Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Yes, Future

I'm back.

The first flight from Gatwick to Atlanta was delayed by two hours which meant we missed our connection at Atlanta. We had to take the next flight to Orange County two hours later, by which time the Atlanta summer thunderstorm had started. This delayed our take off enough that we made the Orange County night curfew by exactly 10 minutes, avoiding a detour to LAX, over an hour's drive away from home. We were just four hours later than originally promised. The trip outbound was delayed two hours and we missed our connection on that leg of the trip too. Since there was no other direct connection to the UK that day, we went home and took the same flight the next day, delaying our arrival in the UK by 24 hours, one whole day. Both initial delays were due to problems with the equipment, which is to say something that was entirely within Delta's control. If an airline has bobbins equipment, they should be the ones who have to foot the cost of the delays it causes, not the paying customer. I'm told one Delta is one of the best out there. If this is the case, the best is not good enough. I am filing this away for future reference in case I'm ever tempted to fly again.

England has changed a great deal over the last twenty years while I've been away. It's far nicer; the people are much more polite to each other and to acquaintances, and the ones in shops and restaurants are much more service-oriented. The kids are better educated and better spoken (although the one in a shop who gave me change for twenty five pounds when I gave her twenty pounds and five pence could probably do with a refresher course – polite, though). One friend said that this might be because I was now out of the service-person's all-sucking event horizon – I'm no longer a leather jacket-wearing youth, but quite clearly a middle-aged 'ma'am' , and I have money – but I think it's rather more than that. There seems to have been a change from No Future to Yes Future. Ironic, really, that the English papers are currently filled with woe about the negative effect of ten gazillion immigrants on our British way of life and with endless stories about knife attacks and small children murdered by gangs. Seemed nicer to me. I didn't get beaten up once.

Only one person ribbed me for being working-class – a primary reason I left the class-added second-rate country in the first place – and they did that under the safe haven clause of parody. When I said I liked America and the people were very nice there, they said, "That's because they don't know you're a northerner," and when I said I preferred Ecclestone's Dr. Who to Whassname's Dr. Who they said, "That's because he's a northerner." Yeah, yeah, I get it. I'm off back to the country where everyone thinks I speak just like the Queen and the only remaining thing I have to do is convince people that the Queen is a bad thing and Americans are better off without one.

I did fling myself too far into Englishness at one point. Seeing a case of scones with cream and strawberry jam in a café at one point I demanded, "I want one of them!" and, of course, got one of them. After about three bites I remembered I'm allergic to strawberries, or poison satan fruit as they are more usually known, and had to cease "working on it". ("Working on it" is American English for "eating food from a plate".) That'll teach me. I had to go on an emergency chemist run and figure out the English word for the American drug Benadryl. (It turns out to be Benadryl, so it wasn't all that hard.) Nothing happened, so I think I got away with it.

Hello Orange County, 93 degrees F and muggy.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Golders Green Crematorium

On the way down from Duxford, I stopped in at Golders Green Crematorium to pay my respects to a couple of people there who paid a big part in my life when I was growing up.

Marc Bolan is there – and the crematorium people are preparing for an influx next month, on the 30th anniversary of his death. I visited his rose bush with its little marker that's made out for Sidney, Phyllis and Mark Feld. The groundskeeper told me that the bush never flowers in September, so I suppose the 500 or so people who will visit for the anniversary will be out of luck. His plaques are next to Keith Moon's and Ronnie Scott's and a host of other musicians', so I imagine it's not a quiet place during gigging hours.

Paul Kossoff's plaque is in the summer house with his parents David's and Jennie's. It's an altogether more peaceful end of Golders Green and perhaps he prefers it that way.

It was raining – of course. The grounds are too wet at the moment, but they are still beautiful and serene. The groundskeeper said that during normal summers he has to roust couples out of the foliage at closing time. Cue a quiet (wouldn't want it to be rousing) chorus of On Ilkley Moor Bah't 'At. Life does go on.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Green Man 2007 photos

Vashti Bunyan at the Green Man in Glanusk, Wales, 2007 - and her guitarist whose name escaped me but whose skill, demeanour and face didn't.

Click on the thumbnail for the full picture.

