Monday, December 31, 2007


Part of the LA Weekly Music section's Best of 2007 list, December 2007

Paper Planes review in LA Weekly

Pitchfork interview of reference

Song review (although after reading her ridiculous Pitchfork interview, it ended up being more of a character review.)

M.I.A. is an awesome musician. Her politics, though, are a couple tacos short of a combination plate.
There are a couple more observations below that didn't make it to the print edition:

The grand façade of Sri Lankan–way-of-London hip-hop star M.I.A. is the postulation that she actually knows what she’s talking about. This year, she asserted in Pitchfork that she doesn’t really care about what she’s talking about (Liberia, terrorism, Diplo). Then the press media accuses her of not caring, which is when she gets mad and accuses the press media of thinking she doesn’t care because she’s a woman. Or brown-skinned. Or a brown-skinned woman. Then Mathangi "Maya" Arulpragasam contends that she understands writers diminishing her achievements out of sexist discrimination, but the comments only really upset her if the journalist is female. Furthermore, she expresses how terrible it is to posses XX chromosomes in America—“In America, that's such a norm, for women to be puppets”—but then advertises her marital availability because she wants to STAY. In. America: “I'm only here on a year visa, so if you could just advertise, I'm looking for a husband."
Her 2007 album Kala harbors one of the most satisfying and fun tracks of 2007. “Paper Planes” has shotgun blasts mixed with cash-register $ka-chings$ and a sample of the Clash’s “Straight to Hell,” all held together by her alluring vocals and airy danceable beats. It’s hilarious. I feel instantaneously happy and cool when I put this song on. Maybe that’s why it’s so disappointing to learn of her convoluted campaigning and nationalistic muckraking. Oh, well. She’s not the first pop star to crow about capitalism while flashing gold-plated teeth. You can check the music video for “Paper Planes” on Spike TV’s It’s right after the 20-second Sidekick commercial.


Live review, LA Weekly, December 2007

I love L.A.: therefore, Ozomatli is Grade A.

Ozomatli & Weapon of Choice at the House of Blues, review in LA Weekly

Photos from the show

Tre Hardson


Compound art/book/event review, LA Record, November 2007

by Cheryl Dunn

i have a tendency to glaze over street photography, but Ms. Dunn does some really interesting work.
Especially cool are her photos of professional boxers in Atlantic City

Cheryl Dunn write-up in LA Record



Talking to New York photographer Cheryl Dunn at her Los Angeles book release party, hosted by the Fairfax district’s Family Bookstore Sunday evening, helped me realize why I think photographers are interesting (I am a photographer, but that doesn’t supersede the point): Photographers, even though they function visually, are basically thinkers. In the case of street photographer Cheryl Dunn, who runs in the same artistic and social circles as Chris Johanson and Margaret Kilgallen, little abstracts of life are identified, composed, and frozen on film, consequently forcing a meditation on seemingly unimportant details that would have otherwise evanesced like so much dust. What sets Dunn apart from other urban photographers, apparent in her new photo book Some Kinda Vocation, is that her process of deciding which details to embrace is informed by her romantic notions involving regular people attempting to do something, whether that something is writing on walls, playing the banjo, supporting a political candidate, or defeating an athletic opponent. One of the most striking images in the book is of boxer Merqui Sosa, mid-fight in Atlantic City, 1991. Sosa’s face is bloody, swollen, and dripping with sweat. His left eye, the only one he can see out of, doesn’t harbor the ferocious concentration of a determined fighter, but a look of resigned fear. This photograph, and the social commentaries that can be assigned to it (brutality, desperation, class struggle), directly plays into the irony of the book’s title, which Dunn elaborates on in her foreword: “The idea of a vocation is sold to people as this great opportunity—but it’s used to designate a career or a school that you go to if you have no opportunities and no money.”

What sealed the deal with my affection for Dunn was what she signed in my copy of the book. After talking briefly, as all photographers currently do, about the besiegement of film-based photography by the evil digital monsters in the evil digital world, I confessed that I do use a digital SLR for editorial and journalistic assignments. She took the book from me and asked what I wanted her to write, and a friend of hers said, “Write what you had for breakfast.” When I returned home and opened up the book, I looked on the inside cover and it read: “What you had for breakfast. That is not what I wanted to write. Shoot Film is what I wanted to write. Cheryl Dunn.” A true romantic. (RK)

ENTRANCE preview

Preview, LA Record, November 2007

My reigning favorite LA band.

low-end theory preview in la record


PETE QUIRK interview

LA Record, November 2007

Pete is the Cave Singers frontman and formerly played with noisey punk-adjacent outfit Hint Hint.

He was lovely to talk to.

pete quirk interview in la record

Sunday, December 30, 2007


District Weekly, LA Weekly, November 2007

I did a fair share of work on this Seattle band. I fell in love with their album "Invitation Songs." It's wonderful.

album "Invitation Songs" review in the District Weekly

Cave Singers at the Echo, review in LA Weekly

Music video for "Dancing on Our Graves," directed by Mike Ott, review in LA Weekly

Music video review, and video below:

