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City In(Flux)
by Thom Fowler

I found a new fun thing to do in LA. Free live tapings of TV shows. You can sit in a taping in the day and then, in the case of the Tonight Show, watch the broadcast that night. TV Magic was happening right in front of my eyes. I don’t think I’ll ever watch a Variety Talk Show in the same way again.

You don’t have to mail away for tickets and plan a whole trip out of it. You know how they say, “If you are going to be in the Los Angeles Area and would like tickets to the show, call or write … blah blah blah”. Don’t write, that takes forever and you don’t know what date you’ll get tickets for. Instead use TVTIX.COM.

It was 1 am and I was tooling around online and mentioned that I should go to a taping of the Tonight Show since its just right there. I spent some time doing work in the production department of a community access station once and got the big overview of what people do, how a control room works, etc. Since I want to work in television as a writer, I was excited to get a little closer to at least knowing what was involved. And now I can go and watch how high stakes, millions of people are watching, production works.

A couple of clicks and a phone call later, I had tickets to the taping for that day. My Valentines present to me.

They don’t spare any expense to make the show come off as lively and energetic. Jay came out and gave a little schpiel to the audience reminding us to laugh at the monologue. And then ANOTHER guy came out and instructed the audience how to respond, when to laugh and then he got 6 girls from the audience to dance for soda can coolers and t-shirts with the Tonight Show logo emblazoned on them. This took about 20 minutes to get the audience laughing, cheering and excited.

This was the part I thought I’d flub. You can’t go be a part of a studio audience if you are a surly, black-cladden neo-beatnik. But I played along. I hooted and cheered and stood and clapped on cue. The audience was happy to do their part but I wouldn’t have danced like a stripper in training in front of a bunch of strangers for a can cooler. Those girls must have been paid plants else it’s a sad day for women in America.

And then the band that normally just sits there and Branford Marsalis makes the occassional witty reply, went into ANTHEM ROCK OVERDRIVE with power chords and soul stirring lyrics like “You are free, it’s a sexual revolution, be what you want to be.”

I loved it. I’m going back.

I want to watch the well manicured punky homo fix Jay’s tie. And Jay managed to tell fag jokes without being, you know, malicious. I’d be careful if a big flamer were dressing me every day. Jay wore a tie with a black heart on it, right over his heart.

I met some folks from Kansas and some folks from Michigan. And Bono was in town to receive an award from the “rock world” for his humanitarian work. The other members of U2 didn’t show up because they thought the whole thing was “unhip”.

I think I picked a good time to show up in Hollywood. Everyone is reassessing their priorities, their storylines and honoring the contributions to humanity of mega stars who are saying, “I know how much power I have.”

Is this the rennaissance of a New Hollywood? And how can I cash in?

I’m trying to get an internship at a Literary Agency. I don’t care if there is no money, being friends with an agent is a good thing for a writer in Hollywood.

Not that money is being flung around with careless abandon. Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp posted a 900 million dollar loss this quarter. That’s a lot of budget in media.

Those spoken word nights are going to be jam packed with people whose creativity was bled out of them by the “old media”. I’m going to keep saying that because eventually everyone will think that there really has been a shift and behave accordingly. “What do we do now?”

News anchors on the local news look like porno stars and talking chimps and they all have a vacant teleprompter stare. The channel 9 news “team” wanted to create the illusion of journalistic integrity so they had a segment by an “investigative reporter”. Another pretty, made for primetime face with a square jaw, piercing blue eyes and good manners. I can’t even remember what the story was about because it wasn’t compelling at all. I think we should do away with the term “Broadcast journalist” all together since talking heads only read teleprompters. They should do a segment called “real journalism” and pop the bubble around the collective head of the “southland”.

All colloquialisms are in quotes.

I’ve never liked Primetime news. Here’s the tired yet amazingly still true cliché criticism. It’s emotionally manipulative and vapid. It’s not “news” its “TV”. And TV is great if you can remember that it’s a bowl of candy. And everyone who creates it, knows it, and somehow, everyone who watches it, buys into it. That’s a phenomenon worth investigating on the evening news. “Why do you watch this pile of crap”.

