Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Venice Japanese American Memorial Monument Dedication - Never Again

After more than a decade of effort and tireless work on the behalf of many Venetian activists, the Venice Japanese American Memorial Monument (VJAMM) is in its place on the corner of Lincoln and Venice Boulevards, and was officially dedicated this morning in a touching, long anticipated ceremony.

A crowd gathered in the bright sunshine there on the Northwest corner at the intersection that serves as a gateway to Venice, where chairs and a podium had been set up next to the monument for its dedication ceremony featuring speakers who had helped to make this important historical reminder a reality.

VJAMM Committee member Phyllis Hayashibara served as our M.C., and welcomed everyone to this special event. It was very touching to look around and see the many elderly Japanese faces present to witness this ceremony that shone a light on this dark part of our American history. 75 years ago, Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed an executive order demanding that Japanese citizens be rounded up and shipped off to internment camps. They were given as little as hours to liquidate their entire lives, and pack only what they could carry with them to take along with them to destinations unknown. For most, the destination was the camp at Manzanar, out in the desert in Inyo County, where they would remain for up to three years. Most lost everything.

The VJAMM was conceived to be a living reminder of what happened, in order to learn from our history and make sure it never happens again. Ever. Jim Smith spoke, and apologized for the earlier Venetians who did nothing to stop this. We were all standing at the very site where the Nisei (Japanese Americans) had to line up to be taken away, and the emotion surrounding that fact was tangibly felt, and visibly seen on many of the faces assembled.

I definitely wiped away a few of my own tears, because I was born and raised in Minnesota next door to the most beautiful family possible, the Kusunokis. The Japanese Kusunokis came to Minnesota from California, where they too had been forced to live in a camp. These were and are the kindest, gentlest  people I've ever met, and to think that THEY had to be put through this brought angry tears to my eyes, and a lump in my throat that rendered me almost speechless throughout most of today's proceedings. It was all so very, very wrong.

The important message of this VJAMM is, of course, to never allow this to happen again to anyone. Committee member Suzanne Thompson had everyone repeat that very phrase after her at the top of our voices - "This must never happen again to ANYONE!" - and did so because the threat of this kind of racism disguised as nationalism is very much a possibility again in today's awful political climate. It's scary, but this morning showed that there remains a very diverse group of people coming together to guarantee that this cannot and will not be allowed ever again.

Former Councilwoman, Ruth Galanter repeated the quote that "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty." A scroll was read from Mayor Eric Garcetti, making the VJAMM official, and urging us to remember the past for the future. This elegant, inscribed black obelisk will make sure of that. Memorials are only as good as the remembrance to apply those lessons learned to today. Zev Yaroslavsky was a speaker, and said, "We have an obligation to carry out what this monument stands for." Former Santa Monica Mayor, Kevin McKeown asked that the phrase "Never Again" not be just a reminder, but a rallying cry. Just as this was said, a car driving by the proceedings honked its support, as did many throughout. Solidarity.

Jeff Burton, a ranger from the Manzanar National Historic Site invited people to come out there and see it for ourselves, and learn about this shameful past, so that it cannot be repeated. Dr. Jimmy Hara and Dr. Thomas Yoshikawa were born in internment camps, and are working on a petition with actor, George Takei, to stand up for Muslims in today's situation. What a beautiful thing, because they know how it felt/feels. This brought another welling of tears, for sure.

The keynote speaker was Warren Furutani, who after being introduced said that he liked to look at the faces looking at him, and how it was no surprise to him that this monument should be here in Venice. "Activists can be pains in the ass, but activism makes things happen." This was met with much applause and shouts of "Resist!" by the many pains in the ass in attendance. "Executive orders must be challenged. We must push back, we must stand up, and we must make our voices heard." All were in agreement, including more cars going by and honking. Furutani went on to say that he knew in time, this monument would be defaced, and said that when it does, to not clean it off. It should be left there as a reminder that our work is still not done today. That was heavy. Though his point was well taken, the VJAMM will be maintained, and should be, as it's beautiful and so richly deserving of respect.

