The Local Rap Song That Lives On

Last Thursday evening I attended the final “It’s Cooler Up Here” event located at the train park of my hometown.  A type of farmer’s market mingle where locals brought their dogs and lawn chairs to enjoy the August evening and some live music.

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Sundown at the Train Park

The large turnout of Ridge inhabitants was pleasantly surprising and it included many acquaintances I hadn’t seen since my high school graduation or earlier.


ECV put on the barbecue, Feather River Ale was served in plastic cups, and many the attendees at the event danced to local band Spy Picnic.

As expected, small talk with some old friends was a little awkward and the local beer was still as heavy as I remember but something unanticipated happened that increased my buzzed excitement from the small-town gathering.

I’d lost count of how many trips to the beer stand I’d made but while distracted on my phone in line, I recognized the hook of Spandau Ballet’s song “True” coming from the band playing 30 yards away.  Now I won’t lie, I didn’t know the the beat until Nelly sampled it in 2004 with his hit single “N Dey Say,” a very important hip hop song in the soundtrack of my adolescent development. But the soft 80’s rhythm that’s carried over decades later, has become iconic and fills all listeners with a floaty feeling that might even take them back to their senior prom.

This version being played however, was one of the most notorious Paradise anthems to have ever been recorded, one that I hadn’t heard in many years.

Few rappers (or musical acts in general) have come out of the Paradise/Magalia area but in 2006 Scott Shaw, then 43, recorded and released the infamous track “Pine Cone Homies”.  A narrative of a gangster trying to live in Paradise that also pays homage to the Ridge by including references to Ridgeview High School, the Feather River and the annual Donkey Derby.  The song also warns outsiders of shit that goes down with its simple yet powerful chorus, “You don’t mess with the Pine Cone Homies.”

It took a second to register that the band on stage was playing the same rap song that had been remembered and forgotten throughout my growing up on the Ridge.

First I felt disbelief, then somehow it made sense and I managed to scream along with Shaw in the final chorus, “I’M A PINECONE HOMIE STRAIGHT OUT MAGALIA.”

[Editor’s note: I do not nor have I ever lived in Magalia, but do retain tentative plans to retire to DeSabla]

As a commercial painter by day and rockstar MC by night, music has been Shaw’s passion for many years now but he doesn’t consider himself much of a rapper. He also didn’t back in 2006 when he recorded the song.

“Rap isn’t my favorite genre or anything I’m good at, but a bunch of things came together to influence the song,” He explains.  

Scott

Way back in 06, he’d hired a kid onto his paint crew who moved to the Ridge to avoid gang activity in Sacramento.  Scott watched the young man unsuccessfully try to continue his gang banger lifestyle within the retirement community of Paradise.  At this time in his life, Shaw also owned a commercial recording studio in town where he would help produce local bands. It was here that for the first time he played with loops and samples that most hip hop music uses.

Amused and inspired, the man with over four decades of guitar experience hit the studio and drew from aspects of the painter’s life to create the dialog for his first and only rap song to date. With his friend and notable ridge musician Big Mo, singing the hook, the infamous “Pine Cone Homies” was born.

“I worked pretty hard to make the story about the local gangster and tried to include as many local references as I could,” he says, “It took me three to six months of picking it up and putting it down, but then I got serious and completed it.”  Distributing the finished project proved difficult at first.  Among Shaw’s circle of musician friends, hip-hop wasn’t a widely listened to genre. “My favorite band is Rush,” Shaw laughs, “What was I going to do with this rap song?”

Fortunately, he found real exposure for the track after he submitted it to Z-Rock anonymously.  

“It got fairly heavy rotation on the radio and just became a hit,” he explains, “Next thing you know, I’m hearing it in people’s cars driving by and I thought ‘I wonder if they know it was recorded by a geeky white guy?’”

The song was an instant banger in the area.  It was very popular among the Ridgeview students who heard their schools shout-out and someone told Shaw it was even played at one of the Paradise High Proms. Success.

