Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Declaration - Venice To Lose Another Landmark

Most people in Venice see the big "V" Mark di Suvero sculpture nearly every day since 2001 on their trips down to the beach. Declaration has been a meeting spot at the beach ever since, as you tell visitors and friends to meet you at the big metal V, as it's the biggest, easiest thing to find. This landmark is about to be taken away, according to an article in yesterday's New York Times.

The L.A. Louver represents di Suvero, who loaned the sculpture to the city of Los Angeles, in the hopes that the city would eventually acquire it permanently. The Louver paid for its installation and upkeep, and though the sculpture is valued at six million dollars today, they have tried to work out a reasonable deal for the city, but that hasn't happened. Obviously, there are much bigger problems in Venice today than losing a sculpture, but it would definitely be sad to see it go.

Donors ponied up a billion dollars in like one day to rebuild Notre Dame, and Venice is teeming with big money these days, judging by the McMansions and BUBs everywhere. Maybe one of those people can be a hero for once, and save something in Venice instead of destroying it. Or maybe the group of concerned citizens raising money to fight bridge and affordable housing could instead do something positive with their money? Just thoughts ... and hopes.

The move of Declaration back to di Suvero's Petaluma studio is meant to happen "by the end of this year," so there seems to still be time for donors and the City of L.A. (who make a ton of money off of Venice, by the way) to step up. Mark di Suvero is 85 years old, and having a new exhibit at the Louver May 1-June 8 ... (with a celebration on June 5 honoring him and the Venice Family Clinic) what a delight it would be to let him know in person that his Venice landmark will stay ... !

It would be a shame to see yet another symbol of the art and artists in Venice go away. Man.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Community Service Saturday!

This past Saturday was all about the Community in Venice. You can feel Summer's approach, and everyone was out and about doing their weekend thing. A few different groups were having events to continue to work on our sense of that community, and maybe grow a bit more empathy for each other while they were at it. The first stop (after coffee at The French Market, of course) was the Venice Community Housing Chalk Art Festival in the parking lot between North and South Venice on Pacific Avenue. I could hear drumming in the distance as I walked down Venice Boulevard, and it made me kick it up a notch, so I was practically race-walking to get there to see what was happening.

What was happening was a fantastic female drumming group called Bloco Obini, who were brightly dressed in African fabrics and banging their hearts out, watched over by the mural of Abbot Kinney - who I'm pretty sure would whole-heartedly approve. They were drumming next to the beautiful chalk mandala that Gary Palmer had created with kids and other members of the community at this event meant to bring awareness to trying to solve the homelessness problem. It also served to spotlight the fact that Venice is meant to be about ART (stay tuned for another awesome art situation Gary and I have in the works!) - at every level.

There was a giant chalk message spelling out "We Are All Venice" - Truth! - and that was also the message on the buttons that the VCH Arts Collective were handing out. Taylor Barnes was also there, creating a chalk Goddess of Venice, and it was all just lovely, and exactly what you want to see going down in Venice on the weekend ... Art plus FUN!

Next stop was the Ladies Jam contest at the Venice Skatepark, where big crowds surrounded the Skatepark to watch the girls have the place all to themselves - and they RIPPED.

It's mesmerizing and inspiring (and makes you super jealous) to watch the strong, talented ladies tear it up just as hard as the boys ... and more gracefully. Skater girls are the best, and it was a joy to see them all get their moment in the sun (and the clouds, but still!). The Skatepark is another gem that means the world to so many of the youth (and grownups too), that gives them their own sense of community, and keeps them out of real trouble. What a treasure!

I could have stayed all day to watch the female skaters, but spots on the railing were at a premium, and I had to get over to The Brig parking lot before their event for S.P.Y. (Safe Place For Youth) was over. The parking lot was packed with people there to support the work of S.P.Y. and meet, greet, and congratulate the youth who have been through their program and come out the other side. We have worked with S.P.Y. on our documentary 90291: VENICE UNZIPPED, and I can tell you that I have seen first-hand the special place that this is. I honestly don't know what so many young people would do without them. They provide food, showers, clothes, check-ups, computer training, job outreach, and so much more they really deserve the accolades being presented to them at this event.

