Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Decade!!!

Well, I'm back in Venice after a gorgeous holiday inside the Snow Globe of Minnesota. This picture pretty well sums up the vibe of the entire trip:

The beauty and special silence of snow falling. The joy and fun of kids at Christmas. The comfort of the roots of home. The pure celebration!

I saw many old friends, and made some new ones. I ate all the traditional fare, and drank my share. I sang Carols, and told and heard stories. I wasn't as cold as I thought I would be (until the very last day). I stomped through the crunching snow in the most beautiful nature of my youth. I regrouped with the people who have known me the longest, and soaked up the strength that comes with that. I appreciated every single second.

And now I'm back in Venice, with brand new appreciation again as we stand at the top of the high dive about to plunge into a new decade. The 00's were tough, I thought, both personally and as a world. I've likened them to hanging on to a ski hill tow rope, the pull shredding apart your mittens and digging into your flesh, but still you hang on with all your might. You know the top of the hill is coming, even if you can't see it perfectly yet through the blowing wind.

We had LOW lows (9/11. Katrina. Wars. Bush.) and HIGH highs (electing President Obama. Miracles big, small, public and personal), but even Time Magazine summed them up on their cover as "The Decade From Hell".

I don't know if I'd go that far, but I would agree that the next one will be better. It has to be. Hopefully we've learned a lot from the gnarly past ten years, and will work together henceforth ... for peace, a safe and healthy climate, kindness, intelligence, love and fun. I think we can do it. No, I KNOW we can do it.

I just came across the following poem from Garrison Keillor's "77 Love Sonnets" and would like to share this lovely toast with you as we clink our glasses and kiss to welcome 2010 tonight ...

Another year gone and the old man with the scythe
Is mowing closer. He hasn't been subtle, has he.
Too many good people gone, and I could sit and cry
For them - except that you look exceptionally snazzy
And sexy despite the miles on your odometer,

As if you have a few more aces up your sleeve.
Maybe you were born under a lucky comet or
Maybe it's just the delirium of New Year's Eve.
I gaze in your face and take your hand - you're
Positively glowing. Maybe we've been sorry a
Long enough time and now we get some grandeur
And do our dance and sing our aria.
May the New Year bring us before it has flown
All we would have wished for had we only known.

Happy New Year!! Happy New Decade! Love, Light & JOY to us all!!! CHEERS!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Carols

Every year at Christmas someone sends me the following joke, and I wear it out during the Holiday Season. I share it with you now, and hope that your spirits are bright, and hearts are warm with the love of family and friends!

Three men are waiting in line at the Pearly Gates to get into Heaven. St. Peter comes to the gate, and addresses the men. "As it is Christmas, there is an added clause to get into Heaven. You must have something on your person that represents the joy of the season."

The guys glance nervously at each other, and start digging around in their pockets. The first guy approaches the gate and pulls out a lighter. He nervously flicks it and says, "This represents a candle for Christmas." St. Peter smiles and signals the gates to open. Harps and trumpets play, and off the guy goes into Heaven.

The second guy digs around in his pockets, finally coming up with his keys. He jingles them in his hand, and says, "These represent bells, jingle bells for Christmas." St. Peter ponders it a moment, then gives the signal. The gates open and in he goes.

The third guy is really sweating it, frantically digging and he's iffy anyway. He digs and digs as St. Peter taps his foot. Finally, he digs deep in his jacket pocket, his face brightens, and he comes up with a pair of red silky ladies underwear. St. Peter looks scandalized, and says, "Now what in the world is that supposed to represent?" The guy looks at him hopefully, and says with a smile, "They're Carol's".

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


SKOL! Last night was the 5th Annual Glogg Fest at my house. I started it up so my friends from all over could get a little taste of my Norwegian Christmas traditions, and also get rid of all the Christmas cookies I make every year with my dear friend, Brigette.

It has grown over the years into a thing that I actually need a bigger place to host it at, but the crowding helps you keep warm, in heart and body. I love it as an evening where we can all see each other before we scatter across the universe for the holidays, and make merry one last time in Venice. Last year it was the last time most of us saw our beloved Sponto before he passed away on the 28th, when we were all away. So we've all come to look forward to Glogg Night, and whoop it up in a big way.

Which leads to what we in the business call "Glogg Fog" the next day. Glogg, for the uninitiated, is mulled wine. Lots of names for it around the globe, I call it Glogg. It smells and tastes great, and if you're not careful, will sneak up on you. I serve it "Viking Style", that is, with a splash of brandy on top of each glassful. And as we all know, Vikings were a rowdy bunch.

Last week we talked about lefse, so everyone who was over last night got to taste that treat. GONE. All that's left of the cookies (everyone's favorite seems to be the famous Cherry Chip) are some crumbs underfoot this morning. I'm not sure how many people we squeezed in, but almost all the cups were gone, so we may have had trouble with the Fire Marshall ... but they weren't invited.

So now my heart is warmed by the love and fun of friends, and it will carry me into the snow and arms of home, and more love and fun with friends in The Great White North. I am so grateful for the people in my life, and what a true pleasure to share my heritage and holiday cheer with such dears.

GOD JUL to us all!

Monday, December 21, 2009

An Anarchist Christmas Tale

In the U.K. the Christmas week Number One song is a big, big deal. It's a long held tradition, where they even have bookies making betting odds on what song will win the crown. It has become pretty much a done deal that in the last five or so years, whomever won the X-Factor (U.K.'s American Idol - Simon Cowell's also) won the Christmas week battle, since their show ends the week before and all the lemmings go out and buy the winning single. (Yes offense, if you like lame AI songs).

Well, not this year. A British guy by the name of Jon Morter started a Facebook page/campaign to get everyone to topple that monopoly by putting up Rage Against The Machine's 17 year old song, "Killing In The Name". Though that song is about racism in police ranks, it does feature the chorus "Fuck You, I won't do what you tell me!" A perfect anthem for this scenario. People immediately joined the cause, and the sales grew until Rage was ahead a few days before the sales cut off last Saturday. Excitement started to build across the world, as the main opponent, Joe McElderry (X-Factor winner) and his cheesy Miley Cyrus cover, didn't seem to be representative of the U.K. masses after all. Odds were in Rage's favor.

A mini war of words started. McElderry said, "They can't be serious! I had no idea what it sounded like. It's dreadful and I hate it. How could anyone enjoy this? Can you imagine the grandmas hearing this over Christmas lunch? I wouldn't buy it. It's a nought out of ten from me. Simon Cowell wouldn't like it. They wouldn't get through to boot camp on The X Factor - they're just shouting." Tom Morello from Rage simply declared McElderry "Goofy". I thought this thing had to be sewn up ... and relished it for the rebellious nature and Yes We Can of it all.

The numbers drew closer. Rage played a live show for the BBC and sang the uncensored chorus, causing people that don't like swearing to be scandal/mobilized to go buy the Hannah Montana cover. Then Rage upped the ante by saying their proceeds would go to the U.K. homeless charity, Shelter. AND if they won, they'd come to England and perform a FREE show for everyone, including "the after-parties of all after-parties".

Saturday dawned and I got a text from Tom that they were BEHIND. WHAT?! Everyone on Facebook was scrambling, I was contacting everyone I knew who'd even HEARD of the U.K. to get people to buy the "KITN" single before midnight. DJ's spun the track and then stopped the music to urge people to get online and download it. I texted that to Tom and he replied "Then on to the next bar!!" and so on and so on. People hosted downloading parties, and were encouraged to knock over ladies buying the X-Factor schmaltz (in jest, I think). The clock hit 12 and all anyone could do was wait for the official announcement on Sunday afternoon.

And .....

THEY WON! RAGE IS COMING TO THE U.K.!!! POWER TO THE PEOPLE!!! Tom said on his Facebook, "Rage Against the Machine are honored to have been drafted by this historic grassroots campaign to make our song "Killing in the Name" the number one song on the UK Christmas Week pop chart. This is a huge victory by and for fans of real music and we extend our heartfelt thanks to every fan and freedom fighter who helped make our anthem of defiance and rebellion the Anarchy Christmas Miracle of 2009." I mean, WOW. Amazing.

