Archive for the ‘USA’ Category
Sunset Marquis hotel [Sunset & Alta Lomo]
Fun for its rock excess vibe/history and proximity to Sunset Strip, plus it’s something of an oasis despite being a stone’s throw from Sunset.
Made this old school diner my office. Great for breakfast and lashings of ice tea on a scorching day. The table-top jukebox adds to the pleasure.
Book Soup [8818 Sunset]
A proper independent book store which is a joy to browse. Also has a bit of vinyl tucked down the back.
Gjusta [320 Sunset Ave, Venice, CA]
A bakery in an old boat factory – lots of exposed brick and Californian healthiness. Not cheap but fun to eat out back – in particular yoghurt & honey and beigels. Met a starlette here.
Where Venice gets its name from and where Jim and The Doors got photographed. A tranquil backwater well worth a wander.
San Luis Obispo
Boo Boo Records [Monterey St]
An absolute top record store with lashings of vinyl, new and second-hand. Total delight.
Deetjen’s – Upper Creek House
The quintessential cabin in the woods – off the grid, back to nature, cosy fire in the hearth (as opposed to the horror movie sort).
I’m not usually too in to such things but this is a real model for how to present nature and sea-life. Wondrous and beautiful.
Old Capitol Books [559 Tyler St]
Fine second-hand book store with a big selection and plenty of gems.
Boogaloos [Valencia & 22nd]
Fun diner with staff who like comic books and stuff, in a striking Victorian building (old drugstore?).
Baby Blues BBQ [3149 Mission St]
The real McCoy. Honest to goodness American food – great sauces and staff.
Biking the Bridge [Fisherman’s Wharf to Sausalito]
Cross the Golden Gate Bridge on a two-wheeled steed. Joyful and thrilling, especially when you’re being wind-blasted as you cross the bridge. Blazing Saddles was a good bike supplier and the name is irresistible of course – get 20% off by booking online, even on the day.
City Lights [Columbus & Broadway]
Perhaps a cliche of San Francisco …but who cares – a genuine book-lovers’ bookstore with, of course, an illustrious history. Live life to a different Beat.
We left LA with two final movie things to delight us and cast a glittering light on the City of Angels. First, I found out that the apartment we were staying in – apart from being on the same street Jim (Morrison) used to live on – was adjacent to the location of the first movie in which Charlie Chaplin appeared as The Little Tramp. It is now a dog park but back in 1914 it was the site of the ‘Kid Auto Races at Venice’ where Mack Sennett produced a 6 minute short directed by Henry Lehrman. My second son has Charlie as a middle name in honour of Chaplin.
Last time we were in LA together (when he was 4) we were hosted by my Paramount friends at a house Chaplin had built for his mistress. This time (he is now 15) we enjoyed spotting various Chaplin traces around Venice (mostly murals) but it was only on our day of departure I found out in detail why they were there.
The other movie moment to adorn that day was when the same son spotted a face he recognised in the place we went en famille for breakfast, a bakery called Gjusta also in Venice, located in an old boat-building factory adjacent to Gold’s Gym of Arnie fame. It had been Arnold Schwarzenegger’s birthday the day before and by chance I spotted, when out running along the beach, that his image fills giant-size the wall behind Jim’s mural ‘Morning Shot’. So after a breakfast with a bit less raw meat than Arnie would be used to (Gjusta is pretty California nutty-crunchy), Enfant Terrible No. 2 spotted this hot girl he recognised from the big screen and I had the pleasure of seeing him pluck up the courage to speak to her, plan his approach and execute it cooly. She turned out to be Cody Horn from Magic Mike. Her father is chairman of Walt Disney Studios and was formerly president of Warner Bros. so I guess “How did you get into movies?” was not worth the asking. No, to be fair, she was very warm and charming and happy to be engaged in conversation, as well as plenty glamorous so she helped bring our LA stay to a perfect, fitting end.
