Totally reorganizing everything…there were far too many words to keep on one website and even I was getting confused. So I set up a new site called brickpicks.com that covers broadly cultural things. It’s me in my critic persona. There’s another new site called brickspolitics.com that is my shill site, in Bernie-speak, though I thought shills got paid. Brickshistory.com is about the past. Bricksscience.com is about (or vaguely about) things scientific. Bricksbrain.com is about brains (mine, yours, anybody’s). There might be another site to come. Meanwhile, this here old site, brickwahl.com, will emphasize my usual storytelling and pretty writing that makes the ladies roll their eyes.
My wife and I have lived in Silverlake for over thirty years now. Excuse me, Silver Lake. Back when we moved to Silverlake people who had been here thirty years called it Silver Lake. Then they all died and it was Silverlake for a few years. Then it got on the cover of Los Angeles Magazine and was Silver Lake again.
Thirty years. Maybe 31. Maybe 32. Whatever. You think we would fit in by now. But every time we start to fit in the neighborhood changes again. Now we know maybe four people in Lago del Dorado, and none of us fit it. Sketch Hall, who lives over by the Bates Stage and does his laundry in the San Gabriel Valley because that is where all the Chinese restaurants are; Carey Fosse, who also lives over by the Bates Stage but never does his laundry; and Mikaleno, would hang out by the Bates Stage a couple sheets to the wind before heading off to Sketch’s for a night cap but who lives south of Sunset and you know how we north of Sunset people are. Actually all three of these guys lived south of Sunset. That just occurred to me. Shows you the class of people I have been hanging out with. But at least Mikaleno does some great laundry, perfect Navy creases, he gave me a lesson in folding a handkerchief once but no matter how I tried his looked like a guy who had folded handkerchiefs in the navy and mine looked like a guy who had been a college drop out. I can’t remember who the fourth person is. Maybe they bought a fixer upper in Highland Park and are being picketed as we speak.
Anyway, we used to be the cute straight couple on the street and now all the unstraights have moved to Boystown or out to the country to live in a cute little cottage and go mad with boredom and have been replaced by beautiful young starlets who could be my children if not grandchildren but they are far too beautiful so I must have adopted them.
And that is Silver Lake to me.
A buddy of mine was smoking a jay with Warne Marsh outside Donte’s after the last set. Warne said hey man, you think you could spot me a joint for tomorrow’s gig? Sure man, love to. Turned him onto to a very nice bomber. Next night Warne died on stage, sax in hand, just like that. Warne was stoned, he was playing, he was gone. Poof. It was sad, but it was jazz. My pal explained it to me…ya see, I turned him onto his last high. Yeah man, I said, wow. My friend said well sure, you get it, but a lotta straights might think that’s fucked up, Warne Marsh being dead and everything…but I think it’s kinda cool. I mean he died with his boots on. He died stoned. He died blowing beautiful stoney solos. Damn man, what else could you want? I said I did think it was kinda cool. Yeah, my friend said, that’s what Warne’s compadres were saying. They said dying flying blowing has gotta be the way to do it. Warne was no dummy. Wasn’t nobody’s fool. Makes sense to me, I said. My friend nodded, concentrating on the joint he was rolling. You have any Warne Marsh records? I pulled out one of the sessions with Lee Konitz, and Warne is weaving around Lee’s airy lines, and my pal takes a deep drag off that freshly rolled joint and closes his eyes and I think he’s back at Donte’s. He hands me the joint. I declined. I gotta drive, I said. So I remained in the now listening to a record, while he slipped into a Warne Marsh space. He held up the joint. This is some good shit man, tightly rolled, slow and steady burning. He sounded like an old Lucky Strike commercial, though I didn’t know if he meant the weed or Warne. Or both. I took a deep breath and got a second hand taste. Wow. I closed my eyes and there was Warne. Just like that. Magic. A marijuana time machine. The vinyl spun and the analog music was right there, like real. Those grooves grooved, man. Warne takes off. I could almost see the golden bell of his horn. My friend’s pot smoke weaved around my head. I leaned back and listened.