I again couldn't stay that long as I had even more things to get to (not in Venice and off the record), but was encouraged to see such a large crowd there yes, to enjoy the day drinking at the outside bar (tended by former S.P.Y. attendees), but also to applaud and hold up the great work being done by S.P.Y. for all to see.

Thank you to David Paris for hosting the event, and for letting me know about it!

As I was taking off, I thought it was appropriate to see that the homeless Abbot Kinney had been painted on to the side of The Brig, needing money for the now outrageous Venice rents - like many of the S.P.Y. kids, like the people that the VCH serves, and like myself. We're all doing our best to stay in the place that we love, and there isn't enough thanks for the people and organizations that still care about their community being housed. Hopefully events like these will serve to kick the ones in the pants that still need to get it. That we're all in this together, and that we know the problems all day - yet some strive for solutions, and do their best to implement them the best that they can. They're doing SOMETHING ... which is a lot more than a lot of people can say.

I felt pretty good about our Community as I went off to start my evening, because there are clearly still so many good people doing so many good things. That's the way I want to be, and that's what the world needs the very most right now. No more bad news. Let's concentrate on how good we CAN be. Please join us, won't you?

Happy Monday - and the opportunity to do more good this week!

Friday, April 26, 2019

Do What You Love!

I've had a gnarly week, with no time to do what I love - telling the great stories of Venice. Everything and pretty much everyone (except my Mom) has been frustrating and difficult to get answers from, and I had a real feeling of what the hell is the point of it all? Gnarly.

Then I was walking down Washington Boulevard to a meeting, and there on the side of the smashed in Van's store (a car ran into the building last weekend) was this great new mural by Ruben Rojas bringing me back into focus. DO WHAT YOU LOVE!

THAT is the point of it all. I needed that reminder, I guess, as signs always show up when you most need them. Nothing has really changed, other than my attitude, but that is always the best place to start.

Happy Weekend, All! I hope you get to do what you love.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Failure Close Tour WIth Hometown Show At The Fonda!

The seminal 90's band, Failure, is back and closed out their tour in support of their most recent album (really 4 ep's), In The Future Your Body Will Be The Furthest Thing From Your Mind, with a fantastic hometown show April 24th at the Fonda Theater in Hollywood. They were joined by another 90's band, Swervedriver, but this night was all about Failure for us.

Failure is my brother Paul's favorite, and he was down front to capture the show photographically, as well as lose his mind, being extra elated to be listening to his favorite music in person and so close, as we were covering the show for our friends at Juice Magazine. Neither band was ever really my own thing, but Failure showed why they are both so underrated, so fondly remembered, and still so celebrated - at least by this heavily Generation X audience that was positively thrilled.

Swervedriver didn't even break a sweat (unless it was due to the heavily lit stage), and their shoes were definitely being gazed at when we arrived near the end of their set. Someone on the floor yelled out, "Welcome back!" to the Oxford, England based band, and though almost exactly zero lyrics were decipherable through their super distorted guitar pedal fuzz, people other than me seemed to know what songs they were. A guy in a Jane's Addiction shirt was next to me, and that's who I was listening to instead of these guys. I found it to be a bit of a snooze, but the majorly stoned crowd (everyone seemed to have at least a vape pen, if not a real jay) nodded along happily, so good for them! The highlight for everyone (judging from the shrieks and the extendo jam nobody seemed to mind) was "Last Train To Satansville" from their Mezcal Head album, aptly titled, as I felt like I had mezcal head listening to it. Maybe that's when you listen to Swervedriver to really get them ... will give it a shot.