Evangelical Christians are the new black. Documentaries like Jesus Camp and bands like Sixteen Horsepower have liberally injected the images and language of American spiritual fanaticism into the pop-culture bloodstream. There’s a reason Borat made a pit stop at an evangelical revival. So on first glimpse of the new Cave Singers video for their recent Invitation Songs track “Dancing on Our Graves” (see below), I was a little wary of yet another addition to this pat churchly paradigm. A couple of things, though, caught my attention: (1) A few moments into the video, when singer Pete Quirk first appears and the preacher character starts lip-synching, I realized it was not composed of archival footage, as I initially believed, but was entirely original live action; and (2) unlike many preceding “exposés” of the God fearing, director Mike Ott surprisingly, amazingly, manages to keep the video from being at all tongue-in-cheek or condescending. There is no sarcasm that I can detect. Even the inclusion of a “freak,” a one-and-a-half-armed man who plays the guitar with his stump, leaves little room for abasement. The video is dreamy — enhanced by Ott’s method of hand-processing and distressing film — and an entertaining, rhythmically engaging accompaniment to the song itself. It is also perfectly cast. I don’t know if Ott found these people through a casting agent or just recruited them from a local Newhall community center, but they don’t seem at all out of place in the world of religious zealots. Sure, some may say that it’s not the place of secular West Coast artists to exploit religious zealotry, regardless of the project’s tone, but those people can go to hell.


Live review, LA Weekly, November 2007

Sorry to all the Jon Spencer fans out there. Jail Weddings, though, has a glowing review.

There was some pretty juicy banter left in the comments section for this review. This was my favorite one:

For the record, rock journalism died with Peter Laughner. Laughner's review of Jonathan Richman's self-titled record has been aped by many aspiring rock journalists; none have touched it (it's the Creem issue where Bangs rips Wings to shreds -- '76, dude)....Just look at the track record: Tosches: quit; Greil Marcus: loves situationists (kudos to him!); Barry Kramer: was so fucked by Creem he died in some freaky ass Sal Mineo sex act gone wrong. Lester was even losing his mind at the end, trying to pull a Burroughs and fuck off to Mexico. ANYWAY, rock journalism is as difficult as creating a great record. Just as there are only a handful of great bands, there are only a handful of seminal journalists, most of whom are dead. I mean, have you read Lou Reed's interview with Vaclav Havel? Terrible. Have you listened to Lester Bang's record? Horrible. They're different disciplines, both equally hard to master. So this idea that critics are just frustrated musicians is stupid. I mean, look what Lester did for the Velvets. What Henry Geldzahler did for Warhol. And on and on...
Also, my theory is that after Bretton Woods was dissolved, making a profitable yet vibrant rock rag became impossible. Only non-profits carry anything valuable these days (think "Monthly Review" or "Z Magazine"). It's all run by four corporations. All are banal and useless.
In regard to this review, it's pretty sound. I never liked Jon Spencer. Most people I know aren't interested in him anymore. Don't know, don't care. At least this reviewer has the balls to call it as she saw it. Jail Weddings, though, is great. Where most bands in Los Angeles are happy to suck up to journalists or court major labels, Gabe's still the amiable, incorrigible friend I made three or four years ago. His music is always top-notch (probably the only LA band I wholeheartedly endorse). And any of this riff-raff about his band trying to steal the floor is bullshit. Dude is a total saint, even to motherfuckers like me.
Get into Guy Debord. All answers can be found there.
-Ryan Leach

Jon Spencer/Jail Weddings at the Echo, review in LA Weekly

Photos from the show




LA Weekly, November 2007

i actually got an email from jerry hopkins himself about this blog posting, all the way from Thailand. He told me i have a "sweet mouth" and signed it "warm wishes." love it.

People have been leaving some pretty amazing comments on this post about Fred Neil and Karen Dalton in the 60s Greenwich Village music scene- very cool.

Fred Neil's legacy has remained under the radar, but he is most noted for penning the song "Everybody's Talkin," made popular by Harry Nilsson's Midnight Cowboy version.

An observation about Fred Neil in LA Weekly

Here is a video of the amazingly gorgeous and unbelievably tragic Tim Buckley performing my favorite Fred Neil song, "The Dolphins." When I first saw this video, I was obsessed with it and kept watching it over and over. I basically convinced myself that Tim and I were meant to be together, and by some tragic twist of fate he and I were alive in disparate times. I never realized before, bu he looks very much like a friend of mine, actor Gabe Dell.


LA Weekly, October 2007

Black Lips at the Troubadour review in LA Weekly

Photos from the show

this young lad looks like Freddie Mercury

Black Lips_1

BEIRUT review

LA Weekly, October 2007

Contempo-Klezmer: more fun than a barrel of rabbis. This was one of the most enjoyable shows I've been to in the last few years. Definitely high on the totem pole, just under Prince at Staples, and the Pogues at the Wiltern.
Zach Condon has accomplished the almost unfathomable task of making Eastern European Jewishness seem hip.

Beirut at Avalon, review in LA Weekly

Photos from the show



LA Weekly, August 2007

Sorry to all the OCMS fans out there... and there are quite a few of you.
I am, however, pleased that this man was so photogenic.

OCMS at Avalon, review in LA Weekly

Photos from the show

Old Crow Medicine Show at Avalon 8/8/07


LA Weekly, August 2007

Unbelievable band. Completely and totally blew me away.

Entrance at Safari Sam's, review in LA Weekly

more photos on flickr



LA Weekly, May 2007

I hiked through some of the burned areas of Griffith Park with Councilman Tom LaBonge to take photos. He had me meet him at 6am, and when he drove up I was holding a Snickers bar and a bottle of Gatorade. He is in way better shape than I am. It was pretty embarassing. I felt like I was on Survivor. Thankfully, his hiking partner took pity on me and helped me carry my bag. Thank you, sir.