It’s years later now and I’m digging Apogee as I type this, and if I had a jay right now I’d be at this session too, watching and listening. I don’t. But Pete Christlieb and Warne Marsh are dancing around each other on Magna-Tism, the student giving the teacher a run for his money. Damn.
This story can also be found on Brickspicks.com, along side all the cultural stuff I’ve written about.
I saw Sham 69 at the Whiskey (the Dead Kennedys opened) back in 1979. Right there on the Sunset Strip. Great set. I loved Sham 69. Loved that first album. OK, it was dumb. Way dumb. The Ramones looked like intellectuals compared to Sham 69. What about the people who are lonely?/You don’t really give a shit/People that you never meet. It wasn’t exactly poetry. It was oi. Oi! None of us Californians had ever even heard somebody say oi! before punk rock. Now snot nosed rich punks from Pacific Palisades would say oi! Oi? Yeah, oi! It was a very deep time. The hippies had Dylan. The Beats had Ginsberg. And punks had oi. Well not all punks. Just the less coherent ones. Swilling beers and yelling oi! They don’t say it now, though, they are lawyers. But this was 1979, and they were all here at the Whiskey for Sham 69. Though criminal as they tried desperately to look, none of them stole the microphone when Jimmy Pursey, the singer, stuck the microphone in the audience for the sing along. A bit of English football camaraderie, that. If the Kids are United we all chanted, they shall never be united. Deep stuff. Rhymed even. To this day when I hear that ferocious guitar riff I can’t help singing along, me, a very late middle aged jazz critic, singing if the kids are united, they can never be divided.
Sham 69 did White Riot in their encore, too, the Clash song. Jimmy Pursey stuck the microphone into the crowd again and the kids all sang I wanna riot, a riot of my own! They repeated it. Repeated it again. And started to repeat it one more time when the microphone cut out. Jimmy pulled the microphoneless cord back from the crowd and shrugged. They’ve stolen the microphone a stage hand yelled. The band roared on, Jimmy grabbed another mic and finished the tune. The audience was mad with testosterone, swirling, bouncing, pushing and shoving. It was a moment of punk rock heaven. Meanwhile the stage was flooded by stage hands and sound men and bouncers peering into the boiling mass, looking for the culprit. No one leaves till we get the microphone back someone announced over the PA.
Let me explain. I was in a punk rock band then, the drummer, and we had drums and guitars and amplifiers and even an avocado ranch to practice at. But we didn’t have a microphone. Our singer had to scream bloody murder to be heard above our proto hardcore din. Suddenly right there in front of me was this beautiful, state of the art, zillion dollar microphone. Being a drummer, I didn’t make the connection between it and us, but my guitar player–who shall remain nameless, as he has three beautiful daughters and a grandchild–did. Take the mic, he yelled into my ear. What? Take the mic! Steal the mic! We need a mic! So I stole it. It took a tug or two but it came off the cord. I stood there in the packed crowd, staring at it. Hide it! my guitar player yelled. Hide the mic! Stick it in your pants! So I did, hoping it would pass for a rather impressive hard on.
A small army of bouncers began moving through the crowd. Big dudes, muscular, mean. The sound man announced that someone had stolen the microphone and no one was going to leave till it was returned. They began patting people down on the floor. We better return the mic I said, stupidly. My guitar rolled his eyes. Then they’ll know that you stole it, he said. It dawned on me that it was actually me who had stolen it, and it was in my pants, feigning manhood. I must have looked panicky. Drop it on the floor, my guitar player said, and we’ll tell them we found it. So I retrieved it from my pants and dropped it on the floor. He picked it up and yelled Hey! We found it! We found it! He held the microphone aloft for all to see. Several bouncers rushed over. He found it, one said. He found it said another. My guitar player said and since we found it for you can we go backstage and meet the band? The bouncers rolled their eyes. C’mon, we found this expensive microphone for you! He whined like that for thirty seconds. OK, alright, let them backstage for a minute. And lucky felons that we were, we were led through the mass of sweating kids, past several other bouncers and either up or down some ancient stair to the backstage area.
