Hollywood residents received an early Thanksgiving treat when Hennessey + Ingalls Art and Architecture bookstore opened a new branch at the new Space 15 Twenty complex on Ivar, above Sunset Blvd, this week. On Wednesday, I discovered Brett Hennessey and his staff stocking shelves and helping customers. Urban Outfitters took the master lease and has developed a bustling alleyway of creative spaces filled with smaller, pop-up-boutique-type subtenants, including the bookstore. Brett told me that the Hollywood satellite joins the Santa Monica store, which remains on Wilshire Blvd. The Hollywood store will focus more on visual art titles yet carry the same mix of art and architecture books. There's a big grand opening planned for the entire complex on Saturday, December 6th. The Hollywood branch will also host author events in 2009.
After the extreme highs of election night, and the extreme lows of Wall Street … after watching housing values soar far beyond the wildest dreams of homeowners, then seeing many of them foreclosed upon ... after bracing ourselves for the approach of $5-per-gallon gasoline, only to witness its sudden retreat to less than $2 a gallon ... after drinking more water to be healthy, then learning that the plastic bottles from which we drink it might contain hazardous chemicals ... after all of that, and more, it's likely I'm not the only one who believes what this nation needs now is pie.
Apple pie. Pumpkin pie. Pecan pie.
President-elect Barack Obama appeared to tap a similar sentiment during today's pre-holiday press conference, at which he said: "... I've tried to bring together the best economic minds, people who don't always agree with each other but who all share a commitment to make sure we're growing the pie …"
Yes! By all means! Grow the pie!
For too long our nation has been trying to "make the pie higher." But now the time has come to grow the pie, to fetch it down from the lofty windowsill of the wealthy, and put it within the reach of all on the kitchen table of democracy.
This year we can be thankful for whatever size slice we have, but especially for the hope of a bigger pie to come.
The Plaza, Los Angeles, circa 1880 by Carleton Watkins / J. Paul Getty Museum
Carleton Watkins, whose images of 19th-century California are the stars of an exhibition at the Getty Museum, had a simple motto: to stand "where the view looks best." Weston Naef, the Getty's senior photography curator, calls Watkins "the greatest American photographer before Alfred Stieglitz....He was an artist in the very strictest sense of the word. He was probably the first American to show a purely photographic imagination — as opposed to a painterly imagination...."
For Naef, the exhibit represents decades of admiration for his subject. Watkins was probably the first to photograph Yosemite and his astounding images of the valley and the Mariposa Grove of big trees propelled the first federal protection of the Sierra Nevada wilderness.
Born in 1829 in Oneonta, New York, Watkins arrived in San Francisco in 1850 and was hired by childhood friend Collis P. Huntington (who later founded the Central Pacific Railroad) to deliver supplies to Gold Rush mines. After fire consumed Huntington's enterprise, Watkins worked as a carpenter and bookseller and began taking scenic daguerreotypes of the Mother Lode country. He moved to San Francisco and photographed the estates of the city's wealthy, making important contacts through Huntington and at social occasions in the home of Jessie Benton Frï¿½mont, writer and activist wife of the former U.S. Senator and general John C. Frï¿½mont.
Watkins accepted commissions to provide photos for court cases and clients such as the State Geological Survey, but it's his personal projects that display his abundant spirit of exploration. Watkins reached Yosemite via the Mariposa Trail for the first time in 1858-59 and returned many times. He had a San Francisco cabinet maker create a camera capable of accommodating glass plates as large as 18 inches by 22 inches. The amazingly detailed photographs made with the unique "mammoth plate" camera brought Watkins international renown. He used an enclosed wagon to transport hundreds of pounds of camera equipment, glass and chemicals needed to develop his glass plate negatives, sometimes pulled by mules and sometimes loaded on a rail flatcar. He traveled hard miles around California and the Farallon Islands off San Francisco, and ventured afar to destinations such as Yellowstone, Puget Sound, South America and the Arizona Territory outpost of Tombstone.
Watkins produced more than 1,100 mammoth-plate photographs, making him one of the 19th century's most prolific photographers. Some of his best-known images are panorama views of San Francisco in the 1860s and rare images of the crumbling California missions. He traveled by rail to southern California for the first time in 1876-77 and again in 1880-81 to photograph the burgeoning oil industry, agriculture, and other subjects.