It's more than just a song contest too. It's sheer inspiration. That people can have had enough of anything, and work together for change. If a popular culture mission can be accomplished so deftly, what HUGE and important things can be done with the same efforts? It reminds of of old Bertolt Brecht's quote, "Art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it." That's right. People across the globe got on board to help the British squash the Simon Cowell (who has been asked to MC the upcoming free Rage show over there! Ha.) juggernaut. They stood up to it, and DID IT. I would never have thought of "Killing In The Name" as a Christmas Carol before, but now it will always remind me of the Great U.K. Christmas Rebellion of 2009. GOOD ON YOU, BRITS!

Fa la la la la, la la la LA!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

For The Love Of Lefse

Lefse. If you're Norwegian (and I am - 100%), you love Lefse (pronounced Lef-suh). It's served at every holiday or event, or something's wrong. It, like a lot of Norwegian food, is beige and bland. I got a huge box of it on my doorstep today, sent by my loving and benevolent Mom, and I am STOKED. (Lefse and "Stoked" might never have been used together before, but here we are.)

In bragging to my friends today about the bounty I'd received, I mostly got blank stares and "What the heck is that?" type questions. So ... it's basically a Norwegian tortilla. It's made out of potatoes, smushed and flattened until it looks a lot like your basic flour tortilla, but way, way more delicious ... think flattened, grilled mashed potatoes. It's pretty intimidating to make, so luckily there are many fine establishments that do it for you. Just not in Los Angeles, that I know of. Once I was in the town of Carefree, Arizona (where the streets have names like "Ho Hum Avenue", "Just Chilling Street", and the like. OK, I made up the last one, but only because I'm blanking on all the other ones, but you get it.) where a LOT of Snowbird Minnesotans winter or retire, and the local grocery store had a whole Scandinavian food section for them, which I found adorable. Here in L.A. though, Lefse is like the most elusive truffle ... rare and precious.

You serve it plain, rolled up with butter if you're a purist like me. Others like it with butter and sugar - I do not. My brothers like it with turkey dinner leftovers, all of the best things rolled up inside. We just love it. And I now have a whole lot of it, so if you're curious about this Norwegian staple, now's your chance. Really, NOW. Because we're mad for it, and it's gonna go fast.

Viva Lefse!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Holiday Spirit

Sometimes it's kind of hard to get into the Holiday Spirit living in Venice, all beachy and bright. Which got me to thinking, why is it the "Holiday Spirit"? Why can't we be lovely to each other all year long? Well, the answer is, we can.

You see people get all frazzled by the holiday rush of things to do/places to be/people to see ... so much so that they can get a little nasty. I've seen it, and I don't like it. I'm from Minnesota, as you know, where there's a coined phrase - like on T-shirts - "Minnesota Nice". People from there tend to be super nice, ask anyone. (With the exception of the thugs and murderers that a few years ago begged the nickname "Murderapolis", that I got a lot of mileage out of). So it bugs me when you see people bitching about stupid, petty things, especially at this time of the year. We've had some true heaviness around these parts lately ... a murder, friends sick with awful illnesses, etc ... to where any drag happening in my life (looking at you, Verizon) makes me go, "At least I wasn't murdered. At least I'm healthy. At least I don't live in Afghanistan. At least I'm walking on the beach in December."

And while walking on the beach in December, I think a lot. I appreciate a lot. Like the fact that I don't have to sleep there.

I also talk a lot. I say "Good Morning" to everyone I pass. It almost always gets a "Hello" back, or at least a tough-guy nod. I ask people if they'd both like to be in the picture. When we ask if they'd like a picture taken together, though, it is almost always met with delighted surprise, which makes me kind of sad. Has it become so unusual for people to offer unsolicited help that strangers act like I've just offered them a desperately needed kidney? (Which I've also really offered. It became unnecessary, but still.) Or standing in line somewhere, I'll compliment them on something, and they either look at you like a weirdo, or practically blush from a mere sentence. I think we need to talk to each other more. I've been at dinner recently where every single person around the table was on their phone or texting, not participating in our increasingly rare moment of togetherness at all. "Be here now", I'll none-too-subtly say. I think that's the whole point of this one spin in this skin, to enjoy each present moment as much as you possibly can.

So give it a try. Help someone carry their bundles into the Post Office. Strike up some small talk in line. Hold the dang door for people, for goodness sakes! I went up to this couple on the beach and asked if they'd like their photo by the little sand Christmas tree they'd made this morning. I think the day is better for all involved by the light-hearted, Holiday Spirit feeling of connecting with other humans in the name of JOY.

And once we've mastered the art of humanity at the Holidays, I think it's fine if it just rolls on through the new year, and on into always. Don't you?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Kelley Baker Brows at Trim

I'm really not that high maintenance of a girl, but one thing I feel pretty particular about is my eyebrows. It took one gruff Russian lady a bunch of years ago in San Francisco to compliment me on my hair, "but awful eyebrows", before I had a whole new appreciation for the art of the arch. It really completes one's face, and for people who have it done freshly, it's almost like a face lift. So after the Russian lady tore my brows into stream-lined magnificence, I had to find someone local. For years that was my lovely Tracy at Anastasia (who I still love and hope isn't reading this) in Beverly Hills. I figured if Oprah was down with the place, it had to be good. It was.

When I stopped working in Hollywood though, it started being a drag to haul myself to Beverly Hills for a 15 minute brow wax ... and it's not cheap either. My friend Steph cuts (gorgeous) hair at Trim in Venice, and kept telling me how great the eyebrow lady was there, Kelley Baker. Habits die hard though, so it took me a while to book an appointment, but once I did ... I was sold.

Kelley was born and raised here in Los Angeles. She was always into doing makeup, and had a talent for it from a young age. She wasn't really feeling college, so she went to beauty school and learned all the ropes. That led to working on indie films, working at the Christian Dior counter, a whole range of things that kept her busy and honing her skills. The long set hours weren't that fun for her though, so she decided to get her license and look into salon work. Damone Roberts ("The Eyebrow King" and a protegee of Anastasia) was in her class at the Culver City Beauty College. He opened his own salon in Beverly Hills, and brought star pupil Kelley along with him.

She observed and learned from the best, and it shows. She helped him open the salon, doing everything from sewing curtains to painting the place, and then the fun began. Damone took her along to do brows in Japan, to Golden Globes parties, all sorts of adventures, that introduced her to a celebrity clientele (Mandy Moore, Kelly Rowland, Jaime Pressley, etc.). All the jet-setting around had to relax a bit when Kelley became a single mother to her darling little boy, Travis, and she started looking around for a salon gig on the West Side. After bouncing around a bit, she has now been at Trim in Venice for a year, and we're all looking better for it.

She does the whole shebang, brow shaping and tinting, eyelash tinting ... all in a super calm and friendly manner, so that you find yourself actually looking forward to the Band-Aid-like ripping off of eyebrow hairs. Weird, but true. She's confident, and can tell just by looking at you what needs to happen with your arch. Guys too ... I don't know if you all know how much better you can look by just a quick little "man-scaping" session. She said most of her male clients are "Manly Men" too, like tattoo artists and big burly type guys, that feel a bit nervous the first time, but then soon become addicted to the cleaned up look a groomed brow presents.

Some female clients have been too over-zealous in their self-plucking and think there's nothing to be done with their balding brows. Kelley said, "There's ALWAYS something you can do", to salvage a crazy eyebrow scenario. She just did mine, and even without a lick of makeup on, I still feel fancy and fresh. It's pretty amazing, really, how such a seemingly little facial feature can brighten up your whole deal.

Kelley has started her own eyebrow product line, Kelley Baker Brows, with a whole range from shadows, highlighters and gel, to brushes and a fresh new Tweezer that puts Tweezerman to shame. She is the new brow guru, having just won First Place in the FOXLA Hot List for best Eyebrows in L.A. That recent honor follows her winning best Eyebrow Shaping in L.A. on Citysearch last year.

Kelley loves her work, and you can tell. She's happy and fun, and so soothing when piling hot wax on your head that she said she's even had clients fall asleep in the chair! The atmosphere has a lot to do with it too ... comparing the people and vibe in Venice to that of Beverly Hills, we were commenting on how everyone down here is so much more themselves and comfortable seeming, making it so much more of a joy for her to come to work.

She loves the Abbot Kinney neighborhood too, frequenting the Habit, Skylark ("they have the best tops"), Casa Linda, Firefly, and The Brig on Tuesday nights for the music. I'm so happy to have found her, and to be able to just roll up the street when I start looking like a grizzled old man above my eyes. I came out of there the other day feeling like a brand new lady. And you can too (or a gentleman, of course).

