Thursday, September 29, 2011

William Attaway's Venice

The Other Venice Film Festival is honoring William Attaway as its Featured Artist during all the screenings at Beyond Baroque (October 13-16th) so I thought it was about time I and We got to know a little bit more about the man behind a lot of the art that we see in Venice every day.

Known around town as simply "Attaway", Attaway is probably best known in these parts for his beautiful mosaic column looking out over The Breakwater (by the beach park for kids next to the Police Station), creating a circle of calm amid the Boardwalk madness.

Born in New York to artist parents (and Grandparents - his Grandfather designed the interiors of Radio City Music Hall), Attaway took after them, and was always an artist himself. They were a black and white family and in the early 60's with all the assassinations, it could be a scary time for bi-racial families, so Attaway's family moved to Barbados, where they lived "the simple life" until he was 13. Attaway always loved to draw, and spent many of his days watching men make pottery in kilns built right into the side of Barbados' Chalky Mountain. This was mainly to escape the wrath of a hard core Grandma, but his love of clay was discovered during those long afternoons of observation.

The family re-located to L.A. for his Dad's work, and soon young Attaway was working as a 16 year old assistant to Brian Scheller at a ceramic studio called The Pot Farm (now called the Clayhouse) in Santa Monica. After blowing up the kiln on his first day - literally - Attaway worked extra hard to learn all he could about ceramics. His pots grew bigger and bigger, as "there is no limit to clay".

Attaway came down to Venice a lot to skateboard, and soon decided to drop out of high school (in 10th grade) to go in on an art studio with his friend. His Dad said he could if he really meant it and created a body of work. "So I did." He sold out every community art show he entered, and walked around with a bunch of cash in his pocket as an 18 year old artist. A good time in 80's Venice.

The art continued to expand as Attaway begin to think of his sculptures more architectually, influenced by Gaudi, and he felt the urge to create something that hadn't been done before. When plans for a Venice Arts Mecca school at the beach (where he was going to teach ceramics) fell through, Attaway applied to be the artist to create a work at the site of the former Venice Pavilion. The architect for the area had been looking at Attaway's columns done for the Pomona Metro Station when the news came in that Jerry Garcia had died. The guy had been close to Jerry and was very upset, and took it as a sign that he should give his blessing to Attaway doing the art. There were over 500 applicants, down to 8 finalists, and Attaway walked in to give his presentation right after Robert Graham had given his. But Attaway didn't even have to finish his whole spiel, as they agreed with him right off that, "I knew what should happen here. I grew up here."

From 1995-2000, with an entire year on physical labor alone, the 25 foot beach column was brought to life. Through the hard work of two people - Attaway and his best friend, Kenny Roberts - 5 tons of clay, 25,000 gallons of cement, and lots of short ribs between them and the Filipino security guard, the column was finished and "It's a dream come true." To have a signature piece of Venice art of his own making in his own backyard, in what his kids now call "Papa's Park", truly is the kind of gratification any artist would aspire to. He does say it was not a pleasure to work with the City Of L.A., and that things really came together in a great example of community over bureaucracy to get the project completed.

That community is the same thing that has kept Attaway in Venice all these years. "There is a love of family here, and a love of art that has kept Abbot Kinney's vision intact. Venice still resonates with that intention." Of course, Attaway has seen the changes we all have, but as he sees it, "Venice was a scary place, you had to watch how you walked, there were major shoot-outs you would not believe right in front of here, crack trucks, gang murders, people were literally giving away their mortgages," so the fact that I didn't even think about all that when I came to see him is actually a really big improvement.

"It's not gentrification that splits us apart, it's War-ification. How our money is spent, what programs get funded ... war over art, greed and instant gratification ... not looking at the big picture ... The more fighting that goes on outside, the more goes on inside." In order to combat that, Attaway feels that people need to stand up and revolt. How can everyday people do that? "People don't know how to wait for their food to grow anymore. You can grow your own food. You can drink lots of water. You can ride bikes and not use cars."

