Friday, May 30, 2014

Happy 50th, Tom Morello!

Today is the 50th birthday of one of my favorite people in this world ... Tom Morello. In honor of The Nightwatchman's half-century of making his mark, I'm reprinting an article I wrote about our time in Washington D.C. for Morello's 2008 Justice Tour. George W. was still in his nightmare office ... Barack Obama had not yet been elected ... and we were out there fighting for justice for ALL. It was one of the most eye-opening, life-changing and affirming times of my life ... as you'll read.

Happy Birthday, Tom ... and THANK YOU, for all you do to make this world a little bit better.

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.  

Thursday, May 29, 2014

May Flowers

Everyone knows you need to stop and smell the roses ... but sometimes life just demands it.

Strolling down Altair the other day, I came upon this arch filling in with gorgeous, fragrant roses. Though pictures rarely suffice, it insisted one be taken.

I was thinking about that, how nice it is that people do things simply because they make things more beautiful in this world, when I walked past Urbanic on Abbot Kinney and they had a card that said, "Stop and smell the roses" in their window. Synchronicity. Pay attention.

Enjoy your own roses you pass by today, and think of me when you take a whiff! Mmmm.

*More synchronicity ... this was today's general horoscope in the L.A. Times:

If you find yourself responding emotionally to the existence of flowers or celebrating the wonder of clouds, you might blame it on the lovely Lady Venus, who yesterday crossed into one of her favorite parts of the sky. Ah, the beauty there is to behold! The world is visual poetry. Give it a soundtrack, and watch it dance!


Monday, May 26, 2014

St. Mark Memorial

I love it when brand new murals just seem appear overnight. This one of St. Mark now graces the back wall of the Danny's Deli building .. the Patron Saint of Dogtown watching over the proceedings of the Boardwalk ...

Murals are great for showing the character of a place certainly, but also to combat the influx of the ugly, generic saltine box houses going up all over town. They keep it interesting.

In memory of all the Venice people who have left us too soon ... and all the people who fought - and continue to fight - for us to be free. As a country, and as a town.

Happy Memorial Day! The beach beckons ...

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

On The Road - Venice At The Races

My Venice friend Sally and I just zoomed down to Atlanta to take in the drag races for her birthday. That's all she wanted to do, and I'm always game for something new, so off we went, for less than 48 hours. Which was plenty of time for me to realize that a lot of Georgia seems to be all about the races ... both auto and genetics. Whoa.

We live in quite a bubble here in Venice and you really do forget just how real all the race stuff is in other places. It's downright shocking, actually. The NHRA drag race nationals were on in a town called Commerce, Georgia, about an hour outside of Atlanta. I know absolutely nothing about this sport. The nice thing about things like this is that everyone around you wants to teach you and be the expert, which I was happy to let them be. But when the crowd roared extra loud for a car that pulled up to the starting line, I asked the lady next to me what the deal was. She said, "Oh, he's one of the best right now, and can you believe he's BLACK?!" I almost fell off the bleachers. Before I knew it, I'd replied, "Oh, so is my husband." (He's not. I don't currently have one. But he could be.) Because I didn't want to be shocked alone. Her response? After a searching pause, "Well, I think it's nice that he drives a white car." Yep. Gross.

I've never heard anything louder than the approximately 3 seconds that it takes for the car to fly by, and that was with ear cans on. People loved it, black and white. Imagine!

It was also very green there, as it rained on and off the whole time, and Hotlanta was actually freezing. But Pat Sajack says climate change believers are "Unpatriotic racists," so I don't want to be that. I bet many at these races would have agreed with sad, misguided Pat though. Still?! In 2014?! I guess so.

