on hollywood, michael jackson and ever-lasting things

Published: July 4th 2009
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Welcome to Los Angeles; home of the Largo Lullaby and the swan song home of Jackson, Michael- professional moonwalker.

They call it ‘Holly-weird’. And they are right. It’s actually incredible how off-kilter this place is. I thought that Berlin had this slight quibbiling nature just below the surface of its shining veneer… Well here in Hollywood (and even more-so Downtown), it’s not seething below the surface. It’s right in your face. To say this place is scary is utterly untrue, but to describe it as unsettling … that may be getting closer.

The reason we’ve come to this conclusion is due to a number of things, the least of which is to do with the film industry or those who clammer over it with their Kodaks out (myself included)… But to do with the layout of the city itself. Frodo once described his condition as ‘butter spread over too much bread, thinned out’- this is a perfectly apt description for LA too. This place is the definition of urban sprawl. There are strips of life- and a lot of life at that- but then two streets over you are almost in an abandoned 50’s style desert nucellar-testing village. Empty and silent, save the tumbleweeds and the distant yelling of kids in the street. I don’t know if it is the recession or if this is the way it has always been but what shops do survive outside of Hollywood, I’m sure they survive but not without struggle. This said, the entire city and its surroundings are home perhaps to the most haunting, errie and beautiful sunset I’ve ever had the pleasure of witnessing. As the sun goes down, the city bleeds yellow, shaft of light becoming sheets of ochre in the thin fly-net of smog. When the sun goes down you see the appeal. Then once it’s down, the spotlights from Hollywood Boulevard pierce the sky and the tinsel starts to shine.

Our hostel was on said Boulevard, speckled with stars and throngs of tourists. Our rooms smelt of urine and the linen was awfully suspicious looking, the toilets did not work and we had to go to the Kodak Theatre to take a dump. There was no wireless, but the people there were nice. We made friends, which is always a pleasure. We enjoyed LA, but could never live here. There is a surprisingly little to do here once you have done the Hollywood related attractions. It reminds me a lot of Canberra actually, not visually or in tone, but in nature. It’s a business town, the film town and those businesses surrounding it are those who support the film business. But the film industry here is fledgling at the moment, and so the domino falls. Many production companies are moving to Vancouver (save room for me!) and what once was a city where you could not get a room to rent is now a place you can get your own personal loft. But talking to out of work actors there, they all unaminously said things are getting better. There was a dark time in Hollywood, but slowly night is turning to day.

We did the predictable, though (un-predictably) enjoyable famous peoples’ houses tour with an out of work French actor who was supremely jaded but strikingly intelligent. We snapped our photos like the well-trained tourists we were- and not alone… as in LA we met up with my brother Brent and his girlfriend Kimberley. It has been extremely fun having family around me once again- another example of the stick holding me at bay between happiness and happiness distilled by home-sickness. Together we all form a troublesome foursome keen to take in as much as we can and have as much fun as possible whilst doing it. Their vacation was very well earned and needed and it’s pure joy to be there with them.

Together we did Universal Studios which was insane fun. We did every ride we could fit in, ate badly, spun ourselves sick and did the Universal Tour twice (for my sake as I missed the infamous shark jumping out of the water photo I so desperately wanted lol). The days have been stunningly bright and our Universal day was no different. Things of note, for me personally was seeing The Bates Motel (and actual memorabilia) from Alfred Hitchcocks ‘Psycho’, one of my favourite movies and the plane crash open air set from Spielberg’s ‘War of the Worlds’ (which may I add is a scary site for anyone planning to be on a plane… maybe EVER again). We did the ‘Jurassic Park’ and ‘Jaws’ rides with my youngest brother, Kyle in mind- who has always wanted to experience Universal Studios. But rides and thrills aside, it’s amazing to get the briefest
walt disney concert hallwalt disney concert hallwalt disney concert hall

by architect frank gehry
glimpse of working studios and writers’ bungalows and producers’ buggies. It makes you want to do what Spielberg did back when he was my age and jump off the tour train and run in the back door and get himself a job (that’s a true story, when nobody was looking he jumped off the train and watched Alfred Hitchcock at work- and got a job at the same time!).

Outside of Universal we did Ripley’s Believe it or Not, which isn’t any more impressive than the one on the Sunshine Coast, Australia- but still enjoyable and scoured the isles of film related bookstores on the main strips. We gave ourselves over the world’s absolutely coolest and most impressive music/dvd/record store: Ameoba Records. I picked up some obscure Stuart Gordon movies and Jian went CD crazy (which is also a good thing for me!). And as expected and as needed, we also hit the town… and although Kim and Brent retired to their room that night- we painted the town red and we didn’t do it alone.

Cue, Angela! Our friend from Sydney who is co-incidentally in LA at the same time as us! Together we danced to Latin Salsa, were rejected from a snobby tavern because we didn’t have our passports with us and got our mouths injected with alcoholic jelly from a female stripper with a plastic syringe. Yes… a colourful night. Angela was with her wonderful cousin (I think that’s the appropriate relation, if not- I’m sorry!) who drove us around and showed us the sights (we all shared a late night plate of chips and burgers at Mel’s Diner- one filming location from the great, early George Lucas movie ‘American Graffiti’). On the first night we met Angela and Stella, Jian and I almost got lost in the random insane crowd outside the Chinese Theatre (a block away from our hostel). To our surprise there was an International Movie Premiere there happening, red carpet and all. And what was the film? BRUNO! Sascha Baron Cohen was there, in character (with tight hot-pants and toting a golden machine gun and an entourage of busty women). We also saw (and were within metres of) Isla Fisher (represent!), the kids from Superbad, Rosario Dawson and other ‘Borat’ stars. Once the crowd thinned and the photographers stepped away from the barricades Jian approached a woman who was handing out slips of paper to those who remained. These innocuous slips turned out to be free tickets to the premiere. And this is how we saw the hilarious romp that is ‘Bruno’ for free and in super-star fashion; in the world’s most famous theatre, screened for weapons and security checked!

