Monday, September 26, 2011

Dream Theater, LA, September 25th, 2011

There's a venue downtown that's weird. It's in the Staples Center area, and it's named after a big phone company that starts with the letter "N". It's super clean, neat and ultra corporate. So corporate that the foyer acts as a showroom for their current phone models, while the headline artist for that night has only a tiny booth for their merchandise. This is where the music industry is today, in a dangerous dance with the big dollar. So when quite a few thousand prog metal nerds turn up, all black shirts and long hair, we all look at each other like we've been coerced into participating in some controlled lab experiment, where we are tested by the tens of flashing billboards, the $14 beers and the $25 parking. It's like going to a metal show in Chadstone Shopping Centre.

But what can you do? When a newly remodeled Dream Theater are in town with a new record and something to prove after the departure of Mike Portnoy, attendance is compulsory in this household.

There was a fair bit of new material mixed in with some old favourites, but what was really noticeable is the return of joy to the band. Here are 5 guys who are look like they like each other again. Rudess is keyboard wizard, Petrucci is He-man incarnate and blistering, and Mangini is more than capably providing the percussive backbone, claiming this new role for himself. LaBrie is in fine vocal form, his mid range is just getting warmer with age and has taken on a much more interactive role with the fans. And Myung is just Myung...quiet and solid. It definitely confirms "a change is as good as a holiday". It feels like there is a new freedom to stand in the spotlight.

Back in the 'hood for this Tuesday's Arch Enemy show....more metal, but a hang with fellow old Duran Duran fans beforehand in the plaza.

2011 West Coast Eisteddfod: Welsh Festival of Arts


This weekend there was a little celebration of the Welsh here in LA, appropriately set in the surrounds of Frank Lloyd Wright's gorgeous Hollyhock House. I have a bit of Welsh in me by virtue of my maternal grandfather having spent his childhood there, and so have a bit of a sentimental attachment. And upon discovering there were going to be corgis there...well, wild sheep couldn't keep me away.

There's the red dragon!

First up, food and beer! Shepherds pie, sausages, and stwns, for the others while I had Welsh rarebit. All very olde worlde, with busty beer maidens and mock Tudor features.

The corgis, delightful Dukey and Chad, who I couldn't stop patting! Their mums were in traditional Welsh working-class dress.

Pan Pipes' stall in the marketplace, under the pine trees.

And their mascot, 11 week old Vincent Price, Italian greyhound.

 Merry musical instruments...

 ...with a merry Welsh dragon, who was nearly passing out for not being able to breath.


On the way out we found a fine example of peaceful political declaration, just in time for next year's election.

Afterwards, it was home for cups of tea with the Welsh cakes we bought from California's own Welsh Baker. If you're curious, they are available to order from their website. Don't forget this little country, it is often overshadowed by neighbours Ireland and Scotland in the Celtic world. But delve further, and you will be surprised at how many amazing people have come from this part of the globe. It's not all miners and sheep.

Friday, September 23, 2011


Four hours ago, Collingwood snatched victory from our tired hands, and season 2011 was over for the gallant Hawks. I've been up since 4.30am, and can't fathom sleeping on the disappointment. It's been weird for an expat from Melbourne, Australia, to keep up with the fortunes or otherwise of her football club. Distance, timezones, and the unreliable availability of live games online (yes, AFL, I want a word with you, I'd like my money back) have caused havoc in this little apartment in West Hollywood. But, in the end, it wasn't our fate to play the final game.

The lads certainly gave it a bloody good shot though. Another season of injury issues, a small(ish) backline, and our unpredictable forwards meant at some stages of the season I thought we had little chance of threatening anyone in September. But to lose to last year's premiers by such a small margin in a preliminary final...well, as gut wrenching as that is (believe me), I am still so very proud of how they turned our season around. I have only seen the last quarter of the game, after sleeping some of the night, and after some score checks and texting of friends at 3/4 time, got a feed on the internet. It was looking like we were getting through, and with heart pounding, I tried to watch quietly, but still ended up waking Mr Moth. Together, we watched Hodge and Buddy score magnificent goals, but then observed as Hawthorn tired and made mistakes, and Collingwood snuck home. The cruelest of losses, and there were tears to show it.

