Thursday, October 29, 2009

Norman Ollestad: Venice Guy/Best-Selling Author.

I've seen Norman Ollestad around Venice for years, but only more recently became aware of his dramatic life story. That's because I read his best-selling memoir, Crazy For The Storm. And so must you. It's downright flabbergasting. And one of my favorite books of the Summer*.

When Norman was 11 years old, a small plane carrying him, his Father, his father's girlfriend, and the Pilot crashed on the way to Big Bear, where young Norman was heading to pick up a trophy for a ski race he'd won. Norman was the only survivor, and the book alternates between chapters telling about Norman's upbringing, and chapters about his harrowing descent down the 8,600 foot icy mountain to finally be rescued. You just simply cannot believe such a little kid had not only the knowledge and skills to get himself to safety, but also the mental stamina that it had to take.

The upbringing chapters are what helps you to believe it. Norman's Dad (Norman Sr.) had him either surfing or skiing every spare moment since he was a baby. Literally a baby, as the back of the book jacket shows a black and white photo of his Dad surfing Malibu, with tiny baby Norman strapped to his back like a backpack. It's such a poignant photo, not merely because we know how their story together ended, but because it shows the trust and confidence baby Norman had in his Father from the very beginning of his life. Even though, lots of times, Norman would resent having to ski or surf when all the other kids were at birthday parties or watching cartoons Saturday mornings - it was those same times that saved his life. He had the skills and mental preparedness to handle those extreme sports, and thus, could handle survival.

It's an incredible book, and when I sat down to chat with Norman (and his very sweet 12 year old dog, Telluride/Telly) yesterday at the Equator Books Cafe, I wondered what reactions he'd been getting while going out around the country doing book readings and signings. What seems to have struck him most profoundly is how reading the book has made people examine their own lives and childhoods in ways he didn't expect. The Father/Son thing is there, and dominant, but also has made people (including me, who also grew up without a father) realize that kids are intricately involved in what's going on in the world of adults. Divorce, parents fighting with their new boy/girlfriends, stress, demands, freedom (the likes of which it seems kids of today have lost) ... all of it shapes the kind of people the kids are going to grow up to be. And now that Norman is a father himself to his 9 year old son, Noah ... it was time to examine these things, and put it down in writing to share with Noah, and the world.

The main themes, both in the book and in life, seem to be the importance of sharing your passion with your children (whether that's surfing or music or stamp collecting or hula dancing or whatever), and instilling in them how important it is to "Never give up." There will always be struggles, but if kids have those basic ingredients (along with the basic lodging and LOVE, of course) given to them, most likely they'll be alright.

Having grown up in Malibu, Norman has lived in Venice for most of this Millenium. We were talking about what we love about it and why we choose to live here, and Norman had what is really about the best answer there is, "the People." Absolutely, and why I'm trying to introduce us all within this site - the COMMUNITY of it all. There is also the bonus of walking or riding bikes everywhere we go, the Surf, the ability to get GOOD food nearby, and that nice feeling of walking down the street and having people know you and wave, or how you like your coffee, that kind of thing. Whereas a lot of people like to romanticize the "Old, rugged days" of Venice, Norman said those days were also sorta scary and dangerous ... you could just PLAN on getting mugged ... and now it's "Beautiful and friendly", and a much nicer place to live and raise your kid/s. I'd have to agree ... to a point (NO Chain Stores, please).

Apart from doing press and signings for Crazy For The Storm (which will also be a movie - but don't wait for it. The book is always better.) and raising Noah (who is now a member of the Mammoth Ski Team, following in Dad's footsteps), and moving into a new house with his girlfriend, Jenny, Norman is about to get underway on his next book, which he says will be about the years in his 20's when he set out around the world to "Invent himself". He had been so defined in an instant by the plane crash, that he didn't want that to be what his life was only about. I won't tell you more because you'll want to read about it for yourselves.

For someone who has seen and lived through so much already as a young man of 41, Norman is extremely calm, composed and kind. You can tell that he was already like that when you see old news footage of him as a freshly rescued 11 year old kid. And I think what makes him like that are the basic principles taught to him by his Dad. Which he now teaches his own son. What I liked best is when he said, "Noah will know beauty. And he can return to that no matter what else is going on in his life."

Earlier in the Summer, I had just finished reading Crazy For The Storm when I was out swimming in the ocean one morning. A couple of surfers were heading right for me, and when they got closer, I saw it was Norman and Noah. It was so touching to see them together like that when the book was so fresh in my mind. We waved and yelled our greetings as they passed, and I celebrated the fact that we ALL know beauty living here, and hopefully do our best to constantly recognize it, no matter what else is going on in our lives.

* My other two favorite Summer books:

Zeitoun by Dave Eggers
The Road To Woodstock by Michael Lang

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Tsunamis in Venice?

The "Tsunami Evacuation Route" signs have been up for a while now ... they just appeared one day, without any explanation. Do you know what to do in the event of a Tsunami? Just follow the signs? Yesterday's few hours long blackout in Venice - just as a result of high winds - made us feel pretty scantily prepared in the event of any big deal disaster, so I thought we should at least stop and think about it for a second.

Venice is obviously a low-lying Coastal Area, and that means we're in the "Red Zone" for Evacuation if a Tsunami should hit. You just stop what you're doing and head to higher ground. Period. They explain it all fairly well here. You can download a good pdf about Tsunami Evacuations at too. The main thing to remember is that if you feel an Earthquake, get to higher ground by any means necessary ... car, bike, or foot.

They suggest some things that you'll want already in a bag - to GO - like:

Food and water
Medications and copies of Prescriptions
Change of clothes and shoes
Personal hygiene/First Aid Supplies
Pet care supplies
Baby stuff (diapers, formula, etc ...)
Copies of Important documents

I have a new neighbor who is psychic (had a shop for 15 years psychic - I'm always more impressed if they can pay rent on an actual structure with their abilities, for some reason) and she told me that I should be aware that there WILL be a major natural disaster involving water (in other words, a Tsunami) in the next two years in Southern California. I told her I'd seen the signs and wondered about it, and she said, "They're up because it is GOING to happen."

Eek. She's lived here most of her life and said, "I know that it's time for me to go." I don't find myself there in my thinking yet, but whatever the future holds - it's good to be prepared, not scared.

And have a lot of fun while you can!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Earth Sounds - Literally!

Damian Wagner and his darling wife, Anne Greene Wagner, returned to live in Venice with their son, Luke (Skywalker), after a while on the East Coast. Only upon their relocation have I had the privilege of getting to know them better ... and the more I know, the more I am intrigued.

After chats at various social functions, where I kept finding out more and more cool things about them, I went over to their house last weekend to listen to the Earth Sounds Damian had recorded for a museum project in Brazil. And when I say "Earth Sounds", I mean - literally - the sounds made a mile deep in a hole reaching for the Earth's core. Sounds that must be heard to be believed.

The American artist, Doug Aitken, approached Damian about helping him with an art installation for the Instituto Cultural Inhotim (pronounced "In-Yoo-Cheem") in Brumadinho, Brazil. An installation that had never done before. Aitken's vision was to bore a hole a mile deep in the ground on the campus of the AMAZING Contemporary Art and Environmental Studies Center (that I'd never heard of until Damian told me about it), to record the sounds made in Inner Earth. Then build a "Sound Pavilion" (2009) to blast the sounds while visitors looked out at the 360 view of the natural landscape.

