Blogging from deep down beneath the Greater L. A. hipsterpolitan region….

I’m a writer, but there are zillions of writers, perhaps you’ve noticed. This here is a bunch of my stuff. I hope you dig it.

I try to blog at least once daily so there’s a lot of stuff here. You can browse by category or look at some selected essaysstories (non-fiction), neuroscience pieces, jazz writing or smartassery. Some flash nonfiction even.

My LA Weekly stuff can be found here.

My email is brickjazz@yahoo.com. My phone is 323-420-7410. I do a lot of short writing on my Brick Wahl page on Facebook, and really short writing on Twitter. I get all professional on LinkedIn, all pensive on Pinterest, and all whatever the hell it’s for on Google Plus. You can even look through my library at Goodreads. I’m all over the goddamn internet and all over this goddamn town.

Ants in His Bones

[Found this in an old notebook, c. 1983. I remember it was in the Broadway Plaza, downtown Los Angeles. No idea who they were, which really bugs me. First jazz piece I ever did, I imagine.]

Three black men file through downtown.  Talking, joking, they veer from the sidewalk and enter a big shiny building.  The wind blew leaves against the glass doors as they shut behind them.  Dark suits and dresses pass by.

In the lobby the drummer had already set up—specked with grey, he tuned the skins with that wrist-ankle fluidity of someone who’d been beating out rhythms a long time.  The three watched him, beaming—this was gonna be hot, gonna be so hot man we’re gonna fry some brains.  The sax man pulled his ax from its oblong case—it gleamed from a thousand shinings.  Passing office workers gawked and their faces reflected monstrously in the smooth brass. The sax player laughed aloud.  Gonna be hot be hot, man—these people gonna have to watch their asses!

A crowd collected round the bassman.  His instrument looked like some big stuffed thing, swaddled in its cover and rolling along on those tiny wheels.  “Unwrap that thing, man,” shouted the drummer, “I got ants in my bones!”  The other three laughed.  Out came the trombone.  People oohed and ahhed.  The security guard came up and the axman made ready to explain himself, but all the brother wanted to do was to talk jazz.  Jazz! Why work when you can blow?

The trombone splatted, and the people in the lobby rushed into the elevators with an unusual urgency. The axman turned to the crowd of onlookers.  Hey people!  He held up his watch.  “Lunch time is ovuh!  ONE TWO THREE FOUR!”

And they bopped that building to its very foundations.

Zoe

Maybe a decade ago this sax player I know calls to tell me about a gig he had coming up. Some nice jazz club in the Valley, Spazio or La Ve Lee or somewhere like that. Now I really dug the guy’s sound on tenor. Still do. He plays a relaxed be bop, and plays some mean funk, too. This was his funk band coming up. He rattled off the names of all these great players. Heavy cats as they say. We also got a singer, he told me, named Zoe.

Zoe? What’s her last name?

No last name, he says, she’s just Zoe. And she’s just starting out. She’s been doing a lot of acting.

She’s an actress?

Well, sort of. Actually, um, you’re not supposed to know this, but she’s been in porno for a long time, but under a different name.

Oh….

So she’s a porn star jazz vocalist? I was actually kinda impressed, since no one just becomes a jazz singer, the way no one just becomes an opera singer. It takes years of practice. The porn by day, jazz by night (or other way around) lifestyle must have been hectic. And she’s just called Zoe?

Yeah. That’s her new singing name. She wants to move on from the acting and be a jazz singer.

Oh….

Well, I said, she must be pretty good to be in your band.

Um…well, this is her first gig. But she’s really excited about it, the new career move and all. Just come on down and check us out.

Well, I missed the gig. So he sent me a clip. The band was good, and I gotta admit she was hip. In fact she was all hip, and I never seen a jazz singer move them quite like that. Poly rhythms, I guess you’d call them. Funny he didn’t include her singing. Not a peep, not a note.

The hippest of the hip

My weekend began on Saturday afternoon with free jazz improvised giggling and ended in the wee hours of Monday after a 12 hour, westside, eastside, nine band club hopping experience and finally, hanging out with this guy, but I had a reason.

Bob Lee

Underneath the tortured balloon headgear is one helluva drummer.

 

My wife is the lady in waiting in the south of Ireland

(I wrote this in 1980.)

There was a crazy man on the bus today, twitching and jerking, rocking back and forth, singing, talking to everybody about the Royal Army and Lord Mountbatten and that he himself was the ambassador to somewhere. He scared everybody with his broken brain. “My wife is the lady in waiting in the south ofIreland” he said, chain smoking cigarettes, lighting the next one from the butt of the last. He muttered about the Royal Army, and counted off British sounding names, and then sat there forgetting his cigarette until; something set him off again, drumming his fingers on the seat, clutching his bag, tapping his foot to some long lost march.

Desert

So you’re coming east on the 14 via Tehachapi and you want some sites? OK. You wanna see a beat up town try Mojave…. Tweeker heaven. Then down the 395 a tad in Rosamond you meet people–well, we met people–who own their own MIGs for fun and are building rocket ships and planning missions to Mars. It also has the Exotic Feline Breeding Compound, which is basically a zoo full of wild cats (tigers on down) kept unfriendly. They’re keeping the gene pool going and reintroducing to the wild. Not for petting. At night the panthers stare at you, growling and thinking of meat.

