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|Saturday, January 23rd, 2016|
|Mark Ehrman Sent Me On My Way...
Echoing the timing of Darby Crash dying the day before the shocking murder of John Lennon, author Mark Ehrman died from a longterm illness the day before David Bowie's passing earlier this month.
I barely knew Mark Ehrman but he wrote an article about me that proved quite critical in my personal and professional development. I first knew him, or at least knew who he was, at the Onyx. Now this was a coffee shop that deserves its own book, its own HBO series. It was bohemian Los Angeles in the first half of the 1990s. Mark was in the middle of that scene, enmeshed. He wrote freelance and landed some nice gigs. One of his most authentic pieces was a drive along with a junkie on what it was like to score heroin in Los Angeles. That piece appeared in Playboy
around the time Pulp Fiction
had put this notion into mainstream consciousness. He had one foot in the zeitgeist, a finger in the wind, an eye on the future and a hand on the pulse of the underground.
The first time I ever heard the term "trust fund" it was from a young woman at the Onyx pointing to Mark across the room and saying "if you ever want to know who in L.A. is a trust fund baby, ask him."
Instead, I had to ask her what a trust fund baby was. But see, he could really suss that stuff out, his eyes and ears were sponges; he had a piercing glare that was equal parts Rudolf Valentino and Shaggy from Scooby Doo along with being a world-class eavesdropper.
He interviewed me for the LA Times Calendar
section in 1993 about my then-nascent Coagula Art Journal
. It was the first real media attention the magazine had ever gotten. Somehow in our talk he mentioned that at one time he had been the deliveryman for the Honor Store. He had always looked familiar over a cup o black joe at the Onyx. I told him that working for the Honor Store was much more awesome then publishing an art world zine and that I should be interviewing him which he indicated made him suspicious that I was hiding something in deflecting praise to the interviewer. Mark was a quick read though and saw it as a genuine sentiment so he indulged me with a few good tales from those days.
Basically the Honor Store was an open cardboard box filled to the gills with candy bars, potato chips, any junk food you can imagine. At the top of each Honor Store was a box with a coin slot. You were asked to put in what you thought was fair. You were on the honor system. First thing I asked him "Was the junk expired?"
It was "long expired"
he told me. How did the company get around that? The guy who owned it found no statutes to giving away food; and it appeared to pretty much be one guy who bought - or was given - expired food in bulk and his employee Mark stuffing the "goods" into boxes and driving the containers around. He would concentrate on factories, places with lunch rooms, break rooms. Young Ehrman would show up at a warehouse, a factory, an assembly line and offer the box of goodies to them free of charge and then arrange a date to bring a fresh box. Maybe the box had a phone number to call to replenish it, it has been many, many years. So Mark spent a good chunk of the late '80s driving all over Southern California to the most generic, unsexy work rooms around. I just had to know, having had my share of lose change expired cookies and peanuts from the Honor Store in a few break rooms... did the damn thing make any money?"Tons"
he said. He actually got philosophical about it for a minute. That the Honor Store made money taught him that most people were decent, if perhaps a little naive. And that motivated his journalistic pursuits to find the edge, the darkness. Years later even his tamest book, a how-to on living as an Ex-Pat (he passed away in Spain)
had at its core that need to wander away from safety, security and the mundane normalcy he saw delivering those boxes of stale irresistibles.
His article came out in the L.A. Times Sunday Magazine
in November of 1993. At the time, this was a huge deal, it got tons of attention. There was not a dispersed internet, everyone who read at all read the Times
and the Sunday Magazine
. Ehrman had originally said he wanted the piece to get in the Calendar Section
. He claimed that the Arts Editor had a say over articles appearing in that section and had nixed it going into print. When he took it to the View Section
. Basically the View Section
was the potpourri of articles that did not rigidly fit into Sports, Arts or Metro... you'd get a lot of recipes and handicapped athlete stories there. He found out that Times
editors could nix stories about the subject they oversaw appearing in other sections. They also had editing privileges. If a big rock concert made the front page, Robert Hilburn got to make sure a photo of Bob Dylan appeared above the fold instead of Jerry Garcia. When Walter Hopps died it was news, but it was front page news because of Christopher Knight.
But Ehrman persisted. He did so, he told me in a subtle put-down, not because he cared so much about the article itself (and by extension my magazine and me)
, but as a FU to the Calendar Section
arts editor at the Times
. It turned out that nobody got an editorial say over the Sunday Magazine
and so he hustled the story hard to them and they bit, the story got published to the consternation of those who did not find my efforts to be of editorial consequence. Instantly the buzz was on for the magazine in L.A. and I never looked back. In fact, the success that my publication enjoyed in part because of Ehrman's piece was a huge motivation in my choice to get sober.
Years later in AA, amidst the stories of bottoming out, I would tell the short tale of having had my first taste of success in life, of validation from the outside world and that was what motivated me to see if sobriety could accentuate the new good feelings. In a meeting in Silverlake one night someone asked me if I would start the sharing and my "script" ran thru my head. I was thinking of the narrative of it all when Ehrman walked right through the door! Wow talk about your pink cloud kismet. He was perfectly on time, the room had just gotten settled. But he took no seat. He walked in a circle looking at every person in the room and then walked out. My assumption was he was going to grab a coffee and be right back but the girl seated next to me sneered, "That guy's a reporter, he comes in to look for celebrities, fucking parasite."
