Archive for Los Angeles
In March, 2011, Tim, an east coast “friend”, posts a picture on Facebook – a little white house – with a question: “Who wants to be my neighbor?”
I type…“How much?”
He responds, “$34,000 for an 1820’s farmhouse.”
I don’t hesitate, “I do. I want to be your neighbor.”
Dunga Brook was a 2,000 acre dairy farm in her day, but by 2011 she has no electricity, no water, a leaking roof and a failing septic system.
I offer $10,000.
It’s accepted, immediately.
In Gelson’s, I bump into an old boyfriend and tell him the news.
“You’re moving to a house you bought sight unseen off of Facebook? In the middle of nowhere? A place you know nothing about? To live next to a guy you barely know?”
“Yes!” I say.
“Man, Vicki…you have big swinging balls!”
All my friends think I’m crazy.
Strangers ask, “How can you be so brave?”
I say, I’ve been ready to leave LA ever since I got here and now that my son, Connor, is off to college, my GET OUT OF HELL-A ticket has finally been punched.
They don’t know that I hide from sunshine, that I hate Santa Ana’s, that the Pacific turns me cold, that my heart has been broken a million times in a million ways by LA, that I have finally been flattened by grief…my mom, my dad and my grandmother all having recently passed.
I fail to mention that I never thought Connor would graduate from high school, much less get himself into college. I fail to mention that by moving cross country, I am, in effect kidnapping him- no more sharing.
If I can just have him for one more summer, THE last summer, I might be okay.
I’m not brave at all- but I am crafty.
Connor’s dad says nothing when I tell him the news.
He knows I’m crazy.
Years ago, when I left him, he stood in the driveway of our Pacific Palisades home pointing at the Cape Cod we lived in and the BMWs we drove, yelling, “Look What I Give YOU!”
What I wanted was to heed the voice in my head that whispered, “go for love, not the money”.
From then on, Connor travels between us. We co parent, we co exist, we co operate.
But there are cracks in my veneer.
I design shoes that I hate for companies that I can’t stand. I try every anti-depressant as advertised in Vogue magazine. I seem to have a thing for booze and for 27 year olds. I make really great friends that I never ever see.
Months before I buy the farm, I buy a car, but not a car, I buy a truck. I buy a giant silver truck with all-weather tires, gps and 4 wheel drive.
May 2011, I see Dunga Brook for the first time…Central New York…forests, streams, lakes, ancient farms, red barns in all stages of collapse and skies that are actually…blue.
I stay with my Facebook “friend”. His 1890’s farmhouse has no running water, no heat. The closest Starbucks is 120 miles away.
On Mother’s Day, a baby goat is born. Because Tim is masquerading as farmer, he has to drive to the nearest neighbor for help. The toothless local pronounces the baby sound and we share a glass of fresh goats milk in celebration.
My summer plan is to hire Connor to renovate the house. He’ll be too busy to miss LA, he’ll make money and he can keep his eye on the gypsy crew that I’ve hired.
This plan sucks. It is impossible to get him out of bed, driving to the job site he is despondent.
“You’re building your future,” I tell him.
Two weeks into it, the chief gypsy texts me a picture.
“This is what he does all day,” is the caption.
It’s Connor. He wears a sleeveless t-shirt, his work boots are tucked into his jeans, there is a baseball cap over his eyes, the work gloves I bought him are still on his hands, not a speck of dirt.
Connor is in the shade of the pine tree that I was advised to chop down but still can’t, its too perfect, it knows things.
Dunga Brook’s siding is ripped off, her windows are torn out, the gypsies are a blur of activity inside of her.
Connor is sound asleep.
At first, I’m pissed. “I’m paying you!”
Then I’m sad.
My great idea is his worst nightmare.
He belongs back in LA with his life-long friends.
Why did I whisk him 4000 miles away?
I fire him.
Then we take off in my truck, we discover dirt roads, we eat at every diner we can find, we four-wheel drive, we laugh and bicker.
He is my pilot, I hang out of the truck with my iPhone, snapping away, there is just so much beauty.
That fall, when I drop him off at college, we hug goodbye and he says, “best summer ever, mom.”
The renovations drag on, we work without plans, permits or budget, I worry endlessly that we are tearing her down and won’t be able to put her back together.
To keep sane, I spend money. Each design decision is a battle between eh- and all out — all out wins, hands down, every time.
And, I roam the country roads solo, taking photos, nothing is ordinary.
Each night, I update Facebook:
An iPhone photo of an Amish buggy parked by a shed:
Perfect fall day, an Amish man mows a lawn. You know that smell? A poem in every breeze.
An iPhone photo of silver cornstalks:
It’s so beautiful, I could fall in love with just about anyone.
By the time we finish, 8 months have passed, all my money is gone and the gypsies have decamped.
When a February storm hits, my house keeps me warm. I have built the perfect little snow globe.
Spring 2012, a gallery asks me to have an iPhoneogaraphy show. While writing my artists bio, I realize that my childhood dream of being an “artist” has finally come true.