Very nice mention on Curbed LA

LA Weekly slideshow

additional photos on flickr


Part of LA Weekly's BEST OF L.A., October 2007

Best Escape Vittles, in LA Weekly

When I contemplate the possibility of a nuclear strike on Los Angeles, which I find myself doing more and more these days — thank you, Ahmadinejad — I think about (1) possible escape routes and (2) the animals I would be willing to eat if I were forced into some sort of hunter-warrior Werner Herzog–inspired survival attempt far from civilization. I start by charting a course toward the Pearblossom Highway, a gateway road that leads to desert and mountain hideaways where I could set up camp and hunt in the wild. Then I remember I’m lazy, nearsighted and asthmatic, and there’s no way I would be able to catch anything that moves faster than dripping molasses.

Thankfully, since 1929, the Antelope Valley’s reputedly dangerous Pearblossom Highway has been home to the tourist-trap emporium Charlie Brown Farms, which sells prepackaged, flash-frozen wild-game meat that I would only consider eating if it meant not having to cook my dog/brother/blanket.

Before the Village of Gnomes hut, and right behind the display of gag gifts for seniors — including the key chain with the timeless message “You know you’re getting old when getting lucky means finding your car in the parking lot” — you’ll bump into the meat freezer. There you’ll find a wide selection of vacuum-sealed dead-animal bits. Turtle, kangaroo (available in medallions and ground patties), alligator, rattlesnake and bear (the type of bear is not specified — plain bear, I guess) are some of Mother Earth’s finest that you can purchase and defrost on your overheated engine block when you eventually break down in the middle of the Mojave Desert. But if you’re not willing to eat snake just yet, you can still stimulate your backwoods palate with Charlie Brown’s venison, bison and ostrich burgers, which you can wash down with sweet-potato fries and a date shake. On your way out, pick up a hunting knife — the one adorned with an image of Angelina Jolie, half naked and set against a Confederate flag, should impress any foes you may encounter on your long journey into the backcountry.

8317 Pearblossom Hwy., Littlerock, (661) 944-2606 or

DO IT IN THE DIRT short feature

Part of LA Weekly's BEST OF L.A., October 2007

Why Don't We Do It in the Dirt

Top 10 email responses to the question, "Where would you have your last lay in apocalyptic l.a.?"

10. “Krispy Kreme?”

—Derek Thomas

9. “Forest Lawn... ’nuf said. Does it have to be in the city? ’Cause Neverland Ranch comes to mind as well.”

—Scott D.

8. “Hugh Hefner’s bomb shelter.”

—Pandora Young

7. “On Santa Monica Boulevard. They’ll probably be having some really cool party that I don’t even know about.”

—Arthur Carlton

6. “In the kitchen of Canter’s Deli while eating a pastrami sandwich. As George Costanza would tell you, pastrami is the sexiest of salty, cured meats.”

—Matthew Fleischer

5. “In the Scientology castle on Franklin. It just looks comfy in there, and maybe Isaac Hayes would be there to sing about making sweet love during the last moments. There’s also the possibility that the Scientology aliens would actually come down to rescue them and I would be taken along by default.”

—Andrew Vickmon

4. “I’m thinkin’ in the back row of the ArcLight during the 2031 release of the remake of The Man Called Flintstone. I’ll be eligible for free Viagra with my popcorn and Milk Duds, and I’ve always been hot for Betty Rubble. Ever notice that Barney was always smiling?”

—Peter Fletcher

3. “The Jet Propulsion Lab clean room, where they assemble in a completely dust-free and germ-free environment those gazillion-dollar probes they hurl out to Mars and other planets. You could give new meaning to the phrase cockpit.”

—Jill Stewart

2. “ANYWHERE!!!”


1. “That tranny/prosty doughnut shop on Crescent Heights in Hollywood. I imagine their hookers are like their doughnuts: No matter what you pull out of the bag, chances are it’s going to surprise you, and probably taste stale.

“Or I’d go to the Hollywood Forever cemetery with a lawn chair and some kettle corn and watch all the necromaniacs in the city ‘raise the dead,’ so to speak.

“I’d also go to Target and tear some up in the Home Accents department. What is it about Target (besides Food Avenue) that makes people so horny? If I die while screwing on top of a shattered Isaac Mizrahi bedside table/lamp combo, that will be the first question I ask God.

“You can also mention that I’m a Virgo, I’m 24 and that I’m allergic to shellfish, although I can’t see how that would be relevant.”

—Jason Underhill


Part of LA Weekly's BEST OF L.A., October 2007

Since this article was published, there have been noticeably more late-night illegally parked cars at this overlook!

Mission: Accomplished. You can't stop the people from wanting a beautiful view.

Above It All, LA Weekly

Nighttime high-altitude views of Los Angeles County have always been my secret aphrodisiac. I crave them, seek them out, drive at all hours during insomniac hazes to find one, and I am almost always lifted to a euphoric state once I reach my destination. I feel grateful, satisfied, happy to be above the city’s miasma in my black cotton sweatpants and gray hoodie, feeling enveloped and healed by the cool, damp air.

Seeing the grid of L.A. at night always calms me down — something about how the tiny beads of orange glow and the lines of red and white car lights creep along. I stand and breathe deep, hands in my pockets, and eventually realize that, yes, I can deal with whatever is keeping me up on that particular night.