Oh. Every goofy impulse in me leaned me over and I mumbled, "That dude's the reason I got sober in the first place."
It did not compute with her and I did not press it because his little twirl into the back room didn't bother me one lick. H was doing his job, he was scouting the room, plenty of celebs made their way to that meeting, this is L.A. and that's how the town rolls.
And Mark Ehrman rolled with it, pulling up things from its underbelly that the decent, hard-working folks wanted to read about from the safety of the break room. Rest In Peace.
|Friday, January 22nd, 2016|
|Well you're just too clever now, aren't you...
Another "friend" on FaceBook has a maudlin rant about leaving FaceBook, here is his phone number, none of you are real unless you contact him the old fashioned way, even though phones are not face to face. I bet in 1909 there was some guy who pulled out the cord and announced he was sick of phones and the phone company and that any man who should want to address him should ride his horse over to the good man's estate and address him face to face. I bet anything he had a phone reinstalled by the same phone company before 1912.
But back to the present day. The man has longwinded observations of what FaceBook is REALLY doing. How he cannot partake of any website that uses his information and he delivers the scintillating observation that FaceBook is using the information provided by users to feed to advertisers. Wow. He told us what we have known for years, but he told it to us in a way that puts him at the center of the universe.
You can overthink so much these days. And when you do you are almost always wrong. This guy cannot find a way to "master" FaceBook, to be the center of it. You see FaceBook works diligently to prevent anyone from mastering it. So the critique is that "IT MASTERS YOU" and those who cannot exist in a universe in which they are not the masters must then retreat form this force.
Well, I hate to burst your bubble, but Facebook is not divine. It is not perfect. It is not even that intelligent. You see, FaceBook cannot master FaceBook. This company keeps making it up as they go along. Now, for some, maybe even for most, that would be a critique, right? But for me, little old disorganized me, it is a compliment. You can be valued at half a trillion dollars and you cannot get your shit together? Sign me up!
Now don't go truther here on me. They are not part of the illuminati and their software protocols have no elders. They are just Facebook - they are like a printing press, a giant free printing press where you can create pamphlets and let them out into the world and the world is protected form you spamming them like a fucker.
Oh yeah we all hate to be spammed but we get righteous when FB does not let us spam away when we want to. FaceBook will not let you use it as a constant megaphone. Sorry, chump, you ain't that interesting.
Email and MySpace did too little about Spam too late and the biggest attraction of FaceBook is that the communiques from people are legit. There is almost no spam on it. You cannot use FB as a database which makes it impossible to form a calculated and focused attack. Attack for what? For your spam, dummy. Oh, so you say you will never spam anyone, well, FB says "Why take that risk".
So you have this environment where you are basically either just trying to stick out (conniving wannabe spammer) or you are just genuine (unfocussed talent).
Why would anyone not want to be on FB? They are a private person. Great. DOn't be on FB. They are worried about stalkers or past relationships? There are privacy controls but, yeah, sure, ditch it. But the people who are demonstrative about getting off of Facebook, who make speeches and quote Alvin Toffler or Isaac Asimov are the people who, it seems to me, want to get hold of some secret throttle on FB to be sure their messages are getting some dominant positioning. The uncertainty of it all scares them. THe uncertainty in FB scares them a little and the uncertainty that their own majestic opinions being expressed are perhaps not quite that different than a bowl of cold soup on a counter after you have gone back to work from your lunch break.
FB is not the only internet service selling your info to advertisers but so what? Oh your sacred precious information - what, you like rap music and you like to ski and there are ads targeted for hip hop culture consumers and travel info to ski lodges. Gosh, you are so unique and special and awesome how dare someone reduce you to your superficial purchases. One irony is that the FB doesn't really even get things right. I am in the art world and therefore have a lot of gay FB friends and Jewish FB friends. for many years my status was "engaged" to the woman who is now my wife. My FB ads featured NO ads for the art world but plenty for gay-firendly businesses and lifestyles and for Jewish holidays I did not even know existed. There were more ads for companies wanting to design my Katubbah than anything else.
See, all completely useless because the algorithm is like someone eavesdropping at a bar that you know is eavesdropping but you just do not care. This FB friend today got up and made a big speech about the eavesdropper and is going home to drink alone. And if you surf the internet for shoes or Palm Springs you can bet that FB will have ads for all sorts of stuff related to those visits even after you buy your pair of shoes or reserve that hotel room. It is innocuous, it is the guy at the bar who heard you talking about the Lakers and a half hour later tries to get into the conversation by bringing up Kobe Bryant while you had been complaining about traffic around the Staples Center because there was a game last night.
Thump away on your chest, please, thump away. FB is a polite printing press and you are sulking because it will not let you pamphleteer. You'll be back. And you won't been know why you aren't bitter anymore. You have been schooled in spamming by FB, the site that cured spam when no one else could or would.
|Tuesday, January 19th, 2016|
|That One Gallery
Remember that one gallery?
