For the “Soundtrack of Berkeley” issue, CALIFORNIA magazine asked various alumni, faculty and others in the Cal community to tell us a few things about their musical tastes, past and present. Here are the results.
- Jeff Chang ’89, author Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation
- Greil Marcus ’67, MA ’68 rock critic, author When That Rough God Goes Riding: Listening to Van Morrison
- David McCauley, director, Ailey Camp
- Chris Strachwitz, ’58 founder and president, Arhoolie Records
- Matias Tarnopolsky, director, Cal Performances
- Deborah Treisman ’91, fiction editor, The New Yorker
- Mike Twohy, MFA ’73, New Yorker cartoonist and children’s author.
- Mark Yudof, president, University of California
- You. Feel free to add your own responses in the comments.
What was your first concert?
Jeff Chang: I grew up in Hawaii where concert options sometimes felt limited. In 7th grade, me and Mark Morimoto went to go see the Beach Boys. We were up in the HIC Arena wondering what that funny smell was. I’d like to think this happened before “Rapper’s Delight” hit the islands but I’m probably wrong.
Jason Fine: Unless you count the Mel Torme and Ella Fitzgerald concerts my parents took me to as a kid, my first concert was Los Lobos opening for Wall of Voodoo in Los Angeles in 1982.
Greil Marcus: Harry Belafonte, San Francisco Civic, in the late ’50s. My grandmother took me. After that, the Kingston Trio at the hungry i (my grandmother again), then Pete Seeger in Palo Alto in about 1960, a Joan Baez concert in New Jersey in 1963 where she brought out a guy to sing with her, a scruffy looking person who bowed his head and sang something called “With God on Our Side” that riveted me like nothing before (later I asked someone what his name was), then Pete Seeger again, at Stanford, just before the March on Washington, where he sang a shockingly powerful song called “A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall,” then in 1964, at the Cow Palace: the Beatles. I was standing on a chair the whole time and had no memory of ever climbing up on it; it was like the sound just placed me there.
David McCauley: Well, there were several firsts. The first concert I performed in as singer was the third grade glee club’s spring concert. Although I listened to classical concerts on the radio, the first I attended was the Detroit Symphony Orchestra at Ford Auditorium when I was maybe ten. I began playing the baritone horn in junior high in the marching band, but the first concert I remember is when I made my debut as a French horn player in 10th grade.
Chris Strachwitz: I think my first concert was at the Los Angeles Civic Auditorium (circa 1951?) at a Dixieland Jubilee where I heard the George Lewis New Orleans Ragtime Jazz Band for the first time! Their powerful rhythm section and incredible ensemble horn playing just blew me away. All the white Dixieland bands were forgotten. There was only one mic for the singer. The band just rocked the auditorium! This was way before Rock ‘n’ Roll!
Matias Tarnopolsky: Too early to remember! Probably something my mother took me to.
Deborah Treisman: The first concert I remember going to without adults leading the way was the Thompson Twins in 1984. I was fourteen, living in Vancouver, B.C., and went with my best friend—a girl who lived a block away from me, with whom I spent entire nights on the phone, when we weren’t actually sleeping in the same room, and who is still one of my closest friends, though I doubt she’d remember or admit to her passion for “Doctor! Doctor!” now.
Mike Twohy: Gustav Leonhardt, Hertz Hall, 1973.
Mark Yudof: Lee Andrews and the Hearts.
Jeff Chang: A K-Tel compilation I convinced my mom to buy me at JC Penney’s that included Donny Osmond’s version of “The Twelfth of Never” and Foster Sylvers’ “Misdemeanor”.
Jason Fine: Beach Boys’ Endless Summer.
Greil Marcus: I don’t know. The first record I ever bought was “All Shook Up” by Elvis Presley. It was number one in the Bay Area, but Chuck Berry’s “School Day” was coming up fast and I wanted Elvis to stay on top so I bought it. It was like voting in an election.
Chris Strachwitz: My first album I think was an album with four 78 rpm discs in it. This was before LP records, in 1948 or ’49, by Bunk Johnson and his New Orleans Jazz Band, on the RCA label. I wore those discs out!
