Monday, March 28, 2011

Stormy Sunset

Check out the stormy sunset picture my brother took in Venice:


Done with the storms now.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Larry's Venice - The Art and Venice of Larry Bell

Renowned artist, Larry Bell, is a true Venice treasure. His profile, with hat and signature cigar, has been sighted all over town for decades, and is now the inspiration behind a new neighborhood hang about to open at the corner of Windward and Speedway, the aptly named "Larry's" (Currently featuring a sign outside reading "Who in the Heaven is Spanto? [sic]", which used to say "Larry" until someone graffiti'd over it with the name of our dearly departed friend, Sponto).

I got the chance to sit down and chat with Mr. Bell the other day in his Market Street art studio, and discover that he's even nicer than I already thought he was. Surrounded by his beautiful works of art, both finished and in progress, we sat and talked about his Venice, then and now.

Bell was born in Chicago in 1939, and moved to L.A. with his family at the age of five. He always had interest in art and music, and thought he'd get into animation over at Disney. As part of his art school (Chouinard Art Institute) curriculum, he had to study painting, which soon became his focus ... to the extent that now his painting and sculptures can be seen in museums all around the world - and in his big, light Venice studio, where he likes to "meet the people who want to own my stuff."

At 19, Bell moved to Venice ... "because it was cheap." At that time, it was full of empty storefronts and considered dangerous, so he was able to secure his studio space for a mere $70 a month. Perfect for aspiring artists. A group of about 6-10 people started from scratch what became a true community of artists, and put Venice on the map as an art destination. Much of the gang became "The Cool School" (see the documentary of the same name to really get it), and gained fame worldwide. As we spoke about his work, Bell told me that "I'm interested in creating images I haven't seen before ... It's an organic cycle, I'm not in control, I'm more like the middle man." Interesting, as I've heard guitarist Leo Kottke say about the same thing, and it was then that I noticed Bell's 12 string guitar standing by. He claims to only noodle on it, but I have a feeling he's being overly humble, considering the concentration he seems to apply to everything.

In 1972, Bell "fell in love with a beautiful girl, and wanted to get her away from the competition", so he moved with her to Taos, New Mexico, where he traded his art for his new property. The marriage ultimately split up, and it was time to return to Venice. By some strange stroke of kismet, his exact same studio space was open and available on Market Street, unchanged and ready for him to get to work. He had built the doors on the front wall himself, in order to get large pieces and equipment in and out easier, and all remained intact. The only thing that changed was the Venice outside the doors.

About that, Bell says, "Venice inherited a mystique about being a creative place, which is extraordinary because it IS ... Nothing lasts, and Venice is an organic, changing place, and you can't stop that or it's Knott's Berry Farm." The place remains special, and will always draw people because of, "The AIR! The ionized air from the sea ... the weather is perfect here all the time" (Well ... it certainly was the day we were talking). He also finds special that there isn't high density housing at the beach. It's still mostly individual homes and small apartment buildings, adding to the neighborhood vibe. We talked about cityhood for Venice, which he doesn't think possible for just the basic economic facts, like who would pay the cops, firemen, etc ... and added, "The best way to protect the funky edge of Venice is to get it historical status." Hmm ... an interesting idea, for sure.

In the years that Bell lived in Taos, he would always stay at the Marina Pacific Hotel when in Venice. He became fast friends with the owner, Erwin Sokol, and when the Marina Pacific became the Hotel Erwin a couple of years ago, Bell not only moved in, but helped design the lighting, and each room in the Erwin now contains a work by Larry Bell. He was invited to the hotel meetings to offer his input on various issues, and when the time came for Mr. Sokol to open a bar/restaurant in the ideal, hotel-adjacent location of Windward and Speedway, they all met to discuss possible names.

Bell offered up "Altoon's" (after John Altoon, a fellow Venice artist in the 50's and 60's, who lived nearby and died in 1969) as his choice, but was out-voted by the eventual winner - "Larry's".

Bell drew his self-portrait in hat and cigar for the neon sign, and his paintings are featured inside. He also made a list of Venice artists, past and present, to be a mural on the outside wall of Larry's - honoring the people and art that has made Venice the place that it is - wearing the very heart of Venice on its sleeve. I spoke to owner, Erwin Sokol, and he hopes that Larry's will be open for business in the next couple of months, as they're sorting out the Chef/kitchen part of it all now. It now looks like Larry's will be open to greet the Summer along with the rest of us, and I can't wait to watch Venice roll by as we sit on the patio and appreciate it all from the namesake spot of one of our coolest residents.

