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‘Scenes of rape in the arroyo, seduction in cars, abandoned buildings, fights at the food stand; the dust, the shoes, open shirts and raised collars, bright sculptured hair’ ~ Latino Chrome lyrics by Jim Morrison, The Doors

Prologue

On April 29, 1992, twelve jurors in Simi Valley, California, delivered their verdicts in a controversial case involving the 1991 beating of Rodney King by four LAPD officers. The case received international attention when grainy footage of the officers’ attack on King was televised and it became a national scandal. The beating would never have been seen had it not been for George Holliday, who grabbed his video camera and stepped onto his balcony when he was awoken by sirens.

The verdict was read: all four officers were acquitted of excessive force and cleared of all charges. Due to the extensive media coverage, the public received immediate news of the verdict. Reaction in Los Angeles was swift as people began venting their anger. L.A. became a scene from a war movie, albeit one far from the facade of a studio.

The following night I picked up an assignment for CBS news to cover film director Spike Lee’s speaking engagement at the University of California in Irvine. The timing was ironic; following the King beating and the LAPD officers’ verdict, it was day two of the rioting. Spike was to talk about his new film ‘Malcolm X’. Irvine is about 45 miles south of Los Angeles, in the county famed for its oranges. Spike never made it; the announcement was made in the UC auditorium that, as a result of an upsurge in violence in L.A. and due to an exodus of traffic causing congestion on the freeways, Mr. Lee was unable to attend his engagement.

I’d taken the precaution of renting an Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera; my 1978 Volkswagen Bus just didn’t have the speed or the protection for riding around the city of Los Angeles under such challenging circumstances and against brutal violence.

I packed up the camera and rushed back to L.A., heading north on the 405 freeway. It had been closed and was therefore free of traffic by the time I neared Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). With no police scanner to monitor the situation, I listened to KFWB news radio for leads, following police vehicles, helicopters and fire trucks that may have led me to riot hotspots. From their reports, I deduced that the worst fires and looting were taking place in central Los Angeles. At the interchange I took the on-ramp to the Santa Monica freeway that sits high above the ground on concrete columns. This gave me a spectacular view of L.A.’s cityscape – it stretched out before me, hundreds of dark gray smoky plumes spiraling upwards to meet the black sky. I could smell the distinctive stench of burning asphalt shingles, wood and rubber. Jesus! It’s Beirut L.A.

Lingering in the night, like a string of Christmas tree lights, were several police and news helicopters, their distinctive red and green pulsing taillights circling where civil unrest seemed to be worst. Known on the streets as Ghetto Birds, the LAPD helicopters sliced the darkness with their powerful searchlights on fixed points of unrestrained violence as media helicopters converged, scavenging on the carcass of a ravaged city. Above the helicopters were processions of commercial airliners with white lights making their final approach to land at LAX; the passengers looking down below were witnesses to a city gone mad.

Speeding along at 144 k.p.h, towards central L.A., I passed a huge house fire. ‘There’s a man on that roof!’ I shouted to anyone listening. I braked, leaving skid-marks and burnt rubber on the freeway, shifted into reverse and backed up to a suitable point to evaluate the scene. The silhouette of a man with a garden hose looked cartoonish against a wall of yellowy-orange flames. The sound of wood beams splitting from the heat of the fire rang in my ears. I grabbed my camera and rolled the tape, capturing the man as he moved back and forth, dousing the roof with water. I was eighty feet away, but I could still feel the heat as the building cooked.

Mesmerized by what looked like a wasted effort on the man’s part, his hose spraying out little attack towards the ferocity of the fire, I was unnerved by the sound of something whizzing past my ear. I heard the air split wide open as the hissing of a bullet passed by, followed by the sharp cracks of gunshots. I reacted automatically, panning the camera over to where the sounds were originating from when another shot was fired. Shouting began and a car peeled out onto the street below me.  I had no idea if I was the target but I managed to get it on tape. I continued shooting film throughout the night, and it was only when I was filming a mass arrest of looters at a Von grocery store that a voice from behind me reminded me of my vulnerability.

‘You better watch out, cameraman.’

