Christmas Postcard from Los Angeles

SOME TRADITIONS stick;  others evolve and shape-shift.

All of it, in the last few days and hours, has been part of my end-of- the-year reflections;  the  fodder for long walks and talks with old friends and new. Most likely what takes root will become part of some piece of writing — or new vein of exploration — as the last days of 2014 drift away…

Last night driving home very late from a gathering, I just happened to punch in the AM radio band to chance upon the most fancifully ornate reading of “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.”  That was one of our Christmas Eve-musts. Always. So, to have it simply drift up coincidentally and escort me — beginning to end —  from the city boundary into my driveway was a special gift, a sort of warm reassurance. A footbridge from past to present, I suppose.

I’ll be posting sporadically over the holidays but wanted to wish all who visit here the very best as we turn the page.

Thanks for visiting and being part of making the year special.

Hill Street Entrance of the Grand Central Market

Hill Street Entrance of the Grand Central Market

Phil Stern, 95

Phil Stern via Phil Stern Archives

Phil Stern via Phil Stern Archives

WHEN I think back, there have been so many conversations with so many vivid subjects over the last couple of decades, but I will always have a special place in my memory for my talks with photographer Phil Stern.

Stern, who died last Saturday evening,  had been shooting since the 1930s and had been pretty much any and everywhere you could imagine.  And though many might think of his specialty as rarefied worlds of Hollywood and Jazz — he could and would settle into anything with a singular POV and sense of authority. His war photography and quiet interludes and candid moments of everyday life had equal power and resonance.

Edith Irby Jones standing alone in the hallway of the University of Arkansas Medical School

I was honored to be able to sit and listen to his globetrotting stories and even more so, to be able to be one of the people to tell a little bit of it.  For some years afterward he remained in touch via letters, emails and the occasional phone call in which he always greeted me as “George.”

Here is a snip from my 2003 story during an all-day visit to his home in Hollywood:

Stern winds through his sunny living room-cum-studio. Aside from the cutouts, there’s not one photo framed on the wall. There are piles of Stern’s old LP covers stacked in boxes, some prints in matte-boards piled on a side table. Above the kitchen’s breakfast nook, a black-and-white collage of celebrity mugs spells out “Name Dropper”; a tiny cutout of Frank Sinatra, arms outstretched, pasted on a wooden crucifix, crowns the refrigerator: “That,” he says, with a dismissive wave of the hand, “was Frank’s idea.”

He wasn’t just everywhere, he allowed us to ride alongside, to be everywhere as well.

My thoughts and heart are with his family.

The rest of my feature is here.

And of course some of my all-time favorite Phil Stern images:

Stan Getz and Dizzy Gillespie — photo by Phil Stern

Stan Getz – photo by Phil Stern

Measuring Time

“A good part of any day in Los Angeles is spent driving, alone, through streets devoid of meaning to the driver, which is one reason the place exhilarates some people, and floods others with an amorphous unease. didion There is about these hours spent in transit a seductive unconnectedness. Conventional information is missing. context clues are missing. In Culver City as in Echo Park as in East Los Angeles, there are the same pastel bungalows. There are the same leggy poinsettia and the same trees of pink and yellow hibiscus. There are the same laundromats, body shops, strip shopping malls, the same travel agencies offering bargain fares….the signs of promise, on Beverly Boulevard as on Pico as on Alvarado and Soto. ¡No más baratá! …There is the sound that of the car radio, tuned in my case to KRLA, an AM station that identifies itself as ‘the heart and soul of rock and roll’ and is given to dislocating programing concepts, for example doing the tops hits of … 1962. Another day, another KRLA concept: “The day the Music Died”, an exact radio recreation of the day that in 1959 when the plane carrying Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper crashed … such tranced hours are, for many people who live in Los Angeles, the dead center of being there . . . . ”

Joan Didion
from “Pacific Distances”

— Happy Birthday 80th Birthday, Joan Didion