So, I sit looking at the brown and gold streamers that have to come down, the scarf that will get put away, and wonder if I can stomach watching next week's final without Hawthorn in it. Word is a pub in Santa Monica screens it live, so maybe I can find a fellow Hawk there to debrief with. I wonder sometimes what it is about this sport to hooks you in so deeply. When I am at my most despondent after a loss, I do catch myself and think - "it's only a game". I am lucky to have grown up in a country where we have a type of political freedom, and most of us, the finances to follow our teams, where this game nurtures a deep community spirit, not only between supporters of one club, but all followers. How many times have I sat on the train home after a game, and talked peacefully with opposition members? Yes, there will always be dickheads, but our stadiums let us arrive together, sit together, and leave together. I live now in a city of millions where the town's pennant basketball team (Lakers) is virtually out of reach to watch live for most supporters, and major sport is run as private commerce (like the Dodgers disaster). We have a magical, home grown sport in Australia, and I don't know how we can, but we have to try and keep it in our hands.

I had fun with the scarf photos though, keeping in the spirit, and here were the final ones:

The Johnny Cash hand imprints at Guitar Center

Heaps of legends represented here, and really cool to put your own hands in to compare. I did Angus Young - tiny, considering I'm 5'4"!!! - and Steve Vai's gargantuan digits.

Griffith Observatory

One of the best places to get views of Los Angeles, especially of the night lights looking towards Hollywood and downtown, this is also the setting for scenes from James Dean's "Rebel Without A Cause", and a favourite in this household, Steve Martin's "Bowfinger". There's a statue here in honour of Dean, but I'm yet to see one erected for Eddie Murphy's role - hilarious!!!! Listen quietly, you'll hear the coyotes calling in the surrounding canyons. Just don't look to closely at the haze that hangs over the city that we live in. And that's not even mentioning the grandiose 1930's architecture...

The Hollywood Sign

Pretty fitting, I think, that this ended up being the last photo posted in my Hawthorn series. Erected in 1923, and originally spelling "HOLLYWOODLAND", this was never meant to be a permanent fixture. But it's become one of the most recognisable icons on the LA tourist path. It is visible from the busy streets of Hollywood proper, but when you get up into the hills that it sits on, you find a peaceful little world. Not so peaceful for the residents that live near it, I can assure you, and they are taking measures to try and curb the traffic. Stay tuned on that can read here.

This morning it was Autumn Equinox, and it's time to get on with it. No more footy posts, it's back to reality - lots of exciting stuff over the next few months, including Halloween, art shows, the big mid-century show at LACMA, and winter's approach. And tattoos too.


Sunday, September 18, 2011 the way we play at Hawthorn.

Old school record stores are a becoming a faded memory. I feel lucky to have been born of a generation that predates cd's - my first piece of music I ever bought with MY OWN money was a 7" picture disc (yes, on vinyl) of Culture Club's "Karma Chameleon/That's The Way" single. I think I was 12 years old. I went on to have a HUMUNGOUS Duran Duran fetish, then got into English indie, and by 17 years of age was a full blown goth kid. It wasn't unusual to have a copy of an artist's album on cd, plus vinyl (coz the art was bigger) and a copy on cassette tape for the car. Well, how things have changed.

But there's still Amoeba Music! Right in Hollywood, on Sunset Boulevard, there's an awesome warehouse of new and used cd's, vinyl, dvd's and a bit of memorabilia in everything from jazz to death metal, goth industrial, country and hip hop. One of my favourite iconic places in LA, I come here to reconnect with music I want to own, or used to own, or do own. It's a fantasy place for music lovers who come from smaller cities, and have never seen this range of titles under one roof. I would love to camp out here over a weekend and just play whatever I want - to have a music slumber party without the slumber. It's a gem, and the staff are unreal too!

...and this isn't half of the store.

Good music is passion inducing just as much as anything else, on a par with a grand final win! Aaaah, yep, a good record, a good glass of wine, after a good day at the footy - heaven on a stick.

One for all and all for one...

