited folklore of taco stands, secret parking spots and stories about Sandy Koufax. Pleasure to meet you. You look great. Have you lost weight?
With apologies to Steve Martin, the L.A. story starts on Central Avenue, the cool jazz of Charlie Mingus and Charlie Parker charging out of art deco hotels. A crooked ride pausing to rummage through rap tapes at the Slauson Swap Meet, flower power folk and mousse metal on the Sunset Strip, open mics in Leimert Park, sweaty San Pedro hardcore clubs, hair-gel house raves, beach blanket bingo and long-gone country & western beer bars on Lankershim.
We produce songwriters who only serenade the sun, as well as those unable to ignore the smog. On any given night, you can crash a Mexican BYOB backyard punk bash in South Central and catch psychedelic electronic hip-hop in Lincoln Heights. Los Angeles is a mutant experiment, a city forever ready to adopt or discard. The patron saint is Tupac Shakur, a Bay Area-by-way-of-Baltimore transplant, who wanted to live and die in L.A.
But before we wander down dim alleys, let's revisit what we already know. Over my last three decades here, five archetypes have helped shape my musical consciousness. Maybe you've met them.
1. Nothing But a Gangsta' Party (hardcore rap)
Hall of Fame: Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, 2Pac, Cypress Hill, Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg, DJ Quik, Suga Free, Dogg Pound, D.O.C., Ice-T
Signs of allegiance: When your GPS is broken, you figure out your location in relation to streets mentioned on The Chronic. You still root for the Raiders. You know not to shoot dice on 21st & Lewis unless Nate Dogg is around to regulate.
Current class: Freddie Gibbs, Black Hippy (Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q, Ab-Soul, Jay Rock)
2. Everlasting Bassists (electronic)
Hall of Fame: Egyptian Lover, Arabian Prince, Roger Troutman, Rodney O & Joe Cooley, World Class Wrecking Cru
Signs of allegiance: You haven't listened to music with words in years. You define things as pre- and post-Daft Punk coming to Coachella.
Current class: Flying Lotus and the Low End Theory resident DJs, Brainfeeder, DâM-FunK
3. Park Bench People (underground hip-hop)
Hall of Fame: Freestyle Fellowship, the Pharcyde, Jurassic 5, Likwit Crew
Signs of allegiance: You bought the VIP package for the Paid Dues festival for the free backpack. You poured out a little Corona when Fat Beats closed. You once took mushrooms and spent $100 on bootleg mixtapes on Venice.
Current class: Madlib, Blu, Open Mike Eagle, Nocando, Busdriver
4. Alamedans ('90s rock)
Hall of Fame: Beck, Elliott Smith, Rage Against the Machine, Sublime
Signs of allegiance: Beck played a solo kazoo set at your Eastside house party in the pre-Swingers era. You were at the first Coachella. You haven't yet realized how much non-Angelenos hate Sublime.
5. Friends of the River (classic rock)
Hall of Fame: Love, the Doors, Neil Young, Buffalo Springfield, Crosby, Stills & Nash, the Byrds, Steely Dan, Joni Mitchell
Signs of allegiance: You once purchased a dime bag for a dime. You still have a ponytail. None of this column made any sense until now.