Unfortunately, many of our great vistas have been unceremoniously privatized. One in particular, the Mulholland Drive Universal City Overlook, about nine minutes east of Laurel Canyon, has always been the focal point of my rage against the rich who usurp public access to beauty. I was ticketed there many years ago for a variety of transgressions. Of the eight Los Angeles County Mountains Recreation & Conservation Authority–posted rules, I was violating perhaps five. I was there after hours and parked illegally. I was smoking and drinking beer. My dog was off leash. And I was 16, with my best friend at the time. A gay German couple also there managed to run off before the policeman made his way over to our bench. But we, being girls, figured it would be better to try to talk the officer out of giving us a ticket. Running from the law just seemed so undignified for a teenage girl. We almost succeeded. He only cited us for parking on Mulholland after 9 p.m., and I am still grateful.

But as he was writing in his notebook, I asked him why it was illegal for us to be there at night. It’s not really a park, after all — it’s just a bench. And it’s on a public street. It’s basically just a bus stop with a tree around it, I reasoned. The officer looked up at me and gestured with his pen to the mammoth private residences on the other side of the road. “They don’t want people here at night.”

I’ve stopped at the overlook many times since then, before 9 p.m., because it is so beautiful. And I always think to myself: One day, this spot will be reclaimed by the general public. When the shit hits the fan, and some great earthquake, fire or flood hits our county, this will be my vantage point to watch the valley self-destruct. I’ll stare at Universal City ablaze, and see smoke rising from Forest Lawn to the east. By then, all the peace officers will be too busy to respond to a call about a 16-year-old girl standing and breathing in a park after 9 p.m.

7701 Mulholland Dr., Studio City,


Young Guns: Spindrift, Crooked Cowboy, and How the New West was Won, LA Weekly, July 2007

This feature was a labor of love. I whole-heartedly endorse Kirpatrick Thomas' projects. He is a true eccentric, an original, and incredibly talented. And just for the record I coined that music genre.

The New West, LA Weekly

Sitting on a hay bale next to a fire pit, staring at smoldering branches and trying (somewhat fruitlessly) to keep the flying embers from singeing my skirt, I listened to Bron Tieman, leader of the band Crooked Cowboy and the Freshwater Indians, tell me how he broke free of a decadelong life as a hermitic touring backup musician after encountering Spindrift, a local spaghetti-Western concept outfit. He explained, outside his converted goat-barn home, that he had finally heard something in that band that he thought was exceptional — his posse had arrived.

Spindrift front man Kirpatrick Thomas had met up with Tieman while sharing a bill at the Echo. Tieman’s burgeoning band, which can have anywhere from six to 12 musicians on a given night, is the fleshing out of the music Tieman says he has been writing and stowing away since hearing Ennio Morricone’s score to The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly for the first time, at 5 years of age — it played as the musical accompaniment to one of his sister’s cheerleader routines. Crooked Cowboy and Spindrift stage experimental, epic, cinematically inspired music more akin to the textured, symphonic layers of Portishead than the chaps and 10-gallon hat–wearing Riders in the Sky, even though their roots lie with the mysteries and folklore of the West. (As a point, Tieman tells his band not to stop playing during sets, so that the audience can be transported without interruption to another world that lies somewhere between the deserts of Spain and the Mir space station.)

Together, Tieman — who looks as though he should have tumbleweeds rolling at his feet while he walks — and Thomas are at the hotbed of the New West psychedelic-cowboy vibe now pulsating through many Highland Park and Echo Park songbirds. And for the past six months, they’ve been rooming together in Tieman’s historic home, which sits at the base of the Mount Washington hotel currently occupied by the Self-Realization Fellowship. Crooked Cowboy bandmates Neil Schuh and Tyler Thacker (also of the art-rock party bands Totally Radd!! and the Hot Tramps) are among the Highland Park–based musicians constantly flowing in and out of the barn, which is chock-full of pianos, organs, drums and recording equipment, to develop ideas or just to sprawl out on a blanket and nurse a cold beer.

This kinship is the fortunate expansion of the talent I first encountered when I saw Spindrift in the fall of 2003, when my beautiful keyboardist friend, Cameron Murray, lyrically beckoned, “Come out to the desert with me. I’m playing with a cowboy band.” She needed someone to chat with on the drive out, so I agreed to the trip, expecting to sit through a sorta blues, kinda garage rock, somewhat annoying yet tolerable band. But in the cramped, darkened quarters of Highway 62’s Beatnik Café, what I heard was completely unexpected. The way the myriad instruments and stable props are woven together to create Spindrift’s sound masterfully manages to steer the music clear of being cheesy, even while the musicians scream, “Tie them up, whoa!” Instead of feeling like you’re on the set of Maverick, you feel like you’ve been granted access to the distant memories of a two-bit-saloon harlot as she watches her nameless lover ride off into the sunset. In other words, it makes you feel like you’ve just been made love to by a handsome stranger, a genius visceral experience. Kirpatrick Thomas, a Delaware native who blew in from the East Coast as a solitary stranger in 2000, had wrangled a few musicians together, some borrowed from desert dwellers Gram Rabbit, some just taking five from touring with the Warlocks, dressed them in potato-bag ponchos and sombreros wrapped with Christmas lights, and amazed the crowd at the desolate desert café with the performance of his concept album The Legend of God’s Gun, which Thomas described as a soundtrack, even though at the time there was no movie to go with it. The 2003 prototype version of the album (it has since been remastered) that I commandeered from an intoxicated Thomas later during that evening in the desert, liner notes stained with red wine, plays as a Morricone-drenched homage to the West and all that this coast entails: surfer music, psychedelics, movies and cowboys.