Hawks just keep keeping on!!
Hollywood Boulevard, Los Angeles. 99% of tourists come here, and leave a bit bewildered, I guess. It's not the prettiest part of this city - it's gritty in some bits and some people think that this is all there is to LA and hate it.

But take that stuff away, and dudes in Spiderman costumes that look homemade hanging out with a pretty rad Bumblebee impersonator - I think that's hilarious. Throw in a Hawthorn scarf...

....and I reckon it's even funnier.
It's a surreal, freaky spot on the map, but everyone has to see it. It's even worthy of a documentary. Matthew Ogen's 2007 film "Confessions of a Superhero" delves into the lives of the people behind the "masks", and reveals more about their real selves than we can ever get from a 30 second encounter on the boulevard. Hollywood is full of dreamers, and many of these "characters" just want to make it big. If you can get your hands on it, it's highly recommended viewing.

Teamwork is the thing that talks.

South of Santa Monica is Venice, founded in 1905 by Abbot Kinney who wanted to develop this 2 mile stretch of the Californian coastline in the tradition of the Italian city, complete with canals and gondolas. A handful of the canals still exist today, surviving annexation to the city of Los Angeles, and after being considered a slum in the 1950's, nurturing many artists and creatives in the years since, Venice is still one of the most eclectic places to visit. The boardwalk is still a bit of a circus, and a confronting to some - weed shops, hawkers, hasslers and hustlers, and the homeless - but there is a strong community vibe. The best view is from a bicycle - rent one from the boardwalk, and go for a spin. Watch the skaters, basketballers, dogwalkers...and look out for little hidden bits.

Near the skate bowl, just off the path, is someone's tribute to Kinney's Venetian vision - a busted up Roman statue. It sticks out of the grass, waiting for the riders.

One block over on Abbot Kinney Boulevard you'll find the "new" Venice - young designers of fashion, architecture and home wares, awesome coffee at Intelligentsia, good breakfast at "3 Square", and cruisers parked everywhere. It might be beachy, but Venice ain't sleepy.'ll find us striving.

If we could all predict the future, this place would actually be pretty boring. We wouldn't know sadness, joy, laughter, disappointment...we would never know the exhiliration of surprise when things exceed our expectations, nor learn from expectations unmet.

Humans still are fascinated with the question "what if?" The desire to control our future, and gamble on predictions eats at us, and we love to make movies about a fantasy world where our future is in our hands. Remember the film "Big"? The fortune telling machine featured in the movie that magically helped turn a young Josh Baskin into a 30 year-old version of himself became hugely popular after the film was screened in 1988, and a company in America still makes a version of it. While visiting Santa Monica pier, we found a "Zoltar" hidden away in the amusement park...perfect!!

Put in a dollar and he tells you your fortune. I was hoping for some tip on the footy but he instead gave me some advice on wealth and some lotto numbers:

But maybe it wasn't Zoltar who could help...maybe it was someone else....I found this kid walking around with an unusual shirt on. I couldn't believe it!! So I stalked him to get a good look.....

Aaaaah, Santa Monica. So pretty, even on an overcast day. I think I need to love you more often.

Come what may...

Los Angeles adores their basketball team, and the famous colors of the Lakers are as common as mud in these parts. Staples Center, in downtown LA, is home turf, and it is on the outside plaza that officials have honored their greatest game caller, Chick Hearn. A chair sits next to Chick's likeness for fans to have a photo taken with him...although this time he wore the brown and gold.

Hearn passed away in the summer of 2002 at the age of 85, after calling an incredible 3,338 consecutive Lakers games, and creating many of the famous terms basketball supporters and broadcasters use today - "air ball, and "slam dunk" are universally attributed to him. Most of the games Hearn called for television were simulcast for radio, and so he used a strong "play-by-play" and highly descriptive style for the radio listeners. Here's a flash back...glory days of basketball in the 80's:

Just a few superstars in that side....

Get some Lakers magic, Hawks!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Riding the bumps with a grin, at Hawthorn...

I'll say, it was a bumpy weekend - the second qualifying final against Geelong did not end how Hawthorn supporters hoped, and there weren't many grins when young 23 went down.

After a sorrowful day or two and some good time tattooing, it was time to reaffirm the support and jump on the brown and gold bandwagon, as this week presents one more "must win" chance for a grand final position.

