Monday, October 29, 2018

Two Sides Of Venice

There are a lot more than two sides to Venice, really, but when I was out walking to my friend's house yesterday, I saw two examples of some stark differences right by each other. The first was natural beauty that was so stunning, you simply had to stop and stare. I love a hibiscus, and this one was among the top ones I've ever seen. Pink and orange and perfect there in the sunshine, it made you think about how almost heartbreakingly beautiful Venice can be.

Then, right around the corner I saw a trash can out for pick up, and the people had written on its side just exactly how they feel: We do what we want. We don't care ... Fuck the System. It's hard to disagree with ... and kind of how I've always thought of Venice. We do what we want ... we don't care what others think ... and most of us moved here because we don't agree with the system everywhere else. Only now it's starting to BE like everywhere else here a bit ... and that's why I think people get so upset, and so protective, and so argumentative ... because you're either feeling the uniqueness of Venice slipping away - or among the ones making that happen. Both are at odds. And the new ones that are trying to make Venice like everywhere else just don't get it. There's a long history of beauty, and art, and rebels, and music makers ... and the dreamers of dreams who want to live somewhere special, like nowhere else. In our Venice. In our COMMUNITY of like-minded friends and neighbors.

Beauty. Rebellion. That's my Venice. For as long as we can make it so.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Munch Mural!

There is an absolutely gorgeous new mural in progress on the front of Munch that is nearly completed, and it's a traffic stopper. Located on the south end of Abbot Kinney, it is sure to become a selfie destination immediately.

The beautiful work was done by Stefan Thelen, aka Kid Super A, and it's wonderful. I also urge you all to frequent Munch (and not just stop for photos in front), either in their mellow restaurant location, or via their late-night - and delicious! - delivery.

Before it was Munch, it was Marla's ... and I hold them both dear. Support your local Mom and Pop and Sons and Daughters and FAMILY businesses in Venice! They're all too rare around these parts lately, and they're also awesome.

LOVE to the Munch Family, and Congratulations on a new landmark!

Happy Weekend, All! Maybe I'll see you at Munch.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Love On A Train

I was coming back to the Westside from downtown L.A.with my brother and by the time we neared our stop, the train was nearly empty. I turned to ask him something, and noticed this couple fast asleep across the aisle from me. It was so moving ...  I asked Paul to take a photo.

They are Los Angeles. I don't know their story - and didn't want to wake them to ask - but it was such an L.A. story without words that I wanted to remember it, even if I felt a little invasive taking their picture. Were they coming home from a long day of working several jobs? Were they riding the train because they didn't have anywhere else to go? Were they O.K.? It seemed as though they were, as long as they had each other for support. It looked like the definition of love and comfort to me ... and I wish them nothing but well. And more love.

*Photo by Paul Gronner.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Willie Nelson And The Outlaw Music Festival - Last Stop, Hollywood Bowl!

Oh, MAN! I finally got to see Willie Nelson live and in person! At The Hollywood Bowl! For the final stop of The Outlaw Music Festival 2018! Deadheads and Willie fans unite! And it was awesome.

The only drag was that it wasn't a true Hollywood Bowl event, but a leased one, which means you can't bring in your food and drink like you normally always can - and it started at 5 p.m., which also never happens, so we were late. We missed Particle Kid (Willie's son Micah's band), we missed Lukas Nelson & Promise Of The Real (Willie's son Lukas' band, which was a major drag we would find out later), but heard he played a song from the new A Star Is Born, which I'm not about. Kris Kristofferson version forever (and as it was the "Outlaw" Festival, I kept hoping KK would be a special guest at his good friend's gig, but nope. We ended up getting there for the tail end of the wonderful Margo Price though. We heard her singing "9 to 5" and thought it really might be Dolly singing (you never know - there are often surprise guests in L.A.), but it was Price belting it out in an uncanny resemblance. I'll be happy to see her whole set one day.

Sturgill Simpson was up next on the rotating stage, and came out wearing a t-shirt that read, "If you hear any noise, it's just me and the boys boppin'". I really can't tell you what his set list was, because he is one act I can never make out what he's saying. I've seen him before, and thought how much better he would be if he could just enunciate his words a little bit. His voice reminds me a bit of Waylon Jennings (high praise), but Waylon I could understand.

