Monday, August 20, 2012

Frenchman at Neutra's House

RECENTLY I was invited to architect Richard Neutra's old house in Silver Lake to check out the "intervention" by the French artist Xavier Veilhan, who created a number of sculptures to refer to the pioneering modernist's life and work.

The press events and opening were quite groovy -- movie stars, French people, music by a member of the French band Air.

Los Angeles' Silver Lake, of course, is arguably the best neighborhood in the country for modernist domestic architecture. (That's even if you don't count Silverlake Wine and Rockaway Records.)

Here is my story. The work is up for a few more weeks. And in my years of paying attention, Neutra's VDL House -- still not perfect -- has never looked better.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Indie Rockers Finding Second Wind

IT seems, sometimes, that every awful band from the past is back together again for a lame-ass shed tour. And it's also started to seem, at least since the heavenly Go-Betweens reunion of about a decade ago, that some of the groups reuniting were not only good, they were better -- or close to it -- the second time around.

How can both of these things be true at the same time? It took me 2,000 words to figure it out.

For a story that just went up on Salon, I look at the awfulness alongside four bands that never had time to go bad -- Spain, the Feelies, Mission of Burma and the dBs -- and are now back in force.

And I try to make sense of the whole never-say-die phenomenon. Why did bands used to break up when the time was right, but then began staying together for years, or getting back together, over and over again?

Lovers of Spain, the LA "slowcore" band of '90s fame, should be aware of their August 28 show at the Bootleg Theater.

Wondering: Who are your favorite -- and least favorite -- reunited bands?

Spain mach 2, Photo Steven Dewall

Monday, August 13, 2012

Classical Music on the Radio

NOT long ago I got to hang out at the Hollywood Bowl in the middle of the day -- which was a decadent pleasure in itself -- while talking to Brian Lauritzen, the KUSC deejay who has come to dominate classical broadcasting in town.

Brian is still young yet, but he has several decades of commitment to both music and public radio, and he has a deep feeling for the sometimes complex role that music can play in people's lives. I enjoyed his utter lack of cynicism and hope LA doesn't destroy his low-key southern charm.

Brian just started his broadcasting of Bowl concerts, which will continue for another couple of months.

Here's my story. See ya at the Hollywood Bowl.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Hollywood Novelist Bruce Wagner

A FEW years back I spent some time at the Beverly Hills Hotel's Polo Lounge with Bruce Wagner, who was much more at home there than I was. (He grew up nearby and has spent his career as a writer skewering Hollywood.)

Wagner has a new novel, Dead Stars, out, and returns to his main subject, the excesses of the movie world and its network of agents, moneymen, wannabes and so on.

When he and I spoke, Wagner had just put out a book called Memorial, which was a bit of a departure for him, as it examined the world of high design. Here's what I wrote:

His new book, "Memorial," is about a lot of things -- broken families, weasel lawyers, the wonders of India, the inexplicability of fate. But one of its most persistent and intriguing subjects is the world of architecture, or more specifically, architectural hype.

Here is my profile of the fashionably bald Hollywood novelist Bruce Wagner.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Roots of a Jazz Pianist

EVEN as a lover of the jazz standards, when a solo piano disc arrives with all the obvious, shopworn numbers -- "Round Midnight," "All the Things You Are" -- I'm not in a rush to play the damn thing. (Unless it's by, say, Thelonious Monk or Randy Weston.)

So I was knocked out by the nuance and mystery the pianist Kenny Warner summons in his new recording -- called Me, Myself and I -- of mostly long, stretched out solo excursions. They're not as freaky as Keith Jarrett, but have a similar sense of adventure, and played with a Bill Evans-style sensitivity.

Werner and I corresponded for my Influences column in the LA Times. Turns out Joni Mitchell is a bigger force for him than Bill! Here's the story. He's in town this Sunday at the Hollywood Hills salon Jazz @ the A Frame.

UPDATE: Very fine concert at cool series yesterday. Werner was incredible as expected, playing a lot of standards and making some raga-inflected magic on Abbey Lincoln's "Throw it Away."

