Love is growing in the street,
Right through the concrete

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Ry Cooder - CHÁVEZ RAVINE (2005)

BACK! Hopefully now with some semi-regular content. Uploading old stuff to Mediafire, as Sharebee has disappeared off the face of the internet.

The album is the first of what eventually became a trilogy of historical concept albums that Ry Cooder made in the second half of the last decade. Cooder talks of this album now as sowing the beginnings of a creative re-awakening: allowing him to write lyrics through the fictionalised mouthpieces of real archetypes of modern history. The trilogy was completed with My Name Is Buddy in 2007, and I, Flathead in 2008. The albums combine Cooder's populist politics with his love of 20th century popular music and have made for by far the most satisfying entries in Cooder's already classic discography. The songs on the album detail with warmth the lost Latino community of Chávez Ravine, LA, and its liquidation by private contractors in the late 1950s for the eventual construction of Dodger Baseball Stadium. It's a fascinating story, but whilst Cooder clearly wanted to bring it to increased public awareness, the music on this album creates a memorial not to the 'fallen', but to the loves, the fears; the hipsters, outcasts; struggles and laughter that all took place in a community of living people.

Amongst the many glimpsed images on the album are odd turns that might seem like diversions or dead ends alongside the central plot. This plot involves McCarthyist denunciation of local leaders in opposition to the proposed plans ('Don't Call Me Red'), the coming of the 'dozers ('It's Just Work For Me'), the soliloquy of the real estate contractor ('In My Town') and the eventual erection of the baseball stadium ('3rd Base Dodger Stadium') on the bulldozed grounds. This plotline grows surprisingly defined, the closer you listen, but so also it becomes apparent that the tangential asides are essential to the kind of big picture offered.

In the sublime cover art, a goofy, B-Movie UFO hovers alongside the real machine rolling over a real community. The image reflects something about the album's broadly human - not merely morbid - focus. On the album, mocking songs about the coinbox-carrying Chinese laundryman ('Chinito Chinito'); sailors battling Pachucos ('Onda Callejera'); honourable sportsmen denounced ('Corrido de Boxeo'); concerned mothers and reckless daughters ('Muy Fifif'); local heartbreakers ('3 Cool Cats'); the politics of dance trends ('Los Chucos Suaves'), and UFO sightings ('El UFO Cayó') all share equal importance in the portrayal of the town as the story of its destruction. Descriptions of the album's concept can sound sour and mournful, but this is a compeltely unfit description of the music.

Chavéz Ravine is a work of anger, but its overall impression is one of affecting humanity. Cooder, and the remaining Ravine musicians he could track down, rebuild and remodel the community the "'dozers" destroyed. Of Cooder's trilogy of historical concept albums, this first collection of songs is by far the most warm and moving. With less talented musicians, it would be a polemical history set to music, however the album is foremost a suite of living landscapes - with the sense of melancholy remaining an undertone, and not seeping anachronistically into the music. I mean to say, that this album is a tribute to the extinct community first, and a story of the town's destruction second.

That said, it's with a stingly undercurrent of bitterness that Cooder writes the lyrics to the album's most tender, yet most politically bold and unsettling song, 'In My Town'. Under the persona of the real estate contractor, the lyrics are a destainful monologue of an idealist visionary looking down upon "old town, crook town, wop town, and spic town / Black town, shack town, and hick town / From my room". However, he sees "the future going" his way: "Can’t you see a 50-story building / Where a palm tree used to be?". From this wistful opening (his racism curiously accompanied by delicate keys) the song shifts tone to his hatred of the obstacles to his vision - the community. The community is a pack of "commie rats"; a nuisance to be replaced by "cement mixers" and "50-story buildings": "a town that's flat", "a town that's clean". The narrator's conception is that land is not a place where people build lives, but create profits; that (with a few smart maneuvers) the outdated idea of land-ownership can be surpassed to make way for beautiful modernity, with no evidence of the ugliness that lay in the past.

The heartbreaking finalé of the narrative, '3rd Base, Dodger Stadium' gives the lie to this philosophy, in the form of the voice of an ex-Ravine resident; now "working nights, parking cars" at the stadium which sits on top the ground he grew up on. The concept of building atop a legally annexed community is expressed with a heartrendering, stark metaphor. As he watches the game, he sees the players running over where "Johnny Greeneyes had his shoeshine stall". He sees "grandma in her rocking chair", and "in the middle of the first base line", remembers the location of his "first kiss (Florencina was kind)" - "if the dozer hadn't taken my yard, you'd see the tree with our initials carved". Speaking to the famous "baseball man", whom is clearly "anxious to go", the man once from Chávez Ravine lets him know that "if you want to know where a local boy like me is coming from: 3rd Base, Dodger Stadium". @256


1. Poor Man's Shangri-La
2. Onda Callejera
3. Don’t Call Me Red
4. Corrido de Boxeo
5. Muy Fifí
6. Los Chucos Suaves
7. Chinito Chinito
8. 3 Cool Cats
9. El UFO Cayó
10. It’s Just Work for Me
11. In My Town
12. Ejercito Militar
13. Barrio Viejo
14. 3rd Base, Dodger Stadium
15. Soy Luz y Sombra