"The General spoke again, slowly, using his strength as carefully as an out-of-work show-girl uses her last good pair of stockings."
No one who likes m...more"The General spoke again, slowly, using his strength as carefully as an out-of-work show-girl uses her last good pair of stockings."
No one who likes mysteries / crime novels should be put off reading this by my 3 stars. I am just not a mystery/crime novel person. I do appreciate Chandler enormously for the atmosphere he creates, the descriptions of old Los Angeles and, of course, his terse style full of startling but effective similes, hyperbole and other rhetorical devices that achieve his famously sardonic effect. It’s a style much imitated, but one never equaled in that particular way for the past 80 years, and it may not ever be. (less)
Where you’re from and what you look like might not be who you are.
Avery Arlington, a black girl originally from South L.A. and W...moreThree and 3/4 stars.
Where you’re from and what you look like might not be who you are.
Avery Arlington, a black girl originally from South L.A. and West Covina, grows into a university-educated artist, marries a very successful Italian immigrant businessman, and comes to live in the Hollywood Hills, while staying in touch with her white wild-child girlhood best friend Brenna and a ne’er-do-well cousin. Alternating chapters flash back to her childhood, episodes that illustrate the rural simplicity of her Tennessee-bred parents, their work ethic, hopes for their family, and pride, and the difficulties of escaping the constrictions of stereotypes. The chapters dealing with her childhood are told in dialect inherited from her family, but as the narration tracks her adolescence and adulthood, the voice shifts to a more conventional English as she learns to assimilate, even while trying to find a balance in maintaining her own identity.
When Brenna objects to her listening to Michael Jackson, Avery defends him: “So I let him sing his song. Maybe, if he hadn’t hated himself for looking the way he did. Maybe if he had someone telling him before, earlier, before he ever got on a stage, something different about himself. Maybe then he wouldn’t have tried to move bone and skin and hair into shapes and textures and colors that he thought made him better. Or maybe, if he just could have been all of that, mixed up, in peace, weird and black in the first place. I tell Brenna all of this as we’re driving down the hill.”
The younger Avery considers herself a master of blending in, not making waves, but as she grows up, she begins realizing the value of unusual combinations, of doing things in a wholly original way, and that, rather than trying to keep people and things in their own little boxes, mixing thing up, in life, as in art, expands their potential exponentially. In keeping with her artist’s sensibility, she knows that to know things as they really are, one has to really look, to really see, and that the juxtaposition of disparate things and people and ideas can only have a liberating effect. Through her art she is able to express herself as a unique individual and resist the pigeon-holing that society is all too ready to inflict on her as a black woman.
About Brenna, she says, “She doesn’t understand that she had a luxury, as little as she and her family had. She had the luxury of not having to listen to all the voices [cousin] Keith and I had to. I didn’t think I could afford to ignore the voices. They were everywhere, all the time, but I found help, a place to put the voices, a way to turn them into something I was saying back.”
Angelenos will enjoy Avery’s localized descriptions. Her love for the Dodgers and Vin Scully are almost palpable, and her descriptions of Palm Springs (college spring break! Woo hoo!) reflect a first-time visitor’s common reaction to the stark beauty of the desert. And for anyone who grew up in the ‘70s, the song lyrics strewn liberally throughout the book are fun, some of them bringing melodies into my head that hadn’t been there for years.