After a ton of research and experimentation, the exhibit is open in Brazil, and is currently blowing peoples' minds. It blew mine the other night in Damian's home studio, where he and Anne had us over to take a listen. You've really never heard anything like it. Damian said that some people were bursting into tears inside the Pavilion, as the sounds are so incredibly visceral, you really don't know how it will affect everyone. For that reason, Damian even had to consult with Doctors about the noises, "since we didn't want to kill people, or give them heart attacks." My bigger fear once I donned the headphones Damian handed me, was that I could go crazy. It's like you'd think Outer Space would sound like, but Inner Space. A deep humming, with occasional explosion sounds (magma?) and throbbing, otherworldly swells and pauses. I closed my eyes and tried to imagine looking out the glass windows at the Brazilian greenery while these sounds blasted out of hidden speakers, but don't think I did it justice. This place in on my MUST SEE List in life now, to be sure.

They had a lot of trial and error while building the Pavilion and digging the hole. The three microphones (or "Accelerometers") had to be encased in crystals (natural) and put in PVC pipes, then covered in sand, then loose gravel and rock, which would secure it down deep to pick up the Earth's vibrations, and then the vibrations are converted to sound. They had to install a water pump so if the hole filled up with rain, the whole thing wouldn't be ruined. They had to put limiters on the mics so the explosions (or whatever they are?) wouldn't blow up the speakers, since they blew up 4 different giant sub-woofers while experimenting. As Damian said, "I'd never experienced sounds like this before, there was no definition, and normal sound scales (EQ) did not apply. It's the Earth, Man."

They had a big disappointment when they originally tested the whole works, as they cranked up the sound and nothing happened. NO!!! But then Damian put his hand near the speakers and the vibrations coming off it you could practically grab onto, so they knew they had something and just had to harness the sound. Hence all the sand packing, etc ... and they finally got it to work and not only work, but STUN. Much like if you've ever seen lava flowing, or felt an Earthquake, listening to these sounds make you feel both connected to and dwarfed by the infinite possibilities of our Planet (and the Universe itself).
Damian is also a visual artist, of massive brightly colored sculptures and paintings alike, and you can look for a show of his new works very soon. Oh, and he's from Minnesota, so that makes him extra cool. His Dad ran one of the biggest mines in South America, so rocks, gems and crystals abound at his house, and probably gave him some insight as to how to approach the Earth hole digging. He creates it all in his back studio, where he also has his sound equipment. He and Anne (she is a singer and a writer, and comes from Baltimore, Hon!) recorded an album of songs together (D And A) that sound extra-modern and classic all at once. This is one creative family, as Luke's art projects and imagination already show the influence of his inspiring parents.

It just goes to show, how you can be just casually talking over cocktails on any given Venice night, and wind up learning about the most interesting stuff you've ever heard. Literally.

Thanks to the Wagners, for a scintillating evening of learning, awe and wonder!

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Angels & Daniel Johnston

Daniel Johnston played the last show of his U.S. Tour at the Henry Fonda Music Box in Hollywood on Saturday night, and my dates were a four year old (Truman) and a seven year old (Amelia), and their Mom, Christina. You don't know how often you'll get to see Daniel Johnston in life, so we figured the kids should share in the experience with us. They rocked us up with their own songs on the car ride over, my favorite selection being "Golden Guitar" sung with cup microphones.

We found our seats in the balcony (Thank God. The kids fell asleep two minutes into the first act, and that would've been a heavy load to haul down on the floor. Phew.), and settled in for the evening, Transformer cars and all. We told the kids it would be fine if they had a nap, and Truman said, "No, I want to stay up and see if the ending is happy." We wanted to see that too.

The evening opened with a lively set by Soko and all her friends/band. She hopped on to the stage screaming, with a stuffed tiger worn like a backpack on her back. OK. She's eclectic, that was established from the get-go. She's French, and has a very Bjork-y voice, that raises up into a straight out yell quite often, for emphasis mostly. She has that song on KCRW that goes, "I'll never love you more than ..." - a whole bunch of eclectic things, that I kind of like, but she's so fidgety that I started to feel loopy myself from watching her. She has a very good fiddler named Paul sawing alongside her, a drummer, a drum-stick girl, a flannel shirted guy that banged whatever, a accordion girl, a horn player ... Kind of Edward Sharpe style. Then I heard she dated him. Aha! I get it more now. Even though I thought out loud that she'd make a better girlfriend for Daniel Johnston ... who I think would really like one ...

"Treat Your Woman Right" was a lovely song, and sent out "as a message to all you evil guys!" Soko's skirt was giant and falling off of her so she took over sitting at the drums for a ranting one, screaming, "I'm getting closer to an Elvis breakdown!" One believed her. That was followed by a group sing-along with the whole joint ('cept us - we weren't comfortable with the lyric for the kiddies ... who were just asleep ... ) yelling, "People are mean, people are bad, they're trying to ruin my life!!" After a few more high-spirited jigs, Soko (really Stephanie Sokolinski) thanked Daniel Johnston for having them aboard, and the curtain fell on ring one of the circus.

Next up was The Hymns. Four guys from Brooklyn. Truman kinda snored next to me, and that's how I felt about this group. The guitar player was distractingly hyper, and the singer's voice began to grate. Though they were enthusiastic, it didn't seem as if the audience was. There were a lot of people crammed on the floor to see Daniel Johnston, and this band was unfortunately on as the night grew restless. They got the good fiddler Paul back to join them on a song, and that was the highlight for me. They thanked Daniel Johnston too, and we shifted the kids heads to a comfier angle, looked at the time, and hoped for the best.

Daniel Johnston was the subject of the 2006 documentary, The Devil And Daniel Johnston, and I hope you've seen it, but if not, you can't truly understand how remarkable it is to be seeing him play anywhere live. He suffers from manic depression, and that heartbreaker of a film shows how he's struggled with his demons, while simultaneously having vast influence on all sorts of artists and rockers - most notably Kurt Cobain - who one senses identified both with the pain and the genius of Daniel. He is very medicated and fairly reclusive, so a National Tour at this stage ... is real, real impressive.

He began playing his small guitar even before the curtain rose, and the hoots and hollers that arose from the crowd threatened to wreck our great scenario with the fast asleep kids. They're hard core kids though, and all was well. All appeared well with Mr. Johnston too, as he said, "Hi. How are you these days?", asking his famous t-shirt quote. The audience made it clear that they were doing great to be here and now with him. They LOVE him. (and AGAIN, we had the people shouting their love in the house. So dumb and annoying. Respect one another.) I have to confess I'm not extra familiar with the entirety of Daniel Johnston's discography - mostly because it can get a little depressing. Even so, every time you hear one of his songs, you can hear the HOPE seeping through the jagged edges of the darkness he obviously endures. His voice and rhymes are child-like, his guitar playing is rudimentary and jangly, but the raw feeling and wit contained within every line of Daniel's music is something both shocking and true.

Pop culture references abound, like, "Maybe the Wizard Of Oz ran out of consolation prizes ..." and "This is the beginning of Star Wars ..." sung as he read them off his big folder of papers on a podium. There is also a patina of wistfulness over everything he sings; sometimes overtly so - "I wish I had a girl, or even a boy ..." - and sometimes more subtly, "Let your hair hang down, let your love come around ...". The honesty with which he communicates, and the uncensored thoughts that pour out of him, would be reserved for a shrink or priest for most people. Not Daniel Johnston. He's up there singing them all loudly, and inviting you along, to know that dark as things can get, where you really don't know if you can go on ... there is humor, there is hope and there is love.

Even in the ominously named, "Life In Vain", the resonating line is "I don't want to be free of hope." And "Flip on your t.v. and try to make sense of that." This and the next few were sung as Daniel was backed on beautiful acoustic guitar by his long-time friend, whose name I sadly did not catch. Sung with shaking hands clutching the mic, but full of love, "Live In Light", "Hey, Joe" and "Summer Love" were inspiring, especially the latter, which even wished for a "Happy ending to us all" - like Truman wanted! Daniel loves The Beatles, and ended his first set with the John Lennon song, "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away", with an emphasized, "HEY!", announcing that he would take a break and be back shortly.

