Los Angeles in Abstract
"Moondust will cover you..."
-"Hallo Spaceboy", David Bowie
Amoeba Music is one of my favorite places on earth. I step into the jazz room, which until now I didn't even know existed, and the tone completely changes, we shift suddenly from Art Rock and I hear a sax caterwauling over pounding piano keys and cacophonous drum beats. I flip through the catalogs of Thelonious Monk and Ornette Coleman, trying to decipher my current favorites among all of their given LP's and make a decision on how much I'm willing to spend. I'm already holding the new Saul Williams Record, Martyr Loser King, which I found at a surprisingly low price in the Hip-Hop section, housed underneath the smaller, second-floor overlook where all of the Blu-Rays and DVD's are kept. The store itself is a warehouse-sized space on Sunset Boulevard, and it's full, from end-to-end, length and width, with records. The walls are plastered with posters, my favorite musicians all represented in a mass collage of faces and logos--the brothers Gallagher of Oasis fame, David Bowie's pale, ashen face painted with a blue and red lightning bolt on the cover of Aladdin Sane, John Lennon, Biggie Smalls, Cyndi Lauper, Frank Sinatra's mugshot. All high up and positioned in a manner which appears to me to be cathedral-esque, and looking down, like gods. The jazz riffs playing overhead are intensely complicated and intricate yet fluid and expressive, this is my favorite thing about the genre, the seeming breakdown in barriers between the two key aspects of the creative process, the molding-mind and the sculpting-mind--the spirit moves in you and, man, does it really move.
I finally settle on Thelonious Monk in Italy, having been torn for some time, dotting back and forth, between it and The Ornette Coleman Trio at the "Golden Circle" Stockholm: Vol. 2. As I head up front with my records, the cover image of the collaboration between David Byrne and St Vincent (Love this Giant) is dangling around in the back of my mind; a picture of the two of them standing side by side, straight-faced, with the curious and striking peculiarity of their deformed cheeks, both distending slightly outwards on one side. I think to myself that I should listen to more St Vincent, if she works with Byrne, and dated Cara Delevinge no less, she must be interesting at the very least. Which I do, about a week later, when I see a poster for her album taped to the door of the adjoining storage closet between the Music counter and the Cashiers at work. It reminds me and I look her up on Spotify that night on the drive home, then again the next morning on the way to work; the music is eerie, brooding, and seriously creative. The love child of all of my favorite things--Bowie's Berlin period, The Talking Heads, Jazz. I think to myself that these spliced and looped electronic pieces would've made the perfect soundtrack to LA, if only I'd listened to her while I was there. But I didn't. Even so memory does a curious thing, blurring together those two times, for their close proximity, and blending them. Her haunting melodic voice, intelligent lyricism, and rumbling instrumentals rolling down the Hollywood hills and spilling into the streets, bleeding with the neon down the rain slick streets. It looked like Blade Runner, I remember, when the storm clouds finally gave out over the city and we walked to CVS in the night, from the hotel on Sunset, for some bottles of water and snacks. I was soaked by the time we got there, shaking the rain out of my hair like a dog. It's funny, when it rains that heavily, the thing you really lose your footing on, as you walk down the sidewalk, are the goddamned stars. Whatever material it is that they make them out of to give that dull, Hollywood shine really fucks with the footing. Not that I'm being particularly critical, my real Achilles heel is that I'd love to be right there with them. I love Los Angeles and I absolutely love the movies, all of them; good, bad, old, new, big, small, respectable, nonsensical.
At heart I'm a writer, through and through. So I'm objectively inspired by almost everything. I love the grit and the grime of the city, but I also like the beach. The first time I came out here I stood ankle deep in the water of Long Beach and Santa Monica for hours, watching the ocean in awe as it moved under the occult, gravitational influence of the moon. So violently, so restfully. I felt like I could just melt into the waves and cut loose into the water like a fish. I ran into the incoming surf, tackling waves and getting thrown back towards the beach under the halting power of the natural current. Letting myself go, in as much as possible, without getting sucked in by the undertow or hacking up mouthfuls of salt water, and swaying in and out with the sea-foam like gravity's rag-doll. There was something intensely liberating about being completely at the mercy of nature, and letting go inside of it.