As we were wrapping up our time together, Bell's son, Oliver, and beloved American Bulldog, Pinky, came back from a walk, and we all turned our attention to that sweet dog. Market Street was abuzz outside, with people getting ready for the Art Crawl, and soaking up the warm afternoon sunshine. Bell walked me out, and as we said our goodbyes, he saw a girl sitting in the next doorway, headphones on, a million miles away. Bell held out his arms and said, "Look, beautiful girls sitting in doorways, on a beautiful day ..."

There was nothing else for me to say but, "We're lucky people." He turned and smiled rakishly, "Yes, we sure are."

An added bonus video of Bell's current exhibit in Nimes, Franceby, by his son Ollie:

Larry Bell "In Perspective" Carre d' Art Nimes France from Ollie Bell on Vimeo.

Friday, March 18, 2011

State Radio Rocks St. Patty's At The Troubadour

I tend to kind of shrug about going out on St. Patrick's Day ... but not when one of my favorite bands around is playing at The Troubadour. State Radio blew through town on the west coast leg of their current tour, and shared their Boston Irish green with us, with their own particular cocktail of roots, rock, and reggae, with an acidic twist of dead serious lyrics that make you smarter and more compassionate - if you're listening.

I was honoring my Irish compatriots with a little whiskey prior to the show, so missed most of the opening band, The Tontons, but from what little I heard, (especially from cool chick singer, Asli Omar) I assuredly will be hearing more. The guys of State Radio have been my homies and comrades since traveling together on 2008's Justice Tour, so every time they come through L.A. it is a joyful reunion, and a great excuse to whoop it up - that it was March 17th only enhanced the rowdiness.

State Radio brought it right from the moment the old Troubadour went dark, the stage backed by a backdrop of flying black crows and candles. The guys (joined on this tour by Matt Embree of RX Bandits) went blasting right into fast rocker, "CIA", riling the crowd (dressed mostly in green, drinking mostly Guinness) up from the word Go. I didn't hear that much of "Desert Queen" because I was catching up with the lovely girlfriend and wife of band members. Sorry, Guys.

"Wicker Plane" started up and I noticed a guy down front - the entire time - wearing an "I Am Troy Davis" shirt, who air drummed along with Maddog Najarian the. entire. show. I mean non-stop. "I want to be THAT enthusiastic about something," I said to my friend. It was both funny and inspiring, as the cat knew every single word, every single drum beat/cymbal hit, and was in absolute Heaven the entire show. That's what it's all about, man. FEELING IT!

State Radio absolutely was feeling it last night, from Maddog's heavy beats to Chuck Fay breaking it down on his bass, to new addition Embree's steely rasta-sounding guitar, to Chad Urmston's lyrical voice leading it all into a frenzy on every tune. "Graces" and "Bohemian Grove" were a reggae-tinged double whammy that saw my friend yell into my ear, "I want to be in the islands!" That is exactly the sound, and the vibe, that I was in the mood for last night. Then my thoughts turned to Japan, then the world at large, then I focused on the last verse of "Bohemian Grove":

World control
And the opinion of the inner elite

Oh don't you know

That we are aching for a part in the chance worth taking

Who's to say

That we are destined just to fall at your feet

It's World Control

So that it's rendered to we, the people of the earth rolling round
Versailles. Way down. How long. Outlaw.

... Which made me think about Madison, Wisconsin, revolutions around the world, and all the other crazy stuff going on right now. Isn't it great that a fun-times reggae-sounding song can conjure up all these thoughts AND the feeling that you CAN do something about it all? That's State Radio for you.

Some great news is that I don't have Alzheimer's, and the songs that I thought I forgot/didn't know, are really NEW songs that will show up on State Radio's next album, that sources close to the band (like THE band) told me they hope to release this fall. They included "Adelaide" and "Take Cover" and both were so good that you'll want to do the pre-order thing.

"Gang Of Thieves". "Arsenic & Clover". "Fall Of The American Empire". The very powerful true story of "Camilo"... All of them had entire audience participation, from over the head clapping to singing loudly along to all lyrics. It's fun to watch the give and take between band and crowd in a little place like The Troubadour, because it's just so tangible. State Radio is one of those bands that gets SO involved, (both musically and activist-ly) that it naturally impels its fans to do same. So we did.

"Calling All Crows" shares its title with the wonderful organization founded by Chad and his girlfriend, Sybil, that strives to both assist and empower women around the world. SO crucial, and one of my most favorite SR songs musically as well. L.A.'s Calling All Crows event was for the local chapter of Dress For Success - an organization that helps women get ready for professional life through setting them up with business attire, skills and support. Word.