Kelley is at Trim:

Wednesday 10:30 - 2:30
Thursday 12 - 5
Friday 9:30 - 2:30
Saturday 10 - 5

... But she's also real cool about squeezing you in if you have a brow emergency and she has time.

Just call Trim (310) 396-3330 to set up an appointment, and you'll be on your way to looking Holidazzling for your million Christmas parties.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Murder on Electric Avenue

A 38 year old woman, Eun Kang, was murdered on Tuesday night in her home on the 1600 block of Electric Avenue in Venice. She was pregnant with twins. A 22 year old man, Boneetio Kentro Washington, was caught and charged today with Capital Murder. This is just sickening, and all any of us could talk about all day today.

The stretch of Electric where Ms. Kang lived is all houses on one side, all industrial warehouse stuff on the other. It is also the shortcut I take almost every day as my speedy way to get to Abbot Kinney. It's a one way street there, so I guess I always figure less traffic, faster, just zip home real quick down Electric. I took it home on Tuesday night, in fact, after a little stop at the Grilled Cheese truck (had to try it) in the Brig parking lot. About a half a block from where Eun Kang was brutally raped and stabbed to death, about an hour and a half later. I cannot believe this.

Scary things happen all the time, everywhere, but when one is in your face like this, it makes you pretty shaky. I love to write about the happy goings on in Venice all the time, but the fact remains that idyllic and bohemian as we are, there's also always going to be the dark side. This horrific nightmare appears to be random - they did not seem to know each other. She was carrying groceries inside and the guy followed her in, raped and killed her. And the twin babies inside of her. He was put in a mental hospital just in July, but found mentally competent to go to trial for burglary this past September. This feels like another massive failure of "the system", if you ask me. Everyone I talked to today feels like another massive failure of the system would be to allow this guy to remain alive. I know the death penalty is ultra-controversial and really, a terrible thing in itself, but it feels like it might have been invented for crimes just like this. He's not going to be reformed, he's not safe to be in society, he'll never get out of prison (we hope), so why even bother with a whole trial and all that - the police apparently caught him leaving the scene of the crime, they know he did it. To me, he's done.

I rode past the house today (probably the last time for this shortcut - too much super bad mojo for me there after another super sketchy incident a few years ago) and there were news trucks and all that, as if it's just the latest sensational news story, and not a neighbor and member of a close community. It felt gross, and wrong, to even be riding by. I just really can't even grasp the horror of it all ... but it happened. Right up the street. It could have easily been me, just a short time earlier. Ugh.

All of this can hopefully be a means to be more vigilant, more protective of one another, and more cautious, especially we ladies. I cruise around all the time by myself, and it's just kind of dumb, I guess, these days. We have to have each others' backs, now more than ever.

Rest in Peace, Eun Kang and your two unborn babies. I'm so so sorry this happened, for you and yours, and also for Venice. Everyone is feeling the pain.

Be good to each other, and be safe.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Invincible Summer

There is not a much more beautiful feeling than seeing snow on the distant mountains when your bare feet are in the sand, waves washing up against them. It's pretty poetic.

Walking along the sand this morning, as a blizzard is swirling around my loved ones back home in Minnesota, and I looked at the snow on the San Gabriels, I thought of an old and favorite quote of mine:

"In the midst of Winter, I suddenly discovered there was in me an invincible Summer." - Camus


Monday, December 7, 2009

The Activist's Gang

After all the goings on in the world last week (upping the war in Afghanistan, the on-going health care debate, "Capitalism: A Love Story" not being on the Oscar short list, etc ..) I really needed a Nightwatchman show, mainly to be assured that some people still care - and still fight - for what's right. Well, just in time, I get word that Tom Morello and Shooter Jennings are going to do a benefit show for the WTF?! Festival at The Actor's Gang on Saturday. Perfect.

The Actor's Gang was founded by actor/artistic director, Tim Robbins, who is also a friend and fellow activist of Tom's. Basically, guys who walk the walk. The WTF Festival was thought up when told they shouldn't produce theater as it was too expensive in this economy ... hence WTF?!?! So they gathered together a whole bunch of talented friends and artists to do shows to raise money so they COULD produce theater in months to come ... and Tom Morello/The Nightwatchman signed up for the cause.

The Ivy Substation on Venice Boulevard in Culver City is the Actor's Gang home, and what a great space it is! All brick and cool, with a big patio out back to celebrate before and after performances. It's on the National Register of Historic Places, and it's so good to be in a building like this, and see it being put to great use. I'd never been to a Nightwatchman show where there was stadium (or any, really) seating, so wondered how this would be.

It would be great! A lot of Tom's songs are actually pretty dark and spooky acoustic, so a theater environment lends a certain gravitas to what's already there. If you ignored a few over-served patrons, that is. I heard a clearly drunk girl behind me say, "Oh, look! There's Bob Roberts!" Yep. There he was, Bob Roberts himself, all involved with helping people get seated, very hands on. Then he took the stage and did the standard, turn off your cell phones speech, then stopped himself, and said, "Who really needs to take a phone call during Tom Morello?" Exactly. With that, he introduced, "An amazing musician and activist, Tom Morello!"

The Nightwatchman simply said, "Good Evening", and launched right into "Flesh Shapes The Day". He seemed more aggro than normal, extra fired up. And it's catchy. People cheered for the "Si Se Puede!" part, which warmed my heart. We're all one, right? Then, still no talking, and he went right into a new one, "Headlights On The Mountain", which was very story-telling style. You could picture the whole situation, "Headlights on the mountain, ghosts in the night ... something ain't right ..." It kind of reminded me of (Grammy nominated!) Steve Earle (but then I just saw Tom play with Steve a month ago, so ...). It's been a while since The Nightwatchman's first album, so I'm not sure if "One Man Revolution" is entirely accurate anymore. With all the shows he's done, he's recruited a whole lot more to his revolution. Everyone in this place, for sure. When he sang, "On the streets of Culver City, they know my name ... maybe Brothers and Sisters, we're one and the same", he, in that one sentence, got the crowd fired up for the rest of the night. It was almost strange ... from polite listening to fully riled up, like that {Snap!}. To which he replied, "Fuck yeah!"

Perhaps feeling that new spark, Tom ordered up a Jameson, "or this Holiday Gala is going to stop prematurely." The Jameson soon arrived, and got its own applause. It only fired him up more, just in time for "Maximum Firepower". This has always been one of my favorites, as nearly every line bites you with truth. "The skin you're in makes choices for you." "You don't gotta be loud, Son, to be heavy as shit." Showing his Guthrie side with, "This machine here, well, it kills fascists too." And my favorite - and the crowd's - "If you take a step towards freedom, it'll take two steps towards you." See what I mean? Badass truths.

Tom next spoke about his time spent in New Orleans, and the feeling of irredeemable loss that permeates the air there - still. "Midnight In The City Of Destruction" is his somber requiem for all that was lost in the absolute crime of Katrina's handling. It's downright eerie - and should be.

Tom's "day job" is melting peoples' faces off with his guitar and Rage Against The Machine. He regaled the crowd with a story about them playing the first Lalapalooza, and they were really angry about the PMRC, and their attempts to censor their music. So the guys decided to stage a protest - an entirely nude protest. They each painted a P-M-R-C on themselves and put black duct tape over their mouths, took the stage in front of 40,000 people and simply stood there (except for the least endowed member of the band - no names - who, as Tom put it, "bust a nut" during the protest, but could not finish, probably due to lack of concentration). The crowd went wild for the first five minutes or so, but then started to wonder where their rock was, and soon the Rage guys started getting pelted with quarters. Ouch. To avoid arrest, they all finally took off running, and Tom wound up, naked but for the "P" on his chest, on Fishbone's bus. They all found it completely normal, and they watched the entire "Star Wars" movie like that. Then the papers heard about it, and Rage blew up to become the behemoth you know today. And you don't really hear about the PMRC at all anymore, do you? Sometimes there IS justice.