He spoke about how as kids, when others were talking about the kind of camp where you make lanyards and sing campfire songs, the Japanese kids knew differently. Children showed up at school and all the Japanese kids were just gone one day. This busy corner of Venice will now serve as a beacon of our progressive values and intolerance for systemic racism, for generations to come. This is a place that fights for freedom, liberty, and justice ... and no amount of gentrification can change that core of Venice, as was clear by the many truly vigilant citizens present this morning. We're still here.

VJAMM Committee member Brian Maeda read quotes from the internees who were in the audience, and had them stand up to be recognized. You just wanted to go up and hug and profusely apologize to every one of them, but it was striking how graceful each of them were about it, accepting their acknowledgement with humble and grateful waves to the crowd. Committee member Emily Winters spoke, and I couldn't hear a thing (it's a loud corner) but I did hear her graciously thank all of the supporters, of which there are many. Committee member Suzanne Thompson led the aforementioned rallying cry, that this absolutely MUST NEVER happen again to ANYONE, and talked about how the VJAMM will be used as an educational tool, with curriculum available at

Phyllis Hayashibara wrapped it all up by thanking everyone, and inviting them back to Hama Sushi, where Esther Chaing is donating 100% of the bento box lunch today to the VJAMM fund, and tonight from 6:30-10:30, 10% of all Hama sales are for VJAMM. Let's all head over there and have sushi for a great cause!

This is a very special day in Venice, and I'm so proud and happy to be a part of a Venice Community that always strives to do the right thing. It took a lot of work to make the VJAMM happen, but it ultimately did. This should serve as encouragement to us all ... that the important things still matter, that the heart of Venice is healthy and pumping, and for all of this, we WILL remain vigilant.

Never Again!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Paul Simon: Words & Music At The Skirball Center

Paul Simon: Words & Music, the wonderful new exhibit at the Skirball Cultural Center opens to the public tomorrow, and it's something else. This traveling show from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is making its only West Coast stop at the Skirball Center - and lucky for us. If you love Paul Simon - and I do - this is truly an exhibition that you must not miss.

The show takes you into Simon's life through his creative process, from his birth on October 13, 1941 in New Jersey, all the way up to right now (Simon performed at the gala opening last night at The Skirball). This is a comprehensive study of one of our most beloved American treasures.

                                                                    Courtesy of The Skirball/1943 Paul Simon Collection

Skirball Museum Director, Robert Kirshner gave the opening remarks, and told us that many of the Simon artifacts have never been seen before, because the Rock Hall simply didn't have the room. Again, lucky for us. Kirshner spoke to how The Skirball strives to build community through bridging cultures with musical collaborations, and who better to showcase than Simon? His music is "an exercise in musical democracy," as Kirshner put it, and has always reached across societal lines to include everyone. Think about it. Everyone from Grandmas to babies loves some Paul Simon. It's impossible not to, as each and every song is so beautifully crafted and gloriously written. The soundtrack to our American lives since the 60's, really.

I was invited to the press preview, and it was great because the group tour through the galleries was led by both Skirball curators, and one of my favorite music writers, Robert Hilburn (former LA Times music critic, now writing the official biography of Paul Simon). It was great to hear about it all from Hilburn, as he's both super knowledgeable about the man, but also very enthusiastic ... touchingly so. He told us how when Simon was a kid, he was never even into music (his Dad was a musician), as he was totally obsessed with baseball. Hearing "Gee" by The Crows as a young boy changed all that, and he asked his Dad for a guitar on his 13th birthday. The rest is American History.

                                                                                    Courtesy of The Skirball/Paul Simon Collection

Simon met Art Garfunkel in elementary school, and they soon began to write songs together. There is a sweet letter on display from Simon to Garfunkel at summer camp, talking about songs he'd written (and telling him to greet all the good looking girls for him). Back from camp, they began to play their songs out, and were known as the duo "Tom and Jerry".

