Friday, October 19, 2018

Enjoy Your Venice Weekend!

Everyone has been focused all week on what's wrong with Venice, so I urge us all to take this weekend to instead really zero in on what's awesome about the real deal Venice. I've already started.

It's unseasonably warm, making for perfect beach days in October (we're not talking about climate change right now, though we should be). It's all blue skies and sunshine. Surf's up (chest high)! The Farmer's Market had an over-abundance of wonderful home-grown fruits and vegetables and flowers and friends. Strangers are smiling and saying "Good Morning!". The Boardwalk is packed with visitors from all over the globe who love being here - as well as those of us who never take the views and fun for granted. There are art shows and house parties happening all weekend. It's Venice High's Homecoming tonight, AND the annual Grease viewing/singalong, also at Venice High (in its acting role as Rydell High!) on Saturday. Things are good - great, even! - if you allow yourself to have that mindset.

So, have at it, Friends! Get the most you can out of your beautiful weekend in Venice! I'll hope to see you out there, and we'll make it even better. Solidarity forever.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Venice Divided - The Town Hall Meeting On The Bridge Housing Project

There was a Town Hall meeting last night at Westminster Elementary School regarding the proposed Bridge Housing project. A heated mob rudely shouted over each other on both sides of the issue. Most likely shady politicians calmly took the heat. Nothing was resolved.

That could be the whole story right there, but, of course, it isn't. There are so many aspects to the homelessness CRISIS that you really could talk about it all night long - which we almost did. I got there at 4:30 to prepare for shooting the encounter for our upcoming documentary about income inequality and housing in Venice - 90291: Venice Unzipped, and the people of Venice certainly gave us the drama. I stayed until the last person had left, helping someone find their keys in the parking lot, after 11. I heard every word. I was emotionally drained at the end of the night, and frankly, kind of embarrassed. I've never seen my fellow townspeople behave so rudely. I get that it's a hot topic and people feel strongly about it all, but seriously, have some respect. Angry hordes tend to not make much progress, as we all witnessed last night. I truly thought Venice was better than this. But I'm getting ahead of myself. (And by the way, if this is how people act HERE, in "the coolest city in America", famous for its mellow vibes and wide open embrace of all things eclectic, then imagine how gnarly things must get in more conservative areas of the country. If this is how the collective citizenship thinks they can negotiate ANYTHING ... this country is doomed. For real.)

When we got there to set up cameras and stuff, there was already a line of people waiting to get into the auditorium. There were check-in tents and media vans and political booths and refreshment stands and an overflow seating area with a big screen set up that was nearly as big as the space inside. And it was all full. People in Venice CARE about this issue. Whether or not they care about the actual homeless human beings being discussed, which many in the house seemed not to at all. Some wore "Venice Fight Back!" shirts. Some wore "Recall Bonin!" shirts (very popular). Some wore "I walked here, I wasn't bused here!" shirts. ALL were very passionate about their point of view.

Earlier in the day I had met with Bill Attaway, and he told me he was going to this meeting too, and was "just going to listen". I took his lead on that, as I really don't know which side of this particular issue I come down on. I care deeply about the homeless crisis, because I have a lot of empathy in me, but also because, technically, I'M still kind of homeless. I got the boot from another jerk greedy landlord, and still haven't been able to bring myself to want to pay $3,000 a month for a studio with a hot plate. I often think about leaving Venice for this reason, but I think everyone who has ever read one of my stories knows how hard that would be for me to do. So I retain hope that some remaining cool landlord will have mercy and let me remain here, but last night that hope was even further dampened, when I realized so many people (mainly new ones that I don't know from the looks of it) care only about their property values and have never contributed significantly or meaningfully to Venice in any way other than paying their property taxes. There were also long-time residents who are just fed up with all the new encampments and crimes, but they should also be used to a lot of that by now. We've never been Brentwood - nor do we want to be. So many people there last night seemed to lack basic humanity that it was depressing. I'd go so far as to compare it to a disgusting Trump rally. SO rude. But I'm not interested in the problems as much as I am in the SOLUTIONS. Of which very few were offered at last night's mélee.

The thing was supposed to start at 6 p.m., but it's always Venice Standard Time, so at 6:30, there was only a room getting hotter, both literally and figuratively (In fact, "TURN ON THE A.C.!" was one of the most well-received chants of the night, with Garcetti cracking, "See, we can agree!"). A banner that garnered applause when it was unfurled read, "Venice - Where human poop and needles are part of the fun!" Finally, the moderator, Alex Cohen of Spectrum News, came up to explain the meeting's rules (which were fully ignored), and introduce Los Angeles Mayor, Eric Garcetti, Councilman for District 11, Mike Bonin (who was greeted by chants of "Recall Bonin!" and was consistently booed all night), and LAPD Police Chief, Michel Moore. The atmosphere was hostile from the outset, and chants of "Venice Says No!" (with yells of "YES!" in the pause) drowned out the intro.

