Monday, April 30, 2012

April In Venice

April was one of the craziest months on record in my life, but it's the last day and all is well. Phew! I'm relocated to a way better pad in Venice, getting into the new groove of the new neighborhood, and taking a second to think about it all, and am more grateful than ever that I live in such a dope community (no pun intended).

Amid all the hoopla and change, we did gather the troops for our annual Sponto Memorial Croquet Classic at the beach. A freezing cold wind and fog scene swept through, and demanded that I change my theme for the day to Punk Hawaiian, to be bundled up a bit.

Though the fog and chill in the air definitely dampened the proceedings, that didn't come close to happening to our spirits. They were extremely high.

I got very laser focused on the actual game of croquet this year (mostly to keep warm), and it paid off in some very serious wicket domination - though I still never got to be the Stinger.

Tom Everhart had the most ferocious eye of the tiger, and killed nearly everyone.

Angel brought her delicious and very special carrot cake, and we had high tea on a blanket in the fog. Bunny's tequila also helped combat the chill.

There were a few guests we'd never met before who lectured about the anti-yogi behavior of the $99 to get in Yoga Fest happening in a big tent on the sand right near us, and that we were in fact more truly yogis, because being a yogi is about sharing love, and that's obviously what we were up to. I liked that view point - far more than the metal balls he proceeded to bang together for the next 4 hours.

That view point is also what I can sum up the entire last bit of time to be for me ... People in Venice, sharing love. It makes everything else that happens so much better, when that's the place you start from.

So bring on May, and everything crazy that goes down in it, because it's all LIFE.

With love.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Woody Guthrie Centennial Celebration Show - This Land Is Your Land

Woody Guthrie would have been 100 years old this year, and there was a BIG old party for him last night at the Club Nokia in Los Angeles. Because it was Los Angeles, we dealt with the usual trifecta of traffic, long lines and confused box office workers, so we were late to the show, but were in good company as Steve Earle and Tim Robbins straggled in with us too, and seemed just as excited to get in. I learned a lot about Woody Guthrie from my friend, Tom Morello, so was most excited to see him be a part of such an epic show.

It was kind of great that one of my very favorite songs was being played by Sarah Lee Guthrie (Woody's granddaughter) and her husband, Johnny Irion, right when I walked in - "California Stars". It's one of those that just puts you in a good mood right away, and set the tone for the entire evening of great music. The very diverse in age (and outfits) crowd clapped along to "Union Maid" and it was clear that everyone in that room had learned from and revered Mr. Woody Guthrie.

Joe Henry came out next and said maybe my favorite line of the night, that "Woody's job was to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable." Excellent. He sang a song about Jesus, accompanied by very pretty mandolin, then was joined by Jackson Browne for "New York Town", which cracked people up with its lines, I can get more women than a passenger train can haul and I've get more lovers than the Civil War set free. Player.

Dawes came on, and it was noted by them and the audience that it was good to have a young band on the bill, as it shows how very influential Guthrie was and remains to American music. They opened up with a good, railroad-y sounding version of "Hard Travelin'" that was very well received, then Jackson Browne joined them for a similar sounding take on "Goin' Down The Road". For their last song, they played one of their own songs called, "A Little Bit Of Everything", and definitely earned themselves some new fans, as the retired-aged ladies in front of me were very down with it.

Legendary L.A. X-Man, John Doe gave us some "Dustbowl Stuff" as he put it, and sang "Vigilante Man"... which was dirty, dusty and rad. Doe was in strong voice, and sounded even better when joined by his "Spiritual adviser and card dealer", Cindy Wasserman for "Do Re Mi". He said, "If we forget a line or go out of tune, I figure Woody would approve." But they didn't, and it was wonderful. We enjoyed a simply gorgeous day here in California yesterday, and all these songs about the Guthrie-era California made it feel all the more special here (but don't tell anyone). "So Long It's Been Good To Know Yuh" was great too.