We drove out of Gjusta with the LA Road Songs CD aforementioned Paramount pals made for us on our Route 101 trip 11 years ago playing loud and headed North to do the reverse trip…
Ventura Highway in the sunshine
Where the days are longer
The nights are stronger than moonshine
You’re gonna go I know
‘Cause the free wind is blowin’ through your hair
And the days surround your daylight there
Seasons crying no despair
Alligator lizards in the air, in the air
Watching hummingbirds. Learning about nature. The way sea otters lie on their back (favour backstroke). Second-hand bookshops. Record stores in the USA. 60s book cover designs. Clam chowder. The sound of streams. Being naked in nature. Wood fires. Travelling as a family. Hippies. 70s American cars. Sandals when covered in dust. Eucalyptus trees. Strawberries. Watching waves. Watching surfers. God Only Knows.
1 TV shoot, 1 legendary hotel, 2 friends, 3 studios, 4 happy campers – all in 2 days.
The day before yesterday began with an excursion to West Hollywood. We repaired to my office in Mel’s Diner on Sunset. After lunch I strolled over to Book Soup, a great old-school bookstore on the Strip, and picked up a book about music-making in Laurel Canyon in the 60s and 70s, the shop being in spitting distance of Whisky-a-go-go, the Rainbow Room and all the other music landmarks as well as being within a few miles of the Canyon itself.
From Sunset we headed out to Burbank to do the tour of Warner Bros. studio. I was a bit dubious about this excursion but it turned out to be fun, lead by a slightly chubby twentysomething who couldn’t have been more enthusiastic about TV and movies and couldn’t have fitted more words into the space of two hours. She buggied us around the lot from the only jungle set in Hollywood (most recently used in Jurassic Park – correctly guessed by Enfant Terrible No. 1 which was impressive) under the famous Warner Bros. water tower (there’s no longer enough water in California to fill such things) to the Typical American Town set which was used in the original Ocean’s Eleven (with Frank Sinatra) among others. We got to peruse lots of Batman stuff from Health Ledger’s nurse’s uniform from Dark Knight to the BatBike (which Christopher Nolan insisted on being a working vehicle, same as his Batmobile which he wanted to be designed as a mixture of a Lambo and a tank). Along the way we got to see the original pitching image from Scooby Doo and beautiful animation cells from The Jetsons and Bugs Bunny. I once met Chuck Jones and asked him about Bugs’s penchant for dressing as a female.
Once that was all, folks, we headed back to Sunset and the Chateau Marmont, haunted by the shades of John Belushi and Helmut Newton. There our white Patriot Jeep was parked up by the valet (we’re enjoying that most American of things, the white Patriot, as a worthy follow-up to the ‘Red Tomay-to’ of our last family visit to California in 2005), we walked up and through the luxuriously chilled-out lounge out to the discreet sunlit courtyard, the white art deco buildings catching the last rays of the summer sun. After a while my old school friend showed up, I hadn’t seen him for a good while, he moved to LA when we were in our early 20s, and we enjoyed a beautiful reunion. He got on great with the Enfants Terribles, regaling them with delightful stories of Scarlett Johansson giving a well-known Latino star a post-Oscars blow-job in the Marmont’s lift and the like. It was an all-round happy evening with great chat, decent booze and classy food. My friend, who makes indy movies, now lives in Laurel Canyon, bringing the day to a neat circular conclusion.
Yesterday we kicked off with another studio tour, this time of the most beautiful studios with the greatest track-record, namely Paramount. One of my best friends is married to a senior lawyer there who kindly arranged for us to have a tour of the backlot followed by lunch in the commissary. Highlights included the New York street set which they were setting up, moving trees around on fork-lifts and other semi-surreal activities; the Chicago street corner where Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard robbed a pair of masks in Breakfast at Tiffany’s; the sound stages where The Godfather and The Godfather: Part 2 were shot, plus the ones used for Citizen Kane and the original King Kong; the massive pool (used as a blue-floored car park despite the sloping sides) with its huge sky-wall background which is a unique Paramount facility (last filled and used for Benjamin Button); and the familiar original gate of the studio, the Bronson Gate, from which Charles got his name. All of this bathed in the glow of Rockridge (now a car park) and Blazing Saddles which busts out of its studio confines through the gate we first entered to enjoy some more deluxe valet parking.