Thompson's Seedless Grapes, Kern County 1880 by Carleton Watkins / J. Paul Getty Museum
The Los Angeles that Watkins visited would have seemed like a wild west boomtown (and part Mexican pueblo.) It was far from most evidence of civilization. H.H. Bancroft in "Bancroft's Guide For Travelers by Railway, Stage, and Steam Navigation" called Los Angeles:
The oldest and largest city of Southern California, having 5,614 inhabitants, many of whom are foreigners. It is situated in a narrow valley, about 22 miles from the sea, on the Los Angeles River. The city is rapidly growing in population and wealth, and the surrounding country abounds with extensive and flourishing vineyards, groves of oranges, lemons, olives, and other tropical fruits. Connected with San Francisco by steamer and railroad, via San Pedroï¿½
In Los Angeles, Watkins continued to associate with influential people like Don Benito Wilson, a rancho owner and former mayor. Watkins, according to Naef, had an "ingrained sense of history" and made a point of photographing the historic plaza where Los Angeles was founded. It's not by accident that the stereograph contains elements that are symbols of the city's origins, including the old plaza church ( Our Lady the Queen of the Angels), Fort Moore Hill and the adobe home of former Californio leader Andres Pico. It's conceivable that Watkins would have encountered Pio Pico, California's last Mexican governor, sunning himself on the plaza.
Watkins' record of the state's historic Franciscan missions took him all over California, starting with Mission Dolores in San Francisco. His photograph of Mission San Fernando, Rey de España, is in the Getty show. While here he also photographed the beach in Santa Monica, locales in the San Gabriel Valley and Point Fermin lighthouse.
Beach and Bathing House at Santa Monica, 1880 by Carleton Watkins / J. Paul Getty Museum
Though he achieved international fame and commercial and artistic success, Watkins' endured financial distress when his sight began to fail. In 1895-6 he lived with his wife and children in an abandoned railroad car, until Huntington deeded him a ranch in rural Yolo County. In the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire, Watkins lost all of his glass-plate negatives, business records, archives, and personal papers. In 1910 he was committed to Napa State Hospital for the Insane. He died in poverty in 1916 and was buried in an unmarked grave. It was a tragic end for the artist who, according to the Getty, played a "dominant role in establishing an outdoor photographic tradition in California."
Says Naef, "his photographs were as perceptive as the words of a poet and they provide a unique personal vision of the birth and growth of California."
Dialogue Among Giants: Carleton Watkins runs at the Getty until March 1, 2009.
I grew up in Detroit. I have the disease.
My first bout with it involved a 1977 Chevy Camaro that I purchased for a mere $100, an investment that was soon dwarfed by the cost of the Bondo required to patch the rust holes in the fenders, not to mention the spray paint that, for the first time in years, made the car one solid color — primer red. There were additional expenses — the carburetor that had to be rebuilt, and the valve cover gasket I had to replace. Then there was the exhaust manifold and muffler, and the alternator, and the radiator, and the hole in the floor on the passenger side, and the horn, and the plugs, and the battery ... My brother and I split entire summers between the restaurant where we waited tables, and the cars under which we slaved and slept.
Determined as I was to distance myself from the car-killer curse suffered by my father, my first car still became my first money pit. However, unlike my father, who took new cars and drove them until the wheels fell off (OK, the wheels actually fell off only one of the cars he owned), I was investing in an education. Every dollar I put into that beat-up old Camaro was more than matched in blood and sweat. And in return I received invaluable knowledge, as well as the ability to recognize any crooked auto repairman seconds after he suggests an unnecessary repair. But with this knowledge also came an affliction that is difficult to describe. And so, each year, I pay a visit to the Auto Show alone.
Despite the anticipation going in, most times I leave feeling drained and depressed. (The Big Three lost my attention about the time Ford transformed the Mustang into a hatchback.) This year was mostly more of the same in that regard, except for the Chevrolet Camaro concept car, a version of which is set to hit assembly lines in 2009, and showrooms in the 2010 model year — provided there's still a GM assembly line up and running next year. Not that I'll be in the market for one, but I might pretend long enough to take a test drive.
I loved Erin Aubry Kaplan's salon essay on the meaning of Michelle Obama's derierre. However, not everyone did (to put it mildly), and she's written a response to the criticisms here. Erin is tremendous writer and I feel honored to count her as a dear friend. She's come under a lot of criticism for the piece, but anyone who knows Erin's work will understand the continuum from which this compelling meditation emerged.
Without referencing any of the near four dozen jobs eliminated a couple weeks ago — 17 from the newsroom, including three photographers and three reporters — Ventura County Star Editor Joe Howry wrote a column published in Sunday's edition that highlights how much better the suburban LA paper's local coverage is about to get.
Howry says "the changes we are making center on preserving the quality and quantity of local news." He says "the changes we've made are substantial, but they don't include fewer news reporters covering local news or a decline in our overall news coverage." He says he's "confident our local news coverage will increase as a result of the changes." (All the bold was added for emphasis by yours truly.)
Here's the gist:
"We understand how unsettling changes to the newspaper can be. To help readers navigate the changes, Monday's paper will provide a visual, comprehensive guide to how The Star has been reorganized.
