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Posts Tagged ‘California’

See Me

March 17, 2014 | by

Adolescence, pen pals, and the Manson girls.

leslie van houten

The Manson girls. Photographer unknown.

When I was thirteen, I had a yearlong correspondence by mail and over the phone with Rodney Bingenheimer. A peculiar icon of the sixties and seventies, Bingenheimer had opened a famous club on the Sunset Strip; he was a live-in publicist to Sonny and Cher, he accompanied David Bowie to London, and through his adjacency, his fandom, and his prescient taste, he eventually achieved fame himself.

We had met briefly on the sidewalk of my small hometown when I walked past a café table where he sat with a group of friends. He was a lackluster presence, not even as tall as I was—red hair cut into a chunky bowl, wearing a blazer over a shirt printed with a Red Army star. He was fifty-five then, though to my thirteen-year-old self he looked much older. His voice had the tremulous, feminine quality I would later read about in memoirs of the golden days of Los Angeles, his eyes slightly out of focus.

“Tell her she looks like my first love,” he half whispered to the group surrounding him, a group casually dressed, but alert with the nervous air of support people. They repeated his words to me, obediently.

“Give us your information,” one of his group said, all brisk business. “He’s very famous,” someone else said. “He invented the Ramones.”

Rodney blinked at me like a tired cat. Read More »

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Crusoe in California

March 6, 2013 | by

1977anniehall3The September after I finished college, I moved to Orange County with my boyfriend. He was going to graduate school to study Shakespeare. I had decided to become a famous writer, though I had no idea how to go about it. The only thing I knew for certain was that I wanted to be the kind of writer who gets shipwrecked on a South Sea island, and not the kind of writer who gets an M.F.A. in the Midwest. I belonged to the Melville school, I told myself. I was going to have a lot of adventures. Southern California didn’t seem particularly exciting, but it was closer to the South Sea than New York. At least, I thought so. I had a poor grasp of geography.

Unfortunately for me, I also belonged to the Alvy Singer school. (Would Melville and Alvy Singer get along?) I was a native Manhattanite who had rarely ventured west, and I soon found that Southern California didn’t suit me one bit. With no seasons, no job, and no driver’s license, I felt that I was going nowhere, both literally and metaphorically. Time seemed not to pass, and books were my only friends. Read More »

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The Original House of Pies: SoCal Comfort

July 19, 2012 | by

When the waitress set the slice of strawberry pie in front of me, I tried to contain my excitement. This moment was the culmination of two years’ worth of waiting, two years of longing and imagining my order and relishing memories of the last time I ate here at the Original House of Pies. I had first learned of the place from a song.

There are no lyrics in the Friends of Dean Martinez’s “House of Pies.” Instead of vocals, an electric guitar plucks the melody in sync with a heavy-bottom bass. It isn’t a catchy melody. There isn’t much to it. The tune mostly sets a mood. Under the guitar, brushes make slow circles across a snare drum, and a high lap steel whines its laconic counterpoint, casting a spell, like when heat and blinding sunlight make everything slow and heavy. Although it was recorded by a Tucson, Arizona, group, the song sounds the way summer in Los Angeles feels. The guy who wrote it, Joey Burns, was raised in L.A. and drew the song’s title from an East Hollywood restaurant.

I thanked the waitress, and she left me to savor my pie in private.

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At the Gettin’ Place

January 3, 2012 | by

If someone had asked my granddad where he got the chaps in this photo, he might have replied, “At the gettin’ place.” His speech was rich with colorful phrases. To him, a convincing salesman was someone who “could sell eggs to a chicken,” the relationship between a person’s actions and character best summarized with “Whatever’s in the well comes up in the bucket.” And when dismissing someone unsavory, he preferred the placid “Let ’em peck shit with the crows” to a crass “Fuck them.” So many of his sayings reflected elements of the hardscrabble, rural world that shaped him.