I paused. I didn’t want to press my luck so I packed up and drove to CBS Television City in the Fairfax District and licensed my footage to CBS news. The Oldsmobile, I returned without any damage.

April 30, 1992: President George W. Bush announced that he’d ordered the Department of Justice to investigate the possibility of filing charges against the LAPD officers, for violating the federal civil rights of Rodney King.

August 4, 1992: A federal grand jury returned indictments against Sergeant Stacey Koon and Officer Laurence Powell, both guilty of violating Rodney King’s constitutional rights, with an additional count against Sergeant Koon of willfully permitting the other officers to beat King.

Nearly six months later, on February 25 1993, the trial began in the courtroom of Judge Davies, on the charge of violating the civil rights of Rodney King.

April Fools Day, 1993: Expecting that history would most likely repeat itself, all local, national and international news outlets were gearing up to cover L.A.’s reaction to the verdict. I had been inundated by phone calls from news organizations to cover the event from the end of March. The booking I took was with the A.D. Production Company, the producers of the American Detective show that aired on ABC Network. I was on and off the phone throughout the morning with Mark, who’d produced the riot segment for American Detective.

‘Dave? This is Mark. We’re expecting a verdict soon on the King beating. If the cops are found not guilty there’ll be another riot. If they’re found guilty there may still be a riot. What’s your standby rate if a riot doesn’t happen right away? And do you have a gyro-zoom lens for the helicopter shots?’

Even though we’ve worked together for years, the business of booking has to be clear with very little negotiation; it is pay or play. For my services and for my camera, lighting package and audio gear, it runs to seven hundred dollars a day.

‘Well, Mark,’ I explained, ‘I’ll hold off until another job comes down. There’s no standby rate on my camera package, and yes, I have a gyro-zoom lens.”

There was a pause from Mark. I could hear talking in the background; I must have been on speakerphone.

Mark returned to our conversation. ‘Okay, okay. You’ll be positioned in the Special Enforcement Bureau command center of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, in south-central L.A. You’ve also been given clearance to ride along in their helicopter.’

In my experience, I’ve always found it best not to get too excited about a standby gig, since most inevitably go away on the same day the production companies hire you. This led to the question: ‘Do you want me to ink the date in my diary or shall I use pencil?’

Mark replied, ‘Pencil. By the way, we’ve also hired you a bodyguard for if we reassign you to the streets. If that’s the case, your bodyguard is on the SWAT team of the San Jose Police Department. Oh, and do you have a sun gun light for your camera?’ Mark asked.

Taking notes, I replied, ‘It’s been my experience that a light on a camera makes for a good target.’

‘Oh, good thinking. Okay, we’ll see you on the 12th of April, Monday morning, at the Wyndham Garden Hotel in Commerce. We’ll also rent a bulletproof car, if we reassign you.’

‘How much is that going to cost you?’ I said.

‘A thousand dollars a day.’

I wasn’t surprised – you can rent anything in Hollywood. I called Bexel, the largest vendor of broadcast equipment in the country, to sublease some extra wireless microphones, a gyro-zoom lens and a wide-angle adaptor. I got hold of my friend, John Badovinac, who handled my rental account. ‘JB, this is Dave. Do you have…’ Before I could finish my sentence, John interrupted me.

‘Sorry, Dave, CBS has ten cameras and two gyro-zoom lenses and ABC has just rented what was left on the shelves.’

‘What? This is crazy. This is really crazy!’

‘We’ve rented out everything that has a lens. The networks and local stations are treating this trial as if it was the ‘84 Olympics.’

April 16, 1993: The federal jury convicted Koon and Powell on one charge of violating King’s civil rights. Sergeant Koon and Officer Powell received two and half years in prison. Officer Tony Briseno and Timothy Wind were found not guilty.

April 17, 1993: It was Saturday, 2:30 a.m. I was fully clothed and laid in bed, watching the re-edited version of Dune on television. I munched on another peanut butter Girl Scout cookie and sipped black coffee that was loaded with tons of sugar. I was in a hotel room at the Wyndham Garden Hotel, along with off-duty San Jose detectives and one ex-navy Seal, all of whom had been hired and assigned to me as bodyguards. They were armed to the teeth; the Seal was to drive our rented bulletproof Crown Victoria. Our team had been issued with flak jackets, Kevlar helmets, pepper spray and Israeli gas masks. Ironically, the instructions for the gas masks were in Hebrew which none of us could read.