When he returned, he brought back The Hymns to be his backing band. Which I preferred them as, and they were quite good at - other than the distracting guitarist's antics. They did a rocker of a song about "Stinking Motorcycles" and then one about "Rocking the night away", and then Daniel said, "Thank you for all the money you gave me. That's' going to buy a lot of comic books." So you can see what I meant about Uncensored.

Next was a song about a girl he liked going out with a Mortician called, "Man Of Death" - with the cheerful cynic line, "the only way you can get her to look at you is to die." Daniel Johnston's latest album, "Is And Always Was" was just released this month, and the next three were selections from it: "Fake Records Of Rock and Roll", "Freedom" and High Horse". People went crazy when he stopped to say, "How do you feel tonight?" and one tool yelled back, "How do you feel?!" Daniel took a second and then said, "I feel alright. I take a lot of drugs. You should go to the Doctor and ask for antidepressants, they're better than marijuana." We covered the kids' ears for that one. But whatever works.

The Beatles' "Revolution" was a raucous crowd-pleaser, and then the even rowdier, "Rock and Roll", that perfectly summed up how the night, and music in general, can really be an uplifting power ... "There was a day that I was so lonely, I looked for Hope but all around me, people didn't seem to care ... But OH, that Rock and Roll saved my SOUL!!" Right? Doesn't it feel just like that sometimes? And it's even better when you all share the load together, like in The Henry Fonda this night.

Daniel then said, "Thank you, Good Night" and picked up his folder, walking off the stage while the music was still playing. People were yelling so loudly, whistling and clapping, that the kids now woke up (Perfect timing!), just in time to see Daniel Johnston return to say, "This is my Christmas wish for you all", and play what is my (and a lot of peoples') favorite of his tunes, "True Love Will Find You In The End." His acoustic guitar friend was back to play with him, and it was so beautiful and heart-felt, and the words so sweet:

"This is a promise with a catch
Only if you're looking will it find you
‘Cause true love is searching too
But how can it recognize you
Unless you step out into the light?
But don’t give up until
True love finds you in the end"

... that you actually did have hope that this happy ending could happen for us all. Looking at the kids waking up and smiling as they heard this gentle man share his heart, made you pretty sure of it.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Hope Sandoval & The Warm Inventions at The Mayan!

"I feel tingles," is how my brother, Paul, explained the anticipation he (and the super long line waiting to get in outside The Mayan Theater in downtown L.A.) felt last night to FINALLY be seeing Hope Sandoval live. He has loved her - and I mean LOVED her - since her Mazzy Star days in the 90's, and had never seen her in person. Happy Birthday, buddy - got tickets to Hope Sandoval in October! And the night had finally arrived.

If you didn't at least make out to "Fade Into You" back in the day, you really should turn in your Player's Card. That's when Mazzy Star really made their big splash, but one album after that, they were done. Hope reappeared with her band, The Warm Inventions, and released an excellent album, Bavarian Fruit Bread, back in 2001 ... but that's been quite a while now.

They released their new one, Through The Devil Softly, last month. It carries on the Dreamy Shoe Gazer genre perfected by Hope and anyone she's ever played with, and I love it. You're never going to play it to get hyped up for a night out on the town, but if you're anywhere dark and candle-lit, with someone you really like ... (or better yet, LOVE) - it's on. That's how her music makes you feel, anyway.

We were somewhere dark and (faux) candle-lit last night - The Mayan. What a great venue. I hadn't been there in ages, and forgot how funny and Epcot Mayan Temple it is. It's trippy to walk around pre-show with a cocktail and imagine all that's gone down in the space, from Mexican Lucha VaVoom Wrestling to last night's love lullabies. A perfect place to hear them in too, considering Ms. Sandoval's East L.A. roots.

Suki Ewers and her band opened the night, and you can really tell she used to play guitar in Mazzy Star. I'm always a bit mixed on having a band open that sounds SO much like the headliner - it can make for a kinda somnambulist night. But then I saw my old pal, Abe Smith, playing guitar for them and that perked us up. Suki did not introduce the band, and they ended abruptly, so I only know what I know from Abe. They were really good, but I would try and vary up the sound a wee bit away from Hope's so as not to draw such stark comparisons with someone that everyone in the place is dying to see.

The next opening band was Dirt Blujean, which is basically the Warm Inventions sans Hope and Colm O'Ciosoig (of the influential Irish outfit, My Bloody Valentine), her musical partner/ drummer. They were very good too, with a lot of instrumentals and slide guitar ... but it was actually a lot like sitting in a band's rehearsal space and watching them jam. Which is great, but lulled the crowd vs. building up the buzz. A guy in front of me on the balcony was sitting there reading "Tristessa", if that tells you anything.

{After that, it felt like it took a long time for the main event. Hope's very kind manager, Frank, came up to meet me to let me know that he'd sort me out with a photo to use here, since the Security detail were watching like hawks for illicit camera use. I guess that's never allowed at a Hope show, which is sort of a drag as she is such a unique and lovely subject. That tells you that he's a good manager though, Hope should be stoked. That's the kind of professionalism you want on your side.}
Then the room went wild for Hope just walking on stage. At least I think she did. She performs in the total dark with just a red bulb somewhere around her to see her Xylophone set-up, so I wasn't even sure she WAS on stage yet. But then she said, "It's good to be back home. It's really bright up here." - which it was not. At all. I was chatting with Abe, who I hadn't seen in ages, so I missed most of the first song (sorry), but I think it was "Fall Aside" from the new album. People were just eating it up, yelling, "WE LOVE YOU, HOPE!" every other pause.

{Which I cannot stand. Folks - Knock that off. It's distracting to everyone involved, and you are just basically pointing at yourself and yelling, "DORK!" You are not a 12 year old girl loving Taylor Swift or someone. This is a shy flower of a woman who commands silence, and you fools snap everyone's reverie. The artists know you love them, or most likely you wouldn't be there. Let us all grow up, and just listen. Bless.}

Anyway. Hope and the band next played "Thinking Like That", with her in the total dark. I heard some people at another show wanted their money back, thinking she wasn't even there and it was a recording. She DOES sound more like she does on her albums than almost anyone else I can think of - not an easy task. But she WAS there, I saw her skin-colored legs between her black boots and dress. "Blanchard" was next, which I love, it's so lush. Hope jammed the Xylophone on this one, with firm command of the instrument. "There's A Willow" featured a plaintive harmonica solo by Hope, which was met with whistles and hoots. Her time away did nothing to dispel her fan's love, that much is clear.

The fans also love an oldie, and they got "Lose Me On The Way" from the last album. "I've got it going on," goes the chorus, and indeed she does. "Charlotte" was also a favorite from the last album, and the line, "She's got a smile like a flower", has always made me smile. How cool to see her sing it all live, honestly. It's interesting because Hope's voice is so self-assured, I wish I felt like she herself was. It's an odd mix of feelings one has about her, as you feel both protective and timid of her all at once. It's all just so breathy, lilting, melancholy, dreamy and rad ... it's not hard to understand why at this point Paul insisted on smushing up front closer to being somewhat able to see her face. So we did.

"Wild Roses" led into what I think is my favorite from the new album, "Trouble". It's jazzy and confident ("Don't talk to me, if you're not on your knees ..."), and begging for a seduction to accompany it's listening. Seriously. Phew. Then it was "Bluebird", which opened with Hope's hand on a little mouse-pad, doing trippy sound effect stuff from it. Oh, and the whole time there was a screen overhead playing exactly the kind of images you would want above Hope Sandoval: ballerinas, flowers, uh, some war looking footage, perhaps lava, old silent movie faces, and back to dancers. At this point, my brother and I both noticed that the scraggly-bearded homeless guy from outside who had been asking for an extra ticket - that we assumed was to re-sell for whatever - was standing right near us, rapt as anyone else there. That is actually the lasting image I took from the show. That and Paul's gaping maw.