Imperial War Museum, Duxford

On the final leg of the English part of the tour was a visit to the Imperial War Museum at Duxford Air Field. That certainly scratched the war jones (blog posts passim). The Imperial War Museum people proved to:

1. Have preserved some things
2. Remembered that Britain was fighting actual enemies during its wars, not simply making preparations to have potential partners in reconciliation.

There were a lot of people there. Clearly British people do like some types of history. Although the typical visiting unit was probably granddad and grandson, there were plenty of people of all ages and sexes, all paying a small fortune to trek around in the rain to see things like imploded mini-subs and Focke-Wolfs. The museum display was crammed – by the B52 Stratofortress in one hall and the Lancaster in the other hall. By some miracle they had managed to jam several dozen smaller planes in around the two bombers. The B52, in particular, seemed to go on forever. I'm not entirely sure that it could have flown. Perhaps I'll end up like one of those people who deny that people walked on the moon. Even though the blasted thing was in front of me – and beside me on both sides and stretching out several hundred feet behind me, having gotten here from the US somehow – it's still hard to believe it could ever have gotten off the ground.

The highlight of the exhibits for me was their TSR-2, Jim. (I think it's Jim – there are only two left, Jim and Joe.) The TSR-2 is dear to my heart as when it was scrapped in 1965, it was literally scrapped – two of the airframes ended up in the scrapyard, where my dad bought a large ring of fuselage from the middle of the nose to use some of the components in it. So as a child, I used to sit in the ring and roll around in it. (Actually less fun than it sounds as it was very spiky on the inside.) Seeing TSR-2 in the hangar in all its Thunderbirds-era X-Plane glory was quite a thrill and I took dozens of photos of it that don't do it justice as it was packed in with other planes, including Concorde 101, the prototype Concorde.

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TSR-2 at Duxford

We went inside Concorde, which evinced no thrill of recognition, but walking around on the raised walkway over it, we recognized every inch of it – as we did many of the other planes – due to the fact we'd labored so many hours over the Airfix models of all of them. We remembered every decal you had to float off paper to apply to the sides of them and the strips of clear plastic bubbles that were pressed inside them to make the windows. Perhaps this doesn't describe the way the actual planes were put together . . . the displays implied they were more difficult to build than even Airfix kits.

In other hangars, men with pipes and moustaches called Squiffy [1] were rebuilding various WWII aircraft in a super-hobbyist fashion, taking years to restore each one to flying condition. Apparently, when the weather is fine, which is to say never, the flying-condition ones take off and have fun in the sky.

There was a V1 on display, too, with a photomontage of London during the Blitz, including what I think is the first photo I've seen of a wounded British person. He was being helped out of a shelter, pinstripe suit covered in high-contrast black spatters of blood. (I am significantly less in favor of war than of peace – I'd better have that on record. I'm aware that I'm sounding a little bloodthirsty in these posts, but I really was irritated by the political correctness of some of the displays we've seen on this trip.)

The weather during the whole trip has been outrageously British – apparently global warming is stirring up the weather patterns so that some summers are going to be nothing but a constant downpour – and the sky let loose again on this leg. It was 15 degrees C and pouring rain, in late August, and the rain continued at that rate all the way from Duxford to North London.

[1] I'm making it up about the moustaches and pipes. There weren't any and if there were, they probably wouldn't be called Squiffy.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Welsh 'B' Roads - part II

They really are kind of narrow.
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I'll give up with the photos now.

Coventry Cathedral

Two people have written to me to say they don't know what the red stump was that I photographed as a piece of neglected conservation. Perhaps this will put the stumps in context. It's the base of a column, one of those broken during the air raid that razed the cathedral, as seen here on the bottom right. There was a chip out of one and the loose stone is in danger of being lost.

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Perhaps I shouldn't have assumed it was obvious.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Ex Cathedra

Out of Wales and back into England for a trip to Coventry Cathedral. This was destroyed in WWII by the Germans OOOOooooppsss not allowed to say that any longer, how politically incorrect of me . . . I mean by Enemy Action. A new cathedral was consecrated in 1962 and this was my first visit to it. I was rather impressed. It managed to not quite be a 50s monstrosity.

Both the old and new cathedrals are full of exceptionally twee prayers for peace and reconciliation, a concept that always makes me go crazy with violust. I don't know why, and I don't ask. I think it's the whole Rev. J. C. Flannel aspect of it all. Reminds me of school assembly.