But whilst in LA, as you all know Michael Jackson died. I don’t have to go into who the man was or what cultural impact he had on popular culture… just to say his name conjures enough. Whether it be memories of his music, or his films, his video clips or his bad reputations. Just to say his name is enough. It did not take long for the media buzzards to settle in and call Hollywood Blvd. their new home. The streets ran with people in newly printed Michael Jackson shirts and with people who were genuinely upset. There were tears on corners, open mouths of shock and every shop and food-stand played his songs loudly and with a definite sense of pride. On the night of his death there were groups of people singing with candles and lighters raised. Flowers on his Hollywood star and usually doof-doof pounding cars spilling out ballads like ‘Ben’ at big top decibels (a weirdly moving sight). The very next day the street was full of television vans. You could not get through to the other side of the theatre. It was insane. What started with one wreath was now a thousand, surrounded by personal notes wrapped in plastic, and hand-painted drawings. The street singing continued and the reporters turned to the people for their opinions on the tragedy (which it is, despite the type of backlash that accompanies major stars dying and the inevitable media pecking ground—anyone who dies at 50 has been robbed of life)- and I was interviewed by CNN. Brent, Kim, Jian and I stood there shocked by how more insane Hollywood had got within the space of a few hours. The buses stopped and traffic was at a stand still.

Which was why Jian and I walked to Largo. Going to Largo, a music nightclub- was a dream come true for me. All of the musicians who inspire me not only as an artist, but as a human being got their start here and one in particular has made the theatre his permanent residence. Which is how I
RIP Farrah FawcettRIP Farrah FawcettRIP Farrah Fawcett

totally overshadowed by MJ's death :(
was granted the rare and special privilege of seeing Jon Brion perform live- with an insane and beautifully unexpected hour and a half long encore set with other favourites Fiona Apple, Sean Watkins and Benmont
Tench. Jon Brion is basically a mad scientist let loose on stage, creating the most insane and beautiful musical concoctions and pop-inspired songs, some improvised and some classic. The perception of Brion is that he is highly obscure, but that’s not necessarily the same. Anyone who has heard the music of Kanye West, Aimee Mann, Rufus Wainwright, Dido, Elliot Smith, Spoon and many, many others know his music and distinctive sounds- only they don’t know it’s him. Or if you have seen the movie ‘Step Brothers’, ‘Magnolia’, ‘Punch Drunk Love’, ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Minds’, ‘I Heart Huckabees’ and others… films of which he did the musica scores- you know his sounds, but not him. To say the least, the man is modest and shy (his solo album is self-depreciatingly called ‘Meaningless’), but astoundingly talented. He is a one-man-band who pioneered the live recording of his own music and looping it in playback in order to play multiple instruments and vocals at the same
Graumann's Chinese TheatreGraumann's Chinese TheatreGraumann's Chinese Theatre

where the premiere of Bruno was held later that evening
time, whilst moving on to the next lyric or interesting musical instrument (something that inspired Bjork, Mat Chamberlain, Paul McCartney, Camille and others). But either creating an eighteen minute rendition of ‘Better you than Me’ featuring a total of eleven instruments and audio/visual loops and recordings from old Ella Fitzgerald performances and ‘The West Side Story’ OR creating an improvised musical score to an old ‘Felix the Cat’ cartoon- the man never missed a beat.

That said, the night was also sad. There was a melancholy that permeated the air. I overheard staff at Largo talking about how shocked they were by the sudden death of Jackson and even caught Fiona Apple expressing how unexpectedly sad she was over it all- whilst getting a beer at the bar.

‘So what, you’re never understood? Big deal you’re doomed to die. Nothing ever lasts. It all gets torn to shreds. But some things ever-lasting; it’s over our heads.’

… were the lyrics that opened Brion’s moving set (PS the song is called ‘Over our Heads’ and is on the ‘I Heart Huckabees’ soundtrack- check it out). And it was a tone that lasted the entire evening, trickled through every song, every note. But it was never acknowledged. The audience was moved and caught up in it, how could you not be?

LA is a mixed bag. It is obviously Hollywood powered and that is thrilling, but it is also barren in other parts. I’ve deliberately distanced myself from the superficiality of some parts (but I know they are there), but there is an eerie desperation to the out-of-work actors who parade the boulevards dressed up as past-era super stars… the fifty five year old Marilyn Monroe impersonator broke our hearts. You can plainly see that LA is a city constantly exhausting itself. There just isn’t enough butter to cover it all in gold. And yet from all this, amazing integrity and creativity emerges, like a constantly growing phoenix from a fire that will probably never go out… artists like Brion, or Aimee Mann or Elliot Smith- you can see and hear their music in ever empty street. In every sunset. This place is those Brion lyrics, self-prophetic and pathetically overshadowed by itself… Hard to understand and doomed to die, so totally out of reach but so easy to aspire to.

‘Think your troubles are so serious? Well one day you’ll be so long gone. Because nothing ever lasts. It all gets torn to shreds. But some things are ever lasting.’

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6th July 2009

MJ :( I'm so jealous of all you are getting to see and do. It's brill!

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