City of Angels? Revisited

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After much searching, then discovering the novel to be a collector’s item due to a limited one-time print run, I bought the e-book version of Digging the Vein by Tony O’Neill. While I was on the thirteen hour flight to Los Angeles I started reading it and was pleasantly surprised to discover it was set in LA. Before I left LA, less than four days after arriving, I had finished O’Neill’s debut.

I was hooked.

I was also bitterly disappointed at the conclusion as I desperately wanted a happy ending yet received exactly the opposite. So when I discovered O’Neill had penned a sequel, Down and Out on Murder Mile, I purchased it, read it in record time and received the aforementioned happy ending that eluded me previously.

Unable to get enough of the author’s work it was time to move onto novel three, Sick City, also set in LA coincidentally. This novel took a bit more time to complete, but in the process of doing so something unexpected happened. My previous dislike of Los Angeles (see City of Angels?) began to evaporate and my affinity with the city began growing.

The majority of the locations O’Neill describes in his first three novels I walked through in August 2015. Somehow this has brought me closer to the City of Angels, it was like I knew its deepest and darkest secrets. Then from out of nowhere on page 331 this conversation occured between the two main characters Jeffrey and Randall about the MacArthur Park area…

“This fucking place creeps me out, man” Jeffrey said.

“Huh?”

“Creeps me out. So fucking sketchy. I hate being down here. The pigs are crawling all over the place.”

Randal snorted. “So long as the fucking Eighteenth Street remembered to pay off the cops this month, we’re cool.”

“I hate it, though. It’s fucking depressing. The poverty. I mean, Jesus, imagine raising your kids here?”

Randal laughed. “Listen–nobody gives two shits about these people. They don’t care how these people’s kids grow up. This place is totally abandoned by the rest of the city. I mean, there are people I know who have never so much as driven through this neighbourhood. It doesn’t really exist to them. Imagine, a whole section of the city they call home, and it may as well be fucking deepest Africa or something. That’s why the fucking subway stops at Beverly. It’s not just because the rich fuckers don’t want to come here. It’s because they want to keep these people contained. This city is fucked up, Jeffrey. It’s a fucking cesspool. Calling this place the City of Angels is a horrible fucking joke. It isn’t a city of angels. It’s a city of fucking whores. The thing is, you can’t act like this neighbourhood is the problem and over in Beverly Hills everything’s hunky dory.”

* * * *

“Beverly Hills might be a fucking cultural black hole, but at least I don’t have to worry about getting my throat cut for my wallet over there. I don’t like it. If I didn’t need drugs, I’d happily never set foot around here again. I grew up around poverty. It depresses me.”

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I read this as it echoed almost exactly my feelings on the area. I was somewhat shocked at the poverty.

Now, I’m mid-way through O’Neill’s fourth novel Black Neon, which is the sequel to Sick City and is unsurprisingly partly set in Los Angeles. And I couldn’t be happier.

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FYF Fest

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While I was overseas in August/ September of this year I had a few things on my bucket list to cross off and one was to go to a live gig. Unfortunately, it was slim pickings as I was missing some great artists by a week or two. I started to believe that this item would remain on the list for some time to come. That is until I stumbled upon a random tweet from @triplej talking about Aussie’s Chet Faker and Flume being on the FYF Fest line up. I looked into it and knew this was my one and only opportunity to have my wish come true.

Fuck Yeah Fest (FYF) was my first foray into the world of international music festivals and it is one that shall remain with me until Alzheimer’s or death are upon me.

As my flight from Australia flew into Los Angeles I coordinated my travel arrangements so I could stay there for a few days to attend the two-day festival. With a line up including the boys from Oz, Bloc Party, Purity Ring, Frank Ocean, Morrissey, Belle and Sebastian, Laura Marling and many more, I was going to get the biggest live music buzz I could have wished for.

Once my flights were booked I made it official and bought my FYF ticket. But hang on a minute, what’s this? They offered a payment plan! Even though the ticket cost for the full 2 days was on par with a single day Oz music festival (Groovin’ the Moo excluded as that is by far the cheapest and most reasonably priced festival in Australia), they offered a payment plan. Three simple installations over 3 months and you’re in. This dangerously looked like a promoter actually giving a shit about the punter. Being Australian, this is something I’m unfamiliar with. I tingled with glee as I hit the ‘purchase’ button.

