Thursday, August 28, 2008

Drinking Hennessy With Morrissey

Our good friend Lyndsey Parker is not only a native Angeleno like us, but a kindred spirit of Nobody Walks in LA. She writes the notes-from-the-trenches LA Woman column for British music magazine/website, and points us toward an edition from a few months back in which she takes on the anti-LA lyrical sentiments found in so many songs about our city:

Whether it's Axl Rose warning that this sinful city will chew up/spit out all the hapless innocents who migrate here by the busload ("Welcome To The Jungle"); the Decemberists singing of the "ocean's garbled vomit" and the "smell of burnt cocaine" ("Los Angeles, I'm Yours"); Death Cab For Cutie questioning, "Is this the city of angels or demons?" ("Why You'd Want To Live Here"); Public Enemy declaring, "Burn Hollywood Burn!"; or even Madonna sharing cautionary casting-couch tales in "Hollywood"...well, it's not difficult to find a good song about L.A., but it's nearly impossible to find one that has anything good to say about the place I call home.

To read the rest, including a sighting of a pro-Los Angeles anthem in its natural habitat -- an occurrence so rare it actually inspired that week's entire column -- click here.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Indie-Yuppies Vs. LA, Part II

Why do the indie-yuppies hate us so? I'd been waffling a bit on whether the Decemberists' 2003 track, "Los Angeles, I'm Yours," really counts as cliched -- mainly because Colin Meloy's language is so flowery, I can barely understand what the hell he's talking about. But a couple people suggested it for this blog, and from what I can tell, he certainly doesn't like us:

There is a city by the sea
A gentle company
I don't suppose you want to
And as it tells its sorry tale
In harrowing detail
Its hollowness will haunt you
Its streets and boulevards
Orphans and oligarchs it hears
A plaintive melody
Truncated symphony
An ocean's garbled vomit on the shore
Los Angeles, I'm yours

Oh ladies, pleasant and demure
Sallow-cheeked and sure
I can see your undies
And all the boys you drag about
An empty fellow found
From Saturdays to Mondays
You hill and valley crowd
Hanging your trousers down at heel
This is the realest thing
As ancient choirs sing
A dozen blushing cherubs wheel above
Los Angeles I love

Oh what a rush of ripe elan
Languor on divans
Dalliant and dainty
But oh, the smell of burnt cocaine
The dolor and decay
It only makes me cranky
Oh great calamity
Ditch of iniquity and tears
How I abhor this place
Its sweet and bitter taste
Has left me wretched, retching on all fours
Los Angeles, I'm yours

Next time tell us how you really feel, Colin. Now there are indeed a few tried-and-true LA stereotypes in here, mainly the cocaine and the hollowness and the iniquity. But most of it just adds up to a general dump of somewhat nonsensical anti-Los Angeles-isms, from the dueling barf references to the affected pronunciation of "Los Ange-LEES" (I'm surprised he doesn't use the hard "g") to the sallow-cheeked underwear-exposing ladies having sex while cherubs sing -- he says that like it's a bad thing. It's all very evocative, but when you get down to it, he's just kind of kvetching without any actual criticism or analysis or even remotely realistic description of our city, let alone evidence that he has any real knowledge of it. And we're the ones who are "hollow"?

Of course, just four years later the Decemberists were welcomed warmly to LA to headline the 17,400-seat Hollywood Bowl, accompanied by the LA Philharmonic. I have to admit I've been called a lot of things in my time, but if someone described me as "an ocean's garbled vomit," I'm not sure I'd be so forgiving.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

¡Yo Quiero Less Cliches!

I was quite excited to see Beverly Hills Chihuahua was coming for the purposes of this blog, but then I realized that, unlike Beverly Hills Cop or Beverly Hills Ninja, this film doesn't actually take place in Beverly Hills:

While on vacation in Mexico, Chloe, a ritzy Beverly Hills chihuahua, finds herself lost and in need of assistance in order to get back home.

Oh well. Here's the trailer, which is stirring up much more controversy than a Disney talking-dog musical should for its attitude toward Latino culture, women, and treating Mexico and Peru as interchangable:

As you can see, the titular city gets surprisingly little screentime, so they've got to really make their point quickly, cramming images that shorthand "Beverly Hills" into just a few seconds. So these are the shots we get:

1. city streets
2. corner of Rodeo and Wilshire
3. hot babe in sundress with dog in purse
4. yellow expensive-looking convertible sportscar
5. palm trees
6. mansions

What, no kidney-shaped swimming pool? I suppose the above is quick and efficient and doesn't really hurt anyone, or necessarily indicate the Beverly Hills scenes will be candy-colored cliches or anything...

