Friday, October 28, 2016

Chesne & Ellis - They Don't Make 'Make 'm Like They Used To

There's a brand new oldie out now from Venice locals, Paul Chesne and Matt Ellis. "They Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To" is the new video and single, shot and recorded in Venice. In a garage. Just like they used to ...

The friends had such a good time making the video, they figured it deserved a proper launch, and that went down last week at The Cinema Bar.

We tore it up on a weeknight - like we used to - and counted our lucky stars that we get friends, songs, and nights like these, to remind us of the good old days that we're living right now. 

Monday, October 24, 2016

Autumn In Minnesota - Living In Color

I just got back from a sorely needed hit of the refresh button back home in Minnesota. I hadn't been back for Autumn in years, as I usually go back for Christmas, so the motherland in all its blazing fall glory was really something special. People were laughing at me and how hard I was tripping on it all, but I didn't care. It was so pretty, it all almost looked fake. 

When you don't live somewhere you try to pack in all you can while you're there. I never have time to really get out into the country when I'm back home, so that was a priority this time. From my beloved Wood Lake Nature Center right in the middle of the city, to the North shores of Lake Superior almost at the Canadian border, Minnesota was really showing off.

I'm not a professional photographer, but you didn't have to be, it was super easy to take an awesome photo just by hitting a button on your phone. It was like you felt more fully alive just looking at the beauty all around you. Even the people that live there were like "Wow!" - because sometimes you don't get out and take advantage of what's right there in front of you.

I was there also to attend the Prince Tribute show at the XCel Energy Center, and that was great to finally have that celebration and kind of closure together with all of my hometown folks. The entire city was lit up in purple again, and it felt wonderful to be there ... true Minnesota pride was in full effect.

There was more of that when the news came out that our other hometown hero, Bob Dylan, had won the Nobel Prize for Literature - the first time such a reward has ever been given to a musician. That was so cool, and the pride for that is shown many stories high in downtown Minneapolis in an excellent mural. There was also the first episode of the new edition of Prairie Home Companion when I was there, and I think the show is in good hands with new host, Chris Thile.

If you're in Minnesota in the fall, you have to go to the apple orchard and you have to go to the pumpkin patch.

We actually hit a few, and I'm fully craving more apple cider donuts and fresh cider right now. And maybe those apple bratwursts too. Yum.

The weather was so gorgeous, everyone seemed to be in a good mood the whole time too. You really couldn't help it.

Only one day had inclement weather, and I welcomed it as we haven't had any rain to speak of in California all year. The grey skies over the Mississippi didn't even do much to dampen the brilliant colors and high spirits. One guy was out painting in the rain, and we walked through it all without a care.

The trees were so pretty in town that I was wondering what it was like up north and down south. One day we did the drive to Lake Pepin (where the Mississippi is so wide they call it a lake, and it's where waterskiing was invented) and Red Wing. The drive was sunny and glorious, but the leaves were just kind of golden ... pretty, but I think too early.

I was looking up the fall color sites every day and one day we decided to just go for it and see what the far North would have to offer. It was a drive well rewarded.

We started out at Gooseberry Falls, where I was so proud of my Mom for climbing up that whole hike.

 It was postcard perfect everywhere you looked, and the only thing we had to worry about was losing our sunlight and views!

We would take breaks on little benches and sit and just look out at all the wonder. It's such a relief to get out into real nature and recognize that it's still there - and that we have to protect it!

I hadn't seen Split Rock Lighthouse since I was a little kid, and though it's not as big as I remembered, it is as beautiful.

The climb to the top of the lighthouse is rewarded with stunning views of the Lake Superior shoreline, and from there you could really see the oranges and yellow in full flame.

It's so lovely up there that you just want to keep going, certain that around the next corner must be the best view of them all. I got really deep into the woods at one point on my own, and when I yelled back for my Mom, she couldn't hear me. Then I thought I heard a thump and a rustling of leaves very close by, and I took off ... I had seen The Revenant just the night before, so  ... Peace.

We hiked and sight saw until the last streak of light had left the sky, and then began to look for Northern Lights. They told us they'd seen them all Summer long up there, but on this Autumn night it was just a whole bunch of stars. After a proper Walleye meal, we got back on the road to the city, as there was more to do the next day.