The Star is evolving. We have become more streamlined and, in many ways, much more efficient. The one thing that has not changed through the evolutionary process is our DNA. We will continue to be the most complete and comprehensive source of local news in Ventura County."
There's even a John Lennon lyric quoted in the piece, though perhaps those who lost their jobs might consider a David Bowie lyric more apropos, something from "Changes," because "... They're quite aware of what they're going through."
Anyone who has ever worked in a newsroom knows how heavily corporate budget cuts and staff reductions weigh on the editors who must impose them. No one in this business wants to see anyone lose their job, particularly in an industry where people put so much effort into their work. I don't doubt for a second that Howry, for whom I used to write, hates like hell that it's come to this. Those who remain in any newspaper's employ after such a devastating layoff must soldier on, not just because their own futures depend upon it, but out of an obligation to the readers they serve. At the same time, however, those who've been let go as part of "changes" intended to strengthen the company's financial position deserve to at least be acknowledged, don't they? After all, everyone leaves eventually, and who wouldn't want to be well-remembered?
The 30,000 wild horses on Death Row are nearly out of appeals. They were condemned by the Government Accounting Office just in time for Veteran's Day - a profoundly cynical act when you consider that countless wild horses perished after being taken from the range and serving in the Civil War, our frontier wars, and World War I. The announcement concluded a dark cycle that began on July 4th as flag-draped horses paraded down Main Street, rekindling our birthday dreams and echoing our heartbeats with the clip-clop of their hooves. At that moment, the Bureau of Land Management stated that it may have to kill the "excess" mustangs in government housing as a cost-cutting move.
Since 1971, wild horses have been protected under the federal Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act, signed into law by Richard Nixon, who quoted Thoreau during a stirring speech about the role of wild horses in America's culture and history. Since then, the livestock industry - which views wild horses as thieves that steal food from cows - has tried to take the law down through five administrations, and under the Bush administration is finally succeeding. The unraveling began three years ago, when a rollback made it legal for the BLM to sell horses in its custody that are over ten or who haven't been adopted on the third try through its adopt-a-horse program to the lowest bidder. This meant a ticket to the slaughterhouse.
Several days after the unraveling began, a number of wild horses were immediately shipped to the killing floors. Now, the BLM says that while it doesn't like having to make tough calls, it may just have to go through with this one. Such is the language of dedicated bureaucrats, and it's not unlike the language that was used in the 19th Century, when the government realized that to vanquish Native Americans, it had to strip them of their horses.
As I document in my recently published book, Mustang: The Saga of the Wild Horse in the American West, in 1858, Colonel George Wright ordered the massacre of 800 horses that belonged to the Palouse tribe, east of what later became Spokane, Washington. The site is now known as Horse Slaughter Camp, and it has a stone marker. On Thanksgiving night in 1868, Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer attacked Black Kettle and his tribe along the Washita River in Oklahoma, killing the chief and many of his people, and then their 800 ponies. The Cheyenne woman Moving Behind, who was fourteen at the time, would later remember that the wounded ponies passed near her hiding place, moaning loudly, just like human beings. "There would be other horse massacres," I wrote, "as if prefiguring the coming government war against the horse itself."
And now, that war is upon us; what we did to the Indians we are about to do to ourselves - unless the many good citizens who are planning to confront the BLM's wild horse and burro advisory board at its annual public meeting on Monday in Reno can head off the disaster at the pass. "We may be fighting wars around the world," I conclude in my book, "but in the West, to paraphrase the great environmental writer Bernard deVoto, we are at war with ourselves. To me, there is no greater snapshot of that war than what we have done and continue to do to the wild horse. As it goes, so goes a piece of America, and one of these days, bereft of heritage, we may all find ourselves moving on down the road."
Note: for additional background on the situation, please see my Newsweek interview and my Los Angeles Times op-ed calling for a moratorium on round-ups.
For live streaming of the Reno meeting on Monday, November 17th, go here.
* UPDATE: After sunset, as the air cooled, the smell of the smoke, unfortunately, arrived.
That quake, known today in LA as simply "Northridge," pushed parts of the Santa Susana Mountains an additional 2 feet or more above sea level, started massive natural gas fires, collapsed bridges and buildings, buried people alive, killed 57, injured more than 9,000 and displaced at least 20,000.
It could have been worse, far worse.
Had Northridge occurred during work hours, when more people were in their cars beneath those bridges that failed, or at their desks in buildings that sustained major damage, there is no doubt that the death toll would have been much, much higher.
I wasn't here for Northridge, but after writing that story, I expect I tested my spouse's tolerance for doomsaying as I pushed us to prepare.
I secured all our shelving to the walls (I'm a writer, so that's a lot of shelving), stocked an ample supply of batteries and water (all rotated on schedule to ensure freshness), placed emergency kits in our vehicles (water, batteries, flashlights, first-aid supplies, matches, food, blankets, toothpaste, soap, toilet paper, tampons, etc...), purchased a set of two-way radios (cell phones won't work after a major quake), and, did I mention water and batteries?
