MICHAEL BARNES: IT’S ALMOST OVER


(Editor’s Note: Michael and I have been on parallel paths for the better part of a decade or so. I first met him when we were both DJs at KALX in Berkeley and both of us shared the same musical tastes in jazz and soul. I later found out Michael was enrolled in the Sociology PhD program at Berkeley during the same time I was going through the Ethnic Studies PhD program there (and my BA is from Cal, in sociology). Then, we both moved to L.A. around the same time and Michael’s become an adjunct in my department at CSULB. I think L.A.’s tremendously fortunate to have him, especially as one of the best new DJs at KCRW, new audioblogger (Melting Pot), and most recently, half the dynamic duo running the Sunday night party at La Cita, Gris-Gris. When I asked Michael to contribute a piece for this year’s Summer Songs series, he asked to do something at the end of the season and since it’s now the Labor Day Weekend, I decided to run it now. Enjoy. –O.W.)

    Summertime is by far my favorite time of the year. I was born in the late summer and most of my youth was spent playing baseball throughout the South in summer leagues. Ever since I started taking school seriously enough to become an academic, summertime’s importance as a respite and release has only been magnified. Honestly I don’t know where I’d even begin in terms of a complete summer soundtrack, it’s much easier for me to think of just a single day in August, so here’s a soundtrack for various points in my perfect late summer’s day.

    Early morning…three minutes before your alarm goes off.

    Love: The Good Humor Man He Sees Everything Like This
    From Forever Changes (Elektra, 1967)

    Whenever summertime rolls around this is a song that instantly finds itself on my playlists, particularly because of Arthur’s line “Summertime is here and look there’s flowers every…where…”

    According to legend, Mr. Lee composed this song on a bright summer’s day, with his mind focused on “happy thoughts,” while strumming his guitar on the lawn of Dorsey High School here in Los Angeles. Musically and lyrically it certainly has a whimsical quality to it, very much like a dream. Except for that final blast of strings at the very end, which to my post-hip-hop ears, almost sound like they are manipulated by a DJ. That moment reminds of me of what happens to you when you’re asleep dreaming something dreamy and your alarm clock interrupts all that loveliness and brings you back to the real world in jarring fashion, thus it starts our summer day here.

    Late Afternoon

    Rolling Stones – Waiting on a Friend
    From Tattoo You (Virgin, 1981)

    This song and the video for it always made me think of good times spent during the summer with friends. I’ve been blessed throughout my life with having a number of people who I’d call good friends, even though these days we’re not nearly as close as we were or should be, we rarely lose track of each other and once we start talking it’s just like there’s no distance at all. That kind of friendship is exactly what Mick is singing about here.

    Revisiting this track for this list the thing that struck me the most was the beat. As a kid, I just dug the sentiment behind the song, but now, I am enthralled with the beat. It’s got a vaguely island based rhythm, but it’s not really a reggae beat. Similar to the beat on “Heaven,” which is on the same record, it’s very simple in terms of its elements, yet it’s so funky and full of good vibes that I find it incredibly alluring.

    Instead of just posting the song, I wanted to post the video for this one cause really it’s the video that puts this song on this list, with it’s laid back, no frills quality. The video is mostly just Mick hanging out in front of a New York apartment building (inexplicably, I might add, with Peter Tosh!) as Keith takes his sweet time to stroll up before all the boys meet at their local bar. (I’m pretty sure that this video was also the catalyst for my love of a good dive bar). While I guess any season is right for meeting up with the boys at your local spot, for some reason summertime just seems tailor made for these kind of moments.

    Early Evening / Dinner time

    People Under The Stairs: Anotha’ BBQ
    From Fun DMC (Gold Dust, 2008)

    Summer wouldn’t be summer without a least one barbeque and this track by Los Angeles’ shining example of Black and Brown unity, People Under The Stairs featuring MC’s Double K and Thes-One, captures all the frivolity and foolishness that’s wrapped into a summer barbeque with family and friends. From the beat with those hand claps and the late 70s mid-tempo disco guitar, to the party chatter in the background, to the infectious chorus “You bring the beef (+ the links, wings and ladies) and I’ll bring the brew, aw shit another barbeque.” On a record full of classic storytellin’, this one takes the cake for me. Just remember if you come to a barbeque at my house, don’t bring beer that you wouldn’t drink yourself!

    Dancing downtown just ahead of midnight

    Tim Maia: Nao Quero Dinhero
    From S/T (Polydor, 1971)

    I’m a big fan of soul and funk music from Brazil and my favorite artist is rightly recognized as the father of the Brazilian soul movement, Tim Maia. I’d stack his first 5 or 6 records against anybody’s, and the record from 1971 might be his best one. This track, which loosely translates to “I Don’t Want Money” was one of his biggest hits in Brazil, but it remains pretty obscure in the US. It’s got all the elements that made Maia a star and makes his records so prized today, a super tight upbeat funky rhythm, heavy strings, odd percussive sounds on the accents, and in my humble opinion, Maia’s strongest vocal performance. Plus it has one of the sweetest choruses of all time, where Maia and his back-up singers repeatedly tell you they don’t want no money, all they want is “amor sincero,” a sincere, true love. Besides being a perfect song to sweat and dance to, it’s also on this list because it fits me and my wife and our love (our anniversary is fittingly in August) just perfectly…

    Late-late night

    Otis Redding – My Lover’s Prayer
    From The Soul Album (Atlantic, 1966)

    I’d originally thought of choosing a different Otis Redding song, “Cigarettes & Coffee,” to be the late-night closer of this summer day, but since I don’t smoke and my wife no longer drinks coffee, it doesn’t make nearly as much sense as picking “My Lover’s Prayer.” Whenever I DJ and close out a night, I like to wind it all down with ¾ time slow soul songs and Otis was a master at these, with this one being one of his best along with the expert accompaniment from the Stax players, the Memphis horns and Booker T & the MGs. But what makes this song a classic is the begging, pleading, desperate and tremendously soulful vocals of Otis…

    What you gonna do tonight,
    When you need some lovin’ arms to hold you tight,
    Tell me what you gonna do tonight,
    When you need my heavy voice to tell you goodnight,
    Honey but, you can’t let there be no problem,
    You’ve got to come on home and help me solve ‘em,
    Then I won’t be missing you,
    And honey, my lover’s prayer would be all over.

    Additionally, I actually have an apt late-night summer memory connected to this song. While living in Atlanta in the 1990s, some of my buddies and I stumbled into a local Waffle House at 2 or 3 in the morning. At the time there must have been at least 15 or 20 people in this particular Waffle House, virtually everyone, including the cooks, were completely hammered and talking very very loudly. I went to the jukebox in need of some Southern soul and chose this song. Within 5 seconds of Otis’ opening line, “This is my Lover’s Prayer, I hope it will reach out to you my love…” there was nothing but sweet contemplative silence. When that happened, I remember having the following exchange with my friend Chris Barnes (no relation):

    MB: You hear that?

    CB: What?

    MB: How quiet it got…Otis just chilled everybody the fuck on out…

    That power is exactly what makes this the perfect wind-down song to a perfect summer day.

    Cheers,

    Michael


You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
You can leave a response, or create a trackback from your own site.

There are no comments yet, be the first to say something


Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>