Simpson and his backing band pretty much made up for the slurring with their excellent playing, with Simpson playing his guitar like it was on fire - and I think it probably nearly was. He mentioned that it would be his last show for a while, as he had his third son born just last Wednesday, and it was time to take some time off to be a Dad ... "But we have cool shit coming next year!" A song I COULD make out, was "The Promise", a cover of the old When In Rome song that Simpson country-rocks up.

I ran into a friend after Simpson's set, and he said, "Sturgill was ROCKING!" - which he fully was. The singing was actually kept to a minimum, and it was basically a guitar shred-athon. "You Don't Miss Your Water ('Til The Well Runs Dry)" was another one I could make out, and it was great. The guy facing us and doing air guitar for the crowd especially thought so. Good times.

After the break, Phil Lesh from The Grateful Dead was up. There were a whole bunch of happy Deadheads in tie-dye, up and dancing in that Dead style that is really hard to explain. Lesh and his band got down with Dead classics like "Althea", "Brown Eyed Woman", "Sugaree" - and that got even the Cowboy-hatted people happy and dancing. Lesh himself let his band (Jackie Green, Jason Crosby, Nathan Graham, and Cris Jacobs) take on most of the heavy lifting, seeming pretty frail of voice and body himself. When he did take over lead vocals, joyous shouts would go up from his faithful followers, acknowledging his legend status to them. It was touching.

When they sang "All New Minglewood Blues", and its line, "A couple shots of whiskey and I'm going back to Hollywood", it received self-congratulating yells from all of those here in Hollywood. Hollywood lines are always crowd pleasers at The Hollywood Bowl. "Candyman", "China Cat Sunflower", and "Shakedown Street" were all pretty good, especially if you ever followed the Dead - which I didn't. Some songs were like 20 minutes long feeling, and often a bit off and/or sloppy, so it was kind of easy to tune out and just enjoy the moon and stars, which I did.

Lesh welcomed back Margo Price to join them for "Turn On Your Love Light", and she elevated the whole proceeding with her gorgeous and powerful voice, and spirited tambourine playing. It was nice to have a woman there, as the whole Outlaw thing can definitely use some more women. And Price is great.

The house played Willie Nelson while we were waiting for Willie Nelson, which isn't usually done, but it got us hyped and ready for The Red Headed Stranger - who is a stranger to no one. When Nelson took the stage in his Dodgers jersey (Turner #10!), the whole place stood up and cheered. "How 'bout them Dodgers?!" he shouted, and all the Angelenos in attendance roared for their team that is going to the World Series for the second year in a row!  I wasn't prepared for how excited I was to finally be seeing the legend that is Willie Nelson - in person! With his famously beat up guitar, Trigger! I had chills and kind of choked up. They lit right into "Whiskey River", and all the faithful sang their praise along.

Nelson and his family band were backed by a giant Lone Star flag behind them, and "Still Is Still Moving To Me" was up next. I love that song because it was included in a reggae version on Toots & The Maytals True Love album, which I hold dear.  Nelson kind of sing/talks these days, and you can tell he's been doing these songs forever. I wore braids to honor the man, and he soon tossed off his cowboy hat to some happy fan in the crowd, revealing his trademark red bandana and two long braids. What a legend.

"Let's do one for Waylon!" shouted Nelson, and they got down with "Good Hearted Woman", which was as great as you'd expect. The man next to me kept just laughing, like he couldn't believe he was really there seeing this. I get you, buddy. People were SO happy to be there. Nelson introduced, "Little sister, Bobbie", who is a wizard on the piano (and recently inducted into the Texas Music Hall Of Fame!), with her waist long hair covering her face as she focused on the keys. She tore through a solo, accompanied by her brother on guitar, and it was super moving to see them still playing together after all of these years. And moving all over again to see Nelson play with his sons now, who he next introduced before launching into "Texas Flood".

O.K. This was the absolute highlight of the show for me. Talk about A Star Is Born - Lukas Nelson RULES. The entire house was mesmerized as Lukas soared over us all, with both his excellent voice and electrifying guitar skills on this bluesy number that left everyone speechless, with mouths hanging at how very close this apple fell under this particular family tree. Holy smokes. There was a little guitar battle between father and son that Willie ended with a little  twang that made Lukas smile and us laugh. Lukas would play so hard he'd have to push his glasses back up on his nose, and in that moment, I got a brand new crush. What a talent. I know I'm late to the game, but everyone needs to check out Lukas Nelson immediately if you haven't already. Whoa.