Music resonates throughout, as do ideas about the complex interrelated values of different types of work and money (commerce vs creativity), race and class, identity and conformity, and the power of society’s expectations to shape us. Avery is able to resist the voices that might have derailed her, as they do other characters, and to have the courage to be herself, through her connections with family, friends and the power of her art. (less)
Although mine is the 1994 edition which I have had for many years, this is still my favorite L.A. architectural reference. Heard Robert Winter, co-aut...moreAlthough mine is the 1994 edition which I have had for many years, this is still my favorite L.A. architectural reference. Heard Robert Winter, co-author, speak once, which was fun. (less)
I am not the audience for this book. However, I did find many parts of it oddly entertaining, the way that gossipy accounts of other people’s dysfunct...moreI am not the audience for this book. However, I did find many parts of it oddly entertaining, the way that gossipy accounts of other people’s dysfunction and high drama can be. Punk rocker/filmmaker/sometime temp and usually broke Jason Maddox narrates in a very casual and conversational tone his adventures with various, often oddball, friends, lovers, band-mates and an agoraphobic retired music idol, through the landscapes of New York, Los Angeles, and Belgrade. The characters who populate this novel, New Yorkers, Angelenos, and a sizeable contingent of Serbs who are Jason’s girlfriend's friends and family, were really very well-drawn, especially the weird and doomed best friend Peewee. And I enjoyed, of course, the travels around Los Angeles, the references to recognizable street names (Franklin and Bronson), restaurants (Taix) and outlying regions (Rancho Cucamonga). Yes, for those of you who are non-locals, there really is a Rancho Cucamonga. (less)
In another context, the lives of the women in these stories might be called grim. But in a book so saturated with color, I can only call them flamboya...moreIn another context, the lives of the women in these stories might be called grim. But in a book so saturated with color, I can only call them flamboyantly messed up.
This is what you get. Short declarative,descriptive sentences. Dense, poetic language. Vivid, colorful imagery. Symbolism, ruminations, introspection, meditations. This will not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I was intrigued by the use of language and mood created by it.
These dozen stories are set mostly in Los Angeles, Hawaii or jungle regions removed from civilization. The protagonists all have in common certain elements in their past or present: drug or alcohol addiction; rehab; awful, awful, outlaw men (or lawyers); loved ones with cancer; fear of poverty; and navigating the impossibly complex land-mined distances between mothers or daughters. They are all travelers, following men or compulsions, and struggling with a sense of resignation about having to adapt to where they are or will wind up. All of these women are damaged creatures not quite sure of the limits of their hopes or resolve. They often descend to new depths of degradation without understanding why, or realize their own dynamics only in retrospect. There is a mood of quiet desperation that is not quite despair. These women keep trying, at least, to understand their lives. Although I cannot say the trying is always an uplifting spectacle to watch, the reading experience is worth having.
In “Squandering the Blue” a woman remembers her childhood with an odd-ball alcoholic poet of a mother whom she, as a girl, treats with contempt and disdain, but bringing an adult’s perspective and understanding and regrets to the tale.
In “Winter Blues” a single mother who is writing a dissertation on suicidal poets (Plath, Sexton, Hart Crane) and trying to keep her young daughter entertained by wandering shopping malls remembers life with her former lover and the many places they wandered:
Erica considers Derek and the hotel rooms that lie between them. Always a shuttered window is opening onto an alley or a plaza with a monument, a bronze soldier school children leave tulips for. There are mountains beyond the city. It is India or France or Peru. Derek has removed the cameras from his neck, the many eyes he thinks justify him. He has fallen across the sofa as if harpooned. He will remain that way indefinitely. In between she will make herself smell expensive. She will put on lipstick, kohl, and high heels. She will put on pearls and a silk scarf at her neck. She will visit doctors and collect codeine prescriptions for him.
Derek will not tour the museum or take her to dinner. Beyond the hotel window, up a hill, are the ruins of a city Homer mentioned. Derek is watching “Hawaii Five-O” on television. It is dubbed in a language he does not speak. He studies the edges of frames, searching for something familiar. He is transfixed, as if he expected to encounter old friends.
And she thinks of Maui, with the ocean blue beyond blue, livid, newly formed. It was on the other side of the lanai. It needed neither purpose nor justification. It was a blue beyond the postcards. The sea and jungle resisted reproduction. The actual colors were an extravagance beyond the camera. Hawaii could not make itself small and conventional enough for the lens. Nothing could accommodate the glare of the plumeria. Or the green in all its permutations, uninhibited, rebellious, startling.
