IT’S BEEN a long stretch of silence around here. That’s mostly due to big deadline juggling and such but there is light at the end of the tunnel. (Stay tuned).
In the meantime, on top of a book deadline, I have been writing a bit about the city through the lens of a few books.
A few months I did a group essay/review of Gary Krist’s “Mirage Factory” and Shawn Levy’s history of the Chateau Marmot, “The Castle on Sunset” with a little side chat with Janet Fitch to round it out.
Both books take a deep look at the city’s history while also examining boosterism and grand promises that L.A. didn’t always keep.
Krist’s book looks at the origin stories of some of these myths, Levy’s the extension of them, and helps us understand why, to this day, we are still untangling truth from fable.
You can click here to read the piece up at LA Times books.
AS A JOURNALIST, I was lucky enough to spend lots of time with Buddy Collette, the jazz composer, bandleader and woodwind player who was also a native to this shapeshifting place, Los Angeles. I learned so much from Buddy about L.A. and its music scene. He was instrumental in helping to integrate the Local 47 Musicians’ Union. As well, he spent decades performing in clubs and classrooms, educating new generations about jazz and the role of Central Avenue in that story.
Jack’s Basket Room
Buddy was the first person to introduce me to Jack’s Basket Room. He referred to it “Jack’s Basket.” It was an after-hours club on South Central Avenue. Low key, large room with a simple stage where local musicians as well as those who were traveling through town, would stop by for a gig. One of the first stories Buddy told me over lunch at Nibbler’s (“Where every table is a booth”) was about Charlie Parker’s famous post-Camarillo gig at Jack’s. He was in attendance. Sitting down in front. If you were in town and were a musician, you needed to be there to bear witness.
Up until a few years ago, the shell of Jack’s still stood. You could drive by it and imagine what it was like to see a cluster of musicians lingering outside hoping to hear the great Bird let loose.
My new piece about the club and what happened with the building is now up at Alta. Click here to see what the old spot looked like and read Buddy’s words about what it was like to sit there and be transported by the music.
A LITTLE over a week ago, I received word that a collaborator, confidant and friend Carolyn Kozo Cole had passed away. Carolyn was the head of the Los Angeles Public Library’s photo collection for nearly 20 years and through her creativity, focus and imagination she was able to help us all see Los Angeles in a more complete and inclusive way.
from LAPL’S Shades of L.A. Collection
I met Carolyn in the early 90s when I arrived at one of the branch libraries in South Los Angeles do a story for L.A. Style magazine on the then-nascent photo collection project, “Shades of L.A.” “Shades” was Carolyn’s brainchild: Her plan set-in-motion was to collect snapshots from diverse family albums from across the Southland to fill in the library’s holdings. This she knew would mean an active search for images that would tell us a deeper and more complex story about the region — photos beyond ribbon cuttings, and landmark buildings and new parkways.
The photo below, of a garden wedding in Watts has stayed with me for decades now. It is from the book, Shades of L.A. a brief compendium that samples some of the project’s key finds. This photo is meaningful because in certain ways it was the very absence of quotidian images like this that sent Carolyn on her journey. “What did Watts look like before the uprisings of 1965? The houses, the streets, the businesses?” “How and where did people celebrate milestone moments in their lives?” she wondered. The library didn’t have anything beyond a photo of the old railroad depot. Surely there was more. Those, she realized, would be part of family collections. They would be the photographs that chronicled the everyday.
I wrote an appreciation about Carolyn that will appear in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times you can read it here online.
I miss her emailed anecdotes and her phone calls and her little stack of special finds just for me. But every time I happen upon a photo like the one above from the online Shades archive, I know that she has truly given us so much that we will be using to understand Los Angeles and tell better stories about it for generations to come.
A FEW months back, I had the pleasure to sit down for a few hours with San Francisco Poet Laureate Kim Shuck for a wide-ranging conversation facilitated by Denise Sullivan for Boom: A Journal of California. You can find it here.