                                       Courtesy of The Skirball/Photo by Don Hunstein 1964/Paul Simon Collection

After a bit of success in the pop world, the duo decided in the early 1960s that they really liked folk music - and had something to say. One executive told them that they should be confident and proud with what they were saying, and to say it in their own names. Simon's response was "Who wants to hear the truth from two Jewish boys from Queens?" The answer was everyone, because their "The Sound Of Silence" blew them into the stratosphere ... which is funny, because they didn't even like the original version that was fully re-mixed in London with other musicians. The musicians decided the success should be credited to their rightful names, and they were now known as Simon and Garfunkel.

                                            Courtesy of The Skirball/Photo by Don Hunstein, 1967/Sony Music

Simon and Garfunkel had massive success, as we all know, but it only lasted until 1968, when they broke up due to well-documented personal differences. This would not deter Simon in the least, as he went on in the early 1970s to have his first two solo albums surpass even Simon and Garfunkel's best. There are many photos, documents, posters, videos, memorabilia, lyrics, and instruments to support all of this history, and they all give an incredible insight into who this Simon guy really was and is. For instance, did you know that the song "Mother And Child Reunion" is about a chicken and egg dish at a Chinese restaurant? It is.

                                                                   Courtesy of The Skirball/1971 Paul Simon Collection

Simon kept an impressive personal archive, and his hand written lyric sheets are all there. There is an in-flight magazine from United Airlines featured that shows how Simon wrote the lyrics to "The Boxer" all over its margins during his flight. Awesome.

                                                                            Courtesy of The Skirball/1968 Paul Simon Collection

In the 80s, Simon experienced a slump, having split up with Carrie Fisher (RIP) and had two of his albums in a row completely flop. Around this time, Simon became very interested in World Music, especially that coming out of South Africa. Every executive told him not to experiment with that, that it would never sell. Simon pretty much shrugged and said he wasn't selling anyway, so he was going to do what he felt passionate about. That resulted in his best-selling record ever, the Grammy Album of the Year in 1987, the crucial, must-have Graceland. So THERE!

                                               Courtesy of The Skirball/Photo by Luise Gubb 1987/Paul Simon Archive

There are decades of Simon albums, and he has won Best Album in three different decades. Simon is a proven classic, and fully permeates our popular culture. There is a living room set up in the exhibit to show what it would be like to sit and watch Simon on Saturday Night Live in the 1970s - as Simon is a member of the SNL 5-Timer Club, with that member's jacket on display. This might be because Simon is best friends with SNL creator, Lorne Michaels. After 9/11, Michaels had to decide what to do for their first show after the horrors, and he chose Simon to open the show by singing "The Boxer". I remember it. I felt the same lump in my throat today, but like then, Simon made it better.

Simon makes many things better, as he is also a noted philanthropist, but as Kirshner said, the most respected Jewish people are the ones that are philanthropic without boasting about it, which Simon never has. He's just invested in the world around him, from "We Are The World" to founding The Children's Health Fund. In a word, he's a mensch.

                                 Courtesy of The Skirball/Photo by Lynne Goldsmith, 2000/Paul Simon Collection

One of the coolest parts of the Simon exhibition is the Music Lab, brought to you by the Roland Corporation. One gallery has been set aside for an interactive musical extravaganza, that allows the viewer/listener to try their own hand at experiencing Simon's creativity. There are multi-tracks that allow you to isolate the separate musical parts of classic Simon songs, "like the ingredients of a cake that are separated out," according to the Roland rep. There was a harmonizer machine that let you put on headphones, sing "Kodachrome" into the microphone, push a harmony button, and suddenly you're harmonizing with yourself in four parts with Paul Simon. Pretty rad.

