Between Stations

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“Abe parked in the hills above Monrovia. A crystal clear night.
Lights like diamonds, glistening all the way to Long Beach.
Kim snuggled close to him.
The car radio was tuned to KRLA
Dinah Washington singing ‘What a Difference a Day Makes.’
Art Laboe urging listeners to head out to El Monte Legion Stadium on Saturday night. Ran through the singers and groups appearing there. Kim took note of the names. Little Julian Herrera. Don Julian and the Meadowlarks. Don and Dewey. Ernie Freeman. The Coasters. Johnny Otis.
She twiddled the dial.
KFWB.
KGFJ.
Hunter Hancock.
Al Javis’s Make Believe Ballroom.
Huggy Boy.
DJs playing black music.
Kim desperately wanted in on the action.
As she explored what the dial had to offer, she said,’You know, this is just the tip of the iceberg…’ ”

from Cry for a Nickel, Die for a Dime by Woody Haut

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been traveling in a deeply noir, parallel-L.A. universe (circa 1960). It’s a mood that will be a little difficult to shake. Jazz pacing, blues heart, Cry for A Nickel, Die for a Dime spins you through an L.A. that wouldn’t have been on any tourist’s map: East Pasadena/Hastings Ranch, South Los Angeles, Monrovia and, perhaps most poignantly, that twilight of old Downtown just as it nods off for its 50-year slumber.

Duplicity, murder and a maze of con games keep things in flux in freelance photographer Abe Howard’s world.

What deeply contributed to the mood that I’m still swimming in is the music — on disc, on bandstands, on wish lists and — like for Abe and Kim in the above moment — traveling over the air. While L.A. as place becomes clear on the page, to get a sense of what you might be drifting through aurally, there’s now a playlist of music that keeps company with what’s on the pages. You can navigate over here to Woody’s blog for some backstory and a link to a lush imaginary soundtrack.

image: Lights of Los Angeles and adjoining cities, as far distant as 60 miles, as seen from Inspiration Point, Mt. Lowe, 5,000 feet above the sea via Water and Power Associates

Chasing Chandler’s Ghost

THE LAST couple of months have been a crush of trying to make it to the finish line on several projects, but I took a little time out to check out the Esouteric’s Raymond Chandler tour.

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Esotouric does a number of L.A. historical/cultural off-the-beaten track explorations of L.A. — you can check them out here. Our four-hour tour in a big fancy air-cooled bus (this seems to be a theme of mine of late — to be a tourist in my own town) was led authoritatively by Kim Cooper and Richard Schave. Deeply researched, it wound us along Chandler’s meandering trail through Los Angeles — downtown and Hollywood — with both historical and literary context provided — even some clips from Chandler-inspired films.

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We made stops at the lavish Oviatt building, the Barclay Hotel in the heart of downtown’s historic core, then snaked into Hollywood past Paramount Studios, the Crossroads of the World and then wound back to the industrial district where we’d met up.

at the hotel barclay -- downtown

at the hotel barclay

Coming at the city from all of these different angles shifts the perspective, allows you to both see L.A. from the inside out and arms you with a ready come-back for those who want to tell you that L.A. has no history. Often the problem, we Angelenos know, is that people just don’t know where to look when they are out to chase ghosts.

Esoutouric seems to know where the best ones are hidden.

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Happy Birthday, Chester Himes

I JUST caught a little bit of this short, three-part documentary about Himes which is posted on YouTube. Best known for his novel — “If He Hollers Let Him Go,” Himes’s was always in motion in life and on the page. Though he lived both in Harlem and Paris, he also spent some time in Los Angeles in the 1940s where he tried to make a living in the screentrade. In that time here, he wrote, If He Hollers, and another novel, The Lonely Crusade which depicts one of the early waves of the African American Great Migration and the strange new territory of Los Angeles.

with a nod to Collectif James Baldwin — many thinks for the heads up.