I stood at the back of the new cathedral trying to remember the Lord's Prayer while giant speakers from the university opposite blasted Lynyrd Skynyrd's Sweet Home Alabama through the doors. I managed marginally better on the Lord's Prayer lyrics than the Sweet Home Alabama lyrics, but only just.

The preservation of the old cathedral includes this little gem of careless stewardship, and I think I'm beginning to detect a pattern in the antiquities here. Britain just isn't interested in old things any more. What's past is clearly past to them now.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Robert Plant and Strange Sensation at the Green Man

The reason I am in Britain right now is for a family birthday party yesterday, in Trellech. The Saturday headliner at the Green Man at Glanusk Park was Robert Plant and the Strange Sensation. Now, you may find this odd for someone who writes about Led Zeppelin as often as I do, but I haven’t followed the ex-members’ careers at all and had never heard of them. But a visit to the Green Man Festival featuring Robert Plant just a few miles away from the house was too good a coincidence to pass up.

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The audience had been evaporating after each set (unlike the mud)and returning just a few minutes before each band. Therefore, before Vashti Bunyan came on, there were just a few die-hards clinging to the stage. (I think if the others had realized it wasn’t raining under the stage canopy, there would have been more of us.) Seizing my chance, I put a hand on the stage between a group of younger people and a group of people with cameras and then easily, gradually, slowly, throughout Vashti’s set, insinuated my entire body up my wrist like an octopus following its leading tentacle, until I was leaning on the stage without apparently changing position. Then I was in prime fangirling position, ready to do the fangirl at the drop of a hat.

I’m glad I was that close through Vashti’s set as I think I would have been disappointed if I’d still been on the hill, no matter how many nachos I ate. Although the sound technicians seemed to take some care before the set, the sound was very quiet and almost intimate, appropriately so for those of us up close as it was more like a small folk club. (There were vast speaker towers to the side of the stage, where we couldn’t hear them, but Vashti Bunyan is not U2, so that can’t have sounded right either.) Her voice is frail and delicate and I certainly appreciated being so close.

The stage was cleared in record time and a small army of road crew brought out a mid-size everything-must-go warehouse o' rugs for Strange Sensation to stand on. I was directly in front of Skin’s guitar set up and got to see how all that was put together and tested. The group of younger people next to me kept me entertained throughout by making up chants to the intermission music. I’ve never heard anything like it from white kids; they could hear a riff or a melody, think of something to sing along to it, standardize and all get on the same page together and then chant it with the beat. They had me charmed. I tried to strike up a conversation with the girl of the group, but that tapered off when she said she ‘wasn’t born then’ in reply to me telling her when I’d last seen Robert Plant.

When the band came on, the first thing I noticed was that Robert Plant has the biggest feet I’ve ever seen. You know what they say about men with big feet. [1] It’s probably not surprising; he’s a big man, broad-shouldered and barrel-chested and significantly more robust than the Robert Plant I’d seen on stage in 1975 and 1979, way back more years than the girl next to me’s entire lifetime. The band started with something I didn’t recognize and went into Love’s 7+7 is . . . a song I never thought I’d hear played live, to be honest. I certainly never thought I’d hear it played by what turned out to be a killer rock band fronted by Robert Plant – from 8 feet away. The band alternated classics like that, their own songs and Led Zeppelin songs all the way through the set. The Led Zeppelin numbers were not done as covers – of which I’d been terribly afraid – but changed and developed the way songs do when their owners remodel them, which is entirely appropriate, Plant being the owner. Black Dog, in particular, was rousing indeed. Close enough to the original to sing along with (I did, at the top of my voice) and yet different enough to be almost a new song. The best of both worlds! The folk numbers blew me away. It was great to see this folk music (Babe I'm Gonna Leave You, Gallows Pole, Going to California and a couple of others) done the right way, which is to say done by a bunch of rockers with really, really loud electric instruments and sung by Robert Plant. Cheered me right up.

And then Robert did drop a hat, signaling the start of fangirling. For some reason I let the girl on my left who wasn’t born then take it rather than fighting for it. You can see how older members of herds can just end up elbowed out and dying off if we can’t even remember how to fight for rockstars’ clothing when it rolls offstage . . . I should take up crochet instead of this rock&roll lark.