Two days of Hollywood immersion climaxed in a visit to Quixote Studios in Glendale/Griffith Park where another old friend was starring in a detective series, Criminal Minds, he’s been doing for eleven seasons for US network television on CBS and syndicated to the international market (on Sky and Netflix in the UK). He plays one of the main FBI agents in an elite team of criminal profilers (think Cracker but good-looking and with a private jet), alongside fellow agent Joe Mantegna. After visiting the Godfather sound stages earlier in the afternoon my Golden Age of 70s Movies day was made complete with a conversation with Joe aka Joey Zasa of The Godfather: Part 3. I was in New York the day the movie opened and lined up on that Christmas Day to see it.
We ate with the cast and crew before attending a read-through of the next episode, to be directed by Joe. A very entertaining 42 minutes it sounded, the Americans are so good at writing compelling formats which you have to have ‘just one more episode’ of before bedtime. The writers were present as well as the casting team. Before starting there was a round-table of everyone introducing themselves which extended to the Enfants Terribles who were slightly sheepish having no role or job-title.
Following the read-through we went into the studio to watch the current episode being shot. On the way we stopped off in the Lear jet set. It’s a fanciful addition to the Criminal Minds world as FBI agents barely get an economy airfare these days, let alone their own wings. The audience love it though, just as they love the literary quotes which are dropped in every episode, come rain or shine, at the beginning and end. We got to chat with various members of the cast between takes and the director, all super-friendly and welcoming.
Besides being really struck this time by how attractive LA is in its low-rise laid-back expanse, I have also really enjoyed how friendly and polite the Americans have been. Walking back to our Venice apartment this afternoon I was thrown a compliment by a passer-by for the third time this trip about my T-shirt (that’s three different T-shirts now). Hooray for Hollywood, the City of Angels and the good ol’ US of A.
Kicked off the day at 06:45 in my office (third booth to right) at Mel’s Diner on Sunset, ready for a shoot north of LA [see LA Woman]. Nothing like a good diner omelette to get you fuelled up for porno production. The PA, Beatrice, picked me up and took a cool route out past Laurel Canyon onto the freeway. We picked up the producer-director, Ronan McCloskey, on the way.
We drove back to the gated community, the big innocuous house, and waited for the arrival of the ‘new girl’. She came through the white picket garden gate carrying her cloth bag of costumes which included an electric blue bra and various short dresses – none were used in the end, everything was selected for her by the boss-woman. Shortly after the boss-man arrived, casual in his jeans and T-shirt, looking relaxed, not at all thrown by the fact he was going to be nailing this 22 year old on camera within the hour.
We began shooting. As the producer-director was a bit short-handed and was self-shooting he asked me to do sound and then that morphed into doing the interviews. I had a ball – it’s been a while.
The wife&husband dynamic duo who were making this porno explained this was a very straight-forward kind – the Interview Video. The new girl gets interviewed, has some photos taken, does a “tease” (ie takes off her clothes) and then gets screwed on the couch (only two weeks old, shouldn’t we get some more easy to change covers?) The couch ends up getting covered in fake tan. The New Girl is wearing fake tan because she’s trying to cover up an injury from her first porno which was only 18 days ago. This is her fourth. Her knees are scabbed because she was doing a reverse cowgirl and got really bad friction burn off a rug. She’s done her best to disguise the wounds.
I get a chance to chat a bit by the pool before things start. She’s from the middle of the country and has flown to LA (her first visit) to do her debut five sessions of porn. She is using the money to pay her way through university. She wants to become a psychiatric nurse. She earns enough in this hour and a bit to outstrip two weeks normal work on double shifts.