Fast forward a few months and I’m in Los Angeles at Exposition Park. In 1984 when LA hosted the Olympics they were held here. I collected my ticket from a kind woman after being guided to the Free Will by a kind man. I then went through security and had my bag checked. Unlike Australia where security do not give a shit about you and your bag is lightly felt up, here I was subjected to the female only line where a female security guard patted me down and turned the contents of my bag inside out checking for contraband such as eye drops, pencils, guns and sealed bottles of water. I was even asked why I had cash on me. “To buy stuff” was thankfully an acceptable answer. As daunting as the experience was, and as cringe worthy as it was to have to go through it again the next day, I understood it to be for the punter’s safety because America and guns go together like moths and flames.

The first thing on the agenda was to get to the main stage to see Dinosaur Jr who had just started. It would give me a great opportunity to gather my bearings and establish where the stages were, in particular the Main Stage and the Lawn Stage as they were the two I’d be alternating between for the entire weekend. I walked and walked and walked and walked and walked and hit a car park where the main stage was set up. Oh. Dinosaur Jr rocked it like they know how and once they finished I headed over to the Lawn Stage. I walked and walked and walked and walked and walked and found the grass eventually, right near the entrance to the festival. Oh. Dear. My legs were already sore from the debacle that occurred that morning (see City of Angels?) and this 5 minute walk between stages didn’t help, and it indicated I’d be virtually running in-between stages since almost all the acts clashed slightly. Nevertheless, as the sun set I bathed in the beauty that was The Drums, a band I’d wanted to see live for a few years now. What I expected from them they didn’t actually deliver, but I was more than pleasantly surprised. Instead of the frantic surf pop sound that they’re known for, they delivered a cruisey and chilled set comprising of all their hits. It was truly a beautiful sight to behold.

I paused for a beverage break after The Drums finished and entered the over 21 beer garden to consume an utterly crap $12 glass of rose smaller than a golf ball. After sculling that hideous drink I headed back to the Lawn Stage to watch !!! for about 10 minutes from the very front of the stage which was delightful. Then I wandered around looking at the sights catching Shlohmo on the Trees Stage as I made my way back to the Main Stage for Chet Faker. Underestimating the popularity of the Melbourne producer, my plan of leaving his set early as I’d previously seen him play live in Sydney, was foiled by the fact at least 60% of the entire festival’s population were also there to see him. I became stuck in the crowd and couldn’t escape. This sucked. It meant I had to run back to the Lawn Stage to see the start of Bloc Party, the one band I was desperate to see this weekend (see It’s Ratchet). By some stroke of luck I actually made it.

I was quite tired and somewhat stoned from a contact high from the weed being smoked everywhere that I sat down to calmly enjoy Kele and his new band, I mean Bloc Party. That is until they dropped Hunting for Witches. I instantly jumped to my feet and pushed my way into the crowd and danced myself stupid for the hour-long set. They were by far the best performers of the night so far.

At this stage I was on such a high that I rushed back to the main stage to see not Frank Ocean who had pulled out less than 48 hours earlier, but Kanye West who replaced him. If I thought Chet Faker could draw a crowd I was sorely mistaken compared to the thousands that had amassed in the car park. It was absolutely crazy made more so crazy due to the fact Kanye had no stage show arranged due to the short notice of his inclusion to the line up. It was just him and his ego strutting their stuff on the stage, and the people of LA were lapping it up like you wouldn’t believe. I’m glad I was finally able to see him, but I had no regrets in leaving early to go check out Purity Ring on the Lawn Stage. And I’m glad I did because they were brilliant.

As I was dependent upon catching the Metro home and had no idea what I was doing or where I was going beyond get off at stop 7, catch the purple train and get off 3 stops later, I felt for my own sanity and anxiety levels that I had to bail before the end of Purity Ring’s set. Disappointing, but being lost in LA at 1am with no way to get home wasn’t an option I could consider. In the end a strange thing happened, LAPD and FYF Fest had worked together to make the trip home easier than boiling an egg. That whole considering the punter thing came into play again. There were signs, people guiding you in the right direction making sure you got on the correct train and ensuring you had a ticket. It was bliss. And I instantly wanted to go back to the festival to catch the end of Purity Ring and dance the morning away to Simian Mobile Disco, but I didn’t.

The next day I felt much better about everything and tackled getting into the Festival with total flair. I also knew that I could not be fucked traipsing in between the stages like yesterday as my legs were on fire from all the walking I had been doing. So off to the Lawn Stage I went to start the day with the divine Laura Marling. I sat down and just enjoyed her.

When Laura finished I headed to the Main Stage to catch a funky little set from Toro Y Moi before checking out Battles at the aesthetically gorgeous Trees Stage. Flume was due to come on the Main Stage before Battles finished so I headed back to the car park and did something I hadn’t anticipated on doing. I stayed there and didn’t leave for hours. I made my way to the centre of the car park and positioned myself next to the middle barricade so all I had to do was lean to the right and I could see the stage. It was the perfect spot to watch Flume for the first time. Harley was absolutely brilliant and with guests such as Andrew Wyatt and Lorde joining him the set was one of my favourites from Sunday.

The majority of the crowd dispersed once Flume finished and I took the opportunity to move forward, still staying alongside that barrier. I pushed forward approximately 20 metres and in the process started talking to the guy who was behind me slip streaming once he figured out what I was doing. He commented on what a great idea it was and that’s how I met Oscar who turned into my FYF Fest buddy for the remainder of the festival.

Together we watched Belle and Sebastian who floored me with their energetic performance which had audience members on stage as their dancers, and chatted as we waited for headliner Morrissey to start. I learnt a lot about LA, the festival and music scene. It was great to have someone to talk to.

By the time Morrissey came on stage we had moved up perhaps another 10 meters and had a great view of the stage. In terms of his performance he wasn’t as bad as I expected. I’m glad I was able to experience Morrissey live in my life, but he won’t go down as a key memory from FYF Fest.

On my way out of Exposition Park I heard FKA Twigs but had no desire to stay for her set. I was exhausted and I had to leave for the airport at 8:30am.

Despite not seeing many bands on Sunday I had no regrets. I saw who I wanted, that was all that mattered. And when I’m old and decrepit and telling my grandchildren about my solo adventures to North America FYF Fest will be remembered and talked about with so much love and joy. Even now, almost 3 months later, I am amazed and proud of myself for having the courage to go to it. It was truly one of the greatest experiences of my life thus far.

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City of Angels?

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When I was eleven I went to Los Angeles with my Mum. We spent approximately one week there and did all the typical touristy things: Disneyland, Universal Studios, Beverley Hills, Hollywood, saw stars homes, saw stars on Hollywood Boulevard and anything else you could think of. We stayed in a decent little motel in Anaheim and saw a typically Hollywood portrayal of our surrounds. I absolutely loved the entire experience.

Fast forward twenty-seven years and I found myself back in the City of Angels, this time on my own for the sole purpose of attending FYF Fest, a two-day music festival. Due to my earlier trip and due to time constraints, I had no intention of doing any sight-seeing and hadn’t planned any either. However, when I arrived at 8am on a Friday morning I figured I had over 24 hours before the festival started so maybe it was a great chance to see a few things I hadn’t previously seen.

I had booked an Air BnB apartment which was chosen due to a) the price and b) being positioned within spitting distance of the Metro which I needed to take to/from the festival. The apartment itself was wonderful and I would recommend it to anyone, however its location was one that opened my eyes to the reality of LA. I should clarify and say the apartment was in an okay location and within close proximity to everything of relevance, well as close a proximity as the great expanse that is LA allows.

My home was a block away from Wilshire and Vermont in Koreatown. It was East Koreatown, the quieter side of Koreatown and from all accounts quite a safe area. On Saturday morning I decided to head to Paramount Pictures to do a tour, which according to google maps, wasn’t too far away. I’d established I needed to get to Wilshire/ Western station and then catch a bus to Melrose before taking a short walk to the studio. I figured it would take about twenty minutes to walk to Wilshire/ Western so I left with plenty of time to make my bus. This was not a problem, I was all over it!

Armed with my Paramount tour confirmation, money in my pocket, excitement bubbling over the surface and a totally shit sense of direction I started walking. It was an overcast morning, hotter than I had experienced in well over three months, with humidity off the charts.

I kept walking.

Koreatown is best described as an inner city suburb. It’s not shi shi by any means, nor is it Skid Row. But it’s close to both shi shi and Skid Row depending on which direction you head. It’s very middle class, perhaps slightly below even, with an even split between residential and retail. There were always people around, even at 2am.

One of the first things I noticed about Koreatown, which is common across most of LA, was the homeless. Whilst not surprised to see people sleeping in alleys behind the apartment, or in the Metro station, or around the corner, the amount of homeless people I saw was eye-opening.

I kept walking.

The second thing I noticed about Koreatown, which is common across most of LA except the shi shi areas, was the dirtiness. The amount of rubbish on the streets and the sidewalks was unexpected and when combined with the smog made for an unpleasant environment overall.