LA #1A

Though I wasn’t upfront and close to the L.A. riots of 1992, I now had an official backstage pass to the ‘L.A Riots -1993 Tour’.

The decision was made to embed me within the Special Enforcements Bureau instead of a helicopter, in a platoon made up of thirty-six deputy sheriffs. We were to travel in sixteen marked patrol cars and one armored hostage rescue vehicle.

3:15 a.m.: The call came in to prep the gear, check out and travel to a new location. Dammit! Dune isn’t over and I’m going to miss the best part – where the giant sandworms appear to destroy the Harvesters mining on planet Arrakis!

In the hotel lobby I was informed that the production company had had second thoughts; they felt that the thousand-dollar-a-day bulletproof car was too expensive. They didn’t want to be held responsible for any ‘unnecessary’ damage. It looked like I was going to be riding in a deputy sheriff’s patrol car.

8:25 a.m.: We rendezvoused with several other platoons made up of uniformed deputies, in what appeared to be an abandoned hotel parking lot. I looked around the place: I saw some of the deputies relaxing in their vehicles while others paced outside nervously. No one was going to tell me how to behave or exactly what to expect. It was at that moment, as I distracted myself from such thoughts with a fruitless search for coffee, that I heard the verdict and sentencing of the defendants in the second Rodney King trial.

LA #5

              Several of the patrol cars had their trunks open with portable radios tuned to the KFWB news radio. The newscaster’s flat voice echoed across the parking lot, along with news of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a nuclear accident in Russia, a fire-fight with the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas, and a nifty review of Billy Crystal’s hosting of the 65th Academy Awards.

9:20 a.m.: The platoon relocated to a substation at the City Hall Complex in Lynwood.

11:25 a.m.: This was our first sit-down meal in two days. I was sitting in a plastic molded chair and table that had both been bolted to the floor. This was Angelo’s Burgers, a small fast-food joint at the corner of Imperial Highway and Atlantic Boulevard in Lynwood, California. As I ate my breakfast bean burrito and drank my second cup of coffee, I notice a handmade cardboard sign that had been written on with a magic marker resting on the counter where you placed your order. ‘Falling Down, with Michael Douglas, was filmed here on May 12th, 1992.’

It was at Angelo’s that Michael Douglas’ beleaguered character terrorized a fast-food chain called ‘Whammy Burgers’. I remembered his almost understandable motive for going berserk – the menu had progressed to lunch, and all he wanted was a little breakfast. In short, the movie was about a man in L.A. who went bonkers, so it was ironic that we were in Angelo’s with deputy sheriffs, having breakfast, whilst waiting for a city to go bonkers.

LA #2

2:15 p.m.: Despite the announcement of the court’s verdict, this wasn’t what saw us race, at top speed, from Lynwood to an amusement park north of Los Angeles. A thousand tickets had oversold at a scheduled rap concert. Not surprisingly, some of the fans were upset and, out of frustration, had shattered the windows of restaurants across the street from the amusement park’s entrance.

4:35 p.m.: Boredom started to kick in. The deputies, our crew and assorted bodyguards were in a holding pattern at the upper entrance to the park. Everyone was hungry. With my supply of Balance bars and gum gone, all I had left was a bag full of Atomic Fireball jawbreakers, which I promptly started to throw at the deputies and production crew, shouting, ‘I’m coming!’

The production company eventually decided to get McDonald’s quarter-pounders for everyone. Halfway through the order, McDonald’s ran out of burgers, so most of the crew and the seventy-plus deputies ended up with Happy Meals. The Happy Meals came in red cartons and inside each was a toy action figure from Batman. A trade-off began between Batman, the Joker and Two Face, though it was Catwoman in her fitted gray costume that proved to be the most coveted.