"Suzanne" was another gift from the old album, and everyone ate it up. Then came, "For The Rest Of Your Life", the most haunting tune (complete with ghosty "Ooo-ooo-ooo" part) from the new one, that was to be the last song of the regular set. It was the hardest rocking of the bunch too, with a whole cacophony of sounds, lit up by Hope on the Xylophone. I've never seen the old X is for Xylophone get so much glory in one evening. And it's a perfect fit. The last note died out and Hope simply said, "Thank you, Good Night" and walked slowly off the stage.

It took quite a while for Hope and the band to return for an encore, the rhythmic clapping swelling and ebbing with the energy of the assembled. "HOPE, COME BACK!" rang out, from one of the I Love You Hoper's, probably. Then come back she did, and said, "I want to say hi to my Dad. He's here tonight. Hi, Dad." That was met with happy yells for the Man that sired this shy, mysterious, and obviously beloved singer. And it was the most she said all night.

The last song on the new album is "Satellite" and it was the first of the encore. I wish she put her lyrics in the c.d. envelope, because I love the poetry of her songs, and sometimes the precise words can get lost in all the sounds. But it was beautiful, like everything of the night. The MOST beautiful to me, was the very last song, and my very favorite of the last album, "Feeling Of Gaze". It's very cello-heavy, and just plain gorgeous. The two guitars, bass, drums, keys, sound effects and Hope all coalesce in this one to be something from another, more ethereal world. The lyric, "Gonna play my favorite song, gonna play it all night long ..." was wishful thinking, as it had to end sometime. Once again, at the dream's conclusion, Hope just said, "Thank you, Bye.", and floated off into the darkness.

As did we. Paul was literally gasping for air, and cracked me up as the first thing he could speak to say was, "If I had Hope Sandoval come to my room and sing little things to me, I'd never have to do anything again. I'd be happy to just lie there and eat Jell-O."

So if that is an appealing offer, dear Hope Sandoval, your cool manager Frank has my contact information. Thanks for a wonderful, idyllic show for me, and a dream come (well, almost) true for my brother.

* Photo of Hope by Luz Gallardo
**Photo of Paul sneakily taken by me.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Undisputed World's Greatest Wino!

Bobby Brown ("No, not like the singer, he's like ME!") is better known as The World's Greatest Wino on Venice Beach. I sat down to talk with him this morning ("Let's sit on a bench in the sunshine."), and can assure you that he lives up to his title. Except that he's sober, and has been for 12 years.

Bobby was born in Georgia, lived in Florida and New York, until making his way to the West Coast in 1978 to get away from a crazy ex-wife (among a few). That's also when he began drinking himself into oblivion - to forget about the bad marriage. He has children (two sons) and grandchildren, but he doesn't keep in touch with them anymore, as there were a lot of rough years, and when his Mother died, the link to the rest of the family died with her.

The World's Greatest Wino routine began when he lost the title of World's Greatest "Flatfooted Panhandler" in a contest with THE Greatest Panhandler, in New Orleans. He still hates that he lost. His beat used to be walking the sidewalks between The Hollywood Athletic Club and The Cat and The Fiddle, yelling, "Support your local Wino!" It occurred to him then that whatever you're going to be, you should be the best at it - hence The World's Greatest Wino was born in 1993.

He brought his bit to the Boardwalk, with all its foot traffic, and kept up the heavy drinking until a little stint in jail for "being a pharmacist." An excellent Parole Officer (named Aaron Davis, "my Eskimo", who Bobby wanted a shout-out to) was physically responsible for getting him sober and into AA meetings. Bobby had been drinking until he was sick - throwing up blood sick - and that was that. It dawned on him that if a sign and a cup (to collect his tips) could keep him drunk, it could help him do a lot of other things.

He said, "I've drank up 747's, and now I fly in them." He saves up his collections and travels now instead of spending it on the sauce. He's been all over Europe ("Though I never got to Istanbul. My fantasy was to sit in the Casbah and smoke hash."), South America, and more recently, The Philippines and Thailand - where he has a 22 year old young lady (He showed me a photo. He's heading back over the holidays. Yep.) currently "driving me nuts, emailing me all the time." For the record, Bobby is 72. And he's replaced his drinking vice with the ladies, or as he put it, "I'm a Sucker. Ladies IS my problem now." Yeah, but they likely help keep him young and at it, working the Boardwalk, bellowing his trademark song, "Jingle bells, Jingle bells, Help me get drunk!" That's exactly what he's singing right here:

And he IS going to get drunk - just not until the year 2209. That's a date he chose to sit on the hill by the Skatepark and finally drink his favorite - Remy Martin - out of a brandy snifter in the sunshine, because "You don't know" - you don't know how long you're going to live, and all he can think about is TODAY, for not getting drunk. But you always have to have something to look forward to. Asked if he's false advertising a bit, he answered, "I hate a liar more than anything. I'm not lying, I'm asking for the MEANS to go to the liquor store - but the liquor store sells a lot of things." He gave me his business card, and I said, "This is a fresh card." He gave me a sly look, and said, "I AM fresh!" Again, he does not lie.

He alternates his signs (his favorite: "Dr. Kind Love, S.O. {Sex-Ologist} - Sex Counselor and Happiness Dispenser") and hats (his current one is an Oktoberfest one, "for October"), and has a million songs and jokes to entertain the crowds with. Like this one ...

"I was in Hollywood and saw this giant guy with a little tiny head. I asked him how he was so huge, and had such a tiny head, all out of proportion. The guy told me that he had woken up in a hotel room and a Leprechaun was there, with a Fairy Princess. The Leprechaun said the Fairy Princess would give him anything he wanted, and the Guy said, "How about a little head?"

We shared a laugh and a firm handshake, and Bobby Brown, World's Greatest Wino, carried on down The Boardwalk, dispensing his own special brand of happiness.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Venice: Where Art Meets Crime - FIGHTING!

Still a little buzzed from the triumph of getting my stolen bike - DELORES - returned to me by Good Samaritans, and seeing signs for "FOUND Bike" on posts, I was feeling all proud of my fellow citizens, and thinking perhaps people WERE living a bit more like their better selves ... when my friend Nathan got his bike stolen from RIGHT in front of my place, in broad daylight, on busy Venice Boulevard. And not just any bike ... his FRESH purple 70's Schwinn Stingray, complete with Sissy bar. That he LOVED (and called his "Brumby" - Australian - look it up). Just a couple of days before, one guy watching us ride by said, "That bike is so cool I want to steal it." Though he was right, I was not down with the steal part, even in jest. Little did we know that two days later, that man foreshadowed this horrible incident - or WAS it him?!
Hmm ...

This is the last known photo of old Stingray (busy background, but we didn't know at the time it was going to be used for bike retrieval purposes):
This Bike Thievery Corporation MUST be stopped. The Free Venice Beachhead, that was so instrumental in getting my bike returned to me, has proposed a column where people can submit their stolen bike photos for free in the hopes that we'll all keep our eyes peeled for them, and that really does work, at least in my case (what's happening with that, Jim?). Nath's bike was locked up to the street sign, with one of those coil locks, and it was snipped apart in one hot second. So - either use Kryptonites, or bring 'em in the house, for starters. But maybe there needs to be more defense - like what if we don't BUY stolen bikes for $40 or whatever the stealer is asking for that day? Then the market dries up. It takes a Village ... or a Boardwalk, at least. So please keep your eyes open for the Stingray - he's pretty hard to miss. Like, DUMB thief if they're still in Venice - straight asking for a pummeling.

