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Month: September 2017 (page 1 of 3)

White Clowns Eat Jim Crow at New Pol Convention

Venice West No Longer Beat (down)

Next time you sip that espresso with organic, gluten-free sesame muffin, and listen to a open-mike poet at your favorite local café, you’re in debt to a culture and a time long obscured by the flood of history.  A typical evening at the café included a round or two of poets reading accompanied by bongo drums, while fellow beats sat around sipping espresso.  At times a painter would use the blank wall as a canvas for his colorful expressions.  You might have heard Stu Perkoff reciting his piece describing a physically and  spiritually complete life:

1960 Venice West Cafe, headquarters of LA beats

Feasts of Love, Feasts of Death by Stu Perkoff

sitting on the benches, bodies warm & throats  filled with joy & love

we offered worship

sitting warm, eyes & skin touching, love flowing 

we offered  worship

we sang & spoke languages & poems

offered worship & love

mixing the birds of passion & the swords of God in our beautiful young eyes

The Osteria Venice West, faces the boardwalk in Venice.  Look across Dudley St. from Osteria Venice West in Venice (formerly Los Angeles’ beach slum and now the high-tech Silicon Beach) and you’ll see the restored, chic Cadillac Hotel.  In that beachfront block, where tourists, inner city visitors, homeless drunks, street vendors, and occasional locals like myself mix in a bouillabaisse of humanity, it’s not hard to imagine LA’s fifties counter-culture congregating here 55 years ago.   Like today’s eclectic crowd, the beatniks, refugees from “squaresville,” hunkered down in this space then known as Venice West Café.  Some lived across the street in the Cadillac, at that time a low-rent boarding house.

This is the only site from that era recognized by a city of Los Angeles historic marker of the Beatnik scene of the Fifties in  LA. Other Venice Beat locations such as the Gas House (now a vacant lot filled with weekend vendors of tourist paraphernalia) and Lawrence Lipton’s house on Park Ave don’t get that modest respect.  But Osteria Venice West houses the spirit and vibe of the beatniks that begat the hippie culture, which in turn continues to impact our world through the counter-cultural ideas of yoga, organic food, classic rock, environmental concern, and global community.

Although some of the heroes of the hippies in the sixties and seventies had their beginnings in the Beatnik world (Allen Ginsberg, Ken Kesey, and others), I knew next to nothing about the Beatniks.  As a former history teacher and fellow-traveler of Hippie, soon after I turned 65 I began to look backwards to hippie’s forbears—the Beats.  (There’s something about reaching that magic number.)  After graduating from UC Berkeley in the seventies, I moved to Venice:  At the time the vestiges of what had been a slum and refuge for artists, hippies, and other low-income individuals still lingered.  Funky (a word coined by the Beats) and casual, I felt right at home in Ocean Park/ Venice.

Alienated and not just a bit lazy, most of the Beats were young men who landed in Venice initially because it had fallen on hard times.  Once a bold and glorious real estate development, Abbott Kinney’s Venice of America offered the burgeoning city of Los Angeles a beach fantasy land complete with canals, luxury hotels, amusements, and casinos.  Kinney and his partner Francis Ryan had planned a massive project from Ballona Lagoon on the south to Santa Monica Pier to the north.   But due to a business conflict, they split and the northern piece, Ocean Park, went to Ryan and was eventually annexed by the city of Santa Monica.  Kinney established Venice of America in 1905.  It was an immediate big hit, but over the years as most flashy scenes do, Venice faded.  Starting in the twenties and with the advent of Prohibition a gang element took over. Followed by the Depression and then World War II, by the forties Venice’s former glory was just a memory with the old hotels turned into rooming houses for the elderly and poor.

Perfect for artists and bohemians with its cheap rents away from meddling by the power brokers of LA, it soon became a magnet for alienated young men and women who wanted to drop out from the mainstream.  To distinguish themselves from the squares, a slang developed that would assist a beatnik in determining a wannabee square from a fellow beat.  Many of their terms, ranging from “cool” to “cop-out” to “funky” to “turn on” to “shack-up” and many others are still in use today.

As an ardent participant in the hippie movement, I knew our antecedents were in the beats.  And I’ve lived in Venice/Ocean Park for over forty years, but I knew very little about them. I’d read Kerouac, Ferlinghetti, Snyder, and Ginsberg, but knew little of their beliefs, values, and culture.  After reading a historical summary of Venice West, a visit to the seminal beat location seemed appropriate.  It would be a kind of pilgrimage to my cultural ancestors, akin to visiting Gethsemane in Jerusalem or Trieste Cafe or City Lights Books in San Francisco or CG Jung’s tower near Zurich.  Everyday places now, but sites of cultural significance.

Venice West Café Expresso was established by Stuart Perkoff in mid-1958 to capitalize on the growing trend in coffeehouses.  He and a partner bought 7 Dudley Pl, former shul (a Jewish meeting house) and later bleach factory.   They ripped off the plaster and exposed the brick walls.  On opening day a hand printed sign announced Art is Love is God.  Perkoff, one of the original Venice Beat poets, had recently broken with Lawrence Lipton, whose January 1959, firsthand account of the burgeoning Beat scene, The Holy Barbarians, attracted national attention to the area.  Feuding with Lipton and running short on funds Perkoff sold the café in Janaury 1959, just before Holy Barbarians‘ publication in February, 1959.  After the beatnik era passed Lawrence Lipton had a weekly column in the Los Angeles Free Press in which he expounded on radical political topics.  He wrote frequently on freedom for the arts and anti- Vietnam War.

