Norma Tanega’s ‘I’m the Sky’ shines light on Claremont singer – San Bernardino Sun

Norma Tanega was an important if under-the-radar figure in the creative community of Claremont, where the singer-songwriter attended college on the cusp of the 1960s and returned in 1972 after essentially retiring from music.

When Tanega died in December 2019, her mordant 1966 song “You’re Dead” was reaching a larger audience than ever as theme song for the FX vampire comedy “What We Do in the Shadows.” But her best-known album, 1966’s “Walkin’ My Cat Named Dog,” was barely in print, and her second album, “I Don’t Think It Will Hurt if You Smile,” whose tepid reception led her to give up, was forgotten.

It’s a bit easier to appreciate her musical accomplishments with the release of “I’m the Sky: Studio and Demo Recordings, 1964-1971,” a modest boxed set of her best recordings. I saw it on display at Amoeba Music a few weeks ago and picked it up out of curiosity.

It’s got six songs from her debut album, including the two mentioned above, and seven from her little-known 1971 follow-up. Another 15 demo recordings from 1964-71 are included too, among them the self-deprecating “I Wish I Had a Name Like Norma Tanega.”

(Sample couplet: “It can rise to the occasion/Even though it’s not Caucasian” — ha! Her parents were Filipino and Panamanian.)

For what it’s worth, the music site Pitchfork rated the set 7.5 out of 10. The critic didn’t say, a la “American Bandstand,” if it had a good beat or if you could dance to it.

The set’s booklet has a biography written by Erin Osmon, a music journalist who had several in-person interviews with her before Tanega’s death at 80 from cancer.

A few months before her death, Tanega had an exhibition of her paintings at Claremont Heritage’s Garner House and consented to an interview with yours truly, which was sometimes amusing, occasionally illuminating and generally awkward.

As her friend and attorney Al Shine, who sat in, told me recently, Tanega believed that being uncommunicative would add to her mystique. She opened up a bit more with Osmon, who spent four days at her home on Mount Baldy Road, although the journalist told me via email that Tanega maintained “a particular knack for dodging questions.”

Anthology Recordings, the label that released the two-disc set, has also published a book about Tanega. “Try to Tell a Fish About Water” collects paintings, illustrations, photos, journal entries and reminiscences by her friends. I haven’t seen a copy, just a video that quickly flips through the book page by page.

Between the two releases, Tanega’s unconventional life and career seem properly memorialized, allowing her to be better appreciated. Anthology Recordings rose to the occasion, whether or not it’s Caucasian.

Today in Riverside

A reminder that I’ll have a table at the Riverside Historical Society’s Local History Book Fair Sunday, Oct. 2, from noon to 3 p.m. at Riverside Medical Clinic, 7117 Brockton Ave. in Riverside, as will a bunch more local writers of Inland Empire nonfiction. Stop by and see us!

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