Column: ’20 Feet From Stardom,’ but getting closer

Claudia Lennear was one of the backup singers featured in the documentary “20 Feet From Stardom,” which won the Academy Award for Best Feature Documentary earlier in March. Back in the day, she sang with the greats. These days she lives in Pomona and teaches at Mt. San Antonio College. We sat down for an interview about her life and career for Friday’s extra-length, Page One (!) column.

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A ‘Bohemian’ choice

For its 20th anniversary concerts Saturday and Sunday, Upland-based Mountainside Master Chorale performed its 20 favorite past songs, chosen by its members. These included Mozart’s “Laudate Dominum,” the gospel standard “The Battle of Jericho” and Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” one of the wackiest pop songs ever.

I filmed the performance from the balcony on my phone. You can’t really see anything, but you can hear the chorale let down its hair. Watch the 45-second video here. (The lyrics, meanwhile, can be read here.) The concert was at First Christian Church in Pomona, the same arts-lovin’ congregation that hosts the Repertory Opera Company.

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Column: Comic book exhibit bursts into Upland museum


An exhibit at the Cooper Regional History Museum in Upland is devoted to comics and Pop art. It’s the subject of my Wednesday column.

Above, a 1966 Jughead comic on display has a commentary on Pop art, neatly tying the two threads of the exhibit together.

One thing I left out of the column was a crack about the exhibit’s name, which appears to be “Let’s Have Some Fun at the Cooper Museum Pop Art Exhibition.” Gosh, let’s. If the exhibit finds another home after its May 31 end at the Cooper, a new name should be a priority.

Two short videos that I shot feature co-curators John Atwater and Anthony Ghosn.

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Favorite films of 2013

In 2013 I saw 28 new movies — maybe fewer than you, but more than the average moviegoer’s six or eight — and as usual at this time of year, I’ve ranked them. (I’ll include a 29th, “Inside Lewyn Davis,” which I saw Jan. 5.)

Plenty of high-profile movies passed me by during the year, including “The Butler,” which looked too corny, and “The Wolf of Wall Street,” which is too long, and I haven’t made it to “Her” or “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” yet. I’ve listed everything, letting you see what I watched and what I didn’t. Our tastes may differ radically, or they may be close enough that some title here will appeal to you. Feel free to comment either way and to list your own favorites.

My top 10, in roughly descending order: All is Lost, Much Ado About Nothing, Frances Ha, Dallas Buyers Club, Nebraska, Before Midnight, 12 Years a Slave, The Way Way Back, Inside Lewyn Davis, Fruitvale Station.

11 to 20: Machete Kills, Enough Said, Don Jon, Captain Phillips, The World’s End, Gravity, Blue Jasmine, In a World, Zero Dark Thirty (a late 2012 release), American Hustle.

21 to 29: Hunger Games: Catching Fire, 42, This is 40 (a late 2012 release), Django Unchained (ditto), Oblivion, Iron Man 3, When Comedy Went to School, Thor: The Dark World, Man of Steel. (It was cinematic Kryptonite.)

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Column: Supporting the LA Philharmonic from the 909

Sunday’s column is about the Foothill Philharmonic Committee, a venerable nonprofit that raises money to support the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The committee, a community affiliate of the Phil, was founded in 1958 at the behest of Dorothy Buffum Chandler herself and shows we’re not all a bunch of low-culture slobs out here (although most of us are, admittedly).

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Column: Lou Reed was more than leather and darkness

I blogged about Lou here the other day and expressed the hope that I could squeeze in a column on him this week. And so I have: Sunday’s.

It’s all right, but it’s tough to write about someone you admire, and I wish I’d had more time because after sweating over it half the day, filing it at 3 p.m. Friday, only then taking lunch, all I could think about were the things I’d left out.

For instance, “Songs for Drella,” his 1990 album collaboration with John Cale, should have made my favorites list; it’s a concept album about Andy Warhol, their friend and patron from their Velvet Underground days. I gave Reed’s music, as opposed to his lyrics, short shrift. And why didn’t I take a looser, funnier and more personal approach? “The Velvet Underground” is such a meaningful album for me.

In other words, I wish I could’ve scrapped it and started from scratch. (Which doesn’t guarantee the finished column would be better, of course, only different, and maybe worse.) With newspapers, as with a lot of things in life, you do the best you can in the time allotted, and then you let it go. I hope I at least gave newcomers an idea why Lou Reed was great, and that for those who already know, that I didn’t embarrass myself too much.

(By the way, I took a new photo of my Lou Reed collection for the column, adding two boxes and an LP at the bottom that I’d forgotten in my blog photo. Later, at the office, I realized I could have added a DVD and three or four books. Hah!)

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Lou Reed (1942-2013)


I might be among the world’s least likely fans of Lou Reed, who died Sunday at 71. (This Associated Press obituary is very good.)

He famously devoted a song to heroin; I’ve never even tried pot. He was as New York as Woody Allen; I’m a small-town guy who’s only been to NYC once. He walked on the wild side; I walk on the mild side. (What we have in common, perhaps, is walking.)

But after Dylan, I may own more Lou Reed records than anyone else in my collection, both solo works and his ’60s band, the Velvet Underground. (See photo above, although I actually forgot a couple of box sets and albums.) His music had a lot of range, from dissonance and experimentation to ballads that reflected his love of doo-wop and other classic pop forms.

His lyrics often explored the grimier side of life, yet the college-educated Reed wrote about all sorts of things, far more so than about anyone else you can likely name. One favorite, “Doin’ the Things That We Want To,” is a paean to the plays of Sam Shepard and movies of Martin Scorsese. He’d been on my mind lately because of his elegiac track “The Day John Kennedy Died.”

My album choices would be the VU’s “The Velvet Underground and Nico,” “The Velvet Underground” (their third album), “Loaded” and “Live 1969,” and his solo albums “Coney Island Baby,” “The Blue Mask,” “New Sensations” and “New York,” although if my house were burning I’d try to grab a bunch more. Of course a novice could probably get by with a best-of or two, but which ones? Most are either too much or not enough or, like “The Essential Lou Reed,” kind of a jumble.

On vacation two weeks ago I picked up “Between Thought and Expression,” his out-of-print solo three-disc boxed set, used, for an absurd $10 (Boo-Boo Records in San Luis Obispo probably wishes it had this back). It’s the only chronological best-of and has the stray track “Little Sister”; I’ve kept my LP copy of the otherwise-forgotten “Get Crazy” soundtrack solely for this song. The box also gave me “Satellite of Love” and “Perfect Day,” two of his catchiest songs but ones I didn’t own. Buying it, I felt like my collection was complete — and, as it turns out, just in time.

He had some weird or terrible albums too, and the Upland-based band Wckr Spgt prankishly released a cassette last year in which they covered some of his biggest misfires, like “Egg Cream,” “Disco Mystic” and “Original Wrapper.”

I could write a column about Lou, but may not get to it, what with an Upland City Council meeting tonight that ought to take precedence. (If I do write one later in the week, this post may be something of a dry run.) I never met him, never saw him in concert, but he’s been an important figure in my life anyway. All tomorrow’s parties won’t be the same.

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