Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Dear Ferguson

In messed up times like these, when it feel like there is no more justice to be found ... it's most important to talk about it. Sing about it. Exercise your freedom of speech, your anger, your voice.

Two of my dear friends addressed the crime of Michael Brown's murder in Ferguson before the Grand Jury b.s. even came back with their "No Indictment" decision. As there really are no words I can think of right now, I'll let them speak for me .... for US. The PEOPLE. I'm so thankful we have artists unafraid to call it what it is....

First, Tom Morello with "Marching On Ferguson" ...

And more truth from Ben Harper with "Call It What It Is (Murder)"...

Enough said. For now.

Count your blessings tomorrow ... Be thankful for your freedoms. And use them wisely.

Much love to you all for a beautiful day of thanks. Love every minute of it, for those who can't.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Annual Breakwater Reading Of Moby Dick

I finally got to go to one of the greatest, coolest traditions around Venice last weekend when I finally remembered that it was the annual reading of Moby Dick put on by the Venice Oceanarium.

I went down for the sunset segment on Saturday, and a good portion had already been read (It goes from 8 am to 10 pm, both Saturday and Sunday!). All sorts of different people were sitting around in the sand near the Breakwater, where a microphone had been set up with a p.a. and nautical props like whale bones, a spear, and a little model ship set the stage for the salty tale.

It was so picturesque, with the sun setting, the clouds dancing and the waves crashing against the rocks behind ... you can imagine how very pleased Mr. Melville would be to see his great work honored in such a way in these modern times.

There's something very nice about being read to ... it frees up your mind to really imagine as you listen, rather than focusing on the words yourself. I thought of my little story hour reader at our library back home (RIP, Mrs Swanson!) and how she had set me on the path to love reading and writing. There were several obvious students there, taking notes and following along in their own copies ... but that's a pretty cool way to get extra credit.

I didn't take a turn reading as I somehow got a gnarly cold and would not have made it through many sentences without hacking, but I certainly appreciated the readers who got up there and brought the quest for Moby Dick to life. Some got into character, some offered their own digressions (like David Bush who didn't want to read next to the spear, as he's a pacifist. I love Venice), and though one clearly couldn't stay for the whole thing, I'm quite sure that they all greatly enjoyed it.

Just as I was starting to freeze and sniffle more, hot clam chowder arrived on the sand, donated by Enterprise Fish Company. So now we're listening to Moby Dick as the very last streaks of sun etched the sky, eating clam chowder and taking snaps off a thoughtful friend's flask. What a perfectly gorgeous Venice evening, truly.

There are wonderful, unique, supercool things like this going on all the time around town, and once you take part in them, you don't want to miss them again.

Thank you to all involved in this magical event ... I'm going to come on Day Two next year to find out what happened! (Ha).

Friday, November 21, 2014

Tom Freund's Same Old Shit, Different Day - A Venice Video

In the latest collaboration between my brother Paul and I, we made a video for Tom Freund's "Same Old Shit, Different Day," from his recent Two Moons album.

It is a love letter, to and from Venice.  The Venice Freak Show (and just Venice in general) teaches us that nothing is normal, and that we should come together through celebrating our differences. Tom sums that up in song right here. This is what it feels like to be in Venice ... where we NEVER want to say, "Same old shit, different day."


*Thanks to all the skaters, bike riders, dancers, clowns, piano players, freaks, seagulls, artists, performers, sailboats, drummers, sunsets, friends and neighbors who go nuts with us every single day.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Lacey Kay Cowden - The Go Great Guns EP Release Jamboree

Sunday was a beautiful day, all about dear and talented friends celebrating that dearness and talent all day long. It was also Abbot Kinney's 164th birthday, and what way to honor the founder of our wonderful town than by dreaming dreams and making them come true.

The occasion was the release of Lacey Kay Cowden's spectacular new ep, Go Great Guns, and that we did for sure, in a beautiful garden party at Big Red Sun.

The party got started at 3 pm with a DJ set by Paddy Wilkins (aka Bright Moments) under the bright sunshine, as we sipped on lemon lavender cocktails in the garden. Scott Passaglia opened the live music portion of the say, as more and more friends arrived to fete Cowden and her new music.