It took a lot of “crazy” to make this happen.
Connor calls to tell me, he’s not coming back for the summer, he’s going to rent his own farmhouse and he has a real job to pay for it.
I’m in a panic, if he doesn’t return now, he will spin off into the world on an ever expanding arc away from me.
I stand in the driveway yelling, “You have to come back, look what I built for you!”
But, that voice speaks up, it says- “Isn’t he your son? Isn’t your job done? Let him go…he is free to roam.”
In June, I shoot Connor a selfie- I’m next to that pine tree, Dunga Brook’s red roof gleams, she’s wears a fresh coat of paint …And you know what?
She looks pretty damn sexy…for an ole farm girl…out in the middle of nowhere.
”…when I die lord won’t you put me up on that train…won’t you send it southbound give it a cool bluesman name…”
~Ryan Bingham, Southside of Heaven, Mescalito
Dunga Brook Diary, 2/24
It’s a silent day in central NY, snowing again.
This abandoned train on the outskirts of Oneonta reminds me of Ryan Bingham. Ryan Bingham reminds me of LA. LA reminds me of The Cinema bar.
One summer night, circa 2001, I dragged my LA music producer boyfriend there, I was sure he was going to love it- I’d read in the LA Weekly that the Cinema Bar was a great place to hear live music, a place where singer-songwriters like Lucinda Williams might show up and join in with whatever local band was playing.
We finally found The Cinema bar on a dank street populated with no-tell motels and shuttered wholesale carpet outlets on the edge of Culver City. Twice, we’d missed the red and green sign above the door spelling out its name in buzzing neon.
Inside, it was a hole in the wall. A juke joint. A place with no cover, no doorman and only one bartender behind a bar far bigger than the rest of the room facing a thirsty, blue-collar looking crowd.
The decor was easily out of date by the 70’s, with its party-stained wood interior, haphazard stools and rickety tables and rotating-slogan beer signs, instead of hipster LA pin-lighting and banquette seating.
Above the head of the weary, chain-smoking bartender was a tv chained to the wall, endlessly broadcasting sports to the unsportiest of crowds. There was a grandma with a beehive hairdo who looked as if she’d been there since 1965, a toothless trucker falling asleep beside her, a cadaverous fellow chain smoking with his pinky in the air, numerous colorful rockabilly chicks in cowboy boots and a group of flannel over wife beater wearing he/she’s giggling next to a Howdy Doody looking character raising a can of Shiner Bocke to the band.
The band was loud.
Back when I was a teenager living in Illinois, in a nowhere town that sidled the Mississippi River, I thought that I hated bars like this.
Still, that was exactly where you’d find me on Saturday nights with my boyfriend, I’d be wearing a tube top and we’d be playing foosball underneath neon signs, he’d have a Busch in his hand flirting with me between scoring goals and I’d be under-age drinking a blue Hawaiian, we’d both be singing along to Lynard Skynard songs playing on a jukebox amped to deafening decibels. Aside from the drunken welders and rage filled Viet Nam vets who truly owned those riverfront bars, it was exactly where I wanted to be on those muggy midwestern nights.
The Cinema bar’s stage was nothing more than a spot for the band set up in at what used to be a front window (blacked-in now). The band and the fans stood just elbows apart, sweaty face to sweaty face.
Turns out the band that the LA Weekly had mentioned would be there had already played there the week before, this was some other band.
We stood at the packed bar, easily 3-deep, trying to breathe in the cigarette smoke-filled room, an impossibility, so we listened. The band strummed, the drummer set a rhythm, a key board player in horn rims played something I think I heard in high school at Scotty’s Skateland when it was time for “the couples skate”, then something happened, the lead guitar took over, he bent low over that guitar, he worked it, wrenching out the cords, the singer closed his eyes and sang louder, suddenly a swooping feeling inside as the room began to vibrate and shimmer…
The band was AWESOME.
My heart jumped. Stuff like this reminds you of who you really are and where you come from. Until that moment, I had no idea how deep the red in my neck ran. This rock n roll and this tiny dive bar just off the 405 was the closest thing to heaven I’d found in LA.
Wow, I mouthed to my boyfriend. Wow, he mouthed back and hugged me in.
The band was announced as the Randy Weeks Band. Turns out Randy was a stalwart of the Americana scene in LA, a scene that somehow began in the 80’s with punk bands like X, The Blasters and Randy’s previous band The Lonesome Strangers.
In the 80’s, I was a newly minted fashion designer hanging out in Manhattan Beach doing another version of X with the terminally cool south bay crowd and “dancing” to canned Depeche Mode.
The highlight of my 80’s nights, whilst semi-dancing to music I didn’t like and couldn’t understand (beneath black lights in a pseudo-rave bar)? Picking neon lint off of hipsters dressed in black whose veneers were another kind of delight- all that horsey dental work flashing, like fluoridated strobes, all shades of neon blue.