Home is always about my lifelong friends too. I went to the football game at Richfield High School, where I don't think I'd been since I graduated. It's always so great to see the old friends and know that we have those solid roots in common.

My home friends are solid. I get so much strength from just knowing that they're still out there in the world for me, but when we get to be together (in the Minnesota Wild locker room), it's even better. I'm so lucky.

Time flew and before I knew it it was time to return to Venice and real life. I'm sharing a whole bunch of postcards of my time back home here so that you might think about getting out there yourself. It doesn't have to be Minnesota, although you can see why that might be nice. Just get out there and breathe in the fresh air deeply, and know how lucky we are that places like this still exists. And you get to take that with you in your memories, for whenever you need to pull out that feeling again.

I'm doing it right now ...

THANK YOU!!! to everyone I saw, and every leaf that turned. I feel all of you now.

Friday, October 14, 2016

The Official Minnesota Prince Tribute Show - Nothing Compares 2 Prince

Special Report From Minneapolis:

When Prince died last April, I felt so far away and so homesick for my Minneapolis people I could hardly stand it. So when I heard there was to be a special hometown tribute show to our dear Prince, I knew I had to be there with all my purple-clad folk. Well, it all went down last night in a 5 hour marathon extravaganza that no one will ever forget ... and highlighted just exactly how big of a loss Prince really is, as no one could even come close to his greatness.

It was a huge day for Minnesota, as it was both officially Prince Day (with an official proclamation from the Mayor) and we heard the news that native son Bob Dylan had won the Nobel Prize for literature. There was a LOT of hometown pride in the air. Once again, the landmarks in downtown St. Paul around the XCel Energy Center were lit up in purple ... the lamp posts were purple, the people were all in purple, and you could feel the love and loss and admiration for Prince everywhere.

We had a lot going on so missed the whole outdoor pre-party, where I understand the people watching was excellent. People had come from Europe, Australia, all over the United States (Venice!), and all of Minnesota to be together in celebration of our favorite son. Elaborate outfits and hair-do's and hats were everywhere, and the lines for commemorative merch were long. The show started late, which was an omen of what was to come .... LATE.

A screen over the stage read "Don't look for credit. We're supposed to look out for each other." - Prince. That's right. That's who he was. The lights went down and a video came on with all sorts of testimonies to Prince's philanthropy that no one ever knew about. Van Jones said that Prince always said, "If you've been blessed, you have to give back." Prince was certainly blessed, and he certainly gave back. As Jones said, 85-90% of the people he helped had no idea it was him, and that's how he wanted it. From being one of the first donors to Black Lives Matter to creating Yes We Code to teach kids computer programming, Prince was always making the world a better place, and not just through his music. The whole arena was applauding his good deeds as much as any song, and when President Obama came on the screen, simply saying "Thank you, Prince." - you really felt the impact of his loss.

The show began with the Minneapolis funk of Mint Condition, who tore it up from the get-go with "America", "DMSR" and "When Doves Cry". I don't think I've ever seen an entire arena where EVERYONE was up and dancing - real dancing - from little kids to grannies. It was awesome, especially for me, finally being back with my people, where it all began. "We're gonna keep the Minneapolis funk going all night long!" was yelled, and they meant it ... it really did go all night long.

Real Prince tunes were played between sets, so he was there, but it also put a spotlight on just how much better he was than anyone else there. Just truth. His loss was all the more devastating after this show, because you couldn't even compare anyone to him - there would be no point. He's just that much better, and it's gut wrenching that he's gone. Other people are fun, but just not Prince. Like Morris Day and The Time, who were up next. There was Jerome and his mirror held up to Morris. There was "The Bird" and "Jungle Love" ... and it was fun.