The band was very good, easily getting the crowd into the mood and providing solid rock&roll. I was expecting either a famous-person's-second-band (dreary and defensive) or a cover band. Instead they were a fighting-condition top-notch rock band. Guitarist Skin particularly drew my attention, partly because he was six feet away and had very loud amplifiers, and partly because he was very pretty, but largely because he can really play – and the band keeps tight around him. They play Whole Lotta Love in a good half-hour less time than Led Zeppelin, all that punch in a bite-sized package. Lovely.

Robert seemed happy and was funny a couple of times. They did Whole Lotta Love for an encore and after 'Woman, you need - ' he sang, 'Daddy needs it too', which sent the 17 year old girl leaning on the stage next to me into paroxysms of attempting to give it to him. This is, I suppose, the definition of rock music.

And compare the lyric to the ones I parodied yesterday.
Way, way down inside honey, you need it,
I'm gonna give you my love...

Unarguable, definitive statement. Use of concrete noun. Expressions of personal intent. That’s better.

Small things make my day dept.:
Skin tuned his low E at one point and instead of looking into mid-air as one would expect him to do when tuning he looked at his box of tricks by his pedals. There, in a unit with all the other meters was a little LED display saying "E". He turned away and as he touched his A string, the display changed to show he was playing the note "A". So that's how they do it . . . I might be just a little slow with new technology but I had no idea the guitar tuners were integrated into everything else like that. It's the little things that make a gig memorable for me.

[1] They have big shoes.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Kids of today - at the Green Man Festival in Wales

I spent part of Saturday getting wet in an agreeable and civilized fashion amongst the bookshops and cafes of Hay on Wye. Then we went back to our holiday pastime of getting lost on Welsh/English border 'B' Roads.

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An 'A' Road (The cars on the left are not driving; this is Wales. They're parked facing the wrong way. Oncoming traffic would be to the right.)

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A 'B' Road. (These are two-way 65 mph roads (unless marked otherwise). There is a vehicle heading towards us in the distance. It was surprised to see us stopped in the middle of the road like bloody tourists, but it managed.)

After that we returned to the Green Man festival to get wet with the hippies and folkies in knee-deep festival mud. The bands, both on the main stage and the Folkey Dolkey stage, seemed a bit off. Maybe it was just me. The ones I saw all seemed much of a muchness, predominantly Velvet Underground but with a dollop of melancholia instead of a hit of skull-peeling bug-eyed crazy. (BF pointed out that VU was a quarter Welsh, so perhaps I was detecting that rather than rockist nature.)

As night fell on Saturday, we were on a hill in Wales, watching hippies launch tens of hot air balloons into the troposphere (approx.), eating nachos while a band from Louisiana sang songs about Albuquerque and Phoenix. I thought Phew, Rock and Roll! Because after all you can’t get that vibe in Southern California. Oh, wait . . .

The nachos had more sauce than most So Cal ones, though. I had to lick the plate clean when I ran out of (delicious) chips. “You don’t have to lick the plate clean in America,” I told BF. “No,” replied he, “In America the clean plate licks you.” Well, I thought it was funny.

Lyricists these days seem a little off too. Not pointing fingers at anyone in particular but all the non-Welsh lyrics seemed to have been dreamed up rather than written down. The singers seem to have made a conscious decision not to make any definitive statements. Should I pass them a note saying that this in itself is a definitive statement? I suspect that might confuse them.

All the songs went approximately like this:

I woke up today and scratched my balls
And then I had a shave.
I thought about the world, no, thought is
Probably too strong a word.
Idly speculated about the world.
That’s better.
Isn’t it awful? The world, that is.
Though perhaps some people like it this way.
And it takes all sorts. I think I’ll kiss my girlfriend
If I can be bothered.
Woah Woah Woah Woah.
Yeah Yeah like it this way.

I exempt the Welsh lyrics because they might have been deep or pithy or both. I don’t know. Let’s assume they were.

I found more action in the Ystafel Cynnwrf (Rumpus Room) where DJs were getting the crowd going using the time honored Northern Locarno tactics of playing lots of R’n’B and Chinnichap singles. It was working, too, but we felt we ought to stick with live music because technically, we can go to a nightclub pretty much any day of the week – and with less mud.