To that end, Attaway's new series of paintings is called "Gardens", and his favorite place to have coffee in Venice is in his own garden. He thinks there should be signs when you enter Venice that say, "When you enter Venice, Bikes have right of way". There should be vacuums in the alleys so you can suck up the glass and stuff so everyone doesn't puncture their tires. There should be naked Police. "Naked Police will stop violence, people would just take one look at them and stop." We talked about Cityhood for Venice, which he's all for and said, "Venice IS the original Hood City, so, yeah. Everyone who goes to Disneyland comes to Venice the next day for free to chill, so we should be getting more than the 1% from the City Of L.A."

Attaway thinks that Venice is a place "where a lot of people have made their lifestyle dreams come true." From his skating back in the day with Tony Alva, to those skaters having the dream of a skatepark on the beach come true, they MADE that happen. From a mailman who does his route and then goes fishing every night on the pier, he MADE that happen. "Look at the drum circle - I call it the Chaos Circle - The Boardwalk is the end of the Earth. I love it."

You can see Attaway cruising around on his bike. Getting food at the La Isla Bonita taco truck by Gold's Gym that he did mosaics for. Eating at Axe. Or Danny's Deli for matzo ball soup. Or James Beach for chocolate souffle. Or late night octopus and martinis at Hal's ("I want my art hung in Hal's when I grow up"). Drinking at Venice Ale House or Oscar's ("the #1 new hot spot").

You can see Attaway's art all over town (The Column. Mosaics on beach bathrooms. Mosaic at Tabor Courts VCHC. Etc...Etc..), see art documentaries on him by his friend, Venice local Christopher Gallo, or just go by 334 Sunset on Saturday or Sunday and see if a Flying Man statue is outside. That means you can go in and see his art works in progress. There might be musician friends playing, there might be a chef friend cooking up a feast, and it's unpredictable. "What happens, happens."

As true a Venice statement as any I've heard.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The 2011 Abbot Kinney Festival!

This year's Abbot Kinney Festival started out extra gloomy and misty, one of those lazy Sundays where it's hard to get out of bed. That is, until the bikes started noisily swooping by outside, bright and early, on Venice Boulevard for a Triathalon, that some planners somewhere thought would be a good idea to hold the same day as the Abbot Kinney Festival. Anyway, it got us up.

After some stiff coffee to get us ready and jazzed for the day's festivities, it was off to Abbot Kinney. No one in Venice lets a little grey dampen the spirits for our Festival, so the place was already packed by 11 a.m. The booths (amazing jewelry, as ever. Lots of feather stuff too. And always the wings for kids - and some adults) seemed to be doing a brisk business - and they mostly seemed to be actually hand-made, artisan type stuff this year, a vast improvement over some of the junk stands of years past - as I made my way past them all to take my shift at The Free Venice Beachhead booth.

It's always nice to hang out in one spot for a bit at the Festival, to really watch the people and take it all in. It's nice to hear from readers of our only truly local paper, about their concerns, ideas, stories, and drinking in the afternoon commentaries. A few neighbors even offered cocktail delivery services right to the booth ... but then forgot to return with them, sigh. We handed out copies of the latest issue and had fresh t-shirts for sale, with my long asked for design of "DEFEND VENICE" graphic with a guy in a tree with his fist raised. Love it. You should get one. Oh, and you can by contacting the paper at There were also some surveys to fill out that proved to be interesting, with telling results (about topics ranging from where you get your coffee to who you're gonna vote for next year) also in the paper or online.

I served my booth time and then it was off to explore with my gang. I've said it before, but the Abbot Kinney Festival is like Thanksgiving for the whole town of Venice - you see people you may not have seen all year, and it's a big reunion in the street. Plus tens of thousands Thanksgiving orphan tourists that come to hope to see something outrageous, and eat food. And drink beer in the sunshine, that I am happy to report broke through brightly right about midday.

(Pictured - Mia Doi Todd. Silver Lake, I believe)

One strange and mystifying thing about this year's Festival was that not ONE of my close friends was playing music at ANY of the stages. THAT is outrageous. It was slim last year, but as far as I could tell this year, there did not seem to be any local VENICE musical acts playing for their friends and neighbors. None. Whomever is in charge of music booking needs to really take that into account in the future because it was the overwhelming and resounding complaint coming from every person I bumped into that day, that WHERE were our local musicians at our local Festival?! I'd say I was really mad about it, but it's hard to be actually mad about anything when everyone's having a good time seeing everyone you like where you live. But still. May I please help book the stages next year? Thanks.