In between the sets, I sat up in the balcony waiting for Failure and observing the floor like Bran from Game Of Thrones this season. I wasn't really in the mood for mingling or partying, or even a rock show, really, but I knew how much this show meant to my brother, so I was there for it all. Old Failure heads from back in the day greeted each other by yelling across the floor with their rolled up collector posters as megaphones, and it was constant hugs and high fives down there. People were stoked. Then the house suddenly went dark, and there was Failure! Many in the house hadn't seen this band live in like 17 years, so to say they went wild when the haunting feedback intro led into "Solar Eyes" off the latest album was a major understatement. Thrilled!

The bass was so heavy I felt it in my throat all the way up in the balcony, and I could see my brother down front shooting, and knew how stoked he was. Ken Andrews was in fine voice ... he reminds me a bit of Beck - singing, not looks.

Andrews traded off guitar and bass duties with Greg Edwards, and Kellii Scott held it all down on the drums. "Distorted Fields" and "Heavy and Blind" (also off the new album, which was nice to see so many people loving and not yelling for oldies) were aptly titled, as there was hella distortion going down, the jams were heavy, and we were all nearly blind from the constant use of colored Klieg-type lights that almost never let you see the band fully (Kudos to the photographers that somehow found them in the chaos!).

"Fine citizens of Los Angeles, will you jump in a rocket ship with us for a trip to Fantastic Land?!" said Andrews, and the crowd answered in the affirmative, gaining them a bunch of songs from Fantastic Planet - their best loved and most well-known album. "Another Space Song" and "Smoking Umbrellas" were also titled pretty on the nose for these space rockers, and the smokers in the house that loved them. Andrews addressed the crowd here, saying, "What's happening, Los Angeles?! It's so good to be home!", with his arms up in victory formation.  He went on to say that it was great to be playing at home for family and friends, and that his two kids were here to see them play - and they were right in front of me in the balcony, head banging along and going crazy for their Dad. It was awesome. "Pillowhead" got the whole place going crazy, and featured a whole lot of air-drumming from the crowd trying to keep time with Scott.

The highlight from this segment was probably their biggest hit ever, "Stuck On You", and not just because a dude stage dove off of the stage at its start. It's a melodic anthem with great lyrics (I thought I'd drop you easily/but that was not to be/You burrowed like a summer tick/so you invade my sleep/and confuse my dreams/Turn my nights to sleepless itch) that also appeared to be every couple in the room's "song", as there was much swaying and kissing down there during this one. Fantastic Land is cool.

The Magnified album was featured next, and we got "Undone" and "Frogs". These were straight up ROCK, and reminded me a bit of Queens Of The Stone Age and maybe Tool, which is no surprise, considering these fellows opened for them on many a show. The Heart Is A Monster was the source material for the next jams: "A.M. Amnesia" and "Counterfeit Sky" which caused one guy (and there's always that guy) to yell out, "Fuck yeah, Failure!" - which is kind of funny to hear. Like "Hooray for failure!" would only come up if it was for this band.

 "Thanks for recognizing our new album. We love playing it on tour, thank you for supporting it!", said Andrews by way of introducing three more from ITFYBWBTFFYM, and next came "Dark Speed", "No One Left" and the magnum opus that is "The Pineal Electorate" (my brother's favorite of the night - among many). Those last two were switcheroos, as Andrews and Edwards traded vocals and instruments, and it was pretty metal. It ended with a cacophony of sound and feedback that showcased how good Failure's sound was in comparison to Swervedriver. Like, whoa. Failure is known for their sonic excellence, and they don't use any amps on the stage. They travel with their own sound guy, and play through the sound system - super technical and hard to pull off, but these guys do it with aplomb.

We went back to the Fantastic Planet for the last song of the main set, and Failure ripped through "Heliotropic" and its heavy rock punctuated by effective lighting cues. It was a jammer, and the guys in the crowd loved it, especially when Andrews was tossing out picks at its end, before leaving the stage for the obligatory encore pause. After a bunch of yelling and cheers, the band came back out for a bit of audience participation on "The Nurse Who Loved Me" - a much loved and covered tune also from Fantastic Planet (the one I'd get as a primer to Failure along with the latest). They took us back to their first album for the final two numbers, and we learned that Comfort was recorded in 1991 in Minnesota (our home state!) with producer, Steve Albini. Paul's favorite band was recording right in town and he didn't even know it! Now he likes them even more. "Macaque" and "Screen Man" made the entire room - including Andrews' kids - head bang even harder than before, both because they fully rocked, but also because it was the last show of this tour - and the way things go, you never know if there will be another live moment with your favorite band.

