WESTERN TOWN, PARAMOUNT RANCH

PARAMOUNT RANCH

As I pointed out in this column the week before last, an unexpected consequence of the recent horrible fires north of here was the loss of the location of the Topanga Banjo Fiddle Contest at Paramount Ranch, which burned and was severely damaged. It was the ideal home for 24 years of the revered folk festival that encourages players of all skill levels, even kids and raw beginners, to take the stage, but they draw top talent too. A treasure of our local music scene, 58 years but, still counting?

As reported last week in the Daily Press, the Santa Monica Mountains Fund and the National Park Service are together launching “The Paramount Project,” a campaign to rebuild Paramount Ranch’s Western Town, purchased by the National Park Service in 1980 and on the National Register of Historic Places, and recently destroyed by the Woolsey Fire. Members of the entertainment industry who would like to be involved in the project have already reached out, and the appeal is to members of the public as well.

Paramount Pictures purchased 2700 acres in 1927 for use as a “movie ranch,” and they constructed a general store, sheriff’s jail, saloon, drugstore and other settings, which made it a perfect location for the folk festival one weekend a year, and there was plenty of parking. Still being used for film and TV, it provided Main Street for HBO’s hit series “Westworld.”

Festival organizers I spoke with last weekend indicated some skepticism that the Western Town restoration will be completed in time, but have pledged that the show will go on as scheduled next May — somewhere. Ideas are welcomed, they might need an edge to make it happen.

Be prepared — December gets to be pretty slim pickins’ for live music, with sometimes a handful of spectacular events, and then of course there’s New Year’s Eve that could be the best show of the year but you will pay dearly for it.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED:

TONIGHT! – SARAH SILVERMAN & Friends (who is funnier than Sarah while also breaking your heart and making you squirm and re-think your life and wonder about her sanity?), 8:30 p.m., Largo at the Coronet, $30.

LA OPERA: HANSEL & GRETEL (Engelbert Humperdinck ain’t no Puccini, Verdi or Strauss but H&G is considered his greatest work and Strauss dug him so much he conducted the premier, a smashing success, and he also ain’t the schmaltzy crooner who stole his name in the ‘60s, but don’t get too distracted from Hump’s superb Wagnerian-style score by the 12-foot magical forest creatures, floating fairies, fantastical sets and special effects of this production, all the singers are superb and it’s also got laughs, I was completely entertained), next Thurs, 7:30 p.m., Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, downtown LA, $16-$294.

RECOMMENDED:

TONIGHT! – ELVIS COSTELLO (Elvis Costello!), Thurs, 7 p.m., the Wiltern, Mid-Wilshire, $125-$240 (too much! but it’s your money and he is a most interesting artist with a new album, so…).

SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK (an all-woman African-American a cappella ensemble formed in DC 45 years ago, I saw them when they were pretty new and they knocked me out, now 26 albums and 20 different singers later, touring with their sign language interpreter since 1981 and two original members, it’s a pretty safe bet they can still knock you out), Fri 8 p.m., Royce Hall, UCLA, $29-$69.

PERRY FARRELL’S KIND OF HEAVEN ORCHESTRA (this could easily be an event to remember with Jane’s Addiction, Porno for Pyros and Lollapalooza Festival founder and all-around interesting guy Ferrell playing only here and in San Fran debuting his new band and songs from the new album set for 2019, his first solo release in 18 years, previewing an installation in Vegas of some kind of “entertainment hub,” and he promises they’ll also be joined by “several Los Angeles music icons” for this show, so, maybe it’s worth the $69 gamble), Fri 9 p.m., the Teragram Ballroom, downtown LA, $69.

SANTA MONICA SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA – 74th Season Winter Holiday Concert (I missed their season opener in Oct. but several people told me Kazakhstani violinist Roman Kim was astoundingly good, but star soloist or no our SM Symphony, older than me, has gifted us with full seasons of outstanding programs played professionally by mostly professional volunteers continually since the end of WWII, in acoustically wonderful Barnum Hall, and for free, this night music director Guido Lamell presents sax master Harvey Pittel and conducts the heck out of some Nutcracker excerpts and music from movies, Strauss’s “Sunrise” Fanfare from Also Sprach Zarathustra from 2001: A Space Odyssey, Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” from Apocalypse Now, Williams’s “Escapades” from Catch Me If You Can — I’ll see you there), Sun 7 p.m., Barnum Hall, Santa Monica High School, free.

BAND NAMES OF THE WEEK: Herbert-Fifi-Radioactive Chicken Heads-Haunted Garage (at Cafe NELA Sat, a “Benefit for Dukey Flyswatter”), Betty Blowtorch, Birds of Chicago, Toy District, Telekinetic Yeti, Yialmelic Frequencies, Hand Habits, Destructo, Zongo Zongo Sound System, Goon, The Entire Universe, Jean Caffeine, Soaked in Dissolution, Wet & Reckless, Deaf Dance, Just Head, Hepa-Titus, Venom Millennium.

A LYRIC SO GOOD I WISH I HAD THOUGHT OF IT:

“I’d rather be dead than wet my bed

 

Oh, I’d rather be gone, than carry on

I’d rather go away, than feel this way

Oh, I’d rather be there, where you haven’t got a care

And you’re better off dead, though it doesn’t seem fair

Oh, I’d rather be dead — I’d rather be dead

 

I’d rather keep my health, and dress myself

But you’re better off dead than sitting on a shelf

I’ll tie my tie ’till the day I die

But if I have to be fed then I’d rather be dead

 

I’d rather be dead — I’d rather be dead

I’d rather be dead than wet than wet my bed”

— Harry Nilsson, 1971

Harry, dear tragic so-talented Harry Nilsson of the thrilling vocal range and stylization, master of melody and of canny, wacky lyrics, sagacious with words but not with his life, wasn’t yet 30 when he wrote these lines so insightful about an end of life seemingly decades removed. He never got there. Too many years of extreme drug and alcohol abuse probably led to his massive heart attack at 51, and the one that killed him, in his Agoura Hills home, 11 months later at 52.

I was younger by six years when I first heard them, and was taken aback. First of all, rock stars did NOT write or even think about such things. Nobody does till they’re past 60 or 70 at least, right? But especially back then there was not the awareness of Alzheimer’s ande dementia that there now is. What was so unexpected and eccentric then has become the nightly news now. Nilsson saw it from the perspective of those many years his senior who were facing it and living it and saw that many of them, given the chance, might… choose not to. Today we might call it an 8-word advance directive: I’d rather be dead than wet my bed.

Charles Andrews has listened to a lot of music of all kinds, including more than 2,000 live shows. He has lived in Santa Monica for 32 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. Send love and/or rebuke to him at therealmrmusic@gmail.com

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