Even little Boots was present to party with her owner, all decked out in her Sergeant Pepper jacket.

The place got increasingly packed with more pals, all loving both the chance to catch up all evening and to hear our friends rule.

Which Paul Chesne and his band certainly did - and always do. It's just always a total blast getting down to their tunes, and Sunday was no different.

Matt Ellis (who also produced Cowden's ep) was up next and played some selections from his new album, The Greatest Escape (I actually have no set list notes as my hands were full with going nuts with my friends, but it was all great, trust).

At some point around here, trays were passed with a treat from Cowden's boyfriend, Chef Brian Dunsmoor, who had whipped up some delicious chili and served it up right inside individual bags of Fritos.

It was the perfect party food, convenient and all set to soak up the drinks that had been going down easily for everyone all afternoon. YUM.

The sun began to set and it was fully dark by the time Cowden took the stage, with the whole garden illuminated with festive lights, as cozy as could be.

Cowden's voice is so strong and beautiful, people were completely silent as they sat and stood to hear her gorgeous new songs from the ep.

She had a band backing her up for this gig, and it really complimented her songs, as the drumming by Griffen Harris really made her "Walking Song" sound like we were all ambling along together, and the electric guitar by Nick Luca really fleshed out the sound of Cowden's own acoustic.

It was touching to see Cowden sing "Southern Boy" to her "Sugarnipples" Dunsmoor, and the support they both display for each others' artistic and culinary endeavors.

"Shotgun Loving" was the first song I ever heard Cowden play, sipping whiskey around the fire one late night, when she truly mesmerized us all. It was much the same Sunday night, when as rowdy as it was all getting, everyone zipped it every time Cowden opened her mouth to sing.

As Cowden took her bows and gave her thanks, the party carried on into the evening ... until just about now, really. Massive congratulations to my dear friend, Lacey, on both an ep and a launch that will be talked about for a long time to come.

It was a truly inspiring event in every way. The place was filled to the wooden rafters with people that live, breathe and walk the walk of their creativity. I think Abbot Kinney would have loved it (as he probably loved the drink sip he got poured for him on the ground). And we'd all do well to heed Cowden's advice, and Go Great Guns after whatever it is that you love.

Go Great Guns is available now everywhere. Get yours!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

These Final Hours In Venice

Saturday night was a great time of an outdoor cinema at our friend Paddy's place. My dear friend (and former roommate) Nathan Phillips brought his new film from Australia to show us all and These Final Hours had a packed yard to see it.

The festivities kicked off with beers and fellowship with all sorts of friends catching up under the stars on a particularly balmy November evening. Awesome. Joey Indrieri screened his short film, The Cycle, to much applause, and Matt Montee earned the same for his surf clip, Double Barrel.

There was a little break to stall for time so the birthday boy, Marc O'Riley could arrive and be sung and Hip Hip Hooray'ed too, and then it was time to settle in to your blanket or bean bag chair for the feature attraction.

These Final Hours opens with Phillips' naked ass, and that earned him some extra-bawdy hoots and hollers. Brave man. From there it goes on to chronicle the final hours left of Earth after a very scary sky lets you know that the bomb has been dropped and the World as we know it is over.

Phillips carries the whole film the entire way, as he races against time to return a little girl to her father before the world imminently explodes, and then get himself to the lady that he loves (one of them, at least).

It's intense, heavy, like what would YOU do if you knew it was all about to end forever?

Looking around the yard full of friends that I love as the doom played out on the outdoor screen, I thought I'd probably want to do just about exactly what we were doing ...

Feeling lucky to have talented, creative, generous and supportive people surrounding you and making you feel good about the time you do have in this life.  We're lucky people.

When the world and the movie ended, the place exploded with cheers, and then laughter, as Phillips shouted, "NO SEQUEL!"

The End.

Monday, November 10, 2014

In Memory Of Tomas Young

American warrior and IVAW Vet Tomas Young died today. I spent a couple of the heaviest days of my life with him in Washington D.C. in 2008, learning so much about what the costs of war truly are. I'm re-running the story of those days today, in his honor. Rest In Peace, Tomas.