Are you ready?
Today is The Great Southern California ShakeOut, "the largest earthquake preparedness activity in U.S. history." That alone is reason enough to check out the Web site and get a sense of what to expect. I guarantee it will at least move you to put together a reunion plan should such a disaster occur when everyone in your family is in a different location throughout the LA area.
Consider how much advance notice we get for hurricanes, and yet people inevitably end up stranded without food, water, or medical care.
Earthquakes are no-notice events.
Remember when airbrush art was THE visual language of Southern California? A true homegrown art form that started in the garages of hod rod hot heads and defined the look of the slick '70s. One could argue that graffiti art would never have made purchase upon our sensibilities without airbrush aesthetics paving the way.
Picturebox Books has just published, Overspray: Riding High With the Kings of California Airbrush Art, Norman Hathaway's lavish art book about the golden age of L.A. airbrush artists in the 70s. Hathaway has started an amusing and informative blog, supplementing the book.
In celebration, Family Books on Fairfax will host a book launch on Wednesday, November 12, 2008 at 7 PM. Hathaway will be there along with airbrush giants Charles E. White, Dave Willardson. As an extra treat, the legendary LA art director, Mike Salisbury, will also be at the event.
A large exhibition of vintage airbrush posters, including Charlie White's extremely rare Star Wars poster, will be on display at the event.
It's just four days since Barack Obama became president-elect and already the knives are out. On Cafe Press, where capitalism meets the First Amendment, more than 18,000 "Impeach Obama" items are now on sale. On Facebook, you'll find 17 pages of groups agitating for impeachment, the largest of which already tops 6,000 members. Comments on political web sites large and small are so highly charged, I can't bear to link to them. Wonder if any of those fine Americans realize Obama stood up for our outgoing chief executive, saying talk of impeaching George Bush was "unacceptable".
According to the Washington Post, Obama's LA County margin of victory over McCain, which exceeded a million votes, fell just 4,091 votes short of his million-plus victory in Cook County, where he lives. The margin in Manhattan was a mere 411,000 and in San Francisco, just 168,000. This nifty interactive map tells the story. Related LA Observed post.
* In Saturday's LA Times, Tim Rutten does the numbers.
* The temple's proper name is the "Los Angeles California Temple" of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
As LAO Chicken Corner regularly reminds us, we, Echo Park residents, are very serious about our pets, past and present. Roger Vargo of Explore Historic California will present a multimedia lecture on the Room 8 cat of Echo Park's Elysian Heights Elementary School fame at the Echo Park branch of the Los Angeles Library on Saturday, November 8 at 2 pm.
A personal connection triggered Mr. Vargo's interest in this topic. "I'm proud to say I was a student at Elysian Heights and knew Room 8. Room 8 was the most famous cat in Los Angeles," Roger once told an interviewer, "[the cat] lived at Elysian Heights School in Echo Park from 1952 until his death in 1968. He was the subject of a biographic book, appeared in LOOK Magazine and was in newspapers, radio and TV numerous times. Beverly Mason, the principal of Elysian Heights, was the cat's biographer, benefactor and protector."
The cat's legacy has even reached into the Internet age. There's a Room 8 Cat blog but what we really need is a Room 8 Cat Twitter feed. I can just imagine the Tweets:
"Mrs. O'Mara's class just went out to recess. What a relief. Those kids are driving me bonkers"
"The parakeet in Room 2 told the hamster in Room 4 who told me, during an intense interrogation, that FBI agents paid a visit to a teacher with questions about the Communist activities of a student's parents."
"Wait, was that an earthquake?"
The Twitterverse is full of non human Twitterers. At Ecce Homeroom, I twitter the musings of a wry hamster living la vida loco as an adopted pet of Mrs. Ochoa's 1st grade class at an elementary school on Mount Washington.
Perhaps my Ecce Hamster's next Twitter follower will be Room 8 Cat.
Layoffs are horrible. No doubt. No matter when they take place, it's a bad time. So, is it worse for a company to do a layoff immediately after it got the election coverage it wanted? Worse, for example, than doing the layoff the week of Christmas?
Yes. Yes it is.
• It looks like other Scripps properties are getting hit with layoffs today too. Here's one at the Southwest Florida Group, which includes the Naples Daily News, Bonita Daily News, and Marco Eagle.
• Coverage of the layoff by the National Press Photographers Association.
• Three more Scripps properties are reporting layoffs. The Caller-Times in Corpus Christi, TX, is losing 23 positions, The Abilene Reporter News is eliminating "seven full-time and four part-time positions between now and the end of the year," and the Evansville Courier & Press is losing 32 positions.