They call it that because they can't remember. And in a way they don't want to remember. They remember who showed there, they rattle off the names and if you were there you remember those shows and probably which pieces sold, if anything did, and there was that one show you can even recall the placement of the pictures, the red one was up front by the door and the blue one that your date liked was further back and why did they bother hanging two blue ones, it kinda ruined the show. And the artist went on to have a show at that bigger place, remember? Yeah you remember that place. Until you are asked, "What was the name of that bigger gallery?"
Complete blanks are the predominant color of the landscape when it comes to art history. There aren't holes, it isn't Swiss cheese, there are blanks, they're different than holes. Blanks are composed of matter and memory, they happened and they still might even be pertinent to the contemporary dialogue. And every once in a while, almost always when looking at some artist's CV, you see the name, the blank is filled in and the memories trickle about, watering the cactus.
Sometimes you forget that one gallery and you forget that one artist but you remember that one show. It changed the way you look at painting or it turned you off of the idea that there could be redemption in Pop Art or you saw a celebrity at the opening who you will forever thus associate with that stupid stick figure drawing by that one guy at that one gallery. More often you forget that one gallery and that one show but you do remember the artist. All you recall is that he or she did show there. Maybe you are at a red light in the passenger seat and you nudge your friend, bored behind the wheel, and he looks over and you point "See that second building from the corner, the yoga studio?"
He looks over and you tell him that is where someone who now shows at museums had a show way back when. It is always better if it was that famous artist's first show, but the bigger the artist, the more important the second, third, fifth and seventh solo shows become. You don't need to be in physical proximity though. Any trigger can bring up the question. You see a bald guy in a nice suit and he looks like the guy who ran that one gallery who gave that one artist who is big now their first solo show and you turn to your date and you ask "Do you remember that one gallery?" And the bald guy walks by, oblivious to his place in history, even though he isn't the guy who made history.
And history is all it is besides a real estate lease. History is an empty bottle, long drank, drunk done, hung over, recovered and moved on. It is rare someone would consciously recycle one of these bottles. Oh, some physical spaces are taken over by another gallery but a space that can hold an art gallery can also hold an art studio and the lower the rent of the gallery the more likely it is to become a private studio once the lease is up and the game is lost. and of the rent stays the same and another gallery opens there you can bet the proprietor hears every so often a question along the lines of "Wasn't that one gallery here before you?"
And then, even when nobody can remember the name of that one gallery, someone will explain why it closed. Divorce. Wife was funding husband's hobby of playing gallery. Drug problem, had to go to rehab, family cut off the funds. Thought they had an eye and instead of playing the game they just picked art they liked and bought ads and then closed, embittered that there is a game instead of purity. But the one reason you hear a lot (when you really get into it, get talking about why that one gallery closed)
goes something like this: an artist moved on, moved up, and while they did not expect that artist's loyalty they suddenly realized that they were in the same spot and... (now this is the worst, the darkest revelation)
they realized that they always would be in that spot.
You remember that one gallery because there was never champagne sweeter served there than on the first day they opened. They set the bar and could never even do a chin-up on it. Artists move up and down, there are cycles that if you watch will make you believe in biorhythms or cosmic forces aligning. But galleries are hard-pressed to take even one small step up. The cement dries so hard so fast that the length of the red carpet you roll out on opening night is like the height chart on the side of every mugshot. You might get uglier, you might get exonerated, but you never get any bigger unless you get lucky, and you only get lucky when all the other galleries have left town.
The only way to create that type of luck, then, is to last. They can't forget a space's name when they ask where the openings are at tonight and someone mentions that space. The art world expands in dizzying, rapid advancements and then it contracts in merciless purges, black holes eating stars that cannot escape. Galleries big and small go POOF into the night. Non-profit spaces and artist collectives are not spared. The ones that last are not necessarily tougher, better or more intelligently managed. They are usually just luckier and when it gets really dry, really deep into a recession, many just close because the whole contraction has been a buzz kill.
The spaces that last, the galleries whose names are still on the building when you drive by racing to pick up the dry cleaning or are dawdling with old friends on a stroll after a nice meal, those spaces are the lifers. They have nowhere else to go. The art they show is not any better or worse than the art shown by the hundred galleries that kept regular hours until six months after a stock market crash or other depressing market calamity, a real estate boom that priced them out or a lover's spat that stopped a cash spigot. The lifers waddle on, rarely thinking about that one gallery, you remember it, right? But even the lifers pause when they realize that the path they have been walking on is a circle, stuck on the same level they were on the day they got that first listing in the art gallery guide.
So it takes a lifer to last and it takes luck to ever move up the food chain. You just can't eat a fish bigger than you but you can get bigger by nibbling on the corpse of that dead whale - just never be too too close when that bigger fish knows it is dying and is taking those last flailing bites. It is dangerous to be too little around anything big and desperate.
