The View from the Air — Life Along L.A.’s airwaves…

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I CAN’T remember when I wasn’t radio-obsessed. Growing up in Los Angeles, the radio was my first set of keys. You could visit so many far-flung places by way of announcers, DJs and deep, loose mixes that brought together textures of a vivid city. The radio could inspire. It could also be a release valve. Call letters were addresses to places where you could wander in and sit a spell.

Tonight at Clockshop in Frogtwon we are having our first “LAtitudes: An Agneleno’s Atlas” event, bringing together four writers from the project. Wendy Gilmartin, Josh Kun, Michael-Jamie Becera and I will talk about ugly buildings, L.A. soundscapes, tacos and ghost frequencies, respectively.

You can read an excerpt of Latitudes here, now up at KCET|Artbound (thanks!) And here is a little tumbler I created to go with the piece if you want to hear some of the touchstones, music, voices I’ve referenced in the essay. Click here.

After tonight’s formal presentations , Josh and I will be playing music either inspired by or recorded in Los Angeles.

And of course, there will be tacos and L.A. spirits to go with the stories …

Come share your L.A. with us.

How Well Do You Know Your City?

YOU DON’T only traverse L.A. via its boulevards, streets and avenues. So much of what we learn and understand about the city is a busy map that’s comprised of personal experience, memory and ever-evolving point-of-view.
LAtitudescover

This weekend we will be gathering at a few spots around the city to talk about what’s not always easily discernible on the city’s East-West/North-South gird. And,  while we’re at it, we’ll be celebrating publication of LAttidudes: An Angelenos Atlas.

If you’d like to join in, this weekend you have a couple of events to choose from:

Saturday the LAttidues crew will be A Clockshop in Elysian Valley (AKA Frogtown) for an event called “Uncovering LA” It will be in an opportunity for readers and Atlas writers to interact. Guests will spend 5-10 minutes with each writer, rotating from table to table at the sound of a bell. Josh Kun, Wendy Gilmartin, Michael Jaime-Becerra and I will be on hand sharing stories from our essays. (I’ll be reading a little bit from my essay, “The View from the Air” — about L.A. radio).  Atlas editor, Patricia Wakida will join us as well — and Josh and I will be “spinning” music after the talks are through.

Your admission includes on the house tacos plates (vegetarian optinos) by María Amezquita. Special drinks based on LAtitudes by mixologist Forrest Hudis will also be available for purchase.

Sunday is the LAttitudes Launch Party @ Skylight Books

May 3, 2015
5:00pm 7:00pm
Skylight Books
1818 N Vermont Ave in Los Feliz

There will be readings, a presentation by cartographer David Deis about what went into the design of the maps, and a signing afterward. Also, you’re encouraged to join the short walking tour beforehand (at 4pm). Led by LAttidues contributors, the tour will begin at the Sunset/Vermont Metro station and will make Atlas-related stops along the way, finishing up at Skylight.

For more info about LAttidues and other upcoming events, please click here.

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

Looking for the Lost City

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IN THE last few years, I’ve been taking copious notes: Written and photographic ones. I didn’t have a project in mind when I started; it was, instead, a conversation I was having in my head with Los Angeles — the lost city. Some of these thoughts/notes I’ve begun to explore more formally, and they are now making their way out into the world. You’ll find a piece here at Zócalo Public Square. It’s about place and memory and what connects us to a place we call home.

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

What Endures

I JUST stumbled across this moment via Nowness late yesterday afternoon. Ed Ruscha taking a drive through memory — the land and soundscape of Los Angeles.

This is a subject that’s filtered through my mind a lot of late. Sometimes I hit a memory vein that is so rich it is almost unbearable.

From the piece:

“Almost more than the changes of the city I notice when things don’t change,” muses Ruscha. “Despite the huge development that is happening on Sunset Boulevard there is still a lot that is pretty much the way it was 50 years ago. There are concrete abutments, kerbing and certain peculiarities to the growth of a city that were there many years ago.”

To view the video and read the entire piece click here: