You know that Person of the Year thing where Time magazine profiles a person who "for better or for worse has done the most to influence the events of the year"?
If I were doing something similar for the Phoenix music scene, Zack de la Rocha would get the nod for 2010. Really, no one else comes in a close second. Other than resorting to the kind of high-concept copout that weak-willed Time editors occasionally fall back on when they don't have the balls to give it to a bad guy like Osama bin Laden (examples: The Endangered Earth; The Generation Twenty-Five and Under; You), I wouldn't have much choice. De la Rocha, the public face of, and chief instigator behind, the boycott of our state's small and fragile music industry, figures prominently in almost all the biggest headlines related to Arizona music over the past year.
How the 40-year-old singer of a semi-defunct rap-rock band — a guy who lives in California and hasn't made a meaningful artistic contribution to popular music in at least a decade — came to be the single biggest force affecting music in Arizona is a long and sordid tale. I don't fully understand it myself — you'd be better off reading The Bird's column for an analysis of stuff like this, as Stephen Lemons has forgotten more than I'll ever know about the dark side of Arizona politics and the activists who battle against it. I'm just the music guy, and I'm a music guy who is still in shock about how an out-of state artist I haven't taken seriously since I was in high school came to have such a profound effect on music in Arizona.
Martin Cizmar music feature
But, hey, Time doesn't pick people because they're heroes. In fact, Hitler and Stalin won back-to-back in 1938 and 1939, and LeBron James was a finalist this year. Not that I would ever compare de la Rocha to evil incarnate in the forms of Hitler, Stalin, or LeBron James.
Regardless of your politics — whether you think the bald-faced evil of SB 1070 justifies Zack's all-out assault on the state or you worry he's hurting his own cause by inflicting so much collateral damage on people who share many of his principles — it's a sad story. The Sound Strike means that generally open-minded and diversity-loving music fans in Arizona are paying a hefty price for the misdeeds of a state Legislature that fails to understand the fundamental principles this nation was founded on. Should we be paying a price for the poor decisions made by the leaders our neighbors elected? I dunno — that question is above my pay grade.
Either way, this isn't nearly over yet. Although the courts castrated the law, the Sound Strikers are not backing off. De la Rocha wants the law to actually be rescinded, not just invalidated — a highly principled stand that seems to ignore the fact that every significant minority rights movement of the past 50 years, from the civil rights struggles of the '60s through the gay marriage battle going on now — got a big leg up from the courts. In fact, voters in his own state never rescinded their "eerily similar" anti-immigrant law, Prop 187. But, hey, maybe there's a "greater good" we'll be serving by not seeing Sound Striker Kanye West when he tours in support of the critical-consensus best record of 2010, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
Contrary to popular belief, SB 1070-related news wasn't the only thing going on in Arizona music this year. Here are my 10 favorite music stories from the past year — the happy, the sad and the hilarious.
1. The SB 1070 fallout hits Arizona's music scene hard: You probably know and love at least one band that's boycotting Arizona in the wake of SB 1070, since the list includes acts like Mos Def, My Chemical Romance, Bright Eyes, Jenny Lewis, and Nine Inch Nails. Though it started to pick up steam in the indiesphere — Canadian band Stars actually sort of kicked things off with a boycott tweet before there even was a Sound Strike — the strike is going to hit every music lover in Arizona, whether they know it or not. Sure, some bands will issue a statement about their decision to skip Arizona, but just as many are likely to pass us by without saying why. Mark my words: Even country fans won't get out of this unscathed.
When they did come to town, a lot of artists had something to say about the law on stage. My favorite comment was from Lady Gaga, who brushed off calls to boycott by pointing out that her entire tour is a joyful protest in favor of open-mindedness and acceptance. I was already a fan of the pop star, but her onstage words really galvanized my respect for her work.
"We have to be active. We have to protest . . . I will yell and I will scream louder," she said at US Airways Center. "I will hold you, and we will hold each other, and we will peaceably protest this state."