Both Garcetti and Bonin gave little speeches that were constantly interrupted by shouts of "LIES!" and still more BOOOOOs. Garcetti had a little slide show that broke down the homelessness issue into three parts: Trauma, Economic, and Health. That was just about the only time the real roots of the problem were addressed - again, with no solutions. Bonin said "Doing nothing is not an option," which is true, but it seems like no one is going to be able to agree on what the something that should be done is. The ONLY solutions I heard all night (Because the Bridge project is not a solution. It is merely a small attempt to stanch the bleeding temporarily.) were to turn the lot into a home for Venice's senior citizens who are being priced out after living here all their lives, and to build a tent type city in a parking lot at Dockweiler Beach, away from everyone. People brought up that Venice is now a "Containment City", but that tent city idea sounds a bit like an internment camp. And that's not who we are. But it was an attempt at a solution, which hardly anyone else could offer. They just shouted.

The proposed "A Bridge Home" project would be at the MTA lot site bordered by Pacific and Main. They want to build a bigass structure to house 154 homeless individuals there a block from the beach, that would only be there for 3 years, as the MTA has other plans for the site. That seems dumb to me. Why spend all kinds of dough on a band-aid idea that is only temporary? That makes no sense. Not wanting this project doesn't make you at all a bad person. But not caring about homeless human beings kind of does.

On the other hand, where would people propose that the homeless go? People were shouting "Palisades!" "Mar Vista!" "YOUR neighborhood!" ... but that's forgetting that it (so far) remains a free country, and how are you going to tell anyone that they HAVE to go to a certain area? What would these loudest, rudest mouths do if someone told THEM they HAD to go live in a particular spot? C'mon. That won't work.

Several people brought up that the project is located near three schools and they don't want their children near that. To them, I would ask, would you rather have them step over sleeping bodies on the sidewalks, as they do now, or have these people be inside a building, out of sight and reach? I would also again ask them, what if it was you? Where would be acceptable for you to go? I can tell you personally how quickly you can have the housing rug in Venice pulled out from under you, and suddenly you're one of them, if not for being reasonably sane, having a work ethic, and having great friendships and opportunities, you could be screaming about me. That's being for real. It COULD be you real easy.

A big part of the problem - or maybe the main part - is that the homeless population now is different than it was when I moved here almost half my life ago. Then you knew the homeless folks by name, and looked out for them. It was Dr. John. It was (and is) David Busch. It was (and is) Cam. It was the blonde lady (whose name I forget, sorry) who talked to herself and bummed smokes up and down Abbot Kinney all day. Harmless. Friends, actually. Now there is a much more menacing element - and many more of them than there ever was. They're actually scary, and I'm rarely scared in Venice. As one person put it, "How do you separate the transient tweakers from the down on their luck people?" It's impossible to speak of the homeless as one entity. There are meth heads who just want to party and choose to be homeless. There are teachers whose salaries don't cover L.A. rents. There are abused women and their children. There are the elderly whose social security covers almost nothing. There is me. How do you clump it all under one umbrella? You can't. And that's where compassion, empathy, and looking out for each other comes in. We are a COMMUNITY, after all. Please try to remember that. Remember how Venice used to have each others' backs. That has always been a source of pride to me in living here, and now I feel that it's almost as endangered here as affordable housing is. We can be better.

People were SO disrespectful to the elected officials, but even more sadly, to each other. The whole thing took so long because it was just constant yelling. People got kicked out. People got yelled at to "Shut up!" Some stood patiently in line to wait their turn to ask their questions, but were almost always shouted over, whatever they had to say. You can see it all yourselves, as multiple news outlets were present (and it's going in our movie). I was real disappointed by the disruptive behavior, and at one point it was all so upsetting I almost cried out loud. And I wasn't alone. Many people stood up to stare at and condemn the yellers, and many I talked to after spoke of choking up and getting chills themselves. This just isn't the Venice I know. And LOVE.

Garcetti and Bonin took it all, far more calmly and respectfully than I think anyone else in there could have been. That doesn't mean that they weren't evasive and talking in soundbites, never really offering a cohesive argument, and very much acting like it was a done deal. One person asked Garcetti pointedly, "How can we trust you to run our country?" (referring to rumors that the Mayor is going to run for President). He could obviously take the heat, but we want our leaders to be able to handle the big ideas, and Garcetti didn't come close to proving that. Bonin sat there like a punching bag all night (much of it deserved), being told by one angry Venetian, "You created it, Mike Bonin, no one else!" Obviously Bonin didn't create the homeless problem, but he's thus far done nothing to make it better for Venice (and STILL hasn't hooked up Jesse Martinez with the job to clean the Skatepark, as promised). When asked what percentage of people in the little survey he'd done about approval for this project, Bonin totally dodged, and was then told it was a paltry 5%. Hardly a majority of our community, and he should have fully expected this backlash. Chief Moore (who urged anyone who had a policing problem to email him at: - get ready Mr. Moore. I hope you really read them.) was the only one who came close to cracking at the abuse being thrown at him, telling one person to share their expertise after he shared his - Burn. There was a lot of dodging questions and "Hopefullys" going on from this group on stage, to which one person shouted, "Hope isn't a strategy!" True. And clearly multiple strategies are needed. Starting with the roots of the crisis. Income Inequality. Corporate and Individual Greed. Shady Politicians. The Idiocracy currently in office. Mental Health. The Opioid Crisis. Lack of Affordable Housing. And you know what? It's only going to get worse. Climate change. The 1%. On and on ... and nothing will improve if we can't even have a productive discussion about it ALL.

