This is part five! Click on the links to read parts one, two, three, and four.
Context: When this was written, Bush had recently announced the date for the invasion of Iraq (March 19), and reports were just coming in that SARS had hit Toronto.
The drizzle begins early Saturday morning and by the time the sun comes up...well, there IS no sun. It's a dark and unceasing downpour. I don't know if the rain is heavier than it should be or if LA just doesn't have enough storm sewers, but all the water is running downhill and taking the easiest route there: the street. When Eugene and I park it's a struggle to jump the river that is running past us. It's at least six inches deep. This is something quite rare around here. Experiencing it is a mixed blessing for a tourist without an umbrella.
We visit Amoeba records and Wacko's, two places you need several hours to properly explore. Wacko's in particular is a purveyor of kitsch and kitsch-conscious objects, alongside books about those kitschy objects, and books about the people who collect the kitschy objects or otherwise contribute to the aggrandizement of them. They have a nice art gallery in the back where you can hear the endless, driving rain.
Later, with Chris, we check out Jet Rag, which doesn't have much happening except a killer decor: bombs and ducts and a sort of woodsy cottage feel, all at the same time. Aardvarks on Melrose is a bit meatier, but I'm destined to end my vacation without the gorgeous feather showgirl outfit that I had in my imagination. I regret not entering the ritzy boutiques on Sunset when I had the chance.
That night Talia picks me up and we drive, through the downpour, to Echo Park to see "The Cover Problem," an offshoot of a local band called "The Negro Problem," with Joe Berardi on drums. The group's headman -- Stuart, though it's uncertain if this is his first or last name -- is doing a reinterpretation of '80s pop music...or maybe he's just having fun.
Tonight's juxtaposition of styles is Morrisey vs. David Lee Roth, who Stuart can almost make you believe are the same person. The band seamlessly merges "Hot for Teacher" with "This Charming Man" with a gender-bending twist. They expose the zen meaning behind "Jump." They explore the motivation behind saying the word "zen" and "paradigm shift" on stage. These blues reinterpretations of songs are wonderful to hear, but the bar isn't exactly packed; the downpour outside is torrential and the venue is difficult to find.
I chat with Joe for a while in between sets. I ask him if, as a drummer, he ever feels slighted when he doesn't get songwriting credit, even though he's added something unique to the song. He says yes, sometimes. I ask him what it's like to be a popular (I may have said "famous") musician in Los Angeles. He looks offended and confused. This, sadly, is where I leave Joe.
Since it's still early I say goodbye to Ron and Talia, and Chris and I head off to a loft party in downtown LA.
The party is in a renovated complex of old factory buildings, and like many buildings in LA you have to buzz at the front gate in order to enter the parking lot, which is surrounded by a huge fence. The party itself is calm. I find myself watching Fatty Arbuckle on TV for the second time in two days, which I can't properly explain.
Everybody I've met seems to be involved with the movie industry in some way, usually as script writers. It's entertaining that whenver you talk to someone about a movie plot they'll jump in and finish it for you in exactly the way the plot would be pitched to a producer. For example:
MUFFY: I was watching this kids show tonight called "The Fairly Odd Parents." Have you seen it?Afterwards Chris takes me to Bar Sinister, one of LA's biggest goth nightclubs. It's gorgeous and yet not ntimidating or ostentatious. The usual bad attitude "more goth than thou" folks are here, but they're outnumbered by people who actually smile at you and say hello. The attitude is good. The go-go (or rather "goth-goth") dancers are kick ass, sometimes literally. I have never seen so many anime-inspired hair extensions in my life.
MUFFY: It's about this kid whose parents are fairy godparents--
TALIA: ...and they fulfill wishes for him and try to solve his problems, with wacky and unexpected results?
I'd love to stay...but it's getting late. What was previously a dim realization -- that I'd be leaving LA soon -- has become a nearby physical ache, felt especially as I say goodbye to Chris. She did more for me than just untangle my fishnets and give me spectacular hair. Sopping with rain and alcohol and regret I watch her drive away in her pickup truck.
It's still raining when I get back to my hotel. People are drunkenly weaving up and down Sunset, wet and silly. In my room, washing up, I regret leaving disgusting panstick stains on the white towels. But considering how they gouged me for the phone bill I don't feel THAT bad.
March 17, 2003
We are a strange crew inside the LAX shuttle bus. Most gregarious is the band manager of AFI, who has had a night of wild adventures involving candles. He explains to me the joys of PS2, Burbank, and cheap Mexican food. We pull up to a house to pick up a middle-aged woman whose father is hugging her goodbye. The AFI guy says it looks like a postcard. Then the father tells the driver to "take care of my daughter...she's till a virgin!" and the tone of the postcard suddenly changes. "Candy wants to come with you" he says, holding out a tiny toy poodle, and I ponder the stort of life these regressed oddballs lead.
