L.A. the Blog: Poems and Performances – ‘the WOMEN group’

On a weeknight a few months ago along Sunset Boulevard in Echo Park at the Sancho Art Gallery a group of mostly women poets fronted by musician and poet Dylan Doren performed in celebration of art, words and beats. It marked a beginning for these artists who gathered together for the first time as WOMEN. A month later in the neighborhood of Mt. Washington, Dylan arrived at a party with poetry and music, performing in his wake an eclectic mix of male and female poets exploring sound and meaning. Interestingly this event showcased an entirely different set of poets. One month later off a section of Hollywood Boulevard in the downtown club district, Dylan with a computer hooked up to a speaker gathered yet another group of WOMEN in the courtyard of an apartment building. Again the night vibrated with music and the exploration of life through stanzas, tropes and rhymes.

the WOMEN group poetry reading, Hollywood, CA -2012

the WOMEN group poetry reading, Hollywood, CA -2012

Before each event Dylan takes the time to find the right spot to hang a banner with a simple statement written on the front; a banner that these musicians and artist flock too wherever it goes up; a slightly esoteric but highly enigmatic statement defining a movement by these artists to produce, perform and distribute literary work; a banner hung always in full view of the performing artists for the audience to see, giving a name to the wealth of work coming from contributors. It simply reads the WOMEN group.

So who is the WOMEN group, and what exactly is the WOMEN group? In its beginning stages the question of who might be harder to describe than the what. The group is a “collective of poets and writers” in Dylan’s own words that currently publish chapbooks and host poetry readings around Los Angeles. If you want the “what” of it then there you go.

Describing the WOMEN group while sitting down to dinner at a local Hollywood Thai restaurant (one of this writer’s personally favorite spots, insert add here for Hoy-Ka Thai Noodle), Dylan in personal terms added his reasons for starting the group.

“[To] Collect poetry really,” Dylan said in between bites of noodles in solemn tones. “I think a lot of people write and don’t get their shit out there, and right now I just try to collect poems. I try to motivate people to submit so I can do the footwork and get their shit out there. It’s basically my love for poetry, but also fear of good poetry not getting out.”

When L.A. the Blog caught up with them in Hollywood to experience and share some of our own poetry, the night unfolded with a variety of styles about a myriad of subjects. The poets with a microphone and speaker often fighting the helicopter and traffic sounds coming off the Hollywood streets read four to six poems covering topics from friendship and family to sex, drugs and relationships; backlit by the overhead incandescent and integrated compact fluorescent lights of the apartments entryway with a small crowd of 10 or 12 people mostly artists and writers themselves; in a loose open-mic format that encouraged battle-hardened open-mic veterans, and gave overwhelming support to newer voices who recently joined the group or stepped forward from the audience. After the WOMEN read, one audience member stepped up and called his mom in an inspired happening leaving a message on her voicemail about standing up to participate at a poetry reading, and another joined in with a reading of his favorite William Carlos Williams’ poems. To end the night an acoustic guitar came out.

Each event they hold allows for this open-mic format, but just showing up and performing doesn’t make you part of the group, nor do members of the group strictly write poetry. “I’ve been writing for years and fell into music,” said Dylan explaining his own interest and inspiration in forming the group. “Recently I’ve stopped playing and making music to make the main focus [about] the words.” Many members of the group have played in bands or currently play in bands, or they paint visual art along with writing, or a like this author who recently joined the group they blog random and insightful things about Los Angeles.

The diversity of the members along with such a burgeoning art and music scene in the Silver Lake / Los Feliz area of Los Angeles, and Dylan’s own use of the word “collective” it seems possible the group might bring together all the various types of art – music, painting, sculpture, performance, film, theater, fashion, dance – especially since each poetry event seems to incorporate other art.

According to Dylan though this ain’t the case and the WOMEN group is not to be confused. “That’s another collective,” he said facetious and playful. “We’re a poetry collective.”

“I’m calling from two years ago in a lawn chair, / Sunrise, and sleeping dragon flies / In a wooded clearing, sonorous with incessant / Buzz of cricket and swallows tweeting— / Tents lined up in tribal tee-pee circles. / We were the last alive on earth. – excerpt from a long distance phone call by Tom Kelly, the Women group, Issue 1

As for the actual “who” of the WOMEN group – it currently lists in their first publication and online at their blog eight poets as members, all mostly unknown writers including Dylan himself: Tom Kelly, The Little Red Writer (obviously a pseudonym or penname), Jessica Bloom, Michael Nhat, Honey Gal Nobuddy (another penname we guess), Lina Carol and Nicole Baudouin.

