Between Stations


“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.
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


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.

“A Nice Neighborhood to Have Bad Habits In”

The Big Sleep

“It was about eleven o’clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills.

I was wearing my powder-blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark little clocks on them. I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars.”

― Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep

First published on this day February 6, 1939

Criss Cross 1949

WE JUST watched this in my L.A. class the other night.

The opening sequence with the herky-jerky flight over downtown Los Angeles always sends me.

And this line: “Hello, baby,” Slim Dundee says to his wife, Anna, while Steve stands nearby in his undershirt. “You know it don’t look right,” he tells her, “you can’t exactly say it looks right, now can you?”