Now I'm not sure if this is exactly a crime - but it's an annoyance for sure. The Other Venice Film Festival hoaxed us into paying $25 a pop to see Oliver Stone's The Doors last Friday, as it was to feature a Q & A following the screening with Val Kilmer, and a Maverick Award given to Mr. Stone. I got a whole crew to get their "sure to sell out" tickets online, and had the Doors pre-party at my place right by the SPARC venue. We get there and it's nowhere near sold out, there's no Q & A, no Oliver Stone, no Val Kilmer - and I'm not sure there was ever going to be. It seemed pretty falsely advertised to me, and we split right after a little dancing to Sugarbitch (cool), because I just got the movie for my birthday, and we didn't need to spend 3 hours in folding chairs to see it again, when we could watch it for free - and with good libations - at my house. I was very much looking forward to sharing with you the insights of filming that iconic Venice film - and instead ... Lame. Oliver & Val - let's make a raincheck date of it, shall we? Cut out the middle man ...

The last issue to deal with today (OK, other than STOP LITTERING! The recent rain made our beach absolutely filthy from people all over the city throwing stuff on the ground like dirty mental patients. Stuff that washes out onto our beaches, making people sick and killing marine life. STOP IT!!!), is a little problem down at our new Skatepark. The homeless folks appear to have been sleeping in the bowls (I get it - wind protection, but you don't need to leave a huge mess behind, do you?), but the LAPD decided that the guys from VSA can't post overnight guards there anymore, and won't watch it themselves, so that jeopardizes the Skatepark, because as we all know, once something anywhere becomes a "nuisance", the thing can very easily go away. And we're not going to let that happen to our new and beautiful Skatepark, are we?? Learn more about it here, and then ...

Put on your capes and tights! Thanks.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Lidia's Pupusas - Meal on the cheap!

You're out biking around, didn't bring your wallet, but have a couple bucks wrinkled up in your shorts pocket. And you're STARVING. Hmmm ... The pizza by the slice on the boardwalk is pretty bad ... you don't eat hot dogs (never have, never will) ... you won't make it home without eating something ... what in the world to do?

What is this little place - literally a hole in the wall - with a half door facing Westminster? Pupusas? I haven't had a good pupusa in ages ... LUCK! Lidia's Pupusa's makes exactly that ... GREAT Pupusas! It is - by far - the best food I've had on the Boardwalk. It felt like chancing upon a street food stand on a foreign travel, only to have it be among your best meals on the trip.

The proprietors, Ada & Vito, come from El Salvador, where from what I've experienced, everyone must be a fantastic cook. They've had Lidia's (1301 Ocean Front Walk, #11 - right off the Boardwalk on Westminster, across from Groundworks) for the past two years, after coming to the States 18 years ago. They named Lidia's for their youngest (of three) daughters - Lidia.

Ada has one of the sweetest faces I've ever been smiled at with:

... and makes the tastiest, freshest, most filling Pupusa's I've ever had - for $2.00! A delicious MEAL for what could be pocket change. I had the pork and cheese ("lorroco") pupusa, and my eyes rolled back into my head as I bit into the piping hot package of goodness. Tamales, Empanadas, Platano Frito - there's a lot more to try! I never even noticed the place until the other day, so you may not have either. I'm cruising over there again in a bit to turn a friend onto it ... meet us there, won't you?

Friday, October 16, 2009


I walked past the place every day for years having no idea what delicious cooking was going on inside. Our wonderful new(ish) neighborhood restaurant, Marla's, began as a catering operation on the corner of Victoria and Abbot Kinney (2300 Abbot Kinney, South side of Venice Blvd, across from The French Market), and only earlier this year opened up for public consumption, when Marla decided that she'd rather have a stool to rest on once in a while, vs. hauling food for thousands to events around town. Lucky us!

Marla Berreira grew up in Wisconsin, but headed out to California as soon as she figured out that one doesn't HAVE to be cold all winter (I get it, Marla). Then she traveled Europe solo, shipping her VW Van back and forth 3 times, adventuring all the while. She learned catering from cooking for dozens of friends on her little van hot plate, and naturally progressed, like people who follow their hearts do, to sorting out how to make a living doing what she loved to do. Feed people good old home cooking. I asked her how she came up with her menu - that varies from AMAZING tacos (I dig the carnitas most) to daily specials like Coconut Shrimp or Baby Back Ribs - and she said, "It's all just the things I make at home, that I love making." Well, you can't really get more comforting food than that.

Comfort. That is about the best word for Marla's. You order and pay in the front part, (where there's a couple of tables, but you really want to sit in the back patio) and then go find a couch or table in the dominantly green patio that you swear is someone's house. There's a little subtle jazz or reggae playing as you settle in, with that bottle of wine (or beers. or flask. we've done all three) you brought from home - that doesn't require corkage. It feels like you're at home, sitting on the comfy couches or chairs, laid back ... with your dog chilling with some water beside you, if you have one. Marla's sons, Danny and Mathew work there too - for free, for now - as it's a total family labor of love. When Marla talks about her husband, Fernando, you can see by her glow that she's as in love with him as the day he swept her off her feet on a dance floor in Greece (though he's Portuguese). They've lived in the Venice Canals for years and years, so they're locals here, and know what the locals like. Family. Food. Comfort. AND Delivery! (3-9 p.m.) I'm in. And have been since the first day I walked in (Right, Jez?).

Her chips and guacamole are delicious, and when I asked about them, she told me how with corn chips, kids could choke on them, but flour would dissolve, so she started making them that way - and spicing them up with her special red spice mix. Well ... Yum.

It's really hard work to run a restaurant, and I told Marla I completely admire it as someone who likes to cook. She said, "Well, you're putting food into peoples' bodies, what could be more intimate? And what a big responsibility!" True that. And rare to hear in this day and age of faster, less nutritious, eat on the run lifestyles people justify themselves into. No need, folks. Just head over to Marla's. Healthy, savory, and it IS fast - but you get to know people, and relax, in an environment that feels like home. Complete with reggae on the stereo.

Marla's is open Monday, 11:30 - 7. Tuesday through Friday, 11:30 - 9, Call about Saturdays (sometimes closed for private events), and Sundays you're out of luck.

#310.827.1843 - for pick-up, delivery or a chat with Marla for more info.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Stephanie Hobgood - Friend & Stylist Extraordinaire!

You've probably seen her walking or biking around the streets of Venice with her Boston Terrier, Nico. You really can't miss the tall gorgeousness of Stephanie Hobgood ... it's fairly jarring.

She's an Oregon girl, but has been living in Venice again (after a stint here when she first moved to L.A.) since June ... and it's been oh, so lovely to have one of my best home-girls near me again. The very best (and truest) thing I've heard said about Steph is "You know she'd have your back in a bar fight." And she's proven that time and time again (not necessarily in bar fights - yet, but in daily life for sure).

Steph is a stylist at Trim on Abbot Kinney, and the only one currently offering the latest craze for ladies that have crazy hair "and still want to go to the beach", the Brazilian Blow Dry. It's a fairly spendy process ($300), but if you're one of those (I say blessed, they all say cursed) with curly or wavy hair, apparently this is THE jam. Straight, shiny and silky - right out of the shower. The Anti-Frizz. It lasts from 6 weeks to 3 months, and that's a lot of good hair days. Ladies are freaking out for it, so call and make your appointment with Steph at (310) 396-3330 if that sounds like your hair dream. My hair is already stick-straight, and Steph cuts it that way too. I've been stopped on the street by strangers commenting on how ruler-straight my hair is across the bottom. That's Steph's able hands - that she makes me stand up to accomplish. She does all the Venice Gronners' hair, and most of our friends too. Venice is looking GOOD since Steph came to town!