Since the publication’s inception over the summer of 2012 with the WOMEN group, Issue 1, just describing them as eight poets is somewhat erroneous as some recent buzz from the publication and the successive poetry readings swelled the ranks of contributors.

“You know we started off as eight, and now we’re maybe double or more than that,” Dylan said while discussing membership and joining the group. “I have a lot of friends that do music that do poetry that do art so I have been asking them to contribute, or at the poetry readings people that attend they’ve never heard of the collective [but] now because of the event they’ve heard of it, and you know it goes to print. I go to a lot of open mics to talk about it. Now that the WOMEN group, Issue 1, is at three different bookstores people that pick up a copy or just look at it and read it have all the info on how to contact us, and hopefully if they contact us there’s a meeting date or I tell them meet us at a coffee shop, a bookstore or an open mic, or one of the WOMEN group readings.”

For membership in the group this idea of “meeting” holds a great importance. At the moment members are people who have met one another at some point or have met Dylan, and in fact to join the group you must know or have met someone from the group.

“I met every single member in different areas of life, or different parts of L.A,” said Dylan. “Some I’ve known for a long time, for years even, and some I’ve just met. One of the poets I met once before adding her into the WOMEN group. She was just a waitress at a diner and saw that I was writing and we spoke about writing, and we both found out we’re both poets, and exchanged information about open mics around town, and she sent me an email with her poem and it was in.”

Dylan Doren reading at a WOMEN group gathering in Hollywood, CA - 2012

Dylan Doren reading at a WOMEN group gathering in Hollywood, CA – 2012

So unlike most poetry publications where anyone submits and if the editor enjoys the poem they publish it, the WOMEN group requires the added step of taking the time to meet another member, or Dylan at a coffee shop, bookstore or poetry reading. A writer still needs to submit and the current editor Dylan must choose the work for publication, but for Dylan it’s essential that members meet.

“It’s just a set rule to make it more intimate, the group,” Dylan said after a moment of thought.” We do support writers, and writers from all different areas but our collective is meeting on a personal basis, we don’t have to hang out all the time, we don’t have to hang out ever, but we have to meet another member at least once, and since the group is growing in numbers it will be a lot easier.”

“the anarchic decision one makes / to valiantly jettison sagacity / to venture over the edge / how it must feel to really let go / to severe the tether of consequence / leap into the euphoric unknown with an eagles wingspan / trusting that which might annihilate you / like a blindfolded high diver / without any confirmation the pool is filled with water” – excerpt from the difference between “master bating” and “masturbating” by The Little Red Writer, the Women group, Issue 1

It is obvious at this point that the collective is a mix of males and females. With the name such a misnomer for describing the poets, and with the poems in the first collection focused on everything and anything including women, men and everything else, it would be a mistake to attribute the name to a topic the group writes about. The group isn’t GLBT (Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender) either as far as this writer can tell though I am sure some members are, nor does the group promote women’s issues, and the group isn’t interested in your dad.

Like so many young people these days growing up in a single-family home with their mom, or the women who daily struggle for equal rights around the world, the name is a tribute to these women.

“Yeah, I look up to a lot of women most of all my mother, single mother, hard worker, seven days a week for many years,” said Dylan. “She’s just an inspiration. A lot of my closest friends – women. It’s just a statement that we’re making. At first I was even thinking of making the group anonymous, like maybe only using last names or covering our faces, but I don’t think that’s necessary.”

Anonymous in the hope of creating gender blindness when reading the chapbook, or when they perform at readings. Anonymous so when experiencing the poem you don’t immediately assume that a female or male wrote the piece. In that way your mind doesn’t automatically fall into stereotypes and assumptions that change the words on the page. A somewhat pointed reminder that sexism and gender inequality still exist.

“Hopefully having males take the name WOMEN in time will give a bit to women’s lib,” said Dylan. “Or at least erase that line drawn in the sand.”

Still the WOMEN group is best described in terms of poetry, and to get a sense of the poems you need to read them (we won’t waste our time with scansion and interpretation). They are poets who come together under the banner as writers. “Yes, I already know of two of us that are writing novels and one a short story,” Dylan said when asked about other forms of literature the group might explore. “I look forward to publishing their works. But right now the main focus is to gather the poets for these chapbooks.”

“Like poker I lost every hand / Trying to make apples into oranges / They say we weren’t alone / They gave me a chip it was black / They said welcome back / In the rooms I spoke of my last relapse” – excerpt from Dylan Doren reading live at the WOMEN group, Hollywood, CA (see video below).