You can bang along on drum machines, isolate instruments and swap them out on sample boxes, or try out a "Chromelodeon", a keyboard invented by Harry Partch to include 43 other extra tones, rather than the 12 on a regular keyboard. That was very cool, and very open-minded of Simon, who has always loved to experiment, always kept writing, and always stayed passionate about his music. I'd never even heard of that Partch thing, and now I just want to play on it all day. Simon is interviewed in several listening stations around the exhibition, and you could spend all day learning about his craft ... basically because he seems pretty down to earth, like he'd be fun to hang out with. And you'd definitely learn a lot.

                                     Courtesy of The Skirball/Photo by Nick Elgar, 1991/Paul Simon Collection 

We did indeed learn a lot today, and what a wonderful glimpse The Skirball and The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame have put together for the public into the life of one of our most prolific and well-loved American musicians. I've been humming Simon songs non-stop since I left, and guarantee that you will be too when you leave this excellent portrait of a musical legacy given to us by Paul Simon.

Thank you to one and all involved.

Paul Simon: Words & Music is on display April 27, 2017 - September 3, 2017.

Monday, April 24, 2017

A Prince Memorial Party In The Canals

Last Friday was the one year anniversary of the death of our beloved Prince. Minneapolis people feel the loss harder than anyone, and those of us who live in California feel extra homesick when we see all of our hometown people gathering to celebrate the life of the once in a lifetime musical genius that was Prince. So we have our own gatherings.

This year the tribute party was held at the home of our friends, Danielle and Rick, who live in the Venice Canals. Danielle went to my same high school (Go Richfield Spartans!) but we met right here in Venice at the beach. That was a happy day, especially because Danielle feels the same way that I do about Prince.

We had to school her Aussie husband Rick a bit about him, but now he totally gets it. Has the shirt.

Last year we sat on her couch sobbing and watching the hometown news together in total disbelief. This year, we're still sad, but it was more of a party. And Danielle finally got her wish to dress up like Apollonia.

Everyone got the memo and was either in purple or something Prince related.

I wore the shirt I got at last fall's Prince Tribute show in St. Paul, that gave me my hometown collective mourning moment that I needed. Even Danielle's little puppy Lexi was in her Prince shirt. Feeling it.

The soundtrack was all Prince, of course. At one point, Danielle got our attention and asked for a moment of silence while we listened to "Purple Rain" - the signature number that always gets you crying again.

When the opening notes began, we turned around and Rick had rigged up a thing with pvc pipe and a drill and a hose and all of a sudden we had a sheet of purple rain across the entire front of the patio! It was awesome.

Neighbors would row past in the canals and take pictures, and at one point the sound from Danielle's speaker went out and we could hear "Purple Rain" playing from other houses around the canals! The familiar chords rang out across the water, and it felt like the entire world was sharing our memories of this legendary entertainer from our hometown of Minneapolis. It was special, and made us feel a little bit closer.

We sang and shared Prince stories late into the night (sorry canal neighbors!), and everyone vowed that it must be an annual event each April 21st. This way, we'll keep the music of Prince alive forever. And one of these years I'll be back at First Avenue dancing with everyone there all night long. Let's Go Crazy!

It's really still hard to believe. Thanks to Danielle and Rick for a great party, and to everyone playing the music for making it easier.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Music Connects Us: The Venice Art Crawl Fundraiser At The New Hal's- Playa Vista

Last night was a wonderful celebration of Art and Venice, when the Venice Art Crawl had its big art show fundraiser, held at the brand new Hal's in Playa Vista.

The show was titled "Music Connects Us", and featured works of art all based on music and the people that make it. Hal's Playa Vista is now not only a restaurant, but they have a huge event space next door, where this massive (75 Artists!) art show was held.

The place was already packed when I arrived, and musicians played outside on the sidewalk while people got checked in. It was very festive, and not just because it was 4/20. People were ready to party. The art show part was a sober party, however, as the big space is not zoned for alcohol use, I guess, so the bar in the space was only serving kombucha drinks. Some Venice folks had flasks for this rock and roll show. Bless.