Van Dyke Parks "defined Americana decades before the term was invented" read the evening's program, and when he sat down at the piano, there was respect that you could feel in the room. He began by saying, "For all the McCarthy era put the Guthrie family through, this night is their just reward." He was joined by a cellist and drummer for "Pastures of Plenty" and it was equally heavy and lovely. My land I'll defend with my life if it be, Cause my pastures of plenty must always be free. Yes, Sir.

Tom Morello (The Nightwatchman) was up next, and I was so happy he was a part of this, as I've long thought him to be the heir apparent to fill Woody Guthrie's work boots. From the sound of it in there, I'm not alone. His work with the Occupy Movement/s and Union battles around the country seemed to have made him better known among this crowd than his other gig with Rage Against The Machine. His trusty "Whatever It Takes" guitar plugged in to play "Tom Joad", very much a story song, much like the songs in the Nightwatchman's own repertoire. Wherever people ain't free, Wherever men are fightin' for their rights, That's where I'm a-gonna be, Ma. That's where I'm a-gonna be." And Tom always is.

Tom's band, The Freedom Fighter Orchestra (Carl Restivo, Dave Gibbs, Eric Gardner) joined him for the next one, meaning it was going to Rock. Out. "I'd like to dedicate this to the only Boss worth listening to", Tom said to introduce Springsteen's "Ghost Of Tom Joad". By now I think of as Tom's song too, so inspiring and passionate it is each time he plays it. He has made it his very own with the electric guitar solo that blows everyone away every single time. I've seen it a lot and still get chills. It's HEAVY, and brought the entire Club Nokia to its feet at song's end, and got two raised fists from the Grandma in front of me. Youtube it sometime, it is SICK. Everyone in there is talking about it today, I promise you.

Nora Guthrie, Woody's daughter, has a whole bunch of lyrics in the family archives, but they don't all have music. She gave Tom the lyrics and he created the music for the next one, his "first revolutionary love song", called "Ease My Revolutionary Mind". He was joined by his "Choir of Angels", Dawes, Jackson Browne, Van Dyke Parks, and Graham Nash (who FFO member, Carl Restivo shared a mic with and said he was a "vocal harmony paintbrush") for this great song, with lines like I want a union working woman, I want a progressive liberous woman, I want a nice progressive mama, and Tom added, A WOODY GUTHRIE LOVIN' WOMAN, To ease my revolutionary mind. There was another scorcher of a Morello solo, and then it was time for intermission, which we really needed by then. Whiskey was called for.

When we returned, Grammy Museum Director, Robert Santelli brought up Woody Guthrie's first wife, Mary, to rousing applause. She was adorable, and it was moving to everyone there to see her so honored. The entire family are American treasures, and so deserving of such an evening of music, celebration and love.

That music returned with a set by Joel Rafael, a big Guthrie aficionado, who has also been given lyrics by Nora Guthrie to set to music, and he played his "Your Sandal String", a song about John The Baptist. Graham Nash joined him for another Guthrie collaboration song, "Sierra Blanca Massacre" and they were all feeling it.

THEN, they introduced the man I've looked up to the most since I was six years old, Mr. Kris Kristofferson! I think I blew out an older gent's eardrum with my whistle, but he said, "It's ok, I love that you love him". That's the spirit! He played "Plane Wreck at Los Gatos", which was perfect, of course, and then his song he said was inspired by Woody Guthrie, "Here Comes That Rainbow Again"... Sigh. Joe Henry and Graham Nash joined him for "Ramblin' Round" and you just didn't want it to end. Three is not enough from Kristofferson, ever.

Nash stayed on and played a new song of his inspired by Bradley Manning, the army private whistle blower that Nash picked up his pen to defend. The place was really listening, really CARING, as he sang, Tell the truth, it will set you free. Amen.

Jackson Browne came on with co-writer, Rob Wasserman on bass, and Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion as his backup singers, for another Woody lyrics collaboration song, "You Know The Night". It was written as a letter from Guthrie to his wife, Marjorie, and Browne said he had a hard time cutting it down. He must have, because it was one of the longest songs in the world, but all of it was sure pretty. Browne has also been at many of the Occupy events, and wrote a song especially for that movement, called "Which Side Are You On?" It nailed it, lyrically and how they threw it down.