The headliner that night was Robert Plant and the Strange Sensation – more in the next post.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Green Man Festival

I'm spending the weekend at the Green Man Festival in Wales. I've eaten far too much typical festival food.

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Bubbles at the Green Man

We were recommended to see John Smith - so we did - and I'm passing on the recommendation. He's touring with Davey Graham later this year, and alas I will not be in the country/ies long enough to see it. If you live in England, you don't have that excuse.

Code Breaker *

Continuing the historical theme, we went to Bletchley Park yesterday.

The place is currently run by volunteers who are doing things like rebuilding Colossus based on information consisting only of 8 B&W photographs and a couple of pieces of printed circuit board that survived the destruction after the war. The amateurs are very keen to have Bletchley, a significant piece of cryptographic and computing history, recognized as a site of special interest and they have had the mansion, at least, listed as a grade 2 building.

Bletchley Park Mansion

Since the British government's approach after the war was to wipe out any trace of what went on here, and since the buildings were subsequently put on the for sale list, the fact that there is anything to see here is all down to the volunteers. The damage has already been done to those who could not be recognized for their contribution to the effort (due to post war secrecy) and, of course, the post-war fate of Alan Turing is well-known. One of the most moving parts of the tour was hearing the guide – who was an older man, and was certainly brought up during the time when homosexuality was illegal in Britain – tell the story of Turing's outing, his conviction, chemical castration and subsequent suicide – with evident regret and sincere sympathy.

Colossus is currently being rebuilt by a team of dedicated anoraks with no help from the British government, so if you would like to visit their website and contribute, that would be appreciated. I gave at the office, so to speak.

* Code breaker
I've searched around
Here for the key
But I'm blind to it

Tunng - playing at the Green Man this weekend

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Cleopatra's Needle

I'm in Sunny England, Land of My Fathers, and for that matter land of me, too. Being away for almost twenty years does give me a very different perspective on it, however. Largely the perspective that Frank Zappa once called "horribly foreshortened". Everything is *so small*. The food, for instance, is served in micro portions that are approximately the volume of food you might want to eat, rather than by the heaping shovel-full that I'm used to. It looks bizarre.

I had a good laugh at the skateboard sized cars available at the vehicle rental, until I saw the size of the roads when I realized that it might have been better to rent a roller-skate sized car instead. The traffic in London looked like it was being run by the Mice Capades, both in terms of size, skatiness and intelligence when it comes to designing routes. I'll never complain about the traffic on the I405 again[1]. Then again, I'm not sure that Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723) actually envisaged bendy buses and articulated lorries when he and his eccentric friends were designing modern London.

Another strangeness about London is the lack of care taken with the plants. Here's a current shot of Cleopatra's Needle, one of the wonders of the world, situated for more than a century [2] on the Thames Embankment. Can't see it? Not surprised. The London Plane Trees have not been trimmed. (I'm not sure you *can* trim planes, but if you can't, now might be a good time to find a tree that will take it rather than continue to obscure a monument.)

The needle is a mess. Up close, you can see that the obelisk has suffered considerable damage from acid rain and what's worse, the base must be crumbling- it has been held together with a metal belt. Ferns have been allowed to grow in the dust around the metalwork and the bottom of the belt, where they'll no doubt crack the base within a few years. It's an appalling lack of stewardship of an important antiquity, and it made me angry.

Next: Other things about Britain that remind me why I left (probably)

[1] Until the end of the month, when I get back to work.
[2] Internet access is $10 hour at the hotel, so I'm not going to look it up. Please excuse the lack of pre-looked up links, also.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

. . . a beautiful teenage girl . . .

I'm the proud owner of this t-shirt,

described by the manufacturer as (and I am not making this up):

Fluffy Noodle can go on for hours about this image. ZoSo is Jimmy Page's spirit symbol from Led Zep's fourth album. Jimmy Page plays guitar, Jimmy Page looks like a beautiful girl, his girlfriend, Robert Plant sings and also looks like a girl, together they made the heaviest Cock Rock ever, in a parallel universe, Jimmy Page is a beautiful teenage girl in her bedroom oblivious to the power she wields over all the boys.
We know, the Noodle has issues.