Also, his letter to filthy Cheney and Bush is a must-read:

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.  

Mason Jennings - In A K-Town Church

I got to see Mason Jennings again on Friday night in a church in Koreatown. I've seen him play many times, both out here and in Minnesota, but it had been a while, so was extra great to hear songs I've loved for a long time, played by just Jennings and his guitar.

A Friday night show in Koreatown that starts at 7 pm is nearly impossible to get to on time when you live in Venice, because traffic simply sucks. The Unitarian Church listed that as the show's start time, and said it again when I called. We raced there straight from work, but still didn't arrive until 7:45. A frantic search for nearly impossible parking revealed others rushing down the sidewalk, looking equally frantic and bummed. When we arrived at the church, everyone was all casual and said the opener didn't go on until 8:30. They were not very well organized. So now we had time to kill, which led to a tour of Koreatown that felt like a free vacation, so foreign did it seem as we traversed 8th Street past blocks and blocks of sidewalk food vendors that all smelled great. We wound up at the R Bar (after obtaining the password - IT'S ALIVE! - from the internet). Cool spot, cheap drinks, good food. We had some laughs and then hot-footed it back to the church to have entirely missed the opener, Lucette. They were selling drinks in the lobby, that we said we didn't have to slam, you could bring them with you into the sanctuary. What?! This felt somehow wrong, especially when folks were acting like it was a club, spilling drinks and leaving their glasses on the floor when they went to get new ones. Not very respectful of the venue. At all.

Anyway ... Jennings clearly still has superfans, and they all wanted to hear their favorite songs. From the moment he took the stage (altar?), requests were being shouted. He opened with "Wilderness" from his newest album, Always Been, which I just bought at the show so don't yet know. It sounded as good as ever, and the fans went nuts. I brought my friend, Amanda, who had never seen or heard of Jennings, and we laughed as she began to see how rabid some of the Jennings fans are. They LOVE him. "Adrian" was next, with the trusim line that goes, "Fear is where our hatred begins..." This was especially timely and poignant considering how the recent mid-term elections went. People very obviously - and stupidly - voted out of fear. But I digress ...

The whole congregation sang along for "Be Here Now", but many disobeyed that command by checking their phones and stuff, as they do, but the point was still made. The guy next to me had never seen Jennings live either, but had long loved his music after listening to it all the way across the country on a road trip. "I thought he'd have a white beard, and be older, like Sean Connery," he said. He does have that sage quality in his voice, but nope - he's a young, cool dude. The clap and shout- along was in full effect for "California" - always a crowd-pleaser when played here, even with the line about staying far away from L.A.

"Your New Man" is another one that's always a fan favorite, with its comedy about winning back an ex-girlfriend. As odd as it was to be at a show in a church (they must need the money or something?), I will say that the acoustics are fantastic. With only his voice and his acoustic guitar, the songs sounded exactly as they'd been recorded. Perfect. As was his sweet new song, "Rainboots". Another charmer, for sure. "The Light" was great as ever, and then Jennings introduced a new song, saying, "I read a lot ... I hardly ever write a song that isn't inspired by a book." Then he played "The Fisherman", but I didn't catch what book it was inspired by, as some girl was yelling about how he was a beautiful man - in church. The harmonica came out for this one, and got its own screams every time a note was blown. Superfans.

"Jackson Square" took us back to post-Katrina New Orleans, and then Jennings sat at the upright piano for "Bitter Heart", which he played beautifully, even though he said it was missing some keys (?).  Then it was time for a brand new one that Jennings said "Seems like it's against Florida ...well, it IS against Florida (ha!)..." and laid down "The Florida Song" as it's named for now. It was swampy, with a surf guitar vibe that he said was inspired by his Dad moving there, and True Detective. You'll dig it.

"Darkness Between The Fireflies" and "Nothing" were both as great as ever, and then Jennings invited out opener Lucette to join him for "Something About Your Love." Her voice and piano playing complimented the song perfectly, and the place was dead silent. Lucette got some new fans that night, including me.

Speaking of fans, a guy in front of me was so happy and so into it the entire time, that I just have to include him. His face was beaming like this all show long, and believe me, he knew every word to every song, and had no qualms about chiming in. Unusually though, it wasn't annoying, because it was clearly so sincere. I was just happy for him.