I keep telling myself I'm going to take up surfing one of these times that I come out. There's something about moving with the rhythm of natural momentum that really appeals to me, miles away from the Hollywood strip where thousands of exhaust-burning vehicles shudder violently through old, narrow lanes at the traffic hour. Let go or be dragged, that's an old Zen proverb I like. And I'm into hippy-dippy stuff like that. Walking down the strip one of the things I really liked were the weird little, discrete slogans etched in small among all the bigger, chaotic graffiti displays on old and abandoned buildings. Things like Zen and Vedic sounding slogans, contemplating one's place in the universe, what's real, what's not. Who could one be, as he or she slips through the eye of this needle? Alive one moment, not the next, bounding between sleeping and waking worlds, dreams and reality, in confused instants. Blurring the two together, indistinct of time or place. A city of angels dancing on the head of a pin in a universe where quantum particles phase in and out of existence at random and, curiouser and curiouser still, an ex-reality TV star is about to take the highest office in the land. Like a weird dream that's come true, all emanating from this strange city, which is poised on every level towards the goal of broadcasting entertainment--messages, symbols, a tapestry of dreams and waking-hallucinations fizzling in digital arrangements across the planet. And it sits right on the edge of western civilization, on the wrong side of the San Andreas fault-line, flanking the ocean.
As we drove up to the Griffith observatory, I watched the Hollywood hills from the road, rolling in lush, green swells up towards the peak. The road winding along the mountain side and navigating the slopes with gentle bends and winds. The vegetation was so ripe and the land was bustling with life, where it was allowed to grow, beyond the reach of the concrete and glass and steel. And I kept thinking about how this place had always been the hypothetical ground-zero, for decades. During the Cold War if tensions reached critical-mass, or even if North Korea decides to let one loose, this city would be the first thing to disappear into oblivion. All this green, and all these dreams infused in the concrete, and the city's very infrastructure, would be gone in an instant. All those scenes from all those movies, shot just around that corner, or in that building, no more. Everything really is so fleeting. You always think that certain things probably can't, or utterly won't, happen. There are checks and balances, safeguards. But everything is always changing, and anything can and will happen. So for the instant that this exists, in the vast history of earth and the universe that it has not, it is beautiful. Our entire world is nothing more than a fleeting instant, a flash in the pan.
We reached the observatory, saw the Hollywood sign from a scenic overlook, and the city's vast sprawl, miles and miles of civilization rolling towards the ocean--which was itself invisible in the grey-white haze of smog. And then we went inside, and confirming my suspicions, there was a long winding hallway that showed the entire history of the universe along a wall, marking in feet the length of billions of years, leading up to a tiny space at the end which man inhabits. Who crawled from the ocean, as something small and slimy, and evolved into what he is now, only to set foot on the moon, in that very short span of time. And outside the hall I saw a large white rotating globe that represented the moon, turning on a display underneath a spotlight. All of the craters and fissures on its seemingly pristine white surface accounted for, the earth's guiding light in the dark. We haven't been around for very long, and we're a pretty crude bunch, but we did follow that light into the stars from even cruder beginnings. And it once started as a dream, one of the earliest we probably ever had. Peeking out from caves and reaching up towards it like infants in their cradle, following a thought, a whim across evolution and the millions of years and pressing that boot print down on its sterile, white surface.
On the drive back to Phoenix, I remember the moon appearing over the line of mountains running alongside the I-10. It looks like a shell, the lines and pits in its surface appear hard and defined against the desert air. It sort of crowns and emerges from silhouetted peaks, like a geological birth canal, forced into place by perspective, and looms white and faintly glowing. A vast cosmic egg, meeting somewhere between the Death Star and the World Egg that splits open and out-pours existence in the Chinese creation myth. And we follow it home, reaching towards the stars based on a map we found on Sunset Boulevard and some directions hidden in the graffiti by enlightened pranksters. Los Angeles, for all of its internal decay, gross excess, and detachment, is indelibly human. Because its what dreams are made of.