Wandering North Beach: My Home Away From Home
For two cities that are so very different on the surface, we found we had similar experiences growing up in our respective home towns. I have lived both places and have watched both cities shift around me. Each one has left its mark in ways that are measurable and indelible.
I HAD one of my first birthday parties at the Bob Baker Marrionette Theater, oh so many years ago. Puppets and sugar, who wouldn’t be happy? So it will be a thrill to be part of this event next Wednesday evening, November 14. Join me and these fine folks for a new episode of “Tom Explores Los Angeles” for an evening of puppetry and storytelling, “told through the windshield.”
This will be one of the final performances at the treasure of an old space that miraculously still sits at that busy crossing where Glendale Boulevard meets Second Street at the edges of downtown Los Angeles.
To purchase tickets, follow this link.
We will have a reception afterwards and books will be available for purchase.
It’s here…My new book, ”After/Image: Los Angeles Outside the Frame,” on Angel City Press, is making its way out into the world. It’s a collection of essays and photographs examining sense-of-place and the ever-evolving identity of the City of Angels.
I’ll be doing readings next month at Skylight Books (3/18), Eso Won Bookstore (3/19) and Vroman’s Bookstore (3/22). I will also be at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books April 21 & 22. Please stay tuned for details.
And if you are away from L.A., here’ where you can purchase directly from Angel City Press.
THIS WAS incredible news! The in-depth essay I researched and wrote for this beautiful box set, won the Best Album Notes Grammy yesterday. I am still over the moon, especially because it was a project that set its larger goal as getting all three nights — and all sets — of Redding’s run at the Whisky A Go Go that April 1966 in pristine listening shape for the world to hear.
Redding was poised to take the next big step in his career and looked at L.A. as not a stepping stone but a launching pad. These recordings reveal his enthusiasm, prowess and charm.
Here’s a little more here about the set.
And this from the LAT about the Grammy win.
THE OTHER big news really came out of the blue.
I wrote the album notes for the fancy re-issue of Otis Redding Live at the Whisky A Go Go and got the news that the essay received a Grammy nomination. To say that I was surprised is an understatement. I’m really happy that it puts Redding’s legacy in the spotlight. Truly gone too soon.
Here’s a short reaction interview that appeared on the Angel City Press site.
Awards announced this year in New York City, January 28.
A DEEPLY involving and bittersweet presentation at #LAPL’s Central Library on Saturday afternoon. Annie Laskey and her mother Marlene hatched a plan to walk the stretch of Wilshire Boulevard from its downtown high-rises and mid-town department stores to the edges of the sea. Annie mentioned that the thrill at first was less about the walk and more about getting to operate the Minolta SLR. Annie shot and Marlene made note (see the notebook in the grid below). While Marlene and many of the iconic locations that the Laskeys recorded are no longer with us, the absences were filled with vivid stories. Grateful for the Laskeys and their. sticktoitiveness Hundreds of sites have now been preserved on Kodachrome slides. The Wilshire Boulevard — the Carnation Building, Mutual of Omaha, Ambassador Hotel– that still exists in my head flickered to life with her stories. You can glimpse 100 of those images in a new book, “The Wilshire Slides 1978–1979” put out through LAPL’s Photo Collection and Photo Friends the nonprofit organization formed to support & promote the collection.
SCENES FROM last week’s opening festivities for “Octavia E. Butler — Telling My Stories” at the Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens in San Marino.
A special thank you to curator Natalie Russell who carefully selected 100 objects out of a vast archive of 8,000 to illustrate Butler’s life, work and struggle. It’s a beautiful survey of a singular life. We are all grateful to Butler for gifting her papers to the Huntington so that so many more people can learn about her way of looking at and being in the world. Most affecting is her depth of curiosity, her blinders-on focus. For all the sacrifice and sense of mission, her dedication at moments feels matchless.
The exhibit is up through August. Come early. Give yourself enough time to wander through. There is much to linger over, digest and celebrate.