After treading water for a few years in the overwhelmingly saturated L.A. music scene, Spindrift have recently been receiving some of the attention they deserve, getting coverage in local media, and credit for their part in the resurrection of the phenomenal love affair with the Wild West currently sweeping Southern California hipsters. Even the high-altitude honky-tonk Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace seems to be getting its fair share of acts like Jonathan Richman, the Watson Twins and Dengue Fever, but when Spindrift play at Pappy & Harriet’s (still mainly a country & western and local-act venue), they seem to be much more in their natural habitat.

And just this past week, director Mike Bruce, of Razor Tree Films, finally completed the heavily anticipated The Legend of God’s Gun — the missing silver-screen accompaniment to Thomas’ 2003 soundtrack of the same title. The film, which Bruce describes as a “rock & roll spaghetti Western, filmed in Southern California, as opposed to Italy, and has no Italian actors in it and sparsely any actors at that,” stars Thomas as El Sobero, the main bad guy, who faces off against a gunslinging preacher in the debaucherous town of Playa Diablo. And on the airwaves, king-of-cool trend galvanizer Steve Jones has been playing tracks off Spindrift’s album Songs From the Ancient Age on Indie 103.1 — Jones seems to have a particular affinity for “Red Reflection,” a synthesized melodic duet between Thomas and guest vocalist Kristin King that would be appropriate as background music if Grace Slick and Clint Eastwood happened to get into a sword fight.

Spindrift plays Wed., Aug. 1, at the Echo. Bring your maracas and wear your petticoats. Just watch out for the coyotes.

For more upcoming Spindrift and Crooked Cowboy gigs, and for more information on screenings of The Legend of God’s Gun, visit, and

DEVENDRA BANHART short feature

Part of LA Weekly's People Issue, May 2007

Devendra and Antae in LA Weekly

Enchanter, shaman, guru, sage — these are all words that have been used to describe singer-songwriter Devendra Banhart. And it’s not that I disagree — Devendra certainly is special. The talented young man with the voice he himself describes as a “possum getting a Pap smear” always has been someone to watch, ever since I first met him in ninth grade. It’s just bizarre when strangers start worshipping your high school friends. Rolling around in mud at Cacophony Society parties in the late ’90s, he didn’t even go by Devendra, but by a suitably quixotic nickname (which he asked me not to reveal), and looked less maharishi, more woodland nymph. But he always maintained the air of mystery that continues to inform his music and leaves his fans pleasantly astounded.

When Devendra began to garner press attention after the 2002 Young God Records release of his debut album, Oh Me Oh My... The Way the Day Goes by the Sun Is Setting Dogs Are Dreaming Lovesongs of the Christmas Spirit, I would read interviews with him in big music mags like Spin and get annoyed. More often than not, Devendra would leave out his years growing up in L.A. He would mention Caracas and Texas, also locales where he put in time as a young pup, but failed to mention any of the sordid, raucous calamities that comprised his formidable years as a Malibu teenager.

In my own snarky Hollywood manner, I would show these interviews to my non–rock star friends and make comments like, “Oh, maybe L.A. is just too obvious for a blossoming demigod.” But I can admit that was just my high-school-buddy-is-getting-really-famous jealousy talking, because these days, Devendra is loudly and proudly about the West Coast. He just took up residence in a house here (well, in Topanga, but that still counts). He is recording a new album here. He is making a documentary here. His muse-poet Svengali, the mysterious Antae Bargan, is nearby (Devendra still talks with reverence about the way Antae, pictured here, as always, in a three-piece suit, taught him to play the shoe — apparently it makes a very faint jug sound). And as Devendra told me, “I’ve spent the last four years traveling constantly, and L.A. is where I always want to return. I have strong and certain feelings that Mother Nature is gettin’ on in her years and it sure shows on the East Coast. Her hair is brittle and graying, her beautiful breasts are sloping down toward her mellow and gorgeous gut, but she is still young here. The West is where she is still green, still.”


Part of LA Weekly's People Issue, May 2007

Todd and his records in LA Weekly

Todd Taylor loves to write about punk rock, but don’t box him in. Even though his globally distributed and admired music magazine Razorcake solidified its foundation with interviews and articles on roots punk, garage punk and pagan-core-crust punk, the L.A. music scene’s ubiquitous four-letter word is more than just the bedrock for multi-hyphenated subgenres. If it’s grassroots, DIY and below corporate media’s radar, Razorcake will cover it.

To Taylor, punk was a way out of frustration, a way into a lifelong obsession and has continued to be his guiding voice in a city of hype — in his words, “a way to fly the flag internally.” Taylor’s own adolescent musical messiah, a record store clerk nicknamed Louie the Letch, fed Taylor ear-splitting yet wily melodious anarchy from Las Vegas’ only non-shitty record store at the time, The Underground. His first love: JFA’s Blatant Localism EP. The fervor persisted through his graduate studies at Northern Arizona University and inspired his move to L.A. in 1996 to work at the legendary music rag Flipside, his professional home for five years.

When Flipside’s lights went out in 2000, Taylor was crushed. But he persuaded Sean Carswell, a grad-school friend, to fly out to L.A. from Cocoa Beach, Florida, and together they started up Razorcake with money Carswell raised after selling a house he built while working as a carpenter.

