Observing Los Angeles

Scott Timberg on leaving Los Angeles*

The Stahl House in the Hollywood Hills. LA Observed file photo.

Journalist Scott Timberg has a piece online now at Los Angeles Magazine about the personal process of breaking up with LA that began even before he was laid off from his culture reporting job at the LA Times in 2008 — and lost his house in 2011 while freelancing. Scott now has a staff gig writing about culture for Salon but he and his family have packed up for Athens, Georgia. [* Not Santa Fe, as the story implied - ed.] The editor of the LA anthology "Misread City" and author recently of Culture Crash: The Killing of the Creative Class, writes in the piece about why that is and about others he knows who went through the same metamorphosis.

"I have no doubt that it must be a blast to be young, rich, or famous in today’s Los Angeles," he writes. "I used to be one of those things, though it didn’t last as long as I’d expected….If L.A. began as a love affair with a beautiful and engaging (albeit neurotic) young woman, the city now seems like the girl who cheated on me and passed on a disease."

An excerpt from the piece:

In a sense you can never really leave Southern California: Put on the Byrds or Dr. Dre, or watch Three’s Company or M*A*S*H or a John Ford movie, and you’re back here, even when it’s a location pretending to be somewhere else. Los Angeles has colonized our imaginations. Visit many other cities, Rodriguez points out—Houston, Atlanta, Vegas, Austin, Seattle—and you’re in a place that’s emulated L.A.’s rambling horizontalism.

But there’s another, deeper way we can never leave L.A.: The city transforms people. Even those who arrived here as adults and then left consider themselves Angelenos. A former film publicist who lived in Los Feliz (for $625 a month) listens to KCRW online from her house in Portland, Maine. Siobhan Spain, who resettled in the Midwest when the Chinatown gallery she directed shut down, remembers L.A. as a magical place: “Where else, on any certain day, could you witness Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting at Walt Disney Concert Hall, walk by a homeless person defecating on the sidewalk, swim near dolphins at Point Dume State Beach, help install artwork by Sanford Biggers, sit in traffic for over an hour, watch your friend act in an episode of Nip/Tuck, and go to sleep with ghetto birds circling your neighborhood?”

The musician Stew grew up here, founding the group the Negro Problem, but has come and gone several times. New York, Amsterdam, and Berlin gave him the sense that he was at the center of something rather than being eclipsed by the industry’s heft. “Los Angeles,” he says, “had a tendency to make you feel small.” He left in 2004 for New York, partly because of a commission by the Public Theater for what became the musical Passing Strange. The east is full of philanthropists supporting culture. “In L.A. you’re kind of on your own,” Stew says. Today he lives in Brooklyn, in a brownstone near Prospect Park. But not completely. “You take L.A. with you wherever you go,” he says. “I will never be a New York artist. I will always make music from the garage in the backyard.” He’s a Beach Boy, not a Ramone.

It’s human nature to try to make meaning out of life, to build narrative shapes out of events and images. That may be, in the end, what creativity is about…

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