Last Monday we went to see Joel Jerome and Babies on Acid play at Harvard and Stone with Lou Barlow. We walked to the bar, it’s two blocks from our house. Harvard and Stone is a product of the semi-recent cultural obsession with artisan cocktails and Prohibition-era aesthetics. It’s like a Disneyfied version of a speakeasy: superfluous metal pipes, weird light bulbs, and burlesque shows to boot. The crowd on a Monday night was mixed. A group of four sorority-ish girls walked in behind us and no sooner had they approached the bar did a young man (unknown to them) swoop in to say “I like your jeans” to one of the girls. She giggled. He introduced himself, and his ‘Italian cousin’ Giancarlo to the group, telling them he’s trying to show Giancarlo a ‘good time.’ The girls, preened and glossed, smiled at the men with obliging decorum. I think I laughed out loud.
The Lou Barlow crowd was small in numbers. Mostly bearded dudes, nodding along to Barlow’s acoustic mumblings. This kind of music, a single man with an acoustic guitar, no effects, nothing, is a current rarity. Watching him, I felt a kind of uncomfortable sadness, like you might feel if your otherwise uncool dad picked up an acoustic guitar and played a three-chord song he wrote about your mom, who divorced him twenty years ago. He finished his set with a song about a cat.
Joel Jerome and Babies on Acid played next. JJ is the rare kind of musician who wears his influences well. Yes, you can pick them out (Bowie, Beatles, etc.), but his exuberant love for his predecessors manifests itself in his fully-formed, well-executed songs. Because of his sincerity, his songs don’t feel trite. He’s not putting on a costume when he gets onstage to perform, he’s always living it, and he’s got the tunesmithing skills and musicianship to back it up. Side note: I overheard a girl turn to her friend and ask, “Are we in Seattle?” while JJ was playing.
Last week ghostporn played in San Luis Obispo with Calvin Johnson’s current project, the Hive Dwellers, at the San Luis Museum of Art (aka SLOMA, lol). We drove up in Johnny’s van on Sunday morning, practiced at the Some Ember complex for a bit, then went downtown. Kenny and Johnny went to Foster’s Freeze, and I got a burrito, but I should have gotten a Boss Burger. We tried to load in, but the streets around the venue were blocked off because of a sidewalk chalk festival, which is a great example of my weird hometown’s constant attempts at ‘culture.’ The bands played on the linoleum floor of one of the museum’s small wings. We’ve played at ‘real’ venues and DIY venues, and I always prefer the DIY. To be on the floor with the crowd. To feel their energy, to make them feel. I guess the only advantages of playing on a stage at a proper venue are better sound (hopefully) and getting paid (hopefully).
King Walrus played first, and a group of kids—I think I can say that about other people now, I’m in my mid-twenties—shuffled around and sang all the words along with Garland’s blues howl. They did an Attractives cover and that was fun. I watched Calvin Johnson watching the kids dance around, and I wondered how many times he’s seen this exact same scene in his life. He’s got a stony, hard-to-read face. I wondered if he still enjoyed seeing the kids dance on the floors of houses, and warehouses, and coffee shops, and art galleries. We played next, to mostly new faces, which I love. The Hive Dwellers played last, and had the kids running sound break down the PA. CJ had a drummer and electric guitar player supporting his acoustic-guitar-strummings and baritone-belting. We stayed for a few songs, then split because we had planned to drive home the same night. Plus, he’s not my favorite deep-voiced weirdo folk singer. That would be Michael Gira with Angels of Light.
Last night, a friend brought us with him to a house party in the Echo Park hills. We climbed the cement stairs to the house off of Echo Park Boulevard. Cooler weather has come, and at that elevation, looking out at the twinkles of light dotting the Silverlake Hills, it felt like we were in San Francisco. Even more so once we hit the tiered backyard where bands were playing. Beards and beanies and flannel and fringe and cowboy hats fucking everywhere. A folk-tinged country rock band chugged their way through a few numbers and people enjoyed it. I wondered who had a joint to share with me.
The next band got up to play: the lead singer (white male) in cowboy hat and boots, the back-up singer (white female) in white fringe and floppy black witch hat, the drummer in flannel, the bass player looking pretty fucking metal in black Chuck Taylors, black jeans and t-shirt, thrashing his long hair in his face. Before they started, a girl in a paisley jumpsuit said “This band is so good. You’re gonna want to dance, they’re just so good.” They played what sounded to me like an extended cover of “Gimme Shelter” with the male singer talking about ‘going to Oaklahoma’ and ‘feeling like a goddamn slave,’ while the female singer wailed and flailed her arms in her best Janis Joplin meets Clare Torry on “Great Gig in the Sky.” Nobody danced, but they sure did cheer and woop. One thing (of many) about the blues/country rock revival (a la Kings of Leon circa 2004) that gets me is the constant referencing of the American South. It’s like when Mick Jagger apes a Southern accent on “Faraway Eyes,” talking about Bakersfield. I could go on, but there’s not a point. Just: Don’t rep the South if you’re not from there and wear your influences well.