• The Ventura County Star put up a brief, sans the usual reader comment option, after 4 p.m.
In her beautiful and heartbreaking novel The White Bone, Barbara Gowdy tells the story of an elephant herd in Africa as it faces vanishing habitat, drought, and poachers. The story is rendered by way of characters such as Mud, She-Swaggers, and Tall-Time. They are on a quest to find the white bone, a sacred object which will lead their herd to safety. Like all nations, this one has its own way of describing things: a "flow stick" is a snake, a "sting" is a bullet, and humans are "hind-leggers."
"On their own, vehicles prefer to sleep," Mud observes, speaking of jeeps that approach the herd before predations, "but whenever a human burrows inside them they race and roar and discharge a foul odor."
What must elephants think of zoos?
"Elephants don't live in zoos," says LA City councilman Tony Cardenas, "they die in zoos." He's referring to the fact that since 1975, thirteen elephants have died in captivity at the Los Angeles Zoo. As of today there is only one elephant left. "His name is Billy," reports the Voices for the Animals Foundation, "a 21-year-old Asian Elephant who in his natural habitat would walk 20-30 miles per day with a life expectancy of 60 years. Billy stands still, bobbing his head unnaturally in a small facility, as other elephants have in the past, most of which never made it to age 20."
In 1998, the writer Deena Metzger began making pilgrimages to elephant habitat in Africa, learning to sit in council with the beleaguered pachyderms, promising them that she would look after their brothers and sisters. Last spring, she and other concerned citizens made a pilgrimage to the LA Zoo, where they gathered at Billy's enclosure and passed some time. "He was clearly traumatized," Metzger says, no doubt suffering from all manner of things, among them capture myopathy, which fells many a great, incarcerated creature.
Today, at 2:30 pm, the Los Angeles City Council is holding a hearing on a motion to close the elephant exhibit at the Los Angeles Zoo and move Billy to a sanctuary. (And, yes, the proposal has celebrity proponents, including Bill Maher, Lily Tomlin, and Cher). "This is about being humane," says Cardenas, who introduced the motion and also created the city's Animal Cruelty Task Force. "Closing down the elephant exhibit and sending Billy to a sanctuary is the right thing to do. It's time for LA to join the twelve other U.S. cities that have chosen to embrace the 21st century with compassion."
For more information about the hearing, the issue, Billy, and whom to contact if you are unable to attend, click on http://www.vftafoundation.org/lazoowatch.htm.
And, on a note of full disclosure, Deena Metzger provided an endorsement for my latest book.
Does a newspaper land in your driveway each morning? For most of my neighbors, the answer is no. In my front yard, a trio of thuds (NYT, LAT, LADN) announce the real start of each day. Today, though, that's just not enough. Today, I need more.
The Newseum's the place to go to see hundreds of front pages from throughout the nation. Seems I'm not the only one with this craving, though, as the site is pretty much crashed right now. Not to worry -- the Huffington Post has turned a nice selection of newspaper fronts into a slide show. Tons more here, too.
Helps you realize just what happened in America yesterday. Amazing. Historic. Astonishing.
I've posted a brief photo essay online at www.TJSullivanLA.com, and plan to add to it throughout the day. (More photos available here after the jump.)
I'll be hitting the books hard tonight in preparation for going to the polls tomorrow. However, I won't be scanning election guides or campaign materials. Hard up for cash, I've signed up to be a pollworker at a precinct in Culver City. I haven't prepped this hard since sitting for the California bar exam.
I attended a training in South Pasadena last Wednesday where instructors introduced the new ballot box lid procedures and taught us how to process typical and provisional votors, set up polling places, practice audio ballot and Inkavote procedures and treat each voter with dignity and respect. Between instruction modules, leaders had us repeat the Registrar's prime directive: "Voting Never Stops" while the polls are open. Here's what I've learned so far--Over 120 million are expected to vote on Election Day. The Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder pollworker's newsletter is called "The Pollcat" and includes an election process-flavored cross-word puzzle. I love that. Did you know that a police escort accompanies each ballot box on the ride to Norwalk for processing? I didn't. This is serious stuff!
I am ready, excited and PROUD to be part of this year's Presidential General Election. I have never seen so much energy devoted to our democratic process amongst ordinary citizens (I was born in 1964 so I was too young to engage in all that New Frontier Society/civil rights excitement). At dinner parties, cocktail events and Starbucks runs, friends and acquaintances share their experiences working on campaigns or registering voters. Fellow LAObserved.com contributors, Erika Schickel and Cari Beauchamp have written about their participation in the Nevada "Drive for Change" canvassing operations and I'm sure that more stories will be forthcoming.