As it was St. Patrick's Day, it was the perfect time for the Boys from Boston to throw down their Irish jig of rock, "Knights Of Bostonia". Not one still body in the place for that one, and band and crowd shared beaming grins throughout. That was my perfect St. Patty's moment, no contest.

They wrapped up their regular set with "State Inspector", with (oil can) guitars and drums building to an explosion of music and yells that saw not one hipster posing. There were only people FEELING it in there by this point. Rock and roll.

After a split second wait for an encore, State Radio was back, this time with an instrument swap between Maddog and Chuck - Chuck on drums, and MD on bass - for the classic "Indian Moon". Again, the mood was extra-Rasta on this one, and I simply loved it. So did the entire house, as they sang as one, drowning out anyone with a mic. They closed the night with "Doctor Ron The Actor", a BIG hit with the Superfans (and I include myself), still grinning, screaming themselves hoarse with appreciation, thumping their friends on the backs, and in one case, a big air-drum finale flourish.

We got a chance to chat and do a quick catch up before the guys had to load out and head north to San Francisco to continue their tour. As we hugged our farewells for now, I thought about not only how GREAT nights like these are, but also how important. In precarious times like these (radiation on its way to L.A. from Japan ... etc .. etc ...) it's all the more important to treasure what we've got, while we've got it. I'll steal from "Indian Moon" to close out our story, as it sums up what I was feeling as I left The Troubadour last night all so perfectly:

And oh sir
If you ever lose your way

You can call upon this family

You can call upon this day

You can call upon this day... to get strength through music. Strength through community. Strength through LIVING life to its very fullest, every moment that you get.

*The one good first photo (regular photographer unavailable) was stolen from State Radio's twitter. Thank you!

Friday, March 11, 2011

LA Louver - Art Amid The Madness

One of the biggest ever earthquake/tsunamis in Japan. Mom calling at 4 in the morning to tell me to evacuate Venice or be swept out to sea (all was fine). Dirty government (redundant, I know) screwing the people of Wisconsin. Libya blowing up. Revolutions popping up all over the place. What the heck is next?!

Who knows, so have a good time while you can, is my working m.o. of late. Perhaps take in some art, and appreciate all the beauty you can possibly squeeze into your life. A good start on that would be the wonderful show/s that opened last night at the LA Louver. It's great.

Downstairs you are greeted by the arresting pieces by Terry Allen, with his "Ghost Ship Rodez" and "The Momo Chronicles" works.

Video screens, books, regular framed works, all requiring far more time for me to absorb (had to be at a surprise party for Miss Stephanie, but I'll return, Louver, I promise!), as each piece just sucked me in until I had to tear myself away.

Upstairs, it felt like going to a stationary chick flick directed by someone cool for once. Rebecca Campbell's "Romancing The Apocalypse" show of oils on canvas is bright, beautiful, thought provoking, light and dark at once. Favorites were her spectacular Epidemic, 2011:

Boom 1, 2010:

With that nuclear explosion series facing the loveliness of the rainbow series featuring Bow 1, 2010:

And her show's title piece, Romancing the Apocalypse, 2011 - featuring a fully dressed woman letting herself have a bath AND a cake ... as an end of days terror zone burns outside her window. Eek. Almost a bit TOO timely. And exactly what I'm talking about.

Loads of familiar Venice faces filled both levels, and though we had to dash in and out, it cemented the thought - even pre-tsunami possibility - that we are lucky, lucky people. People that recognize and celebrate beauty and intelligence on a daily basis ... People that GET to.

Go now, and find some for yourself. You won't have to go far.

Enjoy these shows from now until April 16th.

LA Louver
45 North Venice Boulevard
Venice, 90291

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Small World Books - The Venice Boardwalk Haven

For years I've sent people to what I believe is the best book store - for sure in Los Angeles, but maybe even the country - Small World Books. I've loved it so long, but just now finally got to sit down with owner Mary Goodfader and hear about how they came to be. Located right in the heart of the Venice Boardwalk, Small World is a complete haven from all the noise and tourist folly happening just outside the door.

Small World was first located in Marina Del Rey, started by Mary's mother, Mildred Gates, in 1969. They catered to a largely boating clientele in those days, and then the lease came up and it was time to relocate. Mary's late husband, Robert, went all around looking for a new location, when he saw a big space on the much more gnarly then Venice Boardwalk, boarded up and full of graffiti ("Stop Bombing In Cambodia!"). He knew he had found the spot for the family business.

