Tuesday, November 20, 2018

New Mural On Speedway Celebrates Muscle Beach

There's a big new mural on Speedway right behind Muscle Beach at Speedway, and it shows off some of the things that have historically made Venice a cool place to be. Skating. Surfing. Babes. Boards. Muscles. The good stuff.

Jonas Never has been making his mural mark around town for a while now, and this is another good one that gives passersby a true sense of place. A place that has its fair share of problems, but none of them outweigh the good vibes, and the general aura of letting the good times roll.

There is yet another VNC meeting tonight that will deal with affordable and homeless housing, both sorely needed in this place where Art has always met Crime (and now Eviction - thank you Attaway and Gallo for coining these phrases). I hope that if you're planning to attend (and you should if you care about the future of Venice), and if you do, and you're planning to speak, I hope you're coming with ideas for SOLUTIONS, and not just your complaints. Everyone knows people don't like needles and human waste and people sleeping on the sidewalks, and that you don't want your kids seeing these things on the way to the beach. We get it. But if you're new, and you're freaking out about that, well ... you probably shouldn't have moved your kids here. If you're old school and freaking out about these things, come with solutions, not just shouting over other people. People just embarrassed themselves (but were so self-involved that they probably didn't notice) at the last one, and I'm hoping for a much more civil evening tonight. A meeting where mature citizens who can agree that we all love Venice can come together as the intelligent and creative people that we are (or can be) for the greater good. Come on. Make us all proud. One Love. Thanks in advance.

On a cooler note, right after I saw this new mural this morning, I also saw dolphins! Another bit of glory we get to witness in this excellent (perhaps last) beach community of color and diversity and art. These are the moments you put in your back pocket to get you through things like tonight's meeting - and what makes it all worth it. V's up!

Monday, November 19, 2018

A Venice Weekend - From Surfside To Moby Dick!

Another excellent weekend in Venice was just lived, and it was well-needed after all the drama of the world and California last week. The weather was lovely, and I think people were just in the mood to cut loose a little bit. To that end, there was a bunch of house parties and fun like that, and then on Saturday night there was a little book release party for Jason Hill's new second edition of his collection of Venice Stories (and I'm in it!).

I don't believe I've ever seen Harry Perry play anywhere other than the Boardwalk, but there he was shredding it up at Surfside with his band, the Karma Kosmic Krusaders. They were louder and harder than most anything I've ever seen at Surfside, but it was legendary to see Perry play an actual set with a full band.

Friends and locals were all there celebrating life, basically, and it was almost like the last day of school when everyone signs your yearbook, as those featured in this Venice Stories booklet were going around having everyone sign their copy. It was cute, and a good way for everyone to come together.

I couldn't stay as long as I would have liked because all THREE of my brother Paul's bands (The Weight Of Everything/spaceblanket/Shotshell Press) were playing the same night in San Pedro (at Harold's Place, who really need a new person that doesn't double book bands like losers - but I digress). Sunday was a lot of recovery, but we were able to get it together in time to hear a little bit of Moby Dick being read in its annual beach reading at the Breakwater, put on by the wonderful Venice Oceanarium. It's one of my favorite annual events for good reason - literature being read aloud next to the sea where the story takes place. Wonderful, picturesque ... great. I think I missed the clam chowder this year, but the view and the story was more than enough.

Then just like that, it's a new week, a new hustle, and a new opportunity for more great things to happen. My beach walk this morning was rewarded by running into the bulldozers that are building the winter sand dunes as we speak, which means today is Opening Day of Sand Sledding Season! Yay.

As we now enter the hustle and bustle of the holidays with Thanksgiving kicking off this week, let's remember the little things that make life great. Walking along and looking out at the beautiful sea, I recalled a quote a mystical lady told me one day at the beach, that I think goes great with Thanksgiving especially, but every damn day too.

"Gratitude IS the Glory." Think about that. Like, if you're feeling grateful, that IS the recognition of things being good at that moment, and that you're tangibly aware of it. Thus, that feeling IS the glory that we're all going for.  Gratitude is the Glory. Get after it! Happy Thanksgiving Week, Friends!

Friday, November 16, 2018

Do Good To All!

