by RIP RENSE
(June 19, 2008)
Angeles Magazine has been running a poll for some time asking people
to pick the single greatest thing about L.A..My choice: “To not live in
L.A.,” was not available.
Neither was “Three-day
weekends in L.A., when about 30 to 40 percent of the beasts leave town and
things get quiet like they were 30 years ago.”
Ah, but I am too cynical
Okay, I might have
picked, as a longshot, the
Film Preservation Festival at the Bridges Theater on campus, where one
could quietly sit with film appreciators and watch things you are not likely
to see anywhere else, ever again.
Except they’ve moved the
festival from the bucolic, pine-scented north corner of UCLA to the glitzy
new Billy Wilder Theater at the Armand Hammer Museum in Westwood. With all
the crazy white neon
tubes running toward the screen that no one has yet sued over for
inducing epileptic fits. But it’s only a matter of time.
My other candidates: L.A.
Opera (if they’d only junk that garish, grotesque Herb Ross “Boheme” they
keep reviving every other year, and dump director
Ian "Penetration" Judge), the L.A. Philharmonic,
jasmine-perfumed summer nights, and did
I mention L.A. Opera? That’s it for me. This place crucified its charm long
ago on a cross of cars.
L.A., or what it has
become, has all the allure and attractiveness of the Boston Celtics’
uniforms after a game. Jock straps included. Density and development greased
by practically nonexistent city and county governments have destroyed this
place the way Kirstie Alley destroys a Boston cream pie at midnight. You
can’t afford to live here anymore, and if you can, why would you want to?
But lest this turn into
too foaming a rant, I want to focus on just one little point about the
L.A. Mag survey, specifically a
LAObserved.com’s redoubtable Kevin
"Los Angeles magazine's
many-month contest to let readers choose the single greatest thing about
L.A. probably fizzled credibility-wise that first round when McCabe’s Guitar
Shop beat the Hollywood Bowl."
Eh? Why, that choice gives the poll nothing but credibility! The
Hollywood Bowl over McCabe's? Such establishment L.A. attitude does to my brain what Bush did
to Iraq. Quick, get the drug-sniffing hounds! Xanax might have
something to do with this.
That L.A. Mag's pithy
readers chose McCabe's over the preening jackass orgy that the Bowl
has become is yet another indicator of the thrilling, but
undervoiced, backlash against SLAT (Standard L.A. Think) to be found in
enlightened quarters in the remains of this once accessible and fairly
No, you won’t find any
serious anti-L.A. sentiments on the indispensable LAObserved.com or Larry
Mantle and Patt
Morrison's fine programs on KPCC, or other old-guardians of L.A. mystique. These venerable
journalists still treat this evil place as if it is just a big city with big
city problems. And given the hideousness of most cities these days, they
might be right! But me, I cling to more idealistic, if nostalgic, standards.
Such as. . .pleasantry.
I mean, proponents of
SLAT still believe that the coagulated, necrotic freeways are merely a
"tough drive," as the Trafficnewsmannequin cliche goes, and not actually worse
than Voodoo Hell with Dick Cheney. And that $3 million avant-garde designer
homes going up in what used to be working class neighborhoods are cool.
And that L.A. actually has a
mayor and a
out for the public interest. (Editorial
comment here.) And that a one-day drizzle is a (gasp) "storm," and 110
degrees is "warm." And that the Dodgers are still worth seeing, despite the
McCourts charging $150 for a
Dodger Dog, and $500 to park (okay, I exaggerate a little, but home
plate tickets are $400.) And that all the ethnic "mix" here is just a grand
multi-cultural simmering L.A. stew, never mind that the ethnicities are all
more separate, suspicious, and
paranoid of each other than ever before.
But I am getting carried
away. Mr. Roderick was merely extolling the virtues of the Hollywood Bowl
over McCabe’s Guitar Shop.
Well. . .
Last time I attempted
to go to the Bowl was perhaps ten years ago. And you're talking to a guy
who was an L.A. Philharmonic Bowlhead throughout the 70's and occasionally
during the 80's, when freelance writing checks permitted. On this particular
venture, it took an hour and thirty minutes on surface streets on a Thursday
night to reach the fabled outdoor amphitheatre, from the West Side. (Need
you ask why I took surface streets?)
Correct: 90 minutes of my
life went pffffft because I wanted to hear a little Mozart at the
Bowl. Man, I could have done a lot of things with those 90 minutes. Written
letters pleading for peace on earth. Watched an episode of “Dr. Who.” Taken
a nice nap. Gone to the animal shelter to feel sorry for the dogs. Built a
Lego donut. Written
Anyhow, once at the Bowl,
I’m afraid that my fun-night-out state of mind was such that I gladly
would have tossed grenades to clear traffic. Really. But seeing the sign
proclaiming "Parking $10" (now $14 to a
$30!) actually made
everything better, clearer, because it gave all the information required to
realize that. . .this was not actually fun.