Interesting details come out of the convo. It reminds me of a conversation I had with a stripper when I was quite fucked-up (in a good way) on my stag night, upstairs at El Parador. I can’t recall a word of that exchange (I couldn’t within two hours of it) but the vibe was similar to this. This New Girl has had body confidence issues. She doesn’t seem to see the probable connection with this new activity of taking all your clothes off, though I try to see if she’ll acknowledge the link.
She takes all her clothes off. Good body, even prettier face. The whole thing’s interesting to see – once. But somehow sad.
The stills are incredible – the boss-man/male performer is so close he must have the widest lens ever. From two inches from her arse how the hell is he getting her smiling face in?
When the time for sex arrives we withdraw to the other side of the white garage where the horses are. I read my book about Bob Dylan and Blood on the Tracks in the bright California sun, relieved to have a bit of another world and culture.
After the scene the boss-couple strip off the couch cover and I interview them. He has a natural gift for getting hard on camera and has a big dick. That’s how he got into porn while still a student in his native Europe. (She referred to this capability as “strong / strength” during our intro chat the day before.). She modelled, lost her clothes along the way, then felt the urge to have sex with guys like this on camera. She reads avidly and has a fine collection of books lying around the room in whose corner the fucking took place. She’s got a signed Richard Dawkins book of which she’s proud.
He is charming and friendly, animated and very helpful. She is pretty and practical, cares about story-telling and delights in her young family. I learnt a good lesson a while ago during my sabbatical about books and covers. This experience is related. I don’t feel compelled to make judgments moral or otherwise. These are decent people and they have a very professional attitude and pride. The same is true of the New Girl – she really wants to do a good job.
The second New Girl is postponed because the boss-man was feeling light-headed towards the end of the scene. The New Girl had talked during her interview for us about how she has clear boundaries about what she won’t do and she listed them – cream-pies (she politely explains what that is), group sex, ‘torture’, anal, etc. “Do you do anal in your own sex life?” asks the boss-man with disingenuous charm and out of the blue. She confirms she does. “I thought so.” “How did you know?” I asked with disingenuous charm. “I licked her ass-hole during the scene.” It was a point-of-view scene so he was filming it and licking away at the same time. It must be a bit like playing Twister. His question coming out of nowhere somehow punctured a veil of politeness or euphemism which us outsiders maintained. Anyhow, the second New Girl is coming tomorrow. Just as well, reckon I’d had enough for one day.
Watching and filming him saying goodbye to ‘Olivia’ was fascinating – slightly awkward given what they’d just been up to. We too took our leave and headed back to cold beer and guacamole out back of a Mexican on Sunset. An all-round exotic day…
I watched the last of the sun dive beneath the hazy hills from the end of Westminster Avenue. I was standing beside a sign saying End in black on a yellow square on the honk, otherwise known as a fat squarish diamond. I watched the last rays across the beach where 50 years ago this month Jim Morrison bumped into Ray Manzarek, sang him Moonlight Drive and lit the touchpaper of one of the great American bands.
“What about you, Jim, you working on anything?”
“Yeah, I’ve been writing some songs…”
I’d just been over for an end of day swim. As I walked back across the deep Venice Beach an LAPD chopper flew along the shoreline, cut square across the sand and then flew along the palm tree line along the back of the beach. The chopper, the tree line and the sudden sound of a plane landing brought to mind the perfect opening of Apocalypse Now to the strains of The Doors’ The End.
Wrapped in sandy towel I walked back up Westminster past #14, the apartment where Jim lived with his friend Dennis Jacobs in ’65. He ate at Derek’s and slept on the roof, where he also dropped acid, looking out to sea. So right now I’m living by chance, of all the streets in LA, on the same street as Jim.
