12 February 2010

A Glorious Lack of Depth: Ten Reasons I Love LA

Indeed! Save it!

I often get asked why I love LA, and I can never answer them with a proper, well-constructed sentence that makes much sense. But - deep breath - I'll try.

In cities like New York, Berlin and Paris culture and change is happening all around you, everywhere you look you can actually see ideas and art and magic swirling up and down the streets of the Lower East Side, Kreuzberg and Montparnasse. In LA there is no equivalent - it's almost as if you can sense that things are going on amongst the empty streets and convoluted neighbourhoods but.... you're not invited to them.

I, as you may have guessed, am back in LA. Just for a short visit before the Olympics (more on those in the next few days) to save S from the boredom and loneliness that three weeks in the City of Angels can inflict on a person who works 14 hours a day and knows few people. I am always happy to head back here for the following reasons:

The Vista - one of the grand old movie theatres in LA.

The Frolic and Pantages - some of my favourite neon in the city.

1) Neon lights!

Never in the history of man has a city been festooned with as many interesting and unique flashing neon lights. The history of this tumultuous city can be traced through the glitz and glamour of its signs - everything from historic movie theatres, fast food joints and even the Denny's have ornate and wacky signage that scream of the 1950's.

Meet George Jetson...

2) Mid-century modern architecture

Driving through LA one catches glimpses of the city as it was in the 1930's and 1940's when the art deco of the day was slowly switching into something more futuristic and modern and kind of kidney shaped pool-ish. Otherwise unassuming busineses have original 1950's signage and design that has disappeared in other cities and I am absolutely smitten with the sight of it. S's office is located right near the iconic Capitol Records building at Hollywood and Vine and I never tire of seeing it poke out behind the W Hotel and the Pantages Theatre - it makes me feel like I should pop over to the Brown Derby or Musso and Frank's for a whiskey sour or some other equally old-timey sounding drink.

Looks like a family restaurant on the outside, is actually a scary dive bar on the inside.

3) Dive Bars

Has there ever been a sweeter sounding combination of 2 words?

LA is the penultimate home of the dive bar - all kinds, in fact. I don't wanna go too far into the different types I have identified because one day I will want to dedicate a whole post, but I will break it down:
The RocknRoll Dive Bar - Rainbow Bar and Grille (where all those Guns and Roses videos were filmed) the Cat Club (a metal bar where Ron Jeremy hangs out) and the Whiskey a Go-Go (every famous musical act of the sixties played here - most notably the Doors)
The Strip Club Dive Bar- No, not typical strip club where pathetic men come to sadly drool over unattainable women. LA is home to nudie bars that sell sex in a tattooed, punk rock sort of way. Head to Jumbo's Clown Room, where Courtney Love famously stripped (and you can see amputees whirling around the poles) or to Cheetah's where hipsters go to stare lazily at girls that look like them.
The Airport Lounge/Seventies Feel Dive Bar - The ultimate win in this category is the Dresden on Vermont, where you can watch the legendary Marty and Elayne, who have been described as "either tone deaf or brilliant, depending on your taste" by the LA Times. The duo have perfectly coiffed black hair, are in their sixties or seventies and sing the best lounge music in the city. And she plays the flute. Heaven. The Frolic Room on Hollywood is a contender here as well...
The Actual Dirty Dive Bar - We live right near two - Ye Rustic Inn and The Drawing Room. Apparently these used to be a bit rougher, but hipsters have moved in and things are getting pretty ironic inside.

Speechless with cheese.

4) Mexican food

Oh. Oh man. Just give me some fucking enchiladas covered in cheese and guacamole and I am, like, so happy I could die. There is something different about Mexicali food from Tex Mex, authentic Mexican or the crap that we get here in Canada - I am not sure exactly what it is, but it makes me squirm with happiness as I actually moan the sound "mmmmmmmm" with each hot, gooey, molten messy mouthful. My most favouritest place in LA for Mexican is called El Chavo (on Sunset) - it is a complete ode to kitsch, complete with a huge signed photo of Dolly Parton. They also make the stiffest, saltiest lime margaritas (shaken, never blended) and the spiciest salsa and everything else is like heaven. Oh Dios Mio!

My idea of a perfect night out: Tiki Ti, El Chavo and back to the Tiki Ti.
You put the lime in the coconut and I don't care what else as long as there is melted cheese involved.

(It's also right next to the Tiki Ti - the first Tiki bar outside of Hawaii and one of my other favourite places!)

Lowbrow art at Wacko, a bizarre emporium of trash found in the bible...

5) LA Bizarro

Feel like visiting LA's largest celebrity cemetary? Hearing a Thai Elvis serenade you while you eat Tom Yum Soup? Going to see the world's first anal bleaching salon? Fashion taxidermy? Mexican wrestler burlesque show? Dodgy psychics, Korean bathhouses and more Hollywood suicide/muder sites than you can shake a stick at? It's all in the bible - I mean, LA Bizarro. I love this book so much that I wish more than anything that I had had a hand in writing it. And researching it. Well, except the anal bleaching. Yikes.

We spent a lovely day near the sign up at the Griffith Observatory.

