Roll Back, Play That: Ari Marcopoulos
Photo By: Ari Marcopoulos
By: Shantel Pass | Published: November 20, 2018
Saint Heron presents “Roll Back, Play That,” an original series of superior musical deep cuts curated by our favorite artists of today.
Photographer and film artist Ari Marcopoulos creates arresting portraiture that captures pacesetting adventure and authentic personage. Growing up in ‘70s Amsterdam before his move to Uptown NYC in 1980, he remembers first-hand what it was like to find inspiring subjects for his art when cultural diversity wasn’t as widely celebrated. Still, the Amsterdam-born doyen is praised for the uninhibited movements (and emotions) in the ethnographic preservation of his work.
Saint Heron asked Marcopoulos to put together a playlist of songs recorded prior to 2008 that comfort, challenge and move the feelings that fuel his artistic fervor. What returned was a deep dive into the waters that seemingly journal a youthful Ari’s soul-watering sense of self; including the Kangol-hatted fashions synonymous with Afrika Bambataa’s “Planet Rock,” intense feelings incited by Bob Marley and The Wailers’ sonic splendor, Grace Jones’ signature personal and musical sass, and the transcendentally soulful and bluesy jazz vocals belted by Billie Holiday on “Strange Fruit.”
Planet Rock – “Afrika Bambaataa”
I moved to New York from The Netherlands in 1980. I was living uptown on the 4,5, and 6 lines. First thing I noticed was the massive amounts of graffiti on and inside the trains. The other thing was the looks of some kids on the trains. Lee jeans, in colors such as Burgundy, and then loosely laced low-top Puma or Adidas shell toes. Often with something like a puffy leather coat, hooded sweatshirt. Not to forget a shearling coat. Kangol hats, cazal glasses and the occasional gold chain. Anyway, I quickly learned this was all connected to a new form of music I hadn’t been hip to in Amsterdam. There was 98.7 Kiss FM and 107.5 WBLS , playing late night hip-hop shows. One night I even tuned into a radio show on 105.9 WHBI, out of New Jersey. I taped all of these shows and would play the tapes during the week. At first, there was Disco Fever in the Bronx where you could see hip-hop and then it came downtown to the Roxy on 18th Street between 10th and 11th. That’s when this track came on everyone went nuts, including me. Kraftwork sample is brilliant.
Eric B and Rakim – “Eric B. Is President”
The whole album Paid in Full was off the hook. A lot of the tracks off of that album were played, but this particular one had it all for me.
Strafe – “Set It Off”
Later on, another track that would move me on the dance floor and lose my mind was “Set It Off”. The urban legend about that record was that the master disc that all the vinyls were printed off of burned in the factory so that you better hold on to the 12” you had because there were no more pressings of it. Thank God for Spotify.
Grace Jones – “Private Life”
A cover of The Pretenders song from the album Warm Leatherette. Grace Jones was signed by Chris Blackwell of Island Records and he brought in Sly (Dunbar) and Robbie (Shakespeare) as the rhythm section, infusing the record with the Jamaican sound. Grace Jones was a phenomenon. She was androgynous and mysterious. The dub version of this track is the bomb as well.
Bob Marley & The Wailers – “Natural Mystic”
I had to include Bob Marley. Its hard to decide on one track, but I decided on this one. I saw Bob Marley play live four times. I went to all of the concerts he played in The Netherlands. We rode the train to The Hague and Rotterdam to see him play there. We smoked out the train with large hash joints much to the chagrin of the commuters in the train. There were designated cars but meant strictly for tobacco I guess. All of the concerts were amazing, and I am so happy I had the presence of mind at that age to get tickets for all of the gigs. Anyway, “Natural Mystic” starts low in volume and then comes into the song. Its also the opening track on the movie Countryman. There’s also a great single drumbeat that returns on some mysterious timing.
The Temptations – “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone”
When this song came out I was 15 and this shit hit me hard. The opening beat then the funky guitar combined with the story telling lyrics; it made me long to move to America. Get out of the small country I was living in. Motown led us from this into Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Stevie Wonder and so on. I remember going to see Superfly with my friends as well. The music brought us right to the movies.
Miles Davis – “What I Say”
I discovered Miles Davis when our neighbor gave us the E.S.P album. He said he never listened to it. I was becoming interested in jazz, so I gladly took it. I started reading about Miles and found out about his incorporating electric instruments into his band. I went to the record store and decided on the album Live-Evil. I still have the record I bought back then probably around 1973. I was blown away especially by “What I Say”. Starts out with straight drum beat and bassline, a distilled funk beat with freely improvised individual solos. I spent many a night laying on my back on my parents purple shag carpet listening to this record. This album also led me to the free jazz of John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman , Sun Ra, Marion Brown and Dutch musicians like Han Bennink and Misha Mengelberg.
Ike and Tina Turner – “Proud Mary”
Tina Turner played live in The Netherlands and it was shown on TV. There on my parents small black and white TV was Tina and the Ikettes dancing to “Proud Mary” in their shiny mini skirts. What can I say.
The Who – “Magic Bus (Live)”
The first time I heard this was at my friend Bert de Groot’s house. He was my cohort in listening to music from classical, modern, jazz, funk – anything we could get our hands and ears on. We’d get stoned and listen to music on his parents sick stereo system. His dad was in the flower bulbs wholesale business which was reflected in the size speakers they had. Pete Townsend’s habit of smashing his guitar and kicking over equipment was also a perfect manifestation of our own teenage anger and angst.
Billie Holiday – “Strange Fruit”
Just listen to Billie Holiday