Voter participation is the first sign of health for a democracy. An engaged polity prompts an interest in information exchange and education as citizens struggle to stay informed. Even an idiot savant like Elizabeth Hassellbeck on "The View" now prints out information that she's downloaded from the Internet to support her arguments. People start learning to think for themselves and enjoying it. That hasn't happened in the US in a looong time. Regardless of Election Day outcomes, I think America's on the mend if every citizen exercises his or her right to vote. We are all better off when "Voting Never Stops."
5. No more crazy commute.
4. Hundreds of emails from people who were actually reading my stuff. (Who knew?)
3. Scores of lovely emails from my former co-workers. (Thank you!)
2. In the next round of layoffs (oh, yes) I don't have to worry.
1. I can finally say this: NO ON PROP 8!!!
Just as Studs Turkel shuffles off this worldly stage, a new voice emerges from the wings...
And We Shall March blog shares the news that Los Angeles poet, Douglas Kearney, just received one of the coveted 2008 Whiting Writers Awards, a $50,000 prize bestowed upon writers of exceptional talent and promise early in their careers. This is a major award and puts Kearney in the company of past recipients like Denis Johnson, Jorie Graham, Kim Edwards, William T. Vollman, Sarah Ruhl, Mark Doty, Jeffrey Eugenides, David Foster Wallace, and Colson Whitehead. Kearney is on a roll this year: he's also one of the five poets in the country named a 2008 National Poetry Series winner for his upcoming book, The Black Automaton, coming out in 2009.
He's slated to perform on Monday, November 3rd at the Red Hen Press at the Geffen "Language Uncoiled" show with Saul Williams. Kearney will perform at the Boston Court Performing Arts Center in Pasadena on December 8, 2008, 7pm
I visited Hillhurst and Russell in Los Feliz on Saturday morning, hoping to make a post-Halloween pilgrimage to sci fi/horror movie maven Forrest J Ackerman's "Ackermansionette," but found it closed to the general public. There was of activity inside, but it seemed a private event. The young man at the door said Forrest wasn't doing many open houses these days. His website is down. I hope that he's in good health. Let me know if there's any news.
ETA: an LAO reader sent me an email saying that the news isn't good. Mr. Ackerman is ailing. He is suffering from pneumonia and congestive heart failure. Friends are stopping by and calling to connect with him and it sound like he's surrounded with love. He is also getting his business affairs in order as evidenced by reports that his lawyer dropped in this weekend with papers for Mr. Ackerman to sign. That's so vital! John Landis also stopped in to pay his respects.
I hope he recovers. I'd hate to have to say "goodbye" without ever getting the chance to say "hello."
Skylight Books celebrates its 12th birthday this Sunday with a cake cutting ceremony at 3 PM.
The November issue of the bookstore's newsletter just came out (it should be online shortly). Manager Kerry Slattery wrote a tribute to acting educator, Milton Katselas, who died on October 24th. Kerry informed readers that Milton was was instrumental in the store's formation. He partnered with others to create the store, fearing for the cultural life of Los Feliz neighborhood after Chatterton's Bookshop closed its doors in the same space in 1994.
I never knew the story behind Skylight's origins but the mention of Chatterton's Bookshop brings back memories. I had been shopping at Chatterton's since its days in Pasadena at Colorado Blvd and Oakland Avenue and followed it when proprietors reduced operations to the Los Feliz store. As a teen in the early '80s, I had my Saturday lit ritual: rise early to peruse the stacks of the Pasadena Central library, stop at Chatterton's in Los Feliz on Vermont, visit the Onyx coffee house, get some sfogliatelle at Sarno's Bakery, and then make my way to AMOK and Circus Books in the Sunset Junction. I'd always pass the Philosophical Research Society on my way to Vermont Ave, but was too scared to stop in. Ah, youth. Now I haunt the PRS bookstore.
I left LA for law school in the Bay Area in 1988. When I returned to the area for visits in the '90s, Skylight had taken its Chatterton's store front but I never knew the backstory.
I can't make it to Skylight today but I will be attending their popular Literary Salon on November 15th at 4pm. Staffers plan to share treasures from their favorite graphic novel presses. Join us!
Halloween may have come and gone but Los Angeles is still on holiday high alert. Families are preparing for their own versions of "Dia De Los Muertos" and many cemeteries have organized big celebrations around communing with ancestors.
LA Eastside blog posted an excellent round up of events happening this weekend: Self Help Graphics's annual celebration, Olvera Street observances, traditional strolling musicians abound at Resurrection Cemetery in Montebello...
Even non-Chicano Angelenos are integrating the tradition into their lives. The Pasadena Museum of History hosts "A Walk Through Time: Shadows of Blue and Gray: California Stories of the Civil War" at the Mountain View Cemetery, 2400 Fair Oaks Avenue, Altadena. Saturday and Sunday, November 1 & 2, 2008
Performances each day at 11:00 am, 1:00 pm & 3:00 pm
Angelenos also have the opportunity to propitiate someone else's ancestors. Forest Lawn Glendale Museum's current exhibit, "In Search of Tiki," celebrating deities of both traditional and contemporary tiki culture, provides the perfect opportunity to indulge in the Polynesian form of ancestor worship.