It wasn’t what I expected. No lush chairs. No cocaine on mahogany tables. No greenless M&Ms. And the girls appeared perfectly nice and fully clad. Someone with an English accent said these guys found the microphone and want to meet the band. The girls rolled their eyes prettily. We were led into another room and there, exhausted, was Sham 69. Oh my god, real rock stars. It was like meeting the Rolling Stones in 1965, if the Rolling Stones were midgets. Because Sham 69 were dinky, like five foot tall. Well, five foot four maybe. We towered over them. I remember them peering up through exhausted eyes. Back home guys our size were always trouble, the toughest football hooligans. Here we were just kleptomaniac punk rockers. I shook Jimmy Pursey’s hand. You were great, I said, with genuine originality. Fanks, he said.
Their manager ushered us out again. C’mon now, the lads have another set to do. Back up (or down) the stairs we went, thanking the bouncers profusely. They thanked us for finding the microphone. You guys really helped us out, they said. Most people would have tried to steal it. I still feel a tinge rotten about that. Then they let us out a back door and into the December night, where the punks were chucking beers at passing cars.
Meanwhile a buddy of mine I didn’t know yet mouthed off to the bouncer at the door when they tried to search him for the microphone. I don’t have your fucking mic he said and got worked over good. Beat up by bouncers at the Whiskey for being such a punk. He told me this twenty years later and I laughed it was so funny but I bought him a beer for his pain. When he reads this I’ll have to buy him a whole six pack.
(And I don’t want to use without permission, but there is a great live shot of Sham 69 at the Whiskey by the Jenny Lens here.)
This story can also be found on Brickspicks.com, along side all the cultural stuff I’ve written about.
Once, at a nice little cocktail party in town, I met one of the women who’d proposed to Richard Ramirez. The Night Stalker? Yes. Why? He was nice, she said. She’d written him lots of letters. He’d written some back. He was into pentagrams, she said. She was pretty, quite sweet, a little off, but not so off that you’d imagine her wanting to marry Richard Ramirez. I didn’t say anything. You’d be surprised how tongue tied you get when someone tells you they want to marry Richard Ramirez. Of course, he’s long gone now, and the woman who did marry him–breaking this lady’s heart, apparently–is a widow who for the rest of her life will have to explain why she married Richard Ramirez. I doubt anyone will understand.
Well, Charlie Manson’s wife would. He’s going on 80, she’s young enough to be his great grand daughter. She loves him. Manages all his social media sites, and even cut an x into her forehead to prove it, though it’s just a little scar now. She doesn’t believe a word about Helter Skelter. He had nothing to do with killing all those people, she said. He doesn’t manipulate anybody. The only thing that he’s trying to manipulate people into doing, she said, is planting trees and cleaning up the Earth. Charlie is nice to everyone.
Richard Ramirez’s wife said the same about her betrothed. We don’t know the real Richard, she said. He’s kind, he’s funny, he’s charming.
I didn’t ask the lady at the party anything about Richard. I got a bad vibe and snuck off to the other side of the room. Everyone was eyeing her. She was pretty, after all, with very nice legs. She was striking in her black dress and lace and raven hair. She was crazy. And she’d wanted to marry the Night Stalker.
Love is a beautiful thing.
Post script: Manson’s marriage never happened, so I pulled this story, apparently. But what the hell, here it is.
Damn, man, I forgot.
I was gonna pass by Raymond Chandler’s place in Silverlake. Just drive by it. Slowly. Pass by slowly and think that Raymond Chandler used to live there. It’s was his birthday. He’d have been 125. People don’t get to be 125 years old. Not yet. And certainly not writers. Too many vices. Too little money. Too much truth, and lies. A lotta lies. But if you’re good no one can tell you’re lying.