The questions went on forever, never getting any real answers. To their credit, the Mayor, Councilman, and Police Chief all stayed there once the public forum was over, answering any and all questions from the crowd that descended upon them afterward. For a looooong time. I don't think anyone left there satisfied, but it's like one resident told me after seeing my sad face, "It's like therapy, the first session is always terrible."

Small consolation, but the better feeling was when I finally made it back outside, and was greeted by a line of people having a candlelight vigil for the homeless, and for compassion. There was another big confrontation outside (with tens of police officers standing by, just in case), with Venice residents (wearing shirts proclaiming it so) getting mad that people in the vigil were from places like Eagle Rock, thus this Venice issue is none of their business. It got tense, and then - because some people still have grace and decorum - they found common ground. They shook hands. They hugged. They realized we're all in this big Los Angeles situation together. They found their humanity.

My favorite speaker of the night was a woman named Wendy Lockett (I believe I heard that right), who was born and raised in Venice, and is now homeless here herself. She took exception to all of the people clumping all homeless together in one big mess of disdain and dismissal. She was displaced by yet another dickhead landlord kicking out people to jack up prices for Air BNB visitors. She is connected to Venice. She doesn't want to be kicked out to the Palisades or Pacoima or anywhere else proposed  - who would? She calmly shut down people yelling during her time, and told how she cleans the beach every day, she has never left a needle behind, she has never defecated in a yard, she has never ripped off a bike, and she tells other homeless people making those kinds of problems to knock it off. She belongs here more than several newcomers who care nothing about being a contributing member of our community, and only want to live somewhere deemed "cool". They don't get it. They moved here without knowing what they were getting into, clearly, and think their money is suddenly going to turn this place into Brentwood. Sorry, it'll never happen. That's not who Venice has ever been, is, or wants to be.

Ms. Lockett ended her time - and I'll end mine here as well  - by saying, "Venice is supposed to be about Community and Love." Exactly. Please remember that, and look into your own hearts as we attempt to find solutions to this very sad crisis together - with respect, and yes - Love.

*Sorry this is so long. Believe me, the night was much longer. I need a drink.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

No Planet B!

I'm back in Venice after a quick fall run to Minnesota (where it snowed on Sunday!), and it is HOT. I'm not mad at it at all, but some people are. Some people want to wear their sweaters and sit by a fire. I moved to a beach town to enjoy the beach, so I'm good ... but it IS unseasonably warm.

On my Venice Appreciation walk upon my return, I saw this sign on Venezia ... with among the other statements that I don't really get why (Free Candy?!  - kind of creepy. Wall Street?! - super creepy) the sign read "No Planet B". I've been talking about that a lot lately, like it doesn't really matter who is in the Supreme Court, who is the jackass President, who wins the midterm elections, etc ... if we're no longer able to sustain human LIFE on THIS planet. Of course, the Supreme Court, President, and winners of midterm elections have some say as to how we go about saving this planet, so it IS all important ... but I think we're losing sight of the massive problem that climate change is - and aren't really doing much about it.

Each of us can do our part to try to turn things around, but I fear we may already be past the tipping point. But I hope not. If nothing else, let it be a reminder to enjoy TODAY ... because it's really all we've got.

Live it up TODAY!

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

A Conversation With Lenny Kravitz At The Grammy Museum

I've been a fan of Lenny Kravitz since we used our fake i.d.'s to get in to see him at First Avenue in Minneapolis back in the day. It was freezing cold out, but about a zillion degrees inside that fabled club as everyone was squeezed in tight to see him play a 15 minute version of "Let Love Rule" to close out the night, making us feel like big peacenik hippies all together who could really make a difference. It was a special show, and I've never forgotten that feeling.

Last night at The Grammy Museum in Downtown L.A., I got that feeling all over again from simply listening to him speak. Kravitz is a real cool cat, and his conversation with Grammy Executive Director, Scott Goldman was intimate and inspiring, but also very touching. I got choked up more than once. Introduced by Goldman as an artist who transcends genre, style, race, and class, who has won 4 Grammys, had 11 studio albums selling in the millions, and is an actor too. Kravitz was there to discuss his most recent album, Raise Vibration - and that's exactly what he did in that room - without ever playing a note (which was kind of disappointing, if I'm honest, as usually they have a chat and then a little mini-set at the Grammy Museum, and this time only two chairs and mics were on the stage).

Kravitz, dressed in denim and shades on inside, spoke to how the recording of Raise Vibration in his home studio in the Bahamas was "an exercise in faith and patience ... I let the creative process be what it wanted to be." Three years had gone by since has last album, and there were a lot of outside opinions on what Kravitz should do next - most all of which he ignored. "I grew up West Indian and Russian Jewish ... it was all about respecting the elders. I've got people saying 'You've got to remain relevant' - what the hell does that mean? It's about respect. I produce my albums." He met with the hit songwriters of the moment, but "I didn't feel it in my gut. Authenticity is IMPORTANT to me." That much is clear. To that end, Kravitz went to the Bahamas and woke up with the dream of this record in his head ... and "The floodgates opened, and the whole album came out. I dreamed the whole record ... You just hear it, it's really hard to explain. I knew I was on MY path." The entire album was recorded, produced, and engineered by Kravitz and his dear friend and musical partner, Craig Ross ("His Mom is here so we have to talk about him!"), and they did it exactly their way.