Thank God it's Friday. For real. It's been a hard week in California, with people picking up the pieces from the wildfires, breathing bad air, and the general feeling of what's next that we'll have to deal with? Then we shot a wonderful, beautiful homeless family for our documentary 90291: VENICE UNZIPPED this week, and I found myself wondering how come there's an outpouring of help and support for the fire victims in the Malibu area (as there should be), but those same people coming out of the woodwork to help the (generally wealthy and insured) folks affected by the fire (when it's trendy) generally just walk on by the thousands of people living on the street with nothing every day. It bothers me. Especially when a call for help went out asking for "Only new, not used" items, like Malibu people could only accept new fashion brands for help, keep your used stuff. Like, really? There are people who would be THRILLED to have ANYTHING, but please, for Malibu, only give new, preferably name brands was the vibe (plus, what a waste in the already super-polluting fashion industry). I believe we are meant to help EVERYONE, with any and every thing we are able to, when and if we can. And we usually can.

DeShawn, Nikol, and their babies, Jade and Diamond live on the streets of Venice. They are college graduates. They are artists. And they are homeless, due to multiple circumstances. The couple met on the Boardwalk, and their devotion to each other, and their children, is tear-jerking, if you weren't already emotional from just the fact that they live in a tent with two daughters under two years old - which I was.

Even with all of their harsh realities, DeShawn and Nikol have the best attitudes and spirits of almost anyone I've ever met. Just wait until you watch our film and hear their beautiful philosophies on life,  and you won't be able to help feeling a little guilty about any little complaint you might have about your own, most likely comfortable, lives. It's truly awe-inspiring that they can move through this world with such grace and calm, when so many are so much less with so much more. I checked myself, as should we all, really.

When the family was tucking in for the night in a tent on the cold sidewalk by public storage, I was a mess inside. I was also freezing, and I wasn't about to sleep on concrete with two babies. Yet once again, DeShawn and Nikol were just practical and doting on their babies, making sure they were warm and cozy far more than themselves. They are not the typical homeless story these days. They are driven in their art, they aren't on drugs, and they are a seemingly far more happy family than many in Los Angeles who have everything they could ever need - and more. Money doesn't buy you happiness, but it does buy you a warm bed and a roof over your head, and that's the only thing this wonderful little family doesn't have. Yet. We're all working on it. (You can help too, by buying some art from them when you see them on the Boardwalk!)

There is so little affordable housing in Venice now (believe me, I know), and I fear that compassion, humanity, and empathy is getting just as scarce. Then, every once in a while, you hear of someone helping just out of the goodness of their heart, and you are encouraged to go on. To stay. To fight. To help.

After all of the beauty and emotion (and art!) of the week, we decided to pile on and experience some more, this time at the excellent Ai Wei Wei exhibit Life Cycle at the Marciano Art Foundation. I love Wei Wei, and his dedication to putting a spotlight on the human condition worldwide. This show (his first in Los Angeles!) is about refugees and freedom of speech, among other hefty topics, but most of all, it's beautiful and inspiring (and free!).

I love a good quote, and there are many surrounding this show, again full of beauty and inspiration, but also majorly thought-provoking.

I believe we can absolutely do good to all who come into our orbit, as even the smallest act of kindness can create change for the better in someone's life, and I'm sure going to try. I hope you will join me. As I often say, we're all in this together. Plus, it's almost Thanksgiving, so let's focus on being grateful - and helpful. Happy Weekend of doing good!

*Happy 168th Birthday to Abbot Kinney (and to dear Vavine, my Ai Wei Wei co-adventurer!)

Monday, November 12, 2018

California Fires - A Community In Action

The absolutely horrible wildfires in California over the weekend (and still not fully contained) were shocking. I've never seen actual flames from the beach here in Venice, but I did on Friday night. And it was scary. There wasn't even a chance to fully process the mass shooting in Thousand Oaks on Thursday, before that same community needed to be evacuated for the fires. Beautiful Malibu was going up in flames, and we could SEE it. It was a really heavy week.

There was a Movie Night at Muscle Beach on Friday night, also the first time that has happened, that I know of. They were screening the wonderful surf documentary, Hawai'ian: The Legend Of Eddie Aikau, and I never thought I'd be nearly out loud sobbing while sitting at Muscle Beach - but there I was. A good little group turned out to get their minds off of everythig, though we were all distracted by the encroaching flames on the horizon to the north. Every now and then, the streaming would falter and the movie would stall, so we'd go look at the flames until it came back on. (Thanks, Lance!)

