It’s hard to break old habits.
What seduced me into a lifetime of writing was music. I had a strong attraction for music from an early age. I clearly remember, at age 8, seeing Elvis in his first TV appearance. Live and uncensored, on the Tommy & Jimmy Dorsey Show. I didn’t understand what I was seeing but I knew it was … something, really something, and I called my mom in to look.
I remember she made a face and muttered some expression of shock and disgust and asked me if I was going to watch “that.” Ordinarily a very obedient little boy, I remember ignoring her reaction and turning my eyes back to the small screen spectacle, saying, “yeah!” She turned on her heels, and the rest is history. By college I merged my loves of music and writing and spent the next four decades trying to eke out a living in that critical wasteland. Thanks, Elvis. But I piled up four decades of incomparable music memories. No regrets.
Living in L.A. and loving music presents a sweet problem: do you have both the time and the money to take it all in? Few do, and even if you can, is it worth the hassle? I chide my friends for having gotten lazy about going out for live music. But the show I went to Sunday night reminded me why even I have cut back on live shows, and also why we should not.
I won’t go into a full review (or bemoan the inconveniences), because I have to turn the music wagon back to Santa Monica, but I saw Devo at the Wiltern Theater Sunday, in what may be their last tour ever, and it was a hassle, and it was well worth it. Out of a couple thousand live shows I’ve experienced, this was one of the most memorable. That’s the part you have to remind yourself of when you come up with all the reasons for not leaving the house that night. Nothing – nothing – can take the place of hearing great music live.
Briefly: a 10-date tour, anti-hyped for all but the hard core as being mostly early, 1974-’77 pre-big label Devo music, experimental, largely unheard. Partly as a fundraiser for the family of Bob Casale (Bob 2) who died Feb. 17 of heart failure, at just 61. (Drummer Alan Myers, since ‘76, died a year ago at 58. Tough year for the band, and why they may hang up touring for good.) Bob 2’s son Alex was brought on stage to play bass on the closing number, a nice tribute, and he whipped it good.
It was a family affair for me too, in that my son Chris, living in Albuquerque, was inspired to give me a ticket after making plans to drive to Denver to see their concert there. Ah yes, payback for all those shows I took him to, and an appropriate and loving gift. Daughter Nicole decided to chip in and come along, and we both grinned throughout the show at the good fortune of being there. For me, either “Satisfaction” or “Jocko Homo (Are We Not Men?)” was alone worth the price of admission. We both expected a great show, and it passed our expectations. What struck me was how good a band they are, beyond their signature creativity, even with only three remaining members.
I would only consider a concert like this for that kind of investment of time, money and effort. But aren’t there lesser lights worth seeing, closer to home?
Dang straight, and our recent Make Music Day Santa Monica proved that. A stroll up the length of the Third Street Promenade proves it, most any day. Main Street’s Summer SOULstice festival was packed, there are the pier concerts, and more. We have a lot of music available here in Santa Monica, especially in the summer, but I’m here to say it’s not enough.
I wrote last week that Rec and Parks Commission chief and City Council candidate Phil Brock encountered a lack of cooperation from our city government in making the annual worldwide celebration of free music everywhere, Make Music Day, bigger than it was last year.
So he got mad and got busy and used the staff of his talent agency business to screen performers, and enlisted the help of neighborhood associations (four out of seven responded), and we wound up with 27 performances in seven additional parks, all arranged at the last minute. Every single report I heard was that it was a resounding success enjoyed by all.
I don’t mean to jump on our hard-working city staff, really I don’t. Many put in long hours and accomplish so much more than most of us are aware of. Brock hinted to me that he believes some higher-ups would have responded differently if the request had made it to their ears.
But this goes beyond Make Music Day. Brock and I share a love of the performing arts and especially music, and have been talking for a long time about what stands in the way of making Santa Monica known for that.
“Santa Monica is a breeding ground for talent in the world,” Brock said. “We should be providing venues.”
I agree, and I will push for it. Imagine, year round, because of our weather, troubadours in every park, and other public gathering spots. How about Shakespeare and other dramas in the parks? What a great facility we now have in Tongva Park, let’s use it. How about artists painting and drawing in public? Poetry and other readings, not just in the libraries. I believe artists will flock here if we provide the venues, and our local talent will blossom, our schools will be enriched.
Yes, we have the beaches and the ocean and sun – if we protect them from overdevelopment – but we also have a human, artistic resource that I would love my city to become known for.
***”If everything seems under control, you’re just not going fast enough.” – Mario Andretti***
Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for almost 30 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.