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Tag: Los Angeles Free Press (page 1 of 3)

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

Strawberry Alarm Clock Is Right On Time in 2017


1967

50 years on

One minute I’m a 17 year old kid in the high school gymnasium listening to the coolest sound of the year, the next I’m on Venice beach with mike in hand interviewing them—50 years later.   Out of the mists of history and the utopian haze that enveloped our generation reappeared this summer.  Wearing the flowing kaftans with brightly swirling flower and paisley designs, the Strawberry Alarm Clock’s sound hasn’t changed.  Rare among old rock bands that do the legends thing, the majority of its members were there at the beginning.  But more importantly, they sound the same.  Even the new songs are in the pocket of Incense and Peppermints their number one hit.

This year all over the San Francisco Bay Area 1967’s Summer of Love is  being celebrated with numerous art exhibits, concerts, and tours.  Heavily supported by the local political establishment, weekly reports of happenings are published in the San Francisco Chronicle.  Notables from that era have been so heavily interviewed that Peter Coyote (one of the original Diggers) has said, no mas.  But down here hardly a whimper is heard.

But being a local Venetian and life-long counterculturalist, I can verify we had a  scene and we are celebrating the LA hippie era.   The epicenter of LA hippie was Venice/ Ocean Park with local faves; the Doors, Canned Heat, Spirit, Chamber Brothers, Love, and many more.

Venice hasn’t forgotten.  For the past twelve years the Venice Music Festival has hosted hippie era performers the Chambers Brothers (‘Time Has Come Today’), Country Joe and the Fish’s Barry Melton and this year the Strawberry Alarm Clock headlined.  As the sunset and a marine chill settled in, I smelled patchouli and herb in the air.  It felt like we’d taken the magic carpet ride back in time fifty years.

2017 Strawberry Alarm Clock with the LA Free Press Reporter, RW Klarin, holding a copy of the LA FP ad announcing them as Headliners at the Venice Beach hotspot, The Cheetah, in 1967

Before the show, representing the legendary LA Free Press, I interviewed the band.  Friendly and natural, they could have been your local BMW sales agent or fish store owner (which are the day jobs of a couple of the guys).  In response to my inquiry on changes to their music, Greg Bunnell (the bassist) said it is the same.  I can vouch for that— flute and organ highlights and ethereal harmonies replicate the sound of fifty years ago.   New songs contained a gentle social commentary just as the old songs were played with passion and fidelity.

The Alarm Clock insists that psychedelia lives and they do a great job of maintaining that vision of flowers, peace, and love.  At least for a couple hours in Venice time-travel was possible.

In search of hippie, I’ll be on the look-out for revivals of the hippie vision and report on these pages.  If you know of an event you think might fit, please send me a line.  Upcoming is a video report of the 50th anniversary of the Griffith Park love-ins.

 

 

EXCLUSIVE: Rap Brown Raps with LA Free Press


Our ’50-Year Throwback Thursday’ is quite a contrast, isn’t it? What with Whites, this week, demanding their Superior Rights vs Blacks fighting just for equality… 50 years ago.  And could the contrast be any sharper than this:  the Black leader, in his fight for his Rights back then in the 1960’s (mind you, that’s NOT the 1860’s), is arrested under the Fugitive Slave Law(!) (in Virginia, of all places), while this year’s White Supremacists (in Virginia, of all places) are expressing their gratitude for their ‘equal’ treatment by the current President of the United States.

Interestingly, we think, the interview reveals that Fake News is not a new phenomenon.  And when you get past that (in the interview) you may be intrigued with Rap’s answer to the question we (the LA FP) posed…. “What about whites who hate America’s racism, who identify with the black revolution, but who have a hard time organizing with other whites? Do you think there are significant numbers of such people and do you see anything that people like that could do in the way of actively participating in the struggle against racism and imperialism?”

And what do you think would have happened… where would we be today… if we followed his prescription:  ”Whites can help us by arming us.” Would White Supremacists be non-existent… or greater in number?

As usual, the LA FP was offering up then what could have led to change now.  We think it’s still worth the read.

And what else is on our mind?
Well, several weeks ago, we heard from RW Klarin… a fellow traveler back in the day, who sojourned in and about educational institutes as a student (Berkeley), an administrator, and a teacher (of history) for 30 (30!) years.  Now retired, he’s visiting the places (people, too), not just to see them, but to re-view how they impacted our lives today.  He put about a year’s worth of his discoveries into a book, quite interesting as it’s in a format that can make your own retirement into a wonder-full experience.  Anyhow…  he sent us his musings about Elysium Fields, we ran it, lots of folks liked it… long story made short, we’ve just posted another piece from him today at the ‘Remembrances’ Tab up above… AND you can trip out with him each Wednesday for the foreseeable future!

You Can’t Keep a Good Dream Down: Jerry Brown’s Practical Idealism


Jerry Brown, Linda Ronstadt, LA musicians 1970s

I usually keep my back story on the down low with acquaintances. Most people make up enough stories just by appearances, so I don’t like to give them more fuel with biographical details that can be used to pigeon-hole me. But one afternoon last fall, I happened to make a comment about the presidential debates to a fellow gym rat getting dressed next to me. A fit guy in his early sixties, he works in community housing. I’ve known Loren for a dozen years in that passing small talk way. He responded with an informed opinion. Sensing a deeper connection I asked, “What was your major in college?” He said, “Political Science at Stanford. I smiled knowing I’d met one of my tribe,  and replied, “That was my major at Berkeley, with a focus on Marxist ideology and its application,” said with a dose of irony.