We got back to the city later than planned, and as our hotel was downtown, not much was open. The concierge recommended a Mexican place next door, but you don't come from Los Angeles to Georgia to eat Mexican. She then rather stiffly said that there was a place across the street that was still open, but "They just serve typical Southern food." Perfect. I'm going. Sweet Georgia's Juke Joint is a place fashioned after The Color Purple, with the food and drinks named after characters from the film, like "Miss Celie's Punch." I can assure you that I was the only Norwegian in there celebrating the Motherland's Bicentennial that very day. There was a 2 hour wait, unless you could find a seat at the bar, I was told in a tone like "Good luck, white girl." In fact, I was called White Girl quite a few times in there. It was odd to feel like such a sore thumb sticking out, but I'm here to build bridges, and undaunted, I saw two guys sitting at a four top. I thought it might be nice if they scooted over so we could share the spot, as there were no other options. They were gracious and let us sit down, but I could tell the ladies at the next table were absolutely not thrilled. I was going to win them over.


After a complete blast of a time, eating fried chicken, cheese grits and fried green tomatoes, having the owner buy us shots of blackberry moonshine (!), serious chats about why someone would say, "They don't want the black guy in the picture" in this day and age, making friends with our great server, Toi (who makes purple bottomed high heels!) and finding out that the guy next to Sally was actually in charge of parking enforcement for Venice (!!!), well, by the time we left, there were hugs all around, emails exchanged and it felt like maybe some actual progress in the world ... if a bit alcohol induced.

The drag races were rained out on Sunday, forcing us to seek out solace with more fried chicken at what my Georgia-born and bred friend, Brian Dunsmoor, told me was the very best place for real deal Southern cookin' - The Busy Bee. Again, when I asked the concierge about it, she majorly hesitated, and said, "It's a bit ... Urban." Herself being "Urban". She said it was the kind of place where we'd leave smelling like it, a hole in the wall. Again - Perfect. I like legit. I believe I was the first person ever staying at the Ritz-Carlton Atlanta to ask for directions to The Busy Bee. The staff all had a conference about sending me there, truly not thinking it was safe. I only care if my presence would offend someone else by being there, and that's it. I live in Venice, where you could get smashed in the head with a skateboard for $20 by someone to buy their meth, and I ride my bike right by. You don't bother me, I don't bother you style. I'm not scared, and made that clear. I finally got the very sweet and kindly concerned concierge's blessing only when I said I'd email or call her to tell her I was fine. Which I did. I was SO fine ... It truly was the very best fried chicken I've ever had. The people were wonderful in the tiny, packed for Sunday supper and every college graduate in town's lunch, where I was again the only (natural) blonde. There was an armed policeman standing behind the bustling, cramped counter where we sat, but he seemed unnecessary. We ate til we couldn't move, and our massive thing of leftovers was later given to a stoked homeless man. We again left with hugs, and this time, some peach cobbler for the plane ride back to Venice.

Even after such a short, whirlwind weekend, it's still always a true pleasure to come back to Venice (Hey, even from Hollywood!), where yeah, maybe it's a bubble, but it's one I want to live in. Freedom. Love. Acceptance. Creativity. Go wherever you want without thinking about it. Color blindness (I'd like to think). But it's really good to venture out and spread it around a bit when you can ... A lot of the rest of the country can certainly use a dose of all that.

But I'll give them the fried chicken.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Wylie Wilson - Knickers For Wily Women

You might have noticed the sparkling silver roof atop the bungalow around the corner from Abbot Kinney on 490 Santa Clara. Things are just as sparkling inside, where Wylie Wilson has set up a pop-up shop of their one of a kind knickers, bras, scarves and more.

Wylie Wilson is the vision of Peta Wilson, an Australian actress who now calls Venice home. After going on walkabout at 19, Wilson met an actor guy, which led to drama school, which led to starring in the television series La Femme Nikita for 5 years. When that run ended, Wilson wanted to do something creative, as she "creates Genie bottles wherever I go." She designed and built her own home in Australia. She traveled the world, collecting couture fabrics along the way ... lace from France, velvet from Switzerland ... never quite knowing why or what she'd do with them, but always adding to her collection.

Wilson's friend, Tyrus Wilson sewed up a pair of panties with her lustrous fabric, and then when her Grandmother passed away, Wilson began sewing as a way to distract from her grief. After that initial creative flow, she had 250 pairs of gorgeous underwear as samples. She wore a pair of her "personality panties" ("For every type of woman, and I've been a few.") on a first date, and though the guy didn't get to see them that night, Wilson found that she felt good in them ... and maybe other women would as well.