We weren't looking at just the glow from the flames, but actual FIRE. When the movie was over, and the much needed drink at James Beach was gulped down, we went up to the rooftop across the street. The words being used were "Surreal". "Apocalyptic". "War zone". "Hell". And yes, "Climate Change". Danny Samakow and I were getting emotional about it, mainly because you felt so helpless to help. I don't think anyone slept well that night.

Saturday morning the whole town woke up to thick smoke and the smell of wood burning. You could look directly at the sun, as it was so obscured by smoke you could barely make out the orange ball of fire within it. Fires make for gorgeous sunsets, but this one was heavy with so much loss. Then the beautiful part of it all began to happen ... the Community jumped into action. All social media feeds were full of offers of places to stay (um, does that only count for fire victims?), places to donate necessities for the people who have lost everything, citizen firefighters fought alongside the official ones (and all of the inmates making like $2 a day to save others!), and the outpouring of help and love continues to this moment. The expected Santa Ana winds mercifully did not yet arrive, and that gives a fighting chance to putting this entirely out before they do show up. We hope.

People around the country (and world) have sent messages of love and thoughts and support, with even the Empire State Building turning blue and gold in a symbol of solidarity. That's one thing that has always been - and remains - great about this country. When something goes really bad, everyone bands together to help. That's when you realize that we really are all in it together. Climate change, especially, but all of it. Voting, shootings, failing infrastructure, natural disasters - it affects us all. Times like these really spotlight the Power of the People - because as we heard over the weekend, our leadership is both clueless and useless. So, thank you to everyone who shows up to help. The everyday heroes. It reminds me of the story Mr. Rogers would tell:

“My mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.”

Today I think we can all also find comfort by realizing that there are STILL so many helpers. Thank you. 

Friday, November 9, 2018

The Hills Are Alive ... With The Sound Of Wildfires

California is on fire. Again. It's pretty close to Venice this time, like you can see it in Malibu from the beach. It's super hot. The air is of poor quality. People have been evacuated ... my friend didn't even have time to grab her toothbrush. Shops are closed. Schools are closed. Animals are being evacuated from the L.A. Zoo in Griffith Park. And it's just another day in Southern California in 2018.

A friend of mine posted today that wildfires are terrorist acts. The devastating damage they do starts somewhere ... and it's usually because of an idiot who doesn't know better than to not smoke and toss out your butt. Or make any sparks anywhere when it's dry and windy and prime kindling for a massive fire. We should be better at avoiding wildfires by now.

This has already been an intense week, with the midterm elections (where basically no candidate but Bernie even discussed climate change and the results of it that we see and feel daily), yet another mass shooting (this one not far from the area being evacuated for the fires, as if they haven't suffered enough), and now all of this natural (but most likely man-made) disaster. THANK GOD IT'S FRIDAY. Geez.

Get out there and enjoy the hell out of yourself, because we all deserve it. Be safe. Be smart. Be kind. Look out for each other. Love.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Venice Says Vote!

It's November 6th. Voting Day. The Midterm Elections. Time to stand up and use your right to vote, your voice, your citizenship, your HEAD - and GO VOTE! It's shocking to me how many people don't use this one weapon we have against tyranny and oppression and sit on their hands and whine later. I have no time for it. I was out walking around town this morning, and was encouraged to see so many people with "I Voted" stickers on, and reminders for everyone to go vote everywhere you looked.

I'm also nervous that when everyone DOES go vote, that it won't count. One friend in Venice told me that they had no BALLOTS (!?!??!?!?!?!) at his polling place, and there no volunteers to even do anything about it. Then I saw a video of a polling place in Georgia where a gigantic line was waiting to vote ... but they didn't have any power cords to plug in the machines!!! This, in the year 2018, with so much technology you can call people from a watch phone ... but they can't get it together to run power to a machine. Or even have the ballots to vote on. Shocking. Disturbing. Disappointing. Criminal, actually, when these fools have known it was going to be Voting Day today for a good year. Inexcusable. A sign in the Canals to go VOTE made me feel a little better - but not much.

We encourage everyone to vote, but we can't guarantee that they'll be able to once they get to their janky, out of date polls - or that if they do get to successfully vote, that they won't count. That they'll be mysteriously thrown out. That they'll be switched in the machine for someone you'd never vote for. Whatever shady shenanigans the powers that be try to pull. We were talking yesterday about being fed up with it all and leaving the country ... but to where? At least here we still have the guise of freedom, the will of the People, and the American spirit that we were founded on - whether or not we've ever truly lived up to it (Our experiment in Democracy can really only be counted since everyone has had the right to vote, so the whole real deal is only like maybe 50 years old), or whether or not we'll ever truly get there.