An intense twenty-minute discussion ensued in the men’s locker room—comparing notes and opinions about the current political scene and its players from Barack Obama to Hillary Clinton to Jerry Brown to Donald Trump. The variety of provocative topics elicited smiles and comments from other guys with gray-flecked hair in the room. A public forum exposed lifelong political interests, sparked by growing up during the Vietnam War and eventually graduating from UC Berkeley in the seventies. Submerging my radicalism into a pragmatic career in public education, I’ve never relinquished my vision of fairness, justice, and peace. Now retired into the senior phase, I am again looking to publicly cheer on those who, in an overt fashion, seek to improve society. As has Jerry Brown.

So the locker room discussion became all that more interesting to me when it centered on current California Governor Jerry Brown and his previous administration in the seventies. We agreed he has done an excellent job governing, even better this time around at the age of 79. In his first terms as Governor, Brown was ridiculed with the label ‘Governor Moonbeam’ for his radical, out-of-the-box ideas such as renewable energy, a state space academy satellite, and declaring a era of limits. Jerry Brown in the seventies expressed the idealism of the time. Ahead of the mainstream, Brown attracted derision from the older established politician/ reporter class. His lifestyle from his sleeping on a mattress on the floor to globe-trotting with Linda Ronstadt to his rejection of the new governor’s mansion invited criticism.

Brown’s ‘out there’ thinking proved to be too much for the conservative backlash led by his predecessor as governor of California, Ronald Reagan, who had catapulted his police-state treatment of the student radicals of my school, Berkeley, into the Presidency. Reagan stood for the old school Hollywood values of looking good, constant smiling, and hypocrisy. He promoted traditional values, even though he had divorced his first wife, his daughter basically disowned him and changed her last name, he denied his second son was gay, and his wife retained a staff astrologer. Among Reagan’s most egregious crimes against the white working class that idolized him was union busting which, directly, contributed to lower wages for the Nixon labeled ‘silent majority.’

With his campaign’s populist We the People slogan, Brown polled well but fell well short in his three presidential campaigns. Brown was ahead of the times as seen in last year’s presidential election with Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump both tapping grass roots, anti-establishment sentiment. But Jerry didn’t quit. He wentMayor of Oakland, CA, a medium-sized city across the bay from San Francisco. While mayor he lived in a converted factory and loft, which ignited a downtown revival in the city whose police brutality against its majority black population in the sixties had birthed the Black Panther Party. Now, Oakland is a jewel of urban renewal with the bucolic buzz of Lake Merritt and the tony Jack London Square on the previously abandoned Embarcadero.

Jerry Brown practiced the adage ‘all politics is local’ and honed his skills as a politician. Not resting on his laurels and famous name to lay back and give expensive speeches, he went to work. Contributing to the greater good, Brown practiced and lived his ideals—government can be a tool for social justice and life enhancement. Re-energized after Oakland, he ran for and served as Attorney General and then Governor.  Now in his fourth term, Jerry Brown will be termed out when he is 80. Old age doesn’t limit him. Although in recent years he’s battled cancer, his vigor and mental clarity exceed the great majority of politicians half his age. He has every reason to kick back, retire, and cash in on his name. But why quit when you have something to give, something to learn, and unfulfilled ideals? I ask myself that question regularly—why should I? I don’t need to prove myself, and neither does Brown.

But then my Berkeley Boomer core wakes up and yells, ‘You’re not done yet.’ At the locker room discussion, I mentioned that I still stand by youthful ideals of community, free expression, individual rights and justice, adventures, and personal growth. Boomers were not all hippie radicals, but Sixties values have influenced our society from new age religions, to yoga, health foods, and alternative health systems mass acceptance. In fact, the notion of the personal computer came out of the edgy, psychedelic consciousness of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak back in the seventies. Our youthful ideals, tempered with realistic appraisal of the slow pace of change in the world have changed the world.

The political life of Jerry Brown demonstrates the successful marriage of ideals and experience. He went back to the basics (Mayor of Oakland), polished his craft and worked his way back up the ladder of California government. Still an idealist, but heavily tempered with realism and compromise. He applies decades of experience to real problems and gets results. His approval ratings dwell in the high seventies, virtually unheard of with high level office holders. Even the LA Times, his former nemesis, gave him a B+ rating with the potential of achieving greatness in this term.  At the same time, he still works from his early, progressive principles. For example, he has taken leadership in the US to support the Paris accords on global warming. And he has never changed his opposition to capital punishment, even in the hard on crime 90s.

Brown still working for progress

Experience counts for Jerry Brown and can count for all of us in the fall of life. Youthful optimism for quick transformation may be gone, but I attempt (as Jerry does), to take my experience and skills and marry them to ideals perhaps half-forgotten in the mists of time.   Although today I may disagree with his wheeling and dealing, he gets stuff done.  One of the greatest gifts of aging is the dignity of surviving and working with the inevitable setbacks.  The Sixties/ hippie ideals of expression, justice, community, and love still make sense, it’s  a great time to bring experience and patience in the struggle for progress.   And as a non-Boomer friend says, “You got nothing to lose.”  Keep up to date and find inspiration in the Los Angeles Free Press, reborn because truth wants to be FREE.

 

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