Now it was Ramblin' Jack Elliot's turn. As someone who knew Woody, played with Woody, lived with Woody and even babysat his kids, he was the elder statesman of the night, in his red satin shirt and cowboy hat, and a real character (and flirt, I was later to find out).

He didn't want any pictures taken, "If I see a red light, I stop, but you can take a picture of me naked on a bucking horse in the back alley after". Haa! He also wanted the teleprompter shut off, which I dug. He gave us "Pretty Boy Floyd" and its line, You won't never see an outlaw drive a family from their home got huge applause and Ramblin' Jack got himself a standing ovation.

Sarah Lee and Johnny came back on and told us that Woody died on October 3rd, 1967 at 55. He's remembered as the "Guy who told you what you already knew." They played "Another Man's Done Gone" with its perfectly true verse, Sometimes I think I´m gonna lose my mind, But it don´t look like I ever do, I loved so many people everywhere I went, Some too much, others not enough. Doesn't that just about sum up life exactly? Browne, Rafael, and Nash came back to join Sarah Lee and Johnny on the delightful, "No Church Tonight" which saw Tom Morello and a clearly smitten Nora Guthrie spontaneously slow dancing around the edge of the stage. Special.

The whole night actually reminded me a lot of Morello's own Justice Tour shows (which I've been lucky enough to document for him and they remain the best thing I've been a part of), where a whole slew of music stars come together and put on a show for the ages. Each plays a few individual songs, people jam with each other, then they all come together at the end for an all-star jam. Tonight those jams were extra great because they were done by legends in honor of a legend. "This Train Is Bound For Glory" had everyone back out, singing and playing together, and the smiles could not have been bigger on the faces of the artists, or the audience, and everyone danced together, on stage and in their seats.

"This Land Is Your Land" is the signature song of Woody Guthrie's, and would be this event's last song. It is appropriate that Morello took the lead on this, as he ends all of his own shows with this classic, always with the censored verses intact, and tonight was no different. As we all sang along, Morello got everyone from octogenarian's to babies, front to back, to jump together as ONE, in celebration of the man that made it his life's work to remind us even today, decades after his death, that this land WAS made for YOU and ME. ALL of us.

What a special night! What a special man Woody Guthrie was! What a special country we live in! We have to not only remember that, but fight for it. Not only celebrate it, but DO SOMETHING about it. Every single day that we're given is an opportunity to better it all, and nights like this serve as divine inspiration. Thank you so much to everyone involved in creating such a momentous occasion, and Thank you, Woody Guthrie! You were indeed bound for glory.

AND - as a special bonus (THANK YOU TOM!!!), look who hung out after the show:

That's right. A progressive liberous woman and Kris Kristofferson. Glory.

*Sorry for junky photos ... they weren't allowed. Woody would like that too, right?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Help The Homeless - Even If You Get Busted

Everyone knows I love Venice, and always will. I've just become a little dismayed at the direction things seem to be heading these days, and feel like it should be discussed, pondered and helped.

I recently had to move out of the rent-controlled apartment I'd lived in since the late 90's. I had a nightmare of a situation for years with an overly entitled landlord (Phil Bubar - don't rent from him, ladies) who liked to let himself into my place whenever he liked and do whatever he felt like, which I don't even like to think about. I had witnesses/neighbors tell me about seeing him go in and stay for an hour or so. I'd have friends stay over with just the guest key that works in the doorknob come back and be locked out because both locks were locked - meaning he'd been in there again. I make my bed each day like a military person, and I'd come home to see a sitting mark he hadn't even bothered to smooth out, right next to my pile of laundry. My brother once awoke from a nap to find him coming out of my bedroom, and when startled upon seeing my brother, made up some thing about checking smoke detectors. The last time I know of it happening for sure, I was at home at my desk writing and heard keys in the doorknob, but I'd dead-bolted it so he couldn't get in. Scary! I confronted him and he made up some thing about needing to look at the plumbing. Yeah. Right. We all know this is illegal. I stayed because it was old school cheap rent, rents for tiny little bachelors were now more than I paid for a two bedroom, and when I confronted him about it, he lowered my rent even further. Uh, guilty.