And if you've never seen an older band live before (like me with these guys), you gotta go see them when you can, because they might turn into your favorite band - even if you're late to the party. I'd like to thank Failure for greatly improving my mood, and reminding of the power of music to heal, uplift, and to unite. The crowd didn't want to let the band go (because they wanted more, but also because they kept throwing their stuff into the crowd!), and the lines for merch were long - again probably because you never know. But in this case, yes, it was a bit of time travel back to the 90's ... but it's most likely also a glimpse into the future, as these guys are at the very top of their game - and should now maybe consider a name change to Success.

*All photos by Paul Gronner Photography

Thursday, April 18, 2019

The Win-Dow - Excellent Cheap Eats In Venice!

There could not possibly be a more beautiful day than today in Venice, California. It's only Thursday (Little Friday!), but the holiday weekend seems to already be ON. The Boardwalk is packed. The Skatepark is packed. The bike path is packed. And the line at the new burger spot, The Win-Dow, on Rose Avenue was looong.

The Win-Dow is exactly that - a window to order, and a window to pick up, and you either take your food to go, or sit on little plastic chairs in the parking lot of the former Ranch Market and La Fiesta Brava space, which most everyone on this gorgeous day chose to do.

The new endeavor from Superba and Pitfire Pizza's Paul Hibler is open now, and the adjacent larger restaurant - American Beauty - is coming soon. I ran into Hibler in the parking lot as I was waiting for my lunch, and when I thanked him for providing a new place with actually affordable food in Venice (the burgers are $3.95!), he smiled and said, "I said I was going to do it, so I did." And we can all be glad.

The burgers are excellent. Basic cheeseburgers with super-soft buns, grilled with onions, so there's a slight White Castle vibe - in a good way. The fries are my favorite kind - thin, crisp, and hot. The lemonade is fresh, and the perfect way to wash down the food. There's a vegan burger and kale salad for the healthier options, and a fried chicken sandwich that is going to be my next conquest. I'm impressed.

The service was super friendly, as was the vibe in the parking lot, with friends and neighbors greeting each other as they enjoyed the sunshine. You wouldn't have been surprised if a dance party had broken out right there on the blacktop ... the day had that kind of feel. Stoked.

I carried on with my day, fully sated, and more than happy to report that The Win-Dow is awesome. I'll see you there again soon!

The Win-Dow
425 Rose Avenue
11 am - 7 pm Daily

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Perle Mer - Dreamy Dresses For Dreamy Ladies

A long time ago, when Venice was much more rootsy and you knew pretty much everyone, I had a friend named Ruthie Cadenhead, who was not only my favorite barista at Abbot's Habit (after my brother, Paul and our pal, Merlin of course), but one of my favorite Venice girls. Time marches on and things change, but Ruthie remains one of my favorites ... only now she lives in Boulder, Colorado - a town that she says kind of feels like old Venice. I missed Ruthie, and wondered what she was up to, and found out that she and her sister, Emily, are running a beautiful fashion label called Perle Mer, and now their business is one of my favorites too.

Ruthie sent me the Perle Mer "Butterfly Dress", which I wore to the California Superbloom one day, and I don't know if I've ever had more compliments ... like constantly, all day, and since over the photos. I thought I'd chat with the girls to find out more about them and their company, so everyone could know all about the ladies behind the dress.

The butterfly dress in particular was inspired by their late Grandmother, Clara Burgess (who they called "Girl Dumpy"). She had amazing style, and would travel the world collecting prints, and the butterfly print was a scarf she had picked up in the 1950's. Mrs. Burgess sounds like a fascinating woman to grow up being inspired by, with friends like the Dalai Lama, and a fantastic wardrobe that she would let the girls play dress-up in.