Once living in his pea green, rented Ford Pinto and working at Leroy's Fish Market ("On Washington and Rimpau"), Kravitz said about those times, "I never said I wanted to be a Star. I said I wanted to be a Musician." That earned him both applause and respect in the room, as most people who attend things at the Clive Davis Theater care about the music, not the hype.

Often described as "Retro", Kravitz laughed at that, saying, "I like to play instruments. I like to hear the character of the players ... their hands ... it's not coming out of a box." The environment helps too, and about working in the Bahamas, Kravitz said, "That's where my roots are ... I FEEL the Bahamas. You can hear and feel yourself there." Both his first manager (Steve Smith) and the man who signed him to Virgin Records (Jeff Ayeroff) were there sitting in front of me, and once Kravitz got his first advance ("Remember when you used to get an advance?"), he bought his land in the Bahamas - and a Harley. The studio he built on that land is where Kravitz has recorded his last three albums, including Raise Vibration.

Digging into that album, Goldman asked Kravitz about some of the tracks and themes on it, starting with the song, "Johnny Cash". Kravitz said he woke up with the phrase, "Hold me like Johnny Cash" running through his head, and he couldn't shake it. He sat down to write about a breakup he'd been going through (I'm available for consoling, Lenny), and couldn't get that refrain out of his head. Then he shared the very moving story of his mother (Roxie Roker - Mrs. Willis on The Jeffersons - one half of televison's first interracial couple) dying from cancer. Kravitz had been sitting at her hospital bedside for days, and left only to go shower at producer Rick Rubin's house, where he had been staying. The mere 30 minutes that he was gone was when his mother passed away. He got the call on a house phone at Rubins' house, and as he received the terribly sad news, Johnny Cash and June Carter walked down the staircase to him. They were there to record Cash's American Recordings, and instantly saw something was wrong with Kravitz. He told them his mother had just died, and they both enveloped him on either side in a group hug of consolation and comfort and spoke to him almost in prayer, though they all barely knew each other. "God always provides what you need ... and that's where I got 'Hold me like Johnny Cash'." The hushed room broke into applause - and tears, if you're me.

"Do you consider yourself an activist?", asked Goldman, to which Kravitz simply replied,"Yeah." He elaborated, saying that 30 years later ("Good God!") in his career, he's still not even close to who he will become. "I've done nothing yet ... Activism, I know I'll be stepping deeply into." That brought up his friendship with Colin Kaepernick, who Kravitz said he admires for "Standing up - or kneeling down - for what he believes in." He talked about how if you look back at footage of Muhammad Ali, he said whatever he felt, and "That stuff was hardcore!" We all respect the flag, but "Let's focus on what's important. National Anthems are great, but it's ONE planet, and our survival depends on working together. We're ALL ONE." I was happy to see that those good old "Let Love Rule" vibes remain very much intact with this guy.

They next spoke about how there are vocals by Micheal Jackson on the new Kravitz song, "Low". Kravitz had worked on Jackson's Invincible album, for which these vocals were recorded, and they were good friends. "It's cool to have his spirit and sound on "Low" - his screams are an exclamation point on it." He said he's heard dissses like, "Lenny thinks he's slick trying to sound like Michael" and that he was biting from him, "Like it was wack" - but it's really him. The Jackson Five were the first concert Kravitz ever went to, and it made him realize, "It was everything about life that I wanted. It changed my life." When he got to record a song with Michael, and they listened to the track together, Kravitz said, "His leg went out -  WHOOPASH! - and I knew it was good." Everyone laughed at that, but Kravitz obviously revered Jackson, saying, "It's so beautiful to remain humble, hungry, to hone your craft ... He did it all, but he was still hungry. That's the way to be, Man." GROWTH.

"All I'm interested in is being myself," said the guy who realized he didn't need to be "Romeo Blue" anymore (his original stage moniker) - he was Lenny Kravitz (who he said sounded more like a lawyer or a psychologist, but this one is definitely himself - and definitely a Rock Star). "You get influenced, and then you find who you are." Race didn't matter to Kravitz until first grade when he went to school and it mattered to other people. His mother told him, "You're black and white. 50/50. Celebrate BOTH sides - but society will only see you as Black." Kravitz thought, "Well, didn't Black people invent rock and roll?" and was just fine with that.

Prince was another big influence on Kravitz, starting in high school (at Beverly Hills High, where he brought the "Culture" from Baldwin Hills. "They had Rodéo Drive - We had ROdeo.") with the Dirty Mind album. "Here was another young, biracial guy I could relate to. He didn't act like anyone else. He didn't look like anyone else. I got DEEP into it." After Let Love Rule came out, Kravitz got a call from Prince. PRINCE! They struck up a friendship, even double-dating French girls when they both were living in Paris. They would play gigs and guest on each others' stages, and Prince would give him a bag of money after. "He's the only person that ever gave me a bag of money." They were friends until he passed away, and of the new song "Gold Dust", Kravitz said he wrote it the morning that Prince died. After he was gone, Kravitz was given Prince's guitar - a main one that he used all the time on stage. "His guitar is all over this album. His energy was in the room and brought something special to this album." And it's true. You can hear and feel it.