Before she knew it, Wilson's knickers had found their way into the pages of Italian Vogue, and Wylie Wilson was born. Wylie because women are wily ... they use their feminine wiles ... and Why lie? We are who we are, original and beautiful, just like these lovely more-than-mentionables.

Wilson had been living in Santa Monica, and apparently all the panties hanging in the windows were a bit much for the neighbors over there, "So I had to move to Venice." Perfect. She has commissioned locals like Jules Muck to design fabric (as anyone is invited to do) for scarves (which would then be Wylie Muck, as all women are Wylie, according to Wilson). Wylie Wilson is also the only place around that you can find shoes from cobbler to the stars, Terry de Havilland. Like these drop dead gorgeous red sparklers that almost hurt to look at ...

Once landed in Venice, Wilson joined the artist's community here, and realized, "It's a wonderful little Cosmos, Venice ... It's a village, and a subculture within this big city." (*At least it is for now, with creative people still doing creative things, and we need to keep it like that.) Things like people waving to you, saying hello as you walk past, watching each others' backs in the neighborhood, offering a helping hand ... all wonderful traits of Venice, and why Wilson never wants to go anywhere else, and always can't wait to get back here. So it seems we have more in common than our wiles ...

The Wylie Wilson "factory" is all so far run in Wilson's Venice home, by her "Spanish Armada" of seamstresses. They've somehow invented a bralette with no underwire that can manage a pair of DD's - that I'm eager to try. All the lingerie is unique, with one pair more lovely than the next. They're not cheap, so this is your special occasion stuff, most likely, but that occasion will promise to be extra-special in these gems.

When not organizing dancing girls for a Wylie Wilson shop flash mob, or throwing fun parties in the little house among the fancy panties, Wilson likes to hang out with her son, Marlowe, ride her bike around town,  swim at the beach, eat pancakes at Axe, grub at Gjelina, Hal's and Shima, get her coffee at Groundworks, and get inspired by everyday life in Venice. She is a force of nature, with a whirlwind of activity always swirling around her. As she says, "The ride is incredible with a great woman."

These are undergarments meant for those great women. Find out just how wily you are at the Wylie Wilson pop-up house until the end of May ... and stay tuned to their website for what comes next.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Jane's Addiction - Las Vegas - Nothing Shocking!

Jane's Addiction just made their iconic song "3 Days" a reality, as they played their entire Nothing Shocking album+ three nights in a row at the Brooklyn Bowl in Las Vegas. The band was there to celebrate that all-time classic record's 25th Anniversary (time fllllllies!), and the fans were out-of-their-minds about it before a note was even played.

I headed out to the desert for the final Saturday night show, and after hearing all the superlatives about the previous two shows, I know it was going to be ON. A whole crew made the trip out from Venice, so there was a bit of a hometown show feel to it, even in the middle of Sin City. The Brooklyn Bowl is massive, and it was jam packed to sold-out capacity, with the die-hard fans squeezed up against the stage ten deep a couple hours before they started. Then 20 deep, then 50 deep ... then so deep I thanked my lucky stars that I had my spot in the balcony to not move from until the last bow. As tribal sounding music amped up the room leading up to Jane's taking the stage, the atmosphere and anticipation was sheer electric. (Neon, to be precise. This was Vegas.)

The stage resembled a Day of the Dead altar, with Christmas lights hanging and flowers in vases all around. When the lights went dark and Stephen Perkins came out and sat at his drum kit, the crowd went crazy. When the opening chords to "Up The Beach" rang out ... well, I completely have chills right now writing about it. It was nuclear powerful in there. Dave Navarro came out and began that familiar opening number with his signature cool prowess, Chris Chaney ruled that bass line, and Perry Farrell sauntered out wailing those haunting vocal notes that set Nothing Shocking apart from anything else out there back in the day, without barely an intelligible word sung. He held a bottle up upon entering, high-fiving everyone down front, signifying that the party would now begin, and we were invited to join in the fun.