The best cure for the sporting blues is a good meal. The Farmers Market on 3rd St at Fairfax Ave dates back to 1934, and the original wooden stalls remain today, now housing a unique range of cultural cuisine that hits the hunger spot. It is built on what was dairy land, which was consequently drilled for oil, which in turn made the landowner, A.F Gilmore, a very wealthy man. He and his son expanded the Gilmore Oil Company to become the biggest distributor of gas and petrol products in the Western U.S. 

The oil field today is now one of the busiest shopping districts, with The Farmers Market and The Grove drawing many a crowd. But there is a tribute on the site to it's oil history - Earl’s Service, an exact replica of a 1936 Gilmore Gas station, stands amongst the merchants, complete with a 1933 Ford pickup...resplendent with scarf.

The display station was modelled on an original Gilmore service station, shown below.
This one dates from the 1920's and stood on Wilshire Blvd.

The Farmers Market, in the 1950's

From the sky, a shot of the parcel of land that the Gilmores developed, including Farmers Market, Gilmore Stadium, and Gilmore Field, home of the Hollywood Stars baseball team. The stadium and field were demolished in the 1950's to make way for the CBS studios.

I intend on grabbing a map of all the market food vendors and trying each one, week by week, as each time I visit I discover something new. And it's ripe for people watching too! But for that vintage aesthetic, you can't go wrong here. It's like a food hall lost in time.

Now, if only my footy team could draw on the sweet aura of the victorious 1980's we'd be onto something...better luck this week, lads.

Go Hawks!!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

We love our club and we play to win...

In the late 1960's, Jim Morrison was one of the most famous people on the planet. And he spent a lot of his time in the West Hollywood neighbourhood where I happen to live. I didn't realise until I started exploring my new home that so much remained of this incredible period. I saw this building as just some little Mexican restaurant, until I noticed the plaque on the front while walking home one night.

Originally an antique store, by the time The Doors were recording "LA Woman" in November 1970 this building served as their offices, rehearsal and recording studios, and hang-out. Morrison recorded his vocals in the downstairs bathroom, and apparently the room has been maintained as a shrine for some time. This was to be the last studio recording for Jim with The Doors, as within 7 months or so he had died in Paris. The Mexican restaurant recently closed down - who knows what is happening to the building and the memorabilia that used to be here.

Hence, it's the setting for today's scarf photo - a pretty iconic place in my opinion, albeit a bit too pink today.

There's a comprehensive mini-online tour for Doors fans available here, with photos and locations. It was through this that we just found Jim and his girl Pam lived right around the corner from where we live now!! This neck of the woods is a must-see for any rock history buffs - might see you in the 'hood!!

Best of luck to the mighty Hawks tonight - be legendary.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

We're the mighty fighting Hawks!

Utopian Moth loves the Ramones.

Johnny Ramone is buried at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, one of the prettiest spots in LA. Dee Dee is here too, on the other side of this lake, with a slightly less conspicuous marker. Which is interesting as he is considered the most prolific songwriter of the group. But Johnny is seen as the drill-sergeant of the Ramones, the one who ran the ship pretty tight, or as tight as he ever could. If you want to get an insight into the history and personalities of incredible band, watch the 2003 documentary "End of the Century: The Story of The Ramones". This is one of the best (and surprisingly moving) music docos I've ever seen.

Until tomorrow....Go Hawks, and thank goodness for The Ramones!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

We're a happy team at Hawthorn!

So, here we are, AFL finals time already, and Hawks are having a good crack. This is the first time I am not in Melbourne to watch and enjoy this time of the year. It will be quite strange experiencing the fortunes of my beloved Hawks from the other half of the earth. But, I will make do with the internet subscription that will allow me to watch the games at a rather brutal time of the morning. 

So, in honour of this long-distance dalliance with sporting romance, I will be photographing my 2008 Hawthorn member's scarf (the year of our last premiership) in and on an assortment of beings and objects that I consider iconic to my LA.
First off was of course my workmate, Muttley Saints, handsomest bulldog that ever strutted Melrose Ave. Brown and gold suit him I think!!!