6) The Sign

Before there was Hollywood, there was Hollywoodland. The sign was first erected in 1923 as an ad for a housing development, but soon became beacon of hope and glitter for all of the actors and actresses arriving in town with stars in their eyes. But, slowly throughout the next fifty years it fell to disrepair until 1978 when, amidst talk that the sign would be pulled down a consortium of celebrities led by Hugh Hefner (!) raised the money to save the historic symbol. There are days that I am just wandering around West Hollywood, and when I randomly look up and see the towering white letters staring down at me from Cahuenga Peak and my life suddenly feels very surreal.

The sign is facing new a new controversy, as it is currently covered up with a new message to "Save The Peak" (see the first picture, above.) Apparently some assholes want to but the 130 acres that the sign sits on and turn it into six (yes, you heard me - SIX) mega giant houses (the kind that assholes like to live in.) The group is collecting money to buy the land and conserve it permanently. Shouldn't the city be doing this? The National Historical Landmark Society? Hefner? Someone search the grotto, where's Hef!?

Laura Dern is the best living American actress.


The fact that I am a film junkie is probably the main reason that I want to move to Los Angeles. To be surrounded everyday by film history and work in the industry is kind of my idea of heaven. While I love foreign and arthouse cinema, the glitz and glamour of Tinseltown still appeals to me in an Old Hollywood way.

As for the present, I feel that there are two modern directors who truly understand LA - David Lynch and Quentin Tarantino.

It is in LA that I feel like I have been plunged into the bizarre celulloid dreams of Mister Lynch and I start to see The City of Angels with his skewed, hallucinogenic eye. From Laura Dern collapsing all covered in blood on Hollywood Boulevard in Inland Empire to Naomi Watts frantic evening at Club Silencio in Mulholland Drive, Lynch understands something convoluted and sadistic about Hell Lay that he conveys in his puzzle-like films.

2006 - first visit to Roscoe's. Hungover & shaking, I ate waffles and fried chicken all covered in syrup & I wore mah pearls just for Roscoe.

Tarantino, on the other hand, understands something completely different about the city. His LA is somehow suspended in an ideal, highly stylized late seventies/early eighties era and is filled with wise-cracking retro archetypes. When I watch Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown I can practically smell the mix of Banana Boat tanning oil, Camel cigarettes, cognac and strawberry incense that I know these locations must just reek of. The first time I went to Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles in West Hollywood I looked around at the wood-paneled walls and exclaimed "it's like Jackie Brown!" There are so many dim airport lounge/red velvet walled steakhouse-like bars around LA that I pretty much always have at least one night each visit where I feel like I'm out with Ordell....

Me and Harry Perry on Venice Beach. I first saw him in the film "The Gift" and it was a dream to meet him. He sang to me and made uncomfortable eye contact.

8) Weirdos

Nowhere - nowhere - that I have ever been has a better array of weirdos, freaks and misfits than LA. Especially in Hollywood and Venice. Harry Perry, Lemmy, Angelyne - what would the world be without strange creatures? Oh. It would be Ohio. Have I said I love big cities?

Like the Philippines, its just filled with American fast food restaurants...

9) The Ethnic Neighbourhoods

Sure, Vancouver has a big Chinatown (the second largest in North America, in fact) and a huge Little India and even a Koreatown - but that is about it. Little Italy got swallowed by the hippies, Greektown became a Kitsilano yuppie breeding ground and Robsonstrasse said goodbye to the Germans and hello to Vuitton and Coach. For a city that is so ethnically diverse, our neighbourhoods are a bit bland in this regard.

Not so much in LA. Little Armenia. Historic Filipinotown. Thai Town. Little Russia. I drove past a clutch of Kazakhstani restaurants the other day! Lao areas, African enclaves and a whole lotta Mexicans - they say America is a melting pot and Canada a multicultural society, but I am sorry: LA is so much more interestingly diverse than Vancouver. By far. And this week I am finally going to go and try some Belorussian food. They have an entire area here!

The famous and historic Roosevelt on Hollywood Blvd. More celebrities have stayed here than you can even imagine.

10) Pop Culture

So, if cities were people, New York (America's centre for high culture) would be a tall, emaciated European woman with impeccably groomed eyebrows and a beret. LA, America's trashy cocaine-addled heart, would be a towering trannie on acid. Who would you rather hang out with?

I get in this argument all the time when people find out that I am an unabashed pop culture whore. There are always humourless people who want to call me out and attempt to look down their noses at me for daring to pull my eyes away from Tolstoy for long enough to log onto Perez Hilton, but I am always ready for them. I was once at a party, telling some anecdote that involved Lindsay Lohan. A studious looking girl stared up at me and solemnly claimed "Oh, I don't actually know who Lindsay Lohan is." I paused for a moment and, regarding her with utter contempt, replied "Well, either you're the most boring person I have ever met, or you're a liar. It's a mix of high culture and low culture that makes someone interesting to talk to." I stand by that wholeheartedly.

The history here is fascinating and rich and in a lot of ways it's the history of our culture, because Hollywood holds a mirror up to our society and reflects what it sees. Anyone who dismisses that and claims to be somehow above it is probably a pill. That's not to say Hollywood isn't shallow - but what a glorious lack of depth!

And so I love to read my celebrity news in the mornings and recognize bars, restaurants and shops that are literally down the street. I love knowing that I will run into someone famous at least once a day. I love the maddeningly spread out neighbourhoods and the feeling that I am transported back to the forties when I turn certain corners. And I love LA. I just really do.

Loving Liberace, loving life, loving LA. 2006