FUN! Like blasting out "Ocean Size" and "Had A Dad" back to back, the whole band going as OFF as the fans were. I could tell Perry was in rare form, feeling it back from the fans that love him (and knew every word), and returning it ten-fold. The dancing never let up, the voice and the music were as rad as the day we first heard them (maybe even better, as they've now played the tunes so many times, and they don't live as rough as they did back then, so ... YESSSS!).

"My beautiful friends! I'm so happy to see you again, because you never know when it's time to go ... but now ain't the time!" A fan gave Perry a hat and a joint, and Perry responded with the first of a bunch of awesome and hilarious stage banters about generous people being better than fucked up assholes ... "I want to be friends with generous people ... sometimes you gotta slow down and take a look around ... The cool thing about marijuana is it's communal, everybody shares ... No one wants to share their junkie spoon ... Marijuana is beautiful incense ... !" With that (plus a puff) from Perry, the band tore into "Ted, Just Admit It" like maybe never before. "SEX IS VIOLENCE!!!" It was boiling, incendiary hot. Perkins was going off, a total machine. Navarro's solos are intoxicating, and Chaney almost makes you forget he didn't write those Avery bass lines, and he's made them his own. Perry is ... well, Perry. One of rock's greatest ever front men. Period. No, the WORLD'S great front men, not just in rock, in humanity. A seriously cool cat, and a great friend.

Well, after that one that gave the record its name, everyone was all riled up, perhaps Perry most of all. "I can't wait to fuck again, I'm raring to go!" All bets - and shirts - were off by now, and it was a complete rock frenzy. We all needed a cold shower about then, but "Standing In The Shower, Thinking" would suffice. More than suffice. Rule.

A wind had blown in right before the show, nearly blowing us all over on our way to the venue. Flights were cancelled by 70 mph winds, which brought back some friends who had tried to leave, but instead got another show. Perry had a discussion with this crazy wind, who told him "If you rock my ass out, I'm gonna give you Summertime." So Jane's gave US "Summertime Rolls". This is a top candidate for my favorite song of all time, so I was thrilled to again see it being played (as it rarely is) live. I wasn't remotely alone, as the entire place sang along word for word, and it was clear that this is one of those classic songs that really MEAN something to people. It hearkens you back to the greatness of when and where you were hearing it for the first time. So special, so beloved ...

Equally loved and massively ROCKED was "Mountain Song". This is Jane's at their absolute best. My notes simply said, "Going OFF!" It was monstrous. I'm sure you can imagine. Voices were lost during this one, I actually heard a friend speak before and after, and this was where it went. Well worth it, he'd agree.

Fishbone was also in the house for these shows, and Angelo Moore came out to jam horns for Jane's on "Idiots Rule" ("That should be America's theme song" - Stephanie Hobgood). Jane's and Fishbone go way back, as Moore put it, "We're like Ebony and Ivory, Punk Rock stylie!" They, indeed and agreed, have gotten better with age, no question.

Perry talked about our generation, changing things for the better, things like making history voting in Obama ... to which a guy next to me said, "Ooh, there's a lot of Republicans here in Nevada" ... to which I said and meant, "Who cares?" No matter what, as Perry said, "We're all here together, having a good time!" ... and that's the point of it all. Music bringing people together to rock out, have fun, and UNITE. If people are moved by and love the same music, they have something common inside that can bridge gaps, show that you share something good, and go forward from there. We're all in it together, and not just at amazing shows, in life. So have a good time together. Not so hard after all, is it?

As they played through the album chronologically, you realized just how much EVERY track on Nothing Shocking is not just good, but GREAT. And holds up to be way better than most anything just coming out now, for real. No matter how many times you've heard "Jane Says", it's always awesome. This night's playing might have been the MOST awesome, with the steel drum version killing us of course, but also that we knew it was its 25th birthday ... so we sang along, in lieu of the Birthday Song. "She takes a swing, but SHE CAN'T HIT!" ... was the loudest I've ever heard it sung by a crowd. Again, a truly beloved tune for so, so many.