The Noodle, if you ask me, also has a fine taste in purely visual mixed messages. The combination of My Little Pony and the harder end of Astrology seems just about right.

(That's not me, by the way. She's the model. She may even be Noodle. Who knows? )

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Jungle Music

The trees play music here. Not Muzak ™ or any form of digested aural delight, but actual pop tracks, 45s - as we used to call them. As I walked past the trees this evening, on the way from a Japanese that had failed to meet my price point to an Argentinian that would offer superb fare for half the price, the Southern California trees were playing Abba. Just then a car went past, playing Duran Duran.

No one noticed.

It's a shameful waste of ears to fill them with background music, particularly here in Valencia, which is naturally quiet and a good opportunity to enjoy a refractory period for your ears. But more creepy still was the unnatural coexistence of Abba and Duran Duran, as if a mammoth and a pterodactyl had hove into view and had been ignored.

At one point, popular music was entirely sequential, like father followed by son, or perhaps more realistically bloodthirsty, more like the Sacred King in the Grove of Nemi pacing under his tree as he waited for the desperate outlaw that would kill him and take his place. In Tin Pan Alley, they were waiting to throw you into the gutter the moment a record of yours failed to reach No. 1, while loitering nearby was a 17 year old with great hair who would record the next No. 1 for them. And there was always another coming up behind him too, a wasp factory machine gun production line of next big things.

But now all popular music, including those very Tin Pan Alley tunes that fought each other so bloodily at their birth, stays in print forever, always around, never fading. It's as if your house was condemned to hold the ghosts of your parents and your grandparents and granduncles and all of your crazy black sheep relatives and all of your successful preppy relatives, and all of them were not ghostly, but young and strong and full of fire and the older ones the winners of a natural selection battle on the Denmark Street pavements that had fitted them with fangs and claws that could tear your living body to broken bits.

How will you make this house your own?

For the listener of course, it's a bonanza. Like the Treasure Cave scenes in Pirates of the Caribbean, you can dig through a pile of golden loot, crowns and beads and armor and goblets, whatever takes your fancy. You can strip mine sixty years of popular music, lay it waste, suck it dry and it will be unchanged afterwards, still whole, just as dazzling for the next man, because you can't use up music.

The older person – such as me – pays a price in terms of time confusion. The cognitive dissonance afforded by hearing When I'm Sixty-Four at a time when Paul McCartney is sixty-four is only a problem for people with a memory. It doesn't exist for the younger listener, who naturally accepts that all music was produced simultaneously a short time ago. All music is naturally contemporaneous for her and her friends. On a BBS I'm on a young man wailed quite plaintively when he learned that one of The Clash had said of Led Zeppelin "I don't need to hear their music. One look at the cover is enough to make me vomit." He was a fan of both, he said. Why couldn't they get along? Someone answered him that not liking Zeppelin didn't make you a bad person, just an idiot. I waded in with both feet, with a potted history of seventies Britain, Miners' Strikes and Gravediggers' Strikes and Three Day Weeks, twenty-six percent inflation and wage rise limits of five percent enforced by law, the Winter of Discontent, punk, anarchy and . . . rich tax exiles. I explained that one music may have been made in response to, in opposition to, another music. Dead silence; that wasn't the right answer. The first poster was correct. Without context, the Clash member's remarks didn't make any sense. The correct answer was to acknowledge they did not make sense, not to try to provide context. There no longer is any such thing.

The unesthetic sight of seventy year old Rolling Stones on stage is tempered by the fact that they rock twice as hard as men half their age. Mahogany is harder than a shrub's pithy core. But today there are few young trees. With his back catalogue in heavy rotation on the trees and internet and car radios of the world, the tall canopy tree shades out the young saplings.

Recently a rumor was floated that Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page would tour with the Yardbirds, as they last did in 1966. That was forty one years ago. Many people were overjoyed to hear it. To me it was like hearing that my parents were going to give me a baby sister. The time for my parents to give me siblings is long gone. I love the ones I've got, but the babies are for someone else to provide, now.