7:46 p.m.: The sun set. I grabbed the Betacam and my Nikon camera and tagged along with a squad of seven deputies. We took in the sights and sounds of the park and I wondered to myself if we were going to stop long enough to get a corn dog.  Occasionally, families and kids, looking for a way out of the park, stopped us and asked for directions. No one in our group was familiar enough with the park so we weren’t much help.

LA #7

We’d not been in the park longer than fifteen or twenty minutes when there was a distinct change in the atmosphere. Instinctively, I hoisted the Betacam on my shoulder and removed the lens cap from my Nikon.

There was a lull in the night’s sounds. The normal carnival atmosphere had diminished; where laughter and the excited screams of kids on wild rides had filled the air just minutes ago, there was now just a low hum and relative silence. Something was happening. All of a sudden, there was a new sound – a differently pitched scream travelling through the air. It was a disconcerted screech that built in intensity, continuing until all the laughter had been swallowed. A swelling of emotion rose from my stomach, settling into my chest and heart.

Time seemed to shift then split, both streams working simultaneously. Different scenarios presented themselves in slow motion, while craziness was kicking off in the background in ‘quick time’. I was rolling tape and filming with the camera on my right shoulder while shooting stills using my left hand.

Like locusts swarming upon a field of grain, kids and families poured out of nowhere and surrounded us. The deputies reacted quickly, creating a circle in the middle of a concrete walkway. If you’d have looked down from overhead, you would’ve seen a circle of tan helmets surrounded by a sea of bodies with a sergeant in the middle trying to hear the two-way radio above the noise. One of my eyes was glued to the Nikon’s viewfinder when the camera’s motor drive whined with a ‘click-click-click-click-click’. Framed faces held expressions of dread, concern and confusion as the volume of pandemonium rose to an even higher decibel.

Somewhere in the park ahead of us panic struck like a flash of lightning. We caught the first swell of people seeking safety: a stampede of hundreds barreled right at us. What the crowd needed was a concrete wall, five-feet thick; we were but a mere fence of eight people. The crying, shouting and screaming escalated again. In the distance, ‘snaps’ could be heard. More screams from the stampede.

A deputy shouted, ‘Was that gunfire? WAS THAT GUNFIRE?!’

The mob receded a little, confusion filling the void. The milling crowd looked set to disperse; again, gunshots or firecrackers were heard somewhere in the park. A tidal wave of families, in sheer panic, descended upon us.

Unlike the 1992 riots, what was happening had an element of vulnerability from the families caught in the middle of a total breakdown of civil order. A group of teenage boys and girls ran up to us, screaming that one of the park’s security guys was getting beaten up behind us. We turned but couldn’t see anything other than a wall of bodies a hundred yards deep.

More deputies arrived from nowhere and we made our way across a sea of glass shards, white plastic coat hangers, price tags and paper images of cartoon characters. I filmed the sheriff’s helicopter as it flew overhead, its powerful spotlight shining down on the confused throng, creating massive shadows from the tree limbs and scaffolding which slowly crawled over the entire area like a black web. Looking through the black and white viewfinder the shadow looked ominous – almost alive.

Dep and Looting

As we passed a restaurant, I noticed that the doors were cracked. I stopped to peer into the darkness. In the foreground were the legs of chairs, tables and serving trays stacked on top of each other. Beyond the barrier a young man, dressed in his chef’s hat and whites, stared at me with a dazed, anxious look. I rested the Betacam on the ground and wedged my Nikon lens between the doors, snapping off a couple of shots. I could only assume that he’d chosen to stand sentry, protecting his co-workers and guests with a fire extinguisher as the world beyond the restaurant door suffered a momentary lapse of sanity.

LA #9

The park was now quieter as the deputies prodded the visitors, containing them in the main entrance. I passed a long line of kids at a pay phone trying to call their parents to come and get them. Nearby, I saw a marble statue of a rabbit on horseback waving goodbye to its guests.

LA #6

              April 19, 1993: I read that morning in the L.A. Times that the park reopened on Sunday to an enthusiastic spring break crowd as law enforcement officials, park managers and a music promoter tried to pinpoint blame for the melee that damaged both the park and its reputation as a place for family entertainment. An all-night repair job replaced broken windows and a restock of looted merchandise was completed in time for Sunday’s 10 a.m. opening.