It seems that literary groups rarely pick their own name, and more often get prescribed to a style of writing prevalent at the time, or like the Beat Generation their sobriquet comes from one person, in the above case Jack Kerouac, in an interview or perhaps in a letter to a friend, the name used with no intention of it defining a generation, but nonetheless becoming the historical moniker of their literary movement. New Journalism is another example of this happenstance naming of a literary movement, this time taken from the title of a publication that Tom Wolfe curated and disseminated. The Fireside Poets another example who gained their name from the popularity of their poems, or the Black Mountain Poets who mostly attended a college of the same name, and lets not forget the humorous Martian Poets (who? Wikipedia swears they exist?).

For the WOMEN poets living and traveling the streets of Los Angeles in the second decade of the 21st century, the choosing of a name harks back to an earlier time when modernism raged in the streets of Paris, and Virginia Wolf played pranks on the British government with her own group of writers. When writing and bookstores created a community of publishing uncontrolled by the juggernaut of corporate capitalism. Where places like San Francisco, and Oxford birthed new movements and classic epics.

“I began reading more and more, finding poets from past generations, reading their works and researching to find out all I could about them and their journeys,” said Dylan in an email, one of our first communications back and forth discussing this article. More specifically when asked his influences he said, “Just history, the past, all poets that came before us, mostly dead now but, well, that’s what we’re trying to do, we’re trying to gather all the living poets right now, get them down on paper, put them all together.”

Every writer in some form or another is influenced by past generations, and Dylan’s ideas are no different steeped in the tradition of independent expression and the romanticism of the written word. For this reason the publication remains strictly in print, you can’t find any of the poetry online and each poet must submit an original work. In no form can the poetry be published before. Add to this every writer’s instinct is to compare the new generation with past generations to fit the new into categorical reference so they can more easily make sense of the plethoric past so to dismiss or elevate certain writers above others, the need to define this L.A. movement exists.

“It doesn’t really matter the genre,” said Dylan when pressed about the significance of the WOMEN group when compared to other literary movements like the Beats. “Hopefully the time period, the era, the collective is remembered. I don’t care what it ends up being called because that’s just a name.”

“I like using a word, it’s called ‘sonic,’” Dylan said when asked what he would like his own poetry called. “I got it from Sonic Youth my favorite band, but it’s a different word to describe beauty. Some people say cool, some people use a whole bunch of words, I use sonic. That’s when you know I really like something. Sonic as fuck.”

So maybe Dylan and the rest of the poets won’t be remembered at all as the WOMEN group, but instead in Dylan’s own words as “sonic” due partly to this article being published, at least my ego hopes (who wouldn’t want to be the naming catalyst of a literary movement?).

Just recently in late November like clockwork, one month later, the poets gathered again for another reading. This time at the house of a new member who will be featured in the second issue. At the reading early January was announced as the date for the next publication, the WOMEN group, Issue 2. There will be a reading and release party at Alais Books East in the heart of Atwater Village. Please check the WOMEN group website for further information.

UPDATE 04/12/13: Find below some video of poets performing in Hollywood. Also the WOMEN group issue 2 is out!

UPDATE 5/09/13: We removed the video, also the WOMEN group is releasing their third issue this weekend May 11, 2013, at Alias Books East in Atwater Village, 3163 Glendale Blvd Los Angeles, CA 90039, 7 p.m.

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L.A. the Blog: ‘bright lights & fist fights’ Gallery Show; Next Stop ‘The Art of Coop’

Annie Preece

Annie Preece frames her own painting during the exhibition opening of ‘bright lights & fist fights’ group show at the Rebecca Molayem Gallery in West Hollywood – June 14, 2012

Is Los Angeles essential to the art world at large?  L.A. the Blog can’t answer that question but the scale of art happening in this city on a daily basis makes art essential to understanding Los Angeles.  A city dreamed up from behind a camera with an identity inextricably enmeshed with visual arts making it a tide pool of artists birthing pictures, stories, scenes, music, canvases, books, tunes, compositions, scripts, reality and fantasy; where often as not the creativity becomes harnessed in an art department for film, a stage setting for theater, or a gallery full of stunning visual art.

Better late than never the pictures have arrived!  Arrived for what (as the statement goes?), arrived for another round of art happening in the city of Angeles.

A three-person gallery show opened a few weeks back that spotlighted a diverse young group composed of a street artist, a tattoo wizard and a graphic artist who stepped into roles respectively as a painter, a caricaturist and a furniture sculptor.  At this point some analogy to the Wizard Of Oz keeps trying to escape but that would make this writer either Dorothy or Toto, and the only yellow brick road somewhere hidden along Santa Monica Boulevard between Doheny Drive and La Cienega Boulevard.