"Patti and Robert" was the song about Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe that was inspired by reading Just Kids. I hope Smith has heard it. The end seems to be sung as her, in a falsetto that Jennings doesn't usually pull out. Great. "Crown" and "Ulysses" were granted to fans screaming for them. Jennings said that he just recorded a 2 song EP with Stone Gossard of Pearl Jam, but of course all ten copies were sold out by the time I got there. I'm sure it rules.

Jennings was back at the piano for "Sorry Signs On Cash Machines" and then it was "Thank you very much" time. Fans yelled themselves hoarse, but Jennings was cool and quick about it, coming right back out to play "Big Sur" with its great (and timely again) chorus, "This is as song to give you hope!" Thank you. We need that.

"1997" is so visual, and tells such a story, as all of Jennings' (and all the best songs) songs do. Love it. Then Jennings said, "So, what's the last song gonna be?" The cacophony  of requests was deafening, but somehow Jennings managed to pick out "Fighter Girl" and play that as his finale. A standing ovation was his, as Jennings took his bow and promised to come out and meet people in the narthex.

I had to split so did not get to congratulate Jennings on his great gig, but then when I got home, I had a brand new song waiting for me from his brother, Matt Jennings. Matt and I have been working on a songwriting project for a couple of years now, with me on lyrics and Matt on amazing music.  Please enjoy this first listen of our new song, "Western Sky Home".

This world is blessed to have the Jennings guys. Their talents make the place a whole lot better.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Gjustaaaah - Now Open

The Gjelina group's new bakery restaurant is now open. Gjusta opened its doors last week on Sunset Avenue, just across from Gold's Gym - which is hilarious, considering it'a a carb and sweets absolute Heaven and total temptation.

I went for the first time last Saturday, and it was a mad house. Droves of people lining up to check out the fantastic pastry creations from Nicole Rucker, super fine cheeses and meats, a sandwich section ... it truly is a foodie's dream. You'll just have to wait kind of a long time to fulfill it into your mouth. It will be worth it.

The ordering system is a bit chaotic as you in up for each different section and each section is packed. I'm sure this whole deal will get smoother, and this was opening weekend for a hotly anticipated spot, so had to choose either "overwhelming" or "fun" as your mindset. I chose fun.

And it was, because I ran into a bunch of people I knew among the obligatory hipsters, including the owners and Chef Travis Lett, there from Gjelina to roll up his sleeves and chip in on the new endeavor, taking customer orders and congratulations in equal measure.

I had a late one the night before, so arrived too late to partake in the porchetta breakfast sandwich they were sold out of ... but was consoled by the delicious blueberry scone I wound up with - and felt lucky to get, as they were going fast.

The breads are gorgeous. I saw a gentleman leave and walk down the street, just happily breaking off chunks of his baguette and eating it as he strolled. Irresistible.

As Rucker is a National Pie Competition blue ribbon winner, the pies are something to behold. They alone would be worth both the trip and the wait.

The wait. Don't be afraid of it, just embrace it, bring a friend to chat with, and be glad that we have this world class deluxe deliciousness just a walk away.


Gjusta is located at 320 Sunset Ave. in Venice. There is no sign, but they do not need one. You'll know.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Fine And Fanciful Art Of Alexis Murray

5/9/18: Lexi passed away this past Sunday. There are really no words that can express how sad that is, so I will let her story speak for itself. She was Awesome.

Alexis Murray is a fine artist living and working in Venice, California. She's also my friend, and real cool. We had a chance to sit down recently and dig more into her art and the path that got her here.

That path began in Philadelphia, where Murray was born and raised in household where "Artists were like heroes in our house." Her family's appreciation for art was further encouraged in high school, where Murray had the first teacher that really celebrated her work in a Mrs. Alice Cook. That led to attending Cooper Union Art School in New York and then transferred to Rhode Island School Of Design to pursue her higher education in painting and photography.