Once a little luck lands your way and you feast at the feeding frenzy that is a proper downsizing (proper when you survived, tragedy when you closed) there will be scant rewards, but you may as well enjoy them. The biggest reward to moving up is to meet all the people in the art world that would be at that one gallery if it was still open... but instead they are at your gallery, because that one gallery is closed. And if you are doing it right at your gallery it is forgotten. The artists come and go, the press comes and goes and the money comes and goes, but their forgetting is one of the two rewards of lasting and the only other reward to lasting is that nobody will ever stand in your gallery and ask you if you remember that one gallery and be referring to you.
|Monday, January 18th, 2016|
I had an uber driver today who was a rabbi. I knew it was going to be a unique ride because when the app announced the driver it was my very first "Shmuel". I've had lots of Hectors and a few Fernandos and plenty of Brandons but this was a unique name among the roster. He also drives Lyft. It took a few miles for him to reveal his other job, not Lyft, Rabbi-ing. He dressed the part - long beard, hat, keychain with an indeterminate (by this Catholic boy) Hebrew letter on it.
Why app-driving? Well, he is young and unmarried. He is not doing this to find a bride, but rather doing this until he does so. His mission seemed to be to just impart his truths and wisdom on riders and receive from them as much growth as might come in a conversation. He explained a few basics in our forty minute drive. Yes, Jews are the chosen people, as reported. Why is this? Well, their souls were carved from G-d's throne if I understood him properly. I was in a good mood and was not challenging things. So you see when you are this close to G-d, you can confidently spread the light of his wisdom to everyone, not by conversion but rather by deeds, acts and examples.
I asked him if Bob Dylan was a rabbi. Short version of his detailed answer was "not exactly" and more like Bob was a "Good Jew" enlightening humanity, as spreading the light is basically what Jews were put on earth to do - and according to him, we ALL benefit. He seemed quite pleased to learn from me that Leonard Cohen, whom he correctly recognized as the author of "Halleluiah
", uses the slash line spelling for G-d in his printed lyrics.
I didn't bring up touchy stuff with him because one, I am not going to be tacky in person, I do that in print enough with a purpose, there is no purpose in agitating what is basically a business transaction with a social possibility. "Why not make the most of it?" is my attitude with every driver. He was using waze but traffic was light and we took quite a simple route home from my meeting in Santa Monica.
He was an intelligent guy (I say this for those who might assume that those with convicted leaps of faith are somehow ignorant or obtuse, the very stance of that assumption being as or more obtuse than the simple faith held by many)
and fretted for the world, for the future of the world, of civilization, of culture. I hold similar views but while he frets, I just kinda don't give a fuck. When I am around young people I don't play the dystopic doom and gloom boomer game of predicting the world ending the day my generation dies. That is pretty much my only policy of imparting "hope" to people who will be here after I'm gone. So many atheists I know have a pet cause that drives them with a religious fervor and when questioned about why they recycle or protest or donate they talk of future generations benefitting from a world they helped create. Anything that you work toward that takes place after your death is "life after death" which is also known as religion.
So instead of me mimicking religion and partaking in an "act" that somehow has a domino effect of helping a billion unborn souls live in lusher vegetation with fresher air, I say why not impart hope upon those very souls who will be breathing after my last breath. Point out that the world is a good place and that the chaos you read in the news and the tension you feel in the street is temporary yet will always be there. The day they solve the current headline crisis there will be another to take its place... and yet things will get better. And if that is a lapsed Catholic carrying the light of G-d's wisdom to elevate all of the world, or even some of it, well then maybe I am a good Jew at heart.
I told the rabbi about the funerals of Bob and Murray and Sue. The three Jewish funerals I have been to. Each one talked about the deceased, centered on the deceased. In Catholicism a funeral is where they just have a typical mass and there happens to be a box in the aisle at the altar. Murray Schiff was a painter and I let out tears when the rabbi at Murray's funeral said "He was not a religious Jew, he was not an observant Jew but he was a CULTURAL
Jew and that might be a higher calling, none of us can say, but we can
therefore say that Murray was a good Jew." I cried in my pew there (apologies if they don't call it a pew, if it walks like a pew and talks like a pew, this Catholic Boy will have to call it a pew)
. Crying for Murray and also thinking that everything my brain had been programmed with in Catholicism was basically "Fuck you if you don't go to church on Sunday, the box at the foot of the altar during just another mass that doesn't concern you is all you are, from dust you came and to dust you shall return". There was no way a priest would ever acknowledge that the deceased pursuing painting instead of going to church was, at least rhetorically, a possibly better way to have spent his or her life.
But I didn't pester the Rabbi with my reality, I wanted to know what drove him as he drove me. We're all just working out what to do before we die and some of us have hallucinations of what happens after we die and we all live with that ticking clock and base our lives on books or recycling or telling kids they are not going to die from global warming the day the last baby boomer croaks.
Five Stars, Rabbi.
|Monday, December 28th, 2015|
|Ellsworth Kelly, Vampire Slayer
Ellsworth Kelly posing at his Gemini GEL opening, August, 2001.
Ellsworth Kelly died Sunday. His death came just a few days short of making it to 2016 but the math will be accurate when you look at the dates on the museum placard next to his painting. His unique, groundbreaking art is owned by almost every art museum of significance in the world. He made radical simplicity a monumental endeavor.
I was a big fan of Kelly’s work for years right up until the moment I detested his ouvre. His peaceful outlines of space and saturated hues were blissful until they became the checklist-checking wall-filler asserting that a collection was "historically thorough" in whatever McMuseum one would find them in. It was once exciting to turn a corner and see a shape’s simplicity sing with pure color. It became a shrug to pass yet another one on the way to reading a wall label of something that didn’t readily announce its presence with a sigh.