The highlight of the show Annie Preece displayed her most recent paintings done in vivid, bright colors of contorted faces, haunted imagery and taboo subjects.  Her art is best described in the statement ‘having too much fun,’ with a mixture of recognizable and iconic images and symbols re-purposed with confrontation, dripping paint and intensity.  Yet as stated all of them rebalanced with the light atmosphere that reds, yellows and bright blues elicit emotionally.  Almost like the perpetual Los Angeles sunshine even makes suffering look happy.  The one painting in the show that is the exception to the bright colors comes from an early series of Annie’s work to a project of paintings, photographs and public art installations entitled ‘Persecution Takes A Holiday In L.A‘, that takes a critical look at the oppression of women in the Middle East.  This exception to the rule simply puts eyes staring from a black surrounding.  By the way Annie do you have any free artwork for us to decorate our headquarters?

Candice Molayem

A series of portrait caricatures by Candice Molayem from the show ‘bright lights and fist fights’ – June 14, 2012

Tattoo artist and painter Candice Molayem showcased a series of portraits keeping with the bright-color motif in classic caricature style.  With 1950’s hair-dos, thick rimmed glasses and jewelry-to-match the words ‘hip and cool’ rise from the dark recess of the subconscious and immediately yearnings for indie rock take over.  L.A. the Blog is curious if any persons posed for the paintings or if the inspiration came from classic comic books.

Jad Dovey

A naked lamp by artist Jad Dovey from the ‘bright lights and fist fights’ show – July 14, 2012

The final artist presenting at the show Jad Dovey subtly created lamps in a style you might expect to find at The Factory during the 1970’s and 80’s.  A wonderful use of color and the nude form, or maybe just ‘found’ mannequins and some electrical ingenuity Dovey created a post-pop art presentation that seemed so natural in the gallery they belonged more to the entire space and less to the name tag that marked them for display.

A fun event basking in the glow of a hot summer ahead, and art definitely worth visiting.  Please see a slideshow below of pictures from the show.  Included in the photos are other artists’ work showing and hanging in the gallery including artists Rebecca Molayem, Lynden St Victor and sculptures by Leon Leigh.  ‘bright lights and fist fights’ is now showing at Rebecca Molayem Gallery, 306 N. Robertson Blvd., West Hollywood, CA 90048 for another few weeks, please check online for the current and future shows.

Portion of a painting done by Coop showing at his book release party – June 16, 2012

Moving right along into the week and arriving at our next stop where well-established artist and instigator Coop partied and celebrated in high fashion for the release of his new artbook entitled, ‘Idle Hands: The Art of Coop.’  So much has been said of Coop (click this link here), so to avoid mundane repetition, and pointless conjecture it is enough to say that even if you haven’t heard his name before you definitely have seen his art.  His images of devils, dames, drugs and cars make pop culture an afterthought and fine art an everyday accessible experience.  Mickey mouse gloves on a drug anyone?  If you can’t relate I am sure Walt Disney and Salvador Dali hanging out making pink elephants would.

Coop’s show took place at a great location in downtown Los Angeles hidden away in a produce distribution factory/building.  Industrial-scale loading elevator and all with a great view of a seedy downtown strip club made the entire experience some strange descent into Coop’s world.  Did we mention naked devil girls cruised the party?  Included in the slideshow below please find pictures from the event held at Studio Servitu, a downtown venue that the L.A. Weekly names the #4 essential location of 2011.

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L.A. the Blog: ‘Grimes’ At Make Music Pasadena 2012

Indie Rock Stage

Old Pasadena Indie Rock Stage as the Cults perform – Make Music Pasadena, Saturday, June 16, 2012

Last weekend L.A. the Blog visited Make Music Pasadena 2012 to listen to recording-artist Grimes perform live. Tipped off about the show well-worth seeing and scheduled for the 5 o’clock hour, we arrived via the Metro Gold Line from downtown at 4:30 p.m. right near the main stage as the Cults finished their set. As a free event, the city of Pasadena definitely knows how to throw a good party, and the main stage area with great sound and a stellar lineup made concerts look fun again. The Cults sounded amazing and left an ache inside for missing the majority of their show.

The point of heading into conservative Pasadena wasn’t the Cults, though, nor was the reason we came performing on the Indie Rock stage. At this point, describing how Make Music Pasadena works will help understand the sheer scale of the event. The main stage area drew a humongous crowd stretching two blocks down the middle of old town Pasadena’s main drag Colorado Boulevard. They closed off the street at the stage but not the whole downtown area for the event, as streets leading off in various directions remained open for traffic. This way business and life went on as the concert rocked. Five smaller stages setup in various directions from the main stage, ranging from a few blocks to 10 blocks away, allowed for more bands with a wider variety of genres. From a Jazz stage to straight Rock ‘n’ Roll with old-time Blues and Funk mixed in between the event offered a bit of everything for everybody. Six stages are just the tip of the iceberg as different bars, the local library, coffee shops, a book store, the playhouse and even a church opened their doors to different musicians. In total over 30 venues setup for live acts and the number of musicians can make the head spin. A little something for everyone – literally.