The Abbot Kinney Festival is one of the best people watching events of the planet, and from one end to the other it's an entire smorgasbord of people and stuff to gape at.

I love it when the Samba School splits the crowd to dance and bang drums among the people walking the street, and everyone stands back to watch and smile and FEEL the spirit of community and fun that pervades that special moment every year.

People were hanging out of the windows above Abbot's Habit to watch, the Firemen of Station 63 were clapping along (and no porn actresses were spotted hanging from the truck this day, I'm happy to report to knowers of recent Venice lore), tiny kids were showing off their capoeira skills, and the whole crowd was supremely into it.

After doing some laps of the street (and having no bands we were absolutely required to see due to friendship or support of our local artists), we went up to our friend's balcony that overlooks the entire hubbub of the Brig beer garden. Again, the greatest people watching ever.

This year there were dueling dancers outside the fence, a big Red Devil carrying a sign ("The Devil Repents!") and a cowboy in short shorts that was FEELING it.

And feeling it. For song after song (from the really good reggae d.j. spinning in the Brig lot). After song. We admired his stamina. And the way more and more (drinking) strangers would step in to dance with him. Good good times.

Right around 6 p.m. the fog started to return, the autumn light began its getting darker earlier thing, and that annual mass clearing of the people began at the Venice Boulevard end of Abbot Kinney, heading down toward Main Street. It's amazing to see how quickly it all evaporates, with the whoosh of street cleaners rolling by, the clanking of tent poles falling down, and slurry speech of passersby yelling to each other getting fainter and fainter by the minute. Soon enough it's all over again for the year, and everyone winds up collapsing at someone's nearby pad, re-hashing the day's events and looking ahead to all the good stuff that will go down between now and the re-telling of it to the friends you'll see at next year's jamboree.

Let's make it good!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Time Warner Cable Balloon

If you use Time Warner Cable services, I would abruptly cancel that business -

- based on their little ad balloon washing up on the beach this morning alone. I can't speak to their actual service as I'd rather create than subscribe, but if their idea of a good marketing thing is to strangle the sea creatures, then I think they suck. So there.

Call me aggro. I'll take it.

If you're still contributing to fouling our Oceans, I don't want to know you or about you.

Think. Thank.

*photo by my equally appalled friend Jenny Everhart.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Venaissance Sculpture

A David-like sculpture with a funky headband looked over the scene on the bike path over the weekend ...

... and reminded us once again how delightful the unexpected surprise is in life.

What will happen next?!

*Photo by Gretchen Rollins

Monday, September 12, 2011

A Monday Morning Proposal

Monday morning ... finishing up daily constitutional when this plane flies by with a sign reading "Rebecca, will you marry me? I (Heart) You! Jeffrey". On a Monday morning ... interesting.

I turned to a maintenance worker standing near me at the bike rack, watching the plane, and just to mess with him, said, "Are you Jeffrey? I'm Rebecca." He got all flustered and it was awesome. To recover, he said, "I wish", kind of smoothly. Then as we were riding away, I said, "Have a nice day, Jeffrey!" and he said, "Oh, I will, Baby."

Good start to a new week ... let's focus on the LOVE (especially after that brutal 10 year Anniversary stuff ... lots to say about that, but we're focusing on the love, forcefully so.

Please let me know if you hear if Rebecca said Yes!

*Photo by Jennifer Everhart

Friday, September 9, 2011

Blogtown is 2 Today!

Two years sure flew by ... so many stories to tell, so many more to come!

Off to clink a glass for fun ... And THANK YOU ever so much for reading!


Thursday, September 8, 2011

Venice Represents at Tucson's Hoco Fest

A little bit of Venice split for Tucson over Labor Day weekend, and it was a (furnace) blast! I jumped in the van with Matt Ellis and his band and headed out into the desert, bound for Tucson's Hoco Fest ("Arizona's Solar Music Festival") at the historic Hotel Congress.

A long drive (thoughtfully and deliciously catered by Matt's wife, Vavine) was full of laughs, and when we stepped out of the van finally in Tucson, all we wanted was to be full of cold beers. It is damn hot there. I don't know how the residents handle it. Crrrrazy hot. But super fun.