The gettin’ place in this picture is a roadside stand in Apache Junction, Arizona. Largely known nowadays for its scenery and suburbs, back in 1947, Apache Junction was a fringe outpost east of Phoenix with a few cafés and tourist traps along the highway. Signs announced: Postcards! Indian jewelry! Pan for gold! Read More »

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Part 1: The Amanuensis

October 24, 2011 | by

Photograph by Michael Childers.

A story in three parts.

Karl, the Beat Hotel’s ex-meth-addict handyman, stood at the top of a thirty-foot ladder, squirting a translucent goo with the brand name “Tanglefoot” onto one of the Hotel’s air-conditioner units. I held the ladder so that Karl did not pitch off into the sand and gravel below. The goo represented a new phase in our boss’s war with the pigeon population of Desert Hot Springs, California.

Our boss was Steve Lowe. Before starting the Beat Hotel, he’d performed with Laurie Anderson and read poetry with Allen Ginsberg. His gallery showed the best work Keith Haring ever did, and he made art with Richard Tuttle. Steve had also been William Burroughs’s amanuensis, a position that combined the duties of researcher, artist’s assistant, gallerist, and Official Writer’s-Block Breaker. Steve could tell stories about hanging out with William and Kurt Cobain and Patti Smith. He also recalled that, at Burroughs’s wake, he and Grant Hart, who was the drummer for Hüsker Dü, were the only people sober enough to be horrified when somebody threw up in the swimming pool. Read More »

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Staff Picks: Barbie’s Dream House, All the Single Ladies

October 14, 2011 | by

Lisa Yuskavage, Babushkas, 2011, oil on panel, 8 x 6 inches. Courtesy David Zwirner.

While I was in Los Angeles, I had the chance to see two very different—but very “California”—exhibits, both of which I’d recommend to anyone. The first, Robert Irwin’s “Way Out West” at L&M Arts, is a light installation that's visually engaging on its own terms, but even more so to those familiar with Irwin’s writing. More straightforward but just as interesting, LACMA’s “California Design, 1930–1965” is a colorful, exhilarating showcase of all things “modern,” from lobster-print swimsuits to Ray and Charles Eames’s living room (which is fully reassembled in the museum) to the original Barbie Dream House. It’s a survey not just of West Coast design, but of the crafting of the modern conception of California as we know it. —Sadie Stein

Sigrid Nunez’s Sempre Susan doesn’t just evoke Susan Sontag, the person, with hard-won sympathy, insight, and cool; it contains (in a very tiny space) material for an entire novel of idealism and disillusionment. This Sontag—who “often struck me as someone who wanted to be feeling ten times what she actually felt”—is a tragic figure, and this memoir captures the spirit of the spirit of her times. —Lorin Stein

I had, much to my shame, never read the fiction of Alan Hollinghurst until this last Indian summer weekend, when I found myself utterly absorbed in the world of The Stranger’s Child. Its prose is marvelously precise, its subjects both literary and sensual, and its general character inimitably English. —Deirdre Foley-Mendelssohn

Lisa Yuskavage’s ethereal paintings are on display at David Zwirner until November 5. —Jessica Calderon

Last spring, the culture guerrillas at Bidoun went to Cairo to check in on the revolution. They came back with their Summer issue (#25), which includes interviews with graffiti artists, tour guides, ex-members of the Muslim Brotherhood, and hard-core metal musicians. Also, dream narratives, photographs, and thumbnail sketches of the dozens of the new political parties. There is very little analysis and no claim to know what comes next. But, more than anything else I’ve read, it gives you a sense of life on the ground. —Robyn Creswell

I just discovered the blog Letters of Note and could not tear myself away. They’ve archived, photographed, and transcribed amazing correspondences: everything from a letter Kurt Vonnegut wrote to his family describing his capture in 1944, to a vintage rejection slip from Sub Pop records addressed to “Dear Loser.”  —Artie Niederhoffer

Everyone I know has been sending me Kate Bolick’s fascinating piece on marriage, coupling through history, gender imbalances, and, well, as the title says, “All the Single Ladies.” —D. F. M.

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