Grimes on stage

Grimes singing live on stage to adoring fans during her performance at Make Music Pasadena, June 16, 2012.

So heading over to the Eclectic Stage, aptly name with KCRW as a sponsor (the stage highlighted a DJ set by their own Jason Bentley who hosts their signature morning show Morning Becomes Eclectic), we arrived just as local-based Dengue Fever finished up and Grimes setup for her show. Eclectic indeed as Dengue Fever plays tunes best understood as music suited for the old, silent film ‘Lost World” (literally); and Grimes represents the heart and soul (or call it rhythm and blues if you like) of electronic music with driving deep bass and ethereal vocals that easily capture the mind as well as emotion. Originally from the underground Montreal music scene dating back to 2006 Claire Boucher (aka – Grimes) recently moved to the L.A. area, that is if the Blog heard her announcement correctly, bringing with her a style of music both intense and alive in a synthesis of pop, punk and rave culture. A well-needed infusion of fresh talent to shake up the music scene in sunny Southern California.

Not to mention that young boys and girls love her – really, never have so many teenage boys and early-20’s men screamed for attention at a beautiful lady with pink hair. This writer understands for no one is a bigger sucker for a girl with pink hair, or blue, or red, or purple for that matter. Highlights of the show include the crowd surfers who kept popping up and the young dancing fan who jumped on the stage, well, dancing. As security removed the fan, Grimes between verses told security to let him stay to no avail. Even as they roughed him up she voiced her support.

The only hitch of the entire show came from the horrible sound system provided for the stage. The lows and highs played alright through the speakers but all the mid-level tones arrived muddied and weak. Even so the show definitely left an impression, and if it is an example of things to come, Grimes promises to deliver many more memorable events. Check out video we shot on our trusty cell phone, and since its a crap video we are placing a link below to an official music video of the same song.

L.A. the Blog: Sludge Clogging Storm Drain Near Beverly Hilton

Grey sludge clogging the storm drain along Santa Monica Boulevard outside the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

Recently while passing down Santa Monica Boulevard toward the beach just past Wilshire Boulevard along the stretch that parallels the Beverly Hilton Hotel a strong rotten smell wafted up from the side of the road.  Much like rotten eggs, or decomposing flesh the smell came from stagnant water sitting in the storm water drainage pathway leading from the Hilton driveway to a storm drain clogged with gray sediment, better described as a thick sludge.

The puddles formed at the delivery entrance to the hotel and restaurant Trader Vic’s, and while there is no evidence that the hotel or restaurant is dumping anything toxic or illegal into the drains, research shows that Beverly Hills is responsible for upkeep of the storm drain.  Unfortunately, the City of Beverly Hills list on there website concerning the city’s Stormwater Program the following information:

The City’s storm drain system is designed to prevent flooding by carrying away excess rainwater from the City streets to the ocean via Ballona Creek. Because the system contains no filters, it will carry urban pollution straight to the ocean. Urban pollution contaminates the ocean, causes beaches to be closed, harms aquatic life, and increases the risk of flooding by clogging gutters and catch basins.  It is estimated that storm water pollution costs the Los Angeles area economy more than $26 million per year.

Water from Beverly Hilton driveway

Water sitting at the delivery driveway entrance of the Hilton.

As Los Angeles is a beautiful city and the beaches need as much as help as they can get, a quick phone call to the number listed on city’s site seemed pertinent.  After reaching the Department of Public Works Utility Division’s main reception line our phone call was transferred to an answering service.  We have yet to hear a response from the city on what if any actions they can take in finding out what caused the sludge, if the sludge is a well-known problem in the area and/or if they will clean out the drain.

Of course as a wealth of dead and fallen leaves clogged the drain along with the sludge, it is possible the clog is just poor maintenance by Beverly Hills.  Of course that doesn’t explain where the sludge came from and what caused the horrid smell.  Nor does it explain why no other drain in the area seems to have the same issue.

Interesting enough when we utilized Google Maps to pinpoint the exact location, we came across this street view of the area with the same puddle of water sitting in front of the hotel.  Check out the street view photo:

Google Map view of storm drain area

L.A. the Blog will keep you updated if we hear back from the public works department, but spread the word and let us know if you have any tips regarding environmental issues in your neighborhood.  Below please find a slideshow of pictures taken at the site.