Okay, I'm off to erase that image from my brain in the yearly goodness that is the Sunset Junction Street Festival, which is conveniently located right by the Mack Sennett Studio so I can pop over after filming. See you at the Cold War Kids.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

You Won't Possess Our Hearts

"Why You'd Want to Live Here" is a 2001 anti-LA rant from indie-yuppie blandsters Death Cab for Cutie, but the real question is why anyone'd want to languish around Washington for a guy who writes lyrics so ridiculously rife with stereotype:

I'm in Los Angeles today
It smells like an airport runway
Jet fuel stenches in the cabin
And lights flickering at random
I'm in Los Angeles today
Garbage cans comprise the medians of freeways
Always creeping even when the population's sleeping
And I can't see why you'd want to live here

I'm in Los Angeles today
Asked a gas station employee if he ever had trouble breathing
And he said, "It varies from season to season, here."
It's where our best are on display
Motion picture actors' houses maps are never ever current
So save your film and fifteen dollars
And I can't see why you'd want to live here

Billboards reach past the tallest buildings
We are not perfect but we sure try
As UV rays "degradate" our youth with time
The vessel keeps pumping us through this entropic place
In the belly of the beast that is Californ-i-a
I drank from the faucet and I kept my receipt
For when they weigh me on the way out
Here nothing is for free
The greyhounds keep coming dumping locusts into the street
Until the gutters overflow and Los Angeles thinks
"I might explode someday soon."
It's a lovely summer's day
I can almost see a skyline
Through a thickening shroud of egos
Is this the city of angels or demons?

And here the names are what remain
Stars encapsulate the golden lame
And they need constant cleaning
For when the tourists begin salivating
And I can't see why you'd want to live here.

Billboards reach past the tallest buildings
You can't swim in a town this shallow
because you will most assuredly drown tomorrow

I'm feeling a little Olympic-y this week, so let's start this song at a score of 10.0 and deduct one point for each tired Los Angeles cliche:

- 1: "LA's dark underbelly" (in this case, the belly of the beast)
- 1: Mention of freeways
- 1: Mention of smog
- 1: Mention of motion picture actors/their big houses/star maps
- 1: Mention of billboards (I never knew this was such a big LA stereotype, but Jay Babcock brought it up too so it gets a deduction)
- 1: We are not perfect but we sure try (everyone's striving for some unrealistic level of perfection here)
- 1: Mention of UV rays/sun/tanning
- 1: Here nothing is for free = we're all sellouts
- 2: I can almost see a skyline through a thickening shroud of egos earns two deductions for 1) second smog reference, 2) egos
- 2: Is this the city of angels or demons? Another dual earner as a a hybrid of "angels live in our city" and "LA's dark underbelly"
- 1: And here the names are what remain / Stars encapsulate the golden lame / And they need constant cleaning for when the tourists begin salivating = snarking on Hollywood Walk of Fame, because honoring prominent local citizens is something only we do in LA apparently
- 1: You can't swim in a town this shallow

And the final results are... -4, an all-time Nobody Walks in LA record. That's not even counting some of the negative yet less actually-cliched lines, either, like us smelling like an airport (I d
doubt we'll need a tag for that one) or the Day of the Locust reference, which gets a pass for being literary (but we reserve the right to add that later if it pops up enough).

Death Cab dig this song so much that they're still performing it live, seven years later, and Gibbard is shocked, shocked! when the lyrics don't resonate with LA audiences:

During "Why You'd Want to Live Here," Gibbard sang in the voice of someone trying to convince a lover not to move to Los Angeles ("You can't swim in a town this shallow -- you will most assuredly drown tomorrow"). It's not exactly a love letter to the city and elicited no special response from the crowd. When Gibbard tried to lead a singalong, the reaction was half-hearted and brief. "That was pretty weak, you guys," he said.
He expects a singalong?! Good lord. But the best part is that two years after this song's release, the band became exponentially more famous due to frequent mentions in not just a Southern California-based TV show, but one so Southern California-based that its location comprises its title, linking the band and locale inextricably together in many people's minds. Come on Ben, your last album debuted at #1 thanks to us. Are you drowning or have we actually kept you afloat?

Friday, August 15, 2008

Malingering Doubts

Oh, how I love Malingering. By that, I mean I love a female psychiatrist who goes by that pseudonym in her flickr photostream and blog that skewers some of the ridiculous fashion choices she finds in her daily life. (I can't abide malingering, however. Well, malingering in others.) And since she lives on the west side of Los Angeles, she does find some pretty ridiculous fashion choices.

