We drove to Long Beach Arena to see AC/DC, ironically. That’s how I justified it to myself at the time because I considered myself a gent of refined and impeccable taste who, although he appreciated the Australians' amp’d up Creedence Clearwater Revival-indebted, authentically blue collar rocknroll, would never, normally be seen appreciating it. It was stupid. Both them and me. Why couldn’t I just enjoy? Alas, I never could or can. I also never can list any of AC/DC’s rocking tunes, but I know they’re out there. Plus we got freebies in.
The show had cannons which surprised me by being louder than the band - genuinely, frightening. Now I know how the Viennese felt when the Ottoman’s lay siege and the dardanelles rocked the city walls. Apart from that the main event was whooping white Americans and a way too long a set. There’s only so much ironic wall rocking I can stomach, so I was happy to trot out into the balmy Californian winter looking for our west coast space-taker, parked with all its 4x4 brothers in a huge carpark like the covid-times Question Time audience, afraid to catch each others’ politics.
It was a hire car. I was driving. It was 1991 and we had maps and drunk people, band members and entourage, arguing about the route, so, inevitably, we ended up on a (for California) small road snaking through Compton, if snakes moved at right angles. Stopping at some lights at a junction next to a small parade of shops, all by ourselves, looking across to a little bar on the other side of the street, a man in a straw hat exited quick, followed on his heels by two other men in straw hats. One of them had a long, looked like, stick. The first man ran. The stick man raised what now looked more like a pole to his face and pointed it at the man. A blow pipe! The man disappeared behind parked cars. Was he hit? Don’t know. The two other men, including Mr Blowpipe, glanced across and saw a big car full of stupified English pasty faces staring at him. He said something to his mate and they jumped into a pick up and screeched around, out of the small carpark on to the highway, coming up behind us. I ran the red light, did a U turn on the empty junction and we drove as fast as a speed-limited hire car can, past them in the opposite direction, back the way we came. They didn’t follow.
Staying at the Hotel Roosevelt for Christmas, because we had American shows either side and we fancied the idea of being in a swimming pool on xmas day.
Los Angeles remains a mystery to me, having been there a fair few times. I’ve never found the Tom Waits night time, the Kerouac possibilities, the Byrdsian bliss. The canyons teem with psychos. The bars non-alcoholic and mean. There’s apartheid happening in slipstreams on the street. It’s the most corporate place I’ve ever been. At the beginning of the 1990s, when men’s tailoring was breaking the zoot suit laws once again (cloth, so much cloth) and mullets were worn across ethnic lines, everyone was apparently hustling shares and starting up. You couldn’t trust dress codes; that tye-died hippy? Screen print entrepreneur. The waitress? Pet agent entrepreneur. Smart suited entrepreneur? Setting up a company of crack entrepreneurs to send into war zones, to bring coca-cola dollars to khat growers. My jacket sleeves started to creep up my fore arms. I thought about going to the dentist.
Christmas in LA was a slight breeze blowing the heaps of styrofoam snow across Hollywood Boulevard from the parking lot colonised by an alcoholic xmas-tat Santa who threatened Jacqui and me for walking whilst black and white. Walking. Who walks? Brits do. Londoners for whom cars are for out of town. We had to hire a car. If I drove like a Londoner it frightened the natives - there’s a reason why those boulevards are boulevards and not roads. Getting too close alongside another car resulted in honking and frantic gesticulation and cursing from the driver not used to getting within three feet of another motor. I didn’t want to get shot for automobile intimacy, so I learned and adapted.
Christmas in LA was a visit to the original Disneyland with our bass player’s three-year-old lad. A baffling place with its own economic system. An abused Snow White, close to tears on the back of a truck with some evil looking large dwarves. Magic elf litter pickers who appeared as soon as a Goofy gumi wrapper floated to the impeccable Disney concrete. Daintily spearing the plastic and then disappeared! And Disney secret police, dressed in Get Smart raincoats, talking to their sleeves, who also magically appeared as soon as we took a turn down a suddenly very quiet no entry zone. It was Christmas as experienced in a cult. Styrofoam snow, of course, everywhere. But the Disney version did as it was told and stayed in place in great extruded polystyrene drifts.
And Christmas day in LA was a clean apartment belonging to an ex-British rockabilly pop star that had a swimming pool on its roof, (the apartment, not the rockabilly, who’s flat top was impressive but not water proof) where we fulfilled our ambition and tempted after-dinner cramps, floating, drinking champagne, whilst staring at the grey blue smog and missing the un-chlorinated damp of London town wrapping round our feeble, un-nourished frames while we moaned and drank cheap cider. As we would have been doing.
In the lift at the Roosevelt on Christmas Eve, a small, barrel chested man in a Hawaiian shirt seemed to be looking after a giggling rake of a young guy with rolling eyes who liked the look of me. The lifts were slow, the doors shut slowly and the whole apparatus seemed to have been invented to encourage conversation. Five floors. Plenty of time for the twitching cliche to get close to me, mime a hypodermic syringe (believe me, you’d recognise the motion) injecting some imaginary dope into the side of my goose-pimpled neck before being physically restrained by Doctor Hawaii.
“Sorry, bout that. He gets excited.”
What by? Lifts? Trembling Englishmen? The imaginary injection had a placebo affect for the rest of the day. Was it arsenic? Heroin? Blood? My mind had been poisoned. It seemed a very appropriate assault in a city that didn’t seem to exist in a solid state. It made me nervous.
Other visits to Los Angeles left me feeling equally unsafe, if not warm enough, most of the time. I still can’t conjure up an equivalent to, say Big Ben or the Empire State or Edinburgh Castle for LA. The most notable, physical element of the city is the road system which you are only ever in, unless you charter a helicopter. It’s not a Christmas place (although I’m sure that’s a philosophical argument to be taken up by those who have lived there longer than for four week stints) even if many of our cultural artefacts were created there, out of plastic, mostly. Perhaps the joy is in the celebration of the despite. Despite the lack of snow. Despite the ugly/honest acknowledgement that Christmas is just one more thing for sale. Or, maybe Charlie Manson is the key. After all, wasn’t Jesus Christ a wild eyed hippy prophet promising death and salvation in the desert? Does that mean that Los Angeles is the Real Thing? And London’s manufactured chimneys and cobbles and frock coats and Scrooges are just the pale Christmas Pepsi?
Hoe hoe hoe, said Santa on the day before the day before Christmas. So we walked a little faster.
Tim London is a musician, music producer and writer. Originally from a New Town in Essex he is at home amidst concrete and grand plans for the working class. Tim's latest thriller, Smith, is available now. Find out more at timothylondon.com
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