Reflecting on the years that have passed, Perry said, "My Dad was a tough motherfucker. I learned to be a Man by a tough motherfucker. That's what I teach my boys, Be tough, but be kind. That's the way we're gonna do it, yeah?" The crowd roared back, "YEAH!" in agreement, as that speech was backed by the jazzy music of "Thank You, Boys", which Perry shouted at its end.

"Pigs In Zen" fried all of our minds (at least I think it was because of that song), super heavy and certainly played by tough (and KIND!) motherfuckers/men. The cheers were deafening when that one ended (as it finishes the album) with Perry saying, "I need some more booze, I'll be back!"

Same for us, and when we all returned, it was for the rocker "Been Caught Stealing". This one featured Mrs. Farrell (Etty!) and Melissa Vela Bailey dressed for Vegas in big showgirl headdresses, and little else, making it even hotter in there. The dancers threw casino chips out to the crowd (as the band melted faces), endearing themselves even more.

Then the real "3 Days" arrived ... a scorcher. Dark and ominous, sexy and dangerous all at once ... the fans were beside themselves. At the end of the whole menage-a-troisvaganza, Perry and Etty made out so long and for real that Etty looked a little breathless as she left the stage. I love it. REAL love between a husband and wife, for all to see, enjoy and envy. This spectacle of a show was truly inspiring on so many levels.

"Stop!" = "NUTS!!!" in my notebook. So fast, so frenzied, so opposite the title ... you just want to GO. We were all sweaty messes at this point, but all stops were pulled out by band and audience alike as they lit into "Chip Away". Navarro, Chaney and Perkins were all lined up front of stage banging on big drums in unison, as Perry screamed his way through this other-worldly superjam. Suspension artist girls (skewered through their shoulder blade skin!) swung high above the stage, and there was so much coolness going on that you didn't know where to look.

And then it was over, but no one wanted it to be, not even the band. They took a group bow together, earning ear-splitting shouts, claps and whistles, but still, no one was going anywhere. 

Long after everyone else had left the stage, Perry and Etty stayed behind, shaking hands and handing out all the flowers from their vases. They know their fans love them, and they love them back.

Backstage after the show, this remained as true. Friends and fans came back to greet and thank them, and as effusive as they were, the Farrells and company were equally as thrilled ... at what had truly been an EPIC 3 Days.

Thank you to Jane's Addiction for 25 years of rocking us, and by doing so, uniting us.

(*And special heartfelt thanks to the Farrells for again welcoming me to the show!      Love you.)

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The May Art Block - A Walk Of Art

If you were in Venice last weekend, you got to see our town at its best. There was the Garden Tour, there was my Mom in town, and there was the Art Block. I love the Art Block. It's real. It's legit. It's the art of Venice, up close and actually personal.

Personal in that it was like a Venice family reunion, bumping into people you knew at every turn, a stark contrast to the upcoming Art Walk ... which is still cool, but now corporate and a whole lot more sterile. Not so at the Art Block - by and for the artists of Venice. Someone's mom might have made a spread of home cooking. You might smell weed smoke as neighbors share a puff in the sunshine. Artists are relaxed in their own environments, easy and open to chat with studio visitors, crack a beer (or wine) and share their work and lives with art enthusiasts who are genuinely interested. That is just the best.

Mom and I and my friend Deb covered a lot of ground. Since the last one, the Art Block has really caught on, and now spreads from the headquarters area at 3rd and Sunset to Lincoln and the Boardwalk. Artists have come together to support and promote each others' works in a true grassroots and awesome event that is not only free monetarily, but artistically and sociologically, in true Venice fashion. I was inspired and proud all day long.

Everything was walkable if you really meant it (and we did), but there were buses and pedicabs if your energy waned at all. Ours did not, and we got around. And STILL didn't manage to see it all!

There was a a cool mobile home gallery (the Gypsy Trails Mobile Gallery) parked in the street, with skateboard art and 3D sandcastle paintings.

I always enjoy the studios centered around the Art Block headquarters (where you get the maps and the most concentration of spaces) on Sunset Avenue. There you get to see the great  drawings and wooden works by the Weir-Quitons ...

