As my local news this week filled with video of mudslides damaging homes in the Montecito area of Santa Barbara – including Oprah’s and Ellen’s – and taking lives, I was reminded personally of the damage the fires that paved the way for the mudslides did to music in California. The wildfires this fall and winter in both Northern and Southern California caused over a $1 billion in damages and wiped out 7000 buildings and homes, including those of rapper Chuck D and music producer and former Yes member Trevor Horn. We could see from our own radio studio the smoke from the Bel Air fire that destroyed Horn’s famed SARM West Coast studios, which had hosted Kanye West, Pet Shop Boys and Slash among many others since 1981. All gone now.
The personal reminders came in the form of recent emails from Marisol Pacheco Richardson, whose family owns and publishes the NorCal Music Junkie Press rock magazine, and Rain Perry, multiple award-winning folk rock artist and founder of Precipitous Records in Ojai California, southeast of Santa Barbara.
Music Junkie Press (MJP) was totally destroyed, as was the Richardson home. What they lost was far more important to music than just the building. Gone was MJP’s camera equipment, 40 years of past notes and pictures, an extensive guitar collection, a unique drum head collection, one of NorCal’s largest private collections of rock posters, plus back issues, photos, computers – almost everything.
Marisol and her family were at home the night the Tubbs Fire swept through their Santa Rosa neighborhood. Here is how Marisol described their evacuation:
The power was out. It was completely dark. We tried to get things into the car, I grabbed my parents’ old movie reels and I grabbed my bag of ScanDisk cards (which go back 20 years of family) Ryan grabbed his hard drives, some of our MJP gear, and other items. With the power out, we couldn’t even think of what to grab. As we stood outside trying to get things into the car, we could hear explosions behind our house. ..transformers as well as propane tanks exploding. It was like a war zone.
Rain Perry and her husband were in Chile when the Thomas and Koenigstein Fires merged and swept through Ojai. She was on vacation after an exhausting year of producing, touring, recording and directing a documentary film, The Shopkeeper about music producer Mark Hallman who worked with Carole King and Ani DiFranco. Rain, in Parque Patagonia, had a wifi connection and power only a few hours a day when she first got news. Here is how she described it:
At 11:58 PM, just as I was leaving the one room with Wifi, I got a text message from my daughter that there was a fire not far from her house in Santa Paula. And then the power went out…. At six in the morning the light came on beside the bed and I ran into the room with the Wi-Fi. A million voicemails and text messages flooded in. … the fire blew through incredibly quickly … the two fires that night that merged. … I didn’t know all that then. I was trying to make sense of and respond to everything, and I ran to wake up my husband. Just then our friend Tim, who’s a Commander in the Sheriff’s Department, saw that I was online and called me: “Where are you?!?” “We’re in fucking Chile!” I responded. Then he went into Calm Cop Voice and explained that the office/studio was gone, the house was currently standing. It was breakfast time in Chile but 1:00 am at home – at that point the fire was still burning through my neighborhood.
Rain lost all her files, her musical instruments, her gear, music mementos. Most of her recordings had been backed up into the cloud, but the older songs from her formative days had not been backed up and were gone. Fortunately, unlike Marisol or Trevor Horn or Chuck D, Rain saw her home spared, although much of her family’s recorded past was not.
Two personal stories, two responses, both emblematic of what is happening in music in the wakes of the fires. Some people, like Marisol Richardson, went immediately back to work; she is rebuilding Music Junkie Press. Some, like Rain Perry, are using the fire loss as an opportunity to focus on what is most important to them, in her case on writing the stories and the songs she loves (I sooo look forward to hearing them!). But overall, this is another blow against a struggling music industry. The stories of these two people I know and love underscore the need for an industry that is strong and healthy, that can take a blow like wildfires and come back rockin’. The current economic climate makes that hard, even for the Chuck D’s of the world (although being Chuck D, he will). The many artists and producers and songwriters who are making it OK despite streaming and free music are not building reserves for emergencies. Some will come back, some won’t. We can’t prevent fires and floods, but we can use this as a lesson to pay artists so they can survive them.