Before my swim I went to get pizza for Enfant Terrible No. 2 who was feeling a bit rough. While I was waiting in the pizza place a fella commented on my T-shirt which says: “1977” in orange 70s text. “The year Elvis died” he said.” “A great year for music” I said “…except Elvis of course”, I added out of sensitivity. “Good for punk. Good for reggae too.” “This” he said “is the greatest reggae producer ever”, pulling out his phone and bringing up a number. “Can’t go back to Jamaica of course. Would get his head cut off.” He explained, in a way I struggled to catch, that he was some sort of agent or promoter or something. “That’s Easyrider”, pointing to a hippy-weird silver-haired bloke in the corner. The inspiration for the movie Easy Rider apparently. Dennis Hopper (of Easy Rider and Apocalypse Now fame) lived in Venice until his death in 2010. “Easyrider played in a band called Storm who opened for The Stones and all of them.” (I’ve just tried to find any signs of all that with a quick web search but to no avail.)
He told me about the formation of Led Zeppelin in conjunction with a singer called Terry Reid. His number was also in his phone. (That does check out on the web.) I asked him about Jim. “Oh yes, I know even more about them.” He pulled out the phone and showed me the number of Chris Morrison. “It’s his son. He’s in jail.” “I didn’t know he had a son – who’s the mother?” “Pamela Courson’s older sister’s best friend.” Apparently he was banging her all the time he was with Pam, she didn’t want him to acknowledge the kid, she took him away to Paris to that end, and she got him into heroin which she used but he never had. And he died there. (Chris checks out on the web.) The pizza arrived. I took my leave of Easyrider and James of Live Wire Rekords. (That kind of checks out on the web in a self-referencing kind of way.)
We first spotted that pizza place on a walk over to the Venice Canals earlier in the afternoon. Bobby Klein photographed The Doors there in 1967.
On the way back from our wander around the canals, the origins of Venice CA, reclaimed from a swamp in the early 20th century, we passed the revamped Jim mural by Rip Cronk. It was on a blue background when painted in 1991 but has recently been ‘restored’ against bright orange, ringed in a line of luminous green which met with severe disapproval from the car park attendant at the Muscle Beach car park below towering Jim. “They should paint it blue again, that’s all.” I agreed and walked on to the end of that back street, Speedway, where we came out on Westminster a few feet from the End.
Well, that was an interesting day. Got weirder and weirder. Started out from the rock-steeped Sunset Marquis hotel (shades of Joe Strummer and The Stones) past the Hockneyesque pool with my colleague Jody to explore the Sunset Strip. (Had already done half a day’s work in the overlap zone between PST and BST.) We checked out the Viper Room (I watched Running On Empty two nights ago and was reflecting on River Phoenix’s premature passing) and Whiskey-a-Go-Go (shades of Jim & The Doors). Pulled into an old-school bookstore and picked up some vinyl including Five Leaves Left, featuring a photo on the back by Keith Morris whose original hangs on our stairs at home.
[I’m writing this post at the junction of Mulholland Drive and Laurel Canyon (shades of Crosby and Young), driving out to a film shoot in Hidden Hills.]
Peeled off into Beverly Hills where we checked out residential LA with its fake-grass and fanciful flowers. Short pit-stop for an iced coffee where we people-watched – a male jogger with no top and tight lycra bottoms leaving nothing to the imagination, jogging being the operative word; a woman all in black with her friend all in white, Spy vs Spy, too old for their Porsche, faces distorted through Beverly Hills surgery. Then on to Melrose where we landed in the middle of a paparazzi ambush of Hollywood actress Hilary Duff, in a sheer shirt, carefully showing off her black lacy bra to the media collaborators (in this Princess Di style ‘accidental’ encounter going about her everyday business).
So far so LA LA. Then we hook up with the director and PA of a short form series I’ve got shooting out here about the LA underworld. The PA can’t start her car without breathing into a breathalyzer device (very Lynchian) due to a past DUI. Every time she does a sharp manoeuvre, like rounding a tight bend, the thing goes off and she has to do a test on the fly. All a bit Blue Velvet.
[Now on Ventura Freeway, shades of America (the US band that made it big from Kentish Town). She’s sitting beside me now as I write, device across her lap.]