Tom brought out his stompbox for "The Fabled City". Which started the audience stomping, right on through that one, "St. Isabelle" (with Tom on his big Irish War drum, and dedicated to Liam Clancy, who died the day before), and "House Gone Up In Flames". It's always amazing to me that Tom can get a room so rowdy, and then get them to zip it one moment later. Like he did for his Mother Mary's (in the house!) favorite Nightwatchman tune. He introduced it as such, and said, "All the good parts of me come from her. And Mary just became a Grandmother." Yes, there is a baby boy Morello, folks! Rhoads! This was met with HUGE applause, which Tom gave thanks for, and then laid his gorgeous "The Garden Of Gethsemane" on everyone. It was so quiet, he didn't even use his mic at the end. So, so hauntingly pretty.

Then it was time for what Tom said will likely be the title track of the next Nightwatchman album, "Dogs Of Tijuana". There was a definite Mexican sound to the guitar on this one, that seemed to be a straight up warning. "The world will not end in fire, it will not end in ice, it'll end when we arrive." Passionate and heavy, once again, you will want this album in your holster. About to start a new jam, Tom put on his harmonica rack, blew on it, and then said, "OK, I'm not afraid to admit I picked up the wrong harmonica. Aside from the people on my guest list, you people paid good money and deserve the right harmonica. Carol Gronner, put that in your review." (So there you go. But it was no big deal).

But "Whatever It Takes" WAS a big deal, because Tom (and his Whatever It Takes acoustic) was super into it, and blew the (correct) harmonica like a madman. The place erupted after that, and Tom told them there was some "new Union-made merch in the front, as well as Nightwatchman songbooks for the holidays, so kids can strum along to all these songs of bitterness and revenge." Ha! Jason Snyder and Bruce Springsteen share a favorite Nightwatchman song, and it was dedicated to them, and will most likely be on the next album at their urging - "Branding Iron". That was up next - and it means business. The crowd LOVED it. Tom smiled and said, "I'm the Nightwatchman, it's been a pleasure to serve you. I'd like to bring up my good friend, Shooter Jennings."

Shooter took the stage, Tom left, and Shooter went right into an Outlaw Country medley of Willie Nelson's "Walkin'", Kris Kristofferson's "Year 2003 Minus 25", and his Dad's "I've Always Been Crazy". Shooter has the perfect whiskey and cigarettes voice for those classics, but makes them all his own, and modern, while he's at it. I've known Shooter a long time, since his L.A. Rock band, Stargunn, days, and he just seems more comfortable in his skin playing this more modern country vibe. It's great to hear. "I'm gonna play a couple of misogynistic songs, by accident, but it's these guys' lives", was the way he introduced "Loving Country" by Charlie Robison, and "Isis" by Bob Dylan. Again, classics made new.

Shooter has a darling baby girl, Alabama, and he sat down at the piano and said, "The things I've learned since she was born are more important than anything ever in my life. I play this one for her." And he played "The Rainbow Connection", so sweet and touchingly, that he really should record it. Outlaw Country Kids! I love it. And I love Shooter's piano playing ... he's really very good, and it was showcased beautifully on a song off his upcoming new album (Black Ribbons! March, 2010!) called, "All Of This Could Have Been Yours". It's so good. Shooter was going for it, pounding the keys and screaming the lyrics so hard that spontaneous cheers broke out, like people just had to get emotion out as the song built to its crescendo. Phew.

David Crosby's "Almost Cut My Hair" was next, and was so Shooter that at first I thought it was his song. He was banging on the piano and wailing (Waylon?), when suddenly - dramatically - Tom came back on stage, picked up his electric ("ohhHHH, Shit!" murmured the gent behind me) guitar ... and stood there waiting. Until finally Shooter looked up, Tom said, "It's time?" and time it was. Time for RIPPING apart a guitar/piano duet with Shooter that left the room breathless. ( Really. I heard actual gasping). Tom told a quick story about sitting around at his house with Shooter, and laughing that, "Now days the only half naked underage people running around are our children ... we've come a long way." Then another epic duet, on Audioslave's, "I Am The Highway". I have to say, I prefer Shooter's version to the original, because you can actually picture him on the road, meaning it. And Tom's twangy guitar solo part is always epic. One more duet, that Shooter sings on Tom's The Fabled City album too, "Iron Wheel". Those two songs back to back are a great one, two punch.

But the KNOCKOUT punch was "The Ghost Of Tom Joad". Tom's guitar solo backing up Springsteen on this one blew apart the recent Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame Anniversary Concert (Youtube it - Egads!), and did the same here in this little theater. Shooter and Tom took turns on verses, and harmonized the chorus beautifully, until it was time for the BLISTERING guitar mania. It's hard to put a Morello guitar solo in words - they're eye-popping and usually render you mute. When the teeth playing began, people found their voices to scream, jumped to their feet, and stayed there long after the last chord died out. A loooong Standing O! It truly was that exciting.

But not quite all. The Nightwatchman always ends his shows with "This Land Is Your Land", and tonight was no different. He dedicated it to the soldiers of IVAW, soldiers who stand UP against war, and who fight for This land, our land. Tom and Shooter had to quick sort out who was taking what verse ("Not only do you see the music played, you see it get MADE."), and then they lit up the entire room, with all censored lyrics restored. Tom always gets everyone to sing along, jump along, FEEL along with him ... "From Nightwatchmothers to Oscar winners, from the sound guy to all my friends on the list, JUMP FOR PEACE!!!" So we did.

"Because if you want to end wars, or get a universal health care plan, or make the gap between rich and poor disappear, you've gotta do something about it!" That's what Tom said before the entire stadium-seated theater goers jumped up into the rafters and back. And he's right.

'Tis the season ... not just for holiday merriment, but also for end of the year reflection, new beginnings, and new goals. Not just for ourselves, but for the world. Whatever you want changed, it starts with you. It's great to go to a show and yell for peace and justice, but that's pretty easy. Think about what you can DO. And then do it. Or as Tom (and Studs Terkel before him) puts it, "Take it easy, but take it!"

Have a HAPPY Holiday ... but as Einstein said, "Remember your humanity and forget the rest."

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Green House

Once upon a time, a beautiful island-born woman named Bunny worked at a store called Chronic Creations in Venice. A handsome, native Californian, Sandor, worked as a Chef at 5 Dudley. They met. That was that. Happily ever after!

But wait! There's more! Bunny and Sandor thought it would be good to open a business together, since he was tired of Chef-ing and she wanted to work with him. She also happened to know the Smoke Shop business inside and out from her time at Chronic Creations, so they decided to give that business a go. They looked all over for places, and in 2000 found this boarded up, condemned looking little house on Abbot Kinney that - underneath it all - looked perfect. They told the Landlord their proposal to turn the space into a Smoke Shop. He thought that was kind of iffy at first, as he "didn't want to attract smokers to Venice." Hilarious. So he went around and did a little casual poll of the neighborhood, and it turned out that, indeed, there was lots and LOTS of support for such an establishment on the block. And so, almost overnight, due to crazy 24 hour days getting it ready, The Green House Smoke Shop was open for business.

Since then, they've been a crucial presence on the Boulevard, both for smokers to find EVERYTHING they need there (Seriously. Everything. Tobacco - domestic and international, cigars, cigarettes, all kinds of papers, ashtrays, water pipes (created by local glass blowers), pipe pipes, vaporizers, lighters, filters, incense, not sure about gum ... but you see what I mean), but also as active members of the Venice community.

You can see by the postcards sent from friends from all over the world, covering the walls and door, that they are well-loved. Or by how the lady that came in when I was sitting there and had no idea I was going to write about The Green House, and said, "You guys always have the best stuff ... the best inventory!" Unsolicited.

Bunny is also knowledgeable deluxe about simply everything having to do with the art/habit of smoking. It's fun to listen to her deal with customers: "Do you have American Spirits?" "Yes. Every single kind." Even the ones soaked in a whiskey barrel (If I smoked, that might be the pack I'd turn to, if I'm honest). She turned a guy on to Nat Sherman's while I was there, which I learned was a company from the 1930's making their own Southern smokes since then, never with additives or pesticides. See? She knows her stuff.