At first glance, it might appear that she is simply the "mean-spirited, heartless wench" she facetiously claims to be, and that she hates Los Angeles, but I feel there's something a lot deeper going on in her explorations. She focuses on subjects who don't seem to be making their fashion choices on their own, but rather taking cues from media stereotypes of LA style - the attitude of "Paris Hilton is the ultimate blonde-haired, blue-eyed Angeleno*, and I see
from these pictures in the Enquirer that she shops at Kitson. Therefore, I should shop at Kitson." It's a very odd self-reflexivity that is sad to contemplate, but Malingering allows us to laugh at it. She's not stereotyping Los Angeles as much as she is mocking the stereotype of Los Angeles that many of our citizens have bought into.

"I don't think this is about any person in particular. I think this is about people laughing at themselves and their own perceptions of what an image projects. I don't think it matters even if this these are real people, because it has much less to do with the people in the photos themselves and more to do with our reflections on them or what they represent to a particular person."
She is also tough as nails; just reading the sampling of scathing emails sent her way makes my bobbed hair curl. So brava, Dr. Malingering, and keep up the good work. You can fill my Prozac prescription any time.

*Of course, Paris Hilton is naturally a brown-eyed brunette from New York, but let's not quibble.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me

Lest you think all we do here is complain at Nobody Walks in LA, I'd like to point you toward a new film making the festival rounds. Okay, it's called In Search of a Midnight Kiss , which is a title roughly as affected as At Play in the Fields of the Lord, but besides that it does sound quite good, and like a real, actual representation of Los Angeles. I can't tell you much about the film itself as it doesn't open til tonight, and Fatty and I are busy with reshoots, and being that I'm the top comedienne of the silent era, I can't exactly show up unannounced at the Arclight. But I do like what the director says in today's LA Times about filming in downtown LA:

Meanwhile, the fleeting, single shots of a number of buildings downtown are the most elegiac, encountered not as settings but as subjects of emotional intent. Having gone through a very difficult transition after arriving here from Austin, Texas, in the summer of 2003 -- he'd lost his girlfriend, his car and went broke (all of which is represented in "Midnight Kiss") -- [director Alex]Holdridge aimed to infuse this inner turmoil into the downtown landscape.

"My emotional state at the time was, on the one hand, raw, depressed, frustrated and feeling a bit hopeless," he said. "And yet for me, just recognizing how unbelievably beautiful it is down there, I couldn't believe how gorgeous those theaters were, how beautiful the banks were."

Well of course they are! But those of us who live here and frequent downtown's establishments (like the Redwood Bar, where I'll be spinning '80s post-punk and '90s indie rock tonight after filming) and don't live in a fantasy world created by mass media don't need to be told that. But you know who does need to be told that? Apparently the Brits:

The film had its theatrical premiere in London in mid-July and continued its rollout throughout the U.K. before opening stateside, and audiences there,according to Holdridge, “were shocked to see that L.A. – ‘We only know it as beach bimbos or ghetto or Beverly Hills.’ They’re thinking: ‘We’ve seen thousands of movies from L.A., but we never get to see what L.A. looks like normally.’ ”

Alex Holdridge, we at Nobody Walks in LA thank you. You have brought me one step closer to no longer having to bring up Benny Hill just to counter my UK friends' belief that The OC is an accurate representation. You can come blog for us any time.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Ain't No Cliche Bad Enough

Ashford and Simpson don't really get their due around some parts for writing amazing songs like "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," and are instead remembered more for their '80s synth-cheezy hit "Solid" since their names are attached to that one as performers. But they probably should have kept their names off this:

Got off the plane where they say it don't rain
Thought to myself 'this is for me'
Oooh, look all around and everywhere the streets were empty
Checked in the hotel to unpack my things
Gotta get out and find some company
And then it hit me! Ooh

Don't walk around, I heard somebody say
In Hollywood they do things a different way
Don't you be caught cruising on a sunny day
Cause nobody walks in LA
Nobody walks in LA

I had some dreams
I was gonna crack the scene
Thought anywhere I could survive
And there must be a special place
Where the beautiful people hide
Began to wonder what was I doing wrong
Had to pick it out and tell it to me
Then it hit me

Don't walk around, I heard somebody say
In Hollywood they do things a different way
Don't you be caught walking on a sunny day
Cause nobody walks in LA
Nobody walks

I've been around and I like New York and Chinatown
Where rivers of people seem to flow
And being here under the sky so blue
What do you do?
What do you do?