Ruthie and Emily were born in Malibu and would go between there and Palm Springs with their cool hippie parents, always running around in nature on a lot of land. The sisters were super connected, and shared a love of vintage thrift shopping, as well as the great outdoors. Once grown, Ruthie left for Feather River College to study more about the outdoors, while Emily headed to Paris to model and grow her collection of prints and fashion. After school, Ruthie came to Venice and that's when I met her at Abbot's Habit. The sisters began talking about doing their own fashion line, and after better learning fashion structure and sketching (Emily is the designing woman, Ruthie is the business woman ), The Daughters Of The Revolution was born.

The Cadenheads got their line into Planet Blue in Malibu, and then Paris Hilton wore one of their DOTR dresses when she got out of jail, and those photos (this was pre-what social media is now) quadrupled their business overnight. That was crazy, and even crazier when Japan became their biggest clientele. That went on for six years, and then the big Fukushima earthquake happened, and big orders were cancelled. The Daughters Of The Revolution decided to sell the company, and go their separate ways. Emily designed for other companies (Planet Blue, Zara, Wild Fox), and Ruthie learned more about the business of fashion, moved to Topanga, and got into the cannabis business, where she met her boyfriend, Tom - which is how she got to Boulder now.

Now both sisters saw a gap in the fashion business, and wanted to create a new line that would be both super sustainable and eco-friendly (as fashion is in the top five of all polluting industries), as well as offer something for every shape and size. Emily had a baby daughter named Perle ... and they thought ..."Perle of the sea ... Perle Mer!" and that became the name of their beautiful new line in 2017.

When you talk to both Emily and Ruthie, you find that they are extra sincere about being a green company. They are using natural dyes, made from sources like oranges, pomegranates, turmeric, wild tea, avocados, and flowers ... all right outside the door in Ojai, where Emily now lives with her family. Very hands on, Emily is experimenting with hand-dying while her child naps, in an earthy situation that sounds like the ultimate dreaminess to me. "Your skin is your largest organ, so you should care about what you put ON it, as much as what you put IN it," says Emily. To that end, all their fabrics are natural and biodegradable, as well as being classic pieces that will last, and are timelessly designed, so you don't have to run out for a new dress every season. "We need to be conscientious about what we consume ... what practices are you supporting by buying what you buy?" Not only are these dresses stunningly gorgeous, but you can feel good inside your body and mind for having chosen them. You can truly tell that these pieces come from their hearts.

The sisters decided that they would like to sell their work only through their website, so that they can communicate directly with their customers, and have that more personal connection. Emily hand paints over their Instagram photos, creating an advertising space as dreamy as their nature goddess dresses. I keep using "Dreamy" because that is the word that instantly leaps to mind when I see - or wear - a Perle Mer creation. I think I might even walk differently, as the dresses make you want to kind of twirl or sashay as you walk along. I LOVE them.

I think most women will, as they are designed to fit all body types, to be adjustable, and for you to feel great in them. "A woman's body is like the moon, constantly shifting and changing, waxing and waning, and these dresses are created for that," explains Emily - and she's right. Inspired by the nature surrounding her, as well as her Grandma Burgess' style, Emily is designing with the important things we bring into our lives in mind. I believe this mindful design is not only innovative, but absolutely necessary these days when we're trying to be kinder to our planet. These creations are ethically sourced, using minimal waste, bringing substance and meaning to each work of art piece - and if I can support a beautiful business that is doing just that, I'm all in.

Catching up with Ruthie, we agreed that the Venice with the sense of community, the knowing everyone, the niceness, the welcoming, the encouragement, the artists, the gangsters, the surfers and skaters is still here - if a little harder to find. Ruthie was back for a quick visit and a slice of salad pizza at Abbot's Pizza, and found that even though techies had replaced a lot of the formerly smiling, friendly faces ... "Venice is the coolest ... I don't want my sweet Venice to be taken over by the monsters." None of us do, and that is why we support, promote, and tell the stories of the sweet ones, doing wonderful work.