But we still have the right to vote. And the freedom of speech to rat on the villains that would try to take that right away. And that superpower - the Power of the People. Use it today, and every day. And one more time ... VOTE!

 Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
MOTHER OF EXILES. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" 

- The New Colossus

Monday, November 5, 2018

A Beautiful Night For A Benefit In Topanga - Starring Butch Walker And Friends

We eased into Daylight Savings Time in the gentlest, most lovely way possible, with an evening at the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum for a benefit for pancreatic cancer put on by beloved troubadour, Butch Walker and his awesome friends. The TALPanga (The Autumn Leaves Project) concerts took place on both Saturday and Sunday evenings, to honor Walker's father, "Big Butch", who passed away from the awful disease, and also to raise funds to help those currently suffering from it.

Walker has a lot of cool friends, and they all joined together to bring these magical nights to life in a beautiful and memorable experience for all. The beach was socked in with fog, but by the time we drove the windy road up Topanga Canyon, the sun was out and dappling through the trees that surround the Theatricum, making for an even more gorgeous setting. Tacos Hell Yeah were there serving up delicious Mexican fare, and we enjoyed some of that, along with some cocktails for the cause. An event organizer announced that the first act, Jaime Wyatt, was about to begin, and we all took seats in the wonderful amphitheater to enjoy a night of first class entertainment.

After a few solo numbers, Wyatt was joined by Walker for a lively tune called "Ain't Enough Whiskey", which was then followed by "a song for our Dads", as they both lost theirs - and I bet they would have both loved "By Your Side" with its excellent harmonies, both vocally and on guitar. Wyatt wrapped up her set with a cover of my main man Kris Kristofferson's "Sunday Morning Coming Down" ... and all seemed right in the world just then.

Walker addressed the crowd next, talking about the Autumn Leaves Project organization he founded after losing his Dad. "We raised so much fucking money last night! I had so much love in my heart I thought I was gonna explode!" His gratitude was genuine, and obvious ... and he was ready to get down all over again. As were we.

Grace Potter took the stage, explaining that she was a new mom "So everything is a rhyme". She opened with the Jackie DeShannon classic, "Put A Little Love In Your Heart", which is a perfectly timed request for these times, for sure. The crickets in the woods surrounding us provided great background vocals, making it all the more enchanting. I'd never seen Potter live before, and she is something else. Fantastic. She cracked that she had borrowed everything from Walker to perform - guitars, picks, "This outfit". Her husband brought her another guitar, and after she thanked him, she asked, "Where's the baby?" She seems like someone you'd want to hang with.

Potter has a new album coming out soon, and played a track from it next, a gorgeous one called "Release". The mic stands were all wrapped in twinkle lights as the stars twinkled above, and you could smell the chaparral in the air ... ahhh. The crowd joined the crickets in singing along for a cover of Neil Young's "Helpless", and then Potter played her beautiful song, "I Can't Look At The Stars" (they make me wonder where you are) for all the people we have lost. I believe those people are among the stars, and it made me want to look at them more. It was like living within a shared prayer at that moment, and one couldn't help but be moved. Grace Potter is a treasure.

A man who is currently suffering from pancreatic cancer spoke to how much The Autumn Leaves Project has helped him, and told how he has now lived well beyond the predictions of his doctors. His speech put a real face on this dreadful disease, and really connected us to why were were all there. He told Walker that he knew his father was looking down, "So proud of you", and they shared a meaningful hug that brought another lump to my throat. What a blessing to know that there are people who will help you get through these obstacles that life can throw at you ... and no one is alone.

After the previous night's event, there were no more things to auction off for the benefit - other than Walker's well-traveled jacket with its "Butch" patch. As the entire event was streaming live on Facebook, Walker looked into the camera and said, "I hope your name is Butch - or that you swing that way!" Not only is Walker multi-talented and extra versatile musically, he's also hilarious. Another one you just want to hang with. He launched right into his own solo acoustic set, kicking it off with "21+" to the delight of the place that was packed with Walker superfans - of which I am now one too.

