Hate New York City, it’s cold and it’s damp…
Who didn’t enjoy the “cold open” to the 2013 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony? It happened a few weeks ago, but HBO preemed it to the nation late last month. In the midst of La-La Land, where the remaining top-down portion of the music business truly resides (sorry, Clive), Randy Newman tickled the ivories and teased about my town. By the time “Rand” acquired tempo, there were Tom Petty, Jackson Browne and John Fogerty standing up there with him, ready to help blast out the lyrics to a ditty so rockin and ultra-ironic that it almost got voted the official song of Los Angeles, however it is you do that. However…
[LITTLE SANTA MONICA?!]
Muchacho, I hate L.A.!
Now, I have some perfectly rational friends, lovely people all, who live and even thrive in La-La. Henry Kline. Bill Fitzhugh. Ben Schafer. Laura Kightlinger. Bob Crais. Paul Lance. Dan Moran and Amy Stout. Harlan Ellison. (Not two hours after I typed that last name, the phone rang and it was Harlan calling out of the blue, no particular reason, just to chat, hadn’t spoken to him in a couple years. Cue the TWILIGHT ZONE guitarist – but, Mr. Serling, sir, isn’t the time difference three hours?) Probably Tia Maggini too, only I’m not sure if she’s still out there. Blah blah blah, yes, it’s exciting and all. But if I knew I had to remain in the SoCal megalopolis for all time, I’d probably…was gonna say go postal, but I don’t think I could even fetch up that much bile: I’d just sob myself to sleep every night and hope I wouldn’t wake up. (Harlan has called NYC an “abbatoir,” so I don’t think I’m being all that unkind here. Let’s face it, he’s a master: c.f., “The Whimper of Whipped Dogs.”)
I like lots of stuff in L.A., tons of it. The Sunset Strip. The Hollywood Bowl. The Capitol Records building. Griffith Park. The HOLLYWOODLAND sign. The Groundlings. Grauman’s Mann’s TCL Chinese Theatre. In-N-Out Burgers. The Tar Pits. Spago. Ellison Wonderland, the interior of which is probably the single most long-fusingly dazzling sight I’ve yet beheld out there. (In fairness, I never made it to the Ackermansion, though Bob Crais offered to take me; somehow the timing didn’t work out.) Chico, I even like riding over the trees on the monorail to Disneyland and registering the famous castle from tv, up close and personal, imagining Tink setting off her sexy fireworks. Makes me sniffle just remembering one glorious temperate summer night, and Disney *World* just isn’t the same, never was, never will be. That pale imitation is more like…ummmm…riding in a tram to make you think you’re seeing the real thing, like on a studio tour.
What I don’t like, the dealbreaker of all dealbreakers, is the irritation – bordering on humiliation – of living in a place where anything you really want to do is so tantalizingly close but out of reach, unless you can game the freeways. That stupid SNL sketch “The Californians,” the one where the airheads all explain their driving routes, is closer to the truth than you realize, non-Angelenos! One of my L.A. pals once told me about driving to a Hollywood Bowl concert to which s/he HELD A FRICKIN TICKET, but couldn’t get there due to a traffic jam. CRYIN while sittin one mile from the Bowl on the Hollywood Freeway doing 00.00mph. After leavin an hour early!
One time I flew into town, rented my car, fought freeways to my hotel at Century City. (20th Century-Fox was HarperCollins’s sister company.) I wanted to visit my beloved author Bill Fitzhugh at his home in Woodland Hills. He said, come on over, we’ll whomp you up some vittles! I said, OK, what should I do? And he gave me the same kind of directions those silly Californians do on SNL, only he was serious! SO serious that I arrived within :10 of his predicted ETA, which included two bottlenecks on the way, which he’d already frickin PLANNED FOR! Now, I did get to see my old Jackson, MS droogie Victor Hawkins in person, and that huge surprise was worth the whole drive out to BF’s crib and back, but still. If I want to navigate an entire metroplex just to see a movie, I can stay in Phoenix with my father-in-law. (Same deal to get to Harlan’s: he carefully told me exactly what I would encounter all along the way, I did, and by the time I got to the legendary DIG. OR SPLIT. warning, I was so thankful to be alive that I almost crawled out of my car.)
My first view of the Holy Land was in 1974 or so. Patty Faralla, a music-biz publicist, offered me an interview (guess which of the following actually made print) if I’d just come out there and do the circuit, I could write whatever I heard. I wound up very busy. I interviewed Neil Bogart, who was marketing the second Kiss album and a Johnny Carson audio retrospective; Larry Harris, his Number Two, who was hipping me about why “Casablanca” Records also did “metal” and such; and Bill, Mark and Brett Hudson, the Hudson Brothers, Bill of which is Kate’s father. The Hudsons interview went great (clearly why I’d been brought out there in the first place; Casablanca obviously paid for it all), and I loved it: these boys presented themselves comedically as sharp as the Marxes, but they were all Harpo/Chicos; i.e., pretty good 70s-era musicians. But the magazine which I wrote it for rejected it: they said it sounded too much like I’d simply transcribed my audio tape. [Not frickin so, boys, but] OK, said I, and about two months later Rolling Stone published a Hudsons piece almost identically styled, but by then my former bosses’ mag had already been deep-sixed. I wasn’t mad at all, except for no more checks. However, rejected: a pretty funny piece, carefully crafted by me, on the Hudson Brothers. Yet, absurdly as events later proved, published by me a couple weeks later in Rolling Stone: Neil Bogart on Johnny Carson, which album turned out to be the most ignominious flop in Neil’s truncated career. So I was able to use a Los Angeles dateline for the first and only time in my life, but thus did the City of Angels vanish into ephemera in my own noggin.
Chip on my shoulder? Nope, I maintain it had nothing to do with who was publishing my stuff. I learned how to play backgammon on that trip, I’ll give L.A. that. But what I’ll never forget was that Patty planned to make dinner for five or six of us. OK. So I rode shotgun in her car as she stopped five, six, seven times to get all the foodstuffs she wanted. There was a bread store. An herb store. A meat store. A produce store. I couldn’t believe it. It took her seven or eight stops, burned up an eighth-tank of gas, to get what I could score in an Athens, GA supermarket in fifteen minutes. I said to myself then and there, I’m sorry but I absolutely said it to myself, bad as it may have been at that moment, still I said to myself back in 1974, I love Patty and Neil and the Hudsons and Larry’s, er, um, hospitality and all, but mate, I hate L.A.!
Once my friend Doug Ross and I were in Las Vegas, at the Venetian Hotel. We had tickets to the Penn & Teller show at the Rio. We walked out front and could see the Rio jutting out of the darkness, tantalizingly near. Doug had the good sense to ask the doorman, who was hailing taxis, if we could walk there, with a whole hour to spare. The guy looked at us like we were the Jed Clampett family. “Get in a taxi!” We soon realized that traversing that simple, maybe mile, required lots of massive-highway turns – it was actually quite a substantial trip – and if we’d been dim enough to attempt walking, we’d NEVER have made it. So, yes, Vegas does indeed suck, but friends, Los Angeles is this, quadruplicated.
People say, you grew up in the Deep South, so why are you so sweaty at summertime, heh heh, you should be used to it. Angelenos have evolved chitinous coverages called cars in order to get used to their spread-frickin-out city. I don’t want that. Every time I go to L.A. to visit a good friend, part of Iron Man’s uniform has to snap into place, unbidden and unwanted. I actually crave my own town’s shit & squalor as a detox agent. But frickin La-La? Fuggeddabboudit!
9/2/13: An opposing view, in an entertaining piece from Buzzfeed.
9/3/13: And then, of course, there’s this.