I kept walking.

The third thing I noticed about Koreatown, which I found to be common wherever I went in LA, was the smell of urine. No matter where you were it would inevitably rise up from the ground and smack you square in the nose. You couldn’t avoid it.

I kept walking, and wondering when the hell was I going to reach the station?! By this stage the streets had become quieter, fewer people were around. It had an eerie quality about it, but I pressed on.

The fourth thing I noticed about Koreatown, which I found to be common wherever I went in LA, was the money that was spent on the strangest of things: new, high quality petrol bowsers in every petrol station; advertising printed on glossy, laminated paper; air conditioners on every mode of Metro transport…but the homeless, the rubbish and the urine remained on the streets. This wasn’t right.

I kept walking until I reached MacArthur Park. I stopped. Shit!

In my spare time I was reading Digging the Vein by Tony O’Neil of Brian Jonestown Massacre fame. The novel was based loosely around Tony’s experiences, was about a has been musician and his fall into heroin addiction, and was set in LA. MacArthur Park was talked about often as a guaranteed spot to score dope. In the 1980’s and 90’s it was referred to as Murder Central due to the heavy gang presence. In 1990 as many as thirty people were murdered in MacArthur Park alone! I was in Murder Central. The fact it was 2015 and the Park had seemingly cleaned up its act thanks to a combined effort from the LAPD and the residents was totally irrelevant. I was in Murder Central and completely irrational.

I walked through the park and into a world I hadn’t ever seen before in Adelaide or anywhere I had previously lived. It was then that I realised what a sheltered life I had led, what a lucky life I had led and, when I checked on google maps where the hell I actually was, that I had an utterly shit sense of direction. I had walked east almost directly to Downtown LA instead of west where I was meant to be going. The time had arrived to obtain a crash course in the Metro and I hopped on the first bus heading west because I sure as hell wasn’t going to walk all the way back to where I came from.

The fact I was one of the few, occasionally only, caucasian in the area and on the bus didn’t escape me, but I wasn’t made to feel out-of-place at all, on any of the buses I caught. In fact, I was so impressed with the friendliness of everyone and their willingness to help me every time my sense of direction sent me travelling the wrong way. This was, I’m embarrassed to say, a common occurrence during my four-day stay. That morning I got so lost I missed my pre-paid tour of Paramount Pictures, but I experienced a side of LA that I wouldn’t have gone and sought out intentionally and in retrospect I’m glad I did.

Over the next three days the Metro became my only mode of transport and its reliability and ease of use did come as somewhat of a surprise and helped to highlight a disconnect in LA. How could there be so much money put into things like petrol bowsers, advertising flyers and the transport system, yet there be so much poverty everywhere you looked? I didn’t understand. I still don’t understand.

FYF Fest was a wonderful experience, one that deserves its own full length description, and I will take from LA such a content feeling from the event, however it will forever be underlined by a feeling of confusion. Los Angeles is void of logic and I find that unsettling.

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It’s Ratchet…

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When I was pregnant with my first child I spent an hour lining up for tickets for Bloc Party who were my flavour of the year at the time. The gig was about six to eight weeks later and even the knowledge that I would be almost eight months pregnant at the gig didn’t detract from my utter excitement Fast forward to the week of the gig…and I’m sick. Really sick. I ended up taking time off of work to sleep as much as I could in between the delirium I was experiencing. The day of the gig I woke up at about 3pm, showered, washed my hair, got dressed, walked into the lounge room and proclaimed to my then partner that we were going that night because I was feeling better. He said “no.” I regressed to a two-year old and threw a tantrum. There were profanities, tears and some foot stamping, but he wouldn’t change his mind. Defeated, I accepted that it wasn’t happening and tried to give the tickets away to no avail so I went back to bed and promptly fell asleep. When I woke up it was about 9pm and I knew my fever had finally broken. By then it was too late to go to Bloc Party. So I stayed home and tried to ignore the tickets that were being wasted. To say that I had gotten over this disappointment would be a blatant lie for all I’ve managed to do is push it to the far recesses of my mind only bringing out the memory every time Bloc Party tour Australia and I don’t go for some reason or another. As at today, I still haven’t seen them live and really, really want to. In a similar scenario as Chet Faker’s Lesson in Patience Bloc Party are on the line up for FYF Fest. This little stroke of luck after almost seven years has me with a wide smile on my dial, and with only ten days until FYF kicks off, I’m just a little bit excited to see Kele and whatever boys now make up the rest of Bloc Party! Squeeeeeeee!

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