I later learned that the ‘confused mass of people’ cost the park an estimated two million dollars in damages. Forty people were evacuated as an emergency, and it took 450 deputies to move 40,000 people out of the park.

Urban legend has it that a body was found underneath the Viper rollercoaster ride four days after the riot.

During the comedown, in showbiz news, there was a big buzz around the release of Steven Spielberg’s film, Jurassic Park, about a team of genetic engineers who created an amusement park full of cloned dinosaurs before all hell broke out. Sometimes, science fiction can be a little too realistic.

Within days I picked up an assignment to the Middle East. As sad as it sounds, I was well prepared.

Epilogue

 June 17, 2012: Rodney King, the man at the center of the infamous Los Angeles riots, was found dead in his home in San Bernardino, California. He was forty-seven. According to media reports, King’s fiancée, Cynthia Kelly, found him dead at the bottom of a swimming pool. King recently marked the twentieth anniversary of the riots. Mr. King, whose life was a roller coaster of drug and alcohol abuse, multiple arrests and unwanted celebrity, pleaded for calm during the 1992 riots, in which more than 55 people were killed, 600 buildings were destroyed and the city suffered $1 billion dollars worth of damage.

August, 23, 2012: The autopsy findings by the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, Coroner Division: The effects of the drugs and alcohol, combined with the subject’s heart condition, probably precipitated a cardiac arrhythmia, and the subject, thus incapacitated, was unable to save himself and drowned. There’s nothing in the history or autopsy examination to suggest suicide or homicide, and the manner of death is therefore judged to be an accident.

              “People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along? Can we all get along? Please….we can get along here.”

– Mr. Rodney King, May 1, 1992

Geographic Assignments:

Afghanistan: Kabul, Kandahar, and Bagram. 

Australia: Sydney, Cairns, Mareeba, Atherton, Gordonvale, Undara, Chillagoe, Mt. Bartle Frere, and Queensland Outback.

Egypt: Saqqare, Giza, Red Sea, The Nile River, Cairo, Valley of Kings, Hatshepsut, Abu Simbel, Armant, Aswan, Luxor, White Desert, Thebes, Safaga, Marsa al Alam, Karnak, Al Harrah and Baharia Oasis 

Fiji: Suva and Koro Island

France: Paris, Le Mans, Nice, Cannes, Toulon, Marseille, Toulouse, Montpellier and Corsica 

Greece: Athens, Thessalonique and Island of Patmos. 

Israel: Jerusalem, Golan Heights, Ramallah, Bethany, Jericho, Temple Mount, Nazareth, Gethsemane, Kasr el Yahud, Allenby Bridge, Caphernaum, Sepphoris, West Wall Tunnels and Judea. 

Italy: Rome, Naples, Florence, Solerno and Island of Ischia.

Jordan, Mount Nebo, Tell Mar Elias, Mukawer and Amman Citadel. 

Morocco: Quarzazate, Sahara Desert, Oued Amsailikh, Tagounite and Atlas Mountains. 

Mexico: Chihuahua, Sierra Madre Occidental and Barrancas Del Cobre

New Zealand: North Island, South Island, Southern Alps, Mt. Cockayne, Lake Catherine, Lake Coleridge, Black Hill, Glenfalloch, Potts River. Mt. Peel, Forest Creek and Lake Tekapo.

Russia: Moscow, Murmansk, Severmorsk and Barrents Sea Artic Circle. 

Scotland: Edinburgh, Inverness, Orkney Islands, St. Andrews Highlands.

Turkey: Istanbul, Van, Doğubayazıt, Tabriz, and Erzurum.

Maybe it’s that I have time. Time to explore digital art using original images from my own personal “B roll” while on assignment for others. After all I did go to art school (which I never finished) but photography stole my heart and I left the brushes, charcoal and blank canvases behind. I have been lucky to sell a few pieces of work, but that not why I do it. It’s sort of wizardry moving from my analog days to the computer screen. Scanning old slides and listening to music while lost in my own mind and letting go of what art is suppose to be.
Joy! That’s what I find in pursuing my art and reconnecting to myself and others. I also find joy when friends ask me to illustrate the life of a loved one who has passed or when an illustration creates awareness of societies forgotten souls. So, I guess you could say that regardless of what medium of art you practice, it represents not the outward appearance of an artist but the inward essences of our humanity.