Kravitz credited his time with his love, Lisa Bonet, as what really got him started at being a good songwriter. They had a hippie lifestyle, very much in love, and very free. "No one could figure out what box to put you in," Goldman suggested, to which Kravitz offered his advice to new artists - "Do You". They next opened up the floor to questions, which ranged from if he considers his music gospel ("Absolutely. The first track is a prayer.") to not very subtly asking if he'd work with someone in a studio that he didn't know ("You never know.") to how he likes acting compared to music ("Let's be real, I've only made four movies. I like not having all the control, and I want to do more of it.").

Going back to Craig Ross, Kravitz said their friendship is a gift. He had just made Mama Said and was playing pool at HAC (Hollywood Athletic Club for those of you who remember that), and Charlotte from The Go Go's pointed to a guy with "A big Jewfro" and said, "There's your new guitar player" - which Kravitz needed. "We're always together, he moved to the Bahamas too ... we've never had an argument ... he's never asked for something and been said 'no' to, and I've never asked him something and been said 'no' to. We're like brothers." Then Ross's mother in the audience shouted, "Thank you!", and it choked me up again. So sweet.

Reflecting on the fact that Let Love Rule is coming up on 30 years old (!), Kravitz said it was a very special record to him ... "My dream came true." "I caught the tail end of the REAL thing. Real music executives who knew what was going on. It was me, but a very different me. That album set the tone of my music and my message, and from then until now, I've never left my message." The message that we'd all be so much better off if we all agreed to let LOVE rule. Thank goodness we still have artists like Kravitz to remind us of that, have always done so, and will continue to speak their truth to power.

Let. Love. Rule.

Raise Vibration is available now everywhere.

*Photos by Paul Gronner Photography.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Skateboarding Through Venice In The 80's With Josh Bagel Klassman

There was a cool photo show last night at a space called the Red Bull ConsuLAte (?) on Abbot Kinney, with all sorts of great skate images from Dogtown's prime taken by Venice's own Josh "Bagel" Klassman.

There was a guest list, there were beverages (shout out to House Beer!), and there were skaters sitting on couches watching skate videos like it was at their own pad. Mellow.

The fact that it was sponsored by Red Bull in a seemingly pop-up space ("ConsuLAte is an inspiring space and bespoke {"Bespoke!"} resource offering curated experiences through the lens of Red Bull {or Venice locals' lenses} for atheletes and special guests {Ooh! You mean famous people?!} on Abbot Kinney smacked of "Hey, let's do a show by a beloved local to gain a little street cred here on this hip shopping boulevard in the home of skateboard culture, guys!" I can just hear the meeting - but, Bagel IS beloved, and we'll all drink your drinks and look at fantastic shots of local skate legends like Joey Tran ...

... And Christian Hosoi, and Jay Adams (RIP), and all the names who made this place a place that brands like Red Bull now want a piece of. Only instead of being like Adidas and making the ridiculously bold claim that they were "Defining Venice" (before they had even opened the old Hal's doors), now brands are feting the locals and trying to gain respect through the actual respect that these O.G.'s really have. I get it. And I'm happy for the guys like Bagel who are getting the recognition they so richly deserve.

This is Dogtown, and they can smell legit a mile away - so let's celebrate it all over again! And if it's on the corporate dime? It's about time. Take it. That's right. They weren't there, but you were, and that's why we love you and tolerate them. Sometimes. Times like this. Get it.

Long live Dogtown! (why there's a Blogtown).

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

The Palomino Rides Again!

The Palomino rides again! Once news got out that the legendary San Fernando Valley nightclub, The Palomino, would reopen again for one night only, the people that frequented that venue got excited. And rightfully so. Those walls had seen performances from California Country legends like Gram Parsons, Jerry Lee Lewis, Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, Lucinda Williams ... you name it, and if they were around in those days before "The Pal" closed in 1995 - they played there.

The Rebelle Roadshow gals heard that there was going to be a benefit for the Valley Relics Museum at the iconic honky-tonk, and they wanted in on that action. Forces united to make it all happen, and last night there was a good old fashioned get-down at the original site of The Palomino at 6907 Lankershim Boulevard in North Hollywood (which is now a banquet hall). The Valley Relics Museum has scads of supercool items from vintage California Country times, with photos and posters and Nudie's suits and all the great things that conjure up those days. They transformed the current banquet hall into such a good replica of how it used to be that many in the house commented on how it felt just like it used to. I moved here in 1995, so never got to go to the original club, but like everyone, have heard an awful lot of stories about the storied place.

It was a big old reunion, as fans and artists alike packed the joint, sharing hugs and tales all night long. There were as many musicians in the audience as on the stage, and the show could honestly have gone on until morning - and nearly did. Ladies and Gents alike were all decked out in their bedazzled outfits, and there were many a Manuel suit being worn in the house (and the "King of the Clothiers" was in the house!). A silent auction was ongoing, and people bid on all the cool signed stuff that would benefit more cool stuff going into and being preserved at the Valley Relics Museum.