You'll see her cute dimples a lot too, as this one is hilarious. We were talking about the merits or demerits of our local coffee spots the other day, and Steph said, "Why does it have to be a science project, just give me a coffee. And I want a FAT coffee to start my day, I'm an American, Super Size it!" That was about the new cafe at Equator, who shrank their cup size (ha) from one week to the next. So now she's a Groundworks on Rose gal (good dog park en route, and Steph is nothing if not a doting Mother to her little Neeks), while I remain true to The French Market. (But don't stalk us.)

Steph is a crucial member of my Bikini Team - the bike/walk/swim triathalon we do each weekday morning, but she has been much in demand lately for hair on photo shoots, so she's been slacking on the Team. Which is fine by us, she's Bikini Team Emeritus. For always. She's also about to be on a hair salon reality show as the only white girl that does weaves in the shop. I cannot WAIT for that one!

Stephanie Hobgood was born to ROCK. She is happiest in the V.I.P. area of a Slayer show ... and has a lot of good rock and roll stories up her tattooed sleeves. It's one of the things I love most about her - her gamer attitude, and her raised rock-horn enthusiasm.

Check her out when you need to look real good - she will lively up your look in no time.

*Oh, and Gentlemen, she's single.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Paul's Pretty Pictures

Paul Gronner takes the best pictures I've ever seen. And I'm not saying that just because he's my brother. It's just factual. He's been doing it all his life, but recently .. they just blow minds. I mean, LOOK at these!!

He's a Venice guy, that grew up in Minnesota, and the best of both those worlds reside inside him. He got to know pretty much everyone in Venice through managing Abbot's Habit for years. We'd be out somewhere in Hollywood and someone would say chat Paul up, and I'd go, "Who was that?", and he's say, "I don't know, Triple Non-Fat Half-Caf Latte." LOTS of people knew him from there. Then he started The Habit Night, a live music night each Friday, that saw everyone from local favorites like Matt Ellis, Quebb, and Paul's own music, to Tom Morello in one of his first shows as The Nightwatchman. There were epic nights put together by Paul, and I've missed them every Friday since he left that post.

Ever since he was a little kid, he's had a very artistic eye. He's harnessed that gift over the years, and hones it with every day that passes. I'm not kidding, I'm constantly amazed at what he can do with his camera, and it's without Photo Shop and all that. Just straight talent. Look for yourself at his recent Venice sunset:

Paul is also about to blast off your faces with a new band ... stay tuned for info on that. He paints intricate paintings (and skateboard decks!), he knows how to drill stuff, he can build you a half-pipe, he can beat you at S-K-A-T-E, and he's one of the funniest people I know. It's good that he lives in Venice, where creativity is celebrated above all else. That's what has kept him (and most of us) here for all these years.

Some of Paul's local favorites: He likes Benice for breakfast (we differ there, but good for them!). He likes to make a pizza sandwich from Abbot's pizza, where you fold a Bianca slice over a Salad slice and eat it together. He loves the Onglet at Lily's. He enjoys the Carbonara at The Pasta Factory. He will tear up the Strawberry Roll at Hama. If you want a good bar burger, Paul suggests you try Hinano's. For a more special occasion, head over to Piccolo and get the filet, urges Paulie G. OK!

Sometimes things crop up that don't involve dining, that Paul is also into. First Fridays on Abbot Kinney (usually followed by a late-night jam at his place on Horizon that boasts super tolerant neighbors ... and his rooftop bbq's overlooking The Boardwalk rule too). Our gang loves to go to "Playa de los Amigos" (you know where it is if you know us - don't tell everyone either!) for beach time, and a rambunctious game of "5" - the Frisbee game he invented with his boys. He is THRILLED with the new Venice Skatepark, and can't believe his good fortune that it opened literally at the end of his street.

I am so proud of the person that my brother has grown up to be, and I just wanted to take this opportunity to boast about his talents - and let you get to know him better, and spread the word about his sick photography. He's available for any idea you may have that requires a gasp-inducing image to illustrate it. He has shot multiple bands, was the videographer for Tom Morello's Justice Tour, can do sweet non-generic head-shots, baby photos, weddings, fashion, National Geographic worthy nature scenes ... he's basically in the business of making dreams come true. Get at him at Prepare to be dazzled!

I'll let him have the last word this time:

" I enjoy the fact that all my Venice friends are either musicians or artists and we all spark off each other and inspire and encourage, that's really cool."

He's right. That IS really, really cool.

*Oh, and ladies - he's single.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Easily the best thing on television these days is the This American Life series. Watch them all at once by clicking here on Netflix. You will laugh. You will cry. You will be thankful for Ira Glass.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Steve Earle + Tom Morello (+ Ben Harper!) = Badass to the Bone!

I'm in the mood for some serious rabble-rousing. Yesterday I saw "Capitalism: A Love Story" in the morning, and then went to see Steve Earle and Tom Morello/The Nightwatchman at night. Let us just say that after a breezy and blissful Summertime, my hackles are all the way back up.

Steve and Tom had a three night stand at The Troubadour in Los Angeles, each of them sold out. I went on the last night, but it seemed that many in the house had been to all three. It was a VERY receptive audience, fired up from the start.

Tom opened the night with the title track from his debut solo album, "One Man Revolution". If there is anyone you'd want leading a revolution, it is Tom. His ability to work a crowd is unparalleled, from what I've ever seen. That song led into "Flesh Shapes The Day", with its reminder that, "SI SE PUEDE!" We really can. "The Fabled City" is the title track to Tom's second album, and this version saw him bring out a Stompbox that I haven't seen him use before. This got the crowd clapping along, until Tom said, "Ok, stop clapping. That was very rhythmic and sexy, and better than Night One, but now it's back to the serious stuff."

Tom's Aunt Isabelle died at 82 years old, in the same room she was born in. Tom traveled the world and took her with him through his stories and postcards, and now that she's gone, he plays her tribute song, "St. Isabelle" in "Exciting and exotic places ... like Doug Weston's Troubadour", and carries her with him still. His harmonica and single Irish War Drum punctuate the feeling pouring out of every word directly Heavenward. It's pretty damn touching, every time.

"What's past is past. The future is unwritten, and history as it goes forward is yours to make", was the truth Tom spoke to introduce, "House Gone Up In Flames". Seeing "Capitalism" earlier in the day, and the peoples' uprisings in that film, as well as having been alongside Tom in other uprisings ... I know this all to be absolutely for sure. All that's ever made ANYTHING happen positively in this and every country, has come from the PEOPLE saying NO. MORE. And doing something about it.

Tom got his revolutionary cues by being "the second most radical member of the Morello family", the first being his Mother, Mary, who turned 86 last week. He's not kidding. She is an absolute inspiration, and was in the house on this night to hear her son dedicate "The Garden Of Gethsemane" to her. He said, "this song is about moments of doubt, which I've never had with her." It's a gorgeous song, and the place was silent - so much so that Tom could step away from the mic to sing the last verse. The last chord faded and the joint erupted in cheers. I love to see the quiet ones get what they deserve.

But then Tom told the crowd that his day job was playing guitar in a little band called Rage Against The Machine, and busted into his acoustic version of "Guerilla Radio". "All HELL can't stop us now!" Again, fact. This song got what it deserved as well, and Tom cracked, "Thank you KROQ listeners."

We worked in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans last year on Tom's Justice Tour, and will be affected by it forever. Tom wrote, "Midnight In The City Of Destruction" about the irredeemable loss there, and said that,"Sometimes once something's gone, you can't get it back" (um, like the chunk of my flesh I lost getting bit by a Brown Recluse while there). It is a devastating song, just like the place it's about. They STILL need our help, everybody. Look into how you may, because it could be you needing it one day. "LA la la la la la la la" has never been sung more hauntingly.