Finding The Cinema bar, a good 16 years after moving to LA, tore me up.
When I realized that this Americana scene, full of skinny dudes with awesome songs manhandling old guitars, wearing the Levi’s and the cowboy boots of my youth, with the camaraderie and seediness of a good Midwestern dive bar, that all this had existed all along but I’d been too busy designing ugly ass hi-top sneakers and wearing tight polyester bike shorts with belted jackets and Muglier shoulder pads whilst listening to KROQ…well, I sat down and cried.
By the time I found Randy, he had been in residence at the Cinema Bar on Saturday nights for years. Lucky for me, he’d be there for a few more. In those few years we became friends. I’m even on the liner notes of his album Sugarfinger, an album that my boyfriend eventually produced (with my dogged prodding, he was busy by then with REM, Courtney Love, Ryan Adams et al).
And, I met Lucinda Williams at The Cinema bar. Briefly. She was dark. Kohl eyed. Mumbly. Awesome. Her boyfriend at the time was Mike Stinson, the drummer in Randy’s band. By then, Lucinda had recorded Randy’s song, Can’t Let Go, for her album Car Wheels On A Gravel Road.
I met Miss Pamela Des Barres there, too. A bit after Lucinda…Miss P was dating the same drummer after he and Lucinda split. Listen, the guy is an amazing drummer. Pamela was a vision with her twinkling eyes and ruby smile, watching her twirl on the dance floor made everyone wish they were in love, always.
I never caught Ryan Bingham at the Cinema Bar, although I heard he played there. I found Ryan through Shilah Morrow and her promotions group, SinCity, when they threw his Mescalito launch party in Hollywood.
I missed that party but googled Southside of Heaven. One listen and I was hooked. He has a voice that is at once raw and gorgeous, it is like no other. And, one look at him sent me cursing the gods that made age and whatever else come between us. It’s that smile, that cowboy smile.
The first time I saw Ryan play was at a hole in the wall venue in Topanga. It was bittersweet. That night, I so much wanted to share Ryan’s music with my boyfriend but we’d split. Instead, I went with a friend who could have cared less.
When I heard Southside of Heaven, it blew me away, you know that feeling- ecstatic and desperate, hungry and satiated, high and jonesing, you want more more more. Come on, you know what I am talking about! It’s more than that smile, its that voice…
If Randy Weeks was my homecoming, Ryan was my rocket back to the stars. That man is my Bob Dylan. My ___ (fill in your own blank, we all have our own thing going on).
I was in the audience of every LA area show Ryan played until I moved to CNY. Sometimes I’d go alone, most times I went went with my friend Bobbie who fell in love with Ryan just like me.
By coincidence, a year before I left LA, I was in the audience at the Oscar’s when Ryan won his Oscar for the soundtrack of Crazy Heart. Crazy. Heart.
Randy Weeks lives in Austin now and we’ve lost touch. Mike Stinson has his own Americana career via the Houston honkytonk circuit. Miss P became my writing mentor. Bobbie has visited me in CNY twice now and taken up portrait photography. I’ve moved to the east coast to an old farmhouse in the middle of nowhere to write, take photos, dream, and just recently I’ve reconnected with my ex.
Ryan is in Topanga prepping for another newer and larger tour than the last. The last time I saw him live was in a tiny venue and it felt like the last time I needed to. He hit it big. I knew he would.
Out here, we have Ommegang. And that is a very, very good thing. A great brewery that holds a great concert series in the summer- I’ve seen Steve Earle, Bon Iver, Lyle Lovett, Darius Rucker, Wilco, Cake and many others, almost all of them in one summer.
Not bad, but my dream line-up would be be Randy Weeks and Lucinda Williams with Ryan Bingham.
Miss P would be there dancing like a dream, Bobbie would be the official photographer and I’d be in the audience, on the grass, under the stars with you know who by my side.
A girl can only dream on such a winter’ day.
I can’t tell you how much I love singer-songwriter Ryan Bingham.
Words fail the beauty of it.
He ranks right up there with Chevrolet (my dog, not the truck).
The thing about Ryan is his voice, his singing voice, his song writing voice, his easy on the ears conversational voice.
His heart. You can hear his heart. It is vast.
He isn’t hard on the eyes.
Boy, he’s got a good smile.
I missed his time on the rodeo circuit but met him before his Grammy, Golden Globe and Oscar for the soundtrack to Crazy Heart, a 2009 Jeff Bridges film featuring Bingham’s original song “The Weary Kind.”
By a wondrous twist of fate, I was in the audience to watch Ryan Bingham win that Oscar.
If you have a chance to catch him live, solo or with the band, please go, you won’t regret it.
In 2012, he released his fourth studio album, Tomorrowland, on his own label.
Listen to Song Travels via the link…he performs selections from the new album, including “As I Do My Dancing” and “Too Deep to Fill” and more…http://www.npr.org/2013/02/08/171492085/ryan-bingham-on-song-travels