The Passion of the Weiss

Sometimes I rhyme slow, sometimes I rhyme quick. But most of the time, I don't rhyme.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Beards, Blazers & Glasses: The Little Ones, Irving

Midway through the Little One's taut and energetic 45-minute set at the Echo last Friday night, two thoughts popped into my mind. 1) This band is excellent. 2) Why doesn't America have any Asian rock stars?

Without any context, this statement seems even weirder than what you normally expect on this blog. Allow me to explain, this question was triggered by the appearances of both the lead singer and the guitarist of the Little Ones, who appeared to be either Asian-American or Pacific Islander. At least, I think they were. I didn't conduct any interviews nor did I ask for any DNA verification. Perhaps I should have before I decided to raise this question. Oh, well too late.

Of course, race played no role in my assessment of whether or not they were a good band. One of the most wonderful things about music is that race should never play a factor. Good music is good music, regardless of who makes it. And yet I also try not to buy into any of the PC babble that unfortunately characterizes much of our society. Whether we like it or not, race will always be an issue to a degree. Denying the concept of race does no one any good. In order to grow as a society, a healthy discussion of race is important. That being said, I'm just going to come out and say that I didn't expect the lead singer of the Little Ones to be Asian. Now it's not like I didn't believe that an Asian person could rock the house. Far from it. It's just that, well...there aren't all that many Asians in popular music today. Especially in rock.

Of couse, this seems like a rather obvious statement and yet the thought had never crossed in my mind before. And yet, it probably should have, considering that Asians are a major part of American society and yet we have not seen one real Asian-American rock star. The question seemed to bubble on my mind, as I continually wondered how is such a thing was possible. After all, there have been major Hispanic rock stars (see Zach De La Rocha, Richie Valens, Santana, Los Lobos), black rock stars (practically everyone who invented the genre + The G.O.A.T. Hendrix), Persian rock stars (Freddie Mercury) and Armenian Rock Stars (System of a Down), and yet no real Asian rock stars.

Of course, whether people want to admit it or not, rock and roll today is sadly almost exlusively the province of white people. The dearth of black musicians in rock is a topic sometimes addressed in the media, while a few years ago during the heyday of Eminem, media pundits rushed to analyze the impact of a white man doing something typically considered to be a "black art form." However, in all these discussions of race in American popular music, no one ever thought to mention the paucity of Asian-Americans doing rock music. Of course, one might point out such figures as Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park, Howard Chang, bassist for Thunderbirds Are Now!, Doug Robb of Hoobastank and James Iha of the Smashing Pumpkins. And yet, Shinoda was a rapper (another form of music where Asians are underrepresented, as I can only think of Shinoda and Jin doing hip-hop), Chang and Iha are guitarists and therefore not center stage, while Robb doesn't count as a rock star by virtue of being in a band called Hoobastank (do I really need to elaborate here?).

Intitially, I considered the possibility that the lack of Asian American rock stars has to do with racism. And yet in recent years, Asians have made forays into the world of movies (Jackie Chan, Ang Lee), literature (Kazuo Ishiguro), and sports, (Yao Ming, Ichiro, Hideki Matsui) and yet not one Asian-American rock star. Race might play a factor, but it would seem to contradict the aforementioned examples.

Next, I considered that perhaps it had to do with the nature of Asian culture, one that I've often found to be quite similar to Jewish culture, except not as loud and not as cheap. To generalize (and I ackowledge there are surely exceptions), Asian and Jewish parents are generally not too keen to hear their sons announce: "Mom, dad. I've decided to become a rock star." (perhaps this explains why I can't think of any major current Jewish rock stars either).

Perhaps, and I'm speculating, the lack of Asian and Jewish rock stars results from a general cultural emphasis towards more stable careers than those in the arts (though I'm sure no parent is pleased when their son decides to drop out of school to be a musician) From my own experience, careers in the arts are not regarded with the highest esteem among many Jews, who generally think you're "meshuga/crazy" for not going to law school. The conversation with my father about my decision to become a writer is a different blog for a different time. However, this bit from the very underated film "Orange County" accurately sums it up.

Colin Hanks: Dad I've decided to become a writer.,
Dad: A writer. What do you want to do that for! What to you have to write about! You're not opressed, you're not gay!!
Colin Hanks: Not all writers are opressed or gay.
Dad: Well, they're all poor. I can tell you that.
CH: What about Anne Rice, John Grisham, Stephen King.
Dad: Three the history of literature!!!

God knows what would've happened if I'd told my dad I wanted to be a rock star. I imagine that an Asian-American raised in a traditional household might inevitably face the same stern pressures to turn towards a more stable and "responsible" career as well. (this is not to say that people of other races do not feel this same pressure). Or perhaps both of these possiblities are wrong, and there is no "real" reason for the scant Asian representation in the rock world. Perhaps it is all luck and Asians have just been waiting for the chosen one.

Well, the wait just might be up, as the lead singer of the Little Ones, has the opportunity to be the Yao Ming of rock music. Whether or not he will be The One remains uncertain, but last Friday night the Little Ones shimmering pop seemed to convert every Echo Park hipster within a three-mile radius that a Yao Ming-esque ability to post consistent double-doubles lay within the band's reach. During the course of the band's performance, the entire band displayed outstanding consistency, focus and a buoyant sense of energy that couldn't help but make you tap your feet to the incredible catchiness and harmony of the band. After a long moribund stretch where excellent bands were few and far between, the LA rock scene might just be starting to pick up again with the rise of the Cold War Kids and the Little Ones who just might be the best new band in town.