You can support the wonderful work of Perle Mer at Perlemer.com

Monday, April 15, 2019

A Sunday Rally To Save Venice - A Celebration Of Venice History And Diversity

Yesterday was a beautiful day in Venice, and a special one too. A rally was held at the First Baptist Church of Venice at E.L. Holmes Square (7th and Westminster) to celebrate both our town's diversity, and a year and a half of resistance against the sale of the historic church.

There are rallies on the steps of the church every Sunday, and this one was extra great. We were going to film it for our Venice documentary, 90291: VENICE UNZIPPED as part of the history of this beloved place we call home, so organizer Mike Bravo helped us gather the troops to make it a great one.

Venetians of all races, religions, ages, and genders came together to offer our respect, and our solidarity. We stood together all afternoon to show everyone that Venice remains strong and together, not divided like VNC meetings would have you believe. The Sunday rallies are in opposition of the sale of First Baptist  Church to a single family (the Penskes, and seriously, what is wrong with them?! Why would you want to live there after all of this resistance?! Go away.), but it's really about much more than that. It's about the history, the diversity, and the community - and everyone gathered around on this Sunday was determined that those things that make Venice great aren't going anywhere.

Friends, neighbors, and supporters showed up with refreshments to share, chalk, sign making materials to share ... everything, including wisdom and solidarity, was to share. Several Reverends spoke with passion and enthusiasm, getting everyone to shout "Amen!" along with them as they told of the history of the Church. It was about more than religion, as all were welcome as a community center, every day of the week.

Elders like the wonderful Jataun Valentine, Laddie Williams, and Naomi Nightingale spoke to the history and to the struggle of both the Church, and the Oakwood community. Anyone that doesn't know the history of Venice would do well to sit at these ladies' feet and learn something. They spoke about how Venice never used to have tall fences that kept people out ... it was more about longer tables than bigger walls. People knew their neighbors. People stuck up for their neighbors. And that's what we were all doing yesterday.

Mike Bravo sang a song and banged his drum, and told about the Mexican and Indigenous people that have also been here for generations ... always. Sage was burning and you could actually feel the presence of ancestors on this sacred space - you really could.

Children made signs next to adults, passing the respect down to the next generations. People drew with chalk in the streets to let everyone know what was going on, and urged those biking or walking by to stop and join in the fun, and in the history. Caviar from Horny Toad played songs on the steps, as did Peter Demian, playing "Amazing Grace" and "Hallelujah" in his gravelly Tom Waits-y style (mentioning that he may have dropped a little acid prior. Classic.).

While we were interviewing Ms. Valentine for the doc, we had to contend with a zillion small airplanes flying over, and then another noise got our sound man's attention. It sounded like maracas shaking, and when we looked down the street, here came a man in full Aztec regalia, ankles and wrists covered in shells that were making the rattling sounds.

The Aztec dancers had come to show their solidarity, and their respect for the spiritual center we all stood on. It was so cool. The dancers blew shell horns and placed offerings on the steps of the church, and then treated us all to their native dances.

The drumbeats kept time, and the shells rattled along, as passersby in cars slowed and people came out of their houses to see what was going on.

It felt emotional to me all day, but this was chill inducing, as the area's history became tangible in our faces. It was something else.
There were a lot of people getting up to speak for the open mic part of the afternoon, and David Busch had "More Love" to give. That was a powerful aspect to the day, that you could look around and see people that have their own causes, and the people present on this day were the ones that participate in each others' issues - because that's how you create a strong community. The ones that stand up against chains. Against Snapchat. Against illegal sales of churches. That show up for the fun stuff too, but most importantly, the ones that show up for one another, and for VENICE. The ones that know that the People still have the Power.

The afternoon grew chilly, and Bravo had everyone join hands in a circle for the closing ceremony of the day. I got choked up looking around the circle, with all colors, ages, religions (or no religion), income levels ... all holding hands and there for the same thing - to stand up for our Venice. Each person said a little something, and all included thanks and love for everyone there in their message.