Bobby Z. from The Revolution gave a nice speech, but said that Lisa and Wendy couldn't be there. Lisa and Wendy couldn't be at THE Prince tribute? No one would even know who they were without him, and I thought it odd that they couldn't get a night off from soundtrack work for the event. But ok. Instead, they showed classic Prince clips and interviews on the video screen, and his loss was felt even more when you saw his genius yet again. Bobby Z. remarked how incredible it was that on the night Prince died, everyone around the world felt the same. How rare is that? Landmarks lit up around the world in purple in his honor, and I've just never seen that for an rock artist. Ever. Then they played the Rock Hall of Fame clip of his "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" solo, and again WE weeped.

The NPG came out as the house band for the night, and Andre Cymone (who had been on my plane to town!) took lead on "Uptown", and he is always great. In fact, I'd say Prince's childhood friend was the best of the night, with the added bonus of having really known him well his whole life. It felt real. Shelby J. took on "Erotic City". Liv Warfield took on "Hot Thing". Marva King took on "Kiss", and all were gamers ... just not Prince. Prince's sister, Tyka Nelson sang a little a cappella song and thanked us all and thanked her brother. It was sad. Ex-Pussycat Doll, Nicole Scherzinger was there for "Nasty Girl" and "Baby, I'm A Star" and it was ok. Luke James (?) sang "Do Me, Baby" and hit all the high notes on that and "The Most Beautiful Girl In The World", but I wasn't moved. I don't think I was alone in that we all really just wanted the real Prince. One more time. We weren't ready!

Instead there was another video, where Prince said, "I pray every night. I don't ask for much, I just say thank you." That was his way. If only we could all be more like that, right? Judith Hill gave a heartfelt version of "The Cross" and then sat down at the keys for "How Come You Don't Call Me Anymore" that was sufficiently funky. I choked up when Cymone came back for "The Ladder" and did not when Elisa Dease (?) sang "Cream". Cymone took on "The Ballad Of Dorothy Parker", and was then joined by Doug E. Fresh for "Pop Life" with rapped lyrics. When Fresh yelled "Prince was the greatest!" there was zero opposition in the house. We got some Fresh beat-boxing on "Housequake", and the place was fired up.

The energy immediately flagged when Ana Maura (Portuguese fado singer) had a too-long set that culminated with a slow "Little Red Corvette". This is when bathroom lines were extra long, but we're told she was one of Prince's favorite singers. She was good, sure, but brought the energy way down. So Chaka Khan brought it back up! She looked and sang great on "Betcha" and "Sweet Thing" then brought out, rather anti-climatically, Stevie Wonder (!) to join her on harmonica for "I Feel For You". They blew up "1999" together, after a sloppy start. Right when things were on full steam party mode, they chose this time for an intermission that no one wanted or needed - it was already almost 11!

I'd never really gotten a chance to get into Prince's 3rdeyegirl phase, and I still really haven't. They threw down an underwhelming set that included "Wow". but just wasn't. Bilal came up and brought some WOW with his cover of "The Beautiful Ones" with pretty good faux-Prince screams while writhing on the ground ala The Kid. "If I Was Your Girlfriend" was pretty good too.The NPG and the Funk were back with "Musicology" that was extra-funky with Michael Bland on those drums, and they were in extended jam mode, but it was not really the time or place for that, as it was getting real late, the energy was flagging, and people were leaving. I had to BEG my friends to stay, as we HAD to have our "Purple Rain" moment together with everyone, and you knew it would be last (it was).

Though kind of strange, the Mayte Garcia belly dance with sword balanced on her head performance was one of the most touching moments to me. It felt like she was dancing just for Prince, and we were watching. It morphed into "Seven" and I'll admit to tears here. I can only imagine how she feels.

This story is going to get as long as the night, so I'm gonna rattle off some tunes or we'll both get bored. Andre Cymone lit up "Computer Blues". "I Would Die 4 U" - Marva King. "Sexy MF" - Tony Mosely (with Mayte shaking that ass). "Gett Off" - with Doug E. Fresh putting on a beat box extravaganza that also felt like stalling for time a bit. Now why they'd give "Sometimes It Snows In April" to Elisa Dease who we'd never heard of, I don't know. Where were all the superstars?! I thought they'd be lining up to HOPE to play at this. Hmm. She did fine, but that's a special one that I think deserved more. "Girls and Boys" - Marva King. "Controversy" - Cymone. Then Fresh did his own "La Di Da Di" that was superfresh, but again felt like stalling. Plus it's not a Prince tune.