It's a long, ugly story that finally wound up in civil court for our rent dispute (He should be in criminal court, of course, but we never got that video proof the Police, the Housing Board, Tenant Lawyers, etal wanted. My word against his. His spendy lawyer vs. me representing myself, plus I'm so over it and never want to deal with the guy again in my lifetime ...). It's really a blessing in a great disguise. I put up with that deviant situation for WAAAAAY too long, all because Venice has gotten so expensive over the years, and writing is a very financially up and down life choice, so I played it "safe". Which turned out to be very unsafe, by the very person I was paying for years to live in a safe place. Yep.

So I got out. I'm extra blessed to have some fantastic Venice friends who invited me to stay at their place while they were away (Ozier Love Forever!), while I looked for a new place. NOT easy, considering how much Venice has changed since I last house-hunted, and truthfully, how greedy people have become. Total shit holes are going for $3,000 a month! Good luck with that. Anyway, Moving Day came and I had to put over a decade's worth of stuff into storage (after I'd already put most of the stuff out on the curb and watched it disappear immediately. This was fun. I'd do little themes - a straw hat, a hula hoop and a ukulele. Art supplies and paper. A cowboy hat and boots. On and on and all gone in 60 seconds. Signs of the times, I suppose. I only saw one of the people who actually took the stuff, but he seemed jazzed.).

I'd heard all about the raids/sweeps on the homeless living on that stretch of 3rd and Rose that has become a bit of a West Side Skid Row, where the police come through and throw all of peoples' worldly possessions in the trash if they're not watching them themselves. It was a cold and rainy day and I had a whole bunch of freshly laundered blankets, towels, old jackets and stuff that could go to Goodwill, or straight to the people that really need them. So, upon leaving the storage building on 4th and Rose with my two dear friends who were helping me move (LOVE YOU NATHAN AND MARC!!!), I got out on 3rd and went up to the nearest guy sitting on the sidewalk, explained I knew about the raids, and asked if he wanted to take whatever he wanted and share the rest with people on the block. He was stoked, I felt better, everybody wins.

Until driving away about a block later, we see police lights flash behind us to pull over. Great. As if I hadn't already been having the longest day possible, and was nowhere near done. My friends are Aussies and were driving a borrowed pickup, so the "license and registration" request was already out of the norm. I was in the backseat of the cab, and we were all asked for our licenses. One cop was on the driver's side, the other on the passenger. The passenger side one was a little dickhead who I'll forever regret not noting his name, but I was upset and forgot to. Here's why.

"The reason I pulled you over was you were just seen leaving a high narcotic trafficking zone. What business did you have there?"
"Oh, we're helping my mate move."
"Uh huh. Have you met her before today? What's her name?"
"Uh, CJ"

I mean, the guy was implying I was a crack whore right to my face!! I know I was in sweats and no makeup with pigtails, but I don't think I fit the casting, even so. I was getting SEETHING mad, and then -

"We have undercover agents working in the area, who saw you in an exchange with a man on the street."
"Yes, I've heard about the sweeps on the homeless here, and I'm moving, so I gave them a bunch of blankets and stuff. It's cold and raining."
"What did you get in exchange?"

Uh, a warm heart. Is this guy kidding me?! Then his smarmy little mouth I wanted to slap comes up with this outrageous deal -

"Ma'am, are you out on parole? On probation?"
"No, Sir." (that took everything I had to not just unleash the fury I had building, but I didn't need it to get worse, as I still had a whole household to move and very limited time)
"Have you been taking narcotics today? Been drinking? The reason I'm asking is why are your eyes so dilated?"