After working gigs in graphic design and as a photography assistant, and working on the Duke and Duchess of Windsor auction at Sotheby's in New York, Murray was happy to be working in her field ... but really missed painting. She created her first studio in her friend's extra bedroom and got into grad school at the School Of Visual Arts in NYC. She also got into illustration while there, which I totally see in her work ... you really want her to illustrate some very cool book out there. She had to choose a mentor for her thesis, and renowned photographer Duane Michals filled that role. His sense of humor and surrealism impacted her work, and grad school set her off in the direction of her current work.


Murray wound up falling in love with her childhood crush, Austin, and he lived in Los Angeles, so that meant a move across the country. Together they embarked on a worldwide trip, which so influenced Murray that she set up her art studio right when they got back, all inspired. Two (darling) little girls (Luna and Larkin) soon followed, and that meant the studio space got sub-letted, while Murray spent more time at home. Home also affected the work, as painting at home with babies necessitated smaller scaled pieces, both for space and time.

Being home with two little girls also meant lots of time spent with imagination, dress-up, role playing ... "All the things that inform who you'll become." As Murray explained, "I want my art to have that sense of magic that you have in life as kids." As you can tell by looking at any given piece of her work, it certainly does.

Her work also always has that sense of humor within it ... "Everything I do is fun for me ... I find myself laughing while I work all the time." That comes through in her paintings for sure, but perhaps most amusing are her gravestones. The above painting, Buena Suerte 2 is like a sketch for her real, fabricated, sculpted headstones that say things like, I Was Awesome or For You (for the heirs). One upping that is her plan for an inflatable Afterlife Machine, a large scale public installation, where the viewer would walk through and see what their next reincarnated life would be projected on the wall. Fun AND funny!

Now that the girls are in school and busy as kids are these days, Murray has a new studio in the Beacon Arts Building in Inglewood. Once each year, the building hosts Open Studios and this year's event is November 8th and 9th, from 12-5 pm. "Inglewood is super supportive of the Arts Community," says Murray (and now has far cheaper studio space than Venice - something we need to get a handle on if we still want to be a haven for artists. For real.) The November event is sure to be feast of fantastic art to behold.

                                                                                                                               Third Eye

Murray's own work has grown once again, both in scale and meaning. As she explains, "I'm extremely interested in dualities. Almost all the paintings I make depict things trying to live in many worlds at the same time, and the struggle that inevitably presents." As in her Keeping An Eye ... "Here you see identity, sexuality, authority, femininity, aging, beauty, wisdom, bundled with severity, humor and melancholy." As you stand before it, you see for yourself - it's all there.

Showfolk is about family life. "It's about how we all change roles and shift in dynamics within any given scenario and continually challenge one another." Murray went on to say, "I also love kitsch. This informs a lot of my colors and the overall look of the painting, and adds an element of modernity to the very traditional style of painting I have studied and worked so hard to learn." So great.

You notice in Murray's work that she tends to also have fun with composition and traditional teaching about where things should go, tweaking the work with things you're taught not to do, and making those choices work.


Among her body of work are the miniatures, work directly inspired by her time spent in India. Six inch squares that "demand intimacy from the viewer even in the way the need to be physically approached ... they should almost seem impossible to make and are the result of obsession." And because they're so little, you can both afford them and have the space for them! Win win. Another cool thing for Murray was that she was also recently chosen to design a commemorative coin for the state of Wyoming. How cool is that?

We also spoke about the Venice we love, and Murray told me, "I've only ever lived in Venice in L.A. - and I have every intention of dying in Venice." (Her headstones would certainly fit in here!) She felt similar to how I did when I first came here, that "Venice is the essence of being free to be who you are." Arriving from New York, Venice fit Murray to a T. "People are so open-minded and so cool ... it's bohemian, but upscale if you want that ... the climate ... the creative vibe ... you just meet the best people here." Fact.

Murray loves raising her kids here (you should see their house for Halloween - wow!), loves their neighbors, loves the Saints and Sinners bakery on Lincoln ("the epitome of Venice funk"), and loves that she gets to live and work in a place that so lends itself to exactly what she's doing. Living her art.

Visit to see more, or visit her at the Beacon Arts Building for Open Studios, November 8th and 9th, 12-5 pm. Murray is located in Studio 4D.