This is not a case of the jadeds, either. The work of his from the early 1960s that would mix colors with each other always seemed fresh; there was one at the new Broad Museum I saw a few months ago that reminded me of the heights Kelly reached. But the over production of his goddamn shapes and more shapes, filled in with Hoboken housewife designer colorshades just reverse-multiplied his legacy into a less prestigious place - a great one should really know that the ugliness of commerce stains things. Great work strangled into mediocre repetitiveness by the market and the international curatorial tug of overproduction that turns every great presentation of simplicity into simpleminded one-percenter wall decor.
But I had a soft spot for anyone who changed the way art could be perceived and was excited to go to an otherwise rubberstamped show of his when a friend assured me Kelly would be present at an opening of his prints at the Gemini Gallery on Santa Monica Boulevard in 2001. Of course prints on paper were the most offensive commercial venture in all of it. The man’s strength was in delivering subtlety in scale – an almost impossible thing to accomplish – bombast and serenity, the visual art equivalent of the Marshall Plan, a good big thing. When the framed shapes were shrunk down to paper all the impact of their delicate color was sucked away as if a leech had been attached to the once great notion of this artist’s eye.
The reception that afternoon was crowded and there was the master standing in attendance, smiling as he greeted well-wishers. I had taken the liberty of dressing for the occasion by wearing a kitschy teeshirt with an old Saturday Evening Post
cover illustrated by Norman Rockwell. What artists of Kelly’s generation did in eviscerating the maudlin, sentimental patriotism of Rockwell that coated the visual culture of the United States in a sticky-sweet ooze from sea to shining sea well into the 1960s is a triumph which is lost on the world today. And Kelly was one of the most extreme in the field, perhaps the most extreme visual artist this side of Barnett Newman and Agnes Martin in his use of reduction without elimination as a way of finding (and more importantly delivering)
a painting’s essence and its essence alone. The tidal wave of possibilities that radical American art delivered basically drowned the beach head established by the post-Ashcan domination of Rockwell et al. It was an obliteration of Americana that mirrored changes in the larger culture. It really was a war and Ellsworth Kelly really won it. He won the war of what art should look like.
So I made sure to wear that shirt to the opening just to see if it would set the old guy off. He was talking to an acquaintance and I asked if I could take their picture. He was smiling and complying when he noticed the shirt and he wasn’t having it. “I’m gonna smile for your picture and then I’m going to tell you why that shirt of yours has to go!” I clicked the camera and acted dumb. Kelly schooled me, he told me that art like Rockwell’s was what had been wrong with America, that Rockwell was a jingoist and that his art bred conformity and that conformity bred fascism. He was animated and serious, detailed and not smiling any longer. Much more than I had bargained for. He told me he did not have any more time for me and walked away. A half hour later he saw me and was incredulous “You’re still here? Can’t you take a hint?” and again he just walked away. I wasn’t offered a defense in his home court. But later as I was making my way to the door he smiled and said “I hope you dress better the next time I see you”. It was a peace offering from the top. The shirt went to Goodwill less than a year later.
I look at the date on the photo and it is 8-11-01... a month before the world changed forever, a month before the type of blissful freedom Kelly manifested in his work went up in smoke forever. The last month of America and its poet of purity was as feisty as ever.
I was at dinner with friends tonight when someone brought up the news of Kelly’s passing. I told this story and Carol Diehl, who lived near Kelly, pointed out that the artist lived quite close to the newish multimillion dollar Norman Rockwell museum in upstate New York. That must have gnawed at his craw, putting the stake through the heart of the American Empire in his prime only to see the vampire blink and rise so many years later. What if Kelly was the other side of the same coin though? America seen as a faceless, soulless corporate oligarchy decorated with meditations on the simplest forms and fascinating colors in order to never deal with the world it impacted. Pair that with Rockwell’s cloying narratives sermonizing about the character expected of a people in a nation where the leaders do not share their basic values. The two of them, Kelly and Rockwell, enemies yet neighbors, vampire and vampire-slayer, antithetical Americans reflecting the strides and the strife of the country. Old Ellsworth would hate being mentioned in the same breath as Norman, but you can bet Rockwell would share the disfavor and turn over in his grave even a little bit more.
|Thursday, December 17th, 2015|
|Uncle Teddy 1948 - 2015
Uncle Teddy died this morning. He rotted away near the end but we were all most shocked that he lived this long. But he really did live, like a fire in a dry forest on an endless night, he roared in all directions.
This guy had a native intellect that defied high school, which he left when he ran away to San Francisco at age 16 in 1966. Stories of my grandmother walking through the communes up there as the last beatnik Victorians were absorbing the early flood of kids who were preternaturally hip and would become Hippies.
He got into narcotics in a short time and would never abandon them, nor bemoan them. His brilliance could be mirrored in a fascinating statistic: forty plus years on smack and never arrested. He had that gift of gab called charisma and it must have served him well, along with almost psychic street smarts.
