“When I am writing, I am trying to find out who I am, who we are, what we’re capable of, how we feel, how we lose and stand up, and go on from darkness into darkness. I’m trying for that. But I’m also trying for the language. I’m trying to see how it can really sound. I really love language. I love it for what it does for us, how it allows us to explain the pain and the glory, the nuances and delicacies of our existence.”
— Maya Angelou
NYT obit here …
MANY CITY incarnations ago, we Angelenos used to trade in shortcuts; better ways here-to-there. It was a form of one-upmanship, sure. But you always kept your best shortcuts to yourself. The decades-long shifts in traffic patterns have wiped away so many of these quick, albeit circuitous, alternatives. I still have a few stashed away but mostly I’ve just re-thought the ways I travel — more train trips, lots more “off hour” movement back and forth across the city.
The other secret, that we don’t talk about as much is secret parking. Lost corners of the city, thoroughfares that are afterthoughts, old lots that are manned at strange times if not at all, but always with a slot for you.
As a reporter on the road, you sometimes need a place to switch gears, to leave the last thought and prepare for the next. Some of the older open-air parking lots are little oases — a place to pause before meetings, to catch a nap. They’re vanishing in certain parts of town as super-multi-tirerd structures rise. With them, of course, human attendants are being replaced by automated machines that suck in and spit out your credit card. Marooned on those white plastic chairs, the attendants were often chatty, full of neighborhood stories. Now, there’s no one to ask directions, no one to have conversation about where to go get a late-night anything.
More and more, when I slide down a side street hoping to find my little pot-hole pockmarked lot I find instead what once was is now ringed with yellow caution tape or already busy with hard-hat crews breaking ground on another multi-use development — another pause long gone.
“Later in his long life Grainier confused the chronology of the past and felt certain that the day he’d viewed the World’s Fattest Man — that evening — was the very same day he stood on Fourth Street in Troy Montana, twenty-six miles east of the bridge, and looked at a railway car carrying the strange young hillbilly entertainer Elvis Presley. Presley’s private train had stopped for some reason, maybe for repairs, here in this little town that didn’t even merit its own station. The famous youth had appeared in the window briefly and raised his hand in greeting, but Grainier had come out of the barbershop across the street too late to see this. He’d only had it told to him by the townspeople standing in the late dusk, strung along the street beside the deep bass of the idling diesel, speaking very low if speaking at all, staring into the mystery and grandeur of a boy so high and solitary.
Grainier had also once seen a wonder horse, and a wolf-boy, and he’d flown in the air in a biplane in 1927. He’d started his life story on a train ride he couldn’t remember, and ended up standing around outside a train with Elvis Presley in it.”
— Denis Johnson from Train Dreams
(photo credit: cindy johnson via the austin chronicle)
LAST WEEK, in just the space of one day, I was reminded both how big and small Los Angeles can seem.
My morning had started with a quick trip up into the hills of Altadena to meet up with the artist Dominique Moody. I’ve been following Moody for over a year as she began work on a large-scale assemblage piece that she defines as a “mobile work of art.”
More on all of that soon when my piece goes live, but in many ways this new phase will allow Moody to use the very landscape she travels through as both medium and canvass.
She’s rounding the corner on completion, so in order to tie up the last bits of reporting we found a corner of time to meet. I had an ulterior motive, I also wanted to take her by a another artist-designed home project I’d stumbled upon. We made the quick commute east and I left my car just feet away so we could have the sensation of walking into this wonderland sunk in the middle of sleepy, otherwise nondescript SoCal stucco-and-bungalow residential street. She was taken by the textures and the colors and the resonances and echoes she has seen in other works much like this (like my earlier Mosaic House visit).
As it so happened, the home is the landing pad of the artist Shrine, whose work has been a familiar recurring motif at outdoor festivals and events like Burning Man and Coachella. I had just happened to stumble on it last year while on a neighborhood walk. Magical, truly. A collision of color and bouncing light. Spires of tile and bone rising out of the spot where most homes would be fronted by an apron of lawn. We stood transfixed. Looking at swirls of old crockery; doll heads and twisted metal. And in what feels like more meaningful synchronicity than fleeting coincidence, Shrine has a piece — the Empire of Love Shack — in exhibition that just opened last weekend at the California Folk Art Museum on the Miracle Mile. Like Moody, Shrine’s materials are reclaimed from the landscape — all manner of toss-asides and repurposed bits and pieces.
What were the chances? Two artists whose work echo similar impulses, but who travel within distinctly different creative circles — yet live an easy ten minutes away from the other. The odds, I learned, were a lot smaller than I would have ever guessed.
I went took the long drive across town to take a quick peek at Shrine’s “Love Shack” at CFAM yesterday –this photo doesn’t do it justice … I will be back. With Dominique.
A FEW months back my piece on Shades of L.A., Los Angeles Public Library’s photo project, documenting L.A’s. diverse ethnic communities, was up for a vote. It won. The prize however goes to all of Los Angeles. A mini-doc retelling the history and the process behind the project is now up at KCET Artbound.
You can click here to watch.
Thanks everyone who took out the time to vote.
FINALLY, my piece about Leigh Ann Hahn, the director of programming of downtown L.A.’s outdoor music series, Grand Performances is now on the newsstands (and a free preview is also tucked away here you just sign in).
Leigh Ann was kind enough to clear out a couple of days and let me run around L.A. with her as she carefully assembled the crucial bits and pieces for dinner with some of her closest friends.
She talked more than a little bit about the similarities of programming music and assembling a well-paced dinner party.
These photos below are my snapshots of the day … the real photos of the finished food and the event itself were shot by one of my usual pro accompanists, the photographer Anne Fishbein.