Things are not exactly jumping at the airport so, after spotting Kiefer Sutherland smoking a cigarette by the entrance, I strike up a converssation with a woman who is stuck in line with me: Connie, on her way to vacation in Paris. Both of us are control freaks but she has managed to tone it down through a masters degree in...Inner Spirituality. She's a very positive person, a blessing in a place where the staff is obviously in no hurry to process a gate full of people who have a plane to catch.
I don't know what sort of conditions these folks work under but I have yet to see an airport employee in a hurry. The woman who takes away my bags (to give them a good dusting) moves with a slow, syrupy stroll. The people who process our tickets have an incredible "just out here fishing and enjoying the weather" attitude, except they're totally disinterested in their surroundings. They hold long conversations about their lunch breaks while the line up of passengers stare fixedly at their watches. But the person who actually CHECKS my ticket has spirit: he barks at me that I should change my hair and cut my fingernails because I "look like a girl."
This time around the security check goes smoothly, as I'm savvy enough to remove my boots and foil-wrapped life savers before braving the scanner. Next thing I know I'm on the plane ignoring the movie -- "Keith of the North" -- and passing the time.
From the Air (Again)
Unfortunately, due to some bad directions from a guard I go through security a second time in Chicago, which some people find amusing. I am getting very good at removing my footwear in a timely fashion. I have a few moments to relax so I settle in and watch the news.
CNN is really loving the world situation, they've got lots of nifty graphics for each segment of war coverage. They no doubt hope it will last forever. Their theme songs are stirring and scary.
The folks drinking their heads off in Wolfgang & Pucks are sober and sedate about the war. Nobody is spitting venom about anything, maybe because they're about to board a plane. I think back to war comments I've heard during my trip to America. One of the people at the DGA asked me "what's up in Canada, other than being morally smug about the war?" That was sort of ambiguous. A scriptwriter at the loft party last night greeted me and apologized for trying to destroy the world. At a bar somewhere -- it was either Parlour or Canter's -- there was a general agreement that George W. Bush is frightening. Carrie, on her way to Paris, hoped she wouldn't be treated badly for being an American. As much as I wish I was staying in LA longer, I'm happy I'm not going to be going through airport security two days from now.
Up here in the plane, in the dark, somewhere near the border, what I remember most vividly about my trip are the people. The awe at the size and diversity of LA, the beautiful scenery, the joy of putting on a good show...none of these things feel as immediate as the people who generously showed me around and became good companions. I went from knowing nobody to having these great people around me so quickly that it sort of feels like they're still here and that I'll be meeting them tonight for potato pancakes and coffee.
As for the city itself, I'm fortunate in not having seen a single bad thing, and I barely paid a dime for anything. My overwhelmingly positive impression must have somethng to do with that. I want to go back, I want to see these people again, I want to spend a leisurely time drinking it all in. Next time I'll get a more balanced impression of LA, and hopefully it won't lose its magic.
I haven't gone back again, partly because I don't want to impose again on these sweet people. But someday...
If you're wondering how all this came about, well, I used to post Bollywood film reviews at the rec-arts-movies-local-indian usenet group. David Chute was a frequent reader of the site, and he got me in contact with Asian Cult Cinema magazine, for which I wrote an article called "I Rejected Coronation Street." For reasons I forget ACC seemed to be giving me the runaround, and David passed the article to LA Weekly's film critic, Ron Stringer.
Next thing I knew, Ron called me from LA to buy the article for the paper (which is still online here along with a picture of me licking a D-cell battery), and to ask me to come down and perform at the "Kaante" gala showing. He'd heard from David that I impersonated Bollywood starlets, which wasn't really true. I gave him all sorts of reasons why they shouldn't foot the bill to bring me all the way down, but he convinced me. I can't believe I NEEDED convincing!
I didn't check my email until I returned home. I discovered that Bappa Lahiri had emailed me while I was down there, saying that his father -- Bappi Lahiri, one of the most famous Bollywood composers -- had read my article and wanted to meet me for coffee in LA. This was totally incredible, but I'd already come home and had to decline, which is probably good since I'd called him "obese and frog-like" in the article.
Now, why didn't I take more photographs? Because I was afraid of looking like a tourist. This didn't stop me from babbling about all the differences between Ontario and Los Angeles, though, and I kick myself for having no pictures from the DGA or Bar Sinister. But there was a film crew filming my performance, so maybe it will appear someday...
As for the wonderful people...
Joe Berardi doesn't show up in many Google searches at the moment. Double-Naught Spy Car is still performing, and holy cow, I've just discovered these pictures taken the night I saw The Cover Problem!
I saw an exhausted Ron Stringer in 2004 at the Toronto film festival; he was there to review the movies and we didn't get much of a chance to talk. He may be the Ron Stringer who takes photographs, his name doesn't show up in the LA Weekly reviews anymore. Must email him again...
While I was down there Chris D'Anda was planning a line of Gothique hair products...now you can buy them here! I can vouch for them...they're great (and have a bewitching smell). Or go down to her salon and get a fabulous hairdo. Chris and I still keep in touch, thank goodness!