A who's who of Americana music were both on the bill and in attendance here at was once the "Grand Ole Opry of the West". You could almost feel the ghosts of the legends past there in the room, and several commented on how many from that time were no longer with us, so they probably were literally there in spirit. Ronnie Mack of the famous Barn Dance fame was the emcee of the evening, and got things underway by welcoming everyone, and introducing the first person to grace the Palomino stage in 23 years, Alice Wallace. She did a Linda Ronstadt song, "Long Long Time", and gave everyone chills with her gorgeous voice ... or maybe it was the ghosts passing by for a cold Tecate.

Sam Morrow was up next, looking and sounding a bit like a young Waylon Jennings, who also played here back in the day. He gave us a bluesy number, that had that classic honky-tonk sound - as did many of the artists of the night. A BBQ was being served buffet-style, and whiskey was being served straight. Just like it oughtta be.

We got Jade Jackson next, who was great, from the tail end of what I heard, as I had gone for a quick visit backstage to get my own whiskey. Chip Kinman and Carla Olson were up next, and did a more rocking "Sweet Jane". They were followed by Tracy Dawn, who had played The Palomino as a teenager, and was so excited to be back that she ate it walking up the stage steps. "I've never done that before! This is a big deal to me, I've played with all these guys before (the awesome house band), and the vibe here tonight is really what it was like!" She belted out Jerry Lee Lewis' version of "Ain't It Funny How Time Slips Away", and it couldn't have been more perfect for the time travel we were experiencing live.

Time travel vibes continued with Steve Waddington, who does a pretty decent Johnny Cash impersonation, and he hit us with a "Ring Of Fire" that if you squinted (both eyes and ears), you might have thought was the real thing - or at least a ghost. He was playing a guitar signed by my personal hero, Kris Kristofferson, and ended his song with a "God Bless The Palamino!" K.P. Hawthorn (of the band Calico, and a founder of Rebelle Roadshow) was up next, and she did a beautiful rendition of Patsy Cline's "I Fall To Pieces" as couples in matching blinged out outfits danced together around the outskirts of the tables. Like when people used to dance together on their nights out! Sigh ...

It was the first time on the Palomino stage for Brian Whelan (and many of the performers), and he did a Brooks and Dunn tune, "Neon Moon" (I think ... I'm not so familiar with those cats), which was quickly followed by Liz Brasher giving it her all with another Patsy Cline beauty, "Seven Lonely Days". Good stuff. Jack Tempchin was up next, and he told us that he used to play here once a week for two years, which meant that he had "Smoked 2 to 300 joints in that parking lot." Right on. Tempchin got two numbers, both ones he'd written for The Eagles. First up was "Peaceful Easy Feeling" accompanied by Jade Jackson, and then he did "Already Gone" with Alice Wallace, and people were loving it. California loves their Eagles.

Marvin and Ryan of Lone Justice got up there and told everyone to fuck off, then followed that by saying, "There's a lot of love in the room!" Funny. They tore through two rockabilly style songs, one being "The Grapes Of Wrath" that got everyone up and dancing. They concluded by saying, "VOTE!" Word. They thanked the Rebelles, and than writer Johnny Whiteside came up to laud Ronnie Mack. "He led the way for all of us. He is your anchor, your rock, our hero!" Whiteside was clearly emotional at the entire evening, as were most in attendance. I choked up several times, and I'd never even been there before. A chant of "Ronnie Mack" went up, and then they took a break to show a slide show put together from classic Getty images by another wonderful Americana musician there in the room, Paul Chesne (who also took all of these photos).

After a bunch of crowd schmoozing, James Intveld took the stage in his sparkling Manuel suit talking about how he used to play here and would ask for the early slot so he could still get up for school. Intveld has a Chris Isaak crooner vibe, and his first number, "Love Calls" has the ladies down front up and swaying dreamily. Swooning, really.

Intveld then introduced his friend, Big Sandy, who wound up being one of my favorites of the evening. He reminded me of the singing guy in Coco, and sounded like that good old fashioned country everyone knows and loves when he sang "Face To The Wall". How great.

"The Palomino has risen again!" Ronnie Mack returned to thank everyone and remind them about the silent auction that would benefit the Valley Relics Museum, opening at its new location on November 3rd in Lake Balboa. "They did a great job at recreating the Palomino!" - and by all accounts, they really did. There was a lot of talking going on by now, because people were both excited to see each other and catch up, but were also getting buzzed. Jeffrey Steele struggled with that when he came up to play "the greatest Willie Nelson song ever written", which to him was "Night Life". That got the crowd's attention, and then he followed that up with one he plays with his Nashville band, The Sons Of The Palomino, "Outta This Town". A fitting tribute to the time and the place.

James Intveld returned with Gunnar Nelson (yes, of Nelson), who played Bob Dylan's "She Belongs To Me" about which he said that Dylan said Ricky Nelson sang it better than him. Nelson followed that with one of his dad's tunes, "Love Is Something You Can't Buy", then another of his dad's classics, "Garden Party" with its right on lyric of "If you can't please everyone, please yourself."

Jim Lauderdale was up next, in my favorite suit of the night, and was probably my favorite performer of the night too. He's so good.

He first did George Strait's "Stay Out Of My Arms" and showed why he's such a favorite. "Let's hear it for Rebelle Roadshow, this is just wonderful! ... and Ronnie Mack is a saint, I can't say enough about him!" His gratitude and genuine joy at being there was tangible, and one of the times I got choked up was when he dedicated his next song, "The King Of Broken Hearts" to Polly Parsons, Gram's daughter, who was present down front. Couples got up to dance again, and it was just one of the sweetest moments ever.