The Goodfader's thought they should have a little take-out cafe to go along with their book store, so the doors of The Sidewalk Cafe opened in June of 1976, and Small World Books soon followed, right next door, in September of the same year. This was right around the time the roller skating disco craze was kicking in, and Venice Beach was THE spot. Other vendors soon followed, and both the cafe - now world famous as a premium people watching spot on the Venice Boardwalk - and the book store have been welcoming customers every day since.

The Cafe is now managed by Mary's son, Jay, and daughter, Deb Loucks, helps oversee Small World with Mary. Small World is pretty much a Women-run operation, which makes now a great time to celebrate it, as March is International Women's Month (which kind of annoys me that there has to BE a special month to acknowledge any certain group - we are all one, and to separate anyone out implies that we are not ... but I digress ...). Their store manager is Bonnie Reynolds, who has been with them for 27 years. There is very little employee turnover, as it's a true family style operation. Where many independent book stores have struggled to survive in recent years - or simply died - Small World continues to thrive. Mary gives just credit to the Sidewalk Cafe's success (and the fact that they own the building, so the rent isn't going up at all) for helping to keep the books coming for Venice and visitors through ups and downs.

It's such a calming effect to leave the sidewalk entertainers, out-of-towners, Kush Dr's, pan handlers, etal, on the Boardwalk behind to enter Small World, and its rows and rows of art and ideas. I am an old school book nerd, one who can completely immerse myself in the pages of a (good) book and not even know (or care) that anything else is going on around me. For me, Small World is a pure treat, every time. I use it as a reward for myself, actually, that's how much I love and revere it.

Staff recommended books (with their fun and insightful notes included on a bookmark) line the front counter, sharing space with the latest releases, and as they say, "If you've heard of it, we have it or we will find it for you!" They mean it. I know a friend's Aunt who lives in Pasadena, and she ONLY gets her books from Small World. That's dedication. I feel the exact same way, sans the drive from Old Town.

Mary and I sat on the floor among all the beautiful books and discussed our feelings on books, Venice, and Kindle-type deals vs. Books ("A Kindle is an electronic device. A book is a work of art." - Store Employee, Janice Mall). We are both firmly in the BOOK camp. As Mary said, "Some people still want to hold a book." Yes, we do. There was a shelf with all sorts of classics on it, all reissued with new artwork on their covers, and they really are just stunning to behold. I almost get a panic attack in there, as there are just so many books to read in one lifetime!

"Venice is a great community for a bookstore ... you can't pigeonhole Venice," said Mary, which makes it fun (and somewhat biased) for her to order all the merchandise for the store. She can't keep tattoo books or books on growing weed in stock anymore - they all kept getting stolen. Venice. She won't be ordering the latest Ann Coulter book - "Ever." Venice. No George W. Bush memoir here, as she said, "No one in Venice would buy it." Amen! Mary loves literature the most herself, fiction specifically. "Bukowski is our biggest seller, forever and ever." Except for the time someone stole an entire ROW of Bukowski books off the shelf, forcing them to keep the old guy right up by the counter now. Venice again.

Daughter Deb does the greeting card ordering, and Small World stocks some of the nicest quality and funniest greeting cards around - my favorite being the one featuring "The Artist Formerly Known As The Little Prince", with Prince on a little planet like The Little Prince cover. Classic.

Right near the door there is a revamped gumball machine, selling Seed Bombs instead of gum, and again, very Venice (though one guy who had to be from somewhere else did try to eat it like gum. Sigh.).

And of Venice, Mary, who has lived here with her family since 1974, says she has not seen a lot of change over the decades, as "Venice fights very hard to stay the way it is." True back then, true today. Both Mary's kids, Jay and Deb, also live in Venice, so theirs is a true family and Venice- oriented business. The store has always had a cat, and nowadays it's Conan the Librarian, who could not be found for a photograph, but I'm told he likes to sit at the front table of the Cafe, like he's a paying customer. You can't blame him ... there's a lot to take in out there.

Small World Books was just featured in a book called Peaceful Places: Los Angeles, which couldn't be more true, or more amazing, considering its proximity to the wild and craziest of Los Angeles right out front. Sometimes I think I have super powers of manifestation, because two of my all-time favorite things in life are Book stores and the Beach. To have the very best one around RIGHT on the beach where I live is just magic. As Deb said, "We always have sand on our counter." To me, nothing could be more perfect.

It IS a Small World, after all.

Visit Small World Books at:

1407 Ocean Front Walk
Venice, 90291