Now don't take this as a love-fest. He was, first and foremost, a taker and a spoiler. You might stare in wonder as you realized he had managed to be quite content and fulfilled, healthy and upbeat without ever having worked a day in his life and then he would say the nastiest thing that cut to your soul, and not even for some demented, dysfunctional pleasure but simply to fill the air. And what hurt was that the pain he inflicted was delivered all so matter of fact, so convincingly. But that charisma was backed with a wild journey few ever took and there was no screening his words - one time he was hanging out with us and stated waxing about the joy he had over a scab developing at his injection point that he could lift, shoot up, and push back down and some of the little nieces or nephews are standing there listening and we aren't even supposed to say "fuck" around them and here is this guy taking us all down the unknown pleasure path of junkie minutia and I was paralyzed with panic the kids would parrot this shit to the parents and equally fascinated over what he would say next.
My father was nineteen years older than him. Could there be two more opposite people from the same DNA? Think about 1929 and 1948 - bookending quite the deep dive America took, they describe two separate generations - the one raised during the Great Depression and the one raised during the plentiful 1950s. Teddy took those days of plenty to heart and fancied himself a "Seeker" in a world that had so much to give and give ... and he took and took and took, high in the sky for most of it.
One day I met another long-term junkie, Keith Richards, at a recording studio. Friends were making an album across the hall from them. A few of us were walking through the lobby and Keith stopped for a quick "hey fellas" chat. He instantly reminded me of Teddy, top to bottom - the slur in his speech, the self-administered cackle at every phrase, the twitching that had long turned into bastardized tai-chi mannerisms. So I spoke to Keith like I would speak to Teddy when I wanted to hear some wild junkie sixties tales. You can bring up anything and Teddy, the center of the room, spun a tale of depth and description, outlandish facts and embellished details for a little decor. Now the only thing about this is, you will be in the middle of this wild narrative and after about ninety seconds the thing starts to fade in his mind. His voice cracks, the rollercoaster he created doesn't crash, it just... disappears. A fried egg is not sharp but a fried brain can still be sharp until you hit part of the mushy center or the crispy edge. And so what I learned with Teddy was to not coax another hairpin turn out of the ride we were just on, but rather to bring up a new topic, to metaphorically holler "fasten seat belts", to cue up that gift of gab and clutch of exploits and instantly inspire him to let another one rip!
And there we were, in the lobby of A&M Records and Keith Richards is a freakin' xerox of Teddy. I get him started on a casual tale of his winter vacation and just as he peters out at a minute and a half of monologue madness I impolitely introduce another topic - ah but there are no ill-mannered sleights in Friedbrainville, just the joy and taking centerstage and riffing out a precious recollection of some unbelievable glory or hilarious tragedy. And I keep Keith going like this, like I had done with Teddy, tale after tale, entertainment from the bard with stories on a path I would never dare walk down. People thought Keith and I were old mates when the sound engineer finally walked in on the festivities about an hour later and tugged at his shirtsleeve.
I might add that Keith was aware enough, perhaps good manners picked up in London, to not tell stories with the gutter vocabulary of Teddy. Teddy bluntly chose the worst possible word to describe people, in hindsight or in front of them, it made no difference. Ill-mannered, politically incorrect, or just a downright mean bastard, his words were raw and his life was sordid and you were getting it all when he spoke. If he entered the room and you had not warned people of what was about to explode, you had to gather your friends fast and flee - if they were five pounds overweight they were "fat fucks", women were all "whorish blowfish" and need I pass on how he described anyone who wasn't white or straight? He was shooting up to kill some pain, some inexplicable thing that needed to stay numb, some perceived wrong from a childhood that did not do him all that wrong, really. But if his mangled hate was just the salt and if you had no open wound you would eventually find the sugar. He had an aesthetic for antiques and details in embroidery that would defy any notion of him as a thieving junkie but there it was, capping on modernist furniture as "Fifties Ugly" and obsessing about floral relief patterns within seconds of barking that he would put a bullet in the head of a passing homeless person.
It must have been a wild ride, the people you meet and the places you go when you are always fixing to avoid feeling. The last few years the HepC was eating him up but otherwise he was shockingly unscathed by decades of grabbing everything he could and using it all up with no conscience to ever consider doing it any other way. There are a bunch more Teddy stories, none believable but all true.
|Saturday, September 26th, 2015|
I live in a working class neighborhood, aka POOR people. There are so many misunderstandings of the poor that the picture people have of the poor in their heads is a tragicomic puppet show compared to the reality. Most poor people have aspirations that involve finding the opportunity to get ahead.
Almost every motherfucker I ever met who "helped the poor" never addressed creating opportunity. These saviors and spokespeople are often bottlenecks for real solutions to occur. The household income in my neighborhood is near the bottom in all of metropolitan SoCal but everyone has a smartphone. The conservatives decry this as a misappropriation of funds and the liberals are upset that the poor would surf the internet on their phones instead of follow their pablum education.
Every conservative flips out about anchor babies but would deny them basic healthcare for their children and every liberal rants about overpopulation blinded to the classism and racism of their words.