2. The death of local rapper Carnegie of Silver Medallion: One of the truly heartbreaking stories of the year was the untimely death of local rapper Abay Lattin, known on stage as Carnegie, half of local hip-hop duo Silver Medallion. Lattin, 25, was heading home from a homecoming performance in Scottsdale — the group had recently moved to New York and was making inroads in the city's ultra-competitive hip-hop scene — when an allegedly drunk teenage driver slammed her SUV into the car he was traveling in near the Quadrangles apartment complex in Tempe.
A passing motorcyclist, 19-year-old Matthew West of Glendale, was also killed when he crashed his bike into the wreck.
It's an unspeakably sad story for all the obvious reasons, as well as because Carnegie was a truly talented guy, and his group was one of the most compelling acts in Arizona hip-hop. He was a gifted man with a bright future ahead of him ,and he'll be missed by both people who knew him and people he never met.
3. Openings: Nile Theater, 910 Live, and Long Wong's: All that's old is new again, as they say. Phoenix got several prominent new music venues in 2010 and, perhaps not surprisingly, the three biggest are all new incarnations of Valley institutions.
Mesa's Nile Theater and The Underground club below it have big potential — especially if they can line up a liquor license. Tempe's 910 Live, formerly known as Boston's, re-opened with a sleek new interior and lots of local shows. 20010's big Tempe comeback story: The Sail Inn. And the new Long Wong's at the Firehouse in Tempe fast became a popular place for people who like a little live music while they're kicking back with a beer and a plate of wings.
All three venues have a nice vibe and stand a good chance of building the sort of loyal clientele that makes a smallish music venue into a success story.
4. Eastside Records' closing: The record store business is hurting right now, for reasons both obvious and oft-repeated. Still, the announced closure of Tempe's venerable Eastside Records hit a lot of people pretty hard. Hopefully, it'll make people appreciate locally owned shops like Revolver, Hoodlums, and Stinkweeds even more.
5. Area music festivals in trouble: Big-time local music events had a rough year. Tempe Music Festival was canceled in 2010, while McDowell Mountain Music Festival was downsized from the polo fields at WestWorld to a strip mall parking lot next to Compound Grill. With the economy in the tank, it's hard to blame promoters for exercising caution, but it's a shame Arizona hasn't yet been able to capitalize on its spectacular spring and fall climate with a top-notch music fest.
6. The Musical Instrument Museum opens in north Phoenix: Most of what you'll find at the new Musical Instrument Museum isn't geared toward fans of popular music, but having a $150 million, 190,000-square-foot monument to sound-producing contraptions from around the world is a nice feather in Arizona's cap. The piano used by John Lennon to write "Imagine" is probably the biggest draw for rock fans, but the museum is well worth a trip for anyone who's at all interested in music.
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7. Closings: Copper State, Jugheads, PHiX, Chyro: Phoenix lost a number of music venues in 2010, several of which will be sorely missed. It's all part of the cycle.
8. Frankie Muniz's band plays a show: No, really. Child actor Frankie Muniz of Malcolm in the Middle fame finally took stage with his band You Hang Up, mere months after joining up as a rookie drummer without having ever even practiced with the band. Muniz's exploits should be fun to watch for a few more months before he grows bored with the project and decides to pour his energy (and residuals) into racecar driving or acting or whatever else strikes his fancy.
9. Love Me Nots breast cancer scare: This one has a happy ending: Nicole Laurenne, singer for prominent retro-garage band The Love Me Nots, was diagnosed with breast cancer over the summer, causing the band to cancel the rest of its shows for the year so she could receive treatment and recover. She's 100 percent cancer-free now, though, and the band plans to emerge from the studio with a new record and a rescheduled European tour.
10. Insane Clown Posse cancels show for lack of Faygo: The Onion couldn't make this one up: Insane Clown Posse, a Detroit rap duo best known for their distinctive face paint and outlandish lyrics, had to reschedule a Tempe concert after the shipment of Faygo soda they use to douse their fans failed to show up in time. Yup, without the soda, the show apparently couldn't go on. Awesome.