It was a powerful day, and a powerful group. That isn't going anywhere. I again offer my thanks and love, to everyone there and to everyone who cares ... because that's where it all starts. With loving and empathetic hearts that care about everyone who shares our community, not just themselves and their ever-higher walls. It was an honor and a relief to be surrounded by love-minded people that continue to make Venice a magical place of inclusion, diversity, color, and spirit.

Thank you all, and see you again soon!

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Venice Remembers Nipsey Hussle

The world lost a good one in Nipsey Hussle, and Los Angeles is in mourning as he is laid to rest today after a big Memorial at Staples Center, followed by a 25 mile procession through the city.

Venice had its own memorial on the Graffiti Walls, as someone tagged "RIP NIP" there in solidarity with the rest of L.A. Yet another senseless death because of guns and hatred, made worse by the fact that Hussle was a guy trying to make things better for his community, and the world.

He will not be forgotten. RIP NIP!

Monday, April 8, 2019

Shooter Jennings And Duff McKagan In Conversation At The Grammy Museum - Tenderness

Longtime friends Shooter Jennings and Duff McKagan have teamed up on the forthcoming (May 31st!) solo album from McKagan, Tenderness, and they spoke about their collaboration last Thursday night at The Grammy Museum's Clive Davis Theater. Grammy Director, Scott Goldman, introduced Jennings by saying that he's collaborated with everyone from George Jones to Marilyn Manson (and recently won his first Grammy for producing Brandi Carlile's By The Way, I Forgive You!), and that tells you the huge range that you're dealing with, and that makes sense of how a member of Outlaw Country royalty would come together to work with McKagan, one of the founding members of the monsters of hard rock, Guns N' Roses.

Jennings and McKagan took the stage to much applause, and settled in for a chat about the new album, and their process in making it. These partners met back in 2001, when Jennings was in his band Stargunn (which is also around when I became friends with Jennings!). Jennings was much more metal back then, and said that he came to L.A. because of GNR, and the first CD's he ever bought were GNR. "That 'Welcome To The Jungle' video with Axl getting off the bus in L.A. - that was me!" It was rumored around town back then that he might even take over for Axl Rose in GNR at one point - he had the good hair AND the pants. Though that never happened, a friendship was born between Jennings and McKagan, because as McKagan put it, "I saw in his eyes that he was a truth teller."

As both musicians struck out on their own, McKagan was particularly struck by Jennings' Black Ribbons album (my favorite too - a conceptual masterpiece in my opinion), and had him in mind to work with when coming up with the songs that would become Tenderness. McKagan is also a writer, with books and columns, and refers to himself as an "Armchair Historian". He likes to visit tourist spots, like Monticello, and World War I museums, and is constantly out there meeting and talking with people, and said that when you turn off the news and really talk to people, there just isn't that divide that all of the media talks about. Like after 9/11 - everyone came together to help, it didn't matter what "side" you were on. We were in it together - as we are now and always have been. "Like, I've seen women in full head coverings rocking the fuck out!" Rad.

Inspiration for the new album came to McKagan from artists like Mark Lanegan ("The River Rise") and Greg Dulli ("Deepest Shade" - "that romances the shit out of my musical mind!" - D.M.), and Jennings understood that vibe immediately, and cited Failure's "Stuck On You" as his own touchpoint. Goldman blew smoke at Jennings by asking McKagan, "Was it intimidating to be working with such a dauntingly talented multi-instrumentalist as Shooter?" to which Jennings said, "I'm gonna leave." People talk about humble musicians, but Jennings is the REAL deal - and an awesome dude to boot (which makes sense why these two get along. McKagan seems super thoughtful and aware and kind too). To answer the question, McKagan said he addresses it in the booklet he wrote included with the album ... saying, "Shooter was a few steps ahead always, but didn't make you feel that way." He echoed Brandi Carlile's sentiment, that working with Shooter is "like being two kids in the basement making a rocketship!" After juggling touring and kid schedules, these true partners got down to it. McKagan also used Jennings' band for the project, and told about seeing them play The Troubadour last fall, and hanging over the balcony going, "That's my band!" all excited, because they're THAT good.