Hmmm ... I don't know, maybe because I'm exhausted, have been crying, have had no sleep, am having one of the most stressful times of my life. Oh, and shooting heroin real quick while I'm moving heavy items. WHAT?!?! I was PISSED. So he took our licenses back to the cop car and did whatever they do, while my friends urged me to remain calm. After a bunch of minutes, they came back and returned our licenses, asked some more b.s. questions about where did I live, where was I moving to, and suggested we avoid the area in the future. I couldn't even look at the guy. If I ever see him off-duty, it's on. Getting accused of being a crack whore for giving away clean blankets to the homeless?! I've really heard it all now.

This is what concerns me ... If people are going to get in trouble for trying to help the homeless, then they won't. They'll stop trying. And then what becomes of us as a society? It's already happening, obviously, but it doesn't have to be this way. Venice began as a bohemian place for artists and writers and musicians and creative people that moved here because the rents were cheap and there was a true spirit of fun, camaraderie, and the art of living that set it apart from anywhere else. We cannot let that die. I'm pretty sure no one WANTS to be homeless. It always helps to try on someone else's shoes before you judge - or bust - them. Landlords don't HAVE to jack up rents just because they can. That disgusting "Silicon Beach" nickname being tossed around/Google moving in doesn't have to squelch out the whimsical flame that has always burned here. Every store and restaurant doesn't have to be fancy and insanely overpriced - those are choices. Choices based on greed.

There is a reason the Occupy Movement began across the country and the entire world, and all of the above illustrates why perfectly. The greed of some cannot be sustained. There will be an implosion. The ones who have always had each others' backs will be the ones who continue to, and the ones who turned their backs will regret it in the end. That's why I wasn't too bothered ultimately about my creepy landlord deal, because after all is said and done, I still get to be me, and he has to fester in his dirty skin and mind. People who help others get to feel good, and the ones who don't, well ... I don't really know, 'cause that's never been me, but I can't imagine it's at all rewarding at the end of it all to have a fat bank account with an empty heart.

I always go back to my favorite Einstein quote, as it's really all that matters ... "Remember your humanity, and forget the rest." Amen. Let us hope that Venice can remember not only its humanity, but its origins, and remain true to who we should and can be.

Love, Your Venice Crack Whore - with a heart of gold.

* Photos snaked from Google Images via (the first two) and (the beautiful homeless man one) as my camera was packed up. Thank you!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Abbot Kinney Spirits - Vanishing

Well, the stories are backing up in Blogtown lately, because of a relocation of residence for this writer. A LOT of stories ... believe me, but for the moment I just have to trip you out with the news that Abbot Kinney Spirits or Lucky Stop, I think they answer to both - the only liquor store on Abbot Kinney, where the whole neighborhood goes for sundries, lotto tickets and booze - is closing on May 10th. The guy working whose name I can never remember, because he grunts it so fast if he answers you at all, but I'm slowly softening up, I can tell, told me the old school liquor store was closing and the landlord (yeah, more on landlords later) was going to have a flower store go in. ANOTHER floral shop on Abbot Kinney and no whiskey? One of the only OG places left on the block that ANYONE in town can afford a little something?! No way.

He joked that we were all going to have to go to Ralph's now for party supplies/toilet paper and the couple + her brother that had already been Easter drinking in the daytime, were wide eyed and not pleased with the news that the one store nearby to get refills of whatever normal life stuff you need - generally not an emergency minimalist floral arrangement - was shutting down. And SOON. We were all bummed. The guy working kept a stiff upper lip, as usual.

If you will be affected by this, or just have fond memories of finding out about each others' parties whilst inside getting the sauce, then get in there and voice your displeasure. Blahblah's "Coolest Street In The U.S." or not, Abbot Kinney is slowly losing the flavor that MADE it cool in the first place. Not SAID it was.

*** UPDATE -Abbot Kinney Spirits has RE-OPENED - at a third of the size, but the same guys and roughly the same stuff. Phew.

*Extra credit to the dude dressed up in a giant Easter chick yellow costume and nothing else but briefs, rollerblading down the middle of Abbot Kinney amid the Easter Sunday dressed strolling masses of people we didn't know. I wish I'd taken a picture, but I'm still smiling at the memory. The SPIRIT!