The great "Chrissie Hynde" was next, followed by "some more sad bastard shit" that was "Wilder In The Heart" and "Don't Move" with its line about staring at the stars being super fitting. No one wanted to move - and didn't. Here someone yelled, "I love you, Butch!" to which he made everyone laugh by saying, "I like you a lot". Walker is one of the rare ones - a rock star that is actually a super nice and genuine person. There for his friends. Caring. Considerate. Funny. A truly good guy. My friend KC told me that when her dad was ill, Walker called her every day to check on her. Things like that. REAL goodness, not just for show.  Another true treasure of a human being.

A new one was up next, and painted a whole story with its poignant lyrics about a mean kid calling him names when he was young, ended up being saved by him. "I was born into what I became" is so true for so many ... and this one really spotlighted the deep lyrics and truths that Walker should be far better known for. I feel like Walker should be HUGE ... and he certainly is to his many fans singing along happily in their Butch Walker shirts. The next one was "Pretty Melody" (which it was) and maybe my favorite moment of the night. As Walker sang, the doors of the balcony of the wooden barn on the stage opened up, and Walker's band came out to sing harmonies from above. In a night of magical moments, this one was all the way up there. I loved it.

The band came down from above to join Walker on "Spark Lost" and "East Coast Girl" which I loved with its references to Venice and Abbot Kinney. "It's Gotta Get Easier" was yet another standout, with Walker singing in otherwise absolute silence, save for the crickets chirping along. By now my friend who had never seen or heard of Walker before was also a superfan. You really can't not be.

Walker moved to the piano for "Joan" and "Passed Your Place, Saw Your Car, Thought Of You" in a song that everyone can relate to. Its line, "You can't trust a man. It's a species that captures things just to let them go", resonated with me a lot. Walker is a wise cat. "Sorry for the bummer songs, Jakob Dylan is about to change that." With that, Walker was joined in a group bromance of a set from Dylan and the band that was nothing short of wonderful - especially in this setting. They opened it up with "Nothing But The Whole Wide World" which was my friend's favorite Jakob Dylan song - AND his first time seeing him live. Again, in THIS setting. Magic.

"6th Avenue Heartache" and "God Don't Make Lonely Girls" were both made greater by the fact that it was again two great friends supporting each others' causes (Walker played at Dylan's fundraiser for Crohn's and Colitis earlier this year). Walker had now gone electric, and backed Dylan up on a fiery awesome "One Headlight". They brought Potter and Wyatt back up to join them for a cover of The Band's "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down", but not before Dylan commented, "How fun and special is this night?!" just as I was thinking exactly that. Because it sure was. So much so that after that one, Walker said, "Don't ever let anyone tell you being in a band sucks, 'cause it's awesome!" Right on.

The rest of the show was Walker on his own with his band, playing the fan favorites. He invited them all down front, and they all happily squeezed in down there to sing and clap along for every tune. "Ludlow Expectations" was great, but that's just redundant, because his songs are truly all great. Like "Closest Thing To You I'm Going To Find", featuring a rare accordion/guitar off. Like "The Weight Of Her". Like the covers of "Teenage Wasteland (Baba O'Reilly)" and "Summer Of '69" that prompted one guy down front to shout, "I'm peaking!" Haaaa. At this point we pretty much all were, some more naturally than others, apparently.

The surprise of the night was that Walker was next joined by his old band, The Marvelous Three that disbanded in the early 90's. "Let's play a few for the ladies," said Walker by way of an intro for "Cigarette Lighter Love Song" that was a beautiful ballad dedicated to his mom and sisters, who were all present on this special night for their family. "Mrs. Jackson" and "Over Your Head" were obviously beloved by the fans, as they knew every clap and raising of the bird the song contained. Impressive - and touching. "I'm having a fucking ball!" yelled Walker, and that was clear - and infectious.

"Every Monday" and "Freak Of The Week" were the evening's closers, and there were so many happy faces singing along that you couldn't help smiling yourself. That it was all for a serious cause that helps so many people made it all the better. The ovation at the end of the show was deafening, and I think people left that enchanted forest feeling a little better about the world and these times. If people and events like this are still happening, it can't be all bad, right? Right. I'd go so far as to say it was life affirming. Good people doing good things is what will save this place - and each other.

Thank you to one and all involved ... and especially to Butch Walker, for being one of the GREAT ones, doing GREAT things. Thank you.

*All photos by Jeff Forney