VAC organizer Sunny Bak was there, and so were her excellent Beastie Boy photos ...

Co-organizer Neely Shearer from the wonderful Venice shop, In Heroes We Trust was there, looking great and making the rounds among all the artists she had helped compile for this extra-impressive show (here in front of Jules Muck works). John Hartman, pictured here with Neely, was responsible for the design of the space, which was great.

Today is the first anniversary of our beloved Prince's death, which I'm really still not ready to face, if I'm honest. The show last night seemed to agree with me, as several of the artists had pieces featuring our Minneapolis legend. I wish I could have bought them all. Like "Prince of Rock" by Todd Goodman ...

Or "Prince The Vegan Rebel" by Le Fou/Vegan Club (my favorite, I think) ...

Or this angelic Prince by Made Of Hagop ... I'd take any of them, for sure.

I also loved the rare, casual photo of another life-love of mine, Mr. Leonard Cohen, by Ivy Ney.

I loved the colorful music posters by another Minneapolis fellow, Kii Arens, who also did the poster for this show.

Fantastic, bright paintings by Oliana Afano lit the place up ...

Rock photographer Guy Webster's work was well represented ...

 Nat Fino had some great Bowie and Stones work on display, adding to the rock flavro ...

There were art installations set up around, like a big yurt with balloons and neon jellyfish by Shana Koenig inside and around it ...

There was a Plastic Jesus installation of a smashed piano that had a sign stating "Trump's Endowment for the Arts". Sad commentary on now ... but we were all there to fight exactly against that. Art is so important, and nights that brings everyone together to honor and celebrate it is what has to keep happening. Art is worth fighting for.

And so was a place at the bar at the new Hal's next door. There was a fancy VIP dinner for the event that I skipped, but the menu appeared to be the same good old Hal's fare. The Turkey burger is there, the Caesar is there ... the ART is there! Yes, the old familiar art from the original Abbot Kinney location is all there, the same staff is there, the jazz is there (last night played by Antonia Bennet - daughter of Tony) ... the only thing that isn't there is Venice. It's a little surreal to be honest, to have so much of the same feelings, but then look outside at a place that's kind of like The Grove. There's no chance of looking out the window and seeing a naked bike ride go by here, but then that's been happening less and less on Abbot Kinney too. This new Hal's is verrrry slick, with an open front with window tables, a big circular center bar, and even a state of the art screening room with the same fiber optics that the International Space Station has. Top shelf stuff.

It was fun to see so much of Venice together again inside a Hal's, and Hal himself was holding court all evening. The only thing weird was calling a car to go home, versus walking across the street. I'm not sure how often we'll make the trek to Playa Vista (Pleasantville), but it's nice to know that it's there. Congratulations to Don, Linda, Hal, and all the staff on a beautiful new venue that takes a little bit of Venice to the folks on Jefferson.

After all the art was seen, and the scene was made, it was time to head back to Venice for an after-party/420 jamboree at the Josa Tulum shop on the corner of Abbot Kinney an Venice Boulevard. There was more art, and more live music, and much more Venice. Lacey Kay Cowden had both her art and her music on display, as she played a live set there in the yard for the partiers.

Death By Politics were both our hosts and our headliners, as they played a spirited set for the crowd gathering. You could hear the music from blocks away, and it felt exactly how a Venice 4/20 should feel. Awesome.

Local legends Paul Chesne and Tom Freund tore it up together toward the end of the night, and all was well. Real well.

I walked the block home later, and could still hear the music from my bed for a while. That's a perfect way to fall asleep in Venice, California on April 20th ... on a night that was only about art, music, friends, and the Venice we all know and simply love.

Kudos to all involved on a completely wonderful event that will guarantee more nights dedicated to art for us all. The show was so dense it's nearly impossible to mention everyone, but everyone was more than worth mentioning and I loved it all. Everyone mark your calendars for the May 18th Venice Art Crawl! It's THE Venice jam.