Deborah Treisman: Probably the Beatles’ red and blue compilation albums.
Mike Twohy: Everly Brothers.
What songs transport you back to your student days at Berkeley?
Jeff Chang: At KALX the first show I worked on was a Third World Department news program called “Amandla!” I’m not sure who put the intro music cart together, but I remember what it sounded like: a snippet of the Watts Prophets’ “What Is A Man (Freedom Flame)'” synced over B.T. Express’s “Do You Like It”. Years later I got to work closely with the Watts Prophets. Must have been destiny. One of the first people I met at the station was Rick Vincent, the Uhuru Maggot, who got me deep into the mysteries of P-Funk. I also met Davey D there, who turned everyone on to the riotous glory of Public Enemy. Aswad’s “Dub Fire” reminds me how awestruck I was by Too Dread, the way he used to pump up the monitors to skank along to the riddims, the way he used to run the board like a shaman. Sugar Minott’s Sugar And Spice album reminds me of Bruddah K, who was my patient mentor and guide.
I have fond memories of playing Quarters in the dorms with Fishbone blasting, trekking solo to the Berkeley Square to see the Replacements or to the Berkeley Community Theatre to see Fela and Egypt 80, and learning the lyrics to “De Colores” by singing along with hundreds of people as we were taking over Boalt Hall. Oh, and I remember my Griffiths Hall folks this way: Classic Dave liked Weather Report, Big Dave liked Miles, Ian liked Cocteau Twins, Victor liked Sting, Helen liked the Smiths, Rosa liked anything on KSOL, and Lesli loved Barry Manilow.
Jason Fine: So many! Mostly albums, not songs: Minutemen, Three Way Tie for Last; Bob Dylan, Biograph, Universal Congress Of, This is Mecolodics; Frank Sinatra, LA is My Lady (’84 Olympics theme song!), and so much great jazz I discovered when I got to Berkeley, from so many incredible Oakland musicians who way too few people know about: Vince Wallace’s Bombay Calling, Fred Marshall’s bass playing on the Vince Guaraldi records, the great pianist Ed Kelly and the trumpeter Robert Porter, who led a jam session every Sunday night at the Bird Kage on Telegraph Ave. And the great Pharoah Sanders, who lived in Oakland and often played at those sessions.
Greil Marcus: None. I don’t really listen, or hear, music that way, as a nostalgic trigger.
Chris Strachwitz: No one song. I listened to Jumpin’ George on KWBR and Cactus Jack as well as the gospel music and traditional jazz on Berkeley’s KRE.
Deborah Treisman: Just about anything by Elvis Costello, pre 1990. The Buzzcocks. Echo and the Bunnymen. 10,000 Maniacs. Robyn Hitchcock.
Mike Twohy: Benny and the Jets.
What is your best musical memory of campus?
Jeff Chang: Finding Morrison Library. I remember going up into that little loft, seeing all these desks with turntables, hi-fi headphones and wooden record bins, and feeling a little bit like a thief. I found a desk near the window and there was a Thelonious Monk record in the bin, It’s Monk’s Time. Dropping the needle into his solo opening to “Lulu’s Back In Town” might have been the biggest (legal) head rush I had in my four years at Cal.
Jason Fine: The night I accosted Jello Biafra from the Dead Kennedys in the campus Rathskeller and asked him for an interview. He went to his car, got a tape recorder because I didn’t have one, and we talked for two hours. It was my first interview with a rock star.
Greil Marcus: Being in Deutsch Hall in early 1964, going down to the commons room to try and watch the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show, expecting to have an argument about what to watch, and finding 200 people there, all to see the Beatles.
Chris Strachwitz: When I transferred to Berkeley in the fall of 1953 from Pomona College, I heard that if you joined the Big Game Committee you could decide what band would come and play at Wheeler Hall for the Big Game event! I was not in the least interested in football but I joined and one night took the whole group over to the Club Hangover on Bush Street in San Francisco where my favorite band was playing a long engagement: the George Lewis New Orleans Ragtime Jazz Band! All the kids were just blown away by this band and agreed to hire them for the Wheeler Hall concert! Remember this was before Rock ‘n’ Roll! None of them had ever heard such a powerhouse black New Orleans jazz band! We got Phil Elwood of the Examiner and KPFA to MC the program—and it was packed! I guess I was already totally devoted to somehow promote authentic American music to the best of my limited ability and experience!