Venice is very important to Bunny and Sandor, as I've mentioned. They met here, had their uncommonly great kid, Leaf, here, and live right off the Boardwalk, so work and home are both smack dab in the hearts of it all. When talking about Venice, and what it means to us (which is interesting to do between long-time friends ... you just don't often pause to talk about core stuff amid the current events ...), we both agreed that never mind the higher-brow stores moving in to AK Blvd., etc ... the core value of Venice remains intact. In fact, it may even be getting stronger, as passionate and active friendships remain, and grow stronger, thus more powerful as a citizenship together. Bunny can feel comfortable with Leaf talking to some random grown-up cruising by, because he most likely has known them since he was in utero. Things can actually get done at City Council meetings and Abbot Kinney Association things, because there are active and vocal members like Bunny and Sandor. Local artists and businesses are supported first and foremost. And those kinds of things matter a lot in the ethos of a place.

As do things like RESPECT - for life, nature, oceans, politics, and community. That seems to be the most common denominator for the friends and neighbors we know, or want to know. There is a support for creativity here that we find, really, unparalleled. And so we stay. We get involved. We patronize the locals. We respect each other. Or do our very darndest to.

And many also smoke. As the bell on the door to The Green House rang signaling the umpteenth customer of the afternoon, a nice, older lady came in. She kept glancing nervously outside at her dog, until Bunny said, "Bring in your dog. This IS Venice, after all."


As their Best Business Card In Venice says:

The Greenhouse Smoke Shop is open from 11ish to 6ish, 7 days a week.
1428 Abbot Kinney Boulevard
(310) 4506.420

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Private Dick

This was on a telephone pole on Abbot Kinney. I think he's serious.

I haven't looked him up - no need yet - but if you need someone tailed IMMEDIATELY, he might be your guy, See.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


I watched President Obama's speech on the (inherited) war in Afghanistan last night, and today find myself with thoughts that are all over the place. I worked very, very hard to help get Obama elected, and a big, big part of my zeal was that he had been against the Iraq War from the very beginning. So to hear him say that we're pretty much doubling down in Afghanistan now - was kind of nauseating.

I have to believe that he knows more than I do about the circumstances over there, and as he said last night, "This is no idle danger", and there have been threats of attacks that we the people don't even know about - ones that could be 9/11 all over again. But won't there ALWAYS be that threat? Al Qaeda is all over the place, not just in Afganistan, and most people feel they're operating mostly out of Pakistan - where we can't even have troops. Us being in the Middle East at all is basically a recruitment tool for the young guys coming up to hate us more. And clearly we have pretty big messes (again, inherited) back home to clean up - and pay for - that should be our main focus as a nation. Yet we can't take our eye off any balls over there either, with there being nuclear aspirations from Iran, etc ... and I just saw "The Road". We can't have that.

The good news for me: first, that Obama directly addressed the Afghani people, telling them that we want to be their Partner, "not your Patron." That was so great to hear, and so vastly different from his rotten predecessor that I almost cried. Secondly, he voiced a plan to have all our troops out by the end of 2011. A real end in sight to all this madness! Sure, 2011 seems really far off, but with all the red-tape and bureaucracy in government that makes EVERYTHING take forever (see: any US Health Care Plan), it's probably the most realistic time frame. But UGH!!!

"We are a country born out resistance to oppression", said Obama, so basically, we know how it feels. We need to have respect and dignity for ALL people - "That is who we are". It was so refreshing to hear that from our Leader after not showing that to the world AT ALL the previous eight years. Which Obama also addressed, saying, "We're not as young, and perhaps not as innocent ..." - again, refreshing. But I believe our President is an optimist, and really truly believes in our good - as a nation, and as a people. We had the whole world united with us after 9/11 (which Bush used to dupe patriotic young men and women to enlist to fight his WRONG war in Iraq, and squandered entirely the good will towards us) - and WE were united all together for once too. Obama said last night, "I refuse to accept that we cannot summon that unity again." Well, me too. It's not a game where you choose sides, People. We're all in this together, remember. I think people forget that in their haste to be "right" or whatever their deal is, but that way of thinking should be long past. UNITY makes us great - the UNITED States - not our petty Party fighting.

Anyway, last year I went to the Walter Reed Hospital and met with a bunch of our wounded soldiers. That day is seared into my memory forever, and as I looked into the eyes of guys who had been blown apart and pieced together again (for WHAT?!) in Iraq, I saw the sickening cost of War, live and in person. I'm re-posting the article of that day here now. It's long - and hard - to read, but it's what it's really all about.

A nauseating reminder that WAR IS NOT THE ANSWER!

Iraq Veterans Against The War. Of all the organizations we've worked with thus far on the Justice Tour 2008, this is the one that I now wish we had held the show the second day. Because we met a bunch of the guys at The Black Cat in Washington D.C. at the show, but we had not yet visited the Walter Reed Hospital, which we did today. Had we seen what we saw today by show time ... I think it would've been an even more powerful celebration of these fine men, and definitely more angry.

I met Garett Reppenhagen at the show, the first active duty member of IVAW. He told me then that he had started an anti-war blog while still in Iraq, even though that was a risky thing to do in the current military. He was investigated, of course, and wound up being honorably discharged - probably just to shut him up - but I can tell you, that will not work on this guy. He's very well spoken and tells his and his comrades stories quite readily. When interviewing him after the show, I was intrigued when he said the first time he felt "support for the troops was when he heard about the peace movement. According to him, the best way we can "Support Our Troops" (a nice bumper sticker, but what is that driver really doing about it?) is to do all we can to get them home.

For us, that began by joining them this morning to visit the Walter Reed VA Hospital in Washington D.C. We met in the lobby of our hotel, and when I said yesterday about the show that the tone of it was heavier, I had no idea what I was talking about yet. Today would be one of the heaviest of our lives.

The Nightwatchman and friends (Breckin Meyer, Wayne Kramer, Dave Gibbs, Ryan Harvey, myself and my brother, Paul, plus Deyden, our charity organizer) joined Tomas Young, the subject of the gripping documentary, "Body Of War", as well as Garett and Geoff Millard from IVAW on a bus ride to the hospital. Passing through the beautiful Georgetown neighborhood is very misleading in D.C. ... they say the crime rate in D.C. is astronomical in the areas surrounding the groomed perfection of the tourist areas, but I'd say our nation's very WORST crimes are master-minded dead center - in The White House. Today confirmed that to be spot-on.

Garett gave us a bit of a briefing on the bus ride, saying no cameras or journalists were allowed inside still (Why? What are they hiding? Or are they just nervous of the American people seeing the many horrific injuries and searing pain, both physical and mental, that festers inside, and RIOTING to put an end to this insidious war for profit? I suspect that to be the case). I wasn't worried about not being allowed to take notes ... what I saw is burned on my brain forever, and we only saw what we were allowed to see. Garett said we should expect to see burn victims, amputees, and that some people may have just arrived a day before, fresh from the Hell hole our President created. We would not be seeing the ICU, and they won't even let the kidney patients in there, because the rats, roaches and mold previously found there would be too large an infection risk. The hospital did not know that IVAW guys were coming, they just knew that Tom Morello from Rage Against The Machine was coming by with some friends to visit with our brave soldiers wounded in the line of duty. I'd think RAGE vs. the MACHINE would give them some pause, but nope.

We were met at the entry to the gigantic complex by a very cheerful guard who smiled big and said, "Welcome to Walter Reed, Home of Warrior Care!", and after checking our i.d.'s, we were waved through. We passed a sign that said "Kid's Fest, This Sunday!" and "Staff Appreciation Day - Yay Staff" or something like that. Frosting on a shit cake. We met our guide, a pretty, smiling woman who greeted us with p.r. perfection, and went inside. You enter the lobby and are immediately surrounded by all the usual corporate suspects: Subway, Dunkin' Donuts, etc .. in a food court. There are big flags and pictures of high-up military general guys all over the place, because you know, it's a really patriotic place. As sanitized and normal-seeming as it was, I found myself glancing around for buzzards. Because of all we know (and may never know) and feel about this war, the place feels sinister in your gut.

We all crammed on an elevator together to head to the 6th floor, where it had been prepared for us to visit. This is normally a very chatty bunch, but not today. All we could do is give each other furtive glances and tight, uneasy smiles of support. I was wondering how Tomas felt, as this was his first visit back to Walter Reed since he was a patient here, on the same floor. He revealed nothing on his face, and I continued to admire his strength. The elevator door opened and we went to the nursing station to introduce ourselves. They had been expecting us, and had that air of excitement when people know they're talking to someone famous. They all wear fatigues and address each other with "Lieutenant" and "Major" and "Sir". Our guide told us we could go in three or four at a time to the rooms, and that each time we would put "goop" on our hands to sanitize them and lessen infection risk. We gooped up and Tom, Wayne, Tomas and I entered, pretty much holding our breaths.