They followed that show-stopper with "Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys", and that classic had the whole place lit up and singing along. I say let 'em, Moms. Cowboys like this are exactly what you want. "Angel Flying Too Close To The Ground" slowed things down a bit, as this lovely ballad had people slow-dancing together in the aisles. Then "On The Road Again" got people back up singing and dancing together, then one of my very favorites, "You Were Always On My Mind", which was slow and beautiful and moving to tears. Nelson would raise his arm up each time he sang the title line, indicating that his fans are always on his mind - and you can feel it.

"Let's do one for Merle!" with another shout out to another lost friend of Nelson's. It seemed like the entire venue smoked along to "It's All Going To Pot", which rolled (get it?) right into "Roll Me Up And Smoke Me When I'm Dead".  It was apparent that all were having a grand old time, both on stage and off. This was kind of the novelty song section, as those weed smoking tributes were followed by the ode to internet rumors, "Still Not Dead Today". Everyone laughed, but also threw up a silent prayer that this song can keep being sung by Willie for a very long time.

"Jambalaya (Fun On The Bayou)" made sure that we had fun in the Bowl, as did "Hey, Good Looking"  and "Move It On Over", which kept people dancing and singing along. The folks in the box next to us moved out their chairs and had their own private little dance floor, in an inspired move.

"It's almost that time again, and if you don't like who's in there, Vote 'em out!" implored Nelson, as they gave us the brand new song by that name. It was met with cheers and it seemed likely that the voters in the house (ALL, I hope!) will do just that. Nelson wrote it for the Texas battle between Beto O'Rourke and Ted Cruz that seems like an absolute no-brainer. Go Beto! Go Democracy!

The last song/s of the night (there was surprisingly no encore) was a medley of  "I Saw The Light/I"ll Fly Away/Will The Circle Be Unbroken" and hopefully all of our country will finally actually finally see the light. Nelson brought back up everyone involved in this Outlaw show (but not Kris Kristofferson, sigh), and once it ended, he waved and blew kisses to the crowd that never wants to see him go. A true Outlaw. A true Great. A true Legend. There will never be another dude like him, and I was filled with happiness that I finally got to see this great American treasure live ... and that with his great kids, the circle will remain unbroken.

Thank you, Willie! Thank you to Outlaws everywhere! What a night.

*Photos of Willie were not allowed (!) so the one you see is lifted from the L.A. Times. All others by  Paddy Wilkins.

Monday, October 22, 2018

A Venice High Weekend - Go Gondoliers!

In all the years I've lived in Venice, I had never been to the Homecoming game at Venice High, which I guess is fine because I didn't go there, but as a resident of its town, I think we should all support the local schools - and Venice High is awesome.

The whole place is under construction for a massive school grounds makeover, but that didn't stop any of the fun. The Venice High side of the bleachers was packed - standing room only. The Gondolier kids are great, with a ton of school spirit, and I even got to meet their mascot, Gondo the Mighty Gondolier! Adorable.

There was homecoming royalty, and a Hall of Fame induction. There were cheerleaders, a dance squad, and a marching band that always makes things more festive. I ran into a whole bunch of people that I knew, and it was almost more a community event than just a high school one. I also learned that the concession stand makes some great tacos! Maybe my favorite in town, probably because someone's Grandma is making them or something. They were delicious.

The Gondoliers were not victorious in their game against Fairfax High, but they were victorious in having the most fun, and making even folks well past high school that didn't attend their school feel welcome and included. I loved it.

Then, the very next night, Venice High (aka Rydell High) hosted the annual Grease singalong! Back to back fun events hosted at this awesome school! I was only there briefly, as Game 7 of the Dodgers game was happening at the exact same time, and my friends, the Halverson's were having a party a half a block away, so I split right after "Greased Lightning" this year. I was there long enough to see all the fun folks in costume, and the old hot rods - and to have another quick taco!

Thank you to all the great kids and families that make having Venice High a blast not just for the kids in attendance, but to the friends and neighbors that  live nearby. Thank you to parents who send their kids to public schools ... your resources help to make them better. Rowing, Not Drifting. You're all awesome.

Go Gondos!!!

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.