I've been around and I don't understand this town
You got to know somebody
Or be on the party list
And if you're not a big star
You won't be missed

But the most important rule
No matter what games they play

(Fadeout on chorus)

This is the Ashford and Simpson song that Steve Buscemi's date in Ghost World should have played to really send him running. And sure, that film was supposedly set in a nameless Everytown, USA, but we Angelenos know the truth -- its cover was blown the second Enid's bus drove by Mario's Peruvian on Rossmore and Melrose. And all anyone did in that entire film was walk around.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Kandy Kolored Tangerine Flake Red Car, Baby

Los Angeles has long been justifiably mocked for its smog, and I'm not going to try to refute that. We have smog; it's horrible. Add a sprawling metropolis to a desert basin, and you're going to have smog.

We of course could do a lot better by using alternate modes of transportation such as public transit, but at this point we're too devoted to our pink Cadillac convertible cars that we drive to the beach with our blonde hair streaming behind us like a sexy sunkissed flag, right? Isn't that what people driving in Los Angeles do if they're not in pre-driveby shooting road rage mode? Pray to the blessedness of their tailfins while stuck in a sigAlert?

Erm, no. We do love our cars, but that love mainly comes from dependence. Any viewer of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? should remember that the basic plot of the story was a conspiracy involving the replacement of Los Angeles' well-conceived Pacific Electric Railway (a/k/a the "Red Car" trolleys) with a bus system. A bus system that used gas, and tires, and buses manufactured by various companies with an interest in taking over transportation for a sprawling metropolis. And public transportation in our city crumbled when somebody realized that public transportation wasn't a moneymaking opportunity even when you have a monopoly on it.

So we developed our car culture as a way of making lemonade out of lemons. If you don't believe a dead silent film star like me, just check out Tom Wolfe's essay about kids and designers in the middle of LA car culture in the '60s to see what a fantastic lemonade we made. But really, I think we'd all be happy here having the opportunity to use public transportation and alternate methods of transport rather than having to drive all of the goldurn time. We dream about it, and we're working on making the dream a reality. It is, of course, still hilarious to be stuck in traffic behind that ancient mummy Angelyne and her pink Corvette, but I don't think the humor would be lost if we could encounter that sight while whizzing past her on a bicycle.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

A Million Little Cliches

It would make sense to actually read a book before posting about it, but the opening lines of David L. Ulin's LA Times review of "Bright Shiny Morning" (James Frey's first admittedly fictional novel / attempt at redemption) don't exactly send me trotting off to Borders:

"Bright Shiny Morning" is a terrible book. One of the worst I've ever read. But you have to give James Frey credit for one thing: He's got chutzpah. Two and a half years after he was eviscerated by Oprah Winfrey for exaggerating many of the incidents in his now-discredited memoir "A Million Little Pieces," he's back with this book, which aims to be the big novel about Los Angeles, a panoramic look at the city that seeks to tell us who we are and how we live.

You too, James? Frey did really live here for eight years so one would think he possibly could "get it," but his time was spent writing crappy David Schwimmer movies and coming up with new lies for his memoir, so he may not have gotten out of the house that much. Hence we get what Ulin describes thusly:

Frey seems to know little about Los Angeles and to have no interest in it as a real place where people wrestle with actual life. There are obligatory riffs on freeways and natural disasters and a chapter on visual artists that lists "the highest price ever paid for a piece of their work in a public auction." There are also occasional installments of "Fun Facts" about the city, as if to give the illusion of a certain depth. Did you know that it is "illegal to lick a toad within the city limits of Los Angeles"? Neither did I. But I also don't know what this has to do with the larger story of the novel, except as another example of L.A. as odd and quirky, a territory in which we all "live with Angels and chase their dreams."

Gah, here we go again with talk of "angels" in our city because our city's name happens to be Los Angeles, with the added bonus of pigeonholing us as dreamy and flighty. When I start hearing about how we all "live with meadows" in Las Vegas, this will be an acceptable inferrence.

Just for comparison, let's see how Janet Maslin in the New York Times felt about the book (in a review in which she mimicked Frey's writing style):

He wrote about people who were drawn to Los Angeles and who they were, why they came, what they wanted, whether they got it, if they didn’t get that, then what they got instead. He looked into their hearts. But he didn’t get sloppy, not maudlin. He just made up characters and wrote as if he cared about them desperately. Bright Shiny Morning. A new chance, real or illusory, that’s what they all wanted. Bright Shiny Morning. So he made that the name of the book.

His publisher called it a dazzling tour de force. (Look, somebody had to, if only to create a comeback drama.) But that wasn’t so far off the mark.

Oh come on, lady. I know you were once married to Jon Landau, who wrote possibly the most famous line of rock cricitism ever -- "I saw rock and roll's future and its name is Bruce Springsteen" -- which did turn out to be true. But you still don't have to believe everything you read.