I'm not going to use names, because I don't know that they would want me to, but the first room we entered was tiny and squished in the corner on a little hospital bed was an older man, with a sweet smile and ears that stuck out, making him seem like a little boy in an 47 year old's body. He had a bandaged stump on his right leg, which would raise in the air whenever he moved a little. He did not recognize the guys, and just seemed happy to have any visitors at all. He'd been a career military man, got out and became a mortician, missed the military so signed up for the National Guard, never thinking he'd be sent to Iraq. But he was. He was involved in an explosion, but outwardly was fine, so they told him to take some Motrin and he'd be fine. They didn't look closely enough though, because a blood vessel was pinched behind his knee-cap and his was in constant and excruciating pain. 5 years of this, and 15 surgeries later, they took his leg this past January. He went back and forth between "Why me?" and "It could've been worse, I could've been blown up" and back to "Why me? The Lord must have his reasons". He said, "It's Staff Appreciation Day here, but none of them is here appreciating me." He has family, but never talks to them about his mental anguish, because he doesn't want to worry them, and no one can possibly understand anyway. Tears rolled down his cheeks (and mine), and Tomas told him that HE understood, he'd been a patient right down the hall. The man's eyes widened up, and they shared stories of Sadr City and Kirkuk. Tomas told gently told him about IVAW and gave him his personal phone number, saying that if he ever needed to talk to someone, to please call anytime. "Well, I sure appreciate that ... it's hard. It's hard." It was hard just to witness, so I can only imagine what he's struggling with internally. Tom gave him a t-shirt and a c.d., Wayne thanked him for his service, I tried not to openly cry in front of him, and we all shook hands and headed out for the next room. Our friends were waiting in the hall with wide eyes, and I couldn't even speak yet, just shake my head and regroup for the next one.

All gooped up, our next visit was with a young man who had been a medic in Iraq. He looked pretty good, in gym shorts and shirt. Until he pulled up his shirt and showed us his open shrapnel wound in his belly that looked to be held together with a kind of black duct tape. His team had been walking and a suicide bomber went off. He was able to stay conscious just long enough to tell his buddy where his morphine and bandages were, and then woke up two weeks later with a gaping hole in his gut. He said, "It's bad over there, and it's only getting worse. The first time I went, they were happy to see us. The next time they had more sophisticated bombs. The last time they weren't happy to see us at all". Yep, the surge sure is working. We really can't believe a THING the government is saying about this War, that much is clear as a bell. He knew Tom and gladly accepted a signed shirt and c.d., saying he loved music, and had been listening to a lot of reggae lately, as it makes him feel happier. Tomas rolled in and told him that he was the subject of the film soundtrack we'd just given him, "Body Of War", and that he was now working with a group of Iraq Vets Against the War. With not a second of hesitation, the guy said, "Sign me up!" Geoff Millard came in and gave him an IVAW poster and a copy of their newsletter, but The Medic seemed nervous to take that. He said he'd read it and put it under his mattress. Geoff invited him to come and hang out at the IVAW House not far away, and the guy said "I'll definitely call. We can get lunch, I've been wanting to go to this Tex Mex place" ... and I have a good feeling that lunch will happen soon. I hope it's soon, because as soon as he's fully PHYSICALLY recovered, he's supposed to ship back out, to Afghanistan this time. A reminder that the clock is ticking and we need to step up efforts to get this War over with, before it takes back the already unbelievably suffering young men who have given enough already!

Goop. The Medic had been pretty chipper, aside from wincing in pain periodically. The next guy was not. He was laid out in bed, with his Mom and Wife hovering around him with concern in their eyes. He had been hit by an IED (Improvised Explosive Device), and shattered his femur and a bunch of other stuff. He had a big metal bolt like thing sticking out from under the covers, and seemed very doped up and tired. He recognized Tom and Breckin, who had joined us. Apparently "Road Trip" is very big in the barracks. Once again we were told how bad it is over there, and how he has no idea how it could get any better. He said all sorts of trouble and support is coming out of Pakistan, but you never hear anything about that. Frankly, you never hear anything in the news about any of it. Corporate media, in cahoots with this administration, don't want you to see the faces and maimed bodies, or hear about the horror movies that are these guys lives, because then we as a people wouldn't put up with it anymore. So much for free speech. I took a photo of Tom and Breckin with the young (almost all were 25 or younger), and it hurt just to see the guy attempt a grimace of a smile, while his wife and Mom tried their best to appear normal and happy. He and his then girlfriend, now wife, had a fight and broke up, and that's when he joined the military. I bet his wife will regret that fight the rest of her life, and it's a reminder that this war is hurting so many people on the periphery as well.

The strong medicinal smell of the hand sanitizer and the sickish smell of pain and suffering did not leave us all day. The bright fluorescent lighting everywhere made it all the more garish and exposed. We were about to head to another floor, when the guide said a guy was waiting who was very excited about Tom.
We entered a room where a crinkly-eyed smiling Samoan guy was, surrounded by his wife and little daughters. His face lit up when he saw Tom, who had no way to shake his hand, because they were all bandaged up. He was very covered up, so we're not sure what all was wrong with him, but he looked very scrambled, with black wounds peeking out of his bandages. Ugh. He had been in the military since the 80's and said that American Samoa is heavily recruited by our military, and he had, ironically, joined to get the "good health benefits" and be able to provide for his family. He kept saying, "It's really, really bad over there, really really bad". He did not have to elaborate, when you saw the grief on his face and totally messed up body. But his smile was wide, especially when Tom signed a shirt for him. Tom asked him what he would do about it all if he was the President. He said, and he was very well spoken, "Well, I'd have used diplomacy first, and tried politics ... but it's too late for that now. We need to pull out all the troops, and just leave some to protect our base. The Iraqis need to sort it out themselves, because they just think of us as invaders now, so it's only going to stay bad as long as we're there." General Petraeus must have forgotten that part in his recent testimony. He was a hard one to leave, since as bad as it was, he just wanted to be a good guy, you could tell. Watching the young daughters be silent and well-behaved as they looked at their beat up Hero of a Daddy was tough. And it just got worse from there.

Before we left the floor to head down to another one, the nurses had Tom sign some paper for them, and then handed a stack of printed out Google photos of Breckin to him to sign. Both of them were happy to do it, but I think it all felt a little silly signing things for laughing nurses when there was so much pain and anger and wrongness about the place. It was hard to lighten up.

Taking the elevator down a few floors, we got out, greeted some workers and then were led down a hall to a room where they told Tom a huge fan of his was. A big strapping blond mohawked man sat in a wheelchair, grinning when Tom came in. He had been in a Humvee accident just the 13th of April, the beginning of this tour! It had flipped over (they were speeding, and it sounded like it was their own fault) and he was in the gunner's seat on top. The way he talked, slow and searching, and the way he'd change the subject out of the blue, led you to believe there was some brain damage, which he confirmed. Of all the guys we met, he was the only one who thought things were getting better in Iraq, but he also came off as one of the reckless, gung-ho guys that got into it all for the adrenalin. And he had a brain injury, so that might also explain that (really the only good excuse these days). He was a big fan of Rage and Audioslave, and loved Breckin and "Road Trip" too, wanting to know about Tom Green and if he's really that crazy. His wife was there, clutching a picture of their four year old playing "Guitar Hero 3" for Tom to sign. They were thrilled to meet Tom, and had a photo taken with him and Breckin. This guy echoed the sentiment that many did, that you feel guilty, and kind of want to go back to Iraq just to check that your buddies will be ok. After this heavy-metal guy, things felt a little lighter, but that was not to last long.

