Mike Sonksen Curates Poetry and Music Event at the Getty

In January, Professor Mike Sonksen co-hosted and co-produced an event at the Getty Center: “London Fog Meets L.A. Smog: William Blake & David Axelrod.” Working in conjunction with Brian Cross aka B+, Sonksen put together a two-hour show that combined music, film, and poetry to celebrate the connections between Blake’s words and Axelrod’s music. Held as the closing event of the Getty exhibit “William Blake: Visionary,” it was a full circle moment in multiple ways because it was the first major William Blake West Coast exhibition in over 80 years. It was also one of the only times Axelrod, the now deceased American composer, arranger, and producer, was celebrated in his hometown.

The event’s genesis emerged from a 2012 KCET/PBS essay Sonksen wrote that celebrated Axelrod’s music and his close connection to William Blake. Sonksen said, “Getty staff members read the Axelrod article in 2023 and approached me with the possibility of an event honoring Blake and Axelrod together. I immediately thought of B+, who had a longstanding close connection with Axe dating back to 1997.”

According to The Getty, “William Blake’s collection of poems Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience mirror the sunshine and noir myths about Los Angeles. No one understood this better than LA composer David Axelrod (1931–2017). Starting in 1968, Axelrod, a self-described ‘Blake freak,’ released two groundbreaking albums interpreting Blake’s poetry as psychedelic jazz fusion. His music was revived decades later when sampled by admiring musicians like DJ Shadow, Lauryn Hill, Dr. Dre, and Lil Wayne.”

Sonksen envisioned the celebration as a coming together of music and words. The event featured DJ J Rocc playing an Axelrod mashup set. “Ras Kass rocked his song ‘Soul On Ice,’ the Diamond D remix that sampled Axelrod, along with his Axelrod collaboration ‘The Little Children,’ from the 2001 Mo Wax album,” Sonksen said. The Grammy Award-winning cultural journalist Lynell George, whom Sonksen has introduced to many of his Woodbury students, read an excerpt from her Axelrod essay. Other contributors included labor historian Lee Boek, who read a piece connecting William Blake, Axelrod and the Wobblies in an original poem that bridged 150 years of history. Spoken-word artist and screenwriter Monique Mitchell read Blake’s “The Tyger,” and her own response poem to Blake’s signature piece.

Professor Sonksen was particularly proud of the latter. “Monique was my [high school] student in 2008-2009, and even when she was in the 11th grade, she was a phenomenal poet. To have her on stage sharing her work with us 15 years later was sublime.”

Last Updated February 13, 2024

Translate »