Morris Hayes was the bandleader and said that even if they played 50 tunes (and they did), there would still be 50 more people couldn't believe they didn't play. That's the thing with Prince tributes, they really could be endless. And at this point, it felt like it would be. Phew.

Pop star (?) Tori Kelly did a workable version of "Let's Go Crazy" that got us all dancing again, then slowed it down with "Diamonds and Pearls". I think pacing was definitely an issue. Stevie Wonder came back out to join Kelly on "Take Me With U" that was great, and "Raspberry Beret" that we all sang along to, which was a good thing as Wonder forgot the words. As Christina Aguilera, John Mayer, and Anita Baker had all dropped out (Why? Dumb.), they added Jessie J. who I don't know, but I do know that she way, WAY over sang "Nothing Compares 2 U", and only reiterated that really no one DOES compare to Prince Rogers Nelson. And probably never will.

Stevie Wonder came back and said, "It's an emotional night for me {me too, Stevie}, and I'm just trying to keep it together, because I'll miss him forever ... We had so many plans to make the world a better place." He then sung a truly emotional version of Donny Hathaway's "Someday We'll All Be Free" that was lovely - but not a Prince song - and then his own "Superstition", which is definitely not a Prince song. I'm all for Wonder songs, but this was not that night, and when he turned it into an EXTRA-extended jam, I actually wanted to punch him. People were EXHAUSTED, and not at all in the mood for a ten minute keys jam. It felt real self-indulgent by then, and I almost don't blame them, as most on that stage won't be on that big of a stage again.That sounds a little bratty, but C'mon.Then they made us wait for an encore! It had been FIVE hours, and all anyone wanted was "Purple Rain".

By then the XCel was half empty, but those of us hard cores heard those opening chords and stood up. Tears welled as we heard PRINCE say "Did you have a good time? I did." and then a recorded version of "Purple Rain" played us out. We all sang, we all cried, we all rejoiced that we'd lived in the same time as Prince, and had been able to be there for the real thing in our lifetimes. Purple glitter rain fell from the ceiling as the Prince symbol filled the screen. Everyone was totally spent, but we had come together to give our Prince the proper tribute we needed - and he deserved. The music of Prince will live forever, and that's something to celebrate, even as we will also feel his loss forever.

I'm so happy I could be there. The Minneapolis Sound LIVES!

Thanks and so much love to everyone there ... Always.

*Performance photos ripped from Google (Star Tribune, Wall Street Journal,, and ABC TV, respectively) due to strobe light impossibility. Thank you!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Jason Hill's Venice Stories

I've enjoyed the comic book style interviews of local characters in Venice Stories featured in both The Free Venice Beachhead and The Argonaut in the past few years, so sat down with its author, Jason Hill, to hear more about him and them, since we both clearly love our Venice tales.

We met up at Abbot's Habit (now rumored to be closing in not December, but June) to be in one of the spots that has been a second home to so many Venice characters over the years. Hill told me that he's a native Californian, where he lived until he was 10, and then it was up to Oregon, where he attended college and started his career in graphic design. He worked with companies like Nike, and got into computer graphics up there too. He met his girlfriend, Cary Lopiccolo, up there as well, and the two of them decided to head to Phoenix for a scene. They were there for ten years, and there Hill got more into the fine art arena, having shows of his works of painted photographs.

Phoenix got old and Hill and Lopiccolo were looking to get back to California, but somewhere with more of a small town feel. They thought Santa Monica, until they realized all the cool people (my editorial slant) were in Venice, as were the skaters and artists - and The Doors were here! - and the correct choice was made. They found a spot on Lincoln in 2012, and within a month of living here, considered it HOME, which they didn't expect, but were happy to feel. "People here tend to follow their dreams and reinvent themselves, and I was struck by how friendly and positive everyone is ... it's almost disarming. There's just a general optimism here." That is true, even though they got here kind of right in the midst of the big changes going on here and missed what we maybe consider the halcyon days of Venice, but still. The good vibes do persist.