After finally rousing on Sunday, we did a little seeing of the sights, and then headed over to the Hotel Congress for sound-check. Non-band members were enlisted as "Roadies" and wrist-banded as such. What a beautiful old hotel the Congress is. Wow. Much of Tucson turned out for the Hoco Fest (which was a benefit for WaveLab Recording Studio's Craig Schumacher, who mixed Matt's - and many others' - album, and is dealing with the dread cancer), making it even hotter the closer packed in we all were. That is rock and roll, and we love it.

There were two show areas, an outdoor courtyard stage, and the indoor (A/C!) Club Congress, where the Matt Ellis Band (Josh Norton on guitar, Cecil Campanaro on bass, and Fernando Sanchez smacking the drums) hit the stage. Great sound, gorgeous room, superb music, every last note. Things were spaced out so that when Matt played, the outside people came in to enjoy his jams, and the place was packed as they sailed through their set. Births, Deaths, and Marriages is Matt's latest album, and the song of the same name is one of my favorites. Tuscon's too, by the sound of the room when it was done (It's hard to have favorites when they're all real good, but I somehow manage). "So Many Lied", "Heart Of Mine" and "Too Late To Call" all ruled. Nick Luca (Calexico, Iron and Wine) joined the guys on keys, awesomely. Then Matt brought up Jacob Valenzuela ("There's so much talent in Tucson!" - Matt Ellis) from Calexico to blast his trumpet along on "Trying To Believe" and "Don't Let Me Forget" and that was when it really felt like Tucson was in full effect. I love the trumpet, and Valenzuela's playing gave the extra zest that made the songs and every person in the room dance even more.

Matt brought up Vavine to sing on their duet, "River Too Wide" (video coming soon!) and glancing around at the crowd's faces, you could see them falling in love with Matt & V's love. They are very special together, both as singers and as people. Too soon, it was time for the last song, "The Weight". The whole place sang along with Matt & Vav (even me, who has never previously dug that tune, and told them so), and it felt like family in there.

After sorting out the equipment and stuff (Roadies, remember), we immediately decamped for the bar, where it was whiskey time. I forget the name of the local one we drank ... and that explains it all. We watched great-every-time Calexico play on the outdoor stage, and it was grand. No notes or detail recall, as it was too hot + the aforementioned whiskey, but I know that I loved it. What I did not love was how long some bands take to take the stage (like you, Devotchka), when that should be flowing in a festival situation. We all really wanted to see them, but we weren't hanging out all night in the heat rain, good people. So I don't know how they were, but I hope whomever remained for them had a nice time.

We did. Because we went all over Tucson, eating and drinking up a storm, (and being surprise serenaded by the most happy, cool Mariachis ever!) before collapsing into our individual trailers of fun. The next (late) morning, we hit up the most sublime tortilla purveyor ever, Anita's Tortillas, to grab piping hot tortillas and empanadas for the road. Amazing. We ate brunch at a dubious cafe called JerryBob's, and then set out to return to Venice.

Bright murals, hummingbirds, darling people, and lots of music and drinking is my lasting impression of Tucson, other than the obvious superheat. A truly delightful get-away. The loooong drive back was even great, as we saw the real Calexico (town), desert dust and lightning storms, RAIN, which I'd almost forgotten about, and more funny things (like the dinner search - The Lazy Lizard in Ocotillo, CA? "No way" - Josh) happening along the way. And just before leaving Arizona, I finally got my read about and searched for Prickly Pear jam. A total success of a weekend!

Gracias to Matt and Vavine Ellis for inviting me along on the gig! Gracias to Matt, V, Cecil, Josh, David, and Mei-Lai for being great fun to road trip with! Gracias to Brad, Dianna, Maxine, and Basil for being such gracious hosts! Gracias to Tucson for showing us all a great time! Loved it.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Tom Morello - World Wide Rebel Songs

Tom Morello's 4th studio album as The Nightwatchman has just been released, and World Wide Rebel Songs (New West Records) is both loud, Son, AND heavy as shit, to paraphrase his earlier "Maximum Firepower" tune. There's still the acoustic guitar beauty, to be sure, but The Freedom Fighter Orchestra is along for this entire rock ride (Carl Restivo, Chris Joyner, Dave Gibbs, Eric Gardner). Throwing down right from the opening track on this new one is "Black Spartacus Heart Attack Machine" and it sets the tone for the raging against the machine that is steadfast throughout the entire album.