“I knew Sean was up to it,” Taylor says. “He also loves punk rock, is down to earth, a smart guy, a great writer and a hard worker. He’s my closest friend. It felt like we were using the same brain.”

One of their riskiest early decisions was to structure Razorcake as a nonprofit enterprise. That means the 100 or so Razorcake contributors all work totally gratis (Taylor himself makes the equivalent of $1 per hour). Writers must also adhere to Taylor’s highly regimented list of don’ts, including: Don’t ask the band how the tour’s going. Why? Because, Taylor says, he’s going for stories — the other stuff can work itself out. Even if the music isn’t familiar and the band is unknown, Taylor wants readers to be able to pick up Razorcake and fall into an article the way you might with a John Fante novel — wholly, lovingly and tenderly — because the story is good.

The results can be extraordinary. I remember falling wholly, lovingly and tenderly into a 16,000-word, two-part 2004 article on the psychobilly one-man-band wonder that was Hasil Adkins. Piecing together Adkins’ rambling stories and eccentricities, Razorcake contributor Bradley Williams details a pilgrimage to see the infamous originator of the dance known as The Hunch at his polka dot–adorned West Virginia home. The story was the last known interview of the musical pioneer before his death in 2005, and is one of those pieces of writing that I always carry with me.

When Taylor, 35, isn’t busy memorizing international postal regulations so he can distribute the magazine all over the world from his modest two-bedroom home/office in Highland Park, he works on Razorcake’s sister book-publishing outfit, Gorsky Press, and makes a living as a freelance writer — he’s been a regular contributor to Thrasher for six years. He also does odd jobs.

“I just installed some data cables between two houses,” he says. “I’m handy.”

But his latest obsession is organizing zine and writing workshops in Northeast L.A. so others can follow in his DIY footsteps.

“Basically, we’ve taught ourselves a ton of DIY skills, and we want to share them,” Taylor says. “We’ll be hosting workshops with our friends who’re talented photographers, novelists, silk-screeners and zinesters.”

According to Taylor, L.A. is important as one of the last oases of multigenerational artists and rockers; too many people, he says, just don’t see it. With his magazine and now his workshops, he’s trying to blow the blinders off.


A Considerable Town section, LA Weekly, April 2007

Porny People in LA Weekly

“Join us, salsa dancing, roller skating, and merry making on east Pico.”

It was already 10 p.m. when the text message came in. Still recovering from Friday night’s bender, we nonetheless dragged ourselves downtown — and it was deep downtown, where they don’t have street lamps anymore, where the city planners seemed to give up.

We parked in the dark lot next door and were immediately chased onto the street by two barking dogs. The gate at the address was locked, there was no one in sight, and my internal monologue was already off this street and onto Burrito King’s chile relleno burrito when a worried young gal in five-inch heels and a sparkly purple dress came clicking down the stairs. “Go on up — the salsa teacher got stuck in traffic.”

Three flights high, it was a typical CalArtsy party — mostly familiar faces standing around drinking and laughing in a huge industrial space. Wandering down the hall, I happened upon what seemed like a Moroccan opium den — lush throw pillows strewn about, dark mood lighting, fans oscillating, curls of cigarette smoke colliding at the ceiling — but turned out to be a porn radio studio.

A 40-something woman in a sheer black top, sans bra, rushed up to me and pressed her finger to her lips as a signal to be quiet.

“We’re live on the air and we’re looking for guests. Do you have any deep, dark secrets to confess?” Past the racks of illegibly marked gray VHS boxes and the TV monitors showing video footage of busty African-American women “acting,” a middle-aged blonde wearing heavy lipstick and a low-cut top talked into a radio mike.

I said I knew someone who would definitely have something to get off his chest and ran back to the party to get a friend. They announced him on the air as “Anton,” and what he proceeded to tell the radio host was an outrageous lie, which, of course, she had to take seriously because in the business of perversion eradication you have to assume everyone is telling the truth.

Anton confessed a childhood of incestuous molestation, which triggered the anger that led to his adolescent abuse of small animals. As retribution for his youthful crimes, Anton said, he has dedicated himself to being an animal-control officer for the city of Los Angeles, helping abused and abandoned cats and dogs. The problem, said Anton, is that he seems to be exclusively attracted to men at the workplace. And he just doesn’t know how to move on.

The professional sex world is so eager to be accepting, nothing can be shocking. A studio technician in his 60s took the mike and said, “Hey, Anton, listen. I’m much older and wiser than you, but I used to take cats, put them in burlap sacks, and swing them around. It’s not right, but hey, we didn’t know any better.” Then one of the breathy female guests chimed in. “Maybe you should date a girl with cats. Then you’ll love her and you’ll love the cats. I have cats...”

After an hour of this feline-focused oral extravaganza (and after being offered the job of associate producer, which I graciously declined), the words “cock ring” were spoken, and it was Anton’s and my cue to get the hell out of there. Miraculously, we escaped from the smothering bosom of sexual acceptance just in time for the salsa instructor to show up, about 1 a.m. With the help of blaring music and partial inebriation, I tried my best to follow the simple back-and-forth cha-cha he demonstrated, to little avail. The rest of the night was spent stumbling over someone else’s feet, and roller-skating with the 24-hour porny people who filtered in from down the hall. It was heartwarming to watch the trust-fund babies, sex workers, video artists, journalists and high school dropouts flourish in each other’s awkward and untalented two-stepping.