Judean-Wilderness-Banner

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Jerusalem RoofTops

Arab Hill

Desert Mothers and child

Desert CallingBefore-and-After Mary's Gandpa Before & After copy

Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window is one of my all time favorite movies. The story is about photographer L.B. “Jeff” Jeffries (James Stewart) who is recuperating from a broken leg during a sweltering New York summer. As a successful photographer, he’s known for taking difficult pictures no one else can get, including the one of an out-of-control race car which smashed his camera and broke his leg an instant after it was snapped. Jeffries lives in a small apartment, and spends his time looking out the rear window into the courtyard of the building; he can also see into the lives of all his neighbors, catching glimpses of their daily routines. It’s the sort of thing only an invalid might do, watching them eat, clean, sleep and argue. There’s the girl who exercises in her underwear (Georgine Darcy), the married couple (Sara Berner and Frank Cady) who sleep on their small balcony to beat the heat, the struggling songwriter working at his piano (Ross Bagdasarian); and there’s the salesman who lives across the courtyard from Jeffries, the one with the nagging bedridden wife. They seem to fight all too often.
Like archeologist digging into the earth and discovering ancient artifacts I will pause the DVD so I can check out L.B’s camera gear and admire the work of cinematographer Robert Burks . For any photographer, no matter what you market this movie is fun and beautifully filmed.

Filmmaker Jeff Desom has created a brilliant and beautiful homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” . By editing a panoramic time-lapse video of the courtyard through the lens of Jeff Jeffries. Mr. Desom definitely captures the spirit and the subtext of  “Rear Window” by observing the lives of others – which is what we photographers do best. Link to Jeff Desom’s time-lapse of “Rear Window” video: http://youtu.be/4vHRw9XiFMI   Also, check out Mr. Desom website, very creative. http://www.jeffdesom.com/

Director Hitchcock on the set with James Stewart

1954 Rear Window Movie Trailer Link: http://youtu.be/6kCcZCMYw38

A Rear Window’ recreation by Scarlett Johansson & Javier Bardem.

Brent Renaud, 50 years old, an award-winning documentary filmmaker from Arkansas. Andrey Nebitov, a police official in the Kyiv region, posted photos on Facebook of Mr. Renaud’s body and identification documents, including a passport and New York Times press badge, Rest in Peace Brent

Good Morning President Biden, 

With the lack to fight for Democracy here in America as 14 states have enacted 22 laws that restrict voting access making it more difficult for Americans to vote. Why would I think, that America would stand shoulder to shoulder with Ukraine in its fight for Democracy. America has become a weak bystander. The prestige and integrity America once stood for has faded with time. Not to be a downer Mr. President, but your weakness for swift actions to stop restricted voting rights here in America and to employ US with Nato military action for Ukraine is only encouraging Putin to expand his oligarchy reach. Both political parties and corporate interest are to blame for the downfall for what we Once Stood For. 

Former KGB Putin only understands one thing, and one thing only. Dominance by assassination and slaughter. God save American Democracy and God save Democracy in Ukraine.   

Regards, 

Dave Banks

rabbit-hole

Thirty-one years ago I came to the sudden realization that I was engaged in a pretentious attempt to fit in. That significant moment wasn’t life changing but life beginning. It was as if the neurons in my cranium erupted blasting the magma of conscious knowledge of my own character.
Admission and acceptance is difficult without counsel, so I sought out my mentor Mike Freeman. My visit with Mike was and is the most significant moment in finding the wisest course of action and direction.
This is what he said that seemed so simple – but again a lot of things that seem simple aren’t so simple.
“Dave, let me put it in terms that you can best understand, life is not a dress rehearsal, this is it, this is all you get ” that was Mike’s advice.
It’s been a good run with life experiences that most people only dream about. I didn’t want to live a life of quiet desperation and go to the grave with a song of missing pieces in my heart.
But don’t think that I don’t have regrets, just too many to mention here and that is my burden to carry. All and all I have accomplished as much as I could and have given to the point of emotional depletion. My world has gone from technicolor to monochrome with all the grays of confusion, angst, remorse and grief.
I once read that, “Life is difficult, once we accept that life is difficult only then can we transcend it”, so easy to say but such a hard task to employ. Where am I today ? I’m far away in a place where paradise is broken and only surrounded by pigments of a colorful past. There is no pill for the rabbit hole that I have found myself and all that is left are the winter days ahead – I have no more to give but to jump into the abyss.