Lauderdale concluded with the country rocker "Hole In My Head", and when he twanged the last note he said, "This has been one of the best ever for me!" And I don't think he was at all alone with that sentiment. That brought up "The Queen of the Palomino" and Rosie Flores took the stage to cheers and audible admiration.

"I can't believe I'm standing on this stage! How are you all feeling?" By the sounds of it, we were all feeling great. Flores used to play here on the weekend gig, which made her feel like she had really made it. She has since moved to Texas, but returned for this gig wearing her dad's old Palomino jacket, "with a tear in my eye." She got down to business after a little guitar check, saying, "I've been drinking whiskey, sorry!" All good, as we all had been.

Flores blazed through what could be the theme song for the night, "Palomino Days", and everyone just loved it. She's got a new album coming out, and the first single was "For all your girls out there!" Rebelles. She played "Drive, Drive, Drive" and the girls got to dancing again. No one wanted it to end, but a very hoarse Intveld got back up there to ask the entire line-up to join him for an All Star finale that would be Merle Haggard's "Mama Tried". Everyone threw down for this one, which ended in hugs and "Thank you! God Bless you!" from Intveld.

Wow. Just wow. Everyone felt so lucky to be there, and there was much talk about buying the place back for more nights like these, but I was told the Russian owners aren't interested. Man, between elections and nightclubs, the Russians are really taking over. Anyway, we'll always have this incredible night of music, the memories, and the knowledge that that California soul is within you and can be taken along everywhere, just as all of these extra-talented artists have done as they traverse the globe playing the songs that all started right here at The Pal.

The Palomino rode again ... and we were there. Thanks SO much to everyone past, present, and hopefully future who made this one of a kind night possible ... Honky-tonk dreams truly came true last night. Long live The Palomino!

*Photos courtesy of Paul Chesne.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Celebrating 50 Years Of MC5 At The Ford Amphitheater - Kicking Out The Jams!

I've seen my friend Brother Wayne Kramer perform a lot of times, but never with his band, Motor City 5, better known as MC5. Until this past Friday night, when Kramer and his cronies performed the Kick Out The Jams album in its entirety for a Jail Guitar Doors benefit at the Ford Amphitheater - and it was something else!

Friday night L.A. traffic found us getting there just as Jason Heath and The Greedy Souls were opening the evening's night of rock and roll with a message. Heath and his band are also great friends of mine, so it was a treat to get to see them rock the Ford stage, with its beautiful outdoor setting and stars shining above.

JHTGS opened with "In Love With My Gun" and "Fair Fight" - both pretty topical at the moment. There was a full band along for this ride, complete with horns and female backup singers sounding great. They tore through "Dead Stars" and "Postcards From The Hanging" from their most recent album, But There's Nowhere To Go. I wrote the bio for that album, but haven't had the chance to see its songs performed live in quite a while, so this was awesome to see our pals up there giving it their all.

"Thunderstruck" is one of my favorites (and I recently learned it's about Matthew Shepard, the young guy man who was beaten to death almost exactly 20 years ago), and it sounded better than ever, as did "Turn On (The Radio)" featuring Jason Federici on keys, and everyone else ruling hard for the song that Heath said "Is about rock and roll changing the world. I don't know if it can, but we're gonna try". After that throwdown, I think they're on to something. Heath also reminded everyone that the evening was a benefit for the wonderful Jail Guitar Doors organization (founded by Billy Bragg in the UK, headed up by Wayne and Margaret Kramer here in the U.S.), and I thought of Franc Foster who died earlier this year.

I met Foster through one of these JGD shows, and became friends after writing about his travels from inmate to musical mentor to other prisoners. Foster's presence here on this night was sorely missed. When Heath and Co. played "Nowhere To Go" it got me thinking about how I really don't know where else to go in this crazy world. Where is cool to live? And if you find it, how long will we be able to survive with climate change about to make life on this planet extinct? Deep thoughts, but I snapped back in time to hear "Devil Ain't Talkin'", complete with horns, which I think always elevate everything. I love Jason Heath and The Greedy Souls and you should take any chance you get to see them jam together. Right on.

We went to mingle with some friends and missed half of Starcrawler, but heard it muffled from a distance. A photographer we know told us that she'll never shoot this band again because the singer kicked her camera into her face and she had to go to the hospital, so we weren't in any hurry to see some jerks.

We got back to our seats in time to see the female lead vocalist (Arrow de Wilde) spit up (fake) blood and smash another photographer's camera (she's darn lucky it wasn't Paul's). The punkish rock was o.k., but it seemed to me if it were really good, they wouldn't need such antics. Why be so destructive to people that are helping to promote you? It was a turn off. The crowd - leaning on the older side, as Kramer himself is now 70, and it IS the 50th anniversary of MC5 - was taken aback when de Wilde shouted, "Oh, C'mon, turn up your fucking hearing aids!" You heard an audible gasp, and I don't think this band won any new fans after that. And, it must be said, the crowd never sat down ONCE when MC5 took the stage - so there.