The song (and album) opens with the customary speech that Tom makes at any live Nightwatchman show ... that "History is not be made by Presidents or Popes, or Kings or Queens, or Generals or CIA Kingpins running dope, or nine men in robes, or billionaires or bankers, it's not made by them" ... It's in the hands of the People. That is the underlying theme of all of his songs, all of his shows, all of him. The "Black Spartacus Heart Attack Machine" refers to his new steel string guitar, an instrument that is, "hollow box, steel string, Union made, Let Freedom ring!" Aka Tom's weapon of choice, which he wields with no pretension or bones about it ... he's here to open your eyes, inspire you to think, and then ACT, because justice can never be attained by standing by and doing nothing.

To that end, this album might not appeal to those just wanting a diversion to tap their toes along to in the background ... it absolutely forces you to pay attention to society's ills, and that's not always a comfortable place for people to be. But if you listen and SEE the imagery that Tom creates through each track, you will be taken from L.A. to Mexico to Africa to Iraq to the Great Plains right back to your own front yard.

"The Dogs of Tijuana" is a warning, plain and simple, that "Every dog has its day", that one can only take so much. Set to spanish style acoustic guitar, it manages to be both lovely and threatening at the same time.

Heavy. Metal. "It Begins Tonight" is a raging rouser that features Tom's classic Rage riffs from start to finish ... and serves as another throwing down of the gauntlet, that we're not gonna take it anymore. It's not just talk either ... this guy goddamn means it, and sings passionately about it all. Listen to the words.

A stunning duet between Tom and Ben Harper is perhaps my favorite track on the album, "Save The Hammer For The Man." Good and meaningful things happen when these two brothers in arms get together, and when you hear first their voices, then their super distinct guitar styles weave together in one aching wail ... you are confronted straight on with the power of music. "I will whisper words of freedom, I will swing as hard as I can, Lord knows the time is coming, Save the hammer for the Man". More please. Thank you.

"The 5th Horseman Of The Apocalypse" (gorgeous) and "The Whirlwind" (super lovely in melody and visuals - tied for my favorite) are classic Nightwatchman jams, pretty guitars, heavy imagery, and lyrics that even work "hegemony" into his rhymes. "Branding Iron" is in that same classic Nitewatch camp, but with a clear Springsteen style in both guitar and harmonica that evokes the dusty plains of earlier Boss works.

The Nightwatchman is not afraid to get the people clapping, stomping, and singing along with his catchy choruses. To that end, "Speak And Make Lightning", "Stray Bullets" (with its calling out of the Iraq War STILL going on ... "Why the fuck we're even here, I'll never know ... We're coming for the Captain and then we're going home!"), and especially the title track "World Wide Rebel Songs" will all get you going out there. As Tom sings in it, "Where there's voices raised and barricades, I'm down!" As am I, Tom, as am I.

"Facing Mount Kenya" evokes the land of Tom's father, and its toy piano sounding accompaniment and Leonard Cohen-ish vocals are trippy, haunting, and unlike anything we've heard from him before. Very interesting.

I'll never forget the email I got from Tom when filthy George W. Bush - mortifyingly -got elected the second time. It simply said, "God help us all." That's also the title of the last track on World Wide Rebel Songs, a quiet prayer of a song that ends all the good bombast and riling up of the album with a simple plea for help. Because "We are all that we feared." A stark admission and truism that realizes that we're all in it together, and we can't do anything alone.

We need help, Man. From above, if we even deserve it, but certainly from each other if we ever hope to save the world. Lofty as that sounds, it's what's required of us now, just look around. Listen. HEAR. Sing. MOVE.

Thank goodness we have artists who do actually give a damn about all of this, and ask us to care along with them. As Tom asks in "World Wide Rebel Songs", "Are you gonna stand around or are you gonna be free?"


Available now on ITunes. And good old-fashioned record stores.