I would love to see someone on the news say , “well, it was a slow news day so we threw together this heart-wrenching feel good piece because we can”.

A week ago there was a segment about flooding and they used footage from 7 years ago. This was broadcast on a very dry, hot winter day. Man, El Nino gave everyone something to do. Now they might have to actually go FIND a story. How about, “The Great Synaptic Leap” or “What happens when an electrical impulse fails to make it to the next neuron” and they wouldn’t have to do any work at all, just run the news as usual.

So I found a little café I can call home one night a week. I hopped around the local open mike scene. In San Francisco it’s all words, in LA its all music. I went to this one night called “Open Mind Night” at the Highland Grounds on Highland just north of Melrose and there was a line out the door of people and their guitars. You have to sign up and then there is a lottery. To top it off, there is a 3 dollar cover and 1 drink minimum. !?!?!. A @”&*#$@ THREE DOLLAR COVER for an open mike night? The last refuge of the downtrodden unwinding their angst for a waiting audience.

But I guess if you consistently get a hundred more people than there is time for you can start implementing economic controls. I got there at 7pm, the time when the sign up sheet opens and I was hearing people around me saying, “We’re too far back to get on the list”, and another aggravated musician, “Just how early do you have to show up to get on the list?”. His question was rhetorical but someone had thought about this. They figured out the system. “You can get here around 6:30 and wait. The problem is parking. You can’t park on the street until 7 and the side streets are all permit.” So if you are really ambitious and you really want to take the stage, you can park half a mile away. Hike in with your gear and wait it out. So for that, three bucks and a drink, you get 4 minutes of stage time.

Fuck that noise. I headed to Santa Monica for my backup plan. I bet you didn’t know you can be intrepid and have back up plans. I just wrote a Valentines Day monologue that I was going to deliver somewhere that night. I didn’t want to wreck my flow.

I like Santa Monica. It makes me think of Jack, Janet and Chrissy and when I’m driving around I imagine them shopping at Ralphs, browsing the newsstand at the promenade and having disastrous dates on the pier. Most of that show took place indoors. Every once in a while you’d see Janet at her florist shop or Jack at his Bistro but you never saw them out on the streets. It’s too hard to do, production wise but they must go grocery shopping sometime. When I wrap the real Santa Monica around the fictional sound stage Santa Monica, it’s the like the world blossoms and I’m there, living life next to my favorite TV characters that taught me so much about life. I half expect to run into Bugs Bunny at the 7-11.

I didn’t think I’d find this in LA, but I did. A spoken word night that does the whole concept justice. At the UnUrban café every Wednesday on Pico at 31st. It’s “groovy, baby”. It “snaps”, It “jives”, it “flows”, its “electric and eclectic”. And there was a nice sized crowd of not only readers but listeners so some people came just to hear the word on the street. And the coffee was good. I haven’t found a café yet that has good coffee and the kind of atmosphere I appreciate. My landlady keeps telling me where all the Starbucks are. I don’t even try to explain.

I read my Valentines Day thing, the gist of which was “I’m not in this café looking for love … motherfucker”.

I couldn’t tell if it was a polite clap, but Tony, the host, asked if I was coming back next week. Was that so they could change the locks? Tony’s a great guy. He told everyone to make a friend during the break. I just might go back. Not Wednesday though. There’s a presentation called “Prime Time Queer” about images of gays and lesbians on television so I’m practically obligated to go.