The last band was super out of place for this party, which is sometimes nice. Three young dudes: two regular shit rock guys in jeans and t-shirts (one with a pot leaf, one that said ‘Fuck art let’s dance’), and one in a skirt. Someone we’d met at the party said “These guys are gonna melt your face.” And I said, “What does that mean?” And he just looked at me like I was an asshole, which I guess I kind of was. They started off with an avant-garde rock vibe, the drummer pounding out beats and shouting into the mic, the guitarist hammering out unexpected rhythms and notes, he and the bass player slouching shoulder to shoulder in a strung-out take on the classic back-to-back solo stance. And I thought Damn, a rock band in LA that I might actually like! Then Kenny turned to me and said “2001.” And I was like, nahh. And then the next song started and immediately the drummer went into the disco hit-hat beat so abused in early-2000s indie rock. And then they did a Unicorns cover.
I know it all sounds so negative, but here’s the thing: I think it’s always great for anyone and everyone to make music. It takes courage to share your songs with anyone, no matter how great or shitty they are. Also, musicianship has so little to do with what I’m talking about. So, I’m not for style over substance. I’m not for gimmicks, I’m not for trends. So if you’re going to do shitty drug rock, or country rock, or garage rock, or what the fuck ever, do it well. Don’t do it like someone else, don’t do it how you think other people will like it, do it how you want to do it.
Hello, I’m back. My advice is to listen to this with headphones as you read the post.
One of the best things about living in Los Angeles is getting the fuck out of Los Angeles every few months. To come up for air, escape the rate race, and other appropriate cliches.
Last weekend, we went up to the Central Coast for Labor Day weekend. I’ve always imagined my hometown as a pastoral landscape painting. Varying shades of brown, blue, and green. There are people that live in the painting, and they are lost in the paradise, and other appropriate cliches. They love the bucolic dream state that dulls the senses as much as it engages them. It’s safe and static, like Cheers, but a town. I have to go up there every so often to remind myself of why I don’t live there anymore. Because the farther away something is, the easier it is to convince ourselves of its appeal. The shitty things that repelled us from embracing it in the first place don’t show at such a distance.
We went to the Elks to swim and drink cheap cocktails, and also to see what our lives could be in one of many alternate versions. Settled, saddled down with kids. We went to Paso Robles to see another version. Pouring wine, keeping chickens. And then we came home to live the version of our lives that’s currently playing out. Working unfulfilling jobs, making music, sleeping in, scraping together enough money for drinks and books and records. Keeping our car running.
Los Angeles isn’t the opposite of our idyllic hometown. It’s just the urban version. Los Angeles benefits just as much from its perception as a City as San Luis Obispo does from its perception as a Town. It has just as much of an interest in keeping its image untarnished, and the things it wants to keep swept under the rug are the same as those of a small town.
A few months ago, we drove up to Bel Air so Kenny could do a last minute job. The weather had gone through a near-full cycle of the seasons over the course of the day, and by the time I got off of work, it was mid-winter. The palms bent and shook against the steel-wool sky and the warm humidity had dissipated to a cool mid-60s, 20%. The drive up to Bel Air was shaded a darker red by our most recent money troubles. Kenny’s been working around twenty hours a week as production comes to an almost complete halt in the summer months. I’ve missed multiple days of work because of family issues, as well as my inability to divorce my emotional state from my actions. We’re struggling, but money comes and it goes and it goes and it goes. I did get paid, and we stopped at Wells Fargo so I could deposit my check so we could eat later.
Deciding which street to take to the Westside is always a crap-shoot. You could fuck with Sunset and deal with the sluggish stretch of brakelights from the old Strip down to Cory Ave. Santa Monica and Wilshire aren’t as bad heading west in the evenings as they are heading east, but neither is ideal. Fountain is a safe option to get from Hollywood to Beverly Hills, but it dead-ends at La Cienega, so that you still have to deal with the Sunset Plaza bullshit. All those shitty restaurants the dead-eyed people on B- and C-level reality shows are always going to? That’s what Sunset Plaza is all about. Tourists and glamorous nobodies (and the occasional somebodies) eating overpriced food al fresco while gleaming Range Rovers pull in and out of the parking lots behind the storefronts.
Kenny navigated our dust bomb through Beverly Hills to Beverly Glen, where we turned right, up into the so-manicured-it-could-be-Disneyland neighborhood of Bel Air. Multiple three-way roundabouts led us up to the location, but there was no parking. There is never any parking allowed in neighborhoods like this. It’s for practical reasons (the roads are barely wide enough for two cars), but also to let You know: stay the fuck out, we don’t want to see you. We don’t want to know that you exist.
We had to pull over and park in the driveway of some under-construction mansion, caged in fabric-covered chain-link. I sat in the car. Within a few minutes, a security guard peered out of the front gate. I explained the situation to him. He asked where they would be filming, and did they need extras? I told him that I didn’t know. I asked him if he liked his job. He said he served in the military for years, that he had fought in Vietnam, and had been a security guard since he retired. He loved it. He asked me if I lived around there. I laughed and said No. I asked him the same question. No, he said, I live in Carson, but this a beautiful area, beautiful homes. I nodded and we shared a moment of silence, him admiring the stately homes in reverence, me contemplating the symbols of material wealth with indifference.