Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Roots of Christine Ebersole

YOU'VE got to be in awe of an actress who can portray both Little Edie and Big Edie from Grey Gardens. Winning a Tony for the feat is not likely easy, either.

I spoke recently to Christine Ebersole, the actress and singer who's done everything from Tootsie to Saturday Night Live to Noel Coward. That piece, part of my Influences series for the LA Times Culture Monster page, is here.

I should not spoil it, but despite the very fine names on her list (Carol Lombard, Joni Mitchell), I was most impressed with the words of the late New York theater director with whom she closed out our conversation.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Novelist Neal Stephenson

ONE of the smartest, as well as the toughest, writers I've ever encountered in Neal Stephenson, who is somewhere between a cyberpunk writer, a science-fiction novelist and a cultural historian.

I met Stephenson, who has a new novel out, in his hometown of Seattle just before the publication of Anathem. HERE is my interview with the author of Snow Crash and The Baroque Triology.

One of Anathem's observations seems more and more true to me as we move into the future.

"That idea kept coming back to me, because it still seemed fresh," Stephenson said, "the idea that book-reading people were more and more diverging from the mainstream, that they're a separate culture invisible to media culture."

And here is a Salon review of his new thriller, Readme.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Hell of Freelancing - or is it Purgatory?

FOR some people, going it alone is a blast, and lucrative as well. Advocates of the "free agent nation" see it casual, flexible, energetic -- a way to tap into your real talent and potential.
Free agent Reggie Jackson

They say we've moved beyond the stodgy, gray-flannel-suited Organization Man of mid-century, who was all about conformity and corporate loyalty.

But for many writers, artists, musicians and so on, dealing with a collapsed economy and a shifting culture driven by the Internet, it's not much fun. These stories tend not to get told.

The second piece of my Salon series on the fate of the creative class is up. Please check it out.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Catalina's Jazz Club at 25

SOMETIMES culture works in strange ways. Twenty-five years ago this month, Catalina Popescu, who had emigrated to LA from an authoritarian Romania, a country without an especially rich jazz tradition, met the horn player Buddy Collette, and within a week had opened a jazz club.

A quarter century later, Catalina's on Sunset is still open. With the demise of the beloved Jazz Bakery (soon to rise again), it's become the most consistent place to see major national acts in Los Angeles.

Here is my piece in today's LA Times about some of musicians who made Popescu want to open a jazz club and keep it going through good times and bad.

Happy birthday to the club, which celebrates with a bash on Monday night.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Introducing Pacific Standard Time

IT'S finally happened. After a lot of talk, the postwar art blowout Pacific Standard Time has opened at dozens of museums and spaces across Southern California.

Your humble blogger wrote a piece for Los Angeles magazine about the origins, offerings and meaning of the whole thing -- it includes a dozen recommended shows, from the Getty's overview, Crosscurrents, to a show of swimming pool photography in Palm Springs. Here's an image that describes what I liked about this period:

Walter Hopps, the curator-genius who steered the gallery in its radical early days, originally supported his art habit by working as a psych-ward orderly. Kienholz lived, as he put it, “on the fringes of society, like a termite,” so poor that he bartered a painting for the removal of an aching tooth. Irwin made his money winning dance contests—the lindy mostly—and betting on horses. Billy Al Bengston was so broke that he couldn’t afford a battery for his car: The art school dropout parked his ’37 Pontiac facing downhill, nose toward the Malibu surf, so he could roll-start it.

Here's something art critic Dave Hickey just told the New York Times:

Wildman Ed Kienholz
“It’s corny,” said Dave Hickey, an art critic and a professor in the art and art history department at the University of New Mexico. “It’s the sort of thing that Denver would do. They would do Mountain Standard Time. It is ’50s boosterish, and I would argue largely unnecessary.”

You be the judge.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Perils of the Creative Class

WE were supposed to be entering a laptop wielding, latte-sipping world where the Internet made us all more "connected," weren't we? But the Internet, combined with the bad economy and a restructuring of American life, has led to an erosion of the very creative class it was supposed to invigorate.

HERE is my new piece in Salon which looks at the state of the much hyped creative class in 2011. It's the first of a series in which we look at how artists, writers and people who deal with culture are faring -- a story that has been largely untold.

I spoke to a number of sources, including artists and writers struggling with the creative life and Internet skeptics Jaron Lanier and Andrew Keen.