You are reminded at the end of a hallway to never EVER conform. Right, Venice?

We popped in to see Trek Kelly's 100 Instagram photos in and around Venice, each one so gorgeous that you'd be hard pressed to choose a favorite.

But I bet you could. It was also nice to just shoot the breeze with folks you haven't seen around in a bit, and know that you were seeing each other because of art. Because of Venice.

You wouldn't dream of Art Blocking with out a stop by Attaway's studio ...

It was even better this time because both my Mom and Attaway's artist Mother were there to share it with, in a pre-Mother's Day artistic extravaganza. Extra special.

The weather Gods smiled on the event as well, and bright sunshine and warm ocean breezes kept the spirits high all day.

In among the art and people was a gentle reminder that artists also need to make a living, in addition to making your day. Support your local artists PLEASE!!!

After the fun at the Attaway, Bevacqua, Savage and Risk compound,  we strolled over to "The Distillery" at 361 Vernon.

I caught up with my friend Gary Palmer at his studio there, and heard his thoughts on creating a local/international festival for street chalk art. The super cool kind that looks like it's 3D and blows your mind. Stay tuned for that, because it will be stupendous, based on what Palmer showed me.

One treasure of a room opened up into the next, and surprises were in store at every turn. No matter what your artistic taste, there truly was something for everyone.

It's always a treat to peek in on Jim Budman's studio, a fun house of eclecticism and serious art melted together like a really good trip.

In Budman's space, you don't even know where to let your eyes settle and focus, there's so much going on. All of it interesting and fun.

The art fluctuates between silly and serious, with baby doll heads arrayed in a case across from a piece with the former World Trade Center towers reflected in a wine glass just days before they fell.

There was a fun, throwback, interactive time  where we got to throw down some old-school spin art, and I just remembered that I forgot to retrieve my own spin from the clothesline where it dried. Dang. Trust me, it was purple and orange freshness.

A real highlight was over on 6th and Indiana Court at the space of Francisco Letelier and friends. Letelier's work is so beautiful and thought-provoking, it gives you that feeling of relief that PHEW, there are some people like this still working in our world. Really.

Visitors enjoyed the leafy courtyard, made friends, and talked about what a great day it was, all over town. It truly was.

I loved it all and soaked it all in, especially the warmth of the people that I ran into that I already love, or the ones that I just met that made me happy they are here too.

There was even Art Block merch available this time around, with a t-shirt designed by Letelier that any art or Venice lover would be stoked to sport.

Here's my Mom, talking art and being darling, just like everyone around her ...

Family, friends, art, sunshine ... as I said before, it was a day for Venice showing off, a day that made it way too easy to explain why we love it here.

The art was not contained within studio walls either. It spilled out into the streets and alleys at every turn ...

I recently saw a bumper sticker on a car parked on my street that said, "I brake to watch artists create." Which is exactly what we did to see what would emerge on this woman's canvas ...

We cruised over to Hampton Drive to see the stunning glass work by John Mooney ...

 .... And carried on to Melissa Herrington's bright studio home ...

And then headed over to Jules Muck's spot to see both her finished works ...

... And her art happening right in front of your face as she pulled silk screens on to t-shirts as extra-cool keepsakes of the day.

From there we headed down Abbot Kinney, and though I was already going to stop in to my friend Kwaku Alston's place ... the sign out front made it imperative. Hilarious.

My dear friend and neighbor Harry Gunderson was showing his stunning work at his house, open and filled with friends and new admirers alike. It's cool to have things like this where just walking down the regular street, you spy the yellow Art Block flag and know that more goodness is in store. It's a little like the Amazing Race of art ...

As we left the Gunderson/Cletta pad, we saw the cones for bike parking out front of their house. If you didn't somehow know you were in Venice before, there was no question now.

After dragging Mom around all day, and with two birthday parties still to go, we wrapped up our walkabout of art, with plenty left unseen for the future. The Art Block is pure Venice. PURE. You should stop at nothing to be there - and delighted - by the next one. I'll look forward to bumping into you ... in the name of art ... under the sign of Venice.