I learned all of this at a special "Art of the Tiki" lecture held at the museum on October 12th. It was eerie to listen to co-curators, Douglas Nason and Jeff Fox, tell us about the cultures surviving in the "ring of fire" zone of the Pacific while fires raged in surrounding hills that weekend. We, Angelenos, can learn lots from cultures that used totemism to cope with volcanic eruptions, typhoons, venomous sea snakes, biting centipedes, brush fires, earthquakes, and tsunami. Perhaps we need to build more backyard shrines to stave off impending environmental disaster, as well.
Doug Nason, author and Oceanic art expert, explained that the term "tiki" refers to wood carvings representing gods or deified ancestors worshiped by indigenous cultures throughout the Pacific. He told me later that this show came about when another venue fell through and organizers quickly realized Forest Lawn Glendale would be a perfect fit since the museum's permanent collection included a large Easter Island sculpture (Maoi), nicknamed "Henry" by Forest Lawn museum staff. Don't forget to ask for the excellent, complimentary "Art of Tiki" catalog, which carefully explains the difference between "tiki" and "Tiki:" tiki is a widely used word to describe any human-like figure depicted in Oceanic art. While found in most Polynesian cultures, tiki in its purest sense is specific to the Marquesas Islands and New Zealand. "Tiki" translates as man, ancestor or god. Doug's catalog essay explains that "tiki is also a protector, a talisman, a sexual symbol or a totemic coat of arms."
The small but comprehensive exhibit offers visitors a survey of tiki art produced by indigenous cultures in different regions of the Pacific. Doug's lecture included a fascinating slide tour of indigenous tiki symbolism. He explained that Tiki Americana originated with WWII veterans of the Pacific Ocean theater who returned home with a greater appreciation for Hawaiian and Polynesian lifestyles, if not the most sophisticated understanding of indigenous cultures. James Michener's Tales of the South Pacific (1948) and subsequent film adaptation unleashed the first wave of mass Tiki Americana, also called the 'Polynesian Pop" fad, as postwar consumers rushed to introduce the exotic into their lifestyle. I thought it was interesting how Polynesian Pop worked its way into our culture from the bottom up, rather than the top down. The working class, not elites, embraced the aesthetic and supported the emergent Polynesian merchandising industry in the 50s and 60s.
Co-curator, Jeff Fox, took over from Doug to explain how the mid-century lounge culture appropriated the tiki aesthetic in the '50s and '60s. He also related how Southern California took advantage of its proximity to the Pacific Islands by disseminating Tiki Americana globally, often via the surfing and hot rod subcultures thriving in the area.
Jeff and Doug showed how Tiki Americana contributed to the Southern California's light manufacturing industry. Small art production companies and importers sprang up in order to meet the demand. Indeed, one of the special guests of the event was LeRoy E. Schmaltz, one of the owners of Oceanic Arts, the seminal important, Tiki restaurant/prop design company. They outfitted most of the tiki-themed commercial enterprises in the US, including the original Adventureland concession at Disneyland. One cannot deny Disney's impact on the tiki subculture in the US. The exhibit is chock full of Disneyana, including original conceptual drawings for "The Enchanted Tiki Room" by noted Disney animator and conceptual designer, Marc Davis. His family even lent drawings and artifacts that Mr. Davis had collected during field trips to Papua New Guinea. Disney fans should take note that a show devoted to the art of Marc Davis will open at the Forest Lawn Glendale Museum Gallery on May 8, 2009.
The show also includes examples of contemporary tiki art by artists such as Shag, Linda Bark'karie, William Stout and Atomikitty.
At any rate, honor your ancestral deities by visiting the "Art of Tiki" exhibit this weekend and then go to the tiki-inflected Damon's Steak House on Brand in Glendale for some rum-based drinks. You even get an extra hour to relax since Daylight Savings Time ends on Sunday, too.
The voice that permeated my childhood was not that of Fred Rogers, Winnie the Pooh or Charlie Brown.
It was Studs Terkel's.
My mother was – and remains – a fan of WFMT, Chicago’s classical music station from which his interview program was broadcast for nearly 50 years. Our house was equipped with in-wall radio speakers in every room, controlled by my mother at a central dial. And so we awoke, dressed, ate and played to the strains of Tchaikovsky and Bach, and the locutions of Studs Terkel.
His interviews, conducted in his trademark warm gravel, were a revelation to my young self: the excitement in his voice, the breathy press of it, the yes, yes, tell me more, what you are saying is urgent and important and worth hearing and placing into its larger context. He was the wise uncle who sat in a rocker on the front porch and struck up a conversation with whomever happened to pass by.