Originally, I heard Pine Cone Homies on a burned CD in a friend’s portable player and was stoked as hell.  I was 13 when Shaw released his track and probably heard it within that year.  Kids these days will never understand the pain of hearing a cool song and not being able to immediately identify who sings it.  Pine Cone Homies would make sporadic resurgences throughout my schooling at Paradise High but I still didn’t have a clue who sang it and if it was actually serious.

I recall teachers talking about how the Paradise Pine cones were a real gang and to this day Shaw isn’t positive if they are or not.  “I heard someone make a joke about the name and I thought it was too funny,” he explains.

Pine cone homies

Image courtesy of Shaw

Since his solo track was so popular, Scott decided to try and incorporate it into SpyPicnic’s setlist among their rock covers and other original content. Unsurprisingly, local crowds love the new extended dance version and have been known to join in singing whenever it is played.

The track might be satirical and many listeners might have missed that but it demonstrates how cult like followings can come about even in small town settings like Paradise.  The fact that the song’s popularity grew due to its circulation of physical CD’s and radio play, makes the history of the anthem that much more glorified.

I asked Scott if he plans on making a sequel to the hit, or if he hasn’t done it because it’s too iconic to be topped.  “Every once in awhile I’ll get inspiration to for a sequel, but I haven’t put anything together yet,” he chuckles, “I think I’d call it Dean Road.”    Until the release of the follow-up listeners can download the song online or even see Spy Picnic play it live around the area.  It’s become one of the songs they’re most known for and on Thursday they proved they aren’t afraid to perform it in front of the Paradise Police station because even after all these years, “You don’t mess with the Pine Cone Homies.”

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Cooley High Review

“Fuck, that is a cop. Don’t run it will look suspicious!” A cheap bottle of vodka was thrown into the bushes and a very inebriated senior citizen who had just purchased it limped towards the road without looking back. Despite our new drinking partner’s sudden exit, we all accepted Matt’s command and stayed put. As if nine boys in the back corner of a supermarket parking lot at eleven o’clock wasn’t already suspicious.

In order for coming of age stories to be successful, they need to spark recovery of a personal memory and remind the viewer of an exact moment of their own life.

cooleyTo build a relational bond between story and audience, creators must incorporate fine details of setting. Effectively evoking emotion can be achieved through use of specific language, character development and coordination of relevant music. Viewers should be left feeling like they are able to relate to the film, even if on the surface, it shares no obvious connections to their own lives.

In the case of Cooley High, repeated teen film tropes are effectively used to reflect teenagers lives while focusing on a very specific time and lifestyle. Interestingly, diverse audiences can associate their own feelings and memories of being 18 to those in the film.

The pursuit of sex, disconnection from adult authority figures and unlawful activities are themes that have been used in many teen movies throughout the genre’s history. What separates Cooley High from other films about kids growing up, is that the story takes place in an inner-city and focuses on lower income protagonists.

Where as many stories of the American teen were created from boredom in suburbia, this movie, released 40 years ago, exemplifies certain coming of age traits that know no geographic or ethnic boundaries. To this day, the 1964 story about black youths in the city is able to successfully create a relationships to it’s viewers.

Even in contrast to a white male raised in a different time and a different place, the saying “boys will be boys” is applicable when constructing bridges between my own life experiences and those of the main characters.

I don’t really know what it means to be “jive” and I’ve never been to Chicago, but I believe the actions of Cochise and Preach resonate with myself because of common thought processes that males around that age go through. We played sports and ditched class, but we called each other “dingus” when trying to cause insult. The pursuit of sex, booze and theft were all things that I experienced in high school. Even if these mischievous situations of my past didn’t involve me personally committing the crime, during the course of watching this movie I was able recollect similar situations to those presented.