Then, to my delight and surprise, Tom introduced "One of the most Innocent Criminals I know, my fellow traveler, Ben Harper!" Ben climbed over the seated audience members (CHAIRS in the Troubadour!) onto the stage, and he and Tom both strapped on acoustic guitars to kill us with Ben's song, "Gather 'Round The Stone". It cuts right to the bone, with its lyric, "You're too young to know that you're too young to go, there's no freedom to be found lying face up in the ground." Honestly. Tom threw out a flamenco style solo that brought some mad appreciation. Over too soon, Ben shouted a "Happy Birthday" up to Mary, and hopped back into the audience for the rest of the show. Tom ended his set with his sing-along song, "The Road I Must Travel", urging everyone to sing along the "Na na na na!" chorus "All together in solidarity" - which is exactly what it feels like to be at one of his shows. "TAKE IT EASY, BUT TAKE IT!" was Tom's parting shot ... but he'll be back.

Steve Earle. Tom said that within the first 4 hours of meeting Steve Earle, they were both tear-gassed at a protest, and he knew it would be a long and lasting friendship. I met Steve Earle last year with Tom when we were in Minnesota, Taking Back Labor Day and Raging against the RNC, and we were surrounded by Riot Police at the time, so you know the guy walks the walk. His latest album, "Townes" is a tribute to Townes Van Zandt. Steve - after taking the stage to wild claps and shouts - said, "I had a friend and teacher, his name was Townes", and launched into his first song. I don't have this album yet (on its way as of an hour ago), so I'm not super familiar with the titles yet, but it - and every song of the night - was fantastic. Equally as fantastic are Steve's stories, told in his Texas drawl, with a rebel's attitude. He told how he met his hero, Townes, when he was 17 and it was the coolest thing that ever happened. He said, "I'm 54 1/2 now, and it's still the coolest thing that ever happened." He told a story about Townes and his horse, Amigo, who Townes adored. Steve was driving through the snowy mountains of Colorado, with "headlights like ghosts coming at me, and I swear I saw Townes and Amigo riding five different times in that snowstorm", which gave him the idea, "I'm gonna make an album of Townes songs ... and this one ain't on it" ... so I don't know what it was called, but it was great, and featured the great advice, "Holding on is all you gotta do ...".

And Steve Earle has done a lot of that in his life. During his story-telling (and all of my favorite musicians are excellent story tellers ... no coincidence, I'm sure), Steve told of how he's a recovering heroin addict, had been in jail ("The first day in jail, you find the biggest guy and knock him out if you can. That way you keep your radio."), and raised a whole lot of hell, to the point where he said, "It's not a good sign when Townes shows up to give you a temperance lecture." But he's still standing, playing, and rebelling, and he began, "Pancho & Lefty" to the fans' great delight. Classic.

Steve said his other teacher, Guy Clark, told him there are two kinds of music, "The Blues and Zippity Doo Dah. This is NOT Zippity Doo Dah" and played the extra-bluesy "Brand New Companion". Sublime. As was "My Old Friend The Blues." The people got very happy when Steve played his own tune, "Someday" and for good reason. It rules. And they knew every word of it. Same with his "Goodbye". If you didn't understand the blues before this show, you did now.

Steve met his hero, Townes, when he "was the whole front row at one of my shows", and Townes kept heckling him to play, "Wabash Cannonball". Steve didn't know it, so tried to impress him with his version of TVZ's, "Mr. Mudd and Mr. Gold". It worked, and they were the best of friends the rest of Townes' life. Clearly. Steve then told a story about how he grew up in "Occupied Mexico" (Texas) and never really learned Spanish that well, but his NYC neighborhood Deli owner, Mr. Kim (A Korean man), had had to learn it to keep up with the times. Steve dedicated his next one to Mr. Kim, "City Of Immigrants" ... driving home that "ALL of us are immigrants." Remember that.

Our President was given the Nobel Peace Prize last week (Congratulations!) and Steve said that "People have been bitching about it, but the people bitching about it don't care much about Peace prizes." Word. He voted for Obama and "hasn't regretted it for one second - so far." With that he introduced his song (sung in a much more peaceful Belfast 10 days ago), "Jerusalem", by saying that "I'm gonna keep singing it 'til I die or it comes true, whatever happens first." It has probably helped the Peace process all on its own, that's for sure ... "Well maybe I'm only dreamin' and maybe I'm just a fool, But I don't remember learnin' how to hate in Sunday school." Rewind and listen again. Repeat.

Steve brought Tom (sporting some beard growth in tribute to Steve's massive one) back up to accompany him on ELECTRIC guitar on the last Townes song of the night, "Lungs", that he said, "If this song doesn't scare you to death, then you're over-medicated." I was cold sober, and terrified. Tom's spooky guitar effects (also heard on the album version) perfectly illustrated lyrics like, "Jesus was an only son, And love his only concept, Strangers cry in foreign tongues, And dirty up the doorstep, And I for one, and you for two, Ain't got the time for outside, Just keep your injured looks to you, We'll tell the world we tried." Chilling. With guys like this speaking out, we WILL tell the World we tried.

Encore time ("This has been a gas, and I wish Townes was here to enjoy it.") brought Steve classics, "Copperhead Road" and "The Mountain", which he dedicated to Daryl Hannah, who was recently arrested for protesting mountain top removal of coal (and who was sitting right next to me, as pretty as her Splash days. Cool lady). Then, in the finale of the evening, Steve brought up both Tom and Ben to play the song that SHOULD be sung at the 7th Inning Stretch, Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land". Tom always closes his own shows with this inspiration, so took the lead on instructing the crowd on when to listen, sing, JUMP! The three comrades took turns with the verses (ALL of them, not just the grade school ones), each in his own way: Ben WAILING his words, Tom guitar beating with abandon, and Steve blowing his harmonica away. EVERY single body in The Troubadour was off its feet in the air for the last chorus, celebrating the fact that this land WAS made for you and me, and knowing that "The wheel of history is in YOUR hands!", as Tom cried to end the night. Rabble ROUSED.

And it is in our hands, you know. Last year's election showed that. Worker's strikes show that. Calling your Congresspeople and getting them to vote NO on Bank bailouts showed that (not that it ultimately worked, but still ... it CAN!). Turning out en masse for protests shows that. Going to shows like these and jumping and singing in solidarity shows that. Showing that you CARE in any way shows that. We just can't let up. There remains SO much work to be done, in our own country, and around the world, that there is no choice in the matter.

Freedom is not free. You have to work for it. For Liberty and Justice for ALL.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Suzy Williams, The Venice Songbird!

AH! I finally got to see The Venice Songbird, Suzy Williams, perform a real set last night at Danny's Deli on Windward. She is a complete original, and I have adored her from the first moment I laid eyes (and ears) on her. That occasion was a sad one - a Memorial for our beloved Sponto - at the beginning of this year. She wrote a song called "Sponto" and sang it from her very soul. It both wrecked everyone, and made them laugh at parts too. That's when you know that you've connected with people, and their emotions - and Suzy does that every time she opens her mouth.

Suzy is an old school style CHANTEUSE. She dresses up like I wish we ladies did more. She will throw on a bright green wig and wild ensemble just to ride her bike (Gladys, friend of Delores) to the Farmer's Market. I have never seen her with anything less than a gigantic smile on her perfectly made-up face. Her enthusiasm and warmth exudes off her just standing still, but when she is ON, performing - all you can do is sit back and enjoy.

The best place to catch her is every Second Thurday (7:30 - 10:30, 3 sets) at Danny's. The house was pretty packed last night when we rolled in, with a lot of familiar Venice faces, all smiling and nodding their heads like the hep-cats they were, full of the absolute respect Suzy commands. Suzy is JAZZY. She throws her whole body into each song, and positively beams at the piano player (Brad Kay) while he does his stylish thing. You can tell she's thrilled to do what she does.