Several of the songs from Tenderness touch on issues we're all dealing with these days: addiction, gun control, suicide ... though McKagan is reluctant to pontificate on these things, and doesn't want to be yet another political voice, saying, "Oh, you should think this way .. Fuck me." Using the track "Parkland" as an example, he said it came to him as a B flat/D funeral dirge sound, and he name-checks sites of these mass shooting tragedies ... "And if that's political, you can fuck off." That got rousing applause - because Duh.

McKagan also addressed the issue of addiction, having lost many friends to it over the years. He credited his wife, Susan, several times with saving his own life, and it was refreshing to hear a dude gush over his longtime marriage, calling it "badass and cool". "Being strung out isn't a 'them', it's a "we", McKagan stated, and went on to talk about how losing so many inspired his song, "You're Still Here". Scott Weiland had died, whom McKagan tried to help many times. Then Prince. "My thing is Prince. 1999 saved my life, and got me out of heroin-infested Seattle to L.A." (I knew I liked him). He heard about that tragic death while on tour in Mexico City and was gutted. Then Chris Cornell (whose daughter Lily is two weeks apart from McKagan's daughter). The night Cornell died, Axl Rose had come to GNR and said, "Let's try 'Black Hole Sun' tonight" - which they had never played. McKagan got a text after the show that Cornell had died. Heavy. Then Chester Bennington. It's all so sad, but McKagan made it a little better, saying, "We're gonna remember you. You're still here." Having come out the other side himself, McKagan said, "The celebration is that I get to work with Shooter now, and do something also badass and cool."

Jennings and McKagan are readers, and talked about authors and their lyrical influence. McKagan is big on Cormac McCarthy and Hemingway, and their scarcity of words. "They can make me cry over a single sentence. I tried to write to standards of authors that I read. Like, do NOT rhyme 'fire' with 'desire'. Do not fucking do that!" Jennings added about making the album, "We were just chasing a sound. We had a center - which was us - and no boundaries." McKagan was about to add to that, then stopped himself, saying, "You realize this is the most we've ever talked about this. Now we're just making stuff up!"

Goldman publicly thanked McKagan for all of his work on behalf of MusiCares, helping other musicians because he's been there himself. "Being an alcoholic junkie is not part of the rock star dream, and now I have sobriety and a lust for life." He also talked about doing a book of "all the shit I don't remember, like interviewing friends saying, 'What did I do in Louisville?", which cracked people up. Listening to these guys talk together, you realize they're both just regular cool dudes, who also happen to be insanely talented legends that we were lucky to see in such an intimate setting ... and then it was time for them to play!

Joined by violinist, Aubrey Richmond, Jennings sat down at the piano, and McKagan strapped on a guitar. They opened with the title track "Tenderness" and its beautiful piano intro. It's really a song about empathy, and how badly needed that trait is today. Up next was "Chip Away" (which reminded me that McKagan was briefly in Jane's Addiction too!), an upbeat number that featured a fiddle solo and the notion of hanging in there until all of this mess in our country is through - or that's how I took it, anyway.

The short set ended with the one about all of the lost souls, "You're Still Here". It is slow, and there is a funeral air about it, but it's beautiful. The line, "You're still here ... when the lights go down, you are still here ... all you hold dear remains" proved that McKagan attained what he was aiming for. I cried over one sentence. The last notes rung out and McKagan shouted, "We'll see you on the road!" and they sure will. Because their show will be the one where you feel no division in this country, at least for a few hours.  Shooter and Duff ... Thank you for the Tenderness!

Tenderness is out May 31, 2019
Shooter Jennings & Duff McKagan play The Wiltern on June 13, 2019.
Tickets now available.

*Photos by Paul Gronner Photography