Archives for category: Los Angeles Books

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Jon took us up to see the hotel. It looked authentic. The barflies lived there. The bar was downstairs. We stood and looked at it…It was painted grey as so many of those places were. The torn shades. The table and the chair. The refrigerator thick with coats of dirt. And the poor sagging bed…I was a little sad that I wasn’t young and doing it all over again, drinking and fighting and playing with words. When you’re young you can really take a battering. Food didn’t matter. What mattered was drinking and sitting at the machine. I must have been crazy but there are many kinds of crazy and some are quite delightful. I starved so that I could have time to write. That just isn’t done much anymore. Looking at that table I saw myself sitting there again. I’d been crazy and I knew it and I didn’t care. 

From Chapter 28 of Hollywood by CHARLES BUKOWSKI

Photo: “City street scene with neon signs of bars, hotels and theatres along skid row in Los Angeles, California, 1965.” Los Angeles Times photographic archive, UCLA Library. Copyright Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library. More information here.

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We used to drive around at night, we didn’t have anything else to do. We didn’t like to be in our apartment…So we drove around in the dark. We drove down Sunset and slowly through the quiet northern streets in Beverly Hills. Sometimes we parked and beamed the headlights over one lawn. Houses in Beverly Hills still amazed us. After we sat for a while, peering out trying to see movement inside the frames of fuzzy, lighted windows far back on a lawn, my mother would sigh and turn on the ignition. “Someday,” she’d say.

From Anywhere But Here by MONA SIMPSON

Photo: Soj!!, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Find more work here.

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“When Amalia Gomez woke up, a half hour later than on other Saturdays because last night she had had three beers instead of her usual weekend two, she looked out, startled by God knows what, past the screenless iron-barred window of her stucco bungalow unit in one of the many decaying neighborhoods that sprout off the shabbiest part of Hollywood Boulevard, and she saw a large silver cross in the otherwise clear sky.” Opening line to The Miraculous Day of Amalia Gomez by JOHN RECHY

Note: What a great opening line! It’s all there — who, what, when, where. Read the novel to find out more of the what and the why. I’ve read this beautiful novel twice and will probably read it again. The prose is amazing, the story engrossing, the main character compelling. It’s magic realism set in Hollywood, circa 1990. Highly recommended.

Blurb from book jacket: Known for his exploration of worlds seldom seen by others, best-selling author John Rechy brings us intimately into the life of a Chicano family in Los Angeles today, and without glancing away from the harshness of their lives, tells their story with humor and poignancy. Blending tough realism with religious and cultural fables, Rechy celebrates the enduring human spirit in what may be his best novel.

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There ought to be a monument to the man who invented neon lights. Fifteen stories high, solid marble. There’s a boy who really made something out of nothing.” RAYMOND CHANDLER, The Little Sister

Raymond Chandler wrote the above paean to the inventor of neon lights in 1949 — and I’m sure he had no idea who had invented the gas-filled tubes that cast such a romantic glow over his hardboiled worldview.

Turns out (and I just learned this) neon lights were invented by Georges Claude, a French engineer who was sent to prison in 1945 for collaborating with the enemy during WWII. I cite this factoid not to open up old wounds but to pose a question that still resonates: Can we, with a clear conscience, laud the work of people guilty of malfeasance in one form or another?

While surfing the web for the names of famous artist malefactors, I came across a recent article that ‘splains’ it all to this particular Lucy. On June 21, 2012, the New York Times published Charles McGrath‘s “Good Art, Bad People” — an opinion piece that named names and included a thoughtful examination of the topic.

McGrath writes: “In the case of the artist, badness or goodness is a moral quality or judgment; in the case of his art, goodness and badness are terms of aesthetic merit, to which morality does not apply.” Read this thought-provoking article in its entirety here.

I feel a whole lot better now about loving neon…

Photo: Rolf Süssbrich

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Wearing a purple scarf  sporting a snowflake motif  — a item of clothing that must have some Bukowski-related sentimental value; if not, cool fashion choice for a summer night in L.A. — Harry Dean Stanton oozed charisma at the Charles Bukowski tribute on June 30th as he shared tales of his encounters with Buk and read from the great writer’s oeuvre.

Harry wrapped up his performance with a song (“Cancion Mixteca”) in Spanish, featured in the iconic film Paris, Texas (1984). In the Wim Wenders masterwork — written by Sam Shepherd — Harry Dean Stanton (as Travis) delivers a compelling monologue about his conception in Paris, Texas. Fellow performer Joan Jobe Smith was eager to meet the actor — because she was born in Paris, Texas. Hear Harry sing the hauntingly beautiful “Cancion Mixteca” at this link.

(Photo by Silver Birch, Los Angeles, June 30, 2012)

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At the Charles Bukowski tribute in downtown Los Angeles on June 30th, Dan Fante — novelist/poet son of writing legend John Fante — was a highlight of the event as a reader, raconteur, and poet. Dan explained that the venue held personal meaning for him — because from the building’s terrace he could view Angel’s Flight, the funicular memorialized in his father’s masterpiece Ask the Dust. Dan also shared other favorite nearby locations he’d visited with his father — including Pershing Square — and reminded the audience, “We are on Bunker Hill,” the site of hotel featured in Ask the Dust. Visit Dan’s official website here.

Another standout performer was Chiwan Choi, who read Bukowski’s poem “Twins,” which Bukowski wrote about his father’s death, along with an original poem about his father. Find out more about this brilliant poet here.

The evening ended with a touching version of “Danny Boy” by actor Harry Dean Stanton, who opened with a harmonica solo and sang with uber soul.

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Long before the river was confined in concrete by flood control projects, before settlement by the Spanish and the increasing diversion of its water for irrigation and domestic use, the river flowed when and where it wanted, often raging out of control during the winter rains…

Much of the river’s waters never reached the sea, instead spreading over the countryside and joining with springs flowing from surrounding hills to form vast marshes, shallow lakes, and small ponds.”

From Chapter 1 of  The Los Angeles River: Its Life, Death, and Possible Rebirth by Blake Gumprecht. Available at Amazon.

Note to Writers: Imagine you are the Los Angeles River. Think of the ways you have become “confined in concrete,” then make a conscious decision to spread over the countryside and join with springs flowing from surrounding hills to form vast marshes, shallow lakes, and small ponds. Splash, splash, splash away!

Photo: Shot by Silver Birch  from an Amtrak train a few years ago — before the City’s Graffiti Abatement crew descended on the area.

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The air got cooler. The highway narrowed. The cars were so few now that the headlights hurt. The grade rose against chalk walls and at the top a breeze, unbroken from the ocean, danced casually across the night.”

From The Little Sister by Raymond Chandler

The Little Sister is by far my favorite Chandler novel — it includes so many great lines that I will have to post more soon. Find The Little Sister at  Amazon.

Photo: Candida Godson