The reason that Cooley High is as relevant today as it was in 1975 is because everyone who has lived through high school should be able to feel some connection to the characters and their experiences. Individual stories will vary with settings and specifics, but young men approaching the end of high school deal with a range of emotions and complex decisions that are very accurately portrayed in this film

River’s Edge Review

“You respect an adult? I need to get stoned.”
The kids aren’t alright. The 1986 film River’s Edge demonstrates a complex murderous scenario that exaggerates all parent’s fears about their children. A band of outcast high school students have serious problems after one of their friends kills his girlfriend and tells the rest of them about it. Most are disturbed about the killing, some want to turn him in and one is determined help the killer cover up the case.
While not discussing most of the kid’s lives, viewers get a real sense that all of the teens feel some sort of security in the group that is constantly smoking weed, ditching class and teasing each other. The tendency of kids in high school to pursue these activities is not uncommon by any means, but from the start of the film, the feeling is pushed that the relationship they don’t talk about actually holds some meaning to all of them. Their decision to not tell about the murder comes from Crispin Glover’s character who continues to say that they can’t turn their backs on the circle.

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The roots of teenage film trace back to the the fifties when high schoolers were depicted as troubled menaces and unreachable by adults. Once the filmmakers started targeting the age group they were portraying, the depiction of how these teens acted changed as well. River’s Edge get back to playing on the adult fear that the kids cannot be controlled and will act without reasoning.
A scene that resurfaces throughout the film is the emotions of the teenagers. As demonstrated before in countless movies about youths growing up, River’s Edge shows how kids can be so indifferent or passionate about particular life circumstances. The young star studded cast is developed well with quick scenes showing them in a natural flashes.
The strongest scene in the film really pounds into the viewer how actually crazy teens can act. It contrasts two of them having sex in a park close to where their friend was murdered while the murder is talking and reliving the killing. From switching between the moment of lust and moment of terror, the movie demonstrates how emotion can swing in a drastic flurry so quickly.
By deconstructing the teen fantasy of a family of friends, we can see how the characters in River’s Edge act the way they did. Instead of immediately running to the police, they all felt some sense of responsibility and moral confusion. Most people have not been in similar situations but everyone has felt some obligation to a group, person or organization that at times, might have challenged their morals. Based on true events, the story takes the crazy teenage troupe to an infinite power and manages to once again scare the shit out of parents.

Superbad Review

Superbad

Seth Rogen proved in 2007 that he still knows what it’s like to party like a teenager. Or at least attempt to. The actor, director, producer was the driving force behind Superbad which simultaneously paid tribute to older teen sex comedies while twisting conventional cliches into something deeper than boobs, beer and high school graduation.
In the last two weeks before Evan and Seth graduate high school they find themselves in a frenzied conquest to achieve the ultimate goal of losing their virginity. While neither their popularity nor looks have brought much luck with ladies, their chances of getting laid are raised when they find themselves in charge of supplying booze for a big party. To get alcohol for the party the two trust in Fogell, the one kid in school who’s dorkier than themselves, and his fake ID. Misadventures of the night involve major police interaction, minor unidentified human liquid and a heavy reality of bromance.
The troupe of young males pursuing sex is a narrative that’s been seen in movies throughout the last three decades. With the allure of nudity and sexual content, these movies are able to reel in audience members and provide often raunchy comedy. While the dialog of Superbad is a rapid fire of sex jokes, it also depicts a reality that kids getting ready to graduate deal with.
The conquest that these boys share is to finally lose their virginity and therefore be ready for college and ultimately manhood. As Seth blatantly puts it, “You don’t want to suck dick at fucking pussy.” But while they openly banter about females and sex, they withhold their feeling about going to separate schools in the fall.
Throughout the movie, the two brush off questions and concerns from other characters about how it’s going to be when they no longer will share proximity. Even through all of their fronted machoness and sexual teasing, its very apparent that the two share a deep bond. Male comradery typically goes hand in hand with the pursuit of sex in teen films, but often times it’s downplayed with shallow results.
Another way that Superbad defies the norm of sex comedies is that while it depicts the common connection between alcohol and physical intimacy, it is one of the first films to address consent. In no way, shape or form does the dialogue of the film show particular courtesy towards women but in the end, both Seth and Evan miss their opportunities to have sex because of inebriation and moral judgment.
In many aspects, Superbad is paying tribute to the teen films of the 80’s and 90’s but it truly adapts to the cultural change of the 2000’s. With references to Myspace, clothing styles and other movies relevant to the time, it’s interesting to see how Superbad has etched itself into the teen classics while creatively creating a nuance among similar films in the genre.