In “Tall Tales from the Mekong Delta” the heroine meets an extraordinary creepy character on her way to an AA meeting. The way in which the protagonist reacts to this encounter and the ensuing relationship, commensurate with her own dysfunction, makes this the most powerful and disturbing of the dozen stories.
In “A Touch of Autumn,” creative writing teacher Lauren crosses the Murphy Sculpture Garden at UCLA on her way to an evening class, coveting a drink after three years of sobriety, bargaining, rationalizing her desire, remembering a former life as a younger, out-of-control alcoholic and drug addict (Derek makes a reappearance in these memories) and considering the meaning of her life as she nears forty.
She is standing in front of an angular configuration that might be a dog from another and more affectionate world. Above the sky is pinching out another meek night blue horizon. The sculptures seem to have shells. . . It occurs to her that the lawn is littered with autopsies under a half moon. Perhaps these figures of tortured metal tell us we are no longer of this world. We are ruins. We have the serenity of the utterly defeated, that which surrenders to the stasis of perpetual geometry. This is all there is, this cemetery of distortion and its hideous implications.
In “Temporary Light,” a divorced mother in extremely reduced socioeconomic circumstances tries to plan a nice Christmas visit with her two children and to relate to her own abusive mother, with varying degrees of success.
In “Over the Hill” privileged Beverly Hills wife Jessica contemplates her rarified environment, where her powerful attorney husband Frank controls her by constantly terrifying her with the prospect of poverty. Jessica is pathetic, but Frank is disgusting.
In “Points of Decision,” Jessica and Frank take a birthday trip to Hawaii. Jessica shares a certain compulsion with the protagonist of the first story, “Squandering the Blue.”
Jessica recognizes this fantasy. For years she has been haunted by the feeling that she must jump ship wherever she is and somehow adapt to the local environment, however alien or hostile. Whenever she changed planes, in Oakland or London, stopped for gas in Spokane or Houston, she was tormented by the sense that she must find a place to live there, a job, a situation. She is aware of the fact that her thoughts are virulent and inappropriate. Still, she finds it hard to stop.
In spite of her desire to escape, she realizes that people’s fantasies are often unrealistic: . . . she knows the secret lives of women who cannot tolerate water stains on their glasses envisioning themselves in Borneo or Java, ridding swamps of malaria, planting the crop. This is what we do, silently, subconsciously, we are lurching enchanted between the implausible. Men wait for their pina coladas, vowing to become charter-fishing-boat captains if the investigation reaches the proportion of a scandal. Men who cannot read the stars or a city map are planning to navigate a borderless green in hurricane season.
The last story, “These Clairvoyant Ruins,” revisits Diana and her eight-year-old daughter Annabell, from a couple of the earlier stories. They are preparing for and attending Annabell’s Christmas pageant, Fiestas de las Luces, where she will play the violin (badly). Diana and Annabell have common mother/daughter tensions between them, but they seem to be trying to mitigate the cruelties to which they subject each other. Diana’s revelations as she contemplates the meaning of ritual and relationships in this season sound a note of hope:
This is why we consecrate the days, Diana Barrington is thinking. Our birthdays and festivals, our rites and gods, these are the notes in the void. This is sacred, the invisible bones of hours and situations, infected with emotion.
We see the curtain close and we stand. We applaud. Our children wear ceremonial garments, velvet and wings. We stand motionless before them. We present them with bouquets.
Several stories end with, if not exactly hope, then something close, the feeling that an alternative may be possible for these women. They may have only glimpses of their own dynamics and the slight possibility of other paradigms, but it is enough to keep them going. (less)
I enjoyed this for the hometown history as much as anything, so your results may differ. Contemporary art is not my favorite kind, although I learned...moreI enjoyed this for the hometown history as much as anything, so your results may differ. Contemporary art is not my favorite kind, although I learned a little here that will probably help me appreciate it a little more.