Glenwood Recording Studio, Burbank, California

 

Les McCann

Les McCann first gained some fame in 1956 when he won a talent contest in the Navy as a singer that resulted in an appearance on television on The Ed Sullivan Show . McCann reached the peak of his career in 1968 Montreux Jazz Festival, recording “Compared to What” with saxophonist Eddie Harris. After the success of Swiss Movement album, McCann — primarily a piano player — began to emphasize his rough-hewn vocals more. He became an innovator in the soul jazz style, merging jazz with funk, soul and world rhythms. He was also among the first jazz musicians to include electric piano, clavinet, and synthesizer in his music. In 1971 McCann and Harris were part of a touring group of soul, R&B, and rock performers which included Wilson Pickett,The Staple Singers, Santan and Ike & Tina Turner. McCann is also credited in discovering Roberta Flack and obtained an audition which resulted in a recording contract for Ms. Flack with Atlantic Records.

Les McCann and Javon Jackson prior to recording

 

Javon Jackson

In the mid 90’s  McCann suffered a stroke that weakened his keyboard playing but his powerful singing kept him on the road. McCann’s comeback was solidified in 2002’s  with “Pump It Up” a guest-heavy celebration of funk and jazz released on ESC Records. To commemorate the 40th anniversary of Swiss Movement album, tenor saxophonist Javon Jackson brought veteran McCann and a young trio of musicians to the KC Jazz Club for Swiss Movement Revisited. 

Javon Jackson, Patrick Smith/ Audio Mixer and Les McCann

 

Javon Jackson

Jackson is used to working with legends he cut his musical teeth with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in the 1980s. He went on to record with such greats as the late Freddie Hubbard, Elvin Jones, Cedar Walton and Stanley Turrentine. Jackson leads his own group, and his latest release (Once Upon a Melody) hit No. 1 on the jazz radio charts.

Les McCann listening to the playback

In a 2009 Kennedy Center performance the interaction between Jackson, his young talented musicians and the old lion at the keyboard, Les McCann, reminded the audience that the old lion can still roar with heart.

Hearing the sweet note. Les McCann & Eddie Harris Compared To What Music Video Link:     https://youtu.be/kCDMQqDUtv4

It came about as an auditory hallucination while editing the video clip, Incarceration. The soundtrack revealed itself with a slow steady beat with long sweeping notes that were reluctant to fade away and lingered in my mind like an earworm. After writing the chapter, Beirut L.A., this enigmatic guitar came to mind creating a haunting atmosphere that actually seems to push the video along and integrated perfectly with the imagery on the screen. What was this song that played over and over as I edited the footage of the 1992 L.A. riots? After completing a rough edit of Incarceration the real work of finding that song began. Rummaging through my iTunes library I nearly gave up when I recalled a photo shoot for the heavy metal band Goad-ed. That is where I met guitarist Tracy G. A veteran of life on the road as the lead guitarist for Ronnie James Dio back in the 90’s. Tracy accompanied Dio on three world tours and to his credit, survived the life of sex, drugs and rock n’ roll  A product of East L.A. his passion in music is his way of expressing himself when his confidence in  words fail him. A man of good heart, his life experiences has given him insight to his soul that only hard times can dictate. In spite of Tracy G’s heavy metal credentials his soulful song “Lamborghini Blues” swept me away the first time I heard it and was the perfect soundtrack to Incarceration.