Jews pay Mexicans to protest Gays…Freedom of Extortion?

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Last week’s ruling by the Supreme Court to legalize same-sex marriages caused a flurry of emotion across the United States.  As expected, disagreement of the nation wide event arrived across social media as well at live celebrations, but a slew of problems were created that are more complex than your opinionated friend condemning rainbow profile pictures.

On Friday a group of men dressed in fringed Jewish prayer robes stood behind a barricade and held signs that conveyed religious, anti-gay messages at the New York pride parade.  Upon questioning the group that called themselves the Jewish Political Action Committee, a New York Times reporter found that the men weren’t actually Jewish.  They were hired Mexican workers, who were being paid by the fringe group to protest the parade.

photo from the N.Y. Times

photo from the N.Y. Times

This is not the first time that JPAC has voiced their opinion about homosexuality, but using rent-a-protesters is a tactic that seems new to the organization.

Heshie Freed, a member of the extremist Hassidic group, told the New York Times that the workers were filling in for the group’s students who would usually protest this sort of thing.

“The rabbis said that the yeshiva boys shouldn’t come out for this because of what they would see at the parade,” said Freed.  Whether or not the hired sign flyers are even opposed to homosexuality is unknown, but paraders made note of their presence by throwing water bottles at them and affectionately kissing as they passed by.

The group left shortly after one of the protesters got into a physical altercation with some members of the parade. Allegedly, the man swung on the paraders before being hit in the eye and continuing to hold his sign until the JPAC for a day crew departed.

Since the separation of Church and State, both sides have consistently argued about what qualifies as religiously sacred and unlawful.  While it is now legal in any state to perform matrimony regardless of gender, it will be rare to see institutions begin wedding same couples that were previously opposed to the notion.  Many churches and other religious centers have been respectfully declining to perform same-sex marriages, just as they did before, since the law allows them to choose which matrimonies they preform.

Groups opposing the ban of Confederate Flag have come under the national spotlight, even more so since many of these same organizations are strengthening their stances on condemning homosexuality.  The legalization of same-sex marriage brings us closer to becoming a nation of equals and truly representing what it means to be a free American. But the principles of free speech and expression are further complicated by groups like the Jewish Political Action Committee.

These are the same sects that were originated from beliefs that have been oppressed throughout history.  The same ones whose ancestors came to this country in search of a free life. What can be said about these smaller groups who feel angered enough, to not protest human equality themselves, but extort laborers to do it for them?

June 26th was a momentous day for our country’s campaign in becoming non-discriminatory about love, but the path ahead is to be filled with more obstacles.  The principles of practicing free religion on which America was founded need to be respected but also have the power to stagnate further progress.  I don’t think anyone holds all the answer when looking at the convoluted questions that surface when talking about separation of Church and State but working towards the answer begins with understanding.

In order to understand we need to stop assuming.  Too much discourse is caused from presumptuous beliefs about other’s religion and ideologies.  Stereotypes that have become rooted in modern social ideology are what is going to halt our country’s movement in becoming the adaptable nation that it was created to be.

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The Feather River At Risk

The Feather River is about 71 miles long but there are many smaller branches off of the main segments.  The furthest headwater tributary snakes up 221 miles into Northern California. Frequented daily for fishing, gold panning and swimming, the water behind Paradise has long been popular for recreational activities to those living nearby.  Spots referred to as Dean Road, Head Dam and The Hospital are starting points to reach swimming holes that are much deeper than most other accessible sites along the stretch of stream.  Recently, these swimming areas have been blanketed under the pseudo nickname “The Flumes”.  This namesake comes from the PG&E water canals (actual flumes) that allocate water from the Feather River and run parallel for miles to be used for hydroelectricity.

Stories about the river intrigued me as a youth.  It was revered as an oasis just down the dirt road into the canyon. Though my entire childhood had been spent in Paradise, it wasn’t until the summer before starting high school that I swam in the Feather River.  Excitement was an understatement.  This was my rite of passage. A bumpy ride in the back of a pickup which would lead to jumping off of a rock into green, exhilarating coolness.