At which point I turned
the car around and drove home like a new Mustang in a Sunday morning diamond
lane, screaming, "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty I am free
at last!" Threw in a few dozen rounds of swearing amid proclamations that I
would never again attempt to have a fun night out at the Hollywood
And I have kept my word.
Wait! There’s more:
Back in the ancient, barely
remembered '90's, I did manage to attend a few concerts at what was once
so lyrically known as Daisy Dell. Long gone, I found, were the days when
average attendance was perhaps a few thousand. The dump was Japanese
bullet-train-crowded with determined, picnic-toting
fun-seekers (we used to bring Col. Sanders.) Long gone, too, were the days when one might craftily
"sneak into the empty boxes" at intermission. For that matter, long gone were the
days when one could even afford a box seat, if they were available---and
most weren't, long since having been purchased by corporations and
celebrities. The Bowl, in short, had become a plaything of the obscenely
Once inside, though, you could
tell that the joint was chocked full of real music lovers. The way they hummed
and tapped their feet to Beethoven's Fifth was a dead giveaway. (For 20
seconds or so, until it got boring.) No, the average Bowler had come
to the Bowl to. . .be at the Bowl. To be seen at the Bowl. To dine at the
Bowl. To get blotto on Burgundy at the Bowl, then kick the wine bottle over
and let it roll for about ten seconds during a pianissimo passage in the
Schumann piano concerto. To laugh raucously and answer a cell phone at the
Bowl. And you think talking during movies is a problem (outside south-central, where we are told it is a "cultural" phenomenon)? Bowl
attendees yap about hedge funds and sports during Mahler.
The music? It's nice,
yeah, but really it's just the stuff you sit through/snore loudly through/hope you
can stay drunk enough to endure before you have to drive home. They
played good. How come there were no fireworks?
My very favorite
little modern-era Bowl moment, if you'll indulge me, was certainly the night I was
reviewing a concert there, and had (happily) been given a box seat. This was
perhaps before most of you were born, back in 1992. My then-wife and I had
set our coats down on two of the four seats in the box, then gone off in
search of bathrooms. When we returned, not ten minutes later, we found, to
our absolute astonishment, a pair of young gay men in our box. Having a gay
Which is to say, they had
folded up our chairs, dumped our coats on top of them (my wife’s coat had
landed on the ground), and set up a gay little candelabra-lighted dining
experience for their precious selves---taking up the entire box. There they
sat, gaily toasting their wine glasses and inspecting their gay little Bowl
gourmet delectables. And this was ten minutes---ten minutes---before concert
time! Nope, nothing was going to gaily deter these lovely fellows from their
little romantic supper! Especially not two gauche coats draped over chairs in order
to "hold" them. Tacky.
When I (somewhat
politely) informed these refined souls that, “Those are our seats and coats
you have pushed into a corner,” I swear they looked mildly bored and said---without
making eye contact---we should come back when they were finished
dining. If memory serves, I believe I then addressed them in words that were
not very gay, but that only seemed to amuse them, and they went on sucking
their coq du vin. I would have gladly cleared them out with grenades,
too, at that point. Really.
Well, what these fine
young coq du vin-suckers didn't realize was that they were messing with a guy with a
secret identity. Because I happened to be a working critic that night, I had
clout, and soon the gay lads and their goddamn candelabra were escorted out
of the box and, I hope, given nice seats in Reseda.
But I have raged far too
long here. It's been fun.
McCabe's Guitar Shop
is a beam of light in the gathering L.A. darkness. It is sweet old-fashionedness
amid trashy glitz and unabashed flaunting of wealth. It is a night on the
Old Mississippi, a bird chirp, a blooming bed of summer petunias. Tickets
still have much in common with birds (cheep!), the venue is small and
intimate, there are no bad seats, and the acts they've had through the years
are top-tier (as a forthcoming tribute to McCabe's as part of the UCLA
Live! Series attests.)
McCabe’s has long been a
Mecca for serious musicians, and while the L.A. Phil won't fit inside, the
largeness of the musical experience has often been comparable to a night at
the Music Center (or maybe the Bowl, if you are in Stephen Spielberg’s box.) McCabe's remains a find, a steal, and is a duly venerated
institution. And there are no---repeat, no---candelabras to be found
anywhere. It is as unpretentious as the Bowl isn’t. Plus, if you cruise the
neighborhood, there is. . .free parking.
Choosing McCabe's over the Bowl is
not, apparently, an L.A. Observation that Mr. Roderick is comfortable with, but to each his own. Yet I must
also note that in his SLAT comment about this, he has implied additional ludicrousness
concerning the latest
L.A. Mag survey question:
". . .and now it's down
to two final choices: the weather or, um, Amoeba Music."
Can there be any
doubt? L.A. sunlight
is like a Gitmo interrogator. It never leaves you alone. At Amoeba, you
can find just about any kind of music ever recorded, buy it, take it home,
and listen to it without paying $30 for parking or suffering through
wine-sodden conversation about hedge funds.
That's pure sunshine to
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