We met back up with Wayne, Dave, Paul and the others in the hallway, and were told we had one more guy to visit with what our time permitted. Paul, knowing me and my being prone to tears said, "You might not want to go in there", which made me nervous. Tom, Tomas, Breckin and I went into this young man's room (only 24) and said hello. He talked very slow and lethargically, so it was hard to hear him clearly, but I thought he said something about an IED blowing up and injuring his femur. I thought he was in a recliner or something underneath his covers because I didn't see his legs. It slowly dawned on us that he had been blown in half, and had nothing below his belly button, from what we could tell. He pulled down the covers a bit, and showed us how his hip was at an outward angle AND he had a spinal injury. He told us that "to tell you the truth, I kind of feel like they're experimenting on me here, since they've never seen anyone with all three injuries". His Mother and cousin were there, and you realized that they'd all be dealing with this the rest of their lives ... including his baby who was to be baptized the next day. He was supposed to be fitted for something called "Shorties" that afternoon (prosthetic slip on legs that make you like a little person height) but wasn't looking forward to it since it hurt so bad the last time they tried. He looked at Tomas in his wheelchair and asked what he was doing now, as if to wonder what there could be left in life for him. Tomas told him he worked with IVAW and there was a documentary he was the subject of ... and the kid, though heavily drugged, said, "Oh, yeah?" You saw a little light go on, like maybe there would be something left for him after all, if this guy who'd shared the same floor at Walter Reed was now rolling with rock stars and movie actors. Tomas told him about IV AGAINST the War, and you could tell the kid was mixed about talking about that. Maybe it was too fresh, or he wasn't comfortable talking about that under the nose of the military, but when Tomas said, "I'm usually up all night and I can't sleep, so I'm going to give you my number and you can call anytime." The kid said, "Yeah, isn't that weird? I can't sleep either. But Mandy Moore was here last week and gave me her number, so I'll probably call her. You want it?" We all laughed at that gallows humor, but that was about the only thing to laugh at all day long, and just then to break the tension. He was injured when his crew was clearing a road to make sure it was clear and safe for some visiting diplomats. His buddy was decapitated in front of him, so he felt lucky. He was torn in half to protect the very guys who put him in that situation! I was shaking. We gave him the shirt, c.d. and signed poster, plus the info on IVAW and thanked him for his sacrifice. I just wanted to get out of there before I screamed out in rage. Tears were running down my face and when we got out in the hallway, I saw Kid Lightning and he was in the same shape. We walked down the hall arm in arm along with the rest of the gang, and Garett asked if I was ok. I don't feel like ANY of us are ok! How can we as a nation be at all ok when our young men and women are over there being split in two or worse for NOTHING?! For PROFIT?!?! That IS what's happening, whatever you want to say or think about it ... and that IS also what the soldiers feel is happening. Tomas signed up for the military two days after 9/11 to help in the fight against terrorism and Osama Bin Laden (Who? We never hear about that search anymore, do we?). He was paralyzed after only 5 days in Iraq, but said that if it had happened in Afghanistan, (where he felt the battle should be, and still does) he'd be bummed about it, but would feel like it was for something, and he would not be in a documentary or involved with an anti-war group. But it didn't. It happened in a place where our government wants the oil and Halliburton is war profiteering and war crimes are rampant ... on and on and on, until none of us WILL be ok until the war is ended and the entire current administration is convicted of war crimes. And only then will we be able to look the world in the face and say we're STARTING to be ok.

So we thanked our guide and silently got on the bus. Slowly, we all started talking about it all ... everyone just sick to their stomachs, with sadness, shock, and righteous anger. As Tom said, "No one knows about this stuff, no one ever sees it!" So we're telling you. And hoping you will start asking to know about it, and to see it for yourselves. I KNOW that if access to these guys and their stories were readily available, the pressure for this war to be over would mount until they had no choice. Garett said, "If it never ends, we never lose." In my opinion, we've been losing the whole time, but it never felt this tangible until today at Walter Reed, "Home Of Warrior Care".

The next stop on our agenda was the IVAW House, where Vets against the war can come to organize, stay, get counseled by their peers, or just hang out and watch t.v., so they know that they are not alone. Geoff told our bus driver, "Just look for the house with all the anti-war propaganda on the lawn". And there it was, a big old house in a sketchy-ish neighborhood. We all filed in, lifting Tomas up the steps in his chair. From the moment you step in the door, you get it. The "You are not alone" posters paper the entryway, and other posters and stickers are everywhere. My favorite was "My kid fought in Iraq so yours could party in college". That about sums up the reality of it all, and our tendency to be Ostriches about the hard stuff in this country ... as long as there's cold beer and a game or American Idol on, it's all good. But deep down, every last one of us must know that it's not good at all.

We had a tour of the house (entirely paid for by small donations, and now a badass Justice Tour show the night before!), seeing the rooms of the 5 guys who live there now, and their "most important piece of equipment in the house", a punching bag. There was a computer room and a room where the Homefront Battle Buddies meet - a group that meets for peer support regarding mental health issues, since the VA seems to either deny it or drug them up instead of dealing with it, and the suicide rate of vets and soldiers is now up to 18 a day! This house seemed more and more crucial by the second.

We all ate lunch together, and listened to the IVAW guys speak about the history and strategy of their organization. They feel that if they take away military support for the war, it will have to end, and that seems obvious, but the challenges are many because the military makes it very easy to get in (even taking KKK members, gang members and drastically lowering height and weight standards as the willing and able pool is drying up), and very hard for soldiers to get out. Which is all the more reason why this group is so important - to let enlisted soldiers know that they have anti-war support among their peers makes is safer and easier to do something about it. As Geoff said, "This house does more for veterans than the entire VA System". And you can feel it. They want to make the military choose between having a military at all, or having this unjust occupation. The more you listen to them, the more you feel that they and WE can do it.

All the while, Geoff's little beagle, "Resistance" was running around, and they told us that Resistance is a certified PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder - the military uses a lot of acronyms) Counselor. She has many clients, I'm sure.

The IVAW has three main objectives:
1) Immediate withdrawal of ALL occupying forces in Iraq - and
that includes Halliburton.
2) Take care of all Veterans (Hey McCain, why won't you sign the GI Bill when you're such a war hero? Hmmm ...)
3) Reparations for the Iraqi people. We are grossly indebted to this country we've destroyed.

That all seems perfectly logical and do-able to me. While we're at it maybe we can improve our OWN country with all the money we're currently using on committing daily crimes against humanity, which includes our own soldiers. Five new members signed up for the IVAW between the Justice Show and Walter Reed today. And the movement just keeps growing. They're sick of being USED as the reason to perpetuating this war, ala "We need to keep at it so the soldiers feel like they can be victorious." B.S. These guys will have a strong presence at the Political Conventions this summer, which will be good to raise their profile. As will all of us talking about it and promoting it. We OWE them that, at the very least.

They thanked us all for coming, and Tom for choosing their organization as the beneficiary of the D.C. stop on the Justice Tour. Tom thanked them for EXISTING - the fact that they got organized and built their group makes it easier for other soldiers - and we civilians who see the injustice for what it is - to speak out and do something about it.

We loaded back on to the bus, and rehashed it all together a bit, but mostly looked out the windows and thought about all that we'd experienced. What a day ... and we only VISITED, we don't have to LIVE the nightmare of this war, every day for always.

After a quick breather, it was time to head to the Amnesty International Annual Meeting, where Tom was going to present awards to some members out there fighting for human rights and justice. We couldn't get the Walter Reed guys out of our heads, so sat around backstage sharing it all with some AI folks. That's a start ... the more we talk about it, the more people know about it. That betters the chances to get people involved in DOING SOMETHING ABOUT IT. Tom gave a lovely speech for the Amnesty people, telling them about what the Justice Tour is all about, and how activism and music can work together to DEMAND Justice, especially when working in harmony with all the fantastic organizations we've been learning about so far on this amazing, adventurous, eye-opening tour.

After the meeting, Tom split off to meet up with Dave and Breckin at the CUBS/Nationals game. I needed a break, and some time to reflect, so I went back to Georgetown to get some dinner with Paul, Carlos the Tour Manager and Deyden and Jamie, our lovely charity organizers. We all needed a drink (or three) after the heavy metal drama of the day. We got those, which somehow gave us a second wind.