He lived on Redesdale, on the eastside slope of Micheltorena Hill, maybe a third of the way down. The streets are like switchbacks there, the way they wind, and they send you back and forth, never really getting anywhere. You can get stoned and be lost forever up there, wending your way this way and that, at random. If you get to the top of Micheltorena Hill you can pull over. It’s dark there, with a view that goes all the way to Japan almost. The lights are intoxicating, scattered across the city’s plain, over that vast flat expanse of one story houses all the way to the beach. There would have been less lights in Raymond Chandler’s time. Less houses then. Less trees. Less cars. Less people, too. But the ones there were, what a lode of characters they must have been.
I started this a long time ago. I was gonna write about Raymond Chandler’s procrastination. But I waited so long I can’t remember just what I was going to write about. So now I’m never going to finish it. They call that irony. Like those pretty orchids reeking of corruption. Me, I like orchids. But I don’t write hungover.
The wife drew open the drapes and the sun is pouring in through the windows. There’s ten feet of window across, I think, another six feet high. You could see the whole city all the way to the ocean but for that ridge in the way. Because of it the rest of the world besides our hill and that hill and the little valley in between appears cut off from the rest of the city, the state, the planet. There’s just us and it, that ridge. It’s steep and green and cluttered with houses that go back to the late thirties and through the war years. We breathe art deco around here, scarcely notice it. The slightest little shop is deco, the fronts of houses, even an old gas station they just tore down and left an empty lot. Famous architects went nuts around the lake, building crazy wild modern homes for the moneyed hipsters of the day. A lot of movie star money here once, long ago, a lot of industry people. A couple guys–now dead–told me about the old days. The castle across the way–it has multiple floors and a turret, and while it looks like a house from the front over there, it looks like a castle to us over here–would throw huge parties, with orchestras, and Judy Garland would sing into the wee hours, echoing everywhere, keeping people awake. Drove them nuts.
Raymond Chandler was gone by then, dead, unfinished. A little forgotten. Drunken writers, I mean the truly sodden, generally have to wait a generation to be discovered again. The people that knew them die, the fumes dispel, the sad later years are forgotten. Kids read the books, the wonderful classic books, and try to figure out what the hell is going on in The Big Sleep (I’ve watched it a dozen times, easy, and still I’m lost by the time he leaves the bookstore) and they marvel at just how good a writer Raymond Chandler was, and how he shaped in many ways who we are. You don’t live in Hollywood and thereabouts and not have your Philip Marlowe moments. The dame wraps her stems around the barstool and no way you’re not gonna answer her look, buy her a drink, take her up on the smoke. You might not even smoke cigarettes but there you are, looking cool, smoke wreathed around your head, thinking of detective novels and jazz and sex. I told a little prick off once, he was being an asshole to a couple dames next to me at the bar. He scuttled off, scared. I let him go. He gave me the eye. I laughed. The women laughed. He stumbled backward, fell. I reached out and helped him to his feet. Careful fella, you can break a leg that way. He laughed nervously and thanked me and came back to the bar. Scene ended. Just one of those things. Phil Marlowe wouldn’t have handled it that way at all. Phil Marlowe would have socked him one, the little wop, and the punch would catch him straight on the chin, knock him out cold. Glass jaw. The barroom beef would drag his crumpled form out and dump him on the sidewalk. The cops would pick him up. He’d come to, spluttering, say the wrong thing, get the hell beaten out of him. Thirty days. Later he and his paisans would come looking for revenge. Vendetta A rough town this place used to be. Nothing hippie about it then. Men were men. Women women. They’d fight and fuck and cheat and fall in love. That took care of everything by the end of the book or the closing credits. The sad divorce tales were a generation in the future. Lana Turner. Mrs Robinson. One word: Plastics. But for now, two words: It’s Chinatown.