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L.A. the Blog: Graffiti Mural Vine and Hollywood

L.A. the Blog pays a quick respect to the combination of artists who created the graffiti mural on Vine Street just above Hollywood Boulevard.  As a fan of street art, the mural stretches down an alleyway-like go-between situated with The Lexington Social House restaurant on one side and the tall building where Dillon’s Irish Pub cohabits on the other.  The mural is well worth the visit if in the area.

The most noticeable and street-facing artwork was done by Anthony Lister who in the past held some very popular shows in Los Angeles galleries and is well-known worldwide.  In his classic style he painted two faces among the other artists’ murals that are best described as hauntingly beautiful.  With hard lines, subdued colors (even his use of pins seem dark) and the almost unfinished feel of sketches, the emotion in his work is palpable.  Lister you are invited to paint our office anytime.

We have a slideshow below where you can see the different street art along the walls, but catching our eye and of note was the end of the walkway done by West Coast Artists.  A great display of classic graffiti work, and if you click the link above taking you to Trixster’s website you can catch a video of them putting the mural together.

Other people who contributed to the wall were L.A.-based artist Evol (who painted two iconic faces along with Lister, and possibly one kitty …), and The Seventh Letter.  MSK also put up some artwork.  L.A. the Blog salutes everyone who put together such a visually appealing and classy display of art.  Well done.

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UPDATE:  We took this picture below around Normandie and Melrose (we think, our photographer seems to have it unlabled and a foggy memory of where he took the picture), and we are adding it to the mix for kicks.  If anyone can send us information on where it’s at, just leave a comment below.

L.A. the Blog: 2012 Silver Lake Jubilee

Memorial Day weekend came and went. Sunday meant work at a kiosk in the local mall selling candy while thoughts of peoMonday Memorial Dayple having fun at BBQs made each sale anxious. Guys in shorts and tank tops, girls in bikini tops with colorful tattoos, maybe a kitty pool or spray bottles to escape the first days of summer’s heat. Potentially the actual holiday – Monday – might have fulfilled Sunday’s fantasies but ended as it began with a handful of dudes sitting around watching reruns of shows on the TLC channel, some food, then more reruns this time an old movie. Enough to make anyone question if life held any meaning or if that perfect picture of the nuclear 50’s family sitting around at home turned into a dark nightmare of single men watching TV together hopeless with memories of past failures and the loneliness that comes with the statement, “If I only did that differently.”

This isn’t about past failures and missed opportunities, not about loneliness and bad jobs, but instead about making the best of what you have with what little, if anything, you have available. It is about defiance in the face of authority, maybe about the attempt to take back what is rightfully yours and not taking no for an answer. It is about celebrating freedom and ingenuity, and honoring the personal sacrifice of men and women, all which makes this nation great. It is about the Saturday before that Sunday and Monday, about how no one invited you to a party, about so-called “friends” you wanted to spend the weekend with ignoring you, and most of all about the 2012 Silver Lake Jubilee.

The Jubilee setup right off Sunset Boulevard at the famous and quaint location known as Sunset Junction, or where Santa Monica Boulevard meets Sunset. A few trendy restaurants, a few hip shopping retailers and that damn good cheese store that sells those damn good sandwiches keeps the area vibrant with foot traffic and popular with the young crowd of successful Hollywood hipsters. We arrived with a thirst for coffee. For coffee you have two options, the first is a cafe with a constant line out the door, and filled tables on the outside patio that makes it seem like they give out free coffee. Actually it couldn’t be further from the truth and the joint more than anything else gives the area its reputation for catering to success. Your average coffee drink at the place runs for a fiver, and people gladly pay it all day long.

Along with two other guys none of us worked. The recession you heard disappeared in other areas but left Los Angeles around an estimated 11 percent unemployment in the summer of 2012. A few spotty good jobs here and there but otherwise work meant a lot of odd jobs moving furniture, giving rides to people for cash and eking out what little unemployment insurance provided. A fiver for coffee didn’t add up so we headed for option number two, a cafe a block away that also posed as a spiritual center, and along with coffee and healthy fare sold yoga outfits and good smelling candles. Buddha might not make as good of coffee as capitalism, but the price sure felt better on the pocket. Sadly, they still charged higher than average for a cup and as a friend in New York once said “I hate paying more than a dollar for coffee.” Call us old fashioned.

Jubilee Herb BoothCoffee, check, next stop some BBQ food because that is what you do on holiday weekends in America, eat BBQ. Ditching the main drag we dipped into the front area of the jubilee that started at Sunset and stretched down Santa Monica for a good amount of blocks to Virgil Avenue. Each entrance to the festival held a large stage area, with smaller music areas squeezed between booths selling merchandise of all types, including a booth that sold only fresh herbs for cooking. Though random in appearance, and at first look one might wonder what prompted a booth selling items such as thyme and basil to setup in the middle of pop culture t-shirts, beer vendors and corporate sponsors, such as Pepsi, but that is L.A. for you. Maybe Coca-Cola setup shop as an herb booth to sneak in under the exclusive rights contract that Pepsi possibly garnered for their monetary support of the event.

