Lucinda Michele Knapp, managing editor of the L.A. Alternative, nominates S.A. Griffin as Beat avatar and should-be poet laureate of Los Angeles. Her cover story in today's issue includes history of the local poetry scene and the Onyx Café, and notes the curiosity that Griffin's wife, Lorraine Perotta, is a librarian at the Huntington working with the recently acquired Charles Bukowski literary archive. Excerpt:
I met S.A. Griffin during the end of 2000, my year of Pop-Tarts, when I was living halfassed and feeling glamorous about it. Subsisting on a diet of the aforementioned toaster pastries, expensive vodka, and the dregs of my student loans, most of my days were spent catching up from the one that came before and launching myself, oblivious, into the next. Both Griffin and myself were volunteering at killradio.org in Los Feliz, hosting our own radio shows back when the station had just launched, and it felt like we were going to conquer the airwaves of L.A. with anarchic creativity and revolutionary politics.
At every station meeting and the subsequent trip to Akbar or the 4100 Bar, Griffin exuded a strange and simple kindness with which I’d been previously unfamiliar. If life can be viewed as a work of art-analyzed for the perspective it takes, the kindness it confers on its subjects, the degree of abstraction or realism present in each day that’s lived-Griffin’s was a decidedly humanistic and gentle one.
A few years passed, I got a day job and pulled myself together (to a degree) and couldn’t host my midnight radio show any more. S.A. drifted one way, I another, and I missed him.
How do you explain the importance of one person around whom so much of Los Angeles poetry, then and now, framed itself, in paths both serendipitous and carefully engineered?
How do you gauge the relative importance of a person to the world? Their contributions, their help, their damage? Their art? How do you tell the story of a poet?
Of the scene at the Onyx Cafe, Knapp writes:
The Onyx became ground zero for the creative outsiders of Los Angeles in the late ’80s and through the long, hot ’90s. Frequenting the place were writers Steve Abee, Hope Urban and Mark Eherman; artists Van Arno, Mark Durham, Anthony Ausgang, Alfredo de Batuc, Carol Es, Louie Metz, Manuel Ocampo, Mike Cronin and Gronk; Blessing of the Cars organizer Gabriel Baltierra; Germs member Don Bolles; Marcel de Jure and the Cinnamon Roll Gang; Zack de la Rocha; burlesque queen Scarlette Fever; Beck and Channing Hansen; performance troupe the L.A. Mudpeople, and local actors like Forrest Whitaker and Lily Tomlin-who would come in with her girlfriends and chat in a tight, protective knot. There were weekly readings and open mics. It was a home for refugees from L.A.’s soul-crushing corporate culture.
“I didn’t feel it so much at the time, but now that I look back, it was akin to the Beats in Venice or in San Francisco,” says Pleasant Gehman, a poet and prolific writer with roots in the Hollywood punk rock scene.
Photo: Aaron Farley