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Stew gets 'down and dirty' on the L.A. sounds of 'Passing Strange'

August 27, 2009 |  6:49 am

When I descended into the basement of New York's IFC Cinema with Stew and Heidi Rodewald, creators of “Passing Strange,” I was hoping to find out why the Broadway musical (recently filmed by Spike Lee, and available on video on demand) had not originally been staged in Los Angeles — and why there are still no plans to revive it here.

Stew gets “down and dirty” about that in today’s Calendar article. But he also shared a great deal more about the music that makes “Passing Strange” sound so special — and so uniquely L.A. 

“The kind of music we make is a regional music, an involved kind of vaguely psychedelic thing,” says Stew. “It’s the music and garages and backyards when you have time to work on stuff — there’s a reason the Beach Boys sound like they do.  There’s a reason the Beach Boys don’t sound like Talking Heads.  Bands sound like where they’re from. L.A. is about garages, the long Saturday rehearsal that never ends, when you come up with these crazy songs because you’re just having fun sitting around playing music.”

New York may be Stew and Rodewald’s theatrical home (though these days Stew lives in Berlin) but he still feels the sound of “Passing Strange” is uniquely tied to its L.A.roots. “It reeks of Los Angeles, it just reeks of it. Everything about it,” he says. “When it comes to recording music I feel better in L.A. than New York. But, you know, I can’t live there.… Sorry folks.”

--James C. Taylor

Photo: Stew, in the wardrobe room of the Berkeley Repertory Theatre during the run of the musical "Passing Strange."  Credit: Randi Lynn Beach / For The Times