Looking closer though nothing better represents the culture in this nook of Los Angeles known as Silver Lake, Los Feliz and Echo Park (that many of the newer residents consider the east side of L.A. but actually is only east of the west side of L.A. and is more the north-central side of the city, though still slightly west of the real East L.A. of Chicano heritage – or better stated in the common phrase “we never go west of Western”) then the herb booth at the festival. It stood as a testament to a community in the face of development, or gentrification as people call it these days.

The community people who possibly grew those herbs in community gardens when the idea of community gardens was to give people space to fulfill the ancient heritage of tending the earth, but also took empty derelict lots in the city back from neighborhood blight to create spaces not where homeless slept off alcohol and drug induced blackouts but rather where something beautiful stood that people took pride in as they grew tomatoes and found each other. These community people who moved into hard neighborhoods riddled with crime and enduring with love stayed making the place that much brighter for the new families who slowly moved in opening eclectic businesses where art, good food and the American dream flourished. Eventually the crime moved on and left only a place full of energy that attracted more and more people until eventually upping real estate values drew more and more affluent people into newly remodeled condos and apartment buildings.

Funky OutfitThat is how the community stood, at the height of its creativity and in the beginning of its death throes. New cafes with $5 coffee start to replace the $1 coffee shops, clothing stores that sold secondhand merchandise or local designers for cheap turn into designer boutiques where the average price of pants is more money than a staving artist receives in a month from the county general relief fund. Many of the same types of creatives (the new generation) like those who helped shape the neighborhood can’t afford the expensive rents and now move further into Los Angeles into other neighborhoods. Those successful artists and entrepreneurs who opened the first shops and art galleries of course stay and who can blame them, they helped create the community and it belongs to them still, even though it is changing.

Those other people who helped form the community without experiencing the same success; maybe they too were artists but never caught fame, maybe they started failed businesses or lost their leases from the rising rents, maybe they never did anything but bring love and friendship to the neighborhood, or helped plant flowers in that same community garden; they see themselves pushed out as developers seek their rented real estate and their landlords who before welcomed stable tenants now see greater profits if they move. These people too move deeper into Los Angeles and into new neighborhoods as the more affluent replace them.

Slowly the neighborhood changes and while the unique character of the place will always endure in painted murals and a funky shop here and there, the heart and soul of the community forever disappears. It happens in every city all over the world. New York, Seattle, Houston, Chicago, in every major city and in other neighborhoods in L.A. like Santa Monica, Venice, and Hollywood. Places that eventually corporate America finds and sees an opportunity for money. They open drug stores and grocery stores, restaurant chains and clothing store chains, ice cream parlors and pizza joints. Where before the neighborhood didn’t fit a demographic they approved for business, now it held what they sought – people with money. When this happens real estate values become unattainable for anyone but corporations as they pay the highest price for 10-year leases. When the chains move in the neighborhood forever dies.

So the herb booth is not such an anomaly but makes perfect sense standing next to the giant corporate sponsors, it is a microcosm of gentrification, an illustration of the larger change happening in the community. Sadly, there small mom and pop operation seems out of place now. You can hear this said too if you listen close enough to the new young and hip generation in L.A.

Us three for example standing at the entrance of the jubilee, we say the same thing as everyone else, the place is too expensive, the shops are too trendy, the place isn’t “it” anymore. We hear that Boyle Heights or MacArthur Park represent the new frontier, where you can still find an apartment for six bills.

Truthfully the place still lives, not like Venice Beach that is beyond hope of recovery and forever gone.  For instance the first stage while entering the jubilee is set up just for local teenage high school bands. What better says community than inviting those growing up in the neighborhood to play and perform along those already established.  It is only us who love the dirt and grime of L.A. that mourn the coming loss, those of us who can’t afford the rents.

The next order of business after getting coffee still is the fresh Memorial Day BBQ as it looms large in the imagination of every American. The only burgers and hot dogs available at the Sunset entrance came from a food truck, not a fresh BBQ. Some bar was in the process of BBQ’ing chicken and sausages, but a taste for good old-fashioned burgers and dogs needed satiating. Two of us sat to wait while the search for food led further down into the block party. The BBQ setup had to exist, just where and when. The excitement and energy of the place felt palpable and contagious the further you moved into the thick of the crowd, until it died in an instant with two large looking security officers at a gate asking a simple question, “Do you have a yellow wristband?”