Running through their set with laser-like focus and precision, blending Shins-esque pop songs with just a tint of the post-punk sound that has dominated Indie rock over the last few years, the Little Ones seemed to effortlessly display one of the most difficult things for a band to learn: the ability to write a catchy and intelligent pop song. The songs are simple, well-written three-minutes gems, the ideal soundtrack for summer. The ideal band for Zach Braff to "discover," throw on a pre-packaged indie mix tape and have sorority girls nationwide humming along too. And I'm not the only one being converted by this band, You Set The Scene (who you already know best covers the LA Music scene. By far) has also named them his favorite LA band right now. Additionally, the band is just beginning to become a darling among the MP3 bloggers on the east coast, garnering write-ups from Coolfer, You Ain't No Picasso and Yeti Don't Dance. At the moment, The Little Ones are gearing up to play their first shows outside of LA, with dates scheduled for San Francisco and New York.

They are worth the hype and the all the buzz that has circulated throughout the blog world (because I'm through with the phrase blogosphere) and perhaps most importantly, The Little Ones are worth supporting if for nothing else to make Doug Robb, Hoobastank douchebag, the second most famous Asian American in rock music. Take note of Robert Plant's words Doug Robb, your time was gonna' come.

So definitely check them out. You can download free The Littles One's MP3 from their website here. The entire EP is also quite good and definitely worth the money.

Passion of the Weiss Rating: 8.75 crucifixes out of 10 (Definitely worth checking out)

Also on the bill was veteran pop band, Irving, who released a quite good album this year called Death in the Garden, Blood on the Flowers. Unfortunately, I was not able to stay for their whole set, though from what I saw they put on a very energetic and impressive show as well. I definitely would've liked to have seen more.

My only problem with Irving is that one of the band's guitarists was wearing a boy scout uniform. It was way way too ironic for me to handle. Rather than look cool, he sort of looked like Canteen Boy from that old SNL sketch. Which was just a bit creepy. I kept on waiting for Alec Baldwin to spring out from backstage and try to seduce him. My best advice to Irving, ditch the boy-scout outfit, stick with the good songs. Everything will be fine.


At 7:49 AM, Blogger Ian said...

Ah, Doug Robb...after we finished 1L classes, we all went out and got likkered up but good. Then all of a sudden, a couple of my friends asked me if I knew the name of the lead singer from Hoobastank. The reason? Their sisters who were Pi Phi undergrads were asked this question for the trivia portion of Derby Days and were looking to get a leg up. In spite of the fact that I don't remember anything that took place during that evening or that no one can actively learn things like the name of Hoobastank's lead singer, I spouted it off with no hesitation. Bizarre.

I have to disagree about there being no Jewish rock stars; Bob Dylan aside, you've got Perry Farrell, Kiss, half of Lenny Kravitz, the Beastie Boys...I'm not proud of these people, but they're still famous.

At 11:19 AM, Blogger Passion of the Weiss said...

I guess I meant Jewish rock stars more at the current time though I'd be willing to throw Gene Simmons into the Doug Robb douche/doesn't count netherworld. But today, other than the dude in Yo La Tengo, I couldn't really think of any Jew rock stars out there, since the Beasties are rappers (sorta), but you're right about Farrell. I confess I forget about him. He still should counts as current, if he isn't too busy being "not gay" with Dave Navarro. i actually interviewed him once asked him what it was like to be one of the 10 coolest men ever Bar-Mitavah'd. I'm not sure if I actually meant it, but I think I just wanted to ask that question.

At 12:14 PM, Blogger Nate said...

Wait a minute...You mean to tell me that Interpol lead singer Paul Banks is not Jewish??? I mean the dude sounds just like a Canter Singing "L'Dorva Dor" at some thirteen year olds Bar-Mitzvah. I've been to plenty of Bar-Mitzvahs and I can tell you if Banks says he ain't a Canter or related to a Canter, he's lying!

At 2:06 PM, Blogger Passion of the Weiss said...

No but I think that She Wants Revenge douchebag who is a Paul Banks by way of Ian Curtis impersonator, might be a halfer. Of course, in the 60s we get Bob Dylan and today we get half of that douchebag (possibly). Not a good decade for the Hebrews. And I'm not even getting started on Paul Wolfowitz. That's a different blog altogether.

At 4:26 PM, Anonymous silawe said...

Did you see Kelly Stoltz? He was the headliner with his name printed on the tix and everything. What up? He is great by the way.

At 5:22 PM, Anonymous another jewish lawyer said...

It seems that Jews are actually MORE likely to become writers than rock stars. That is probably because they ARE oppressed. Mainly by their overbearing parents. You know, the ones who keep saying things like "No, David, you can't have a birthday cake. The day you're a doctor -- then we'll have something to celebrate. You think we left Russia four generations ago so you could have birthday cake?"

Plus, my parents tell me that lawyers often become writers and artists as second careers.

Oh, how I look forward to my retirement home days, when my arty dreams will all finally come true. I just hope they have a kiln. And that delicious hospital-type egg salad. Because I hear second career artists are very big on the soft foods.

At 6:27 PM, Blogger Passion of the Weiss said...

I did see Kelley Stoltz, but I hadn't heard any of his songs prior and wasn't crazy impressed by his performance. however, I obviously thought he was talented. I didn't feel capable of writing a review on him because I felt I would've ripped him too hard, but perhaps would've reconsidered if I paid more attention to the performance. I had a feeling that he was one of those guys that might take a listen or two on Cd to appreciate the live performance. I'll have to pick it up the next time i'm in a record store.

And AJL: Dont' forget the gefilte fish...nothing says Jewish second career like a bunch of preserved whitefish. Nothing.


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