I gather that de Wilde is going for a female Iggy Pop type thing, but it came off as truly disturbed. When she staggered off to the side of the stage, looking all frantic and lost, I genuinely almost left my seat to go help her. She looked so fucked up it was almost scary, but I'm glad I didn't go to her aid, as I most likely would have been left covered with fake blood, which she spread over everyone as she ran out into the crowd and back off stage. The remaining musicians kept playing without her, with the guitarist playing off into the wings. Then they were done and we all kind of shrugged, and looked forward to the mighty MC5 (in this incarnation) taking the stage!

Kramer is the lone original Detroit guy left in the band, that now features Seattle guys (like Soundgarden's Kim Thayil and Pearl Jam's Matt Cameron), and Zen Guerilla frontman Marcus Durant singing lead. Fugazi drummer Brendan Canty, and Faith No More's bassist Billy Gould round the band out, making it a supergroup of expert rockers. Margaret Kramer made a speech on behalf of Jail Guitar Doors, and then it was time to ... KICK OUT THE JAMS!!

Wayne Kramer led the band on stage RUNNING to the mic stand, and they all tore into "Rambling Rose", and the entire crowd leaped to its collective feet - and stayed there until the last note was smashed. They went straight into "Kick Out The Jams" and everyone's phones were out trying to capture the energy, which was impossible unless you were there. People were going NUTS for this jam that was celebrating its 50th year of being kicked out. It was EXCITING in there, believe me. Especially when Kramer ripped out a guitar solo on his iconic star spangled axe. Phew!

"Come Together" was just as rocking, and "Motor City's Burning" showed that Durant is a very pale black man, tearing up his harmonica while giving the song its very Motown vibey soul. Bluesy and awesome, it was a real standout. Brother Wayne next did band intros, and shouted out everyone on stage, and said, "I'm so happy to be here tonight with you in L.A.!", and we were all so happy about it too. "Rama Lama" showed off everyone at their best, and even featured some ass shaking from Kramer, as well as a guitar battle between him and Thayil. SO good.

That this guy is now 70 is proof that rock and roll keeps one young at heart, and Kramer was pulling Townshend-like arm windmills on "Borderline" and cranking out more electric solos on "I Want You Right Now", which was awesome. "Starship" got very acid rocky, and it was clear that this one was written in the groovy late 60's.  They ended the song all pointing up, as if to ask the aliens to please take us now. To have mercy on us.

Not a person had yet sat down - in Los Angeles - and wouldn't for the remainder of the show. I've been at a LOT of shows in L.A. lately, and this never happens if there are seats. The once in a lifetime experience that this was (and that I kept hearing people say that) amped up the electricity in the venue, and people were going to be rocking for its entirety. RAD.

Kramer acknowledged his band mates that made this music together 50 years ago, then strapped on an acoustic guitar for "Shakin' Street", which ruled. The guy behind me said, "If they play 'Future/Now' I'll shit my pants!" - which they next DID play, and I was nervous to look behind me to see if he had actually shat himself, but I could hear that he was very happy by his shouts. Good for him!

"Please welcome our good friend, Duff McKagan!" shouted Kramer, and welcome the GNR legend we did. He joined the and for "Call Me Animal" and they just beat that song to a pulp. While they were all simply shredding, a trio of horn players walked on to the stage, and once again brought the energy even higher. Kramer introduced them at song's end as "The Parolee Horns!", and then introduced another special guest, Greg Dulli from The Afghan Whigs! Awesome.  Dulli TORE through a fast paced "Let Me Try" and "Skunk", and the place went wild. The guys on stage were getting a full cardio workout, and the audience was doing their best to keep up. Phew!

After that frenzy, Kramer took a moment to speak his mind. "I know our country's going through tough times. There's a rapist on the Supreme Court, there's a rapist in the White House ... but it is our right to exercise our power  - and we do that when we VOTE!" A "VOTE!" chant started up, as everyone was SO fed up at the SCOTUS news of the day, and Kramer continued, "We can save this world, but we gotta get to WORK. We're gonna let those bums in Washington know, WE'RE LOOKING AT YOU!" and they blazed through "Looking At You" just to show 'em.

Everyone came back up for a raucous run-through of "Sister Anne" for the final hard rocking All Star jam. Thayil's fingers were flying, and everyone was giving it their absolute all. The crowd ate it up and shouted for more, but there's a curfew. Kramer shouted, "Thank you all! You are terrific! See you next year, same time, same station ... GO VOTE!!!"

The musicians had a group bow together, and left the stage. They left everyone else standing there shaking their heads in amazement at what they had just seen. LOVING it. There was a little backstage soirée, and I got to catch up with my Justice Tour Alumni (a tour we did with Tom Morello a decade ago!) friends, all of whom I love so much. In dark times like these, it is reassuring that there are people who still believe in good, and still try to do something that matters in this world. Like bring music to inmates in order to create a better life for themselves. Like doing benefit shows just for the good in it. Like urging people to vote with their voices that people might listen to. Like simply caring. And if you can do all of that while rocking faces off - even better.

Thanks and LOVE to all the Jail Guitar Doors friends and family who made this momentous night possible. As for those jams? They done kicked 'em OUT!

 MC50th is touring now!

*Photos by Paul Gronner Photography