Santa Monica is still a long way to drive for a decent cup of a coffee so I took a tip from a friend of mine who knows the kind of teeth staining gut roil I’m after and headed out to Silverlake. There is a stretch of Vintage clothing stores, antique shops and cafés along Sunset starting around Sanborn. The vibe is funky hoodoo fresh with incense and organic soaps being sold alongside restored home finishings. The Casbah Café looks like a Morocco trading square with coffee tables tucked against racks of guaze skirts, baskets of oranges and the ubiquitous incense. The signboard behind the counter looks like an artifact from a pre-revolution French tea house in Algeria. This being Hollywood, its hard to tell if it was artfully constructed or if it’s the real thing, but the effect is the same. The atmosphere is disney-eque but inspiring rather than tiring.

The café was staffed a couple of Mexican-American girls who spoke Spanish to each other and heavily accented English to the patrons. Silverlake used to be straight up gang banging Latino Ghetto but it’s evolved to provide a niche for the queers and hepcats that moved in in the 90’s looking for affordable housing. The Moroccon Bazaar feel of the commercial strip evokes Burrough’s Interzone, the Creature Cantina in Star Wars, the crossroads of the cosmos.

I didn’t stop there but I’ll back for a pot of tea before too long. It really is the kind of place best shared and pulling out my laptop was too anachronistic an element. I didn’t want to wreck the dream for the few people sitting at the tile top tables withering away under the LA sun, imagining up the heady smell of kif, water boys and overweight British journalists in white, sweat stained jackets.

I couldn’t find the café my friend told me about. It might not even exist anymore. There used to be a little coffee place on Santa Monica, nestled among the discos like RAGE (as in ROID) and the effusion of rainbow printed ticky-tack. It is now a listen and buy CD store. And I was just there 8 months ago. The memory of it had been completely obliterated. I had to walk past a couple of times to remember that yes, it was this many steps away from the corner and I wasn’t in the wrong part of the street.

I went instead to Tsunami, a café run by the Sunset Junction Neighborhood Alliance. The Moroccon theme was running pretty heavy here too, with a table full of cheap insence, sand colored walls, a Japanase mermaid mural and piles and piles of carpet pillows. Profits from the café help fund Silverlake youth programs. I thought it was just a café but it’s a social nexus in Silverlake with a community center, a theatre and a small stage in the café itself. Pammy Sue, The Latin Goddess, hosts an open mike every Wednesday. She also puts together a Latina Spoken Word event through the café. Pammy Sue talked my ear off about Silverlake so now I know more than most locals about the place. The latest bad blood from new developers is pooling up around the former Detour, a long established gay bar, that was bought and miraculously transformed into a “mixed” bar that is actually only straight. The Detour was an institution in the Silverlake gay community for almost two decades but you wouldn’t know it if you just got to town. The wound is as fresh as the new coat of paint.

“Silverlake has always been about unity and coming together”, says Pammy Sue, who didn’t appreciate someone wantonly changing the character of the neighborhood without first trying to understand the spirit of the neighborhood.

Silverlake isn’t a third world country that needs economic development. They are proud of their corner of LA and don’t want to lose control to slick, overproduced, Melrose-esque invaders. At least that’s the impression I got.

Flea, from the Red Hot Chili Peppers opened up the Music Conservatory across the street for local youth just a few months ago. The Conservertory has a music library and music programs, free of charge. Flea is from the area and he wanted to give back to the community.

I’m broke ass right now so I brought in a couple hundred pennies to buy my coffee and the counter person didn’t bother charging me. Luckily I had a some dimes so I could at least tip her.

“There are nice people in LA but they are few and far between”, says her boyfriend. “You just got lucky today to run into 3 of them at once.” The café sits above a great vintage store called Come to Mama. Again the incense, subterranean tchotchkes and reasonably priced, hard to find, good stuff.

Their clothes would cost twice as much at Wasteland on Melrose. The guy behind the counter told me that Japanese tourists come in and buy up whole racks at a time without even looking at them. I guess American Vintage is at a premium in Japan right now.

Lot’s of people go to the store just to hang out and chat. They used to have a couch, but people would come and sit all day so they took it out and now they just come and stand.

“You’d be surprised who we get in here”, he said.


link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=515
originally posted: 02/17/02 09:24:49
last updated: 02/18/02 08:32:37
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