So with the Pope here highlighting the plight of the poor I cannot hold it in any longer - either create opportunities for the poor, support the creation of long-term opportunity for the poor or just announce that you are a dick and don't care about the poor, because mouthing platitudes about responsibility and education are basically mouthing your upper-middle-class values that I don't want to hear any more and no poor person is going to take as anything more than the tired, know-nothing bullshit it is.
And this feelgood bullshit about "Oh talk to the homeless, let the poor tell you their stories." NO. Volunteer in a soup kitchen and campaign for politicians who will address mental health because homelessness is first and foremost a mental health issue. If you do not do either of those, that is cool, selfish but whatever, but DO please shut the fuck up, your hot air armchair politics is detrimental to any and all actual solutions.
Oh god and please stop it with the art initiatives for the poor. The poor enjoy more art than you ever will. Every house in my neighborhood has satellite TV. You want to binge watch your sophisticated HBO shows and then bring art to the ghetto and guess what, they got a whole slew of shows they watch too and don't need your cloying lectures justifying finger-painting as education to have as rich a cultured life as you.
I could rant on and on, but basically, the left and the right have stock answers to poverty that do not address creating substantial opportunity. The right wants that reserved for fat corporations and the left wants the state to be the hall monitor on all upward mobility. Does the proposal create upwardly mobile opportunity? It is a yes or no question - a long hot air armchair answer means "I got mine and fuck them but here is a lecture".
PS - they're not saints either, idiot, quit talking about them like they are stray dogs that just need obedience school and a visit to the vet.
|Monday, September 7th, 2015|
|Memories of Cynthia Toronto
Early Downtown L.A. performance art pioneer Cynthia Toronto is comfortable in hospice care but is sadly headed to the finish line. If you have any memories of Cynthia or just want to share your love with her, get hold of her on FaceBook soon, it would really brighten her mood.
Cynthia performed at many a loft party in the early to mid '80s and at galleries and theatrical events too. She had one song that summed up living downtown back then: BED ON THE FLOOR - using the symbol of no box springs as indicative that one was still a bohemian no matter how talented as the talentless made millions... "My bed is still on the floor now baby, my bed is still on the floor". I always took that song to heart with Bohemian pride.
One time Jett Jackson had an opening at the old Julie Rico gallery in DTLA with hundreds of paintings and Cynthia did a performance that was an homage to Jett and re-enacted the faces / contortions of nearly every artwork in the exhibit. Spotlit onstage in a giant second-story loft, she was that rare combination of mesmerizing and hilarious.
And she was kind of like that in person - in addition to being a warm soul she was one of the "fight the good fight for art" people in the world. I was 21 when I saw her first perform and I instantly felt less ashamed for being "weird". She brightened up Downtown L.A. before most of the streetlights there now were even installed.
I know there is a box spring waiting for her in heaven.
Fly, be free.
|Friday, August 21st, 2015|
|Bansy Dismaland Revealed
Banksy revealed a 10,000 square foot Dismaland today. It is a giant art work that mimics a theme park but gives us intense deconstructive takes on the escapist sensibility that supports places like Disneyland.
I've posited two critiques of Banksy. The first is that his manipulation of the media is the same fundamental hypocrisy that all his fingerpointing art insists it rises above.
The second objection is that the inherent P.R. stunt nature of his art exhibitions take coverage away from all other artists much in the same way the targets of his fingerpointing art tend to be those who are the "takers" on the giver/taker spectrum.
And so I was pleasantly surprised to see that his Dismaland creation actually includes and elevates many other artists. It is more Banksy as curator, but that he has included other artists has really impressed me. The installation opened today in England so I will follow the coverage. I don't think he will use these artists as props for mockery as he expertly did to Mister Brainwash in "Exit Thru The Gift Shop", so let's wait and see what Banksy as Curator will deliver.
My early sentiment is to applaud the use of his "BANSKY BRAND" (©®™) to shine the light on deserving artists who privilege the content of critique in their work. I won't be getting a passport and flying over to Kidney Pie Rock to see the thing myself but it will be unavoidably in the media and should help more than a few artists on their journeys.
|Monday, August 17th, 2015|
Heard stories of people ubering their kids to and from school. If i had kids that would be me. Well it is me now with my parents. Neither can drive long distances any more and I trained my mom how to use uber on her phone but she lost her phone. Tried to download uber onto my dad's iphone last night and he could not remember his "Apple ID" so I set the alarm for 9:30 AM (way early for me)
and program the uber to pick them up at their house, call and explain where they should wait and then watch the little car on the map on my phone go pick them up and now it is driving them to Santa Monica for their scheduled doctor's appointment.
But then the little car turns and heads away form their route. I watch, first with interest and then with trepidation. Maybe there is a major traffic issue they are avoiding. I look at the sigalert website - nope - the route they should be taking is all clear. Slight panic I call my dad to ask how it is going. He recalled that they had changed the appointment ot Century City but has not recollection at all as to where or even the name of the doctor to look it up.
My parents were disappointed in me more often than not throughout my childhood, at least it always felt that way, and now they seem to be returning the favor.
|Monday, May 25th, 2015|
|Blonde On Blonde as Two Albums
What if the record company had balked and told Bob Dylan to make Blonde on Blonde two albums instead of a double album.
The actual album has two distinct sounds to it. One is a heavy blues sound that occasionally veers off into a cacaphony.