Of course the event cost money, everything else in the neighborhood cost money, why would they put on a free event for a holiday with bands? Looking over at the booth selling wristbands, sidling up to the front and cutting in line, the price of one yellow wristband left a bitter taste in the mouth. A twenty spot for a yellow piece of paper around the wrist. Of course it also meant twenty to find the BBQ desperately wanted as outside the event burgers and dogs didn’t exist, just like three twenty spots didn’t exist to gain us all entrance.

Yellow Post-It StripsDefeated and starved the food truck seemed more appealing now. The two guys who held back took the news with indignation and disbelief. No fun here for the broke, and since people weren’t jumping at the chance to invite us to parties the day turned into less a holiday and more into a reminder that when life sucks it can really suck. One burger at the food truck and a soda to wash it down – $10. Here is a good chance to comment on the wealth of food trunks that have become a staple in Los Angeles streets. While a good food truck is divine, a burger truck is a poor second when you want a BBQ burger. For that matter most food trucks like the jubilee and the coffee shop sell poor food overpriced. There are the few jewels of gourmet food that started the trend, but now who can distinguish the good from the bad with everyone in pursuit of making a buck jumping on the coattails of success.

Anyhow finishing off the last remains of the food an idea struck that seemed simple enough, genius really, and it meant entrance at a very low price, possibly even for free. They were just yellow wristbands available at any local store. The idea presented passed among us and three smiles formed as trusty mobile devices came out of the pocket and the search for wristbands entered that stage of virtual planning. No parties stores around, nothing within walking distance except, yes, there on the other end of the party a few more blocks past Virgil stood our new hope. An office supply that advertised a solution for every business need. A long shot but businesses needed wristbands too, right?

Skirting the outside of the party the three of us slowly made our way through the neighborhood; passing happy drunk people, happy young kids and merry hipsters on their way to the jubilee. A new spring in our step matched theirs as our devious plan brought us into the store. Quickly we spread out and searched for wristbands. Not in aisle one or two as they only held blank paper stock for printing. Maybe use paper and print some wristbands? Too time consuming. The other aisles held pens, erasers, electronic devices, office furniture, clipboards and paper clips. No wristbands.

Jubilee WristbandUntil we saw it, not wristbands but something yellow, paper and about the same width as what the event staff gave out for entrance. Immediately grabbing the sticky Post-It strips two of us agreed they would work while the third argued the yellow wasn’t the same color. Demanding that we keep looking for something better we finished searching the entire store, but at the end the yellow sticky strips seemed the best option.

Call it broke desperation and a criminal undertaking, or call it harmless fun and American ingenuity. Call it whatever tickles your moral fancy but at that moment at the counter when we purchased our event wristbands for a little over a five spot all the disappointments of the past week, month and year fell off each of us. We beat the system.

Of course the wristbands worked and we cruised the event for a few hours harassing cute girls, drinking the free Pepsi being passed out, and listening to the local bands and electronic music in the glow of triumph.  Most of all for those hours the thoughts of her who never returned a simple phone call that day disappeared also.  Rejection never sits well with victory, and at a place like a jubilee there is always other fish.  At the magic hour, as film people call the end of the day when the light begins to change and darkness begins to settle, we left for other pursuits.

In this story you won’t find famous quotes from the U.S. President because the President doesn’t attend this specific jubilee, and a jubilee is likely not the proper place for him on this weekend of remembrance for those who died for our freedom. Nor does your average person get to add their voice simply because the experience doesn’t lend itself to the definition of average. The closest thing to communication you get from anyone is a simple middle finger saying f*!ck you, or maybe two middle fingers if you really look closely.

It is important to note that last minute guilt and remorse made the conscious nag, and one wristband got purchased for the event by this author.  If you are interested below too you can find a slideshow of pictures taken at the event and short video featuring a taste of the music played.

In all respects the event soothed the droll weekend that awaited, and not just because two of us cheated the promoters. Good music and a good crowd with interesting booths and funky outfits happily captured the heart and soul of Silver Lake, Echo Park and Los Feliz, or what heart and soul remains. Sadly, we never came across an actual BBQ going, just more food trucks selling different foods.

In the end a simple story about that coffee shop that sells $5 coffee best sums up everything that went on that day. A friend just ate a big meal at some fast food joint and was standing in the long line that always stretched out the door. Upon entering the store area the heat and the food begin to get to him, making him feel queasy. As the line continued to lag eventually the heat got to him and he threw up all over the floor. Just puked in front of all those people who can afford $5 coffee. After that he walked out and left the puke heading for some other neighborhood in Los Angeles.

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2012 Jubilee – Los Angeles, CA from Aaron Howell on Vimeo.