While getting his design business (Jason Hill Design) up and running in Venice, Hill had the idea to interview some of the locals he'd met and been impressed by, and do them up in a comic book look and submit it to the local paper, The Beachhead. His first one was about the paddle out for Venice skate legend Shogo Kubo, and Venice Stories was born. Then it was one about Touch Of Evil being shot here, then one about the Gas House beat meeting spot, then he started doing interviews of local legends with one on Earl Newman. Hill has now completed 25 stories, which are collected in his new anthology, Venice Stories, Volume One.

Hill self-published the collection, with the idea that there will be 4 volumes, for 100 stories. There are just a few copies left of this first edition printing, and they can be found at In Heroes We Trust, or on Hill's website. There was an opening party at Danny's Deli that I had to miss, but most of the copies were snatched up there, though there will be more printings, and more volumes to come! Plus there is a new edition of Venice Stories in each first Argonaut of the month. Venice is also showing up in Hill's recent fine art, all of which can also be seen at his website, as well as work with branding companies like Sweetfin Poké. Nice.

"I get so much from the people of Venice, and living here, that I wanted to give back and do something FOR Venice," explains Hill (echoing pretty much exactly how I feel). Hill and Lopiccolo (who also documents Venice with her photography that you can see on her Facebook page, Venice California Photos Then and Now) love all the things about Venice that we all do ... the beach, the Boardwalk, the skaters, the Beat history, the global focal point, the fashion (you do tend to see things here first), and how there's a little bit of everything in the world right here. They love getting coffee at Deus, getting burgers at Hinano's, listening to Brad Kay's speakeasy era music at a real speakeasy era bar at The Townhouse, and kicking it outside at the Venice Ale House, where you've probably all seen them.

Hill has learned about Venice fast ... "You can't judge a book by its cover here. Someone could be a millionaire or homeless, but I think everyone is here for the beach town friendliness." Magical connections are made here every day, and you never know what may come from just starting up a conversation with a neighbor or passerby, and that's a hugely wonderful part of living here. Next time you see Jason Hill out and about, have a chat, and maybe you'll find yourself starring in one of his future Venice stories.

Hill's art will next be featured at the Venice Art Crawl mixer at The Lincoln on October 20th.

Friday, October 7, 2016

French Girl With Mother By Venice's Norman Ollestad

I'm all excited because there is a new book by my friend Norman Ollestad coming out this coming Tuesday (October 11th)! French Girl With Mother is Ollestad's first fictional novel, after becoming a New York Times best seller with his incredible memoir Crazy For The Storm.

Most writers will tell you that they write from what they know, and for Ollestad, his decades of travel informed his latest book. He had been thinking about a torrid love affair he'd had with a French girl in his 20's, and the "shadow life" that he could have almost had ... like what if I'd gotten on that train? What if I had helped that friend hide money all over Europe? What if, what if, what if ... and the story just unfolded in his mind from there.

Ollestad has always held a fascination for art and artists, hence his main character is an artist who finds his muses in a French mother and daughter who he wants to create portraits of ... and it all takes off from there in what Booklist is calling "A unique, atmospheric literary thriller". Ollestad told me today (over coffee at the French Market) that French Girl With Mother continues his theme from his other books that if you want to find out about yourself or become a better person in your life, you have to go into the guts of a storm, whatever your storm is. To generate whatever you're trying to generate (a book, music, art ...), you can't shy away from the things that will test you or be intense, because that's how you find out about yourself, and what you're capable of. And that's why I can't wait to read this one!

We have to wait until Tuesday to get our copy of French Girl With Mother ... UNLESS you come to Venice and visit Small World Books, where it's available right now. And where I'm headed right now.

Ollestad will be reading from his latest book and holding a book signing at Diesel Books in Brentwood on Sunday, October 16th at 3:00 pm.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Miss Parton At The Dollywood Bowl!

I've always wanted to see Dolly Parton live, and I finally got the chance last Sunday at the Hollywood (DOLLYwood!) Bowl. I took my friend Lacey as her birthday present, knowing how much she also loved Miss Parton, but not knowing how deeply we would both be affected by the wonderful angel on Earth that is Dolly.

