Watching the Watcher

AS A reporter, I’ve always liked working with photographers on assignment and seeing what they “see.” I am always able to pick up a different layer for my story, they deepen or broaden a piece with not just the images they supply for the end product, but via the conversation we might have during an interview or shoot. They see something succinct that really must sum up what the writer’s intent is as well as convey the crucial elements of the story itself.

I think about how quickly oftentimes photographers have to work, to sift through what sometimes we’ve writers had an hour or more (and then some) to excavate.

It is an art.

The above is a just a sketchbook sort of shot by my friend, the photographer Anne Fishbein, whom I’ve worked with for years. I caught her casual, mid-composition. This was “the last light of the first day of 2012” and she literally was chasing it from place to place until it drifted away.


Lost City/Found Stories

REALLY NICE crowd last night for our “conversation.” Traffic delayed me (of course) so I wasn’t feeling so warm about L.A. when I arrived. Two- hour drives that should only take 45-minutes can do that to you. But that feeling slid off as soon as we started.

Unfortunately, I left the camera in the car, so, sadly, didn’t shoot my own images.

Above, is an image via the Los Angeles Public Library photo files of the Los Angeles City Directory circa 1927, an artifact that R.C. brought along last night (his a later version) and asked folks to gather round and take a look. It was a formal listing of Angelenos — enumerating their address, trades, professions etc. Just about everyone walked by with a story and then turned the pages and ran their fingers down the tiny type, looking for parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. People told stories about their own lost L.A. as well. In a way it was very much like people brought their scrapbooks with them — little memories tossed out as they streamed by the table afterward.

They say L.A. is a “young” city, but there were many people in attendance who boasted 3rd and 4th generation roots.
Vivd stories that re-animated old neighborhoods drew new maps. A retold story of Los Angeles in their own words.

Below is a quote from an L.A. Weekly piece about the about the book:

Going back to the subject of lost neighborhoods, [Ry] Cooder notes, “I don’t know any place as susceptible to this as Los Angeles. You can go away for two weeks or five days. When you come back, it’s ‘Where did that corner go? Where did that tree go?'”

The Bunker Hill of yesteryear (see video below), where some of his stories are set, remains a particular source of sadness for Cooder, who rues its 1955 destruction to this day.

“Not one day goes by that I don’t regret this and despise the people who did it: hate them, hate them, hate them,” he grouses. “I’ve had people in the city government admit to me personally that it was a mistake. We could have revitalized it, fixed it up, and money could have been made. What do you have now? These hideous half-empty office buildings. Does anyone want that? No. That goddamned Westin hotel down there — it’s a monstrosity.”


THIS UP at LA Weekly earlier this week. The Long Beach record store that was the laboratory for various West Coast rap/gangsta rap acts.

Record stores have been shuttering all over the country, but the fall of V.I.P. is particularly dispiriting. After all, “World Famous” isn’t an affectation; V.I.P. is iconic in the annals of West Coast gangsta rap. It housed the studio where Snoop Dogg, Warren G and Nate Dogg — then a trio known as 213 — recorded the demo that led to their big breaks. The rooftop sign has been the backdrop for videos including Snoop’s “Who Am I (What’s My Name)” and Jermaine Dupri’s “Welcome to Atlanta” remix.

But before all of that, I knew it as a hangout; a place people went just to plug in and find out what was on the air, but in the wind:

Another pullquote from the Weekly post:

Fhe store also has played a key role in breaking urban artists, even those who never stepped through its doors. It once served as a tastemaker for the neighborhood and even for Los Angeles as a whole.

At one point, the V.I.P. name was attached to a dozen outposts in Southern California. The chain’s original location in South Central was founded by Anderson’s older brother Cletus in the late 1960s; it specialized in gospel, Motown and R&B.

Rest of the Weekly blogpost here….

So sorry to hear of yet another record store going and with it, yet another brick-and-mortar laboratory where serendipity intervenes and ideas intersect, shape-shift and then become something brand new.

image by johnwilliamsphd via flickr

Where Were You in ’75?: The “Young Americans” Sessions

WHEN THIS song got airplay on the soul stations in L.A. it threw open a door onto a fusion of something — arty and funky — but without pleather junk or attitude. It was telegraphing a feeling.

The radio tended to be a segregated place back then so this “crossing over” wasn’t really “crossing over.” David Bowie’s “Young Americans” just burst through categories and, well, just was its own atmosphere. There was something just stitched through. (a young Luther Vandross was a critical part of that filling of the backspace)

This song, and the other single from the disc, “Fame” with its funk and shimmer, is both of the moment and lives comfortably outside. Then there was this: Bowie was a back-lit enigma on the album cover, it was like staring at a maze.

Happy 65th (!?), David Bowie