The book sparked widespread interest in the beats and soon throngs of wannabees, weekend Beatniks, and tourists descended on the area and Venice West Café.  At times a painter would use the blank wall as a canvas for his colorful expressions.  Often one could hear a poet spouting his (they were almost always men) verse backed by a bongo player and/ or jazz musicians.  The café flourished, but eventually after years fighting closure by the city due to complaints by uncool, non-Beat neighbors, Venice West closed in 1965.

The author on recent visit to the Osteria Venice West

On my visit to the site of Venice West, I noticed how much and how little has changed in Venice.  Within 50 feet of the now luxury Osteria Venice West, the homeless population congregates and hits up city day-trippers with crafts and sullen stares. Recently next door at the Candle Café, I attempted to have a calm conversation  with a friend while a rag-tag crew of ‘musicians’ played amplified instruments and passed the bucket.  Is it fair to say they are the descendants of the Beatniks?  They still play music, create “art,” and take a lot of drugs and alcohol.  Or is the proprietor of the organic, gourmet restaurant?

Although of short duration and small numbers, the beat influence has been surprisingly long lasting.  In addition to its gifts to the vernacular and our coffee tastes, it also left us the drum circle which continues to this day on Sundays on Venice Beach.   And like many counter-cultures, it encouraged sexual liberation, eschewed ethnic bigotry, and advocated an anti-war creed.  Its’ embrace of cool jazz and cannabis predicted the wide dissemination of such tastes.  And most importantly, the Beats recognized that mindless consumerism was a hamster-wheel, which research psychologists have confirmed does NOT lead to greater happiness or life satisfaction.

A key feature of Beat was the acceptance that everyone  has a creative soul.  One didn’t have to get an MFA to spout poetry or write a novel or throw paint on a canvas.  What mattered was your authenticity and soul.  The Beat movement was the first counter-culture to practice and encourage the freedom to create for everyone.  Their vision seeded today’s creativity explosion seen in the availability of on-line video, print-on-demand books, blogs such as this, and sound clouds, where anyone with the courage and the urge can be an ‘artist’ and publish their creations.

More than a trend or a style, the Beats demonstrated that ‘living in society and not of it’ is possible.  So, when you down an espresso or attend an open-mike, you’re sampling a bit of Beatnik.

Historical marker by the city of Los Angeles

Would Peter Pan Be Allowed In Disneyland?

Welll… truth be told, probably not.  At least not back in the day when the (unwritten) sign right above the entrance read “Mickey Mouse Empire Likes Ears Showing”,

Good news, tho, the ‘sign’ doesn’t actually hoisted until 3 PM … so… hurry on down.  Hal Waldman, our Reporter, makes an interesting point about the Hell’s Angeles and I, muyself, can’t help but wonder what if Donovan, in town in not quite two weeks, pops in just after 3 in that, too, he might not be ‘properly attired’.

Even you may be surprised by who’s on the Longhair List.

Now, like always, there’s more to the page than just today’s featured story, certainly much more in the Issue itself. We’ll begin with the page, tho…

  • There’s notice of Donovan’s up-coming Hollywood Bowl  (Box Seats at just $6.50!)
  •  A great Review of the Vanilla Fudge’s 1st album (yes, you coud tell there were going to be more and, no, it wasn’t – but should have been -named ‘Delicious’). Take note – they are ‘currently’ appearing at the Golden Bear.
  •  In the same ‘column’ by Eileen Kaufman, there is also mention of Cream, and her thoughts on Spanky and Our Gang’s album, as well.
  •  The entire schedule of the Pacific Jazz Festival is there for you, too.
  •   Bonus is at the bottom – The Magic Mushroom has Kaleidoscope and the W.C. Fields Band ‘today thru Sunday’ and THEN a lice taping of Radio Free Oz!

Ok, so that leaves us with the larger matter ofthe Issue itself… you can see the 3 headlines up at the top, but the Black Delegate’s challenge to a White Liberal might provide some insight to you , too.  And further in – on Page 8 – There’s an article suggesting that militant Blacks might be moved to a full-scale (and ill-fated) Revolution.  Fortunately, you CAN see that article because…

RW Klarin, a fairly hip guy (afterall, he is a LA FP Reporter!), has been following the battle to get psychedelic MDMA approved as a treatment for certain mental illnesses.  And Lo and behold! on our Front Page, in just about the same week  (tho 50 YEARS earlier) as the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies announces that MDMA has beed granted the FDA’s coveted designation of a ‘Breakthrough Therapy’ for PTSD, is an article where – not the mental illness institutions – but the police were putting out the word that psychedelics were all cause, not leaving any possibility that they might be a cure, as well. (As the article goes 3 pages in length, you’ll see that article on the militant Blacks as you read through them.  There’s also one on justice – actually the lack of it – in juvie.)

In addition to these articles, there are even more musical artist performances than those mentioned above.   There are playdates promoted for The Marvellos, Arthur K. Adams, Bobby Angel, Taj Mahal, The People, Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Big Mama Thornton, and about a dozen more!

This all brings me to something I skipped over… Ran – that RW Klarin guy –  using that article about  pinning the suicide on LSD, has written about the benefits of MDMA.  You can see his good work, shortly, at http://losangelesfreepress.com/where-have-all-the-psychedelics-gone/



The Price of Empire



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