Paul had never been to D.C., so I told him he at least had to see the Lincoln Memorial and the steps where Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his historical speech before we left early the next morning. As we paid the cab driver and crossed the street to walk up the Memorial, my phone beeped. It was Tom, asking how the bar was, but saying, "We're at the steps where MLK gave his 'I have a dream speech'". I looked up the steps, and there they were ... we'd all had the same idea at the same time in the middle of the night! I think after the disgust and disgrace of seeing what our government has inflicted on its own people (and a country that never did anything to us) in this immoral and criminal war, we all needed to remind ourselves of what we are SUPPOSED to be, for ourselves and for the world. Abe had it right, Martin had it right ... and they were both killed for it. It is up to us to carry on those ideals, and that great dream. I have tears again now at how far astray we've gone, and can only pray that we can find our way back, and right our wrongs. We looked out at the Washington Monument from the very spot where MLK's speech was given, and I know that in each of our hearts, we felt the need to honor that flag that flies over our nation's capital, and never stop fighting for Justice.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The (long, bleak and scary) Road

I read the book, The Road, by Cormac McCarthy, last year or so, and saw the movie the other night. I thought my imagination while reading the book conjured up some pretty awful images, but the movie takes it even further than the horror show I'd pictured in my head. If anyone "in charge" thinks that a nuclear option is even discussable, (and they're disgusting, selfish, wastes of breath if they do), then they should see this movie and realize that nobody wins. They should know that already after (one of) our national shame(s) of the bombings in Japan, of course, but this film serves as a nasty refresher course on nuclear annihilation.

Viggo is great, as ever, as the doting Father faced with protecting his only son from such epic awfulness, you can't barely stand to watch. I don't remember the last time I even thought about fruit cocktail (blech) but when they give a can of that stuff to an old man they happen upon (there are almost no survivors, and most of them are gang members who have turned to cannibalism), it seemed like the tastiest foodstuff that ever existed. Ditto an old can of Coke.

There is no color. Everything is the bleakest palette possible. To where Dad says to Son when they finally reach the Coast, "I'm sorry it isn't blue." Heartbreaking. All they have left is each other. The love and devotion they carry inside for the other is all that keeps them going, day after same grey, horrible day.

The whole thing is heartbreaking, especially when you let it sink in that this scenario is entirely possible - lots of times over. For what?! So nothing lives anywhere, for anyone, ever again? Who does that make sense to? I came out of this film with such an all-encompassing love for EVERYTHING, because you really just don't know how long you'll have any of it.

I have a bunch of thoughts about War right now ... but need to see what is said in our President's speech on Afghanistan tonight before I get into it more. I hope you'll be watching too.

But right now - out into the fresh air ... to breathe in, feel the sun on my face, and ride to the water's edge .... that for now, IS blue.

Monday, November 30, 2009


Sometimes this place just speaks for itself:

To this, I raise my hands and shrug.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Mr. Fox IS Fantastic!

True, I'll see anything Wes Anderson ever does, but WOW, did I love The Fantastic Mr. Fox. It's super creative, funny, smart, with a none too subtle dose of social commentary, if you're looking at it with that mind-set ... otherwise, it's just a purely delightful lark. With a little fox named Kristofferson included. Fresh.

Stop-motion animation hasn't been this endearing since Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer, and I can see this one becoming just as classic. Really. I wouldn't even really say it's too much for kids, as most of the dialogue would fly over their heads, but it's not scary or anything, so it could be one for the whole family to lift up the arm-rests and snuggle in together to see.

I don't want to say too much now, as I don't want to wreck if for you - and you MUST go - but just trust me as someone who just fell madly in love with this movie (and with Mr. Anderson by proxy), that it will charm your holiday print socks off. Or your flip-flops, depending on where you're viewing.

ENJOY! (and you will)

Whistle, wink, click! (Mr. Fox's "trademark")

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

My Brush With A Superstar.

RaRa Superstar is as Venice as it gets. He is an artist and drummer who plies his trade/s on The Venice Boardwalk, and around the world. We've been friends for a long time, but I never really knew his whole story until we sat down together yesterday in the golden afternoon, watching humanity go by together in front of his booth on The Boardwalk.

Ra was born in Oceanside, California but didn't stay there long. His was a military childhood, so he grew up all over the place ... Detroit, Cleveland, New York ... ("I grew up in 30 of the 50 States, but those were the ones I liked."), trying to figure out where he belonged all along.

Then one day "Circumstances led me to live under the Brooklyn Bridge", where all he had was a drum his brother had given him. He said he didn't know how to play it, but he learned quick - in a week - to throw down beats enough to eat. He was inspired by the kindnesses he was shown by passersby, commuters, fellow bridge dwellers - everyone would bring him food, smoke him out, share what extra they had - to where he realized that things weren't so bad, and that he was actually incredibly blessed. When one man that he saw a lot named Pep invited him to his apartment to hang out one night, Ra was dazzled by the paintings all over the walls of the place - jungles vines climbing, nudes everywhere ... mind blowing stuff. It was then (as up 'til then his form of expression - mostly to get girls - was poetry) that Ra decided to be a painter.

By then Ra had a daughter, Essence, and he was in Detroit with her when he hit the lottery. They took the money and bought art supplies, and Ra and Essence made his first painting together. Ra's name used to be 7 Guess, when he was doing rap, and after a bunch of soul searching, he realized that he wanted to be about the Sun and positivity, and changed his name to RaRa Superstar for his new phase as an Artist. (I still don't know his real name, and I kind of don't want to - the guy clearly IS Ra Superstar, and that's that. I didn't even ask.) It took him a while to get up the nerve to try to SELL his painting though, so he still did other things to get by.

Mostly, Ra played his drum and did astrology for people. He traveled city to city doing that ... meeting people, making enough money to get to the next place, and occasionally hitting the lottery right when he most needed to. He has a LOT of good karma. His first day back in New York, he met a guy who came right up to him and said, "YOU belong in Venice Beach." That seed planted, it didn't take long before Ra made his way West. His first day in Venice Beach, he saw that same guy from New York! "I made it, Man!", he yelled as they greeted each other incredulously. That was a good omen - and he's been here ever since.

Still doing drumming and astrology to get by, Ra had a hard time on The Boardwalk initially, as wherever he would set up his drum, someone with more seniority would be drumming right there and tell him to move. Same with astrology, until he kept getting moved down all the way to Brooks. He was working on his paintings all along - going through phases: Egyptian symbols, an all yellow and green phase, Venus and The Sun ... (now his son, Ra, had come along - from an Italian woman he'd met on The Boardwalk - and was the inspiration for the Venus phase), but still hadn't worked up the courage to put them out for sale yet. He was selling faux-Egyptian artifacts until his display fell over and they all broke and he pretty much HAD to start selling his paintings to be able to survive.

When he began selling them at the beach was when he began doing painting that incorporated his poetry and words into them. He started painting the frames when he had some that were all tore-up looking, and he thought he'd try and make them look better by carrying the painting over onto the frames. That's when they started to sell. That was 1999, and he's been down there earning a living off his positivity and colors from that day forward. Whenever people started copying him (and they do), he'd shake it up and try something new. He began doing smaller pieces on plain wood ... and then everyone down there started doing that, so now it's on to BIGGER pieces on wood. I commented that it seemed to follow the economy doing it that way, and Ra said there's a lot you can tell about the state of humanity being out there every day. Total anthropology. Ra said you can tell the time of year it is by just watching the people go by - oh, the French are on vacation, or kids are out of school, or these guys are here for the Rose Bowl, on and on.

With so much life and diversity going by every day, it's reflected in Ra's art, lifestyle, and even offspring. His newest baby, Princess, was born to him by his current girlfriend, who comes from Japan. And whom he also met when she was walking by his Boardwalk booth. It's no wonder then, that when asked what he loves most about life in Venice, he says simply, "The Boardwalk." He is OF The Boardwalk, and appreciates it all day, every day. Especially when in far off places, like his upcoming show in Amsterdam, followed by another in Sweden (where his "Absolut Venice Beach" piece is sure to be a hit with the Absolut Distillery). His YouTube Channel, "Superstar TV", takes you along on his adventures across the globe. That's a good place to send him messages too, and get in touch with him about the piece you'd like brightening up your place - if you can't make it to The Boardwalk yourself, that is.

Ra's art reflects the love he has for life, more than anything. In fact, he calls it the "Love More Movement". And who can't get behind that? His upcoming Amsterdam show's theme is "Life Is Beautiful, Just Add Color". In fact, he sweetly presented me with a piece that says exactly that on it ... and will serve to remind me of that truth, and also of its creator.

RaRa Superstar himself adds such vibrant color to Venice. His kindness, uplift, and enthusiasm for expression and people, confirm every time you see him (or his art) that life is indeed BEAUTIFUL.