She plays standards (Henry Macini, Anita O'Day - "I love Anita O'Day - I'm wearing her outfit.") and originals alike, each interpreted in her own elegant way. She reminds me of Judy Garland, but in control. Suzy has lived and played in Venice for 13 years now, after falling in love with her husband, Gerry Fialka. He introduced her to the Venice bike lifestyle, and she calls him a "Lifestyle Artist". That basically means you live for free as much as possible. Go to free things, throw free events, not complicate life with money and things - as their love shows, the best things in life ARE free. At one point, my friend Jenny said, "Gerry loves her, Carol. Look at his face." I turned around to glance at Gerry and literally almost cried. The pure love that shone out of his smile at he gazed at his woman trilling a long note of "Moon Over Venice" - was what you hope everyone will get to feel at some point in their own lives. It was my favorite moment of the night.

Which was followed closely by Suzy dedicating her "Sponto" song to Jenny and I. We miss our friend Sponti every day, and Suzy said she misses him as much as the very sad day she wrote it. "You should be riding your bike on the beach, digging some foxy and fine Venice Peach ... Sponto, SPONTO, Sponto ... where'd you go?" There is no finer tribute, and bless Suzy for encapsulating that wonderful man in song.

A very cool thing is that Suzy has an album coming out soon of ALL Venice songs! She's thinking it might be called, "All Venice, All The Time". You will want to own this insta-classic, I promise you. Catch a Suzy show for yourself soon - it transports you to a more genteel time, when the ladies were classy, and the men appreciated that. You'll also feel a whole lot cooler than you did before you got turned on to Venice's own Songbird. Snap your fingers to that!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Moon Missiles?!

So ... NASA is launching missiles at the Moon tomorrow to see if there's water in a crater there.
You can even watch it on NASA T.V.!:

This makes me very uncomfortable. The Moon is responsible for so much of OUR Planetary function ... why do we want to mess with it - by BOMBING it?! I also think it's strange that hardly anyone seems to know about this ... perhaps because we would protest it, and now - as it's happening at 4:30 a.m. PST tomorrow - it's too late for that.

Let's hope for the best!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Bin Your Butts!

I love smokers. I do. There are many smokers among the most beloved people in my life. But it has driven me crazy for years when I see people throw their cigarettes on the ground. Or out their car windows. I've been in verbal altercations with people in cars because I can't let it go by without a scolding. Those cigarettes wash into the ocean, from all the way downtown, not just near the beach. I walk every morning along the beach and it breaks my heart every day to see that people don't seem to care that they are poisoning our whole eco-system. Murdering it. (You can check out Heal The Bay to get more informed.)

I was happy to see these informative signs go up recently on Abbot Kinney from the Venice Neighborhood Council, so I know that I'm not the only one annoyed by this bad habit. ONE cigarette in a liter of water will kill a fish in 96 hours?! So what's it doing to the smokers inside themselves? Eek. I've been watching the past seasons of Mad Men, and it's Smoker Central - even the gynecologist telling a woman that she's pregnant does so while smoking - and it just seems so out of date and strange. I remember a conversation I had where we were discussing Woody Harrelson or Sting or someone withholding having sex to preserve their chi or something, and a friend of mine saying, "I think it's hilarious that people still do that." It's kind of the same thing with smoking. I think with all we know about how terrible it is for you, that people - whom I love - still signing up to slowly kill themselves every day is kinda crazy. Like in the early 60's, people were advertised to that it was cool; now it just seems like every time you see someone light up, they've just been HAD.

But this isn't a lecture about smoking - it's just me being selfish because there are people that I want to grow old knowing, and oceans I want to grow old swimming in, and fish I want to eat along the way* ... so if you could please pass along that if you must smoke, at LEAST think of that choking fish in the liter of water and BIN YOUR BUTTS! Thank you. I'll appreciate you on each morning constitutional.

*But this is just if the world makes it past 2012. Until then, smoke 'em if you got 'em!

(Just kidding.)

Monday, October 5, 2009

FINALLY!! Venice gets itself a Skatepark!

"It's about time, Man! THANK YOU!!!" was the shout from the man next to me at the ribbon cutting for the Grand Opening of the Venice Beach Skate Plaza, and the sentiment of absolutely every other person in attendance, and probably around the world. Venice is pretty much the HOME of Skateboarding (Dogtown, and Ghosttown before that ...) and it's been long overdue in having a real home for skateboarders to call their own.

October 3, 2009 put an end to all that - after many years of hard work, fundraising and red-tape, the Dennis "Polar Bear" Agnew Skatepark is now open! It was a perfectly glorious morning, and hundreds of people were out at the beach to celebrate this monumental occasion. The mood was purely jubilant all around, and I strongly felt the absence of my brother, Paul, who is in Australia at the moment. He has been a Skateboarder for most of his life, putting up with grief from the jock dudes in high school, building half-pipes in our backyard (that scarred half the neighborhood in Minnesota, including me trying to drop in and face-planting on the bottom ... but the fun was worth it!), getting in trouble all over town for not being able to resist that perfect railing, and sticking with it until this very day, watching the sport grow until now there's even little tiny girls out there getting air in a bunny eared helmet. He now lives straight up the street about half a block from the Skatepark, and when he gets back, he is going to be THRILLED. As was everyone present last Saturday.

It was the full Official ceremony, complete with National Anthem, God Bless America, and a "21 Gun Salute" - which was really some guys from the VSA, (whose organization really made the entire thing possible) who marched out like military guys and banged their skateboard decks against the concrete 21 times. Rad.

After a Native American blessing and remarks from the various politicians involved, Professional Skateboarder Jesse Martinez spoke to roars from his peers and fans ("Dogtown brought the Big Dog" was one shout). He has been focused on this project for 30 years, and seemed pretty emotional about this day, for good reason. He comes from the days when you could get arrested for skateboarding, and said that now the Third and Fourth Generation of Dogtown kids can come here to skate without dealing with any of the B.S. , and enjoy a brighter future for Venice. It was also an example of how "you can make your government work for you. Don't give up on your dreams."

Our Councilman, Bill Rosendahl, said "This Skatepark is another piece of the mosaic of the Venice Coastline", and introduced L.A. Mayor Villaraigosa to cut the ribbon. A huge cheer went up from the crowd, and someone yelled into the mic, "LET'S GO SKATE!!!" Someone got on and said, "The Venice Skatepark is now officially open! Skate your brains out!" And that's exactly what happened.

It was so crowded I don't know if anyone got to have their dream session, but the smiles were wide - from little tiny kids (including my little buddy, Strider Ellis - already sponsored at 6!) to a whole bunch of Pros (another time I wished Paul had been there - he'd know who they all were. I saw Christian Hosoi, Tony Alva, and Jesse Martinez, but I know there were a ton more present. I did not see my favorite OG skater, Natas, but I'm sure he'll be there soon). One teenager guy walked by, with his voice cracking in excitement, "This place is so skate-able, Dude!" I think that's a pretty good endorsement.

I overheard one of the guys who had been on guard-duty of the park while it was being built telling a friend that if any Taggers came near the Skatepark, the least they can expect is broken pointer fingers (making it more difficult to spray-can paint. Yep.), so consider yourselves warned. It's taken so long to come to fruition, I hope that people will respect it as the hallowed ground it should be. And it's FREE!! I'm so excited for the kids of Venice (and visiting Venice), that they can enjoy a lifetime sport, and now have a home court from which to learn and excel. I love the contrast of old school Venice guys, now holding their little babies ... seeing the traditions being passed down and honored. That's what keeps Venice, Venice.

There have been people flying above the park all weekend since the opening, and I don't see it letting up any time soon. Get down there and see what hard work and perseverance can build! Be dazzled by the skills and athleticism of this sport that has earned its place alongside any other. Be proud of your Community! Get out there and try it yourself! (I might even give it another go now ... or not, but it's so great it makes you want to at least try.) Again, it's about time!! Skate your brains out!!