We head out for a meeting with our key interviewee, a porn star made good through the family-run porn business she’s set up – both she and her hubby are leading stars. She’s pretty and delightful, lives in a gated community north of the city, loves reading and horses. She showed us around the house and facilities, all set up to be optimized for porn shooting – the pool, the living room, the out-buildings. Up in the office were the costumes – tiny skirts and huge heels. She shows us an 11-page script for a two and a half hour movie – the sex only takes up a line, the actors aren’t great with dialogue she explains. She opens the porn cupboard under the stairs – baby oil, condoms, hard drives, medication.
Back in the house we have a flowing chat which ranges from the impact of having a porn-star husband on their sex life (don’t ask if he’s done two scenes that day) to the two-weekly blood and urine tests (darn, there goes my hopes of a porn-star career, phobic about blood tests), from the reaction of her family to her vocation to her preference for working with only the four or five stars she actually fancies, from the rise of a Viagra generation of stars without the “strength” of the previous generation like her husband to her passage from nudie pics to porn films which she really felt a pull to do. She revealed that that cliché of young girl shows up in LA to became a starlet and drifts into porn is the wrong way round – girls with a bit of porn experience suddenly take up acting lessons and think why not take a crack at it. She described the experience of working with newbies who show up with a yeast infection, not fit for action, and little knowledge of their own bodies or sexual hygiene due to their roots in low socio-economic groups. All this over coffee at the dining table, not your everyday convo but a suitably weird adventure.
The crew and I repair to the bar of the Sunset Marquis to plan the shoot the next day. Two casting couch films. New girls. How LALA is that going to be …?
I’m sitting on a balcony overlooking a small intersection one block back from Venice Beach in LA. It’s on Westminster Avenue. The names are European but the vibe is very much Californian. The last few stragglers coming back from the beach under the bright moon. The palm fronds swaying gently in a perfect cool breeze. A black dude with baseball cap at reverse 45 degrees is standing on the opposite corner under the Do Not Enter sign with his drum on a small trolley. That’s how a totally Venice evening got under way. I walked down to the beach with Mrs Simple Pleasures just after 6, only to hear the beat of the drums across the sand. We walked in the direction of the pulse and came across a circle of humanity, drumming together, dancing together, being together in the lowering sun. A stars’n’stripes fluttered above the Soul Sacrifice, see-through in the sunshine, adorned with an extra native American proud on his horse. A girl with waist-length curly hair in an electric pink bikini top and sheer sarong belly-danced with abandon. All manner of drums were beat with hands, with sticks, with plastered fingers. This is a regular gathering – Saturday and Sunday evenings – as the sun sets. A skinny bearded hipster danced a mad back-to-the-60s dance, moving weirdly but well, right to his shoulder joints. The sun drops behind distant hills but the beat goes on…
Mrs SP headed home, swopping places with Enfant Terrible No. 1 and we headed along the beach in the Santa Monica direction. At a stall we watched a fella scratching with languid fingers, playing the vinyl and the decks at moments with elegant flow which captured the power of that strangest of hip-hop inventions – playing the machines.
Our sunset promenade was punctuated by wafts of weed, sometimes from mysterious sources – a breath of sweet scent with no-one in range.
In search of coffee we came eventually to a cafe beside in a pub-like bar. From the bar came unexpectedly but so aptly the strains of Mr Mojo Risin’ – a Doors tribute band called Peace Frog. Another regular Sunday night happening. ET1 has got into the band in a big way in recent months so we sat&listened over drinks in the adjacent cafe, going more for an imaginative experience than a literal visual one. We discussed musicians and singers who died at 27 and he filled me in on the Amy doc I keep missing. We talked about fucking up your kids and what a good drummer his cousin has turned out to be. We strolled back with the shades of the Lizard King ghost-dancing about us. Oh, and there was a pale 12 foot long boa constrictor at one point. Camden Town-on-Sea. Everything Venice should be.