Multi-layered nostalgia

(2014)

Oy, hockey. What a blow out. Can’t believe I wasted three hours watching the Kings get their asses kicked five zip. Ouch. Not just for the score and humiliation, but for the time utterly wasted. You only get so many three hours in a lifetime, and that one was totally wasted. Sigh….

I switch channels. Wow. Huell Howser. I haven’t seen a Huell Howser since he died. He’s at Musso & Franks Grill and it’s 1995. I recognize all the help. Huell steps out of the kitchen and bumps into Benny Carter. I yell wow, loud. Benny Carter. One of his favorite places, Benny says. I really miss Benny Carter, and I never even met him. Some people you just miss because you might have got to meet them, but didn’t. Huell turns around and there’s Charles Champlin. Another wow. They’re talking about the old days. The Algonquin Round Table West, someone says. Wow, I say. Back when jazz and writing were going concerns. Then it’s Dr. George Fischbeck. Wow. I’m awash in multi-layered nostalgia. Nostalgia for this show which I never knew I’d have, nostalgia for the people he’s meeting who in turn are waxing nostalgic about times past that I’m nostalgic for even tho’ I was never there, or even could have been, chronology being what it is. Maybe it’s nostalgia for a world where writers and jazz musicians were something, and journalists had class. A pre-internet world, basically, I type in electrons. Waxing nostalgic for a hard copy world in the ether, when back then none of you would ever even see this. It’d be notes on paper in a box in my closet. Now everyone reads it and I complain. Some people just can’t be satisfied.

I type a whole other paragraph, think about it, hold down the back space key and watch it disappear, like it never was. On paper it’d still be there, a big line running though its length. Later I could read what I was thinking. Here I’ll never know. That’s language in the digital world. There one minute, gone the next.

Musso’s, though, is analog as it gets. On Christmas Eve my wife left a card for me under the tree…how about dinner at Musso’s? it said. Soon, I said, soon. I love the place. You need cash to do it right, and it’s too soon after the holidays to think about it now. But soon. We’ll sit at an old table and drink martinis and eat pot pie and oysters on the half shell and a crispy iceberg wedge with crumbles of blue cheese and I’ll imagine Bogie at the bar, not in the best of shape, or Orson Welles talking and talking and never shutting up. Or earlier, even, and there’s Charlie Chaplin, and I’m too scared to go up and say you’re Charlie Chaplin because he is Charlie Chaplin.

Old Hollywood, classic Hollywood. Funny that we’ve been here a third of a century now. I remember our first time at Musso’s, and looking at all the old people and listening in on their tales of the silent screen. They’re all gone now, long gone, and we have our own tales of a long gone Hollywood. In Musso’s all that blends together, a century’s worth of Hollywood. You can feel it. Close your eyes and you can see it. I wish I was there right now. I’d go there every week if I could, assemble a little Algonquin West. We’d eat and drink and laugh ourselves silly, then repair to the parking lot for cigars and whatever. The whateverers would giggle, the cigar smokers would blow long plumes of Cuban smoke. Flasks would pass around. See you next week, we’d say, and head off into the city looking for music, live music, and life, real life. Memories. Seeking out memories, and creating new ones.

1/3/2014

Musso and Frank

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 Chaplin 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 in the rain. 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.

(2013)

 

This story can also be found on Brickspicks.com, along side all the cultural stuff I’ve written about.

They plow under everything in Hollywood

(2012)

Went to Musso and Frank’s 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 ex’s, 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’s. 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. The world was going to end any minute.

Sometimes for dinner we’d scrape enough together for 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.

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 Franks, 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’s 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, whose 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 Franks (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.

Matches

Apparently they no longer have Musso and Frank matches anymore. We’ve been lighting candles with Musso and Frank matches for thirty years. Now what? Lighters? Are wooden matches too analog? Has digital civilization passed me by entirely? I can feel Hollywood Forever drawing me near, coldly, whispering join us. There’s a spot between the Fairbanks’s and Toto just for you, big guy. Hipsters will park their asses atop your bones all summer long and iPhone through entire movies, puffing matchlessly on electronic cigarettes. Sitting on Brick Wahl, they’ll tweet, I never heard of him either.

We used to have dozens of these, a bowl full. But those were different times. The poets, they studied rules of verse, and the ladies, they went after the drummers.

We used to have dozens of these, a bowl full, but those were different times. The poets, they studied rules of verse, and the ladies, they went after the drummer.

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(Picture from thematchgroup.com. You can find anything on the internet.)