Los Angeles



Girl About Town


I'D HEARD THAT Los Angeles was weird but I thought that just meant the streets, not the insides of people's homes. For two weeks I slept in an apartment in Hollywood which contained: the largest collection of Pope memorabilia outside the Vatican; a battalion of Michael Jackson dolls; a dozen deliriously tacky ashtrays (host: "Which my father stole from Los Vegas in the '60s - so I can't throw them out"); about 8000 assorted LPs arranged in no particular order around the floor; and a mini-library of film-star biographies.

The individual items were not particularly odd in themselves but their cumulative effect could be severely disorientating. So much so that after a few days exposure I began thinking of such an environment as normal. More than normal; I started telling people I was staying somewhere "neat".

Yet this domestic scene equates perfectly with the iconography of the city (or rather the 80 cities together which people call 'Los Angeles') itself, a great shrine/dustbin of images and artefacts slung together with no concession to any European conception of taste, refinement or reserve. Most people who've seen picture books of LA know about the hot-dog stall that looks like a hot-dog, or the record company building that looks like a stack of records.

But not until you're there, viewing them for real, do you realise that these things don't especially stand out. In such a city of one-offs they simply blend in with everything else. This awareness took a while to take hold, and still hadn't when I left the dizzying apartment and walked out in search of something plain.

Instead of something plain I found Melrose Avenue, and a block of it which was like landing on the set of a bad I950s sci-fi B-feature. A line of shops seemed to be selling goods which could only be Souvenirs Of Earth aimed at visiting Martians. Surely no Earthling could buy anything as gross as a six-foot tall statue of the Statue Of Liberty, a reconditioned ornamental petrol pump, a vastly oversized coke bottle with a battery-powered flying saucer buzzing around inside it, or one of the Art Deco sofas which looked about as easy to sit on as the Hollywood sign.

But human beings, at least the white, affluent, Reebok trainer-clad beings of Los Angeles, do buy this stuff. And they buy a lot of it. This desire for paraphernalia previously lying dormant on the pages of decades old mail order catalogues perhaps has something to do with challenging the 'traditional' (as much as anything can be traditional in such a hot-bed of ephemera) LA obsession with the Classical Age, epitomised by the mock-Mediterranean 'sculptures' which disfigure many a wealthy driveway.

The 'new' stuff is perceived as something genuinely American and beautiful, in all it's tacky vulgarity. These extremely pricey decorations are swept up in an atmosphere of casual – if not galloping – consumption: something aided by California having an economy bigger and stronger than many entire countries. Being there, after being in recession torn Britain, is to experience a sweeping sense of growth and optimism. This, much more than the climate or Disneyland, lets you know you're somewhere else.

But the city still has its dispossessed and it's a mark of rich LA's ignorance of other people – unless they collectively constitute a major source of revenue , that the motion picture industry has only recently, through the success of films such as 'La Ramba' (released in the US with dubbed Spanish dialogue), discovered the Hispanic market after existing for years within a few miles of the largest such concentration outside Mexico City; in East Los Angeles.

The energy, and size, of the younger Hispanic population can be gauged by being on Hollywood Boulevard on a Friday or Saturday night. Leaving the residential calm of the nearby avenues you suddenly find yourself in a maelstrom of hip-hop music, bumper to bumper customised cars, and pubescent females jumping from one vehicle to another.

The mood is vibrant but fun, minus. the violent undertow of the notorious gang wars, and coming after fear of AIDS has virtually stamped out the street's equally notorious after-dark flesh market – something reflected by the huge white sign hanging over the Masonic Temple proclaiming: The Night Shall Return.

And presumably it will return, enabling tourists from the mid-West and Japan to spend all night, instead of just all day, amid the cement prints in the forecourt of the Chinese Theatre seeing if they have smaller hands than Julie Andrews or bigger feet than Rock Hudson (live Names, of course, are rare on the streets, and in their place are scores of proto-rock stars who practice posing whilst walking along Hollywood Boulevard to their guitar lessons).

But until then, the cars painted in Zebra strips, the tarot readers who advertise with neon signs, the newly built '1950s' diners - almost authentic save for the lack of dirt behind their Wurlitzer jukeboxes, and the rest of the intense whirl of gaudiness, remains the essence of LA lore – something in which even animals have a role.

Back in the apartment lived a cat called Rhino. Admittedly Rhino's a good name for a cat whatever the circumstances, but this one was so christened by virtue of being found in a shop called Rhino Records. Which was fortunate – she might easily have been named Off The Wall Antiques.



mick sinclair

any use of the text on this page is subject to permission

To read many more articles and reviews (over 140,000 words-worth!) written by Mick Sinclair, buy Adjusting the Stars: Music journalism from post-punk London