He was a sharp observer, a critic, a man who called things as he saw them. He could be gloomy and disparaging, but at heart he was an optimist. A believer in progress, in goodness, in the promise of the next great thing. His knowledge was vast, surpassed only by his curiosity about everything and his willingness to pursue it.
In our house, his warmth carried from room to room, setting the mood, transforming everything into something thoughtful and worthwhile and utterly, completely, manageable. There is nothing we can’t talk about, his tone suggested, nothing we can’t bring to light, turn over and around and grasp more deeply. In this way we take control of it, make it our own, bridge these gulfs between us.
Studs was renowned as a listener. But he could talk. About race, class faith. Music, art, acting. He took them on with equal zeal. He was funny, irreverent and energetic. He gave voice to ordinary people before the Internet enabled ordinary people to give voice to themselves. He was not interested in them for their celebrity potential, but for their ability to tell us something about our shared humanity. He brought these stories to a wider audience, unvarnished, with little fuss.
“These interviews narrate the cultural, literary, and political history of Chicago and the United States. Discussion topics reflect the interests, passions, and political leanings of the interviewer. The archives are especially rich in interviews with and performances by musicians, singers, lyricists, and composers of jazz, opera, and folk. Mahalia Jackson, Louis Armstrong, Judy Collins, and many other artists performed.
The list of authors and poets represented in the collection reads like a Who's Who of twentieth-century literature. James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Nadine Gordimer, Toni Morrison, Dorothy Parker, Carl Sandburg, Nelson Algren, and Mike Royko, are just a few of the authors who read from their works and discussed their craft with Terkel.
Terkel and his guests discussed such diverse topics as nuclear disarmament, the American peace movement, psychology, race relations, ecology and environmental pollution, violence against women, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and labor activism.”
The WFMT website refers to Studs as the “Free Spirit” in the station’s broadcast family. Without Studs Terkel, it’s hard to imagine “This American Life,” “Radio Diaries,” even “Howard Stern.”
Studs knew and admired my mother, Susan Catania, a white Republican feminist state legislator from a predominantly black district on the South Side of Chicago. The feeling was mutual. My mother not only listened to his show and broadcast it through the house, she talked about it, about the guests and the topics, about what was said and who said it, to us and to anyone else who was interested. She bought all his books and had them autographed and gave them as gifts. Our copy of “The Good War: An Oral History of World War II” is inscribed to my husband, Mark, a war history buff. It reads, “To Mark: To always be gnawing at the bone of truth—like a famished dog. Here’s to peace and, Oh God, sanity.”
Studs Terkel played no small part in my decision to become a journalist, and I’d always wanted to meet the man himself. In the spring of 2001, I got my chance: an author Q &A to coincide with the release of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken? Reflections on Death, Rebirth and a Hunger for Faith.” I arrived at his home in Lincoln Park, just a couple of blocks from Lake Michigan and the Lincoln Park Zoo, list of prepared questions in hand. His wife and longtime companion Ida had died not too long before, and he was dynamic, energetic and engaged, if a little sad. He talked a lot about Kurt Vonnegut, art, politics, history and the state of America.
It was a delightful hour, in which I sat in complete awe and near complete silence – I think the photographer asked more questions than I did. At the end of it, I asked him to sign my book (yes, unprofessional, I know, but I didn’t care) and went on my way. That night, listening to the tape, I realized it was all “A” and no “Q.” The consummate interviewer had gone and interviewed himself.
I got a second chance the following spring, when Studs came to L.A. to accept an award from Death Penalty Focus for his work on behalf of abolition of capital punishment. I was hosting an hour-long special on KPFK on the death penalty and this segment was to be included in the show. It was a humbling and intimidating experience—interviewing for radio the man whose radio interviewing I so admired.
He was gracious and loquacious and, again, in the face of my fumbling, wound up carrying the interview pretty much by himself. Any concerns I had about the near-soliloquy were dispelled when I realized, in listening to the tape, that what he had to say was far more interesting than anything I might have contributed. It worked brilliantly.
It’s a shame Studs Terkel didn’t live to see the election of our nation’s first African American president, but on the eve of this historic election, the Democratic nominee would do well to take the advice Studs offered at the close of every show: “Take it easy, but take it.”
* Post-script, Monday Nov. 3:
A reader emailed to tell me that "take it easy but take it" comes from an old Pete Seeger song. I looked up the lyrics and they're even more relevant to tomorrow's presidential election than I thought. The last few lines:
if you don't let red-baiting break you up,
And if you don't let stoolpigeons break you up,
And if you don't let vigilantes break you up,
And if you don't let race hatred break you up,
You'll win. What I mean, take it easy, but take it!