A skinny, six-foot-tall professional in a skintight red ensemble introduced herself as a “porn star renaissance woman.” As we stood gazing out of the window onto Pico Boulevard’s black abandon, she told me how she takes care of those ill-tempered parking-lot dogs, leaving them food and water. She was very excited that one of the dogs had recently eaten out of her hand. And then she offered me a job — an editor position to go through the thousands upon thousands of hours of tape she has yet to organize. I graciously declined.


A Considerable Town section, LA Weekly, December 2006

Sideshow freaks beat me up in LA Weekly

I’d been waiting for an hour outside the California Institute of Abnormal Arts in North Hollywood when the elephant man finally showed up. After an additional hour, Samantha X, the ringleader of 999 Eyes, “the last traveling freak show in the United States,” appeared on the scene with the midget and a young BBC documentarian. Samantha, a woman in her 40s with dirty, colored dreads beneath a moldy cowboy hat, ran toward us in an obvious state of distress.

“The fucking bus broke down! All my freaks are trapped on some street called Sepulveda. Can you help us pick them up?”

I’d always been into the sideshow, its history and cultural markers — Charles Eisenmann’s photographs and Todd Browning’s Freaks were regular fare when I was growing up — so when I learned that 999 Eyes was appearing, I was on the phone asking to photograph them. They had a lobster boy and a lobster girl! And a giant! And a half-girl! This was the real deal.

But things weren’t going exactly as planned. Ignoring the (prescient) advice of the BBC journalist, who whispered into my ear, “Don’t get involved,” I agreed to lead a two-car caravan down to Sepulveda and Jefferson boulevards.

As soon as Samantha got into my car, I noticed a familiar odor — the putrid stink of dirty hippies: old sweat, soiled clothes, cheap vegetarian Thai takeout and stale health-food cookies. Breathing through my mouth, I attempted to converse with Samantha about her craft and the tradition behind it. It turns out that these freaks spend three months out of the year performing at Burning Man. The fear that gripped me at this point was reminiscent of the terror felt when I first realized my chiropractor was a Scientologist.

After much traffic, anxiety and confusion, we made it to the freak bus. A flash of various body sizes, clown makeup, dogs and tambourines, and we were on our way back to North Hollywood. Next to me in my 1995 Nissan Sentra was the 7-foot-3-inch Gentle Giant, scrunched over his taxidermied two-headed calf, while Samantha X, the lobster girl and (thankfully) the half-girl sat in the back, putting on their white face paint.

I tried to break the ice with some Hollywood humor.

“So, do you guys think you can get me on the guest list for your gig?”

Instead of telling me that of course I was getting a free seat, Samantha proposed a swap: I see the show for free, photograph it and send them prints. Ten-dollar admission in exchange for photographing and developing expensive prints and lugging them to their first L.A. performance? I looked at the giant and he looked at me, and after visualizing one of his super-sized hands around my throat, I just mumbled, “Okay, sure.” Damn, damn hippies.

In North Hollywood, 15 minutes past curtain, I was sitting double-parked, waiting for the freaks to finish unpacking their gear, when I heard the midget yell out, “I hate these kinds of trunks — it won’t stay open!” This was followed by a loud, metallic snap. I jumped out and ran around to see my trunk stuck open at a 90 degree angle. It wouldn’t budge. That’s when I started yelling.

“What did you freaks do? My trunk is broken! Someone, anyone, come over here!”

The Gentle Giant inspected the trunk with Lowrent the Clown, pointed to something on the inside and said, “Oh, it’s that part.”

I looked inside to see what he was talking about, when the trunk came slamming down on my head.

“Oh shit, are you okay?” said the Gentle Giant. When I murmured something close to a stunned yes, he added, “I can’t get this to close. Oh well.” And off he went. That was the last I saw of the giant.

I was standing there feeling my head for blood and fighting off tears when four of my friends arrived. Within five minutes my trunk was closed and there was a plastic cup of Jack and Coke in my hand. I tried watching the freak show, but I couldn’t get into it — whether from annoyance or because it sucked, I couldn’t tell. But world-famous dwarf and sideshow performer extraordinaire General Tom Thumb was probably rolling over in his miniature grave.

At home, my pained head and jaw and my bloodshot eyes worried my brother. Four hours later I lay in Cedars-Sinai, diagnosed with a mild concussion. A woman in a business suit and loud blue pumps asked me whether I had been treated there before. “Yeah, I was born here,” I replied.

I was born here, and here I am. My trunk is broken, I have a concussion, and I didn’t get to take any photographs of those freaks. What was I doing with my life? I let out a huge sigh. My brother continued flipping through his copy of Sports Illustrated and said, “This is why Dad wanted you to be a lawyer.”

HISTORY FOR HIRE short feature

Part of LA Weekly's BEST OF L.A. issue, August 2006

History for Hire in LA Weekly

Rent a War: Best Place to Get Props

The first time I entered History for Hire, I was smacked with bright light; it reminded me of Lou Reed hitting the streets after a six-day amphetamine binge, like the lyrics to “White Light/White Heat.” As my pupils adjusted, I was hit with a kaleidoscope of color: Union blues, bright ’60s psychedelic garb and dreary grays. I immediately felt elated. As I walked through the aisles, the overwhelming smell of must and stale wool hit me like mustard gas, or at least mustard gas was on my mind as I walked through the unending stacks of military-issue camouflage. Coming to this North Hollywood prop house was one of my favorite duties when I worked as prop master for the Greenway Court Theater. I loved walking among the tall, wide and seemingly endless racks of period pieces. Not one shelf was left unoccupied, not one box left unstuffed. You could find everything from Victorian-era cosmetics cases to Revolutionary War muskets to neon 1980s Fender Stratocasters. I always spent more time exploring there than I should have. I loved imagining what movies had used which objects, what kind of characters would need them.