Raymond Chandler didn’t write Chinatown, of course. Getting way off track. Free associating made up stories. They didn’t free associate in Raymond Chandler’s L.A. That was far in the future. Things were too tough to wander off into random connections. Stories needed structure, narrative, had to make some sense. Even The Big Sleep‘s screenplay pretends to follow a narrative. Bogart pulls it off. The breathless pace that allows it to work. Had they stopped still for a couple scenes, the unconnected dots would stand out, drive you nuts, ruin the movie. But they don’t. You blow through that like Illinois Jacquet blowing through Flying Home in 1946, the Basie band a great roaring machine behind him, unstoppable. That’s Bogie in The Big Sleep. Unstoppable. But you couldn’t fool Raymond Chandler. He sat in his upstairs studio office, smoking, pouring rye after rye, wondering if he could ever write a good story again. The secretary walked in, said something, walked out. He watched the seams disappear up the back of her legs. She swished, each step perfectly placed, like choreography. He wondered if her lipstick tasted like apple or strawberry. He wondered, wandered, stared out the window, and a story disappeared, forever.
This story can also be found on Brickspicks.com, along side all the cultural stuff I’ve written about.
Went to Musso and Frank yesterday and had a tasty meal. Sometimes you get delicious stuff in there, sometimes you wish you’d ordered something else, but that’s not the point. You go for the vibe, the history, that ancient coolness which is such a rare thing in this town. They plow under everything in Hollywood and build something new. Almost nothing is saved. And even if something is saved, will anyone notice? Or care? Los Angeles is where people come to start all over again, it’s a whole city full of people who’ve cut loose from their families, their exes, their pasts, themselves even, and pretend all of that never happened or they never knew those people back home or never had been a male cheerleader, a hit man, a mom. And we pretend the old neighborhood never existed, the old restaurant, the old film studio, the old anything…it just gets plowed under like the time I saw Tiny Naylor’s in Hollywood being leveled by a bulldozer. I stood there across La Brea helpless, all the times I’d been there passing before my eyes, and all the times I might have been there going up in a poof just like that, unfulfilled. The bulldozer reared back, lowered the blade again and pushed right through the dining room. Again and again. Tiny Naylor’s lay there, a disemboweled heap where once incredibly hot waitresses held trays piled high with hamburgers. The men would stare. Their dates pretended not to notice and seethed. The bulldozer plunged into the wreckage and scooped up a mess and let it drop into a big dumpster truck. Dust filled the air. I couldn’t watch anymore and wondered why L.A. ate its own past for lunch like that. Ate it and digested it and used the nutrients to raise new shopping centers, apartments, schools. There’s a school now where once a famous bowling alley once stood. The school was needed. There’s always another bowling alley. And too bad about Tiny Naylor’s , but there’s always Norms. Of course our Norms is now a hospital. Hospitals are needed. And there’s always Astro. Norms we used to go to when we were punk rockers and broke. We’d have spent all our money at the Brave Dog or the ON Klub and walk to Norms the next morning after scraping together a few 99 cents breakfast’s worth of spare change and the odd crumpled beer soaked dollar bill or two. Then we’d walk back to the house, smoke whatever dope was left and listen to loud records all afternoon, laughing and not worrying about a thing. Reagan was president and the world was going to end any minute.
Sometimes for dinner we’d scrape enough together for the Old Spaghetti Factory. We’d walk down there on a Friday night as Sunset Boulevard began filling up with Friday night cruisers. We’d order extra bread and fill our pockets. You could live on bread back then. Bread and beer and weed. On the way home we’d stop on the Sunset Boulevard overpass and watch the Hollywood Freeway come to life, white lights coming at us, red lights disappearing around the Scientology Celebrity Center on their way to the Valley. Dusk fell and the city turned to blackness and light and the craziness of the 1980’s.
That Old Spaghetti Factory is gone now. Just a shell where a restaurant used to be. They had to leave it like that, a shell. Whoever bought it was not supposed to tear it down. Historical designation. Like that helped any. It looks like a monument to post-war Berlin, like a B-17 dropped a big bomb square on the thing and everyone inside eating spaghetti is in heaven now.