The surprise for me was drummer Joe LaBarbera, who played with Bill Evans in the pianist's last years... Wow. Sometimes the group got close to the kind of telepathy that the early Evans trio was known for. In any case, Jazz @ the A Frame is a series every music fan should know about. Laurel Canyon isn't just about Jackson Browne and the Doors.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

True Eclecticism with Wild Up

ONE of the oddest and most beautiful concerts I've been to this year took place at the Hammer Museum a few weeks ago.

Here's a bit of what was on offer as the museum and the musician's collective wild Up (they don't cap the "w") came together:

The fruit of this union was a July concert that began with a conductor in a cowboy hat, a menacing toreador, the sound of tumbleweed being rolled through the museum's courtyard, and the twangy strains of Ennio Morricone's music for Sergio Leone's spaghetti westerns.
By the end of the afternoon, the group had launched ping-pong balls into the air in a tribute to minimalist composer LaMonte Young, and offered a meditative, early-music version of Katy Perry's "California Gurls," accompanied, as it happened, by helicopter in a particularly delicate passage. This was not the only place where the city seemed to be conflicting with – or filling out – the group's music: What police sirens smashed through a song by indie-rock heroes Magnetic Fields, and what sounded like a fire truck roared through the climax of a gnarly early Schoenberg piece.

HERE is my story on the group, which has a concert at Schoenberg Hall this Saturday and a lot of stuff, at the Hammer and elsewhere, through December. I speak to Hammer curator Elizabeth Cline and the group's conductor, Christopher Rountree.

Very much looking forward from more from these guys...

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Farewell to Gore Vidal

MUCH of the literary world is mourning Gore Vidal, who died at his home here in the Hollywood Hills. Vidal was important, of course, as a social and political critic as well as a as a novelist. (He was also of course, an actor, television writer, playwright, bon vivant, curmudgeon, and so on.)
Photo by Carl Van Vechten

I encountered Vidal just twice -- once by phone, for a story I wrote after the death of Norman Mailer, speaking to other writers on his legacy, and a second time, in person, while he sipped several enormous dry martinis and consumed what I recall as a Dungeness crab salad. 

This second, and far more gracious, encounter, was at Musso and Frank Grill, the Hollywood institution dating back to 1919, where I was interviewing various staffers -- including the place's famous bartenders -- and patrons for a history of the place.

Here's a teaser of what I got as we talked about his experience at Musso's going back to the early '40s. I'm in itals.

How long have you been coming to Musso's?

I'd say, since the early '40s. I knew enough old Hollywood hands to know Faulkner comes here, Fitzgerald comes here...

Did you ever spend time with Faulkner here?

It was mostly eye contact -- He'd be at the bar. He'd be sitting there and drinking seriously. 

What would he drink?


Did you ever speak to him back then?

Not then. (Laughs.) I wouldn't do that to anybody. Particularly serious drinkers. He went in to get drunk.

Middle of the day, usually? 

That was the most fun, because he was still getting paid by the studio.


Vidal and I also spoke about his friendship with Scott Fitzgerald's daughter Scottie. ("She was always upset about the way the Fitzgeralds were being depicted. I said, My dear, it's all true, and because of that you live on a considerable income"), his years writing for TV (he claimed he was for a while the field's highest paid writer), and Sarah Palin (who he described as being "hatched from a gull's egg.") 

Here I want to insert one of my favorite of Vidal's quotes: “I’m exactly as I appear. There is no warm, lovable person inside. Beneath my cold exterior, once you break the ice, you find cold water.” I saw that side at times, and when I interviewed him about Mailer he was smug and pompous.

But at Musso's that day, after we walked down memory lane for about 90 minutes, I excused myself, had a brief lunch, spoke to the manager, and prepared to go home. As I was leaving, I saw Vidal, his wheelchair near the bar, telling stories and jokes and completely cracking up a couple of busboys. As abrasive as he could be, his charm was pretty incredible, too.