If the color of those songs are "blue" then the other material in Blonde on Blonde is probably best described as "gold" - like a precious metal, these songs glisten in the light and are heavy in the dark.Songs that are definitely "Blues":
Rainy Day Women #12 & #35
Pledging My Time
Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat
Just Like A Woman
Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I Go Mine)
Temporary Like Achilles
Obviously Five BelieversSongs that are definitely "Gold":
Visions of Johanna
One Of Us Must Know (Sooner Or Later)
I Want You
Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again
Absolutely Sweet Marie
Fourth Time Around
Here are the side lengths of the original album:
Side 1: 20:53
Side 2: 19:02
Side 3: 20:39
Side 4: 11:23
Yes, Side Four is one song not included above - Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands
. How do we fit SELOTL
onto our album? The sound of the song is easy to qualify as "gold" given these two choices. With an apparent limit of 21 minutes per side we simply move Absolutely Sweet Marie
to Side Two of the "blues" album, giving it a length of 17:04. Blonde on Blonde
as released averages 18 minutes per side. Making the "gold" version balanced in time on each side requires tinkering with the song order. Move Fourth Time Around
to Side One of the "gold" album and here is what you get:BLUES ON BLONDE
Rainy Day Women #12 & #35
Pledging My Time
Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat
Just Like A Woman
(Total Time: 17:16)Side Two:
Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I Go Mine)
Temporary Like Achilles
Obviously Five Believers
Absolutely Sweet Marie(Total Time: 17:04)GOLD ON BLONDE
Visions of Johanna
One Of Us Must Know (Sooner Or Later)
I Want You
Fourth Time Around(Total Time: 21:09)Side Two:
Stuck Inside of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again
Sad Eyed Lady of The Lowlands(Total Time: 18:28)
I made two separate playlists on Itunes with these.
|Monday, February 2nd, 2015|
|Atomic Cafe Days and Nights
I don't know when the story starts, how long it was there, the name ATOMIC CAFE whispers the dreams of a bygone era that became loathed for its relationship to conformity and aggression. It was not the atomic age when I walked in the door - young and eager and knowing it was the place that cool people hung out at and of course, everyone who doesn't conform in America seeks to be cool.
The first night there two of the Ramones are sitting in a booth nearby and the adrenaline of being that close to something that central to culture and consciousness - it was intoxicating. We told people we were there when Joey and Marky were there and nobody believed us, nobody. And I was like "Dude I have bullshitted you with a hundred fantastic exaggerations that you believed and now you won't accept the simple fact of a coincidence in a known rock and roll hangout befuddles me."
So you don't have to believe me but believe this - part of me emerged that night. Part of a belief in myself was berthed from the sheer dumb luck of being two booths over in an already wild scene corralled into that brick and mortar square. I took that night with me wherever I went - part of me crawled out from the cocoon of a suburban kid who had been so sheltered that the idea of being someone or something never went past being an idea and suddenly I was as validated as I might ever feel just for having walked in a door and grabbed a table.
The menu was baby boom delight and I settled on the white bread chicken salad sandwich that night and I probably went there a hundred times and I don't think I ever ordered anything else. Over the years I grew up there a little. The old Japanese chef got his heroin delivered at four PM on weekday afternoons and if you ordered by 3:30 you got your food and he went and shot up and was high and nobody got served until after five, so I paid for less than half of those meals. If you ordered and he shot up, though, good luck starving until someone else arrived. The food was straight form a multicultural suburban atomic era but the things I saw there pushed that Americana of my youth further in the rear view mirror than mere time ever could have.
We all blossom somewhere and I became me in Downtown Los Angeles and the corner of First and Alameda in a brick building on a parking lot that the Manley family of Pasadena had owned since the 1890s was one of the places where the light clicked on for me. A strung out chef filling my belly, the figures of the whole revolution hanging out two booths away, a wild cast of semi-regulars and a juke box, oh what a jukebox...
The jukebox was the greatest jukebox in history and if I made a list of my ten regrets in life in the top five would be not simply taking a picture of the display - assembling that on iTunes as a playlist would be all the music I would ever need. Do you have one? Look out get out of my way, let me see it.
They tore that building down on the last week of January, 2015, 125 years after they had cemented the bricks together there, all the oil sucked dry out of what became the parking lot leased by Manley Oil. Its all disappearing and the memories are all really starting to fade and so I have to write them down but it gets repetitive to say we went out drinking and it was fun and then we went out drinking and it was fun and then... so the memories themselves are just little bricks and the bricks can form a building and when that building gets torn down you write abut the building itself and the time a girl threw a drink in your face and stomped out and the time that Richard Duardo told you a story about eating there with Basquiat a year after the painter had died and the memory of that one guy everyone on the scene knew who, the guy who played saxophone well he just stood next to the jukebox and played along with each song that came up and he knew them all and it sounded great and everyone cheered him on and you left without paying for your drinks and when you felt guilty and went back to pay they didn't even know and it was loud and so you ordered another drink and left without paying of r it either , all those memories and a thousand more just get cemented on top of each other and soon each memory is a just a fragment of a shelter you have built in your ind and now, well that shelter is all that is left, a memory. And so you write it down. Gimme shelter.