Musso and Frank, though, hasn’t changed. Not one whit. Not even the waiters. Certainly not the wallpaper. Or the menus. Or menu. What Charlie Chaplain once ate you can eat now. What Bogie once drank you can drink now. What Orson Welles once complained about you can complain about now. That’s what Musso and Frank is. Continuity. Between it and the Pantry you know what was then is still now, only a little more expensive. Continuity is a rare thing in this town. Studios hire editors to maintain continuity in their movies, so one scene looks like the next, the curtains, clothes, who’s holding what beer and with what hand. It’s all fake, of course. One scene was shot weeks after the one before it. But you can’t tell. It’s a nice trick. LA’s like that. Stuff looks like it’s always been here. It hasn’t. That hospital was once a Norms. That public storage warehouse was once a silent movie studio. That school was where Robert Kennedy was shot. But you can’t tell. Continuity. That’s a take. Let’s break for lunch.
After Musso and Frank (they have valet parking now…that’s different) we wandered over to Hollywood Forever cemetery. Parked the car by Johnny Ramone’s grave with the big bronze Johnny Ramone on top. Kids kept coming up, carloads or straggling little groups. They looked up at Johnny and held back tears. We looked the other way. The Fairbanks are down there, Douglas senior and junior. Their crypt lies at the far end of a long reflecting pool, and everything is marble and perfect. A perfect pair of swans glided across the water, and the rain came down and the swans never noticed.
As I fell asleep Wallace Beery was yelling and when I woke up Bette Davis was yelling and now I can’t fall asleep again. So I tried looking for a photo of them together, to see the loathing. No luck. But I found a picture of Wallace Beery and Joan Crawford, and she hated the both of them, Wallace and Bette. Hollywood was a minefield then. Everyone hating and sniping and drinking and fucking.
We live in an old Spanish style duplex on an old street in and old neighborhood in Silver Lake. That’s next door to Hollywood. They lived here, those movie people. There was no Beverly Hills then. There’s old studio buildings everywhere around us. Silent movie studios full of silent ghosts. What to you are old movies to us might have been drunken arguments right outside. Parties spilling out into the street, singing and laughing and fighting. Shut up, we’d yell. We’re trying to sleep. Irene Dunne lived down the street. Her place is surrounded by an immense wall. If the parties spilled outside her house they’d wind smack up against that wall, trapped. Servants would come and sort things out. People would get home eventually and all would grow quiet again, interrupted only by the mockingbirds. There are nuns there now in Irene Dunne’s place. No parties. Just prayers and reflection. I wonder if they watch TCM and imagine Irene’s fabulous bashes.Those old Hollywood mansions have kitchens like medieval castles. Vast feasts were prepared there. You stand at the stove frying your eggs now and feel small.
I look out our bay windows and reality ripples, the glass is so old. Glass is a liquid and flows with gravity at a very slow speed. It shatters in our time, but oozes downward through the centuries. The people who looked through that window unrippled are long dead now, probably buried in Forest Lawn over the river there, between rows of movie stars. Wallace Beery is over there. So is Bette Davis. Jean Harlow is too. Not Joan Crawford, though. She’s back east somewhere, New York, I think. Not the city, but outside, White Plains or something. I don’t know if that is sad or not, but you’d think that if any movie star ought to be buried in Hollywood it’d be Joan Crawford. But then this piece wasn’t about her, was it? It’s not even about Jean Harlow, sweet Jean Harlow, and William Powell placing flowers on her fresh grave. No, this post is about Wallace Beery, or at least the title is.
It’s funny, you say Wallace Beery in this town and the first thing people will tell you is what a jerk he was. They don’t like him, Wallace Beery. Even if they love the movies he’s in, they can’t get themselves to admit he was good in them. Not even Robert Osborne and he loves everybody. No, not Wallace Beery, that unlovable brute. No, not him. Like Wallace Beery would have given a fuck what they thought. Shut up, he’d say. Shut up, shut up, shut up.
No, you shut up, Jean Harlow yelled. Everyone yelled. Wallace Beery, Marie Dressler, both Barrymores. Joan Crawford yelled. Greta Garbo swooned, but Billie Burke yelled, and Billy Burke never yelled at anybody. Bette Davis yelled, and she wasn’t even in the movie. Or movies. It was a Wallace Beery film festival and they’re all mixed up. As am I. So I’m going back to sleep, and hopefully no one will be yelling at anybody. Not even movie stars.