History for Hire started out 21 years ago as a humble living-room operation run by Pam Elyea and her husband, Jim. The first film feature they worked on was Oliver Stone’s seminal 1986 film, Platoon. “Of course,” said Pam, “we had no idea it was going to be such a successful film at the time.” Now, 20 years later, History for Hire has grown into a Hollywood staple, working on 150 still shots, 100 music videos, 50 theatrical productions and 50 feature films a year, with business extending to all seven continents.

Supplying props to film shoots on Antarctica had its drawbacks, however. Production on an IMAX film about the real-life ill-fated 1914 voyage of English explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, in which his boat was seized by ice while attempting to sail past the frozen continent, was halted when the film’s crew ship, carrying all the props and much of the equipment, sank into icy blue oblivion. Pam chalks the experience up to working in an unpredictable industry. Recently, History for Hire has outfitted a pirate documentary for the History Channel, the Pirates of the Caribbean sequel, and even a private corporate pirate-themed party at the Renaissance Hotel. And what they don’t have, they make — a service aided by Jim Elyea’s experience with design and television product fabrication.

But being at History for Hire seems to radiate a unique feeling of being at home, if home were a huge warehouse full of all the cool stuff you had ever wanted.

History for Hire 7149 Fair Ave., North Hollywood, (818) 765-7767 or


A Considerable Town section, LA Weekly, August 2006

Dodging rockets in LA Weekly

Upon our arrival on July 12, Nurit Gross, a friend of my mother’s from preschool and an active member of the Israeli human-rights organization Women Against Occupation, greeted my mother and me at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport. My mother and Nurit had seen each other only once in the 30 years since my mother, an expat living in America, left Israel. As Nurit grabbed some of our luggage and led us briskly toward her car, she proclaimed that there had been a special performance to greet our arrival — an attack by Hezbollah that left eight Israeli soldiers dead and two missing.

This wasn’t what anyone — not my mother, her Israeli friends, our family here — had imagined back in April when we purchased our tickets.

“We’re going to be real tourists on this one,” my mother had said as she gleefully flipped through an Israel guidebook. It was to be her first real vacation since a post­divorce flight to Bali in the early ’80s. “It’s going to be all about fun.”

Nurit wasn’t very optimistic about that.

“Now it’s going to get bad,” she said. “It’s going to get bad for the Israelis, and it’s going to get bad for the Lebanese.”

I asked her why Hezbollah had chosen to start an attack on Israel’s soil. With the characteristically Israeli manner of being righteous and aloof at the same time, she tapped the ash off her cigarette, flicked her wrist and said, “Because that is what they are trained to do.”

The rest of the trip played out like a checkers match between us, the willful tourists, and the Katyushas — the rockets of Soviet origin that Hezbollah was lobbing at Israel by the dozens per day. Plans to visit family in Nahariya and Haifa turned into extra days in Tel Aviv. Our sojourn to the beautiful and tranquil Kibbutz Mizra ended one day before a rocket hit the neighboring city of Afula — four days before Mizra itself was struck. My relatives living on Mizra, a kibbutz so secular that we ate homegrown pork chops on the night of the Sabbath, had been so confident in their 100-kilometer distance from the northern border that their bomb shelters were still locked at the time of our visit.

Friends from home contacted me, wanting to know if I was scared. After all, people were being killed at bus stations, on their balconies, even while running for bomb shelters. But I found that soon after arriving, I subscribed to the silently understood pact of Israel’s residents: You go about your business for as long as you possibly can.

Yet daily life in Israel constantly reminds you that you’re in a war zone. Every mall, bank, restaurant, hotel and mobile-phone shop has security in front, equipped with metal detectors. Every television set in every household and every business is continuously fixed on the local news channel, and not five minutes go by without the image of a young soldier carrying an M-16. And, as our trip progressed, the hotels emptied out more and more, giving the advantage to tourists looking for a deal on a cushy room.

The one occasion when I did have a clear twitch of doubt came on our first day in Jerusalem. The taxi driver’s car stereo blared with the news of the day on our ride over to the Old City section of Jaffa Gate. Since the news was in Hebrew, I tuned it out and fixed my eyes on a sexy young soldier carrying a large, semiautomatic weapon. I started to make a joke about walking softly and carrying a big gun, when my mother interrupted me, saying, “They caught a suicide bomber at Jaffa Gate.”

My expression must have changed quickly, because the driver looked at me from his rearview mirror and said in heavily accented English, “Don’t worry. Suicide bombers are much easier to catch in the summer. They wear those big coats.” Once at Jaffa Gate, we got out of the taxi, paid our driver the 80 shekels and made our way down to the Western Wall.

On the climb back up, the stairs split into two directions. One led back the way we came, past the armed security booth; the other weaved through an open-air bazaar where Muslim, Jewish and Christian tourists alike buy their souvenirs. I quickly scanned the area for some sort of security personnel, but couldn’t see any. Then it hit me. I yelled for my mother, who was already ahead of me, walking toward a display of colorful hanging beads. She turned around, and I locked eyes with her, shaking my head.

Together we walked back up the other way, discussing whether we should have falafel or shawarma for lunch.