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Though the initial jump did not disappoint, once I realized how accessible my sacred gem actually was, my thoughts of a hidden Nirvana disappeared. What replaced the mirage was an ultimate appreciation for it’s natural beauty, a real heaven on Earth.  In each of the countless number of visits that I’ve made to the small branch of the river, I’m still amazed by it’s presence.

After moving away for college, my appreciation and excitement of the river changed.  No longer did I have the freedom of hopping into my car on a whim and feeling the shock of cold water within minutes.  However, since I’ve returned, the first plunge of every visit has lived up to my day-dreams concocted in hot university classrooms.  Though, the idea of hoarding these spots is absurd since they are for everyone to enjoy, it brings me dismay to see cars filling up the parking lots and paths.

The sharing of pictures on social media, as well as, printed material have increased the popularity of certain swimming spots.

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Unfortunately, with the influx of humans comes our trails of waste.

IMG_1952When I was younger, I didn’t pay as much attention to litter and wasn’t as concerned about it.  If a Gatorade bottle floated away it wasn’t a big deal.  Occasional cigarette butts stood out as much as sticks and beer cans weathered by multiple seasons rusted different shades of brown.  When it comes to litter appropriation, my younger self shared the same subconscious mindset of others.

“We didn’t put it there. It’s not our problem.”

Well, I clearly see now that it is EVERYONE’S PROBLEM.  In a snowballing effect, the popular trails and swimming spots along the Feather River have become increasingly littered.  Visitors see trash and they feel it’s O.K. to leave their trash.  The concepts of cleanliness and caring have been lost upon many who are fortunate enough to enjoy the river.

At every spot that I’ve visited this summer beer cans, food trash and even broken glass have been present without exception.  Along with causing eyesore, the trash poses safety problems.  If the waste left by humans continues to grow these pleasant areas will become entirely unenjoyable.  Most importantly is the disastrous footprint being left on nature in the shape of man-made garbage.

Pup was packed in and out.  Cans, plastic pipe and glass shards removed in one short trip.

Pup was packed in and out. Cans, plastic pipe and glass shards removed in one short trip.

Countless animals and plants, native to the area, are killed because of pollution in their home.

Pictures do not do justice to the damage that is being caused from excessive consumption and ultimate laziness.

Everyone should realize that the Feather River can’t be taken for granted and needs help if it’s to survive for future generations.  Hopefully, the call to action will come to individuals before they are injured or unable to enjoy these places altogether.
In California, the realization that water is scarce is generally causing residents to take action.  If the treated water coming out of the tap is considered precious, why have we become so accepting to pollute fresh natural water?

Detective Fiction

I have not written much fiction lately, as my writing energy goes mostly to The Siskiyou and its projects.  I am however enjoying my contemporary literature class this quarter and the books that are assigned are different than I would usually select on my own.  Throwing myself into these unfamiliar genres is proving to be advantageous since I need to do outside research on the literature to fully understand the context.

Once assigned this project, I was intimidated.  The literary levels we have reached during casual class discussion, are sometimes difficult to comprehend as I have only taken a couple of few course in the field of creative writing.

The task for this course was initially comical: Write the story of a detective sitting at his desk when a beautiful women walks into his office to hand him his next case. Describe the scene and inner monologue with overwhelming noir cliches, sexism and old style references.  The venetian drapes should be as, literarily, coated with cigarette smoke as a Creuelia de Vil would be, had she had her way with the 101 Dalmatians.

A polished draft of the detective tale needed to be toned down and integrated with class lessons involving free indirect discourse as well as stream of consciousness thought process.  From experimentation, I learned that describing Detective Strausfeld from a third person narration allowed for comical moments as I could also flash into his thoughts while moving with traditional Noir characteristics…most of which are pretty hard for me to take serious.

I can’t really think of any films or books, before this class, that I’ve encountered which expressed these styles, but the formatting seemed so god damn familiar. Recollecting further into my childhood than ever before I was able to come up with where I had before experienced this cliche.