The theme of this book: Los Angeles in the late 50s/early 60s was a fertile proving ground for a new breed of iconoclastic artists who were determined to do their own thing, a goal realizable here because of the lack of history and lack of cultural expectations. No one was taking L.A. or its artists seriously anyway, so here they could utilize the great light, and they could be outside of “art history,” ignore the New York art world and, free from all that weighing them down, they could work in new ways and new media. When they weren’t taking pictures of gas stations and painting the word “Spam” above a rocket-like can of that meaty treat, they were working with unusual new materials -- polyester resin, neon tubes, or glass boxes -- or upsetting people with controversial assemblages such as Kienholz’s smutty “Backseat Dodge ’38.” They could invent and evolve, doing any outrageous thing they fancied, including performance art. A 1963 “happening” called Autobodies in a parking lot on Beverly Boulevard had people on motorcycles, roller skates and cement trucks driving around in a choreographed dance, enhanced by a lot of whistles and sirens and poetry reading, all illuminated by a circle of car headlights. What fun!
In addition to discussions about the evolution of contemporary art on the West Coast during this era, there were lots of stories about the relationships between the artists themselves in their close-knit cadre, especially those who founded the innovative Ferus Gallery, and their involvement with certain writers (Eve Babitz, Chris Isherwood, Ken Kesey), musicians (The Byrds, Mason Williams, Barry McGwire), architects (Frank Gehry) and actors (Dennis Hopper, Dean Stockwell, Teri Garr). And of course, the dealers and the collectors who bought their works. Crazy antics and good times were had by all. Well, by most. One collector, Frederick Weisman, aggravated Frank Sinatra at the Polo Lounge one evening and was struck by either a bodyguard or the Chairman himself (accounts differ) hard enough to put him in a coma. Reportedly, a Jackson Pollack painting brought to his hospital room lifted Mr. Weisman out of a bout of amnesia. Ah, the therapeutic value of art! This led to the practice of installing contemporary art throughout the new Cedars-Sinai Hospital, where Weisman was a Board member.
My favorite tale: British painter David Hockney arrives in L.A., doesn’t know how to drive, so he has a friend teach him real quick. In a week, he buys a car and hits the road. Gets on the freeway, but doesn’t know how to get off. Ends up in Las Vegas before he figures it out. (He won some money and drove home the same night.)
There were a few pictures, more of the people than of the art. I would have liked more pictures of the art being discussed, but then it may have been prohibitively expensive if it was a rights and permission issue. (I’m not sure how those things work.) Overall, I enjoyed this. I’ll feel a little more intelligent the next time I visit the Broad Museum at LACMA. (less)
Lots of fun for rock and roll fans. Hoskyns’ research yielded some great stories. There is a lot of detail, minutiae even, on the personalities involv...moreLots of fun for rock and roll fans. Hoskyns’ research yielded some great stories. There is a lot of detail, minutiae even, on the personalities involved, their personal lives, the creative process, business dealings, and how famous and not-so-famous bands came about and worked together. In the chapters on the sub-genres I was less interested in, I did some skimming, but most of it was really entertaining. Got some real insight into just how crazy Phil Spector was even way back (and we know how that turned out), how one of the seemingly squeaky clean Beach Boys hung with the Manson crowd, how the Mamas and Papas were living the high life --in so many ways-- in Laurel Canyon. And much, much more, through punk and hip-hop, with an epilogue essay on Beck. If you’ve ever wanted to know how records like “Don’t Eat Stuff Off the Sidewalk” came to be recorded, this is the place. (Not a well-known piece of music, but always good advice.)
If I had one complaint, it was that one of my favorite bands, Lone Justice, got only one mention on one page. OK, so they only made two albums, but they were so remarkable, especially notable for their stunningly talented front woman, the incomparable Maria McKee. One of the most amazing performers I have ever seen, she also gets only one mention, and there’s nothing at all about her subsequent solo career. I’ll stifle my outrage and still give the book 4 stars. (less)