Another cool ride is the 138. Take it west of the 14 and we know where to find the best poppies without having to wait in line to get into the preserve. Spectacular, like a vast Impressionist canvas you can walk through. Keep an ear out for the Mojave Green (the most venomous rattler, potentially very nasty). Head east on the 138 and you’re on the Pearblossom Highway. Keep going past Little Rock (we always stop for date shakes at Charlie Brown Farms) and you can stump around the sad, spooky ruins of Llano, the old socialist commune. You can see them from the road, you could bounce a beer car off what’s left of the walls as you pass. Llano de Rio, they called it, though there was no river within a hundred miles. Amazingly historic and yet not officially a historic monument. No one in the desert wanted to memorialize collectivism, a shame. It deserves better. Head north several miles to Avenue M (all the east west streets are lettered in the Antelope Valley, it’s dull but practical) and there’s the Antelope Valley Indian Museum, built into the rock. Rocks–huge things, boulders and outcroppings–replace walls, floors, and make oddly shaped doorways. Very cool. Head straight up the 14 another 45 minutes and Red Rock Canyon looms up ahead, an enormous and crazily eroded mass of brilliant red sandstone. You’ve seen it in a million movies, from The Big Country to Beneath the Planet of the Apes. Take the Red Rock-Randsburg Road east-northeast ten miles to the old mining towns, Randsburg and Johannesburg. They call them ghost towns though they are still alive, just with a lot less people, and no one ever tore anything down. You can see how thousands of people once lived there. And died there. The cemetery in Jo’burg–no one actually calls it Johannesburg–still hangs with me, stark and unkempt and desolate. Many of the hundred year old headstones are wood, cracked and weathered and worn smooth by windblown sand, and the bones beneath them completely anonymous. It’s hard to be more forgotten.

Llano del Rio.

Llano del Rio.

Mix tapes

Was reading about the lost art of cassette tape spines at Dangerous Minds. Silly little bit of nostalgia, maybe, but it brought back some memories.

I have so many of these. Found a mess of wonderful compilation tapes I made back in the 80’s (before they were even called mix tapes) and I don’t even know what all the music is, even though I made them. I remember watching High Fidelity and knowing how infinitely cooler, crazier and non-bogus my compilation tapes were than their weak record geek little things. And I didn’t need no fucking theme either. Then again, mine weren’t plot devices. And it was a good movie. But I’d never invite any of those losers to a party at my place. Jack Black maybe, if he promised to be an asshole. None of the sensitive little fucks, though. The world is full of sensitive little fucks, and they all irritate me. Anyway, some of the tapes I found have stoned spine art like those in the picture (not that I could stand the music on these, of course). I can’t really get into the mindset of the stoner cassette (or K7, to use 80’s hipster speak) spine artist, though, even though I was one. Like what was I thinking? Did we really have that much spare time back then? What a lazily analog world that was. We would read books. Whole books. Imagine that. And we hung out and talked with people we actually knew, and could even reach out and touch, especially if we were drunk and they were female and probably played bass in a band.

And then the non-DIY variety cassettes used to be something you could pick up for a quarter (as in two bits, not weed) at your local used record store. They’d be tucked away in some hard to find nook, the shame of the store (8-Tracks you couldn’t find at all, and reel to reels were under glass, with gramophone cylinders and music rolls and quad LPs). Suddenly cassettes are collectible. Why they are collectible I have no idea. But they are. I asked my brother why. He said because they’re analog. I said but they suck. He said yeah, but they’re analog. I said but it’s such a lame technology. He said but they’re analog. I changed the subject. But it’s a shame. Picking up some obscure jazz release on cassette for twenty five cents was a small thrill. But I will not pay three dollars for a John Coltrane cassette, I’m sorry. That is just stupid. Fifty cents I’m OK with though. But anything more than that seems fundamentally wrong. So I stopped seeking out the corner where they hid the cassettes away. But I have too many cassettes already. And having any cassettes at all is having too many cassettes. Not that I’m getting rid of them.

Breaking the ice in the Arctic

The polar ice cap is melting and the Arctic Ocean is fast becoming navigable and every country with access to the Arctic Ocean is rushing to take advantage of all that navigable water except us. We are so unprepared, in fact, that the United States has only one ice breaker capable of navigating the Arctic in icy months. And it’s only a medium sized vessel, based out of Seattle. Not Alaska, Seattle. Our one heavy ice breaker, the forty year old USS Polar Star, is also in Seattle, but it’s mothballed, ready for scrap. On the other hand, Russia has four heavy icebreakers already in the water–and based in the Arctic–and another four on the way. No idea what the U.S. is supposed to do if our one operating icebreaker has to go into dry dock. Borrow one of Russia’s?

Yet any attempt by the Obama Administration to somehow ready us for the open water Arctic is met with stiff resistance by congressional Republicans. They’ll be no more icebreakers. That would mean an increased presence in the Arctic. Which would mean that the ice has melted. Which would mean temperatures have risen. And that’s where we get into trouble. The Republicans oppose anything that suggests global warming might be real. They pretend it all isn’t happening. Their opposition is so uncompromising that the US has done next to nothing to prepare for the new realities up there. Denmark–yes, Denmark–will have a bigger presence on the Arctic Ocean than we will. As will England, though they have no Arctic shore to call their own. Even tiny Iceland could be better prepared than us, and we have one thousand times as many people as they do.

Of course, we still have submarines up there, playing cat and mouse with their Russian counterparts. But that is underwater, and the Republican congressmen find solace in that, no doubt seeing visions of Ice Station Zebra, with submarine conning towers poking through a vast plain of ice. They can’t be looking at the same satellite photos we all see, with blue ocean stretching the length of the Siberian coast all the way to Canada. They just pretend its frozen solid and inaccessible, and if they wish hard enough maybe it will all go away. How did Republicans, once the cold-eyed realists in foreign policy, ever become so delusional?

Our national icebreaker, USS Polar Star, in better days.

Our national icebreaker, USS Polar Star, in better days.