Eventually even the mahogany trees will die. Like the basketwork of a Strangler Fig, however, the ghostly back catalogue will live forever, shading the saplings as surely as the living trees once did. What happens – if this goes on? We will continue in our contextless world with Abba and Duran Duran pouring from speakers hidden in trees, while sickly shoots below are rooted out by the tidy gardeners of post-modernism.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

**More** Forms To Fill In!

In the west, we talk about the inevitable by saying it's as sure as death and taxes. In the east, death may be inevitable, but it's not final. It took the government a while to catch up with that loophole, but China's plugged it now.

BEIJING (AFP) - Tibetan living Buddhas are no longer allowed to be reincarnated without permission from the atheist Chinese government, state media reported Friday.
The new rules are "an important move to institutionalise the management of reincarnation of living Buddhas," the Xinhua news agency said.

According to the regulations, which take effect on September 1, all reincarnation applications must be submitted to religious affairs officials for approval, Xinhua said.

China is ruled by the Communist Party, which, despite being officially atheist, maintains strict controls over Tibetan Buddhism and all other religions.

I don't know whether to laugh or cry.

Thanks to John Boston and David Pringle for the heads up on this article.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

There's a Hyatt Going On.

I am a fast learner; only my third trip down from Valencia and I've *already* learned how to get off the I5 only a few miles south of my onramp and get on to my beloved 405 South for the rest of the journey.

O beautiful I405, wide winding river of tire noise and commerce, how the life force of your riders by the million hours daily soaks wasted into the translucent alabaster of your crushed marble surface!

This is more like it. Once again I got the whole ninety miles in ninety minutes, but I did it at lunchtime on a road broader than Moon River, only lightly sprinkled with spin outs and crabbed black tire-tread skeletons.

Last night I went to Hollywood to see a friend. It's been a long time since I've been to Hollywood. In fact, thinking about it more carefully, I might *never* have actually been to Hollywood. I might just think I've been there because I keep seeing it on the screen, which is the best place for it. Since I never bother to study a map, it didn't occur to me that blocks on Sunset Blvd. were numbered a hundred apart, not a thousand apart as they often are down here, and that the distance between the 6000 block, were I was to meet my friend and the 8000 block, where I had tourist business, would be quite so far. Suffice to say I walked quite a long way and never saw *anybody* in a sequin dress, anybody in a limo or anybody with platinum blond hair. I did see some lights set up and a red carpet, but there was a noticeable lack of thrills running through my body. There are too many famous people no-one has ever heard of these days for me to get excited over a rope line.

The bottom-of-the-hill end was quite remarkable because it was a complete mess, and yet it didn't smell at all. There was that typically American city-smell of fried sugar, but nothing else. Remember it only rains here about twice a year. The sidewalks are as dirty as it's possible to be, but there was no smell. Creepy. And it was almost deserted. It was like a depopulated, pleasantly-warm, dry, neutral-smelling Kolkatta.


Where I was actually going was the Continental Hyatt House, site of major British Rockstar mayhem in the seventies, for Rock & Roll pilgrimage purposes. Oh, and to see the Sunset Tower Hotel, she harrumphs quickly, one of the most beautiful buildings in LA, now restored and looking like a little piece of Gernsback Continuum left herniated into our reality. They're opposite each other on Sunset Strip. Here, at a high point of Sunset, the hotels look down a steep hill, all the way down over central Los Angeles and sweeping out over miles of flat Southland. It's all laid out below you like some awesome realization of a Google Map.

It's said that as this photograph was taken, Robert Plant shouted, "I am a golden god!" It always seemed like an absurd accusation, but now I know about the view, I can see why someone might come to that conclusion, there on the Hyatt House balcony. At least he didn't try to fly.

Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple,
And saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in [their] hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone.
Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. (Matthew 4:5 -4:7)

The balconies are gone now – perhaps someone did try to fly – and the hotel is being thoroughly renovated.

The Sunset Tower Hotel was as breathtaking as advertised.
Sunset Tower

sunset tower

I took a cab back down the hill, and if the cabbie's rasping was any indication, I should really get myself checked for incipient TB before too long. And then off to meet my friend.

ETA: sistermorphine17 points out more Hyatt renovation information here: http://www.laobserved.com/archive/2007/08/rock_history_fades_on_the.php and here: http://www.laurelcanyonthebook.com/?p=854

ETA: Edited to put in a better copy of "Golden God", with the Sunset Tower Hotel now in view in it. No idea who to give credit to for this photo, by the way.


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