Hopefully, more fun papers like this will be assigned.


 

Detective Fiction

Goodbye Norma Jean

Though I never knew you at all

You had the grace to hold yourself.

Candle in the Wind was starting for the infinite time this evening and repetition of the clicking tape and mellow riffs that followed had become white noise to detective Strausfeld. His hands held each other, extending  from propped up elbows on the desk before him.  A spectating audience might view this stature and perceive his emotion as contention, but this isn’t a play and his thoughts are far from at peace.

Dalton Strausfeld had removed his jacket piece but still kept on his suspenders over his white undershirt, sleeves rolled up of course. The summer night’s  humidity sunk through a high open window behind him.  Sweating later than any hour he could ever remember, the detective cursed the “incompetent son-of-a-slut air conditioning repair man” who had taken the weekend off to “spend time with his grandmother.”

Likely fucking story.  I’ve heard of those youths that spend their days down in the water.  Strong bodies that permitted jumping off rocks after drinking beers.  I’m not even jealous, just wish that my thighs weren’t creating their own rivers of sweat and that that shit would do his job.

The phone rang.

The detectives first thought was not at the curiosity of a caller at this time, but instead anger that he hadn’t “unplugged the bastard machine” hours ago when he first sat down to research as many dead ends as possible on his current case

Strausfeld didn’t have his gun strap on him.  Theatrics like that are only in the pictures.  His unrestrained arm shuffled around dozens of snapshots and court forms in an attempt to find the phone’s power source which resulted in unorganized evidence becoming more unorganized.

Seven times the phone had rung and only during the pause after the sixth ring had Dalton’s mind processed, for the first time in hours, that Elton’s voice had been accompanying him during his lack of progress.

Finding the cord only exacerbated the situation, as pulling it violently resulted in more papers shooting up as the electric snake laying dormant beneath them had awoke with a ferocity it had never known. It also remained plugged into the wall.

Frantic and defeated, Dalton swatted a paper stamped with heavy red mark in the center of it, off of his telephone.

“Hello” he breathed into the machine, expecting either the third verse of Candle in the Wind or dead silence to answer.

“Detective we need to speak, I’m taking a car over shortly.”

Her voice was lower and more professional than the last time they interacted, during a co-department merge eight or ten months ago.

“I’ll be here Cynthia,” Derek responded, coolly.

“Excellent.”

No goodbyes exchanged, only a click on the end opposite of the line and a click of Elton tape beginning again.  A moment passed when Dalton held the phone six inches from his face staring blankly at the door.  Action needed to be taken.

He moved briskly to the offices lavatory.

The shittier room of the shitty downtown studio.

Drinking in a reflected image of himself, Dalton brushed his hair to the left side, the way he liked it.  While trying to smoosh down a cowlick that he’d had since he was born, he splashed water on his face and ran his dominant hand down his scruff.  The four day facial hair he wore, flirted with a sense of elegance and enlightenment, but may have crossed over into the deranged look, if not groomed within the next 24 hours.

Acceptance of the rapid escalation to formal meeting was beginning to set in.  Dalton Strausfeld slicked over his hair one last time.  A fluttery feeling festered in his stomach with the new heavy reality while recollecting on the last time that he and Cynthia had entertained each others company.

She wouldn’t come at this hour to chastise me.

Another thought. 6 months? 8?  How long had it been since he’d seen her?

The nervous excitement turned to brief nausea. No, from her proficiency in the field he assumed she wasn’t the type of woman to sacrifice her career with a child nor one to arrive near the stroke of 2 with a warm sack of blankets under her arm.

What would he give her if it were the case?  His thank you letter from a butcher uptown who promised him a free sirloin cut…”but only on Thursdays,” the note read.

Why only on a Thursday?  The shop was near a Hasidic neighborhood.  Possibly, Dalton thought, the shop received most its business on Fridays, before the Seder, and hoped to clear out its meat the day previous to make room for fresh kosher cuts?

A faint but (forceful) knock on the door.

He took a breath and walked to answer it.