Deborah Treisman: Aside from Rick Starr’s singing, the jazz festival at the Greek Theatre, which I went to in my first or second week at Cal, in 1986, with new friends who are now old friends.
Mike Twohy: Julian Breem.
What are your current listening habits?
Jeff Chang: It’s probably easier to say when I’m not listening to music—when I’m asleep!
David McCauley: There used to be a time when it was novel for music not to be playing. If I am not dancing or watching dance, I tend to listen when I have projects that are several hours in duration, whether at home or in the office. And, I listen when I paint or draw.
Matias Tarnopolsky: I go to many performances, so most of my listening is done live in the concert hall. The big secret about my profession—i.e., the real reason why people like me love their jobs—is that we get free tickets to some amazing performances! It’s a real privilege, and I love going to concerts.
Deborah Treisman: Living in New York City, I rarely drive, and driving was, of course, when I most listened to music in California. I can’t listen to anything with lyrics while reading, so these days my listening tends to be restricted to when I’m cooking or cleaning or playing with my daughters, who inevitably try to switch the iPod to Music for Aardvarks or Disney Princess songs.
Mike Twohy: Attend S.F. Opera. No music when I work.
Mark Yudof: IPod in auto.
If you could stage any three acts for a single night at the Greek, what would they be?
Jeff Chang: That’s way too hard a question, man.
Jason Fine: If the concert was right now, I’d book: Wilco, The Black Keys, My Morning Jacket.
David McCauley: Steely Dan, Pat Metheny, and Santana.
Deborah Treisman: Leonard Cohen, The National, and Aimee Mann.
Mark Yudof: Lady Gaga, Celine Dion, MC Hammer.
What songs would you put on a “Soundtrack of Berkeley”?
Jeff Chang: Let’s go with MC Hammer’s “Ring ‘Em”—the peak of all the Pilipino American Alliance parties we used to DJ, the Mr. T Experience’s “Danny Partridge”—because Dr. Frank was the coolest dude at 2311 Bowditch. And is there a recorded version of “The People United Will Never Be Defeated”? If not, we can take our field gear out there tomorrow….
Jason Fine: Jeez, so many. Don’t even know where to start.
Greil Marcus: When there were mass rallies on campus in 1969 during the Third World Strike—rallies that got more dangerous and violent by the day, so that every morning you were still breathing the tear gas from the day before—I always imagined someone putting the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” on huge loudspeakers and having all hell break out. It never happened, but I’m still rerunning the film.
David McCauley: A couple of protest songs by Sweet Honey In The Rock, a love song by Tuck and Patty, a little Lou Harrison, a little Moby, and a touch of Stevie Wonder.
Chris Strachwitz: I had the pleasure to make the first recording of the powerful anti-Vietnam War song: “I Feel like I’m Fixin’ To Die Rag” sung and composed by Country Joe McDonald in 1965 at my house in Berkeley. That song has never been replaced by any other in my head and is still contemporary as hell!
Matias Tarnopolsky: Berkeley is such a cosmopolitan, internationally-focused place, that I’d chose a work by world-renowned, Berkeley-based composer, John Adams. It’sThe Chairman Dances from his opera,Nixon in China. It reflects a moment of great historical significance, through beautiful, compelling, optimistic, forward-looking and energizing music. All words I’d use to describe Berkeley too.
Deborah Treisman: A very personal soundtrack would include Hank Williams’s “Lonesome Blues,” Billy Bragg’s “A New England,” Elvis Costello’s “I Hope You’re Happy Now,” The Buzzcocks’ “What Do I Get,” The Lemonheads’ “So I Fucked Up,” and Dave Edmunds’s “Deborah.”
Mike Twohy: “I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ To Die Rag,” by Country Joe.
Mark Yudof: Virtually any Creedence Clearwater Revival song.