I had decided early on to edit Incarceration as a music video knowing that the emotional experience would be greatly enhanced without a scripted voice-over since I had already set the stage in the chapter. I needed the music to narrate what it was like to travel the streets of L.A. as it burned. Once I laid Tracy’s song “Lamborghini Blues” to the video and played it back I knew that I had made the right choice. By reading Beirut L.A. and watching  Incarceration, I  hope that you find yourself in the carseat next to me as we travel the streets of L.A.

A special thanks to Tracy G for his permission in using Lamborghini Blues for the video. Lamborghini Blues is featured on Tracy G’s “Erector Pili” CD. Artists: Tracy G on guitar, Mychal Lotz on keyboard, Jeremy Masana on bass, and Ray Luzier on drums. Link to Tracy G :  www.tracyg.com .

Incarceration Video

Journal Excerpt: On Location/Sahara Desert

I was attacked by a camel today. I was knocked down from behind while shooting Tuareg nomads who were riding camels against a “Lawrence of Arabia” backdrop. All I remember was a loud belch, the tripod and camera falling to earth and a giant camel toe next to my head as I laid on the ground. My scalp and shirt was wet but it was not blood but camel saliva that was as thick as jello . After dusting myself off and getting back to work I detected an odd smell of  coffee grounds mixed with asparagus emanating from my hair and stained shirt. Later tonight I plan to stand in the shower with my clothes on and free myself from camel drool and Sahara sand. My clothes will be dry by morning.

Last shot of the day and a welcome relief from the desert heat. If all goes well this will be the money shot – but most of the time it is just plain luck and being in the right place to capture a good image.

The Parting Shot

Journal Entry: March 30, 1999 / Marathon des Sable / Morocco / Sahara Desert.

“This is our fourth day of covering the Marathon des Sable; so far we’ve managed to lose our way, we’ve been blasted by a sand storm, we’ve run out of toilet paper and are now surviving on granola bars, turkey jerky and hot bottles of Coca-Cola. I have no idea how many miles we have traveled or how many times we’ve managed to get stuck in the sand. My driver, Nouh, speaks no English and smokes three packets of Marlboro Lights a day.  He’s also fond of breaking wind each time he exits the Land Cruiser.

What I can tell you, should you not already know, is that the Marathon des Sable is a stage race that lasts 7 days and covers 243km/151 miles. To make things even more difficult, each competitor has to carry everything they may need for the duration of the race (apart from their tent) on their backs in a rucksack – their food, clothes, medical kit, sleeping bag, etc. In addition, runners’ water is rationed and handed out at each checkpoint.

The backdrop to this event is the Sahara Desert. Not only is the Sahara the largest desert on earth, covering an area of 3.5 million square miles, (which amounts to 8% of our planet’s surface area), it stretches from the Atlantic Ocean in the west across half of Northern Africa, to the Red Sea.  It then extends down to the highlands of Ethiopia with temperatures recorded as high 40° +Celsius / 120° + Fahrenheit. The Sahara is a great leveller, making all men equal regardless of their station in life. So, when you come across another soul within this vast arena of sand, you stop, share, and remind yourself that here, we are all brothers.

 

Depending on whom you ask, the estimated population of the Sahara Desert varies from 2.5 million to 4 million people – so you would think finding a singing rabbit would be easy. Oh contraire.

The singing rabbit is competitor Derek McCarrick of the UK. Mr. McCarrick has been running marathons for Leukemia and Breast Cancer Research for the past 20 years and is still going strong at the age of 73.  Mr. McCarrick has personally raised a staggering £200,000 ($ 319,920.00) for charity, an achievement which is all the more impressive as he has completed each race dressed as the cartoon character, Roger Rabbit!

Eureka! On the horizon we spot a lone figure of a man with the head of Roger Rabbit tied to his backpack.

 


‘I’m the only rabbit in the world that’s run across the Sahara,’ Mr. McCarrick once told me. He also added, ‘People think I’m bonkers!’ In 2008, this former coal miner was awarded the MBE (Order of the British Empire) by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth. For those who are not British, an MBE award is one of the highest distinctions that can be gained by a British citizen.  Not bad for a chap from Minster on the Isle of Sheppey.”