THIS WAS THE PREMIER OF JOHN FLOYD'S COLUMN No matter who heard the news, the responses from my friends were more or less the same: incredulous and typically smart-assed, and offered in a kind of weary sigh that lets you know in no uncertain terms that everyone believes that, once again, you've lost your marbles. "You're moving to Miami? What the hell's in Miami?" Or, "Miami? Hope you know how to lambada." There were a few Gloria Estefan jokes, of course, and a some zingers concerning the Miami Dolphins that flew right over my football-hating head. One friend even suggested that, upon my arrival, I should start jockeying my way into a gig as Luther Campbell's limo driver because the perks would probably be more, um, exciting than the free CDs and record-release buffet spreads that usually keep music writers happy and moderately well-nourished.
The skepticism surprised me, though, if only because of all the stupid things my friends have seen me do, taking a job in Miami hardly qualifies as a boneheaded decision. Considering that my last writing job uprooted me from my adopted hometown of Memphis and dropped me in Shreveport -- a city in northwest Louisiana, where taking in the arts means a night at the rodeo and corn dogs as long as your arm -- moving to Miami seemed to be a step in the right direction.
And it's not as if Miami has no musical legacy. Long before I ever dreamed of screwing Florida plates on my Stanza, I knew a few things about that legacy. I knew, for example, that some of soul's greatest vocalists -- including Wilson Pickett and Aretha Franklin -- recorded here at Criteria Studios in the Sixties under the guidance of Jerry Wexler and Tom Dowd and backed up by the Dixie Flyers, a session band composed of Memphis legends that included piano and production whiz Jim Dickinson. I knew that the Memphis-based soul duo Sam and Dave actually formed in Miami at the now-defunct King o' Hearts club on NW Seventh Avenue. I knew that the city was one of disco's first capitals, thanks to the visionary efforts of producer Henry Stone, whose T.K. label helped shape the nascent sound of the music through landmark early-Seventies hits such as George McCrae's "Rock Your Baby" and Timmy Thomas's "Why Can't We Live Together." I had an appreciation for the city's throbbing bass scene, and I've been interested in Latin music ever since Rhino Records released in 1983 the wonderful (now-deleted) The History of Latino Rock, a compendium of early-Sixties stuff by Ritchie Valens, Thee Midniters, and others. That album led me to the work of Tito Puente, Eddie Palmieri, Ruben Blades, Willie Colon, and all the other Latin masters most often cited by Anglo rock critics. Then there's Harry Pussy, a group I've been obsessing over ever since I heard their "Please Don't Come Back from the Moon" single back in '93. Since then I've bought everything of theirs I could find, and even got to see them play once at the only punk bar in Shreveport, a wretched little pit known as the Cellblock. Blisteringly loud and over within fifteen minutes, the show was one of the greatest aural spectacles I've ever had the pleasure to witness.
All of this is a roundabout way of saying I was looking forward to the move, despite the admonitions of my friends in Memphis and Shreveport. I've been here for just over two months now, and I made the right move. I like the city. Really. I've eaten some very good food, met some very nice people, and have developed a fondness for Presidente beer that I really should do something about. I love the architecture and the gorgeous sky and the demonstrative presence of an ethnic culture that gives this otherwise transient city an identity that, for me at least, is utterly intoxicating and fascinating in every way you can imagine, and maybe a few that you can't.
Of course there's plenty to bitch about here in the Land of a Thousand Range Rovers. It's obscene to me that of the bazillion nightclubs to be found in the techno-music-crazed South Beach area, only a fraction of them feature live performances. And because of its geographic location, Miami will never be a major destination for a lot of club-level acts on the national touring circuit. Hell, even bands from Orlando, such as the incredible garage-punk quartet the Hate Bombs, have never ventured this far south. That hurts me.
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Still, the city's just fine. And even though my exposure thus far has been limited, I've found a few things to love about Miami's varied and eclectic music scene -- most of which, naturally, correlate with my own varied and eclectic musical tastes. Since I would rather see artists and bands controlling their own destinies rather than waiting for a major record label to come along and scatter money around their rehearsal space, I'm glad that the likes of Kreamy 'Lectric Santa and Stun Guns are recording for the independent Star Crunch label. I love the fact that the city features a place like Cheers, a live-music joint on the edge of Coconut Grove that has the ambiance of my favorite Memphis dives and a refreshingly liberal booking policy -- their stage is open to everything from Latin rock and buzzsaw punk to acoustic-based folk and the careening improvisations of groups such as the Spam All-Stars, who had me babbling hosannas not five minutes into their Cheers performance last month. And Latin purists be damned, I love Albita.
This column, I hope, will allow me to expound on some of the things I feel passionate about regarding the city's musical offerings, whether those passions rank as yeas or nays. I wish I could say that the news and musings found here will be objective, but that would be a lie. Objectivity is a nice concept and all, but we each have our own ideas of what's good and what's bad, what should be mentioned and what should be forgotten, and those ideas won't always hold hands. Life's funny that way.
In my own anticipatory defense, however, it should be stated that I like a lot of different stuff. Come over to my apartment sometime and you'll find Man or Astro-Man? resting quite happily on the record shelf next to Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes; Guided by Voices next to Woody Guthrie; Frank Sinatra next to Sly and the Family Stone; Dexter Gordon next to the Gories. Meaning, if nothing else, that I like a whole lot of everything and a little bit of everything else. I'm neither an indie-rock obscurantist nor a champion of the ultra-professional musical outfits who spend their lives searching for a big-label recording contract. I have an amazing amount of patience when it comes to people fishing for new ways to say different things, yet next to no tolerance for those who do the same old shit in the same old ways and expect to be awarded some kind of newsprint ribbon for their ability to simply endure the hardships of the nightclub circuit.
Ideally, if something interesting is going on out there in this strange new place I call home, it will be covered here in a timely fashion that will make it both useful to readers and, God forbid, somewhat entertaining. However, be forewarned: As is the case with any columnist, my critical biases will no doubt work their way into this space. So if you feel like griping at me about this particular exclusion or that specific burst of caustic commentary, please feel free. After all, isn't that what friends are for?