We got there with plenty of time to spare for once, but wondered why so many people were tailgating in the Bowl patio area. Like WAY way more than normal. Once we got the the line to get in, we realized why. This was a "leased event", meaning you don't get the normal Bowl perk of bringing in your own bottles. Ugh. So now the entire Bowl audience was slamming their fine wines, trying to not waste them and still be on time for the show. So, now even though we HAD been on time to the show, we were not in our seats until just after "Jolene". Sigh. Still all good ... we were seeing Dolly Parton live!

When we walked in, Parton was telling a story about having put her Mother on a pedestal (and believe me, her stories are as good as her songs) - as that was just about the only place that would keep her Dad away from her (there were 12 kids, after all)! Parton is just about as beloved a figure as there is or could be in American music. You could look around and see faces turned toward her, reflecting pure love and joy at being there. I've never heard a bad word spoken about her, and I've never heard her speak a bad word about anyone else, come to think of it. Couple that with being married to her husband, Carl, for 50 years, and Parton is as rare as they come in show business. I just adore her - and so does everyone else.

"Pure & Simple" is the name of this tour, and all the songs in the first half reflect exactly that ... Parton's pure, angelic voice, a very simple set of curtains and lights, and the story songs that share her love of a simple life and a delight at simply making music. Parton plays everything, and each of her instruments are extravagantly bedazzled with the rhinestones that she is known for. There are so many little sparkles reflecting off Parton, that she really doesn't show up too well on film, which is fine. She didn't have any of the big screens on, and all the shots on the screens further back were wide - all seemingly unnecessary, as Parton appears to be as gorgeous today at 70 as she's ever been.

When Parton played her "Coat Of Many Colors" I had tears running down my face before I even knew what hit me. I looked next to me and Lacey was in the same shape. Then in front of me, where a young man pulled up the hood of his sweatshirt to hide the tears running down his face. The message of being proud of who you are and where and what you come from had hit us all hard, right in the hearts. It was special. Then Parton played one for her Dad, and she stood up ("He deserves a standing ovation!") and played "Apple Jack" on her glittering banjo, as well as I've ever heard the instrument played. We were all transported to those Smoky Mountains Parton sings of, and nobody ever wanted to leave.

Then out came the sparkling sax for a little rendition of the Benny Hill theme, with Parton giggling and saying how "That was some good sax!" There was a medley of '60's tunes, with an a cappella showcase of such gems as "American Pie" and "Blowing In The Wind" with a bass singer who went so low people just had to laugh. Parton talked about how she's always been one to dress up and how she wants to go to Heaven, "But do I have to look like Hell to get there?" Even her kind of corny lines are adorable, and pretty much all of us wanted her to adopt us by the end of the night.

There was a brief intermission (which was an intense cattle call of people dying to empty their tail-gating bladders and getting coffee to sober up before the end of the show - the trickle down from it being a "leased event") and Parton was back, done up all in red to sing a cover of Alicia Keys' "This Girl Is On Fire"  - and she was. The energy was all the way up, and as Parton sang and danced and played everything from the dulcimer to the penny whistle, we were all enthralled. "I've always been too good to be real bad," Parton commented at one point, and I get that. Like we'll push it, but the love is always there. As Parton put it, "The only real thing about me is my heart." And that much is abundantly clear. She loves who she is and she loves what she does, and that's just about all you can ask for in this life. Amen.

We got all the hits like "9 to 5" and "Islands In The Stream" and "Here You Come Again" and everyone was over the moon, singing along and not wanting it to end. It had to, of course, and "I Will Always Love You" just killed us all, right in the heart and soul. Not even the stellar Whitney Houston version can compare to hearing Dolly Parton sing her song so beautifully. Yes, there were more tears.

Parton had one more, "Hello God", telling us that no matter how bad it seems like things have gotten here and around the world, we all still have more love in our hearts to give, and that's what it will take. Hearing her sing it, you believe. You know there's still good in the world, as long as Dolly Parton is there to sing about it. I hope everyone will take every chance they get to see and hear this marvelous woman at least once in their lives - it truly is something special to share the same air with someone as good as she is. We love you, Dolly!

*Photos courtesy Jeremy Westby for Dolly Parton